Review Einar Sound VC-01i Balanced headphone amplifier
God, I feel like this review is extremely overdue. It is. Einar sound, out of Calgary Alberta have a great line of amps as first products. They are the VC-01i and VC-01 -both balanced- which come at 599$ and 399$ respectively.
TMA hasn't covered Balanced amps before, but your dear shigzeo has been an audio idiot many times over and has gotten off with single ended, balanced, and even tin-cup headphones for a number of years. Simiply put, balanced in/out effectively reduces noise in the signal, adds power, and helps the signal achieve stereo image more similar to the original wave pattern.
The VC-01i at 600$ is actually a 'budget' balanced headphone amp, many of its peers cost nearly 2x as much. I cannot fit the entire review here, but I'll try to cover the main points.
Firstly, the VC-01i sounds great, has two sets of outputs: XLR and single-ended TRS. The latter has two headphone sockets, but only one can be used at a time. Confusing? Yes, but oh well. You CAN use the TRS output and XLR output concurrently, but the XLR will be much louder, so you'll have to whip out your maths noggin' to suss out which headphones work with output.
Ergonomics are great: ON/OFF at the back furthest to the left and there is lots of space between the XLR and TRS outputs. And to switch between input modes, a small toggle graces the front panel and can be operated blindly.
I am pleased to notice that in either mode using either set of outputs, the VC-01i sounds great. It is smooth and quite neutral, not casting much of a shadow onto any music. That said, if you have low Ω headphones ~640-80Ω, there is a lot of great power in the lowest of registers. For instance, my DJ1Pro hit bottom, a depth of bass I've not really enjoyed with many amps.
The 600Ω DT880 has way more power than it needs in either output mode, but balanced does help delineate the stereo image even better than TRS. It is lovely to say the least, but the DT880 aren't as output dependent as some headphones, so overall amped personality is laid back.
It's great to note that there is very little noise in the circuit, so even sensitive headphones and some earphones can be used gracefully with the VC-01i. Adding to that, even when driving loads of around 16Ω, Einar's amp loses very little resolution, though it doesn't seem to handle balanced armature earphones that well. Not only do they hiss and pick up on hum, but they lose some resolution. But then again, who buys a home desktop amp to drive balanced armature earphones?
This is a great amp at a great price. You can hook up cheap RCA cables to double the output power into XLR outs or go TRS, but you can also use real balanced sources and headphones for top notch performance. A great amp. Einar could improve by making the case more stack-friendly and reducing flex in the top and back panels.
Web: Einar Sound