May 102014

I have always held Oppo in high regard based on their extraordinary Bluray players, I have every reason to believe this new headphone amp/pre-amp with HT bypass will operate at the highest quality level.

From Oppo:

Shortly after the successful launch of its PM-1 planar magnetic headphones, OPPO Digital released another member of its family of personal audio products today – the HA-1 headphone amplifier.

Oppo-HA-1-and-PM-1OPPO Digital is well known for its reference quality universal Blu-ray Disc players, and the HA-1 headphone amplifier builds upon the success of the BDP-95 and BDP-105 audiophile players. Drawing upon the proven circuit design of these award-winning players, the HA-1 combines an uncompromising analog audio section with the latest technology in digital audio.
The analog audio section of the HA-1 is a fully balanced design with an emphasis on keeping the audio signal in the analog domain once it leaves the DAC. The HA-1 is anchored by a hefty toroidal power transformer, and linear power regulators and filters with custom made capacitors ensure that the headphone amplifier has a clean power source with plenty of reserve energy. The fully balanced Class A power amplification section uses hand-picked and paired discrete components to ensure symmetry, and a motor-driven precision volume control knob allows for both manual and remote control volume adjustment while keeping the audio in a pure analog audio path.

The HA-1 is especially suitable for high-resolution digital audio playback. Its digital inputs include coaxial, optical, balanced AES/EBU, and an asynchronous USB DAC. It is easy to connect the HA-1 to digital audio players or to a computer running the listener’s favorite playback software. The USB DAC supports PCM audio up to 384 kHz 32-bit resolution and DSD audio up to 256x the CD sample rate. The same ESS 9018 Sabre32 Reference DAC and output driving stage used in OPPO audiophile Blu-ray players ensure extremely low noise and low distortion performance. The HA-1 is compatible with Apple’s iPod, iPhone and iPad for use as an external DAC, enabling the listener to directly tap into digital music played from these devices. For additional convenience, the Bluetooth audio transport with high quality aptX CODEC sets music free from your mobile phones with a performance boost.

OPPO designs the HA-1 headphone amplifier with the same versatile approach as the Blu-ray players. The HA-1 is a high performance headphone amplifier, and it doubles as an asynchronous USB DAC, a stereo pre-amplifier, a digital audio dock for mobile devices, and a Bluetooth audio transport. Users have a choice of using the 4-pin balanced XLR or the traditional quarter-inch headphone jack. Line level analog inputs and outputs are provided with both RCA and balanced XLR sockets.

The HA-1 sports a classic design with contemporary elements. It is a desktop component housed in an aluminum chassis, and the familiar volume and source selection knobs are complemented by a 4.3-inch color screen for easy operation. While music is playing, the screen can show a classic VU meter, a modern spectrum display, or detailed technical information about the audio signal. A supplied IR remote and a smartphone app provide complete control and convenience.

With its exemplary sound quality, versatile connectivity, and energetic driving power, the HA-1 headphone amplifier is a good match with any high performance headphones or stereo sound system. The black version of the HA-1 is available now directly from OPPO Digital’s web site at a retail price of $1199, and the silver version is estimated to be available in June.

2012 Head-Fi Holiday Gift Exchange

 Amplifiers, Headphones, Music  Comments Off on 2012 Head-Fi Holiday Gift Exchange
Nov 282012

The Head-Fi gift exchange is once again upon us. For those who are new to this fun it is pretty simple. You are paired with a like minded individual with whom you will exchange gifts. Usually this consists of CD’s or LP’s but can be anything the two of you can agree on.

Audiophile Insanity

 Amplifiers, Music, Solid State Amps  Comments Off on Audiophile Insanity
Oct 192012

Tequila or bourbon is the issue at hand. Unlike the unwashed masses I have a specific, perhaps even OCD routine for my dedicated listening sessions. It starts with a great deal of internal debate over listening to something new or pulling out something familiar. This part is likely to remain in the back of my brain, hidden right behind memories of my mother insisting I get a perm when I was 8. The close geographical relationship of these two polar opposite, cognitive processes somehow seems to balance that area of my cortex, keeping me from collapsing into an even more incoherent lunatic. They keep the loony on the path so to speak.

Today I decide on a new release from Donald Fagan called Sunken Condos. I haven’t read any reviews of this album but always look forward to the relaxing flow of Fagan records. Mixed with extreme care, all of Donald’s work is as close to recorded perfection as you can get.

I decide I am in a bourbon mood and pour a couple fingers of the dark liquid into my glass. I have already moved the hi-res digital files onto my main system and decided to skip the headphones today. I call the dogs that run and bounce around my feet as I move across the house. I open the door and plop down into my chair, placing my drink carefully into the cup holder.

I pull the Logitech Harmony One remote out of its charging base and hit Jukebox. The Emotiva USP-1 preamp jumps to life followed a split second later by the twin Emotive XPA-1 mono-block power amplifiers. The dogs settle in next to me and I locate the new album within J Rivers Media Center software and click play. In the next second the laptop, running on battery power to limit power interference, sends its flow of ones and zeros to the Schiit Audio Bifrost digital to analog converter, which decodes the digital signal and passes on the analog wavelengths to the preamp.

The Magnepan 1.6 QR speakers jump to life, their nearly six foot long, paper thin ribbon sending the first guitar note into the air. One of the dogs takes up her preferred spot in my lap as I take my first sip from the glass, close my eyes, and begin to meld with the music.

I do understand how very strange all of this may seem to most people. Music is supposed to be in the background, it is the soundtrack to your day, thumping away while you do laundry, drive, shop, party.  For some it is how we release the tension of the day, much the way my wife must work out every day to keep from becoming a nasty version of Dexter.

How do you relax? What is your relationship with music?

Oct 052012

Let’s get the snickering out of the way right now. The product I am going to review today is called the Asgard and it is made right here in America by Schiit Audio. I am sure you get their joke but let me be very clear, Schiit Audio is no joke. Despite the name these guys build powerful, great sounding amps and DACs at pretty reasonable prices.

The Asgard — all of their product names come from Norse mythology which I think is better than continuing that scatological joke – is the entry level amplifier in the Schiit Audio line up. The solid state Asgard is the primary amp in my desktop system. It drives all of my phones, including the infamously difficult K702s. Because I spend so much time at my desk the Asgard gets better than 80% of my listening time and it does it effortlessly, day in and day out.

The Schiit Asgard

At a tiny $249 ordered directly from Schiit, it is a real bargain and I have found I can listen to this amp for more than 8 hours without it becoming fatiguing. With 14dB of gain from a single voltage gain stage and fully discrete opamp-free non-inverting circuitry, the Asgard puts out 20V peak to peak. Response is an impressive 2 to 200 (Hz to kHz, -3dB). Allowable load impedances range from 8 to 600Ω. This baby can drive most anything you come across without breaking a sweat.

Sweat is an interesting term here because the Asgard has the ability to make you sweat buckets.  Before I purchased the Asgard I had heard it ran a little hot. A few folks had even said it had to be dangerous. I assumed there might have been a bad batch or people were exaggerating. They did not in fact exaggerate, this baby runs hot and I mean really hot. It won’t burn you if you touch it but it takes some courage to test that based on the heat you feel just being near it.

My home office is small and at the far end of the house. It is already difficult to cool off in the Texas summer heat and the Asgard should be a real problem for me but it sounds so good I have lived with it, besides it is really helpful during the winter months when I fail to get the heat going. It really does sound good enough that I forgive the heat.

The reason I keep it is because I have a wide group of cans I use in my office and a very limited amount of desk space. I need an amp that does a respectable job for all of them but that is a tall order. The Asgard does the job with aplomb, never making me wish I had another amp to use in this system. It doesn’t make me forget I have better sounding amps, it just never offends me in any way, and it is a pretty damn neutral amp that carries itself quite well.

Most people don’t even own a dedicated headphone amp, do you think it is crazy to own a selection of them?

Beauty and The HiFiMan EF2A

 Amplifiers, Headphones, Random Ranting, Tube Amps  Comments Off on Beauty and The HiFiMan EF2A
Sep 152012

Trying to recreate a recording as accurately as possible is both an admirable quest and folly. There is no perfection available at any cost; the best you can do is get close. Making matters even more difficult is the simple fact that the only people who actually know what that exact sound was are the artists and recording crew. Even they have altered it in their minds, a moment in sound is exactly that and it is lost in the next moment, changed slightly by the mind’s eye if you will.

Perfection is therefore subjective and even fluid. The ears of an audiophile, despite what they would like to believe, change over time, preferences change. Many of us have equipment we call accurate and some we call fun. The HiFiMan EF2A is one of the fun pieces. It has no right to be sitting among my best equipment, it is inexpensive, ugly, and is anything but accurate.

I won’t address the terrible DAC as I bypass it and use the single RCA input, triggered by the push button on the front. I am interested in the tube amplifier section of this little gem. Yes, I called it a gem even after I said all those terrible things about it. I will even heap another negative onto the pile, it sounds bad if you don’t do some tube rolling.

I purchased the HiFiMan EF2A for use in my office at work where I had hoped to save space not only by adding a small amp but because it includes a USB DAC. I knew it wasn’t going to be great even matched to BeyerDynamic DT 990 600 ohm headphones. These phones are fairly accurate which can mean they are, well boring sometimes. This combination lacked life; it just didn’t sing with detail or jump out in any good way. The bass was muddy despite being laid back and it turned the sound of horns into a dull blat.

I decided it was time to do some tube rolling and replaced the original nondescript Chinese 6J1 tubes with a pair of NOS Mullar CV4010’s. After a few days of burning in the tubes I jumped upon hearing it for the first time. The music bopped along with a heavier bottom end and filled the frequencies around horns with life. This is not accurate sound but it is sure fun. It has just enough distortion to make MP3s listenable for use on These tubes pop up occasionally on Ebay at very reasonable prices and for anyone looking for an inexpensive amp I highly recommend this combination as long as you will be using it with an external DAC.

At $169 on Amazon, this is a piece of equipment that gets a surprising amount of use next to my much more accurate and more expensive amps. It is fun and while I can’t listen to it for long periods there are times I want a change, I want to live on the audiophile edge with some thumping bass and screaming horns.

Do you have a favorite tube, a fun piece of equipment? Tell us all about it now.