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2012 Head-Fi Holiday Gift Guide (Power Corner)  









(Also featured in Amps & Other Gear)

It seems there are infinite choices now, when it comes to portable headphone amplifiers. The portable amp I'm most impressed by at the moment is ALO Audio's Rx MK3-B ($649), www.aloaudio.com, which is a fully-balanced, portable beast of an amp, and the first to challenge the Ray Samuels Audio SR-71B ($650), www.raysamuelsaudio.com, in terms of the ability to authoritatively drive any dynamic headphone, up to and including the HiFiMAN HE-6.

In addition to its revealing sound signature, and having extraordinary driving power for a portable amp, the Rx MK3-B adds a very well implemented bass control. I don't know the exact specs of this bass control yet, but it was extremely effective and refined (it was great for giving thinner-sounding headphones more low-frequency body), and it seemed to only affect bass, pretty much leaving the mids alone.

“The power of this amp is unbelievable. I think one should take full advantage of it with full-sized cans; especially the hard-to-drive ones.”

Head-Fi member/reviewer AnakChan





The Practical Devices' XM6 (starting at $395), www.practicaldevices.com, is one of my go-to portable amp/USB DAC combos. Its list of features is almost too long to list here, but includes adjustable crossfeed, bass boost, treble boost, output impedance adjustment, adjustable gain, media control dial, and more. The USB DAC section is also very good for something of this size (I ordered the Wolfson WM8741 upgrade option). We discussed the Practical Devices XM6 in Episode 002 of Head-Fi TV.)

“I love this amp--it goes with me to work every day, and I use it at home if I'm away from my 'main rig' for whatever reason. If you've done your research, checked out the competition, have cash to spare, and love lots of features, go for it.”

Head-Fi member/reviewer Metalsonata





If you're in need of even more affordable portable amp/DAC solutions, make sure to check out the offerings from iBasso (www.ibasso.com), and FiiO (www.fiio.com.cn), both of which offer a strong selection of outstanding value-priced portable amps and amp/DAC combos. Though my experience with iBasso and FiiO products is currently limited, I expect to have more to say about some of FiiO's products in a future Buying Guide update.





In a search for more good affordable portable amps, I picked up the Hippo Cricri ($128) from Jaben in Singapore. The Cricri is a diminutive, lightweight headphone amp with a built-in rechargeable battery (good for up to 30 hours per charge). The Cricri is clad in a scratch-resistant chassis, and feels very well built for its size, and for the price. For an amp so affordable, I was surprised to find it equipped with a bass boost circuit, as well as adjustable gain.

If you're looking for an amp to lash to your phone, you may want to skip the Cricri, as I've found it's rather susceptible to radio noise and interference when lashed to my phones. It has, however, worked perfectly fine with my iPod Touch, which is what it's rubber-banded to now.

The sound signature of the Cricri as a straight amp (with no bass boost applied) is detailed, and better than I expected from this little $128 pocket amp. For me, though, where I've had fun is playing with the Cricri's bass boost switch, trying it with headphones that I sometimes wish had a bit more body. The AKG K 550, for example, is a headphone I have fun listening to out of the Cricri with its bass-boost activated, as is the Shure SRH440. If you're looking for an affordable portable amp, put the Cricri on your list to consider. If you're looking for the same, and have some headphones you think would benefit from its bass boost, then definitely give the Hippo Cricri a look.

(Also make sure to see the In-Ear Headphones section to see some of my favorite portable amps for driving in-ear monitors specifically.)


Head-Fi.org › Articles › 2012 Head-Fi Holiday Gift Guide (Power Corner)