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New! HeadRoom Desktop Balanced Amp!  

post #1 of 304
Thread Starter 
Ho ho ho! And Melly Kalikimaka! (That’s Merry Christmas in Hawaiian.)

I’m heading down to the Florida meet in a few days and will be showing prototypes of our newest product (so new that it's not even out yet). I thought I better start a thread in which you can ask questions if you’d like, about our new Desktop Balanced headphone amp.

First, some luscious pix of the prototype:







The Desktop Balanced Headphone Amp will be available with Desktop or Home modules---remember it’s balanced so that’s two pairs of module boards. Max modules are too big, and put out too much heat, to be used in the Desktop enclosure. It will also be available with both Desktop and Home Balanced Digital to Analog Converter card options. The amp has two combo jacks on the front, so you can plug in one balanced headphone, or two unbalanced cans. It has a Crossfeed and gain switch on the front in addition to the volume control----which is an Alps pot that can be upgraded to our balanced stepped attenuator.

The rear panel has one pair of balanced inputs and one pair of unbalanced inputs. Yes, you heard right: unbalanced inputs. We are using a balanced line driver chip internally to create a balanced signal from an the single-ended ins---it’s not as good as using a balanced source, but it’s amazingly close and oh so much fun to hear an iPod on balanced cans. Besides, we couldn’t fit a second set of balanced ins; and the ability to use an unbalanced analog source seemed handy dandy.

The amp comes stock with a new high-current switching power supply---so you don’t HAVE to buy the Desktop Power Supply to drive the thing (though it will sound better if you do). (P.S. Those of you wanting a better supply for your current HeadRoom gear who don’t want to drop the big bucks on the desktop may be interested in these supplies for your current gear. They won’t be available for sale separately for a little while---as we get our supply chain up to speed---but they are better than the standard low-cost supply we ship with gear. Price as yet unknown.)

Preliminary pricing for the amp will be $899 with Desktop Modules. $199 Home modules upgrade. $299 Desktop Balanced DAC, $399 Home Balanced DAC. $199 balanced stepped attenuator upgrade.

PLEASE, ask any questions here and DO NOT CALL in for info as the sales folks are buried in Christmas, and really don’t know much about the amp yet. Well…they’ve taken home for listening sessions, but so have I. Which brings us to: HOW DOES IT SOUND, DANGIT!

Well, with the Desktop Power Supply and Home modules, pretty much like a balanced Home…which means pretty darn good. It always amazes me how good balanced amplification sounds: clear, tight, articulate, resolution with ease. Folks here are digging the heck out of the prototypes; we’ve had more positive comments about these amps by employees than almost any other amp. Why? Well, one thing is that it’s not so easy to drag a big Max or Home to your home or desk and give it a listen. I tend to think people are just not expecting this level of performance from such a small amp. They plug their computer or iPod into it and are pretty much floored by what they hear. So, it’s not that the Desktop Balanced is better than a Home or Max, it’s just that folks aren’t expecting it to be almost as good and it is.

Oddities of note: we might have been able to squeeze Max modules into the amp, but the heat load would have gone over the line. The Desktop Balanced with Home modules gets plenty warm as it is. Mind you, not so hot as to be damaging (really, the chips like to run warm to sound their best), but we don’t recommend leaving the amp on 24/7 as over 5-10 years of continuous operation you might audibly degrade the electrolytic caps.

Other oddity: don’t bother mentioning the fact that some of the lettering is askew, or that a hole in the front panel looks funny---we’re still figiting.

Oh yeah, when can you get one? Probably in early February.

Feel free to ask questions!
post #2 of 304
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tyll Hertsens View Post
...$199 balanced stepped attenuator upgrade...
Tyll, I noticed the stepper is 200.00 instead of the 100.00 stepper sold previously.. Is this due to the balanced input? Or is it better sounduing?
post #3 of 304
Quote:
Originally Posted by kool bubba ice View Post
Tyll, I noticed the stepper is 200.00 instead of the 100.00 stepper sold previously.. Is this due to the balanced input? Or is it better sounduing?
The $100.00 stepped attenuator is on the non-balanced amps. Compare the two types of stepped attenuators needed:

Non-balanced:



Balanced:



That's why the balanced amp's stepped attenuator is twice the price.
post #4 of 304
Damn Tyll, congratulations. You've brought to market something in a form factor and price-point that no one else has yet. I look forward to trying it out.

Best,

-Jason
post #5 of 304
Quote:
Originally Posted by jude View Post
The $100.00 stepped attenuator is on the non-balanced amps. Compare the two types of stepped attenuators needed:

Non-balanced:



Balanced:



That's why the balanced amp's stepped attenuator is twice the price.
Gotcha..
post #6 of 304
First of all, congratulations Tyll and Headroom! That is one awesome looking amp!

Secondly, I am even more psyched to be joining you at the SoFlo meet this weekend because I can't wait to jack in some cans on that proto!

Thirdly, I won't be able to open this thread at work because my current Desktop Amp/Dac will be jealous. She might even get nervous given that I am going balanced at home and already have two balanced cans... You know what they say about a woman scorned!

Lastly, I have to go change, I think I peed a little when I opened the thread...
post #7 of 304
I'll be keeping this on my hit-list when it comes out
post #8 of 304
Another congrats. Looks beautiful, makes me consider going balanced!

--Chris

P. S. BUT... will you guys ever think about moving the input selectors to the front of the amp? I can't imagine paying over a grand for an amp and having to reach around back to flip inputs on it. Sorry... it's one of the only things holding me back.
post #9 of 304
How you guys/gals managed to pack so much into that case is beyond me! Well done Headroom!
post #10 of 304
Congrats Tyll, looks like a winner! Can't wait to hear it. There are more and more balanced amps coming out now, very exciting time!
post #11 of 304
Great work, Tyll and HeadRoom! Congrats on a job well done.

Really looking forward to seeing, feeling and hearing this on Saturday at SoFL meet. I love all that functionality and quality in such a small form factor.
post #12 of 304
Quote:
Originally Posted by hempcamp View Post
will you guys ever think about moving the input selectors to the front of the amp? I can't imagine paying over a grand for an amp and having to reach around back to flip inputs on it.
I'd call it a pretty trivial inconvenience, and it does mean that the front panel is comparatively uncluttered (at least, it is when the headphones aren't attached! ). If you can afford more than a couple of sources worthy of driving it, surely you could spring for one amp per source?

Nice product ... I love the fact that it accepts an unbalanced signal, by the way, which makes it usable by neophytes such as I who don't own balanced sources. I'm also glad that I've bought the HD 650s but not yet bought a cable upgrade ... the possibility of upgrading to a balanced cable will probably keep me happy until the realization dawns that, um, I can't actually afford one of these babies!

Still, a man can dream ....
post #13 of 304
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by hempcamp View Post
BUT... will you guys ever think about moving the input selectors to the front of the amp? I can't imagine paying over a grand for an amp and having to reach around back to flip inputs on it. Sorry... it's one of the only things holding me back.
I have to say that I understand the gripe; it bugs me too at times, I'm not entirely comfortable with the "reach around" .

But there is good reasong for it: It means that the circuit traces can be optimised. Eventually we will control all functions in the amps with a microcontroller (a special purpose computer chip designed to control the innards of products) and have "soft" buttons and status displays on the front panel. The microcontroller will interpret user control inputs and turn on and off relays to make things happen. Once we switch over to this more modern method (1980s ) of controlling the product innards we'll be able to do all sorts of things (DAC lock lights, DSP control, remote control, ect) but the price of gear is likely to rise a bit. I also know that the purist geek in me will rebel a bit because I know how clean and durable straight-up mechanical switches are. Anyway, I can guaranty you that the switchplacements are very well thought out to provide the shortst and cleanest signal path, and theat the rear switches are located such that they are very easy to reach and toggle.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Voltron
Lastly, I have to go change, I think I peed a little when I opened the thread...
I had a moment like that myself recently: The high here in Montana will be under 10 today. I looked at the temp in Ft. Lauderdale for the weekend and it forcast about 80! I had a little dribble myself at that moment---fortunately it froze immediately and rattled out my pant leg.

Quote:
Originally Posted by N_Maher
How you guys/gals managed to pack so much into that case is beyond me! Well done Headroom!
I'll try to take it apart and shoot some inside pix today, but, yeah, that thing is packed to the gills. There is two boards in it (three with the dac) the top board is mostly power supply filtration.

Quote:
Originally Posted by agile_one
I love all that functionality and quality in such a small form factor.
It's a bit hard to tell how small the thing really is; I'll try to take a picture with my hand in it or something, but it really is pretty small. Personally, I think the coolest thing is when you use it with a computer on a desktop---so much sound quality with such a small footprint is sweet. I can't take too much credit for that, however, as the benefits mainly come from balanced drive and recabling. We simply repackaged what we allready do. One of the reasons we did this amp was that it was cheap to bring into production: the only new parts it added to our inventory was the two new boards, two new panels, and the balanced line driver chip.

Actually, the biggest problem for us was/is that we're having to bring our re-cabling operation up to speed: sourcing cable, connectors, and figuring out how to modify the cans. We've been working on it for a while but we're having to get pretty serious about it now that we're releasing this amp and advertising the heck out of balanced headphones in Stereophile. (We've been running a five-part series of ads on balanced headphone there.) At first we will just be recabling K701s and DT880s, and only if they were bought from us. Over time, we will be offering recable jobs on cans bought elsewhere, and will develop recables for other headphone models---but it will take some time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sordel
Nice product ... I love the fact that it accepts an unbalanced signal
I was pretty leary of this at first, but I'll be damned if it doesn't work surprisingly well. I was/am pretty convinced that it's not worth going balanced unless you can get you hands on a balanced source or buy the internal DAC, but I have to say that after spending quite a bit of time listening to our Meridian 588 both balanced and unbalanced it's pretty hard to hear much difference; going from balanced to unbalanced headphones is MUCH more apparent. I'm sure we'll be rolling this feature into our big amps someday.
post #14 of 304
Thread Starter 
Here's a pic with my hand in it for scale:



Here's a pic of the insides next to the amp



Here's a closup of the boards. The board on the left is the top board; it has the input power filter caps and the DAC board mounted on it, the board on the right is the main board, you can see the four modules and the four stage stepped attenuator, plus all the decoupling caps on the main board.



Also want to remind you this is a prototype, so you'll see lots of hand writing and hacked up boards here; production units will be significantly cleaner.
post #15 of 304
Tyll,

Nice job with this amp...the price point for balanced is much appreciated!!

At what point will y'all be taking orders? Is that the February availability date you referenced, or is that an expected delivery date??

BTW - my wallet is just plain angry with y'all now...apologies are not working any more.*



* you know...the official welcome: Welcome to Head Fi. Sorry about your wallet
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