In many ways, the Essence One confounded my sonic expectations. It was disappointing with the phones with which I thought it would mate perfectly and soared with the phones I thought would break its back. This, folks, is why we actually need to listen to this stuff.
Emotiva is always full of surprises. They first made their name with a series of high-performance/high-value power amps and home theater surround processors, and their Airmotiv 4 speaker knocked me for a loop last year. The little speaker set a new standard for affordable desktop speakers, and Airmotiv 4 became my go-to reference. Now they've done it again with the XDA-2. The beautifully finished, full-size (17 x 2.25 x 14 inch) $399 component boasts a generous assortment of inputs and outputs. Getting acquainted with the sound with my Hifiman HE-400 headphones was a treat for my ears.
You know Bryston? The 35 year old company is based in Peterborough, Ontario, just northeast of Toronto, and they have over 150 dealers in North America. The BHA-1 may be their very first headphone amp, but it's a Class A, fully-balanced, fully-discrete design. Incredibly, Bryston may be the only major high-end audio company currently making a serious headphone amp, but I guess it's only a matter of time before Ayre, Mark Levinson, Rowland, Naim, Audio Research, Conrad-Johnson, Rouge Audio, VAC, etc. wake up and join the fray.
With just a few phone calls and emails, I've managed to get my hands on the amazing Stax SR-009 headphones, and some of the world's best electrostatic headphone amps and the gear to make use of them, and set them up my demo room for a week of comparative listening.
I just love checking out previously unknown (to me) gear from Japan. They have quite a few high quality headphone-oriented brands that don't get much exposure anywhere else. Case in point - the Izmo M1. Check out the picture above: looks like a nice portable amp right? That was my first thought as well but it turns out I was wrong. Sort of. It's far more than just a portable amp but can impersonate one with the right accessories.
Meier amps are designed in Germany, but built in China by Shanling. This no doubt has contributed to a strong value for the money. And the subject of this review, the "Rock" home headphone amp, is clearly targeted at people who are looking for value--the Rock is the smallest home (non-portable) headphone amp Meier has ever made, and also the least expensive, at $240 USD, or EUR 220 (in the EU). That actually makes it LESS expensive than any of Meier's current line-up of portable headphone amps!
Electrostatic headphones. Just mentioning to term conjures thoughts of supremely expensive systems and frustratingly confusing naming conventions. Example: the Stax SRS-4170 system is comprised of the SR-407 headphones and the SRM-006tS amplifier. But the official name is "earspeaker" instead of headphones, and "driver unit" rather than amplifier. And at $2,000 this is merely a mid-range system, with the top models selling for significantly higher prices.
Woo Audio aims to help make 'stats more accessible with their WEE transformer box. Read on to find out why this thing might just be your ticket to electrostatic goodness at a reasonable price.
In what seems like a relatively short time, Burson Audio has developed a reputation for making good products, and they seem to have a pretty devoted and happy customer base. These are enviable things. I had read lots of good things about Burson's products, but never had the chance to hear one, until being sent this review loaner from Burson.
Editor's Note: Again I am so very pleased to welcome another new contributor to InnerFidelity's growing cadre of writers. Skylab is a long time member of Head-Fi (profile here) and has contributed numerous laudable gear reviews there. He'll be focussing his efforts here at InnerFidelity primarily on headphone amp reviews. I can't tell you how pleasing it is to find myself feeling more and more surrounded by a talented team of qualified reviewers. I'm stoked ... and humbled. I feel like I'm going to have to step up my game to keep up with these guys. Okay, I'll shut up now and let you get on with Skylab's review. Welcome aboard, mate!
Germany's Lake People refreshes their entire lineup of G-series headphone amps, with a focus shifted towards home users rather than just studios. I check out the lowest and the highest cost models in the series to see how they compare.
I have to admit I didn't quite understand the logic of making an AC powered device for iPods, iPhones or iPads, so I asked NuForce's Jason Lim about the iDo's raison d'être. He explained it was designed for people who bring their Apple devices to work and want the best possible sound, but don't have access to music on their computers.
I'm very pleased to have Todd the Vinyl Junkie nearby. Thursday nights he has listening sessions of newly arrived vinyl and serves imported Belgian beer in proper glasses ... so that's cool. But in this case, I'm pleased because I get first dibs listening to Pete Millett's newest creation for Apex Hi-Fi and TTVJ: The Butte headphone amplifier.
My good buddy Todd the Vinyl Junkie (TTVJ) had donned his Hawaiian shirt in my honor my little visit to sample his new Pete Millett designed FET output amp.
It was a lovely 35 mile motorcycle jaunt on the interstate through flooded pastureland to Three Forks, Montana; and lovelier still to hear the Arête when I arrived at TTVJ HQ. Let's have a quick look at this new product ....
I remember my first experience with headphones. In 1960, I bought a set of Trimm dual 'phones (less than $5) and rewired them for stereo. The experience was remarkable for several reasons. First, it brought the sounds into my headI was thrilled with the impact. Second, stereo effects, especially with Enoch Light's ping-pong LPs (eg, Provocative Percussion, Command RS800SD), were striking. Third, I could play them really loud without bothering others. Of course, they had no bass, brittle treble, distorted at high levels, and their wire headband and Bakelite earpieces were uncomfortable. My fascination with this gimmick quickly faded.