Listening to the Stax SR-009 and Great Headphone Amplifiers HeadAmp Blue Hawaii
HeadAmp Blue Hawaii Special Edition ($4980)
Though they don't stack, the headphone amplifier and power supply of the HeadAmp Blue Hawaii sit next to each other with an understated grace that only extremely high-quality builds can pull off. The unit I have here (thanks Stretch!) has silver panels, but a wide variety of custom colors are available. The BHSE is a hybrid amp sporting a quad of EL34 output drive tubes in an OTL DC coupled configuration, fed by a solid-state input section and power supply.
Slowly but surely over the week of listening, the Blue Hawaii became the amp I'd return to over and over again as I tried to get a bead on the sound of the other amps. It just seemed so neutral, so tight, so controlled. No drama, just the music. Brian (NA Blur on Head-Fi) came over to have a listen to the bevy of amps. His comment upon hearing the BHSE was, "I don't want to analyse what I'm hearing with this one, I just want to listen to the music." In my correspondance with my Stax expert friends there were two thing that all three said: you need to test these amps at high volume, and the Blue Hawaii is a "wire with gain."
The sound of the Blue Hawaii was simply nothing at all. A wire with gain is exactly right, and unlike most of the other amps turning up the volume control simply made it louder. Moreover, the SR-009 lost some of its shimmering (and sometimes glaring) character to the authoritative driver control of the BHSE. In some ways though, the Blue Hawaii seemed a bit boring and plain-Jane as I switched between it and the lushness of the Woo, the sparkle of the A-10, and the warmth of the Cavalli. The impression dissapated quickly though as my acoustic memory of the previous amp faded, and I was left in the confident grasp of the BHSE on the whole of the music. Every detail, every brush stroke on a drum skin, every fingernail tick on a guitar string, every chuff of air across the mouth of an organ pipe, was simply available to be heard in organic proportion. While I enjoyed the sound of the other amps, I simply enjoyed the music with the HeadAmp BHSE.
If I had a pair of SR-009s of my own, the HeadAmp Blue Hawaii would be the amp for me.