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HeadRoom Amp: Which one?!

post #1 of 87
Thread Starter 
Hi everyone. I've been contemplating an integrated DAC/Amp solution for some time now and I am considering the Headroom Desktop line of Amps. The features that attract me are:

. The small footprint.

. Built-in DAC so everything's in one small box. I live in a small one-bedroom apartment, so I'm a bit limited in space unless I really want to clutter the place up. they're also pretty light which is a definite advantage for international shipping compared to other similar amps I have looked at.

. Crossfeed. Well, it's not really necessary, but I sure like it. An amp with it will probably get my preference over one that doesn't have it. A hardware crossfeed means less for the source to do and works for sources that can't do it.

. Optical in (as well as USB). I don't have an immediate use for coaxial in, but who knows what the future holds.

Anyway, I have considered quite a few different amps, but the HR desktop line seem to meet my requirements and really pack a lot into a small space, even if they're not the cheapest, and they appear to be fairly well regarded around here. Incidentally, the new Micro line of amplifiers that Hr are releasing soon also look very interesting, not to mention the 2007 Desktop Portable.

So, I am looking for advice and opinions for deciding what to get and what options to pack into it. As I'm in chile, trying before buying isn't really an option. I haven't found much head-fi activity in South America, but perhaps I just haven't hit on the magical search term yet. I'm certain their are serious audiophiles here, but higher-fi headphone listening doesn't seem to be well known in this country as far as I can tell. So this is going to be a purchase sight unseen (or should that be sound unheard?).

Before starting, I should mention that I plan to pair the amp with an hp upgrade to some Senn. HD650's. I may get some AKG K701's down the track to compare, but the 650's sound like they will do me (initially at least, this is head-fi after all!). I'll summarise the various choices and options accompanied by my current thoughts and questions. My objective is to obtain some other points of view to help me decide just where to draw the line on the curve of diminishing returns. Of course, before placing an order, I intend to grill the sales staff at HeadRoom, but I wanted to canvas experienced folk here on head-fi first.

1. Single-ended Desktop Amp (DT) vs. Desktop Balanced (DB). The DB Amp is the only balanced system within the sort of price range I'm considering which has all the other features I want. It's awfully tempting to go for this. However, I have come across opinions indicating that the single-ended DT is possibly better bang for the buck, in particular, the maxed out DT (with max modules) vs. the maxed out DB (with home modules). I've read quite a lot of discussion on head-fi about balanced operation but I'm still not particularly clear on something. At what point does balanced operation offer substantial improvement in performance? For example, is it more beneficial to have class A amplification before considering balanced operation? Which has more to offer, class A or balanced operation? I observe that it is possible to purchase the DB with the desktop module which uses class AB operation if I am not mistaken. From all I have read, it is clear that class A is apparently the way to go, but is balanced operation something that truly falls into the top end of the diminishing returns curve, or does it have something to offer in the price range of the HR Desktop line? I have to admit to being very curious about balanced operation, but it is an extra hassle in terms of cabling and surely there must be compromises at the entry level. Furthermore, does balanced operation offer a really obvious enhancement to spatial presentation, etc., or is it a fairly subtle improvement? Headroom have a couple of very attractive packages involving the maxed out DT and DB, but as the price is the same, price alone is not much of a deciding factor.

The one feature the DB lacks, which could be nice to have for the future, is line out so the amp could be used as a pre-amp. The DT has this.
also, I note that the DB can power single-ended headphones. While this isn't of course how you'd want to primarily use it, it makes the amp flexible and is probably a handy feature to have. However, I've read that the 1/4 inch jacks do not provide the same quality of sound as the balanced XLR outs because they feed from the "line driver". to satisfy my curiosity, can anyone tell me what a "line driver" is and why its output would be inferior to a fully single-ended amplifier output? While I'm at it, how does a properly implemented line-out actually work on a headphone amplifier? My guess would be that the line-out somehow feeds off the amplifier output in a way that is independent of what is happening at the headphone out, with a fixed voltage divider being used to provide the appropriate voltage level at the line-out jacks. Incidentally, is the volume adjusted on an amplifier by using a voltage divider in series with the output or the input? Or am I just completely off the mark and it's done some other way? Ok,I'm getting off track.

2. Home modules vs. Max modules. I might as well go at least for the home modules. There are cheaper amps out there that are also fully class A so paying this much without getting some class A action would seem to be a shame. Plus, the home module upgrade is not that expensive. The real question however would be deciding between max modules, which of course only apply to the DT, and home modules. The price difference between them is pretty substantial. The max DAC, which upsamples and reclocks (in addition to the oversampling carried out by the CS4398) as I understand it, is a tempting upgrade over the home DAC. However, as the principal differences between the home and max amp modules seems to be in quality of materials, workmanship and a change in op-amps, and Headroom themselves claim the difference in resultant sound quality to be fairly subtle, I'm not sure if the max module is worth $300 over the home module. I'm not even sure that a max DAC can be mixed with a home amp module. However, as the fully loaded DT costs more or less the same as a fully loaded DB, a more pertanent question may be what are the benefits of max modules in single-ended configuration as compared to home modules in balanced operation?

3. ALPS pot vs. stepped attenuator (SA). I understand the benefits and drawbacks of having a stepped attenuator over a continuous variable resistance pot, but I'd like some other's thoughts on the stepped attenuator implementation on the desktop line of amps. I've read that the SA on the DB is rather finnicky to adjust exactly as you like because of the difference in resistances between successive volume levels. I don't know if this is because of the design of the attenuator or simply because the 6 dB difference between single-ended and balanced operation effectively doubles the perceived step size. In any case, it makes sense to me that when laying down a pile of denero for an expensive audio component, having a SA with its superior reliability (not to mention affect on sound quality) in terms of possible mechanical failure (when compared to a variable resistor) is a good thing and should increase the mean time between failures, that is, help to protect my investment. Anyway, I haven't read any negative comments about the SA on the DT (just the DB), so I would like to ask if the SA on the DT is difficult to adjust and if the SA on the DB really is as finnicky as I've read? Perhaps it is worth having an SA on the DT, but not worththe the trouble on the DB? Whether or not to have an SA will be the last thing to consider after I've decided on the amp and modules.

4. Could it be worth hanging off to check out the new Micro line? It seems that the new standard Micros (DAC and amp) will be going for around $400 a piece and the Ultra Micros for around $700 a piece from what I've read. Pros seem to be size, stackable and hopefully having the same sq as their desktop equivalents while the cons would be having a pair of Astrodynes to deal with instead of a single power supply. Together, the two units aren't that much smaller than a Desktop amp and I'd have to wonder about ventilation and cooling if stacking the ultras.

Any ideas and corrections to wildly inaccurate statements I have made would be welcomed, in addition to any further thoughts and considerations anyone wants to throw into the pond to properly stir up the silt and really confuse me. :-)

Finally, I'd like to thank all you fine folks on head-fi in advance for any help. I must also offer my a posteriori thanks to you all. I haven't posted much on head-fi, but I've been lurking for over half a year now and have learnt an enormous amount from reading discussions here.

Cheers.
post #2 of 87
Bradman-

Your post is dense and has many questions as it is. You might want to delete the double text that appears immediately following the "cheers" at the end of the post.

I will say that I own the DT with Home amp/dac modules and use it in my office daily more for its dac/preamp function than for dac/headphone amp duties. It is a very functional and flexible solution with many variables such as hi-med-lo gain, cross-feed, etc., and the obvious dac/amp/preamp features. It has a good, clean sound that mates well with the HD650 and K701 alike, IMO. It is not my favorite headamp because I am a tube kind of guy for the most part, but you can be assured you will have a nice, neutral amplifier and a very nice quality dac and preamp to boot. If buying again, I would go for max modules, especially on the dac side for the reasons you state. If you can go home amp and max dac, go for it.

As for the DB, I have heard it a few times in meets, etc, and think it is a steal for a balanced solution. The sound of the HD650s improves greatly on a balanced amp, and although the DB doesn't take it to the level of a higher-end balanced amp it definitely can improve the sound. That said, I still would recommend the DT because of the preamp functionality unless you have a really good balanced source and really want to go balanced, or unless you never listen to speakers. If both/either of those are true, the DB might fit you better and gives you the improvement in SQ possible with balanced operation. Tyll has said a number of times that he thinks the home amp in the DB is very close to the max amp in the DT, so make your own call.

The micro line might disappoint as a home solution. I have not spent enough time with them, and they are really quite good, but I personally would not be satisfied with them for home use primarily. The new ones will likely be better than what I have heard anyway, but I still would think that they might be less than you might want. The DP is a nice combination if you want transportability, but again there are missing functions I would want.

Not to make your search more difficult, but I would recommend looking at the Rudistor and Meier Audio amp/dac combinations because they are also nice components and certainly will ship to SA.

Cheers back to you, and best of luck with your search. I always enjoy the hunt very much myself.

V
post #3 of 87
The Desktop line's footprint becomes quite bigger once you throw on the external power supply.
post #4 of 87
Quote:
Originally Posted by Redo View Post
The Desktop line's footprint becomes quite bigger once you throw on the external power supply.
Not on my desk as I stack them.

The HR Desktop is a nice amp. Mine has the max modules since I knew if I didn't get them I would be second-guessing myself forever. It just arrived a couple of days ago so I'm still playing with it but I like the sound and features. I thought having some switches on the back would be a pain but I haven't had to use them yet. It makes a great preamp as well as a headphone amp, but all the switches affect the preamp output, including the crossfeed switch, so that's something to remember as you switch back and forth between cans and speakers.

The Micro Amp is a great transportable amp and I carry mine back and forth to work each day. The only time I use it on batteries is when I mow the lawn or work around the house. I like the sound but it doesn't compare to the Desktop, of course. I do NOT like the Micro Amp crossfeed because it boosts the bass, decreases the treble and muddles up the mids. The crossfeed in the Desktop is better, plus there is a brightness booster switch to compensate for the attenuated treble.

Can't help you with the balanced part. I haven't found any compelling reason to mess with the trouble and expense of balanced cans and electronics but I haven't heard any balanced systems and I hope for my wallet's sake I never do.
post #5 of 87
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hardwired View Post
Not on my desk as I stack them.
Same here. The DT footprint (and size, dimensions) is perfect for desks in dorms or offices.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hardwired View Post
The HR Desktop is a nice amp. Mine has the max modules since I knew if I didn't get them I would be second-guessing myself forever.
I got the maxed-out HRD for the same reason -- so I wouldn't be wondering about what I might be missing.

Also, I couldn't resist the HRDB package -- great price for a lot of leading-edge gear from a first-rate company.

I was planning to part with the HRD after the balanced arrived, but I haven't been able to do so. I find myself using both. If this makes any sense, the balanced is sometimes too much of a good thing. The intensity of the SQ grabs and holds your attention, and this can be exhausting after a while. I find I need to turn to the SE for a sound that's great but less intense.

Oddly enough, I find myself using the unbalanced (with GSK and BD) more than the balanced. I haven't figured out why, yet. Perhaps a balanced GSK with BD might take the edge off, but I'm not sure and can't afford to test this possibility right now.

I'm not sure if I've answered your question. I guess what I'm trying to say is that these two HR Desktops are very different animals. This is my experience, anyway.
post #6 of 87
Quote:
Originally Posted by bradman View Post


.....I'm not even sure that a max DAC can be mixed with a home amp module.....
I am in the same boat here, it would seem beneficial to go the Max Dac instead of Home Dac as there are substantial differences. With regards the amp module if the only difference is parts then it would only make a token improvement IMO. Although I intend to ask Headroom about this as I have in the 'Headroom sponger section' on this site.

I received excellent info from a well informed member 'Thesloth" check here.
http://www.head-fi.org/forums/showth...=1#post3207315
post #7 of 87
In few days, I will be getting Headroom Desktop Balanced with Home module and dedicated power supply, but without the DAC. I love the sound of VDA2/VAC1 and I will not give that up. For me, in the long run, my system has more flexibility to keep the DAC and amp separately. Also keeping the electronics inside the amp simple as possible appeals to me I also love the relatively small footprint of desktop model with it's matching power supply (stacked of course).
post #8 of 87
Quote:
Originally Posted by SK138 View Post
In few days, I will be getting Headroom Desktop Balanced with Home module and dedicated power supply, but without the DAC. I love the sound of VDA2/VAC1 and I will not give that up. For me, in the long run, my system has more flexibility to keep the DAC and amp separately. Also keeping the electronics inside the amp simple as possible appeals to me I also love the relatively small footprint of desktop model with it's matching power supply (stacked of course).
Going the HRD-noDAC route makes a lot of sense, too. As you say, it's actually a lot more flexible in some ways. Two schools of thought -- both sound. I'm with the other school, which goes for simplicity over flexibility as long as there's no compromise in SQ. The HR max (and home for the balanced) DAC is first rate, so I figured adding it to the amp was a good idea. The convenience of one less component appealed to me.
post #9 of 87
Quote:
Originally Posted by feifan View Post
Going the HRD-noDAC route makes a lot of sense, too. As you say, it's actually a lot more flexible in some ways. Two schools of thought -- both sound. I'm with the other school, which goes for simplicity over flexibility as long as there's no compromise in SQ. The HR max (and home for the balanced) DAC is first rate, so I figured adding it to the amp was a good idea. The convenience of one less component appealed to me.
Each to his own. Absolutely, I'm with you.
post #10 of 87
Thread Starter 
Hi everyone. Thanks for the replies so far. There's some good information and opinions here. First of all, thanks to Voltron for mentioning Meier Audio and Rudistor. I have considered the Meier amps, but hadn't looked too carefully at the Rudistor ones. I had a hunt around the Rudistor Web site and they do seem to have some nice gear there. However, they don't have any integrated DAC/amp solutions, except for their portable which only sports USB digital connectivity. Mind you, it's nice they include world-wide shipping in their prices. I'll bookmark their Web site for future reference. Meier Audio do have amps with integrated DACS, e.g., the Opera, which looks like a great system and from all reports sounds awesome too. Alas, it doesn't include a digital optical in, which would necessitate having to muck around with optical to coaxial converters, which I don't really want to do. From this point of view, the HRD line is a little more flexible, offering USB as well as both optical and coaxial digital connections. I can see myself taking advantage of all these connections down the track. Also, there are advantages to me in importing USA-made products, namely a 20% reduction in import duties because of the FTA Chile has with the US. No such agreement exists with the EU. However, that's only a minor factor which wouldn't really matter if I had found just what I wanted in the EU. If the Opera had an optical digital input, my decision would be rather more complicated! ;-)
post #11 of 87
Thread Starter 
Feifan, oh cripes. That's not making it easier! ;-) I'm leaning a bit more towards the DT with it's preamp functionality, but responses like this are making it dificult to forget the idea of balanced. I better continue pondering the issue. Did you get the stepped attenuator on your DB? If so, could you let me know how it compares to that on the DT? Do you have any difficulty setting it to the precise level you want to listen at? Btw, if your DT and DB are located in physical proximity to each other, have you considered connecting the DB to the DPS as well?
post #12 of 87
IMHO: Buy the Home Amp fully Maxed. It is killer amp/dac combo! After fully breaking in my internal Max Dac, I sold my Benchmark Dac 1 as I felt the internal HR Max Dac and beefy PS on the HR Home was a bit warmer and musicial! At first the Benchmark was far superior but as the Max Dac burned in, it got so close that I could not justify having both at this level. Now however, I have been spending far too much time reading about next level Dac's and wondering if I would like to auditon somethig like a Northstar M192? I guess you could say it is overkill to have the internal max dac if I am looking to upgrade dacs but at least it is always available if needed and it aids in resale, not that I am thinking about that,ha.
post #13 of 87
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by SK138 View Post
In few days, I will be getting Headroom Desktop Balanced with Home module and dedicated power supply, but without the DAC. I love the sound of VDA2/VAC1 and I will not give that up. For me, in the long run, my system has more flexibility to keep the DAC and amp separately. Also keeping the electronics inside the amp simple as possible appeals to me I also love the relatively small footprint of desktop model with it's matching power supply (stacked of course).
I'd love to hear your impressions of it once you get it. I understand your pov concerning separate components. In the future, I will probably go that way myself, but for now, I am wanting something that has a small footprint and which has everything in a single box. Ok, the DPS is a second box, but they'it's stackable, leaving the same footprint. Furthermore, power adapters or even the DPS can be tucked out of the way on the fllor somewhere such as under the desk or bed, etc. On the other hand, I want the dac near the amp, so in the amp chassis is fine with me. Plus, with the HR design, there's savings in price because there's no need to have a second psu to run the dac. Although there may be a DAC in the box, there's nothing stopping me from connecting a stand-alone dac via one of the line-in connections in the future, should I lose my sanity and be hit by an uncontrollable urge to play with different dacs. So no flexibility is lost by including the DAC straight up. I'll just save a bit of money initially by taking the HR dac option, which seems to be generally regarded as a good dac. As for your concerns about keeping things simple inside the amp chassis, that's fair enough. I just have to hope that the HR folks have done their homework and know how to shield the dirty digital processing elements from the analogue amplification system. I haven't read any bad reports so far in head-fi, nor in any of the reviews I've read, so I believe the convenience of a one-box-does-all solution will be worth it, at least, for the time being. ;-)
post #14 of 87
maybe you should look at this. i purchased headphones from this seller. good transaction. plus buying used is a good way to save money.

http://cls.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cls....ran&1190542665
post #15 of 87
The difference between '06 Max module and '06 Home module is not just the parts such as 0.1% vs 1% for resistors, 100uF Nichicon cap vs 22uF one, better output transistors in Max's dimond buffer.........., besides all these, the circuit is little bit superior in Max module as the R27(for output short protection) is in the feedback loop.
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