EarMen CH-Amp

EarMen CH-Amp is a flagship desktop amplifier manufactured by EarMen. It is a fully balanced device, with a power output of up to 3.8W. It's priced at $1480.

Introduction to the EarMen CH-Amp review

If you’re a regular, then you probably are aware that we’ve reviewed most of EarMen products here at Ear Fidelity. It’s one of those companies that never disappointed us with their products, and there are no signs for it to change in the future.

Today, we’re taking a look at their flagship amplifier CH-Amp, which is a part of the EISA award-winning stack which contains the Tradutto, the Staccato (review soon), and the CH-Amp itself.

Having great experience with low to mid-Fi products, EarMen continued to improve and now they went into the higher-end category with this little amp. Their products always score well when it comes to sound here at Ear Fidelity, so having an actual higher-end device by EarMen got us really interested and excited. 

Having such a great experience with EarMen products, however, makes me quite demanding when it comes to the CH-Amp. At such a price, EarMen has to step up their game and give us something extra when compared to their lower-end offerings. So, let’s just get right into it. 

Packaging

earmen ch-amp review, box

The unboxing experience of the reviewed CH-Amp is really good. As with most of EarMens products, it does come in a good-looking, quality box with an outer sleeve. Once again, you don’t really have to worry about the device arriving safely at your doorstep. 

The unboxing experience unveils something that I simply have to glorify – the EarMen CH-Amp comes with a very high-quality linear power supply included. It’s called PSU-3, and it is actually designed to power the entire EarMen stack, so you can plug the CH-Amp, Tradutto, and Staccato into it and power everything out of a single PSU. The unit is well-built, just like the CH-Amp itself, and it just screams quality. Oh, and it comes supplied with all the cables to plug the rest of the devices into it, so you don’t have to go and get those. This is just fantastic, but also weird, because…

Not everything is rainbow and sunshine. The biggest con on the packaging of the reviewed EarMen CH-Amp is the lack of a 4.4mm interconnect cable included in the box. Both the Tradutto (DAC), and the CH-Amp are too small to utilize full-sized XLR sockets, so EarMen went with a 4.4mm pentaconn connection to ensure a fully balanced connection. This is a very good idea, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a catch. EarMen didn’t include a 4.4mm interconnect cable with neither the CH-Amp or the Tradutto. I, as a reviewer, didn’t have that sort of cable and I needed to buy one. It wouldn’t have been that problematic if 4.4mm interconnects were somewhat popular, but they surely aren’t. Actually, the only one I could find in my country to buy immediately is the iFi Audio one, and the Polish distributor actually had only 1 left in stock.

Remote of reviewed earmen ch-amp

I don’t want to make too big fuzz about it, but if EarMen decided to go with such an unpopular connection, they should have included the cable in the box. Yes, this generates further costs, but they could have easily raised the price just a bit to counter it. At this point, it’s not about the money, but rather just an inconvenience, as many people who ordered the EarMen stack wouldn’t be able to use it balanced for a fair amount of time, before their 4.4mm interconnect arrives. If you’re reading this review and you are going to order the EarMen stack, just order the 4.4mm Pentaconn interconnect now, it’ll save you some time and inconvenience.

Okay, enough criticizing. Apart from the EarMen CH-Amp, which is the main hero of this review, and the PSU-3, you’ll find a metal remote control, and just like with the Tradutto, this little guy is SOLID. Quite heavy, robust and it could come in handy when a zombie apocalypse begins, and stinky monsters will catch you off-guard while listening to music. Hopefully, you won’t have to do it.

Design and build quality of EarMen CH-Amp

Top of the reviewed EarMen Ch-Amp

EarMen really got us used to their brilliant build quality, and of course, the reviewed CH-Amp continues to do it. The unit is quite heavy, very dense feeling and it looks great. The size is just perfect for any desk, or to sit on your hi-fi rack next to a turntable and such. The entire stack looks great and consistent, as it is really meant to be used in this way.

Of course, you can just get the CH-Amp and use it with devices from other manufacturers, there’s nothing wrong about it. However, if you want a full set that is both functional and just great looking, the EarMen stack is the way to go.

Back to the topic though. The front of the EarMen CH-Amp is occupied by a screen, 4.4mm output, 3.5mm output, a volume knob, and two buttons for gain and input control. While being quite busy on the front, it all looks well-organized and tidy. 

Tech and I/O

Let’s take a look at EarMen CH-Amps functionality and tech. First of all, the remote included with the reviewed EarMen CH-Amp is able to operate both the CH-Amp and the Tradutto DAC, so if you’re rocking these as a stack, one remote is all you need. Those are the little things that just make your life easier. Well done EarMen.

Next up, the reviewed EarMen CH-Amp is not only a headphone amplifier but also a preamplifier, which can be used as both balanced and single-ended. This is good news for all the people that use active monitors and are looking for a device that can handle both the monitors and headphones. Take note though, that you can only use it as one at a time.

As for the power ratings, the EarMen CH-Amp outputs up to 3.8W via balanced output, and up to 1.5W via single-ended one. While this might not look very impressive nowadays, the power rating is not the full story (just look at the Feliks Envy which has a lower power rating than Topping A90, yet it sounds much more powerful). 

EarMen’s engineers also use WIMA capacitors as well as audio electrolytes in combination with MELF low noise resistors and SoundPlus OPA1642 operational amplifiers which – according to EarMen – proved to be great for getting neutral sound. The EarMen CH-Amp has excellent signal-to-noise ratio and THD characteristics, excellent frequency response, and a lot of power where the characteristics of the device are changed very little even at high loads. 

Let’s get back to the PSU-3 for a moment. It is a linear power supply meant for powering the entire EarMen stack, but of course, you can use it with just the CH-Amp. It has all the necessary protection including current overload, thermal overload, and short circuit. This is a really quality power supply that further improves the sound quality of your system, as well as offering additional protection – what not to like?

How does the EarMen CH-Amp sound?

EarMen never disappoints, but the sound quality has always been the most important aspect of their devices. The reviewed CH-Amp is their flagship amplifier, so my expectations were really, really high. And yes, what I’ve heard met the expectations, to say the least.

First of all, I’ve tried the EarMen stack for the first time at the Munich High-End 2022. After having a blast of a conversation with Miroslav (hi!), he invited me to have a listen to the stack with genuine pride on his face. The headphones plugged-in were the Meze Elite, which I also have on my hand. The sound completely blew me away back then, offering a very fresh, fast, and highly enjoyable sound.

After being so impressed by these products, I immediately turned to Miroslav to talk about reviewing them. I’ve reviewed the EarMen Tradutto a while ago, and was so happy with it that it won our “Best DAC 2021”. Ever since this is one of the most used DACs that we have here at Ear Fidelity. Luckily, both the Staccato and the CH-Amp arrived at my doorstep a few months ago, and now I’m more than ready to give it a proper review. 

So, after spending a lot of time with the EarMen CH-Amp, I must admit that it sounds just like it did when I first tried it in Munich. EarMen definitely has its house sound, and the CH-Amp offers everything that EarMen is known for, and some more. 

The overall timbre of the amplifier is natural yet technical, but never analytical. This is a neutral tuning with a hint of natural warmth, excellent technical performance, and a highly enjoyable character. The EarMen CH-Amp is not overly warm, bright, or lean sounding. Everything sounds “just right”, but with that added space with its excellent speed and resolution. Funnily, seeing that the EarMen crew chose the Meze Elite to highlight the sound of the stack is literally the perfect choice. This setup offers an extraordinarily natural, snappy, and dynamic sound that will please everyone. 

Back to the amplifier though. Even though 3.8W might not seem impressive at first, I tried the EarMen CH-Amp with a handful of power-hungry headphones and never had any problems. Yes, it doesn’t drive the legendary HiFiMAN Susvara perfectly, but it was never meant to. This amplifier is not advertised as “the most powerful” on the market, but rather a Jack Of All Trades that can be used with a vast majority of headphones and IEMs. 

As far as you’re using “normal” headphones, that do not require nuclear power to sound best, you’ll be more than fine. The CH-Amp has absolutely no problems running headphones such as the Meze Elite, HEDDphone, Audeze MM-500, FInal D8000 Pro, and such. It drives all of those with authority and spectacular quality that suits basically every timbre I’ve tried.

The bass of the reviewed EarMen CH-Amp is full of energy, it’s springy, fast and physical, but not overpowered. It has a great rumble in the sub-bass region that gives you a thick and natural presentation. This is by no means a bass-light amplifier in any degree, as this bass frequency focuses on sounding natural and enjoyable at the same time. The texture, resolution, and dynamics are all fantastic, which further helps your headphones to sound fun and engaging.

The midrange is clean, fresh, and detailed, but never too bright or thin sounding. It doesn’t overpower the weight of the instruments as well. It is just well-detailed and natural, further focusing on that neutral/natural type of presentation. This is the perfect type of midrange an amplifier can have in this price range, as your high-end headphones really don’t need to be altered. The sense of openness and the clarity are both spot-on resulting in a very accurate, yet ethereal type of sound.

The treble is once again clean, fast, and snappy, but it has a slight smoothness to it, so the reviewed EarMen Ch-Amp will never sound too bright or tiring. It doesn’t hide anything, nor does it sound artificially detailed. It sits in the middle, just where it should. Your headphones of choice will dictate the final type of treble presentation of the system, with the EarMen CH-Amp ensuring the detail, resolution, and speed are both on the highest level possible.

The soundstage is absolutely phenomenal in the reviewed EarMen CH-Amp. This little amp gives you a vast, airy, and spectacular-sounding soundstage without pushing it to the limit. It sounds easy, effortless, and highly impressive with every headphone and IEM that I’ve tried. It doesn’t try too hard to impress, it creates a natural sense of space that will perfectly blend with your headphones or IEMs. 

Speaking about IEMs, the EarMen CH-Amp has a gain switch that works perfectly if you plan to use IEMs instead of headphones. I haven’t noticed any problems with hiss or background noise, once again proving that the reviewed EarMen CH-Amp might be the perfect amplifier for those of you who run multiple headphones and IEMs. 

Pairings

EarMen CH-Amp with Meze Elite

Let’s start the pairings section with probably the best one. The Meze Elite has been used by EarMen themselves during the shows with this amplifier, and this choice must have been intentional.

This setup sounds fresh, powerful, natural, fast, and spacious, with absolutely no problems whatsoever. It’s not too muddy, not too bright, there’s nothing that is overdone. The Elite might not be a demanding headphone when it comes to power, but it surely needs a good quality of your audio chain to sound its best. The Tradutto + CH-Amp combo works wonders with the Elite, being probably the best setup I’ve tried the Romanian flagship with.

The Elite rose to be my favorite pair of headphones personally, and I’m incredibly happy that it pairs so well with the EarMen stack. This has been my favorite setup for weeks now, it just sounds right in every way. You can go for a more detailed or specialized setup, but when it comes to an effortless, clean, powerful, and natural sound, this pairing is hard to beat.

EarMen CH-Amp with Final D8000 Pro

This is another great pairing. The D8000 Pro is a neutral, reference-tuned headphone that can lack emotions and musicality. The reviewed EarMen CH-Amp provides all the necessary power, cleanliness, and pace to keep up with the Japanese flagship, while not overemphasizing its rather raw and transparent tuning.

This combo sounds rather neutral though, so keep that in mind. If you’d like to add a little body and warmth to your D8k Pro, this is not the right amplifier to do that. However, if you’re into that transparent, neutral and dynamic, lively sound of the D8000 Pro, the EarMen CH-Amp compliments that beautifully.

EarMen CH-Amp with Rosson RAD-0

This is really interesting. The RAD-0 is the complete opposite of what the D8000 Pro is. It’s musical, engaging, and never lacks body or emotions. However, this pair is not your usual “musical” sounding headphones, as the number of dynamics, richness, and punchiness are all playing a major role in the RAD-0.

The CH-Amp gives you all the essential qualities to make the RAD-0 absolutely sing, but at the same time, it keeps up with it perfectly. The technical capabilities of this amplifier match the resolving and insightful character of the RAD-0, but it never makes it bland sounding. This gives a highly textured, colorful, and thick, yet smooth and crispy type of sound that goes exceptional with every music genre and mastering quality.

EarMen CH-Amp with Fir Audio KR5

My favorite IEM of all time, the Fir Audio Krypton 5 is just ridiculously good and fun to listen to. As I said previously in this review, the CH-Amp is a great amplifier to run your IEMs with. It’s clean, powerful, fast, and snappy.

With the KR5, this amplifier sounds very dynamic, insanely open, and rich, but never too harsh. Yes, the amount of information is absurd, but not tiring or simply “too much” sounding. There’s absolutely no problem with hiss or background noise, but keep in mind that I’m using low-gain with IEMs. 

The Krypton 5 has revolutionary kinetic bass technology, which gives you the physicality and rumble of low frequencies like never seen before. Therefore, having that extra power that is so clean with the CH-Amp further improves the overall feeling of it. This is a bassheads dream come true.

Comparisons

Feliks Envy

We’re starting the comparisons with something as big as it gets. The Feliks Envy is a 300B tube amplifier that starts at 7000 EURO. The price, size, and weight differences here are absolutely huge, but I was still curious how does the CH-Amp compete with such a behemoth.

Truth is – It doesn’t, but who’d be surprised here? The Envy is much more powerful, mature sounding and it’s just a piece of art when it comes to headphone amplifiers.

However, the EarMen CH-Amp still sounds very impressive, especially when we’ll consider the price difference. The clean, dynamic, and airy character of this amplifier goes well against the almighty Envy. It’s great to see this amplifier performing so well even when compared to the absolute Summit-Fi. While it didn’t stand a chance from the beginning, it still performed better than I anticipated, and that’s very imposing.

XIAudio Broadway S

These two have some things in common, but they do differ in certain categories. First of all, the CH-Amp is fully balanced, but the Broadway S is battery-operated, so yeah, you know…choose your fighter.

When it comes to the sound, however, the differences start to fade away and these two start trading blows. The Broadway S has a more romantic, rich flavor to it, while the hero of this review, the EarMen CH-Amp sounds more powerful and dynamic. These differences aren’t huge though, but significant enough for you to make up your mind. 

If you don’t really care about the battery-operated function, the CH-Amp might be a more universal, more powerful, and more universal-sounding choice. Also, it is balanced, so if you have a balanced DAC…then the choice is rather simple.

If you DO care about your amp being battery-operated, and you don’t need a lot of power, the Broadway S offers a unique blend of functionality and sound quality, especially on the go. It also goes well with more reference-tuned headphones that lack excitement. 

EarMen Angel

This comparison is interesting, and pretty simple at the same time. Everything that Angel does, the EarMen CH-Amp does it better and stronger. The tuning is pretty similar, but the CH-Amp just sounds better than the Angel. 

Yes, you’re missing the entire portable functionality of the Angel, so choosing between the two should come down to your preferences when it comes to function. If you’re only running headphones in your home, and the price difference doesn’t scare you away, the CH-Amp is definitely a better choice. 

However, you won’t be able to listen to the EarMen CH-Amp everywhere, and here’s when the Angel wins. 

It’s as basic as it gets – The Angel is not as good sounding, but it’s cheaper and portable. The CH-Amp is a stationary amplifier, and it sounds significantly better than the Angel. Both have similar timbre though.

EarMen CH-Amp review — summary

EarMen did it again. Even though this is the most expensive piece of gear they ever made (not including Auris), they took a similar approach as usual – Great build quality, neutral-natural sound signature, great technical capabilities, and the ability to go well with most gear on the market.

Because of that, the EarMen CH-Amp is one of the best amplifiers in this price range currently. It is an element of a Streamer/Dac/Amp stack, and it does sound wonderful when used as that. However, as a solo amplifier, this is still a phenomenal product that will surely sell a lot, and it’s really hard to criticize anything about it. 

Highly recommended.

Big thanks to EarMen for providing the CH-Amp for this review. I wasn’t paid or asked to say anything good or bad about this product, all of the above is just my personal, unbiased opinion.