Earstudio HUD100 MK II DAC/AMP – All Grown Up
HUD100 MK II is a DAC/AMP made by Earstudio as a response to their original, which was criticized by many including me in the full written review I posted before. The MK II is totally different, and it comes with more driving power, and a lower price point, along with the same design. Being priced at 90 USD at the moment of writing this review, it will be compared to very entry-level stuff like IKKO Zerda, CEntracne DACport HD, and FiiO BTR5.
Earstudio is a company from South Korea, and they mean business. Like most companies coming from Korea, they aren’t here to just make something and leave, but they are here to stay. I’ve noticed a trend like this with many others, like Opus Audio, who made DAPs in 2017 that are still mostly relevant today. Earstudio is reliable, and their products are also covered by Amazon, so you most definitely won’t run into any issue with them. Even if you drop their products, they won’t break, being made of metal, and having a good reliability.
It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with Earstudio. I’d like to thank Earstudio for providing the sample for this review. This review reflects my personal experience with the Earstudio HUD100 MKII. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in Earstudio HUD100 MKII find their next music companion.
First things first, let’s get the packaging out of the way:
It is really obvious that Earstudio likes a honest impression and will listen to reviewers and fans. I am blown away by this, after some companies actually criticized me for being “too honest” and actually asking me why did I point out the issue with their products.
Regardless, Earstudio did read my review, and watched the video for HUD100 MK I, and they listened, now including not only cables with their MKII, but also a case! For a DAC/AMP this small, a practical case is really important, and while MK I did have a case, it was mostly useless.
Bravo to Earstudio, this makes HUD100 MKII practical and easy to use in the long run.
HUD100 MKII is really tiny, made of metal, and practical. It is a pretty rectangular device, about the same size as your average AMD 5800X CPU (I just upgraded my computer, and I feel proud about my work). The DAC is hefty for the size, but not heavy compared to everything else out there.
Earstudio used Type-C USB, which is awesome, they have two headphone outputs, both in 3.5mm, and one in high and one in lower power. Both are completely silent in terms of background noise.
They also have a switch for using USB 2.0 or USB 1.1. That helps because no driver is needed with USB 1.1, but on Windows 10 I got the HUD100 MKII working regardless of the USB setting.
There is also a frontal EQ switch that enables their own fine tuning of the HUD100 MKII, but I liked the sound most at the center position, so with Earstudio’s DCT Dithered turned on, but no extras. In Bypass mode, the sound is slightly more rough around the edges and not as smooth and musical.
HUD100 consumes quite a bit of power from your smartphone, if you use it portably, and it grows rather hot during usage. It uses a full sized AK 4377, having a 2.26VRM (3.2Vp) power. It is enough to blow the drivers out of HIFIMAN Sundara, or HIFIMAN HE400i 2020, and way too much for most IEMs out there. On low gain, things settle a bit more, with 0.914 VRM and 1.29Vp. With 118 dB of Dynamic range, HUD100 is better than the human threshold of dynamics, and this is reflected in the signature that is quite dynamic, and it can decode high resolution files, up to DSD 128 via DoP, and PCM 32Bit 384kHz.
The sound of the HUD 100 MK II is not that similar to the first release, and while it is the same company, and the same product, it is heavily improved sonically with a much better dynamic, better punch, more driving power, better overall soundstage precision, and control. The sound is generally natural, and I will be judging it with the DCT turned on, since that is how it sounds best. Deep bass, sparkly treble, excellent extension both ways, and good dynamics are all reasons to go for the HUD100MKII.
The bass is snappy yet deep, has excellent body, and can control heavy weight headphones like Sundara quite well. This means also controlling Verum One, Harmonic Dyne Zeus, and even Beyerdynamic T1. Quite crazy for a device this small, but I’ve also noted a good driving power and control coming from Earmen Sparrow, so we know it is possible. Earstudio decided to follow and make something small yet really strong. The bass is not warm, and it is not thick or has too much body, instead having more of a neutral bass.
The midrange is really clean and crisp, without much coloration. If you’re coming from a thicker source, the HUD100 MK II will sound neutral and slightly thin, while if you’re coming from something that is generally sparklier, the HUD100 MK II will sound just right and natural. Prior experience matters a lot, because I’m using the Lotoo Paw 6000 a lot lately, and HUD100 MK II comes through as a bit harder and more forward sounding. The detail is excellent for the money paid, and I also adored the soundstage of the HUD100 MKII. I’ve been trying to get this kind of performance when I was young, but the answer was only to be found at this price in 2021.
The treble of the HUD100 MKII is ok, pretty sparkly and well extended. In fact, it also has a slightly splashy presentation that I tend to love, because it takes away the edge and harshness from a more coarse song. This is helpful with songs like Eskimo Callboy – Cinema, where the treble tends to be quite strong, and recorded harshly, but HUD100 can express all that raw energy without the fatiguing part. I also liked the really good dynamics and excellent driving power of HUD100 MKII. It is more than enough for any headphone you can think of, as long as you’re reasonable. In fact, even if you go crazy, it is still reasonably strong, and it can do HIFIMAN Arya just fine, but the setup would look a bit too comedic to be practical.
The main competitors for the HUD100 MK II are IKKO Zerda, CEntrance DACportHD, and FiiO BTR5. All of those are a bit more expensive than the HUD100 MKII, and it shows a really good value this time around. The Mark I was also ok, but it had poor value compared to MKII and competition.
In terms of pairings, HUD100 MKII works with pretty much everything, be it IEMs, Headphones, Planars or Dynamics. I was happy to discover it can drive Sundara, but also Mr. Speakers Aeon Flow, then Unique Melody 3DT, and even Rhapsodio Zombie.
Earstudio HUD100 MKII vs IKKO Zerda (90 USD vs 100 USD) – Zerda is also quite amazing, and I only just posted the video review about it, but it got popular rather quick. Unfortunately, it takes me a lot more to make the videos, so it may be a little while before I can post the video review about the HUD100 MK II. At any rate, both are great, and if I was to call out the differences, HUD100 has two headphone outputs, less background noise, has the EQ fine tuning options, while Zerda has optical output abilities, and is more aggressive, also warmer with a more natural midrange. Compared, HUD100 MKII sounds more sparkly, but also more neutral, a bit too clean which edges on aggressive in the highs. Detail is a bit better on HUD100 MKII, but I find Zerda better with bright and neutral headphones / IEMs as it tones them down a bit, keeping things enjoyable for a longer period of time with zero fatigue.
Earstudio HUD100 MKII vs CEntrance DACportHD (90 USD vs 180 USD) – The DACportHD is more expensive than the HUD100 MKII, but it also has a good driving power, and a nice original shape. I prefer the design of the HUD100 MKII, but also prefer having a volume wheel like Centrance used for their DACport HD. Both are similarly prone to breaking, but the Type-C on the HUD100 MKII is generally more reliable than the microUSB port on the DACport HD. The sound is considerably more natural and warmer of the DACportHD, with less treble emphasis and a smoother overall presentation. HUD100 MKII sounds more neutral, more clean, and has a cleaner bass, with a cleaner treble. The midrange is more neutral and while DACportHD is wider, the HUD100MKII is more rounded, with better depth relative to width.
Earstudio HUD100 MKII vs FiiO BTR5 (90 USD vs 110 USD) – You could pay just 20 USD more to get a more complex device with an even more complex EQ, and Bluetooth that has LDAC, and a self powered battery. In fact, generally, I would recommend a BTR5 to most folks, but now that HUD100 MKII has a great driving power, it is much easier to recommend, even above BTR5. The thing here is that BTR5 is generally more natural in tuning, with less emphasis on any specific frequency, but HUD100 MKII is also cleaner. There’s also more driving power in HUD100 MKII, and listening to them side by side makes it a bit clearer what people have been talking about when calling BTR5 a bit muddy in the bass. At the end of the day, BTR5 is still far more practical as a device, but sonically, if you want the ultimate, HUD100 MKII has more driving power and plenty of power to handle everything you need. Just make sure you have enough battery when connecting it, as it likes to have its share while being on.
Value and Conclusion
I love the value of the Earstudio HUD100 MK II. It makes for a great tiny DAC/AMP and this comes from someone who has to write those words all while having taken photos of three other DAC/AMPs in the same day. The other three I worked with today are Shanling UA2, Shanling UA1, and Periodic Audio Rhodium. And in the end, if driving power is important, and a small form factor relevant, the Earstudio HUD100 MK II will surely fit your needs. In fact, with the DCT enabled, you ain’t got nothing to worry about when it comes to how good of a value HUD100 MKII is.
The package is great, and I love when companies listen to us reviewers. Helps a lot knowing you can rely on them to offer a good service. They also are Korean, and they’re known for offering products that never fail and which are reliable in time. This, besides the scratches because the unit is made of metal and can scratch a bit easily.
The sound of the HUD100 MKII is generally natural, clean, crisp, and with good extension both ways. Combined with a good amount of driving power, and two headphone outputs, one in high gain and one in low gain, you can pair it with everything you have and still have an awesome time. In fact, I am going to put the HUD100 MKII in Audiophile-Heaven’s Hall Of Fame, and where the original failed, the Mark II wins and gains ground. I only wish all companies were like Earstudio and improve instead of harassing reviewers because they tell the honest truth.
At the end of the day, I can say for sure that if you want a very versatile, small DAC/AMP with a ton of kick and punch, excellent extension both ways, and with great value, the HUD100 MK II is a totally recommended purchase for you, and something you should enjoy greatly.
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Full Playlist used for this review
We listened to more songs than those named in this playlist, but those are excellent for identifying a sonic signature. PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality are all revealed by those songs. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you’re searching for new music!
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