If you aren’t ready to take the wild walk on the DIY side, but still want to really get down and dirty with tweakable headphone amps, there are a very few options available to you. One of them is to experiment McGuyver style with cotton, fish, cookies, and an oiled grouse to achieve a truly experimental sound. But if lock picking DIY isn’t your thing, there are only a few choices on the market. Some such as Graham Slee, Firestone, iBasso, etc., offer headphone amps with user-replaceable op-amps and slightly modifiable circuits, but no one outdoes MST, a one-man operation out of Akihabara Japan. MST’ FiQuest project is as ground-up tweakable a design as is possible in a pre-fabbed design. In a way, it is the audio evangelist among portable amps.
Feel free to discuss the FiQuest in our forums.
When you’ve decided to clear your desktop, shed the headphones/turn off the speakers, and part the waves of a blistering commute to work, you insert inner earphones into your bus/train ride to work. But after a drudgered day of officing, places like your desktop, or your bed look and sound better for kicking back to relaxing music. If you cannot cajole your smarter half into saving up for a nice speaker setup, good headphone systems can be had for relative chump change. Canadian audio company, Einar Sound, offer both balanced and single-ended headphone bliss with their VC-01i, an amp which attacks sound quality and relative budget in one fell swoop. Feel free to discuss this review of Einar Sound’s VC-01i in our forums.
As HiFi headphone listening evolves, so does its component base. Chic design has influenced many market heavyweights – even boutique audio companies have opted to create sexy. But whereas amps like the ALO Rx is a masterpiece of steam and industry, the Graham Slee Voyager is plastic and comparatively bulky. Thankfully, looks are deceiving. This amp really takes off, surpassing all of my expectations.
Update: Feel free to discuss about the Graham Slee Voyager in our forums
Firestone have hammered the last studs into their newest audio block just in time for Christmas. The Fubar IV headphone amp/DAC continues the tradition of excellent price/performance for which Firestone are famous and even enjoys a price reduction from last year’s model. This amp sports USB input which makes enjoying high quality music from your computer a breeze and in the same breath, hooks up to SPDIF and digital coaxial input for direct lossless listening from HiFi sources. Finally, it has also wormed its way into my heart with its excellent pre-amp and even-Stephen sound.
If a headphone amp/dac combination product like the Firestone Fireye II is unique — and a good buy at 115$–, the 190$ Travagan’s Red which powers both headphones and sensitive speakers is the jackalope. Understated in matte black with a Rudolf-red volume and pot, it fits beautifully next to any desktop audio/video rig, computer, or in the living room, but understated it most certainly is not. Its lively, punchy sound has become one of my favourites, and for the comparatively small wallet bite, is sure to leave bite marks all over the competition.
ALO, a name highly respected for the manufacturing of hi-end audio interconnects and iPod line-out cables has firmly stepped into the world of analogue headphone amplifiers. Already, they have partnered with Red Wine Audio to produce the high-end solid state battery-powered Amphora headphone amp, and now, partnered with GR9 Technologies, are introducing the Rx, which in their own words, is your ‘prescription for sound’. I say, ‘touché’.
In a follow-up to last month’s review of the Fireye I headphone amplifier review, TMA will continue our look at Firestone products with the unique Fireye II USB/DAC headphone amplifier. Unlike the Fireye I, this unit does not accept analogue inputs and it is not a stand-alone amp; it functions 100% from USB ports as a plug and play audio device, and thankfully has a manual volume pot for volume attenuation. Its specific function is to create a clean audio signal for headphone listening from a computer, a job which it does quite well.
Taiwan’s Firestone Audio is known for creating high-quality amplifier and digital-to-analogue products at reasonable prices. One of their constants is the use of sturdy construction materials and methods, a design decision which guarantees the longevity of their products. The Fireye 1 is an impressively constructed headphone amplifier which has a couple of unique features that will help you enjoy music and movies from your your iPod, laptop, or larger, hifi source.