HeadAmp Pico Power Portable Headphone Amplifier
Headamp Pico Power portable amplifier (MSRP $475) (still available for pre-order at $375 until Jan. 31, 2013)
Disclaimer #1 - This is a review of a to-be-released product. The specs are finalized so the only noteworthy detail is that it'll be a few more weeks before you can get one in your hot little hands. Disclaimer #2 - I've known Justin for 6 years or more. I have a better than reviewer/manufacturer relationship with him as I do with several other industry folks. Is this a bad thing? I don't think so. It actually makes me one of his more harsh critics. I have very high expectations of him because I know what he's capable of. But any time I write a review of a product where this comes into question I want to make that clear so there it is. Let's get down to business…
As an engineer I have a great deal of respect for any thing (product, device, tool, whatever) that's able to serve multiple functions and more importantly do them all well. I understand the need for laser-focused, niche products (and own a few) but there is something very valuable about a device that can serve multiple masters without disappointing any of them. And so it was with no small amount anticipation that I unboxed the final pre-production prototype of Headamp's (www.headamp.com) latest portable offering, the Pico Power.
See, I'd been talking with Justin about the amp and where it was in the production cycle as I geared up for a week long training session in the Pacific Northwest - a place both far from home and lacking in weather suitable for outdoor activities. What that meant for me was either many an hour cooped up in a hotel watching bad TV or a glorious research opportunity. Thankfully Justin rescued me from the boredom. The Pico Power is, on the face of things, something that you might have expected to come out a few years ago before LiPo batteries took hold of the world and everyone and their cousin was producing portable headphone amplifiers. Back in the day if you wanted something that offered both decent voltage swing and the ability to be recharged you only had one choice, the trusty 9V cell. So why a 9V powered amp now, good question and one the Pico Power answers with authority.
In the box is the amp, a nice leather sleeve/case, a pair of alkaline (non-rechargeable) 9V batteries good for 40hrs or so to get you started and that's it. What's it look like? The unit I had on hand was your basic black. Which is to say an outstanding-looking, polished-case work of near-art. The production version will be offered in your choice of black, silver, gray, blue, orange, red or purple. The chassis is also quite lithe boasting dimensions just smaller (in footprint) that an iPhone 5 - albeit substantially thicker. Translation, easily pocketed, totally portable. For technical chops the circuit is, at least in my experience, not all that typical. It does use an opamp for voltage gain (as most portables do) but employs a discrete diamond buffer for the output stage, nice touch in a portable. Heck, I can think of a fair number of home-style amps costing many multiples that leave that job to a chip. And the Power will swing upwards of 16Vpp on its output, more than enough to drive just about anything out there. It also boasts selectable gain (a must have for me) with three choices, unity (yay!), 5x and 9x. I could go on about quads of NOS current sources matched to within 0.01mA, hand matched transistor sets and volume pots carefully selected for only the best channel matching but it can all be summed up as follows - if you think that Justin (the man behind Headamp) pays a lot of attention to how his products look, and he does, he obsesses about the part that really matters, the circuit.