TouchMyApps » rmaa http://www.touchmyapps.com All Things iPhone and iPad for those who like to Touch. iOS App reviews, News, New Apps, Price Drops and App Gone Free Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:45:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.7.3 FiQuest headphone amp in review – Adroit audio evangelism http://www.touchmyapps.com/2010/05/04/fiquest-headphone-amp-in-review/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2010/05/04/fiquest-headphone-amp-in-review/#comments Tue, 04 May 2010 08:06:13 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=32425 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 … Read more]]>

HPA-review-FiQuest-fullfrontal

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.

Specifications
Power Source: Rechargeable 12-series Ni-MH Battery pack
Frequency Response: 5Hz – 100kHz/ -0.5dB
Gain: +3dB/+12dB/+23dB
SNR: 109.7dB (Gain:L), 101.2dB (Gain: M), 96.1dB (Gain: H)
Crosstalk: 90.7dB
Total Harmonic Distortion+Noise:
0.0009% @1kHz/+12dB/1Vp-p/600Ohm,
0.0011% @1kHz/+12dB/1Vp-p/100Ohm,
0.0018% @1kHz/+12dB/1Vp-p/33Ohm,
0.0024% @1kHz/+12dB/1Vp-p/15Ohm
Maximum Output power:
1300mW+1300mW (12Ohm loading+External powered),
590mW+590mW (12Ohm loading+Internal Battery Powered),
Battery Life: 8 Hours (with Maxxed config.) to 20 Hours (Normal)
Battery Charge Time: 2.5 Hours
Recommended Headphone Impedance: 8-300Ohm

Build and Package
If the first thing that strikes you when you see the FiQuest is its size, you ain’t blind: it is BIG. In fact, portable amps don’t get quite … this large. For that reason, the FiQuest transcends the ‘portable’ world and ascends to can be loosely dubbed: ‘transportable’. It IS at home in very large pockets, backpacks, and purses, but does an equally good job atop a HiFi or a desk.

Like Graham Slee’s Voyager, size comes with a number of advantages, mostly build quality and ease of use. The FiQuest is a high-quality platform for the tinkerer. Nearly everything on the inside can be custom-ordered, and from a DIYer’s usability standpoint, it earns accolades. Everything from the volume pot to the power supply is easy to fiddle with and replace. Heavy, yes. Fiddley, not at all. And of course, it is strong. The FiQuest’s walls are machined from ~3mm thick extruded aluminium with as little lateral flex as a cryogenically treated body builder.

HPA-review-FiQuest-slidopen

To open it up, you need a hex key and the ability to discern between clockwise and counterclockwise; to have fun, you just need tweezer-like fingers and a few op-amps. Thankfully, MST can supply you with the latter. This amp is designed to be tinkered with.

There is one concern, however, with the FiQuest’s design. The four bolts that hold the front and rear panels on will go through a lot of twisting. If you go DIY wild, eventually, they will strip the aluminium casing. In that case, I recommend replacing them with static bolts and thum-screws.

HPA-review-FiQuest-bolt

Features in Review
Things get really sick from here on in, and by sick, I mean ‘amazin’. Firstly, under the bonnet is a powerful battery supply and recharge circuit. The maxed version is rated for up to 8 hours of use while the normal version eeks out 20. The truth is that the maxed mode can actually play music for a little more than 9 hours. Considering the power under the bonnet, this spec, while trite in comparison to a long-running amp like the Graham Slee Voyager, is respectable.

The real DIY bit, however, comes from the fact that every op-amp in the amp is user replaceable. That means the main L/R op-amp(s), buffers, and ground channel amps can be changed to your liking. What that means for the end-user is many possibilities. It IS true that op-amps have very low distortion, and that on paper, most shouldn’t differ that much. But in an amp, powering very different circuits, the swap of a single op-amp can mean the difference between good sound and great sound.

I’ve settled on the simple combination of: BB OPA2111KP in the L/R socket and BUF 634P in the Buff channels. This combination affords me: very low levels of hiss and smoothly detailed mids with low end punch. It drives everything from my super-sensitive FitEar 333 to my gory 600Ω DT880 with the energy and overhead of a busload of zombies.

You can easily tinker it for max power or max finesse. But perhaps the most important DIY feature of the FiQuest is that its case can stay off whilst the amp is being overhauled. I’ve used a LOT of headphone amps and really enjoyed passing op-amps in and out, and on occasion, soldering here and there. For simple op-amp switching, having to reassemble, replace, and re-cap everything is Oprah-book-hour boring. With the FiQuest, if I want to make a quick change, I do it with ad-hoc expedience.

Note: remember to shut the power off when fiddling with the FiQuest’s insides.

HPA-review-FiQuest-inside

Sound
I noted that the Graham Slee Voyager was one of the best if not the best portable amp I’ve heard for driving my rather finicky DJ1Pro headphones. The GSP amp has got loads of power and a house sound that deepens the bass even without the contour switch engaged. Well, the FiQuest follows suit: it packs punch for hard-to-drive headphones, and for easy-to-drive headphones, supplies plenty of volume and control.

HPA-review-FiQuest-touchFE333

I ordered the Maxxed version as per my desire to really push a lot of hardware and I’m glad I did. Despite splashing out up to 16V, and driving the 600Ω DT880 to nearly ear-splitting volumes, the FiQuest is beautiful for any variety of inner earphones and iems.

Firstly, channel balance is extremely tight. For reference, I’ve re-seated the volume pot to point to 0 at the letter v on the volume legend. With a twist to the letter o, it is perfectly balanced on my most sensitive IEM’s and reveals no static when adjusting. Of course, every pot will vary slightly, but even sensitive ears should be able to enjoy low-volume amped music. Moving up to any proper headphone, especially high Ω beasts such as the DT880 is of course, better. There is no channel imbalance even at the lowest of discernable volumes.

The 600Ω DT880 can be very quiet from a lot of sources, but at high gain on the FiQuest, they double perfectly as desktop speakers. There is no better layman term to describe the power that belts forth other than: OMG. Of course, since I don’t need another operation, I never twist the high gain volume past about 12 o’clock.

Another issue with a lot of portable amps is radio interference. The FiQuest possesses no special powers, but its thick case does reflect most noise. I don’t know if I am just lucky, or if the FiQuest is just really well battened-down, but I’ve yet to grab someone’s mobile phone call – shame that.

So, how does it sound? Well, that is the hardest part to describe. You see, it sounds how you want it to sound. I suggest hashing it out with MST before purchasing. I wanted a do-it-all, and that is what I got. But MST can tailor an IEM-ready FiQuest if you want, or a power-hungry DJ1Pro FiQuest for you.

With my headphones, the FiQuest re-invents a lot of sensuous listening experiences. After I discovered the magic combination of op-amps, it took over as my home IEM amp simply because it is grain and for the most part, relatively hiss free. Of course, with any sort of proper headphone, there is NO hiss at all.

At normal listening levels, the maxed FiQuest is an IEM dream. It pushes through deep resolution, for 95% of hard-to-drive balanced armatures, perfect treble resolution. Dynamic earphones are easy breezy for the FiQuest: control, width, power, and extension.

The bass toggle adds up to 3dB of bass in three steps. Most bass boosters add 8-10dB, often creating murky messes in favour of a thump. The FiQuest’s circuit, on the other hand, is subtle. What isn’t subtle is its handling of the DJ1Pro, a headphone that ‘responds’ well to different amps. Its 64Ω isn’t ‘hard to drive’ in terms of volume. Instead, its voice deepens depending on the output source. Amps that can pump out a lot of voltage tend to bring out more bass from the DJ1Pro’s speakers. The FiQuest falls in that camp: lows belt out in ferociously smart aural earthquakes – earthquakes which violate everything when the bass toggle is engaged.

Moving up to high Ω headphone such as the HD600 and DT880 is beautiful. There is plenty of volume, space, and overhead, and in default bass configuration, the FiQuest is neutral. There is very low distortion, so don’t expect your knife-edged 600Ω DT880 headphones to suddenly sprout the dark, smooth voice of the HD600. That really is the beauty of the FiQuest – it preserves the headphone’s original voice. Assuming you like your headphones, you’ll love the FiQuest.

HPA-review-FiQuest-touchDT880

The one issue I’ve sussed with the Maxed FiQuest is intermodulation. Certain low Ω earphones can force intermodulation into the signal that is especially evident at high volumes. It isn’t an op-amp related problem as I’ve tested many configurations back to back with the same issue. Most earphone do NOT force intermodulation, and it only occurs at volumes which would deafen a rock star. Among my earphones, only one causes this distortion: FitEar Private 333; and among my headphones, only the DJ1Pro at high volumes.

One other small issue is ON/OFF thump. The FiQuest is not loud as the ALO Rx or the Graham Slee Voyager, but there is a noticeable surge, so be careful to keep earphones out of your ears when turning the amp on.

Chart Disclaimer
This review’s RMAA measurements reflect the performance differences between the naked iPod touch 2G and the same iPod when paired with the FiQuest maxed and ALO Cryo line out dock. Since they are taken with my equipment, they should not directly be compared to other technical data. The data represents the ability of the amplification circuit to drive headphones. It is NOT the headphone response data.

RMAA Charts for the FiQuest are found in the forums.

Sound Conclusion
The FiQuest is a powerful beast of a portable amp that does every job well. It isn’t limited to IEM’s or to headphones. You will get great frequency response from it with even the hardest to drive earphones such as the FitEar Private 333, but it is even more at home with headphones like the 600Ω DT880. Because it is buttons-to-bottom configurable, its sound is hard to pin down. But, I can say that your money isn’t going into distortion – it is going into a powerful wire-with-gain amp. The one area that needs improvement with the current Maxed FiQuest is intermodulation with lowΩ earphones and headphones. While intermodulation doesn’t affect normal listening levels, it is audible, and isn’t brought out by my other amps.

Conclusion
So the ~349$ – 449$ question is: is the FiQuest worth it? For those who want/need a transportable desktop amp, it is. There really isn’t anything readily available that fits the requirements of both IEM’s and headphones. The combination of resolution and very low hiss makes it a great desktop IEM amp, but with the simply flip of its gain switch, it is transformed into a voluble amp for any headphone. Since it can be configured to your specifications, it is more ‘your amp’ than any other headphone amp on the market. MST has done its homework – at least mostly. Everything is easy to use and sounds great with the exception of intermodulation distortion. That fixed, the FiQuest will for myriad uses, be the most holy amp on the market.

MST FiQuest Summary
Title: FiQuest Developer: MST
Reviewed Ver: Maxed: for FitEar 333 and DJ1Pro: op-amp numbers:
  • OPA211
  • AD744JN
  • LT1028ACN

BUFF:

  • 634
Connection: Stereo Mini 3,5mm
Price: $350-450 Application: Portable/transportable
  • Excellent construction with good RF rejection
  • Easy to tweak
  • Great, linear sound
  • Lots of sound options available
  • Small ON/OFF thump
  • Intermodulation distortion
FiQuest can be ordered in June from MST Audio – more information to come

Headphone amps and DACs help your headphones get the most out of their transducers. Take a look through our headphone section for suggestions of good upgrade/sidegrade options, and our headphone amplifier section for suggestions on how to wring out the best performance from your beloved phones.

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Firestone Fubar IV headphone amp/DAC in Review – effin’ good! http://www.touchmyapps.com/2009/12/17/firestone-fubar-iv-headphone-ampdac-in-review/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2009/12/17/firestone-fubar-iv-headphone-ampdac-in-review/#comments Thu, 17 Dec 2009 09:39:54 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=24887 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 … Read more]]>

HP-Amp-FubarIV-computer

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.

Specifications

  • Amplifier Structure : Coupling capacitor less, Push-Pull with Class-B
  • Linear Output : RCA output 2Vrms, delay time phone out funtion
  • Power Structure : Switching power supply, Soft-Star circuit
  • Gain Control : Low (attenuation 20dB) / High (normal)
  • Volume Control : Series / shunt mode selectable
  • Headphone Impedence : 32 ohm to 600 ohm
  • Circuit Protect : Output short / over current protect
  • Support Format : 16-bit, 32 / 44.1kHz / 48kHz
  • USB Chip : CMedia – CM108
  • Receiver Chip : TI – DIR9001
  • DAC Chip : TI – PCM1754
  • LPF OPAmp : TI – OPA2134
  • Main OPAmp : TI – OPA2604
  • Servo OPAmp : TI – TL072

Build and Packaging
Im typical Firestone fashion, the Fubar IV comes in a strong extruded aluminium chassis which is bolted together into a veritable brick of audio goodness. The amp’s front panel has a single full-size female phono jack and a large analogue volume pot which bares nary more than the Spartan volume indications: + and -. Power is engaged on the rear panel via a horizontal toggle which is a bugger to get at especially when operating in either optical or USB mode. Ergonomic issues aside, the army of audio input and output on the rear panel is spaced just well enough to remain under the radar of annoyance when the amp requires to be moved and unplugged. The Fubar IV is roughly the same size as the Travagan’s Red, so the biggest barrier to perfect ergonomics isn’t the number of connections, it is the size of the amp.

Its volume pot rotates with the slightest of mechanical grinding, but has lots to love; you cannot help but stare no matter how politely you try to ignore it – it is huge. Inside the box is one 1,5 metre USB cable and a fatter-than-Monster RCA to RCA audio cable. Firestone skimped on the power supply, but not much else. The entire package is housed in a cute “Merry Christmas” branded cardboard box. And if you have good eyes, you will find a tiny allen key which after a few grunted twists, will open the Fubar IV up for op-amp swapping.

HP-Amp-FubarIV-accessories

Features
The Fubar IV really tries to compete in the growing niche of do-it-all audio products. Audio input comes in 3 digital flavours: USB, Coaxial, and Optical SPDIF. Its preamp section passes the message on from sturdy analogue RCA outputs. So how well does it work? Speaking for the pre-amp, outboard connection to other audio equipment is really a table of spades including quality signal which bests thtravae headphone out.

HP-Amp-FubarIV-HPOVSPRE-fr HP-Amp-FubarIV-HPOVSPRE-ct

While the Fubar IV features a no-hassle USB input, I generally used the excellent SPDIF optical input. What isn’t advertised in the Fubar’s spec list is that it can also drive low ohm earphones. The spec sheet shows 32-600 ohm, but it easily drives a great frequency response down to balanced sensitive armature earphones which cause many home amps to squeal in pain. Mind you, listening to the Fubar IV through earphones isn’t optimal – we will see this later.

The two gain modes: high and low, work well for a large variety of headphones. When listening to the 600 ohm DT880 in high gain mode, I set the volume to a comfortable 9 o’clock, and to about 12 – 1 o’clock when in low gain mode. And if you’ve had enough with the stock sound signature, the Fubar IV can be disassembled for op-amp swapping.

HP-Amp-FubarIV-opamp-in

Audio Performance
There isn’t much to decry. Firstly, even with low ohm headphones, balance is very good at low volumes. On low gain, volume hungry headphone like the 600 ohm DT-800 will reach uncomfortable levels when the volume knob is turned much past 50%. Toward 100%, it will be too much. But, at extremely loud volumes, the Fubar IV distorts heavily past 3 o’clock on the volume pot, leaving the last 30% of the signal a messy affair. Coincidentally, the same is true for the Travagan’s Red which was built by former Firestone engineer, David Lin.

Where the Fubar IV trumps the Red; let me rephrase that: where the Fubar IV smacks the Red around with a frozen fish is in its unadvertised low ohm headphone output. The Red can drive a reasonable signal into 32 ohms, but when faced with balanced armature earphones, it dies in its tracks, losing its otherwise pristine frequency response. The Fubar IV on the other hand, handles the odd impedance swings of balanced armature headphones very well, providing full bass and low distortion even with the hard-to-drive FitEar Private 333. The only casualty is some treble roll off, but then again, who listens to mains-powered headphone amps with inner earphones anyway?

HP-Amp-FubarIV-FE333-optvsusfr HP-Amp-FubarIV-FE333-optvsusb-ct

That point leads to the Fubar IV’s biggest output problem. While it sustains pristine response, and as I will venture to praise later, smashing bass, its headphone output is noisy. Even my DJ1Pro can detect a small amount of background noise in one channel regardless of input method. The DT880 of course, is free from hiss at all but the highest of source/amp volume settings. Earphones are another story. Each hisses like an orgy of angry grandmothers, but thankfully, the Fubar IV everything else well.

HP-Amp-FubarIV-dt880-optvsus-fr.jpg HP-Amp-FubarIV-dt880-optvsusb-CT.jpg

Let’s drop literal explanations from here on out. This amp sounds good. It has a strong signal, great frequency response, and if I were to apply an adjective to it, it would be something like: square, but that word is often construed negatively. In my terms, ‘square’ means full, resolved, and well-shouldered. It hits the low notes great, rumbling both little and big headphones very well. And, it is full of solid, dry PRaT which errs on neutral side of foot-tapping. Both the Red and the IV sound very good in their price ranges, but the Fubar rolls a drier, stodgier fag between its teeth and puffs a signal which would satisfy a trucker.

Vocal genres maintain throaty resonance, soundtracks smashing stage, and guitars wonderful speed and space. But balance, neutality, and PRaT take precedence over finesse. Cymbals lack a bit of magic sheen, and female vocals that last smidgeon of saliva which flows on spiky treble/mids. Guitars, pianos, strings: natural instruments carry great body and texture. It carries the traditional solid-state signature well, but leaves a bit of beef between headphone speakers for a thick, satisfying sound which has no glaring faults or glorious strengths.

Chart Disclaimer
This review’s RMAA measurements reflect the performance of the Fubar IV when fed optical signal from an Edirol FA-66, and USB from a MacBook Pro. RMAA tests, however, only tell one side of the story: signal quality. They don’t relinquish the finer details: those bits which tickle the ear, which make you blink and go, ‘wow’! These results are applicable to my equipment only and should be used as a reference for general sound quality, not a definitive answer.

Audio Conclusion
The Fubar IV is a massive upgrade to any computer headphone output, and will be a good investment for optical-toting HiFi systems. Another even-Stephen performer, it does bass, mids and treble powerfully, if erring on the side of neutral. It also passes on a pristine signal to external audio equipment. But no matter how well it performs, it isn’t a great mains amp to pair with earphones of any type; more specifically, if hiss concerns you, stay away with highly sensitive headphones. Apart from that, volume is well-balanced and the gain system works well.

But Firestone have to clean up two issues. Firstly, the ON/OFF switch pops loudly when disengaged. I have owned and used many amps at various price points and among all of them, the Fubar IV is the most annoying. I would suggest to keep your headphones unplugged whilst engaging/disengaging its power. And considering the smashing performance for headphones from less than 16 ohms to 600, it is too bad that the amp hisses as much as it does with earphones because its sonic qualities aside from that, are excellent.

HP-Amp-FubarIV-front

Conclusion
Firestone’s sights are set reasonably high. This 220$ amp/pre-amp/DAC combo does most of what I would expect from a much more expensive piece of equipment and it does it well. Many ‘DAC’ toting amps boast USB input, but little else. The Fubar IV manages to squeeze in SPDIF and digital coaxial as well. It also sounds good, so long as your headphones aren’t hiss-prone. It does very well with all of my headphones, providing flat, strong signal in all frequencies, and great space and breath. If Firestone would fix the mains ‘pop’ and the unit’s hiss with low-ohm headphones, they would have a killer audio unit.

Till then, though, this all-in-one will have to settle for a GRAB.

grab-icon

Amp Summary
Title: Fubar IV Headphone amp/DAC Developer: Firestone Audio
Price: $222 Amp Size:
  • Great packaging
  • Good sound
  • Input array is impressive
  • Can drive a lot of headphones
  • Good pre-amp functionality
  • ON/OFF pop is annoying
  • Hiss with sensitive headphones, even DJ1Pro

Headphone amps and DACs help your headphones get the most out of their transducers. Take a look through our headphone section for suggestions of good upgrade/sidegrade options, and our headphone amplifier section for suggestions on how to wring out the best performance from your beloved phones.

HP-Amp-FubarIV-accessories HP-Amp-FubarIV-back HP-Amp-FubarIV-box HP-Amp-FubarIV-computer HP-Amp-FubarIV-front HP-Amp-FubarIV-guts HP-Amp-FubarIV-opamp-in HP-Amp-FubarIV-opamp-out HP-Amp-FubarIV-dt880-optvsusb-CT.jpg HP-Amp-FubarIV-dt880-optvsus-fr.jpg HP-Amp-FubarIV-HPOVSPRE-ct HP-Amp-FubarIV-HPOVSPRE-fr HP-Amp-FubarIV-FE333-optvsusb-ct HP-Amp-FubarIV-FE333-optvsusfrRead more]]>
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ALO Rx Portable Headphone Amp in Review – Double the battery, double the fun http://www.touchmyapps.com/2009/11/24/alo-rx-portable-headphone-amp-in-review/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2009/11/24/alo-rx-portable-headphone-amp-in-review/#comments Tue, 24 Nov 2009 18:12:42 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=23608 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 … Read more]]>

Review-HPA-Rx-Front-page

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’.

Specifications
Frequency response: ±1dB; 10Hz – 20kHz ±0.1dB @ 1V out
Maximum output: 7.45V Peak to Peak
Output source impedance: Less than 1Ω
THD+N: 0.004% @ 1V RMS out into 24Ω
Broadband noise: <10μV RMS, unweighted, integrated over 20Hz – 20kHz
Output DC offset: <3mV
Input impedance: 40kΩ
Maximum input level: 5V RMS
Channel tracking (gain difference between channels, all volume steps): <±0.2dB
Gain: 1.5X /6X —5V (switch-selectable), ±<0.5dB
Dimensions: 4.2″ long x 2.5″ thick x 5″ wide

Build and Packaging
“Those who like it, like it a lot!” – if you are not an IPA-drinking Canadian, this quote will mean little to you; but with a certain cache of blogging liberty, and no contempt for Mr. Keith, I will apply it to the Rx. The slim and sleekly-polished palm-sized aluminium chassis says $$$ from the first glance. Make no mistake though, ALO constructed the Rx with one thing in mind: performance. Thus, forget weeny-widget miniaturisation; forget malleable construction – this is a solid, yet surprisingly light machine. Because of its footprint, it fits nicely with an iPhone or iPod touch, but when attached with almost any sort of interconnect, isn’t the compactest of pocket rigs. That isn’t to say that it is big. It isn’t. But, if portable means a matchbox, you may have to look elsewhere.

The Rx’s highly polished surface also attracts fingerprints and unfortunately, scars. When the first scratch scrawls along the Rx’s shiny exterior — trust me, this _will_ happen — it is heart-wrenching. But apart from Apple-esque good, yet scratchable looks, the Rx is a great design. The aluminium walls shield audio from radio interference and do a lovely job in protecting the innards. At the same time, while the Firestone Audio’s products could be thrown through a wall, the ALO remains aloof to violence, preferring to be kept safely on a desk or in a pouch. It’s chassis is strong, but it isn’t bullet proof. And, keeping it beautiful will require an extra step, as the included canvass pouch is about as protective as cooking wrap. But then again, who spends 350$ on a piece of portable equipment only to throw it at a tree? The Rx is a design which will attract certain customer very much, and others, who prefer either smaller, or squarer designs, will probably ‘ooh and ah’ at the shiny exterior, but in the end, move on.

The front of the amp sports all the connections: power, headphone output, and headphone input; and two small blue LEDs indicate if the amp is ON and/or charging. The ON/OFF switch flips easily and the audio ports are spaced perfectly for both large and small interconnect cables. Because the volume and power switches are nestled between the IN/OUT and mains power input, turning the amp on and off and/or changing volume can be difficult. If the power toggle was vertically oriented, this wouldn’t be the case.

Review-HPA-Rx-Front-01

For many years, ALO have sported tasteful, if sometimes gaudy designs. No where else is this duality presented better than in the juxtaposition of the Rx’s wholesome packaging to its pimp exterior. It comes safely packaged in an easy-to-open cardboard box which apart from its size, looks like a pizza-box. Pragmatically styled and sized, its design doesn’t spell ‘cute’ as well as Firestone’s does, but it works perfectly.

Features in Review
ALO’s Ken and GR9’s Matt have worked hard to build a great piece of technology. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of portable headphone amps competing for your money and most of them cannibalise the designs put forth by the good Dr. Chu Moy. God knows we don’t need another amp – fortunately, the Rx doesn’t do the same-old in the same way. It employs several exciting technologies which help to distinguish it from its laconic peers. The first is the supervised power/charging circuit which is protects and services dual lithium ion rechargeable batteries which ALO say are good for 24 hours. Ken was adamant about including a dual power supply and Matt drew up the charging circuit which is purported to prolong the life of the lithium batteries. In my giddy stupefaction, I am more excited about is the dual stepped volume attenuator, which to put it bluntly, bloody rocks. Most portable amps use volume pots, or single stepped attenuators which can offer good control and balance, but often, add too much gain between steps. Headphones and earphones are either too loud or too quiet, and amps based on these technology can be cumbersome to use. The Rx, on the other hand, works perfectly with any sort of headphone; and with impeccably balanced left and right channels, maturely steps up and down through volume settings. I haven’t used a better system.

Thanks to its great stepped attenuator, it works well with all interconnects so that the source can be set to optimal volume levels. At my disposal, I have three brilliant line out dock cables: the ALO Cryo and two docks from a small Australian manufacturer, Twisted Cables. But, even a cheapo 3,5 mm headphone mini jack does the trick. Apart from that, the Rx doesn’t hide any extra features. Quite simply, it is an amplifier whose innards are constructed for technically sound and strong audio amplification.

Review-HPA-Rx-Cryo Review-HPA-Rx-TC

Audio Performance
The Rx is among a handful of production headphone amps which output ~1 ohms and can sustain signal for the most demanding of inner earphones to power-hungry headphones. Many amps are rated for 16 or 32 ohms and when faced with the constantly switching impedance of earphones such as the JH13Pro, suffer tumbling audio performance in a variety of audible and measurable criteria.This is where the Rx sings. There simply isn’t a headphone that can stump it; whereas some headphones are made for inner earphones, and others for studio/DJ/home hifi headpones, the Rx maintains an excellent, flat frequency response with every headphone I have thrown at it. But, as with all things, this too has its blessings and curses.

Firstly, the praise. Because of the flat frequency response, no headphone is held back. If the JH13Pro sounded good from an iPod touch, it gains new legs with the Rx; bass texture and speed is improved and the treble which hitherto has alternated from lungy singing to stifled steps is eased. Earphones which employ balanced armatures really stand up with the Rx. Surprisingly, however, the Victor FX500, an earphone which isn’t hard for the iPod touch to drive, is so much better with the Rx. Its highly resolved, chalky bass is even tauter, uncovering new PRaT checkpoints.

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Where the iPod touch loses neutral response, the Rx picks up. Apart from reaffirming the strengths of the JH13Pro, the Rx reigns in the Sleek Audio CT6 which at times, suffers from a voluble, meandering bass. While it isn’t as precise as the Jerry Harvey’s top end monitor, its acoustically amped bass and treble — my version has ‘+’ treble and bass ports — gain definition and better control. Neither custom monitor suffers any sort of discernible roll-off when driven by the Rx, though, each pick up on of the Rx’s weak points: white noise. It isn’t a big problem, and in fact, the Rx hisses less than a 1st generation iPod Nano. Still, with sensitive earphones, background noise is noticeable as soon as the power switch is engaged. For headphones like the DJ1Pro, Phonak PFE, and to a lesser extent, the v-Jays, the background is perfectly black. The second issue too, only applies to inner earphones. The Rx has ‘ignition thump’; when engaged, its circuitry will thump audibly into the earphones. Fortunately, it isn’t painful, or in comparison to other headphone amps, loud; and headphones can be removed and inserted whilst engaged without any similar adverse affects.

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No portable amp I have ever used can stand up to the sheer bone-numbing bass and impressively ‘3D’ sound space of a good home headphone amp; there simply isn’t enough gusto in the power supply and output. The Rx, however, does a very good job despite its battery-powered engine. And, even at top volumes, it isn’t over-stretched. At no time do any of my headphones exhibit audible distortion even when driven at peak volumes. And, under hardware tests (as my ears wouldn’t abide it), it is obvious that the Rx doesn’t have a ceiling. In contrast, the Graham Slee Voyager (another expensive portable amplifier) runs out of steam, losing power and signal after its volume pot has been turned to about 80%.

Even the somewhat sensitive DJ1Pro which can accept very powerful input doesn’t distort, and can be driven with aplomb even at the Rx’s full volume. Still, such volumes are unsafe; the message then, is to translate that it is possible to use the amp even at 100%. Continuing with the same headphone, I am surprised by the bass which gains new texture from its drivers when paired with the Rx. It sounds great from the lowly iPod touch, and even from a MacBook Pro, but is much better from the Rx. That headphone, along with a couple of favourites: the Beyerdynamic DT-880 and DT-770, are better with my home amps, but not embarrassingly so.

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Finally, the Rx is an interesting combination of resolution and silk. It introduces very little distortion into any headphone — a fact which makes electronic, dance, and trance listening simple, pure bliss — and produces a grain-free treble. To a certain extent, I could call it smooth. Transitions from low to high are excellent and space is simply stunning. But, where technically smooth, sonically, it is perplexing. Before I get to far here, I will mention that sonically, it is amazing, but with such low levels of distortion, it is mixed bag for certain genres. Distortion can be pleasing – very pleasing. An example is the simple (and cheap) Fireye I which I can recommend based on price and features. Though it lacks a volume pot and hisses loudly, it produces levels of distortion which transform vocal, jazz, and live recordings into simple pleasures. Is it overall a laudable amp? No. But, where the Rx makes no mistakes, it reveals the sonic tendencies in each headphone. If the headphone is grainy, music will be grainy. If it tends to be hot, it will be hot. Perhaps this is an indication of its purity, of its transparency. Still, those who favour distortion will probably reach for a different amp.

The iPod touch 2G, too, is a technical piece of audio kit. Put under pressure, it can outperform almost any other mass-produced portable audio player in nearly every measurable category. But, it doesn’t excel in all music genres. Players like the AMP3 Pro 1 and 2 which aren’t as technically excellent, but harness distortion to their advantage are excellent for jazz, vocal, and even modern rock. My own preferences tend toward tight, controlled, and well-executed sonics though, and I love the combination of the iPod touch and the Rx.

Chart Disclaimer
This review’s RMAA measurements reflect the performance differences between the naked iPod touch 2G and the same iPod when paired with the Rx and ALO Cryo line out dock. Since they are taken with my equipment, they should not be compared to any other person’s or organisation’s technical data. The data represents the ability of the amplification circuit to drive headphones. It is NOT the headphone response data.

Sound conclusioin
Vivid, lively, and powerful, the Rx is a dream among truly portable headphone amplifiers. It literally can drive any headphone from the smallest, most sensitive inner earphone to power-hungry headphones such as the Sennheiser HD-600. Saying that, it outputs optimal pressure to inner earphones and marginally sensitive headphones such as the DJ1Pro. Harder to drive headphones such as the AKG K701 really need a home headphone amplifier, and the Beyerdynammic DT-880, while a smashing companion, requires more beef. For a battery-powered portable, however, the Rx is probably one of the best at any price. Not prone to distort, or roll-off, it presents details and pushes a wide sound stage. Hard-to-drive IEMs such as the JH13Pro are bottomless, layered, and beautiful. But, you must keep in mind that this amp is quite detailed. Nothing smears; nothing bleeds. It has a good, fatigue-free ambience, but if your preferences tend toward the warm and the fuzzy, your search may not be over. Also, there is a low level hiss in the background, and when the power is engaged, a thump.

All in all, this amp is truly a stellar performer, and among battery-powered portable amps, one of the elite.

Conclusion
Buying the ALO Rx isn’t a small decision. At 350$, it sits rather high up the food chain among portable headphone amps. There are more expensive options in the market, but if you are thinking of buying one, you probably won’t be reading this review! What impresses me most about the Rx is that it can drive everything. It thunders past amps which are marketed toward IEMs, and still has the guts to bust up my DJ1Pro, and put on a respectful performance with the HD-600. For the person who doesn’t care about investing into an amp which has to stay on the desk and plugged into the mains, the Rx is a great option. It also introduces great new technology which has proven benefits to all headphone users. While discerning IEM users may complain of low-level hiss and a power thump which at this price is somewhat perplexing, both of my thumbs are pointed skyward and my proverbial hat is tipped toward ALO and GR9.

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Amp Summary
Title: ALO Rx Headphone Amplifier Developer: ALO Audio and GR9 Technologies
Reviewed Ver: Black!
Price: $345
  • Great looks
  • Solid construction
  • Effortless, multi-textured sound from IEMs to full size headphones
  • Excellent sound stage
  • Perfect stepped attenuator
  • Low-level hiss with sensitive earphones
  • Audible thump when power engages

Headphone amps and DACs help your headphones get the most out of their transducers. Take a look through our headphone section for suggestions of good upgrade/sidegrade options, and our headphone amplifier section for suggestions on how to wring out the best performance from your beloved phones.

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Jays v-Jays Headphones in Review – when Koss met Grado… http://www.touchmyapps.com/2009/11/02/jays-v-jays-headphones-in-review-when-koss-met-grado/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2009/11/02/jays-v-jays-headphones-in-review-when-koss-met-grado/#comments Mon, 02 Nov 2009 18:49:13 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=22561 The Koss Porta Pro — which recently saw its 25th anniversary — has spawned look-a-likes, sound-a-likes, and a slew of pragmatic wannabes which can be as easily stowed and toted. Love it or hate it, the Porta Pro has left a deep imprint on the portable audio community for years and will probably continue to … Read more]]>

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The Koss Porta Pro — which recently saw its 25th anniversary — has spawned look-a-likes, sound-a-likes, and a slew of pragmatic wannabes which can be as easily stowed and toted. Love it or hate it, the Porta Pro has left a deep imprint on the portable audio community for years and will probably continue to do so. Incidentally, whenever I strap the caboose of my brain into a new headphone, I mentally compare it with my rusty old Koss. Jays’ v-Jays, though dressed in simple plastic and fitted into seen-it-before ear pads, has become a landmark headphone which surpasses many erstwhile favourites, including the stodgy Koss Porta Pro.

Specifications
Driver Type: 40 mm Mylar Speaker, Open, Dynamic
Sensitivity: 98 dB SPL @ 1 kHz
Impedance: 24 Ohm @ 1 kHz
Frequency Response: 25 Hz – 20 000 Hz
Headphones Weight: 59 grams (2.08 oz)
Cord Type: TPE coated copper wire
Length: 60 cm (24 in)
Diameter: 3 mm/2 mm, 
Plug: Straight, Gold-Plated Stereo Mini-Plug 3.5 mm (1/8 in),
 Extension Cord 70 cm (27.5 in),

Fit and Package
Over-the-ear headphones are in general, hassle free: no fiddling with seal, losing flanges, and they suffer fewer cable breakages. The downside, of course, is that if you don’t dress like MC Hammer, the headphone will not fit in a pantaloon pocket. Pretty sure most shirt pockets, too, will suffer an ostentatious bulge. Perhaps for this reason, the v-Jays are a decidedly in-between design; neither do they collapse all the way, nor do they come well-dressed in a tote bag or box. But don’t worry, things only look up from here.

Gone are the finger-cutting moulded plastic-package days of the q-Jays, d-Jays, etc.; the v-Jays can be opened without the need for surgical utensils, nor a doctor’s permission. Simply unfold and pull to enjoy. Accessories are limited but commonsensical: extra earpads, and in typical Jays’ fashion, an extension cable. This time however, even when connected, the combined length of both cables isn’t unwieldy. Jays reckon that the 60cm cable is a great length for working out with your iPod pragmatically strapped to a glistening shoulder. Good on them. And, it is obvious that the Swedish company thought about sweat: the sponge earpads can be carefully washed, and if ripped and destroyed, come with identical companions which will gladly suffer the same fate.

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While the Ultrasone Zino lacks swivelling earcups, the v-Jays is a perfect match for any shaped head because the earphones gently rotate on their fulcrums. And for both large and small heads, the v-Jays is a good stretcher: the arms extend outward from the headband a long way to accommodate a massive Shrek-sized noggin, or conversely, (and in my case), the pea-brained Donkey. The only fit issue some may have with the v-Jays is what I will deem, headphone pinch. While not a vice-like clamping force, the v-Jays enjoys the head it sits on, enthusiastically grabbing ears, making sure that both they, and it, don’t mistake who is in control.

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Build Quality and Cable
Typically, Jays’ headphones are well-built, though they have suffered cable hiccups in the past. I am told however, that those issues are behind the company, and after visiting a few distributors who handle after service repairs, I am almost certain that Jays have indeed overcome their former negligence. As a reviewer and a hopelessly lost headphone geek, I couldn’t be happier with the v-Jays. This time, the Swedes seem to have covered all the bases.

At times, I pull, pry and prod a bit here and there and to my utter satisfaction, the v-Jays are mostly solid. The generally failure-prone hinges can handle pretty gross amounts of pressure, though I would not suggest using them for back exercises. The ear speakers snap in and out with a bit of pressure – just don’t forget which is which, or you may have to learn to read lyrics from right to left. While still on the topic, one of the most admirable touches Jays added is a sweat absorbing layer along the underside of the headband which does a good job of hiding your nastiness. Again, the ear cushions are removable and if you are very careful, washable.

One of the best features of the v-Jays is it s cable which succeeds in almost every scrutable area. It is strong, perfectly relieved along all its connections, resistant to body sweat and oils and while slightly microphonic, doesn’t rip through your music with every wayward brush of fabric. What isn’t publicised is the excellent internal pin arrangement inside the female portion of the extension cable. Unlike most companies, Jays utilise more many pins to ensure the long life of the cable; if one, two, or even three break, the cable will still output sound. Most companies install only one pin per channel.

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Without the extension, it is perfect for plugging into an arm-mounted digital audio player, and when attaching the extension, is the perfect length for both pocket and/or purse use. Even the straight plug which is often a liability, has enough flexibility and strength to shield both the plug and jack, but given that users ostensibly will be listening to the v-Jays with with portables, it is unfortunate that the v-Jays do not come with a right-angle plug for protection of both player and headphone investments. Also, the cable lacks external bumpers/anchors from the speaker arms. Still, v-Jays’ construction quality is head and shoulders above any competing headphone and even stands tall against much more expensive headphones.

Sound
While naturally a subjective matter, sound is the meat and potatoes of 3rd-party headphones; if they don’t match up to, or exceed their competitors, no manner of excellent engineering is going make them worthwhile. I won’t go on the record saying that the v-Jays is the best sounding headphone on the planet, but it is a fine-sounding product which favours the low end without tossing too much of the other goodies out the window.

One thing to note: like the Ultrasone Zino, the v-Jays is not designed to trap the music inside your scull. Its open design allows music out and other noises in. Thus, if you are looking for an earphone to use on the bus or train, you will have to look elsewhere, unless you like to annoy those around you and break your ears 40 years early.

Low frequencies
Let’s get the bump on folks! This headphone kicks out great, volumnous bass which accents everything from electronic to jazz with border-guard authority. And while there are better-sounding headphones out there, few if any can balance the musical and build qualities as well. Jays specify a lower boundary of 25Hz, which the headphone can stoop down to, but not with the fluidity of a 14-year old Chinese acrobat; 50Hz and below is steeply attenuated, almost to the point inaudibility when compared to other low frequencies. For instance, Markus Schultz’ Mainstage, a song whose rumbling intro is a personal benchmark for real-world bass performance, lacks the familiar rumble until the melody picks up with more typical driving trance beats.

However, light portable headphones into which category the v-Jays fall aren’t usually stellar performers; they belt out bass, and in their own sense of balance, either a strong high or mid range, but there is always something lacking. Often, competing headphones sacrifice clarity for brute force. Though the v-Jays doesn’t blaze out sub-bass, it spouts a fibrous, hefty bass which is well-suited to almost any musical genre. Massive Attack is killer, but so too are violins, guitar, and drums: each of which are natural and moving. In general, control is quite good, but decay at around 70-100Hz isn’t superb and with soft music, howl faintly between notes. Rhythm is excellent even in complicated electronic music, and at least at the insistence of the respectable iPod touch 2G, remain clearly defined and smear-free.

Like the Zino, there is no bloom or loss of focus; the v-Jays low frequencies are great, if somewhat anxious. What I mean is that the v-Jays performs up to my expectations, but without the typical steroid-enhanced, glistening duff duff of even the legendary Koss Porta Pro. Bass is a very realistic, pleasing sound with just the right kick in the pants.

Mid Frequencies
In the often graceless ~100$ category of folding headphones, the v-Jays has a touch of reserved midrange class. Full-sounding and powerful, instruments aren’t hot, nor over-poised – they don’t seep into other frequencies and blur the lows and highs. Clear and succinct, yet subtly strong, the v-Jays is a good performer for pop, rock, trance, jazz, etc.. Considering that the box says, ‘Heavy Bass Speaker’, I am surprised by how well the mids stand out in relation to an active bass.

In fact, in this class of headphone, the v-Jays is among the best I have heard and supports a mid-range which suffers only slightly when compared to low frequencies. For reference, the midrange of the v-Jays is more natural sounding than the somewhat thin and reedy Ultrasone Zino midrange. It is also more dynamic, but lacks the same sense of space and detail. Where the v-Jays trump the Ultrasone is vocals – voices are close enough to centre focus that the lusty voices of Madeleine Peyroux and Dianna Krall are great listens. Even when spinning faster, more complicated music into the mix, things don’t go astray in the midrange.

Despite the praise, the mid range is recessed, albeit not distractingly so. Vocal music fans won’t miss out on detail or emotion, but the midrange never rises too far out of the bass, and will compete with the slightly understated high frequencies for space.

High Frequencies
It goes without saying that each headphone has sonic weakness and I had expected that highs would be Jays’. I was wrong. The v-Jays is a well-rounded headphone where highs are sharp, clean, and stay within the lines. Fans of crashing cymbals, whiny strings, and clanky industrial effects should find reason to rejoice in the sibilance-free v-Jays. What they won’t find, however, is silky, stray decays.

The v-Jays hit 20 000 Hz, though it shows up late, and nearly empty-handed. Though it is at the utter extreme of its frequency range, this headphone seems to collapse upon reaching the top – it has nothing else left to give. The Zino, on the other hand, not only extends further, but at the same 20 000 klicks, is shoutier. Still, unless you are a bat, you won’t miss much, especially when modern albums have been engineered with more volume, less dynamics, and the ultra-friendly internet phenomenon: compression. Of course, extension is only one part of the equation. In real-world listening, the v-Jays isn’t a dark headphone, but it isn’t overly bright. Its fast attack and decay mean fewer sibilant diversions and nearly no upper stress or smear.

I am a fan of the oft’ maligned BeyerDynamic DT880. That beauty isn’t the analogue of any portable headphone, but its wonderful high frequency goes to Everest and back, and according to some, causes a few avalanches on the way. Despite my love for that headphone’s sometimes splashy highs, the steeply attenuated highs of the v-Jays are in no way annoying. There is nothing dark, veiled, or boring about Jays’ new headphone – it simply doesn’t have the lungs to annoy anyone.

Soundstage and Instrument Separation
This last aspect is perhaps the most difficult to gauge since it relies on a headphone’s dynamics, positioning, and a few other magical items. But nevertheless, I can make personal judgements. The v-Jays has no weak spots in its sound; its dynamic contrast between bass and midrange is very good, and even treble, while slightly understated, is among the top-tier for this style of headphone. However, it isn’t airy, wide, nor linearly extended very far from front to back or from side to side. Music pops into being at your ears, and won’t pretend to go out the back door, nor make a run for it up front. Instruments are clearly defined and well-placed in a tribute to Grado, but just like the legendary American manufacturer, will put you closer to the stage rather than in the crowd. Of course, it is all personal – some people prefer a ‘wider’ sound and others, don’t.

Sound in a Nutshell
On that note, the v-Jays is an interesting headphone which collates the abilities of many different colleagues. It is bassy, but not overpowering; has good instrument separation, but maintains an intimate sound stage; and finally, both its mids and highs are good, but fall slightly out of favour in comparison to the bass. For enjoying music on my bed, or at work, I would reach to the v-Jays more than I would the Ultrasone Zino, but when watching movies, or playing games, the Zino’s uniquely dynamic contrast between bass and treble is simply stunning.

Users of the PortaPro should feel at home with the v-Jays which are in every audible way, an upgrade. For a headphone whose box advertises ‘Heavy Bass Speaker’, the v-Jays do everything so well and even tack on a controlled, dynamic bass and midrange to the mix. Did I expect something so good? No, but that is why I am grinning so widely.

As you can see from the RMAA tests, the v-Jays doesn’t over-stress the iPod touch 2G, though it does load down its ability to separate channels. Still, the results are good for both the iPod’s ability to maintain a good frequency response and other general audio performance specs.

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Out and about with the v-Jays
The v-Jays is a not circumaural headphone; it is open and will let music escape out and environmental noise will filter in with ease. Wind, cars, kids, gossip: the whole gamut will join in an unholy uproar which will only cause you to bump up the volume of your iPod or amp. Don’t – it is dangerous to your ears and annoying to your fellow (and murderous) bus passengers. If, however, you are at a gym, or bobbing down a quiet jogging path, the v-Jays is a reasonable companion. It sits firmly on your ears, isn’t prone to sliding down, and can take a half-assed beating. But, it isn’t a the out-doorsy type which wanders in and out of your dreams…

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Conclusion
Grab ‘em! The v-Jays is priced attractively enough that it warrants a buy. Is it the best-sounding headphone in the world? No, but for the price, it is certainly among the very best in a competitive class, and considering the market, one of the most balanced hardware releases. If you like bass, the v-Jays will satisfy unless your tastes drop to subwoofer levels, or you prefer less lean and more flab. Mid and high frequencies are also very good and only slightly recessed in comparison; indeed, the v-Jays may be one of the most realistic listens in the sub 100$ market. It is also made better than most of its competitors, giving it an edge or two on offerings from Sennheiser, Koss, and Ultrasone. What it lacks is a carrying case – an item which would make this headphone one of the easiest kisses at TMA. As it is, the v-Jays is too strong a contender to sit happily with its many peers in the Grab category, but it perfect. Good on ya Jays!

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App Summary
Title: v-Jays Developer: Jays
Price: 60-95$
  • Great construction
  • Safe packaging
  • Great sound quality
  • Light and comfortable
  • No carrying case?

Hot damn! Headphones really are a rockin’ way to enjoy music, right? Feel free to explore TMA’s headphone oubliette.
Jerry Harvey JH13Pro in ReviewVictor/JVC FX500 in ReviewShure SE530 in ReviewUltrasone Zino Headphones in Review

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Does OS 3.0 improve the sound of the iDevice? http://www.touchmyapps.com/2009/06/20/does-os-30-improve-the-sound-of-the-idevice/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2009/06/20/does-os-30-improve-the-sound-of-the-idevice/#comments Sun, 21 Jun 2009 05:43:52 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=13833 Among many hidden and official features of the new OS, there is speculation, hype and perhaps even a bit of placebo stirring among the enthusiastic audiophile crowd; apparently, the new OS has improved the sound of both the iPhone and the iPod Touch. I am a keen member of headfi, a great headphone-devoted forum where … Read more]]>
Thank you Engadget

Among many hidden and official features of the new OS, there is speculation, hype and perhaps even a bit of placebo stirring among the enthusiastic audiophile crowd; apparently, the new OS has improved the sound of both the iPhone and the iPod Touch. I am a keen member of headfi, a great headphone-devoted forum where you can geek out with enthusiasts, trade, sell, barter, discuss and make noise about your favourite phones, amps and cables. Since 2004, I have been perusing heafi and since 2006, verbosely posting. In my short time, I have seen the coming and going of many hype threads and and others that are true treasues. As a portable audiophile, I am more than interested in claims that OS 3.0 improves iDevice sound quality.

The 100 plus hidden features of OS 3.0
Previously, I wrote about the MacRumors reader, bndoarn, who began an excellent thread discussing hidden features of the new OS. At the time, sound quality improvements were not touched upon. Everything else was mentioned at length and for good reason – the iDevice has evolved out of its iPod roots. Many people forget that at the heart of the platform is an excellent audio player.

Firmwares for various devices have been documented to change the sonic signatures for both the good and the bad. The iPod itself has been a great platform for the burgeoning alternate firmware, Rockbox, which among adding format support and a real equaliser, improves actual audio performance in measurable areas such as audible hiss levels. Apple have never been vocal about the iPod’s sound quality; their stance on the device is that it plays audio and interacts with Mac and Windows computers via the full-featured transfer application, iTunes. Despite their unobtrusive stance, their players have both been criticised in the past for poor performance and acclaimed by others for excellent sound quality.

Thus, the birth of a new headfi thread praising OS 3.0′s sq is a fun read. But, considering the subjectivity of sound quality, the truth may need actual investigation rather than just sword-rattling. A person’s ears are in many cases a great judge of sound preferences, but they can be tricked too easily. Marketing for instance, plays a big part in perceived sound quality as do the opinions of so-called audiophile experts, gurus, pundits, etc..

Products are made and undone on hype and sword-waving. TMA intend with upcoming portable amp reviews, to provide RMAA test results that show measurable differences between amped and un-amped audio performance with earphones and any notable differences between OS 2 and 3. Such tests of course, will show only one side of the story: measurable differences. Sound quality is itself, a subjective item, cannot be determined solely by hardware tests. There are equalised results, preferences toward bass, treble and in individual’s tolerance of hiss that aren’t objectively measurable. Our tests should only be contrasted with the tests taken at TMA as our in/out hardware along with other factors will exact influence against other comparative analyses. We only wish to provide a ‘control’ sample for our readers and for ourselves.

Enthusiasm among audiophiles
Finally, I came to this post intending to warn you about praise in the audio community. We are enthusiastic – that is not an arguable point. But, many of our number (I sound like a surviving member of the Mohicans) base their personal opinions (as mentioned above) on marketing and the rants and praises of others. It is easy to do – making a mistaken audio purchase can be very expensive and infuriating. That is why we have dedicated forums like headfi and hydrogenaudio. But, particularly in the audio community, results can be made or unmade by the huge and overriding concept of market contempt.

This is illustrated in this article by Sean Olive, who in 1994 performed both sighted and blind tests of his audience at Harmon International where he worked as Manager of Subjective Evaluation. The result was that huge disparities existed in tests where the audience knew the brands they were listening to in advance and those ‘blind’ tests where they were told afterward.

TMA’s stance
Our headphone reviews, then, are based on that stance. We review the entire phone, making sure to include its construction, cable, package, fit, comfort AND sound. Because everyone hears the same sound in a different manner, there is no point in trying to push an agenda on others. If we test a headphone or amp by a company who are held in contempt by the audiophile community, we will judge them as much as possible with unadulterated ears. The same will be applied to companies who are held in higher regard.

Thus, the question of whether or not OS 3.0 sounds better than OS 2.0 may never be fully answered, but TMA will work to shed light on the issue. Simply put, 2.0 on any iPod Touch or iPhone sounds great as did OS 1. Apple may have integrated bug fixes and added audio tweaks, but there is no space for a new firmware to sound totally different from a previous one. Sonic improvements are definitely possible, but not complete revolutions in sound quality.

  1. Headfi is one of the world’s largest headphone enthusiast’s forums. It has traffic from around the world and is a great place to have lively discussions with other audiophiles, iPhone and iPod Touch users and the really crazy people: those who will down 100K on a hifi!
  2. Audio Musings‘ by Sean Olive focuses on Harmon International’s technology and research, but has broad significance in the audiophile world for documenting scientific approaches to testing audio quality.
  3. Hydrogenaudio is an objective audio forum that has grown out of the small group of audiophiles who strive to reveal flaws in audio codecs and improve them. While not as fun as headfi, the TOS ensures that users must judge audio quality as objectively through blind listening tests and abx samples.

If you are interested in iPhone OS 3.0, check below:
A2DP – Bluetooth for the iPod touch Explained – OS 3.0 100 Plus Hidden FeaturesWhy We should not have to pay for iPhone Software UpdatesWhat do you think of OS 3.0?WWDC Keynote and OS 3.0 ‘Rundown’

If you are keen on headphones, inner earphones and amps, check out our headphone section below:
Headphones

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