Panda Audio is a very famous portable headphone amplifier manufacturer in China, while they are popular in the circle, I am happy to see them interested in the international market now. Unlike other DIYers that selling their amplifier in Taobao.com, Panda Audio is company that are enthusiast at what they are doing and only ready to show their best to the world. I am indeed proud when I knew that I have chance to review their latest flagship, the Panda Audio Amp-S.
Amp-S is a little different from most of the portable amplifier that has built in lithium (Or similar) battery, which often has no enough current/power to give adequate headroom for big headphones, it is something that give and take though because Amp-S is using 2 pieces of conventional 9V batteries, good things are you can always buy spare and it is durable because you can have few set spares, you can also get them easily. Bad news are, you have to spend extra money for batteries.
But the truly good thing is, I found that Amp-S has sufficient power to power up 300 ohms headphones that I threw at it, from Sennheiser HD600, German Maestro GMP450, GMP400 until the GMP8.300D, it always has good headroom for them, powered up them way more than hazard listening volume level. They are good for IEMs as well, but I have to admit that I am not using IEMs as my reference, frankly I think that Amp-S are made for headphones,
particularly those beyond 50ohm, although my low impedance Sennheiser HD25-1ii, Creative Aurvana Live!, German-Maestro GMP435s and the Superlux HD681B (my friend’s) has good result with it as well. For IEMS though, I paired some of my favourite IEMs with it, from Chord & Major 7’13 Jazz, 9’13 Classical, Vsonic GR07 to Dunu DN-1000, all of them sounded nice and the way they should with Amp-S, noticeable improvement they are. From the spec, Amp-S has following power at load:
150mW @ 16ohm
200mW @ 32ohm
300mW @ 150ohm
100mW @ 600ohm according to the instruction manual.
Frequency Response : 1-100k Hz
SNR : 99dB
Stereo Crosstalk : 110dB
Good for 16-600ohm
Battery life : 20 hours and depend on battery and usage
Dimension : 92 x 64 x 27mm
Build quality are very good and solid, besides the volume knob, everything are made of metal, I don’t have any issues with the build quality and finishing itself, the back cover which tighten by the screws, are not that friendly though, as the orange seal will come out easily when you loosen it.
Others than that, it is as hard as it can take a lot of hard beat. It is good that Panda Audio has improved the battery compartment which it is now more reasonable for putting battery inside the battery compartment (Former model has some problem with this), Amp-S is pretty simple, there is a 3.5mm input which you connected it to your DAC/Portable player then a headphone output that you plugged in your headphone, then you are good to go.
Roll able OP-Amp, Stock Op-Amp is LME49860
Panda Audio Amp-S is capable to run single or dual op-amp, but for simplicity issue, I am running it to stock. Roll able op-amp is cool and versatile, like changing valve tube in tube amp. For those who already has few types of op amps in hand, it is always good to perform their interest here.
Very clean and balanced audio quality
Amp-S is perfectly balanced and neutral to my ears, a very good mid level portable amplifier which performed like a beast. In terms of neutrality/Hi-Fi, Amp-S is really a very good headphone amplifier, in my opinion it behaved like a desktop amplifier in many ways, especially the headroom and weight of sound. I am not going to lie to you that it performed on par with desktop headphone amplifier or better than it, for headphones that are below 300 ohms, I actually like the performance of Amp-S with headphones that are lower impedance and IEMs, the result is breathtaking, but for hungry headphones, the dynamic level, soundstaging and nuance control is still not optimum. Yes, it can power up them and
Give more than reasonable audio quality, I am just saying for those who are going to make this the main headphone amplifier for their high impedance headphones, they should look somewhere else, although I can’t think of any desktop headphone amplifier in the price range.
I am liking Panda Audio Amp-S as soon as I hand on with it, sound is very clean and soundstaging, transient are all good. I believe many of the users will think that it is a little lean towards treble, but to my ears it is not. I paired with quite numbers of headphones/IEMs, noticed that Amp-S will just reflect the sound characteristic of your headphones/DACs, there is almost dead neutral, balanced and tasteless for itself, in another word it is very successful type of product, which just amplify the signal and made it to headphones. Good news are it is not thick sounding and not thin sounding, good tonal and adequate weight on the sound, nice.
More time I spent in the Hi-fi world, I often found out that most of the audio equipment tends to have thin sound signature and sharp treble to give sense of cleanliness and detail, but over time you will definitely feel it loss the musicality mineral, also lacking something what we will say euphonic factor. Lucky to say that Amp-S will reflect what your source sounded like, and make it as transparent as it can.
So it is easy now. Panda Audio Amp-S undeniably is the best portable amplifier that I have yet tested until now. Amp-S has surpassed the JDS Labs Objective 2 completely in my opinion. I don’t have the Shonyun Audio 306A in my hand now as I lend it to someone else, but I think Amp-S still outdo it in term of technicality and overall sound quality. So I think that the toughest competitor left here is Tubeamp TA-01, TA-01 is very good in term of musicality honestly, but technically wise Amp-S is way better, this is matter of taste though, if you like something warmer/liquify TA-01 is the way to go but if you want an amplifier that reflect your system/simply just amplify the signal, Amp-S is the best choice that I can think of now.