An excellent DAC with a balanced and neutral approach to sound, the EarMen Eagle enhances your music on any device you listen to at a relatively affordable price.
- Compact size
- Plug in and use
- Balanced and neutral sound
- Good file compatibility
- Affordable upgrade
- A little too pumpy at higher volumes
- UKMSRP: £109
- UNITED STATESMSRP: $129
PlatformSupports Android, iOS, Mac and Windows
audioPlayback up to 32-bit/384 kHz in PCM, DXD and DSD
Most people don’t realize that with a USB drive they could improve the sound of their mobile and desktop devices, but EarMen’s Eagle DAC/Headphone Amplifier has handed in its resume for supercharging your sound.
The Eagle supports playback from iOS, Android smartphones, Windows and Mac computers, covering a wide range of devices and file resolutions up to 384kHz.
Pocket friendly and capable of amplifying sound for a range of devices. Is this DAC a hi-fi bargain?
- Premium look (for a USB stick)
- Seems sturdy
The Eagle’s USB appearance means it simply needs to be plugged into a source with a USB port and away you go.
The glossy black casing is made of aluminum, which keeps it light at 15g, and with dimensions of 55 x 22 x 8mm it’s perfectly compact. If anything, it’s so small you could lose it if you’re not careful.
The face/helmet logo is an LED indicator that flickers when the Eagle is plugged in. A white light means a connection has been made, red means it is not connected, and green indicates a PCM, DXD, or DSD signal is being fed to the Eagle, while purple indicates the jack MQA support for tracks such as those from music streaming service Tidal.
At one end is a 3.5mm jack and at the other end is the USB-A input with the option to add a USB-A to C adapter. Small in size, this DAC/headphone amplifier seems more expensive than it is. And with a solid build quality, the Eagle should be able to withstand some bumps and scrapes when being transported.
- High resolution support
- Low noise circuit
- Extensive source support
In terms of audio formats and resolutions, the EarMen Eagle can play PCM, DXD, and DSD at up to 32-bit/384kHz, 384/352.5kHz, and 64/128 DSD respectively, which means it can eat most high resolution files for breakfast lunch and dinner.
While it can play MQA content, it’s not an MQA-certified renderer like the more expensive Sparrow, so it can’t unfold and unlock the additional information present in an MQA file beyond of the initial unfolding. You can learn more about how MQA works here.
It achieves take-off with Hi-Res Audio thanks to its ESS ES9280 C PRO DAC (digital audio converter), which EarMen claims delivers a total harmonic distortion plus noise (THD+N) figure of
This is further aided by the Super LOW ESR tantalum capacitors, which form the high-quality components in the power supply design, as well as the 4-layer gold-plated PCB technology used in PCs and smartphones. Again, the goal here is to reduce signal noise.
There’s an included USB-C adapter that works with my iPad Pro’s USB-C port, but for other iOS devices without USB-C, an Apple Lightning to USB adapter is needed. USB-C also works for Android devices and you can use any USB OTG (On-the-Go) cable. There is additional support for MacOS and Windows PCs, so most if not all avenues are covered.
- Balanced performance
- Increased headroom
- Consistent performance across multiple sources
For this test, I used the Sivga Robin SV021 closed headphones with the Eagle DAC, listening to Qobuz and Tidal on a Lenovo laptop and an iPad Pro. The benefits of the EarMen Eagle are simple: the sound is clearer, bigger, more defined and with more depth compared to a simple headphone connection.
With a 24-bit/44.1 kHz file of Gaal Leaves Synnax from Foundation: season 1 on Qobuz, the Eagle stands out as a clear, neutral and precise performer. There’s an extra ounce of sharpness and clarity across the entire frequency range, a finer feel to define the orchestral elements of the track. The dynamic range of the track is also better showcased – basses are expressed with more purpose, while high notes are brighter with more sparkle. The Eagle’s dynamic headroom delivers music with more range and impact.
Similar conclusions are drawn from London Grammar’s California Soil (24-bit/44.1kHz). The bass is louder and tighter in description with the Eagle; vocals occupy a greater presence at the center of the soundstage, with Hannah Reid’s vocals being louder and endowed with more definition, clarity and expression. This makes listening to the headphone output less colorful in comparison.
The detail the Eagle finds is far superior to that of the laptop’s internal DAC, and that helps produce a stronger, more defined stereo image. The Eagle amplifies the track’s sense of energy and attack though, perhaps a bit too much, with the track’s booming bass sometimes dominating and with vocals a bit thin and spare in tone. – there is a bit of subtlety traded for energy and impact at higher volumes. If you find this to be the case, the best solution is to reduce the volume to more comfortable levels.
With Rey’s theme from John Williams’ The Force Awakens, there is greater recovery of detail from the orchestral instruments. The opening oboe is articulated and defined with wonderful clarity. The track’s sense of rhythmic flow is more engaging and fluid, the orchestra’s swells as they move from fast to slow carry more verve and momentum, emphasizing the track’s peaks and dips with more confidence . It’s an altogether more incisive and neutral sonic performance than the smoothness of the laptop’s headphone output.
Moving on to Tidal and Anderson Paak’s Fire in the Sky (Master), and everything previously mentioned is transplanted here. The bass is more emphatic and heavier in its characterization, the piano notes at the start of the track offer more brightness and variation in tone, while Paak’s voice is wider and more expressive. It’s a balanced, cohesive sound that conveys the song with more nuance and fidelity.
Going back to the opening paragraph of this section, the attributes of the Eagle are simple and many: the sound is clearer, bigger, more defined and with more depth. As a simple and fairly affordable way to upgrade audio, the Eagle is an accomplished and entertaining way to do it.
Should I buy it?
If you want a simple audio upgrade: Plug in the EarMen Eagle and you’re on your way, retrieving more detail and clarity from your music than your home/mobile device’s internal DAC can’t muster.
For optimal MQA performance: The Eagle can play Tidal’s MQA tracks, but it’s not an MQA renderer like the more expensive Sparrow. This ensures its best playback when listening to Tidal and is worth considering if Tidal is your primary music service.
Clarity, detail and neutrality – I can sum up the Eagle’s performance in these three words. Music is made even more enjoyable with the Eagle DAC, and with good device compatibility and file support, it’s a clear and reasonably priced upgrade. Whether you’re at home or away, this pocket-sized companion will make your music collection shine.
How we test
We thoroughly test every DAC we review. We use industry standard tests to properly compare features and use the tablet as the primary device during the review period. We’ll always tell you what we find and we never, ever accept money to review a product.
Learn more about how we test in our ethics policy.
Tested over several months
The Eagle comes with a USB-C adapter, so it works straight away with iOS devices like the iPad Pro, but for devices with a Lightning connector, you’ll need the Lightning Camera adapter to connect the ‘Eagle.
The Eagle can play Tidal Masters tracks, but it doesn’t fully support Master tracks like the more expensive Sparrow DAC does.
US Recommended Retail Price
Ear Men Eagle
ESS ES9280 C PRO