If there ever was an argument for valves in audio, it no more evident than at home. A large, heavy, and hot valve power amp is an item of luxury. But if you ain’t got the home, or you just prefer to augment your collection with a good headphone set up, your source (surprisingly, even an iPod) and a good valve headphone amp are a match made in heaven. Why? Valves aren’t about performance – they are about sound. Woo Audio has been churning out quality amp after quality amp, each with one thing in common: milky smooth valves and a lot of power. Their WA3 is a great valve amp at a very good price point which puts the fuzzy wuzzies into your best records.
Continue on to the Woo Audio WA3 headphone amp review.
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.
Thanks to Apple’s reticence to include USB ports or memory card slots in the iPad, THIS is making news.
The Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit, which has just gone on sale for an even 29$, makes brilliant use of the iPad’s number 1 feature: mobile OSX. The operating system isn’t just a touch-friendly app-mongering front end, it supports low-level instructions as well. Specifically, the iPad Camera Connection Kit can connect to USB audio and professional interfaces.
Like the excellent (and tiny) Travagan’s Red headphone amp/pre-amp, TrendsAudio’s Combo One HI-Fi system is a do-it-all workhorse for both headphones and sensitive speakers and includes 3 units: TA-10.2P Class T power amp, PA-10 tube headphone amp, and PW-10 power supply unit. The Combo One Hi-Fi also comes in an iPod-friendly version complete with high quality line out docking cable.
The PA-10 headphone amp can roll tubes for minute sound enchancement. You’ve met up with op-amp rolling in our headphone amp reviews before: now it is taken back a few warm years into the tepid and heady days of tube audio. TouchMyApps will be looking at a number of tube-powered headphone amps including the Woo Audio 3 and the affordable USB DAC/amp: Head Direct EF2A.
Pic and more after the gap:
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.
Big news in the world of headphones: @BJ, organiser of the Tokyo OFF headphone amp exhibition where dozens of local manufacturers and audiophiles met, will be meeting with Apple next week to showcase the merits of portable headphone amplifiers on portable media players such as the iPod. The meeting is scheduled for February 8, and if successful in wrangling the right ear, could mean very prolific exposure for the world of high-end portable audio. Discuss Apple and BJ 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
On 19 December 2009, I attended one of the most eye-opening meetings of my life: the Tokyo OFF Headphone Audio Meeting. While that is a rough translation of the actual event’s title is underwhelming, the current crop of small Japanese audio makers who peeked in is amazing. I have been smitten by the nearly perfect ALO Rx headphone amplifier, but what I heard at the meeting smashed most of my expectations in terms of what is possible in portable audio. Carrying an amp with an iPod can be annoying, but in my opinion, the jump in sound quality is worthwhile – very worthwhile. Matt MacBeth who designed the audio circuitry of the ALO Rx said in TMA interview that 2010 will be the year when portable audio overtakes home audio in terms of quality. In terms of price/performance, that certainly is possible, and in terms of possibility, that much is certainly true.
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.
Recently, TouchMyApps had the good fortune to review the excellent ALO Rx portable headphone amp. As you can read in my review, the amp is a driving champion, supplying power and flat frequency response for a very wide variety of headphones. The Rx isn’t only your “prescription for sound”, it is also a partner product from the newly formed team, ALO and GR9. Both Ken Ball (ALO) and Matt MacBeth (GR9) have had years in their respective industries, and if I may be so bold, left indelible marks on each. Naturally, I was intrigued about their philosophies, goals, and good ol’ fashioned teamwork. By the way, Matt’s often detailed answers are a great reference for what is possible via the iPhone. Yes, his answers were typed 100% on a virtual keyboard.
For reference, please take a look at TMA’s ALO Rx review and follow any links in the text.