Apex Hi-Fi Audio Peak Headphone Amp and Volcano Power Supply
Todd the Vinyl Junkie and Pete Millett
When I started out in this hobby, almost all of my top headphone purchases were the result of dealing with one man – Todd Green, AKA Todd the Vinyl Junkie, or TTVJ for short. He literally has been my bona fide "dealer," and unfortunately has been just as addictive and damaging on the wallet as a street dealer of ... well you know, "imports and exports."
My first real headphone amp was the original Ray Samuels SR-71, bought through Todd. He sold me my first real source, a Meridian G07, which I ultimately would upgrade to the G08, also through Todd. He was my primary Grado go-to-guy, which included being able to get in on the Grado Head-Fi limited edition HF-1 and HF-2. You could say this relationship was pretty "old-school" --- where an audiophile pretty much had one or a few dealers that they trusted their opinion and that would only sell you "the good stuff." Todd is definitely that guy for hundreds of individuals all over the world.
When Todd first broke out into developing his own line of headphone amps with Pete Millett as co-collaborator and designer, I was really excited. I knew that Todd's business savvy and ear for high performing gear, coupled with Pete's engineering chops and reputation, the result would be nothing short of stellar. The TTVJ 307A was a huge monster of a machine --- filled with chunky pieces of custom transformer iron for balanced input and output coupling, and a no-expense single-ended SET circuit with a max loaded power supply centered on the DHT 307a tube. While my current listening experience still acknowledges the Eddie Current Balancing Act as the top-dog in the current headphone amp market, especially regarding headphone soundstaging, the discontinued 307A remains by far the most complete, perfect sounding headphone amp I have ever heard. If it were not for its $5,000 price tag and the really funky/borderline ugly utilitarian looks with not much attention to visual detail and cosmetics, I am sure more would have sold.
The Apex Hi-Fi Peak Headphone Amp ($1395) and Volcano Power Supply ($700)
Todd and Pete have rebranded their headphone amp collaboration under the label Apex Hi-Fi, and in addition to their top-of-the-line 307A revision utilizing the PX4 tube known as the Pinnacle, we have for discussion in this article the Apex Peak, a 2-stage hybrid design utilizing a 6SN7 for voltage gain, coupled to a single-ended Mosfet output stage, all DC-coupled. The circuit itself is pretty top-notch – inputs and headphone/preamp output are all relay-based, the 6SN7 has its own dedicated B+ supply, highly regulated and filtered, as well as featuring small-mode common chokes to help decouple high-frequency hash from the stock switching PSU. There are two models lower than the Peak – the discrete solid-state Arête, and the entry level AB opamp-with-discrete-buffer Butte.
While the Peak normally comes with a switching-mode power supply, one can upgrade to an extremely well built regulated linear power supply known as the Volcano, which can also power the Apex Arête --- a very similar FET headphone amp, but without the tube. The review sample was used with the stock Tung Sol reissue 6SN7GTB, the upgraded Volcano power supply, and was mated to various sources, including a Meridian 508.24, an Adcom GCD-750, and a Squeezebox classic and Apple Airport Express connected to the digital input of the Adcom. Headphones were my Grado HP-1000 and the Audeze LCD-2 rev.1 on loan from a fellow forum-member. I had two headphone amps at the time of the review period that I was able to compare to the Peak, both from DIY guru and now ECP Audio headmaster Doug Savitsky – a custom hybrid design utilizing a 12SN7 tube coupled to a solid-state mosfet follower, balanced transformer coupled from input to output, and my current custom-tweaked DSHA-1. The Peak also spent some time in my speaker rig, which consists of a FirstWatt upgraded F1Jfet and Lowther Alerions with DX-65 drivers.
Sonic impressions next ...