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Sony PHA-3

Portable headphone amplifier/DAC

3 Reviews | 2 questions - 4 answers

Item # 158PHA3

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Overview

Our take on the Sony PHA-3

I only meant to borrow the PHA-3 from our product testing folks for a quick look to verify some details. But when I unboxed it, my curiosity got the better of me. This thing was cool. I just had to plug in my iPod® for a quick listen. Well, that quick listen turned into an entire afternoon of rediscovering my music library. The sound of the PHA-3 was positively addictive. I immediately noticed details I'd never heard before buried way down in the mix on many favorite, long-familiar tunes — vocal harmonies, instrumental lines, finger snaps, and reverb tails — it was almost like hearing those songs for the first time. I couldn't stop listening. When I finally looked up, hours had passed.


High-res audio

My lost afternoon

I only meant to borrow the PHA-3 from our product testing folks for a quick look to verify some details. But when I unboxed it, my curiosity got the better of me. This thing was cool. I just had to plug in my iPod® for a quick listen. Well, that quick listen turned into an entire afternoon of rediscovering my music library. The sound of the PHA-3 was positively addictive. I immediately noticed details I'd never heard before buried way down in the mix on many favorite, long-familiar tunes — vocal harmonies, instrumental lines, finger snaps, and reverb tails — it was almost like hearing those songs for the first time. I couldn't stop listening. When I finally looked up, hours had passed.

Sony PHA-3 DAC/amp end view

With standard and balanced headphone outputs, plus a precision high-res DAC, the PHA-3 will make the most of your headphones and music collection.

High-resolution playback at home or on the road

Small enough to take almost anywhere, the PHA-3 lets you enjoy a reference-quality headphone listening experience wherever you go. You connect the PHA-3 between your music player's or computer's headphone jack or digital output and your headphones. Whether you run your audio through the PHA-3's headphone amp alone, or through both the amp and built-in DAC, your tunes will jump with newfound clarity and punch.

And for high-res music lovers, the PHA-3 can decode PCM digital audio signals up to 32-bit/384kHz resolution and DSD audio sources at 2.8MHz / 5.6MHz, so you can enjoy better-than-CD audio quality. This potent headphone amplifier's rechargeable battery supplies the power you need to pump out lifelike, richly detailed sound.

Versatile connectivity and sturdy construction

The PHA-3 works with a wide array of devices. Two separate USB ports give you a direct digital connection for your iPod/iPhone®/iPad®, Sony's Hi-Res Walkman, and a PC or Mac®. This allows the Sony to bypass the DAC in your player or computer, and decode your tunes with the superior audiophile-quality precision of its ESS Sabre DAC. An optical digital input lets you add a compatible disc player.

The PHA-3 also includes an analog input for plugging in most MP3 players, smartphones and other audio devices, as well as a line output for connecting to a receiver or self-powered speakers. And this is the first portable DAC/amplifier we've seen that boasts balanced headphone outputs, making it a perfect match for Sony's MDR-Z7 headphones.

Built like a Swiss watch, this Sony's rugged aluminum enclosure protects the precision circuitry inside from outside interference and impacts. Protective built-in end caps also help protect the volume knob and headphone connector. Plus, recessed control switches reduce the chance of accidental access during playback.

Product Highlights:

  • battery-powered portable headphone amplifier with built-in DAC
  • supported sample rates via USB input: up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM; 2.8MHz (DSD64) and 5.6MHz (DSD128)
  • supported sample rates via optical digital input: up to 24-bit/192kHz PCM
  • Windows and Mac computers supported (free software downloads from Sony's website for playback)
  • operating system requirements: Windows® Vista or later and Mac® OS X® 10.6.8 or later
  • ESS Sabre DAC (ES9018) 32-bit audio digital-to-analog converters with jitter reduction
  • high-bandwidth TI TPA6120 headphone amplifier for low noise and distortion
  • asynchronous USB data transfer for reduced timing jitter and better sound
  • gain select switch provides compatibility for a wide range of headphones and earphones
  • Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE HX) for improving compressed music sources
  • three USB ports:
    • micro type-B input for charging (cable included)
    • micro type-B input for computer, Sony Walkman™, and Xperia™ smartphone or tablet connections (adapter cables included)
    • standard type-A input for iPod/iPhone/iPad devices (these devices must use their own respective cables, not included)
  • optical digital (Toslink) input
  • standard and balanced minijack (3.5mm) headphone outputs
  • combination minijack audio input/line-level output for connecting MP3 players, smartphones and other audio devices or driving an external amp or powered speakers
  • built-in lithium-ion rechargeable battery provides up to 5 hours of playback with a digital source using balanced outputs (up to 17 hours when connected to analog stereo input)
  • durable rounded aluminum body with integral bumpers to protect volume control and headphone jack
  • recommended headphone impedance: 8-600 ohms
  • distortion: less than 0.01% (1kHz)
  • frequency range: 10-100,000 Hz (analog audio input)
  • 3-1/8"W x 1-1/16"H x 5-1/2"D
  • weight: 10.58 oz.
  • warranty: 1 year parts, 90 days labor
  • Our 60-day money-back guarantee

What's in the Box:

  • PHA-3 portable DAC/headphone amplifier
  • 59" Micro USB cable (Type A USB on one end and Micro USB on other end)
  • 4 Silicone belts
  • Silicone rubber protection sheet (1-5/8" x 3-1/2")
  • 4.75" Miniplug cable (right angled 3.5mm male miniplug on each end)
  • 5.25" Digital cable for Walkman cable (Micro USB on one end and proprietary WM-Port connector on other end)
  • 8.5" Digital cable for Xperia (Micro USB on one end and proprietary connector on other end)
  • Startup Guide
  • Reference Guide
  • Listening for a Lifetime booklet
  • Limited Warranty (US)
  • Sony Consumer 1 Year Warranty (Canada)
Reviews

Sony PHA-3 Reviews

Average Customer Review(s):

(3 Reviews)
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Details

Hands-on research

Product Research

Features

Overview: The Sony PHA-3 is a battery-powered portable DAC (digital-to-analog converter) and headphone amplifier that lets you listen to high-resolution audio through your headphones. You can connect a PC, an iPod/iPhone/iPad, or a high-res capable Walkman to the unit using one of the three USB inputs. It will also work with analog devices as well.

Internal Components and Construction: The PHA-3's ES9018 DAC samples PCM audio at up to 384kHz/32-bit, and DSD audio at 2.8/5.6MHz. The OPA2604 headphone amp provides a wide 130dB dynamic range to make sure you can hear every detail in the music. On the outside, the unit features a compact black extruded aluminum enclosure to protect the inside circuitry and components. Aluminum alloy endcaps provide further protection of the connecting cables and volume knob from hard impacts. The controls are recessed to reduce accidental access during playback.

USB 2.0 Clock: The DAC is equipped with an asynchronous USB 2.0 clock signal generator that reduces timing inaccuracies when converting digital signals into analog waveforms. This results in a highly accurate DA conversion and jitter-free audio for superior audio reproduction that is as close to the original recording as possible.

Digital/Analog Connections: The PHA-3 has three USB digital inputs: a Micro USB port for PC and charging, a Type A USB for connecting an iPod/iPad/iPhone, and a Mini-B USB with an extra pin for connecting a High-Res supported Sony Walkman. The front panel features three 3.5mm jacks--a stereo "normal" headphone output and a balanced left/right pair for connecting headphones that accept balanced connections, such as the Sony MDR-Z7.

Note: The 3.5mm inputs only support 3-pole stereo miniplugs. For this reason, headphones with on-board or in-line remote controls will not work. When the analog 3.5mm input is used, no audio is output from the Balanced L/R outputs, only the Normal headphone output jack.

Controls: The front-mounted large power/volume control knob has plenty of headroom to let you set the volume just where you want it. A 2-position Gain switch (normal/high) on the side lets you match the headphone amp to various headphone impedances from 8 to 600 Ohms. Another 2-way switch is provided for selecting the output--headphones or the line output. On the back, there's a 4-way slide switch for selecting between the three USB inputs and the analog input.

DSEE-HX: Sony has included their DSEE-HX "up-scaling" technology in the PHA-3. DSEE-HX uses an algorithm to analyze the music, and automatically replace the "lost" information. DSEE-HX (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) gives your highly-compressed MP3 and AAC music files new life so they sound almost as good as true Hi-Res Audio quality. You can turn on/off DSEE-HX via a 2-way switch on the side of the PHA-3.

Lithium-ion Rechargeable Battery: The PHA-3 is powered by a built-in 3.7-volt Lithium-ion rechargeable battery. Battery life is approximately 28 hours at 1 mW + 1 mW output (24Ω) with a analog connection, and about 5 hours with a digital (balanced) connection. The battery charges in approximately 15 hours via USB when connected to a computer. With the optional AC-UD20 USB AC adapter, charging time is reduced to 6 hours.

Compatible Devices: The Sony PHA-3 is compatible with a wide variety of devices (click here for the latest list). With three USB inputs and an analog input, it can connect to most computers and portable audio devices:

  • Computer: The unit can play digital audio files stored on your computer. The unit includes a Micro USB cable for connecting it to your computer's USB Type A port. The PHA-3 is compatible with the following Operating Systems: Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows 7 (SP1), Windows Vista (SP2), and Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later. Note: For Windows PCs, you must first install the driver software "Sony Portable Headphone Amplifier USB Audio 2.0 Driver" before connecting the PHA-3. Playing high-resolution audio files on your computer may require you to download and install "Hi-Res Audio Player" software to your computer.
  • iOS Devices: The PHA-3 is compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod. The Type A USB input is provided for connecting the iPhone/iPad/iPod using the USB cable provided with the device. The digital audio data from the device is transferred directly to the DAC, and bypasses the device's internal DAC. Compatible models include:
    • iPhone: 5S, 5C, 5, 4S, 4, 3GS (not all operations guaranteed on iPhone 6 and 6 Plus)
    • iPad: iPad Air, 4th gen, 3rd gen, iPad 2, iPad, mini w/Retina display, mini,
    • iPod:
      • touch: 5th gen, 4th gen, 3rd gen, 2nd gen
      • classic: 120GB, 160GB
      • nano: 7th gen, 6th gen, 5th gen, 4th gen, 3rd gen
  • Sony Devices: Special digital cables are supplied for connecting the PHA-3 and the following Hi-res Walkman and Xperia devices:
    • Sony Walkman: NWZ-A15/A17, NWZ-F884/F885/F886/F887, NWZ-ZX2/ZX1
    • Sony Xperia Tablets: Xperia Tablet Z, Z Ultra, Z2, Z3 Tablet Compact
    • Sony Mobile Phones: Xperia A2, C3, E3, M, M2, SP, T, T3, TX, V, Z, Z Ultra, Z2, Z3, ZL
  • Android Phones: HTC One X, Galaxy Note II, Samsung Galaxy Note III, Samsung Galaxy Premier i9260, Galaxy S4, Galaxy S5, Samsung Galaxy SIII
  • Other Devices: The PHA-3 lets you listen to music on other audio devices, such as a smartphone or portable music player, through the analog audio input.

Silicone Belts: The PHA-3 is designed to allow you to conveniently attach your portable device to the top. Two rubber rails, approximately 1-3/4" apart, let you rest your player on the top and secure it with two of the provided silicone belts. If your player is not wide enough to rest on the rails, a silicone rubber protection mat is provided to prevent scratches.

Specifications:

  • Frequency Range: 10 Hz - 100 kHz (Audio In input)
  • Distortion: 0.01% or less (1 kHz)
  • Supported Impedance: 8Ω - 600Ω
  • Maximum Input: 2 Vrms (Audio in)
  • Maximum Output (with built-in battery):
    • Balanced Connection: 320 mW + 320 mW (32Ω, 1% distortion)
    • Normal Connection: 100 mW + 100 mW (32Ω, 1% distortion)

Our Product Research Team

At Crutchfield, you'll get detailed, accurate information that's hard to find elsewhere. That's because we have our own in-house Product Research team. They verify what’s in the box, check the owner's manual, and record dimensions, features and specs. We stay on top of new products and technologies to help people make informed choices.

Q & A

Customer Q&A

Crutchfield asked  
Why did you buy this?

Did extensive research on Sony website between the silver and black headphone amp and decided on this one for versatility, you never know. [ Ivy  May 02, 2016 ]
sony brand, sufficient power and balanced output for my hd800 headphones, seamless connection to apple devices, packaging, online review [ William  Mar 07, 2016 ]

2 questions already asked

You can only charge the unit from a USB with the supplied cord. You can use a 120 volt to USB adapter with the charge cord plugged into it or a USB outlet in a laptop. The red light goes off after about 10 hours, but as I understand it charges in about 6 hours. [ Mark  Apr 30, 2017 ]
No. It can only be charged by USB or a required charger by Sony [ DONALD N  Apr 04, 2017 ]
YES IT CAN!! [ RUBEN  Apr 03, 2017 ]
The battery charges only when the headphone amplifier is off. [ Slawomir  Apr 03, 2017 ]
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