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.

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?

China Gets it Right

 Amplifiers, Solid State Amps, Tube Amps  Comments Off on China Gets it Right
Sep 132012

For as long as I can remember, and trust me it is a long time. The thought of buying audio equipment made in China was laughable to anyone with ears and a budget that cracked the ten dollar ceiling. It wasn’t just the fact that overall build quality was abysmal but the sound was akin to that offered by a Dixie cup phone system.

Jump forward to 2010 and not only is China making pretty much everything consumed on the planet (and possibly nearby planets) but electronics and the technologies that manufacture them have progressed to the point where top audio companies often have their products assembled there.

Internet only audio companies like Emotiva design their products in the US and have them built in China. Removing the middleman and selling direct to the public already allows these companies to sell quality equipment for far less than the competition, having it built in China demolishes the old world pricing structure. Many established, high end companies have moved their manufacturing to china but must retain their expensive brick and mortar distribution chain. I am going to address this change in relation to headphone amps and not how it has changed, for better or worse, the overall audio industry.

A number of individuals in China saw a demand the major manufacturers had failed to address. Reasonably priced amps, both for home and portable use were almost nonexistent. Companies like Little Dot and Matrix began with a single person building amps on the weekend. Sales quickly pushed dozens of these startups into full time production.  Selling their wares on Ebay or through simple websites kept costs down and word of mouth overcame the fear of ordering directly from a business based in China.

If you are new to audiophile headphones it is important that you do your research before making a purchase but don’t immediately dismiss a Chinese product, it may be the best purchase you make in this hobby. In later articles I will discuss the types of amps available and why you may want more than one. As always, I encourage you to post your questions, suggestions, and comments. This passion keeps growing because of a tight knit community of which you and I are now members.