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Headroom Ultra Desktop Review

post #1 of 37
Thread Starter 

This thread will grow into a review of the Headroom "Ultra Desktop Amp" with the Max amp module and Max dac.  Mine is a just aquired 2008 model, with the no longer available stepped attenuator as well.  Mine also includes the Desktop Power Supply.  For the record, I will likely never audition it with the standard power supply.

 

This is a used unit that I just aquired from Audiogon.  It arrived in virtually new condition - I have recieved a couple of items over the years in condition this fine, and nothing better, new or used.  Awesome!

 

Just a few brief comments for now.  Wow!  Outstanding detail, nice bass control over my Dennon D7000's.  Much better control than my DacMagic Dynalo combination.  A bit less air and soundstage than the DacMagic, but more detailed and more accurately musical.  I really wanted to keep my DacMagic / Dynalo rig for side by side comparisons, but I needed the cashflow...

 

A brief comparison before I forget - The Dacmagic had 3 filter slope settings that allowed for a bit of sound tailoring, though the differences were minimal.  I think the DacMagic has some sort of mild DSP, though I could have misunderstood.  It also has a crappy stock power supply that may hold it back a bit.  It seemed to have a bit more air and soundstage, but both sounded just a bit artificial.  The Headroom unit is much more detailed and accurate, and much more controlled.  I suspect the ESS Sabre 9008 chip in the Headroom unit

 

See Post #21: http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/511909/headroom-ultra-desktop-review/15#post_6934005

for DAC info.

 

is superior to the Wolfson chip.  I also suspect there are legions who will disagree, and legions who will agree...  Consider my comments on my previous Dynalo / Dacmagic with a grain of salt - I haven't heard them in 3 days, and the memory grows dim.  I can't really make reliable comparisons about the amps, as both were tied to different sources.  The Dynalo seemed to be a wire with gain, the Headroom unit seems to add a bit of warmth.

 

This is my first experience with crossfeed, and one of the reasons I wanted to try Headroom.  I like it!  Much less fatiguing, much more realistic.  The downside is added warmth in an already warm setup.  There is a "Brightness" filter switch that adds a bit of boost in the treble (setting 1) or upper mids and treble (setting 2).  I've been experimenting, and setting 2 seems to be the best offset for the warmth added via the crossfeed, but both are just a bit heavy handed. ***EDIT***  I have since settled in with setting 1 about 50% of the time, setting 2 maybe 20% of the time, and no filter maybe 30% of the time.

 

So far, a brilliant set up.  If time ever permits, I'll try for a bit more extensive and objective review with music preferences, and whatever else I can add that might help someone considering a used amp like mine, or the identical save for the no longer available stepped attenuator "Ultra Desktop Amp" that Headroom currently sells.

 

Very Breifly - A stunningly good and versatile setup in a perfect form factor with over the top form, fit and finish, sold by some of the nicest (still, even post "shake-up") guys and gals in headphonedom.


Edited by aamefford - 9/21/10 at 2:21pm
post #2 of 37

You're the man.

post #3 of 37

Nice heads up there for a fine amp!! 

 

It's not often that the HeadRoom amps are featured.  They don't seem to be the FOTM that much.  Likely because they don't push the psychoacoustic buttons based on the appearance:price ratio.

 

I've been using filter 1 with the crossfeed enabled for my HD650's.

 

Crossfeed goes very well with the HD800's.  I don't need any filters there.

 

P. Alfredo,  I assume you're having a wale of a time running those LCD-2's with the UltraDesktop?

post #4 of 37
Thread Starter 
Funny, I note some of the same cast of characters in headroom threads. Their fans are fewer, maybe, and maybe a bit less vocal. A good point - premium price without flashy premium looks, until you actually touch one. And my goodness the sound quality! I'm still getting used to the dead black background. More later.
post #5 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by aamefford View Post

Funny, I note some of the same cast of characters in headroom threads. Their fans are fewer, maybe, and maybe a bit less vocal. A good point - premium price without flashy premium looks, until you actually touch one. And my goodness the sound quality! I'm still getting used to the dead black background. More later.


I think that they look nice, too. I think that the lack of a vocal proponent for the UDA and such is a result of the fact that it is a very high end amp with a hefty price tag (though the price:performance is amazing). Simply put, not that many people even own one, so the body of reviews is smaller. It's not like you see reviews of the WA5 or the Zana Deux every single day. I myself have only had the pleasure of hearing a Micro stack at a meet (and I quite enjoyed the sound). I don't think that Headroom's rep is tarnished by this at all.

post #6 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by aimlink View Post

Nice heads up there for a fine amp!! 

 

It's not often that the HeadRoom amps are featured.  They don't seem to be the FOTM that much.  Likely because they don't push the psychoacoustic buttons based on the appearance:price ratio.

 

I've been using filter 1 with the crossfeed enabled for my HD650's.

 

Crossfeed goes very well with the HD800's.  I don't need any filters there.

 

P. Alfredo,  I assume you're having a wale of a time running those LCD-2's with the UltraDesktop?

 

You betcha, the LCD-2s are getting all my love right now. And, really, it's a perfect fit cause to me they're like HD650s on steroids. Pretty much what I was wanting out of the HD800.

 

I don't know how much contribution or credit deserves to go to my Ultra for the sound quality, as I've never heard these cans on another amp yet, but needless to say I'm not even interested in another amp/dac unless I happen along to a meet. And I would bet good money that the Ultra equals or betters some of the amps people drool over in the LCD-2 amp thread.
 

post #7 of 37

Great revieaamefford. Keep it up.

 

And I don't mean to derail your thread, but what shakeup are you referring to at HeadRoom? Is Tyll no longer around? I've been away from Head-Fi for a good long while and must have missed it.


Edited by swmtnbiker - 9/11/10 at 6:08pm
post #8 of 37
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by logwed View Post




I think that they look nice, too. I think that the lack of a vocal proponent for the UDA and such is a result of the fact that it is a very high end amp with a hefty price tag (though the price:performance is amazing). Simply put, not that many people even own one, so the body of reviews is smaller. It's not like you see reviews of the WA5 or the Zana Deux every single day. I myself have only had the pleasure of hearing a Micro stack at a meet (and I quite enjoyed the sound). I don't think that Headroom's rep is tarnished by this at all.

 

Good point - I forget that this is the most I've paid for a single component, and I bought used.  New retail 2 years ago was over $2,100 including shipping.  I've heard the WA5 at a meet - a stunning and stunningly beautiful amp.  High end tubes do sound nice, and they may enter my life sometime, but not until my 5 year old is much older!  I have not heard a beta22 yet.  I have heard some nice DIY solid state.  The Headroom Ultra is right up in the running, and especially attractive to me because of that fine ESS 9008 DAC included, and the fact that it really is a simple, capable preamp as well as a really fine headphone amp.

 

I also find the very understated aesthetic attractive.  I always have.  I've wanted this amp since I started into head-fi about 3 years ago.

 

I was concerned that it might not measure up to the Dynalo that I had, but it certainly does, and the DAC outpaces my departed DacMagic. As a combination, the headroom Ultra far outpaces the DacMagic / Dynalo.  If I had to go out on a limb, I would guess that the Dynalo is every bit as competent as the ultra's amp section.  I think the DacMagic, while quite good, is not as accurate as the ESS 9008 in the Headroom ultradac.  Strictly my opinion, though.  Also, I enjoy a warmer signature, so the slight warmth that the OPA627's add is welcome to me.  Not everyone is in the warmth or slight coleration camp, but I find that my favorites always lean this way - Sennheiser HD580's, Shure SE530's, Westone W3's, Denon D7000's, the Headroom Ultra.

 

I find that I am hooked on crossfeed, at least so far.  It is a subtle, but very favorable change for me.  Music sounds flat without it.  I wish the slight added warmth wasn't part of the equation, but it is slight, and if it is too objectionable, the brightness filter will help improve the sound.  Not everyone seems to like crossfeed, though.  It may be headphone specific as well.  It is a great improvement for my closed Denons.

post #9 of 37

The UDA is a 'someday amp' for me. I definitely can't pin a schedule on it, but it will be long in the future before I can swing it.

post #10 of 37
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by logwed View Post


The UDA is a 'someday amp' for me. I definitely can't pin a schedule on it, but it will be long in the future before I can swing it.





I found mine on audiogon, indestinguishable from new. I've been waiting 3 years. It's worth it. I suspect this will stay a while, as it is also a killer 5 input preamp.
post #11 of 37

I owned a UDA w/DPS for a month and then had to sell it due to financial reasons.  For the short amount of time I owned it, it was the best sounding headphone system I've ever heard.  I think in the future, headroom should release an updated version with maybe some more power for things like orthos or high impedance cans.  They you could have the most versatile amp/dac package ever

post #12 of 37

It doesn't have enough power already?

post #13 of 37
Thread Starter 

Myabe not for orthos or K1000's.  Might be fine for orthos, though.  Definitely fine for anything else!

post #14 of 37

thank you for the nice review.

yeah..it's too bad that there aren't much headroom fans in head fi.    they have really amazing sounding gear.  the headroom ultra micro stack is my first high end serious rig and i have it for 3 years now,  i am so happy with it and even after i bought some other gear afterwards i sold it all and sticked with the headroom.   I have never thought about selling it even for half a second because it sound awsome and works perfectly without any problems what so ever.      

but if i were to but headroom rig today, i would definitely get the ultra desktop instead of the ultra micro because the more compact package and more features.     back than i bought only the amp first and only after a while decided that i want the dac also (and also the astrodynes) so i built my rig part after part.


Edited by plonter - 9/15/10 at 6:19pm
post #15 of 37

The Max DAC does not use the ESS chip.  The ESS was only featured in the now discontinued UDAC.  The UDAC was introduced at the same time as the BUDA.  There is a thread in the HR forum that explains why it was discontinued.

 

By the way, I have a BUDA connectected to a Marantz SA-11S1 and very much enjoy listening to my HD650 this way.

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