Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Headphone Amps (full-size) › Headroom Desktop Amp / DAC Review
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Headroom Desktop Amp / DAC Review

post #1 of 39
Thread Starter 
Pictures below

I just recently purchased the Headroom Desktop, can't seem to find many reviews, and thought I'd go ahead and throw in my two cents, in hopes that it helps someone out. As you can see from my signature, I have a number of modestly priced but great cans. For a number of reasons I won't get into (let's just say I got the "upgrade bug" ), I decided that I wanted a more substantial stationary amp.

Up until my purchase, I had the iBasso D3 Python or my Denon AVR-687 receiver to power my headphones. The iBasso is a terrific portable amp, complete with a pretty nice USB DAC. The Denon does pretty well with powering my loudspeakers, but I've always felt that the headphone jack is shoddy.

Perusing the Head-fi forums are great, but if you're simply looking for opinions with nothing specific in mind, then this is a really confusing place. The majority of us members swear by this or that, and we all like something a little different. On top of that, we all get that curiosity that makes us want to try out a different brand, different technology, etc.

Forgive the generalities--I just want to clearly explain where I am in all of this. My main and favorite cans are the Denon D2000. I'm a young guy and don't have a huge budget, but I entered the market with open eyes, open mind, and (unfortunately) an open wallet. I knew I wanted a nice amp and a DAC to go along with it.

I know there are a lot of options out there. Though I purchase 90% of my "stuff" online and I'm a young guy, I feel like I'm a bit old-fashioned with my money. I don't necessarily pay for big overhead, but I like dealing with well-established people or places. Sorry to the owners of such equipment, but I hate the idea of buying an amp through eBay, having it drop-shipped directly from China, having the manufacturer's website look like butt and only be in broken English. I just like more assurance than that.

ENTER: Headroom. I've dealt with them a lot in the past. They're always pleasant on the phone and very willing to help. I also love the sound of that 30-Day money-back guarantee. I went ahead with the Desktop Amp/DAC combo over the Micro stack for a number of reasons. For one, it's upgradeable. It's also less money overall if I want to upgrade to the Astrodyne PS (one of them versus two with the stack). Though many people climb a mountain and shout--at the top of their lungs--"SEPARATE IS ALWAYS BETTERRRRRRrrrrrr!!!", I respectfully disagree . I can understand that in terms of *potential* interference, or wanting to swap out different components, but in my mind, it's less hassle, and there are a hell of a lot less soldered connections in the combo unit.

So anyways, how does it sound? (About time, right? ) Simply put---incredible. OH MY WORD. The best my Denon's had ever sounded previously was through the iBasso, so I'll compare it to that (I know, not exactly the most fair comparison). Denon's over-inflated, soggy bass is now *refined*, *controlled*, *deadly accurate*. The overly-sparkly highs are now put in their place. And WHAT IS THIS?! MIDS?! Yes, that's right. D2000s actually are capable of resonating in mid-range frequencies. Did you know that? I didn't.

Don't get me wrong--they sounded wonderful before. Just with reservations. It was the kind of thing where I'd love listening to them, but I still had my eye on other headphones. Based off of what other people say, I wanted to get the HD650s and get the Cardas or Silver Dragon cable... Not anymore. I'm utterly and completely happy with my setup

Overall, I'd say this amp is detailed, liquid-smooth through the frequency band, great dynamics on floor toms and snappy snares, hard-hitting techno beats, light and airy strings, etc. All of this is frivolous. It sounds fantastic. Some may call the sound "warm," but I just call it correct. I'm an active musician, playing guitar, bass, piano, and brass. I know what this stuff sounds like and this is correct.

Let's get down into the nitty-gritty (with pics below). It arrived very nicely packaged with really no possibility of damage (unless my UPS driver takes up drinking on the job). The unit looks pretty nice. It's missing an overall finesse and refinement that I'd expect with something costing this much, but hey, it's utilitarian, no nonsense, and pretty decent looking. Power switch, 1/4" jack, 1/8" jack, Rear Output switch, Brightness, Crossfeed, Gain, and the volume pot. The writing is small, but you really don't need to ever change anything. Dial in what you like and you're set.

I've used the USB, Optical, and Analog inputs. Can't say anything about Coax. Digital is much better (why else would you get THIS unit?), between USB and Optical, I can't really tell a difference. Some people crap themselves over clock-phase, jitter, bit-outputs, digital gremlins, and purple unicorns. Personally, I'm using Optical out of my MacBook Pro, connected at 48k. I'm also using a dirt-cheap optical cable.

Crossfeed is interesting. With some songs, I can't really notice a thing. Other songs, it's insanely different and completely destroys the imaging. In general, I don't like it. But if you want to use it, be aware that it adds bass. Use it in combination with Brightness Filter 3 to counteract it.

I'm smitten This thing was, for me, REALLY expensive. To the point that I'm embarrassed to tell friends and family how much it cost. No one around me understands this stuff. When they ask, I just say, "expensive." If you're reading this and don't know, it's $800. But hey, it's an amp AND a DAC. And both are fantastic. This will last me for some indefinite, but certainly long amount of time. It made me fall back in love with my D2000s and forget about any other options. If I ever want to get the HD800 or T1 Tesla, this will power them. If I want to upgrade to the MAX modules, I can at my own leisure and financial circumstances.

Maybe you're in my shoes. You want something you'll be completely satisfied with but you don't have all of the experience and know-how of the other Head-fi users. You can't afford to change op-amps, tubes, boutique cables, etc. You just want a great product from a great company with a great warranty. If that's you and you don't feel like wasting your time and money by scrolling these forums, just get this.

For my observations, I use a variety of Apple Lossless files. Here are some songs I use as test songs and why:

Private Lawns - Angus & Julia Stone (A Book Like This)
Great synergy between acoustics and a fantastically smooth, deep bass line.

Dynamic Symmetry - BT (This Binary Universe)
Have you HEARD BT? Oh my word. He personally encapsulates all that is good about music for me. This song happens to be all instrumental, but it's a terrific blending of genres and BLOWS MY MIND. Perfect for you detail freaks.

Kings - Chasing Victory (Fiends)
Terrifically mixed distorted guitars and hard hitting bass drum. If you like heavy rock, it's a great sample.

Waltz for Dewayne Pomeroy - Chris Thile (Deceiver)
The intimacy you get with the mandolin is phenomenal. Every pluck is right in front of you.

Oscar Wilde - Company of Thieves (Ordinary Riches)
My favorite guitar tone of all time, specifically the solo-lick at 3:50. That girl can sing, too.

Sing, Sing, Sing - Dave Grusin, GRP All-Star Big Band (GRP All-Star Big Band Live!)
Listen to that imaging! That mixing! That clarinet solo! That drum solo! In the clarinet solo, you can hear his foot faintly keeping beat, his spit sliding across the reed, the pads gently clicking against the body of the clarinet. It's incredible. Probably my #1 test sample.

At Constant Speed - Gemma Hayes (The Hollow of Morning)
Mixed really bright, but it's clean and her voice is incredibly intimate.

Training Po - Hans Zimmer & John Powell (Kung Fu Panda)
Yes, it's from the Kung-fu Panda soundtrack. It's probably one of my favorite scores of all time. Listen to that percussion!

Loose Ends - Imogen Heap (Speak for Yourself)
It didn't win a Grammy for mixing/mastering for no reason.

The Longer I Run - Peter Bradley Adams (Leavetaking)
Great recording quality and just a great song.

Rodrigo y Gabriela (Live In Japan)
Just listen to this entire album straight through. Wowwie Zowwie.

Fringes - Shane & Shane (An Evening with Shane & Shane)
One of the best produced live albums I've ever heard (that's not classical).


UPDATE

Per request, I've been listening to other headphones on the Desktop. I've mostly been listening to the Grado SR60i, since that came up specifically. I compared the Desktop to my iBasso D3 and straight out of an iPod. Truthfully, there isn't as much of an improvement as I had imagined. My D2000s magically turned into different cans, whereas the Grados are only marginally better. But hear that---they do sound better. Things are a little less "middy." Guitars separate a little bit easier. Vocals stand out a bit better. The biggest improvement is actually with imaging. I feel like the "stage" is a lot more believable. The SR60s sounded great to begin with (great being relative, of course... you can only compare them to other headphones around the same price), and the Desktop polishes them up even more.

I'm listening to Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds (Live at Luther College) right now. The guitars are beautiful and bright, his voice rings through strongly, and there's plenty of differentiation between the two guitars. It really sounds fantastic. For what it's worth, it's mixed really well, and the Grados handle it pretty well straight out of an iPod. But really, this sounds fantastic (when played relatively quietly... read on...).

Understand though, when I say marginal improvement, I really mean it! I would, by no means, ever recommend someone spend $800 on the Desktop to get an improvement over an iPod. There needs to be a step in between, at least. For instance, my little iBasso is a MASSIVE improvement over the iPod. The Desktop is an improvement over the iBasso, but it's a smaller improvement. If you're interested in Headroom, get a BitHead. Don't buy an $800 amp to power $80 headphones. I bought this amp for my D2000s. They're in a much different league than the Grado SR60s.

For what it's worth, I've always found Grados to excel in low-volume performance. Many headphones lose their spark when turned down, but I think it actually evens out Grado's shrill sound. If you want improved sound, improve your source and maybe, like I said, get a BitHead or something. Then listen to them quietly. They'll sound wonderful Alright, on to my M50s next...
LL
LL
LL
LL
LL
LL
LL
LL
LL
post #2 of 39
thanks for the review. the headroom gear is not getting reviewd very often here for unknown reasons. I own the ultra micro stack myself for a long time and together with my D5000 i have never wanted to upgrade my gear. if i buy other headphones/gear is just from curiousity and tasting something different,but the headroom stack/D5000 is my best system to date.

If i can ask a question...why didn't you use the little 3.5 headphone plug of your amp insted of the 6.5? you can save yourself using the 6.5 adapter for the headphones,
post #3 of 39
Thread Starter 
I guess it just feels like a more substantial connection. Maybe less chance of *bump* *snap* *oops!*? It really shouldn't make any difference in sound quality. It's the adapter included with the D2000s, so it's a perfect, screw-in fit.
post #4 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by jchandler3 View Post
I guess it just feels like a more substantial connection. Maybe less chance of *bump* *snap* *oops!*? It really shouldn't make any difference in sound quality. It's the adapter included with the D2000s, so it's a perfect, screw-in fit.
yeah..it is a solid adapter. I would just prefer as less adapters/connections as possible but it is your decision.
post #5 of 39

Thanks for the review!

jchandler3,

Thanks so much for your review. We appreciate hearing about your experience and the why's of the decisions you've made.

Happy Listening,

Jamey
post #6 of 39
jchandler3,

Congrats on your purchase! If it had balanced outputs I would have went for it but I decided on a Benchmark. I borrowed a friend's HR Amp/DAC and loved the sound. As you said, it really does take your cans to the next level.

I'm with you on the simplicity/synergy of an all-in-one unit. While there are valid arguments on both sides I find that they "separatists" just enjoy staying on that upgrade merry-go-round chasing their dream. After doing just that for a number of years I just want to sit back and enjoy the music.

Hope you enjoy your purchase for years to come.

Bill
post #7 of 39
I'm quite new to this hobby and don't have any personal experience with it, but often read what people have written about synergy between headphones, amps, and dacs. You obviously enjoyed the dac/amp with your D2000, but unless I missed it you didn't mention your other phones. Did it improve your experience with, for example, your Grados too?
post #8 of 39
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by esotericjester View Post
I'm quite new to this hobby and don't have any personal experience with it, but often read what people have written about synergy between headphones, amps, and dacs. You obviously enjoyed the dac/amp with your D2000, but unless I missed it you didn't mention your other phones. Did it improve your experience with, for example, your Grados too?
You're right... I absolutely should have done that. Truth be told, I've been so captured by the D2000s I haven't put on any other pair. I'll do some listening tonight and do an UPDATE for you in the original post.
post #9 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by jchandler3 View Post
You're right... I absolutely should have done that. Truth be told, I've been so captured by the D2000s I haven't put on any other pair. I'll do some listening tonight and do an UPDATE for you in the original post.
Awesome. Thank you.
post #10 of 39
I listen to my ultra micro stack with the RS1 for two days straight and it is fantastic. it may sound very trebelish and agressive comparing to other warmer systems like tube amps for examples,but when getting used to it you just relize it rocks, and the bass is can get very deep and punchy..much more deep than any tube amp I tried before.

jchandler3,I am also curious to know how you liked your grados with the headroom.
post #11 of 39
Good to hear Headroom's amps/dac is getting some attention, good job on the review. I believe my situation was VERY similar to yours (albeit a shorter time for my upgrade-itis to pull the trigger on the Desktop). Headroom just seemed like a good choice, had a return policy, and seemed like a genuinely decent product. I purchased my K701s first with a total bithead amplifier, then figured I wasn't getting enough juice and wondered how a proper amp would sound, and broke down and got a Desktop. THEN I figured out I hated the 701s sound and got a Senn HD650. Finally I've found a good setup, really enjoying my time with them so far.

However, I couldn't ignore all the talk about other headphones on the forum... pulled the trigger on a pair of Grados (325i) the other day from Headroom. If they are too bright I may return them and try out a pair of RS1's. Just couldn't stand how others have been saying Grados are perfect for rock, which is what I listen to 95% of the time. Tell me I won't go wrong Plonter!
post #12 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paganini Alfredo View Post
Good to hear Headroom's amps/dac is getting some attention, good job on the review. I believe my situation was VERY similar to yours (albeit a shorter time for my upgrade-itis to pull the trigger on the Desktop). Headroom just seemed like a good choice, had a return policy, and seemed like a genuinely decent product. I purchased my K701s first with a total bithead amplifier, then figured I wasn't getting enough juice and wondered how a proper amp would sound, and broke down and got a Desktop. THEN I figured out I hated the 701s sound and got a Senn HD650. Finally I've found a good setup, really enjoying my time with them so far.

However, I couldn't ignore all the talk about other headphones on the forum... pulled the trigger on a pair of Grados (325i) the other day from Headroom. If they are too bright I may return them and try out a pair of RS1's. Just couldn't stand how others have been saying Grados are perfect for rock, which is what I listen to 95% of the time. Tell me I won't go wrong Plonter!
some say that the SR325 are overly bright for them, even some grado enthusiasts.... i think. but in general,you should be happy if you are looking for that sound signature. I know how the grado sound just after reading couple of post describing their sound so I know exactly what I am gonna get.
the "in your face" description told me exactly how they gonna sound,and I knew that it was the exact sound I want for rock music.
good thing you bought from headroom...return them if you don't like and go for the 225 or even RS1.
post #13 of 39
<sigh> I want a Desktop SOOOOO BAD! <sigh>

Did I mention, I REALLY WANT ONE OF THESE!!

Anyone willing to donate one to me... PM me and I'll send you my shipping address :-)

Thanks for the GREAT write-up jchandler3
post #14 of 39
Thing I wonder about, is how good are Headroom amps compared to some "classic" amps at same price..
post #15 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mescalamba View Post
Thing I wonder about, is how good are Headroom amps compared to some "classic" amps at same price..
Whats a "classic" amp?
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Headphone Amps (full-size)
Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Headphone Amps (full-size) › Headroom Desktop Amp / DAC Review