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Pioneer XPA-700 Portable Headphone Amp & DAC Review

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the XPA-700 battery operated portable DAC and balanced headphone amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $508 including Prime shipping. It seems to be a Japan product though and not directly sold in US.

The XPA-700 is one of the most stout and rugged looking portable headphone amp I have seen. It reminds of what a field recorder would look like:

Pioneer High-res XPA-700 DAC and Portable Battery Headphone Amplifier Review.jpg


There are controls and jacks everywhere which fortunately are nicely labeled so not hard to navigate. Here is the front:

Pioneer High-res XPA-700 DAC and Portable Battery Headphone Amplifier Front Panel Review.jpg


There is a balanced headphone jack in the back with the 4-pin configuration. There are options for resampling audio to higher rates (which made no difference in my testing), choice of filters, etc.

The solid feel is great for desktop use but I don't know about the merits of that in a portable product where weight matters.

USB DAC Audio Measurements
There is a micro-USB jack on the back which allows the XPA-700 to be used as a DAC. Combined with a line out socket and switch, it made testing it as a straight DAC easy:
Pioneer High-res XPA-700 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Audio Measurements.png


Alas, this is disappointing performance. SINAD which is a combined measure of noise is just 93 dB which is shy of what we need to resolve CD's 16 bit dynamic range let alone high-resolution audio. Ranking then among all products with DACs in them is not good:

Best portable headphone amplifier dac balanced review 2020.png


Noise performance is good though:
Pioneer High-res XPA-700 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Dynamic Range Audio Measurements.png


Intermodulation distortion versus level is good and could have been excellent if distortion had not taken over toward the end:

Pioneer High-res XPA-700 DAC and Headphone IMD Amplifier Audio Measurements.png


32-tone test resembling "music" is at a lower level so shows better intermodulation distortion:

Pioneer High-res XPA-700 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Multitone Audio Measurements.png


I tested jitter with or without resampling to 192 kHz and the latter reduced jitter visually (but not materially as far as audibility):

Pioneer High-res XPA-700 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Jitter Audio Measurements.png


The broad skirt around our main tone shows fair bit of random jitter which would have been good to not be there.

Linearity which is a measure of precision is nailed to 20 bits or -120 dB:

Pioneer High-res XPA-700 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Linearity Audio Measurements.png


Headphone Amplifier Measurements
Let's start with our dashboard of feeding the amplifier a 2 volt signal and see what comes out when the volume is adjusted to pass the same level:

Pioneer High-res XPA-700 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Audio Measurements.png


This is worse than the DAC portion unfortunately. Third harmonic is dominant and quite high as desktop amplifiers go these days.

Bandwidth is quite wide and flat:
Pioneer High-res XPA-700 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Frequency Response Audio Measurements.png


Noise performance at the same 2 volts is not bad (left) but when you lower the volume, it degrades fair bit:
Pioneer High-res XPA-700 DAC and Headphone Amplifier SNR Audio Measurements.png


The latter lands the XPA-700 in the middle of the pack:

lowest noise headphone amplifier portable review 2020.png


And means that you may hear some noise or hiss with very sensitive headphones or IEMs.

Let's hook up a 300 ohm load to the unbalanced output representing a high impedance headphone and see how much power, noise and distortion we see:

Pioneer High-res XPA-700 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Power into 300 ohm Audio Measurements.png


Well, even in high gain we don't get a lot of power. My standard for desktop amplifiers is 100 milliwatts and at 20 milliwatts, we are well short of that. Fortunately if you can use the balanced output, you get four times as much power:

Pioneer High-res XPA-700 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Power into 300 ohm Balanced Audio Measure...png


Switching to a 33 ohm load we get:

Pioneer High-res XPA-700 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Power into 33 ohm Audio Measurements.png


The high output impedance of 12 ohm causes a lot of losses here. 111 milliwatts of power is not a lot and the high impedance means frequency response of some headphones will change.

Channel balance as you rotate the volume control is not great:

Pioneer High-res XPA-700 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Channel Balance Audio Measurements.png


Sorry, did not have time to perform any listening tests.

Conclusions
While it is hard to get great performance in a portable form factor, that isn't what we expect when we pay $500 headphone amp and DAC. The XPA-700 has the look of a serious device but performance is middling and not impressive. It is not terrible though so you get to decide if its form factor, functionality, performance and price fits your needs. It does not for me so can't recommend it.

-----------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Freight company came today to deliver a large speaker for testing. As usual, would refuse to come down our 1/3 of a mile driveway. So I told him I would come up with my car. He asked if I had a truck. I said no. He was shocked. We managed to stuff the monster speaker in my car but I really need a truck. Not one of those cheap ones mind you. It has to be a luxury one to fit my style of living. So I appreciate if you all start to donate seriously toward this worthy cause using : https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 
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NDC

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#2
Hi Amir - the build quality on this thing looks like you can drive a tank over it. Pity about the slightly sub-par performance though!

I noticed in your headphone amplifier SNR comparison graph I can see Geshelli Archel 2 Bal - and Erish Bal! The Archel 2 is SE, so might be a typo. Does this mean an Erish review is coming also! Woohoo!
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #3
Hi Amir - the build quality on this thing looks like you can drive a tank over it. Pity about the slightly sub-par performance though!

I noticed in your headphone amplifier SNR comparison graph I can see Geshelli Archel 2 Bal - and Erish Bal! The Archel 2 is SE, so might be a typo. Does this mean an Erish review is coming also! Woohoo!
Hi there. That shouldn't have been there. :) I did some testing for them during the development. There is not a production unit here for review.
 

pavuol

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DSJR

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#7
Things seem to have moved on so fast in some quarters as well as costs being lowered for excellent performance, I wonder if the performance here was 'good' for 2014? Six years may be yesterday to some of us oldies, but in terms of digital technology, it seems to be an age ago judging by recent releases.
 

AudioSceptic

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#12
"Bumpers" - take a look at a link in my previous post..
Thanks, so they form a cable guide when you strap it to a phone?

Other than higher output and slightly higher power, this performs worse than an Apple headphone adapter and many phones, and for that you carry around this chunk of tech with sharp pocket-damaging corners. I'd like to say that at least it saves usage of your phone battery, but power drain using IEMs is minimal anyway.
 

garbulky

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#14
Yeesh once again we have an expensive portable system with not a whole lotta power. Why sell a $500 headphone amp if the power is only a tad bit more than a stock output?
 

Billy Budapest

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#15
Overpriced boutique crap.
I wouldn’t call it boutique, I’d call it mainstream. But yes, it is overpriced for the performance it offers. I am sure that when it debuted six years ago, its performance was more competitive with its rivals. Headphone and DAC engineering has really blossomed in the last two years. The actual technology isn’t any different—the DACs, opamps, etc., are for the most part the same—but the circuit topologies have vastly improved.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #17

Nango

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#18
Acceptable data if you take into consideration it's dated 2014!! Try a current Pioneer XDP's model !

Nevertheless happy to see the measurements with the line-in vs line-out. I think this test routine hasn't been conducted with other similar items.
 
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#19
I know you personally feel it's too large for portable use, but you should really put other portable units in the comparison graphs, not desktop stuff.
 

AudioSceptic

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#20
I know you personally feel it's too large for portable use, but you should really put other portable units in the comparison graphs, not desktop stuff.
I think that's a fair point. Obvious contenders would be the Chord Mojo and Topping NX4 DSD, but these are more recent. Do you have any more in mind?
 
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