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TEAC HA-P90SD: portable head-fi muscle at Fujiya Avic 2015

  • FA_2015_autumnImagine that you buy a Suzuki Swift only to realise post-purchase that it won’t go off-road. To remedy the shortcoming you buy a gearbox-less, steering-column-less Land Rover and rubber strap the Swift to its roof. With the hatchback’s steering column and gearbox wired into the 4WD below you ride up top. And now you’re set for some hectic off-road action. Crazy, huh?

    And yet in the portable audio world this practice isn’t uncommon. Many an ear-freak can be seen getting about with their luxury digital audio player rubber strapped to the back of a portable headphone amplifier, wires akimbo. Why? Because their DAP won’t go it alone with the likes of the Beyerdynamic T1 or the Sennheiser HD650.

    With the slow introduction of more portable-friendly headphone models, more lately in direct collaboration with Beyerdynamic themselves, Astell&Kern tacitly admit their players to be short on go juice. At RMAF this year HiFiMAN’s head honcho Dr Fang Bian described them as “terribly weak”.


    Inverting the lower powered DAP trend is the TEAC HA-P90SD.

    At the Fujiya Avic headphone show in Nakano I witnessed first hand just how effortlessly the TEAC device can drive Beyerdynamic’s 600 Ohm T1 – not in a pinch but a cinch. Our table host confirms the spec sheet claim of  2 x 40mW (into 600 Ohms) by way of an OPA1602 output chip. A friendlier 32 Ohm load will see 2 x 170mW.

    But you don’t need to pop the lid to know that. In hand, the TEAC feels like an 4WD jeep looks. At 280g, it’s no flyweight. Those protective corner fins aren’t for show – they mean business.

    As one might surmise from its model name, the HA-P90SD started life as a headphone amplifier. Only later did TEAC add a Burr Brown PCM1975 DAC. Data is clocked in by two independent oscillators: one for 44.1/88.2/176.4kHz, the other 48/96/192kHz. This is serious stuff. DSD256 and PCM up to 24bit/192kHz are yours for the feeding.

    How to supply the HA-P90SD with digital audio? On top a 4-way 3.5mm port: analogue input, optical input, coaxial input and output (for DDC pass through). The downward facing USB ports accommodate desktop/laptop PCs, Macs, tablets and smartphones. Strap on if you must…

    …but TEAC have also added transport functionality to the mix. A (rudimentary) low noise screen, see/saw rocker switch (up/down) and select button are used to navigate the contents of a side-mounted microSD card. That’s the ‘SD’ in HA-P90SD.

    On run time from a fully battery charge, TEAC rate based upon the unit’s most resource-intensive scenario – decoding DSD – with which you can expect around 6 hours’ playback.

    Winning precisely zero cool factor awards, the HA-P90SD’s interface is agricultural at best. This isn’t a product for the mainstream, not by a long shot, but for hardcore audiophiles it might just enough to ditch the two-fer of DAP + DAC/amp.

    The TEAC HA-P90SD is available worldwide in red and black finishes for a non-outrageous JPY70,000 (~US$700). A DAP that can accommodate more demanding headphones? It’s rugged, a little rough around the edges but ideal for off-road action right out of the box. No strap on required.

    Further information: TEAC Japan














    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. According to Teac web site it does up to DSD128 not 256. It appears to be identical to the Onkyo DAC-HA300. Do you know if Teac make this for Onkyo or vice versa?

      Portable players seem to be lacking memory capacity. I think this player takes up to 128GB SDXC card? That isn’t enough for me? And it’s not just this player. They need to have much more capacity. I want my entire music collection at my fingertips. I don’t want to be swapping memory cards all the time. Inconvenient.

      How’s the user interface? Better, same as Pono player?

      Has anyone really topped the Pono player in the year it’s been out?

      • Interface is considerably more fiddly than the Pono Player’s touchscreen. Think of it as an amplifier first, DAP second. And you’re right, I just Googled that Onkyo and it looks super similar…but on the output of the Onkyo unit we see a Muses 8920 op-amp, not a OPA1602 as per the TEAC.

        EDIT: My Japanese sources tell me the interface for the DAP was designed by a 3rd party. Perhaps Onkyo and TEAC pooled resources on this project? Perhaps the Onkyo is overseas only? I didn’t see it in Yodobashi Camera today and I spent a long time there sussing out the gapless capability of the TEAC for which the brochure says yes but the manual says not yet but soon (via firmware update).

        • I think TEAC makes the same product for Onkyo. The main difference is the op amp. The Teac has a higher output impedance which might give problems with some IEMs.

    2. Not sure what to think of this. On one hand, it’s great for anyone wanting to bring they T1 or LCD-# out, but on the other it might make you think you were in an actual Land Rover (and a Defender at that) powering some ultra-sensitive Nobles or FitEars. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. In any case, more companies coming to snatch market share from Ang&Kim and their bloated-as-Trump price model is a good thing

    3. Larry B: SanDisk now has 200GB micro SD cards out, for about 200 euros each. If, like the Questyle QP1R I’ve got in for review right now, you have two card slots plus 32GB of flash memory inside, that’s 432GB of total storage. That’s not shappy at all considering that the iPod Classic maxed out at 160GB and used a mini HHD. How much memory should one expect of a portable? If it used standard size cards and two of ’em, you could do 1TB already with two 512GB jobbies. From where I sit, that kind of tech borders on magic. And how tough is it really to quickly swap out a card or two? -:)

      • Hi Srajan, Thanks for your reply. I had thought that the specified storage limit of the DAP is what determines the largest capacity of memory card which will work in the unit? Why is a capacity limit specified then? Always been that way with cell phones too.

        I’m generally disappointed with DAPs or anything with a DAC that plays hi-res files because most companies seem to be trying to do a money grab or they have some scheme to increase their revenue stream by bundling with streaming services etc. instead of trying to expand their base. Labels are still pushing out poor masterings and upsampled junk. I’m hoping hi-res survives because I don’t see many newcomers recently.

    4. I don’t myself understand published card limits for DAPs, Larry. I think it originally had to do with a different FAT-based formatting whereby once you passed the published max, the bigger cards used incompatible formatting. The Questyle today is published as taking up to 128GB cards but Headfi users report that the latest 200GB cards work just fine. At €200 for one of those beasties vs. €60 for a 128GB version, I’ll stick to the latter for now.

      Does that mean next year’s 400GB cards will be compadre as well? If they use the same formatting system, they well might – but that’s beyond my pay grade. Relative to money grabs… I’ve from afar watched LessLoss ready their Panzerholz enclosed memory card reader. It’s taken years already and if the specs remain by the time it bows, it’ll have a *very* basic slash rudimentary way to interface with a card’s contents, nothing remotely as slick as any of these modern DAPs. What is involved in writing proper code inside an OS to come up with an iTunes-type interface for a card reader (which is what these DAPs are) I don’t know, either. But it *is* something which one pays for even though it’s software, not hardware. And software engineers have to eat too -:)

      The way I look at it is perhaps a bit backwards but then, I’m not really a mobile guy. I’m a stationary guy who likes portables. If I have an €899 Questyle Qp1R connected via its line-out to a basic pair of active speakers, I can have a killer system whose box count is minimal; whose source runs off batteries and with no moving parts; which does DSD and 24/192 PCM; which can hold 400GB of music plus make card swaps a cinch; which renders a PC/Mac redundant for playback; and which can outperform a legacy CD player with integrated amp setup by a good margin.

      If I look what that compact rig costs versus what it does and how it sounds… then an €899 DAP looks positively budget. Ideally I’d like to have a dock with RCA outputs but I found a €36 Belkin dock that fits the Questyle to a T and at least positions it upright and charges while I play so I can last 24/7 nonstop. For me that’s a lovely find and I don’t view it as a money grab, particularly when I look at how well this thing is built and finished.

      But then, one guy’s Honda is another man’s Lexus, ain’t it -:)

    Turning heads at Fujiya Avic 2015: the Cowon Plenue 1

    Tokyolo #3: an over supply of hi-fi at Yodobashi Camera