OK A lot has been said lately about the UHA-4, but no one has really given a concrete review or comparison well here it is. I will be comparing multiple aspects of the amps, but also the companies that sell them (Xin amp anyone?), shipping times, packaging, etc. There will be no stars, no points, no best out of 10's, I simply compare one to the other. I will not put an amp down for features it doesn't have, I will praise an amp for having additional features, but not condemn an amp for not, I review what is there. Considering the portable nature of these particular amps, Critical listening tests will be performed with IEM's and full sized cans will be used simply to see how well each amp powers them.
Leckerton Audio UHA-4
The Leckerton Audio UHA-4 is a slimline portable headphone amplifier/dac aimed (imo) at IEM/portable sporting Head-fi'ers looking to move up from entry level amps, AND the IEM user looking for a pocket friendly, well performing amp without breaking the bank. The UHA-4 can be purchased for $179+ shipping (at time of writing) directly from Leckerton Audio's website; http://www.leckertonaudio.com/products/uha-4/
The Ordering Experience:
I had ordered my UHA-4 on April 12, check out was straightforward, add item to cart, checkout with Paypal, easy. I do not know the "standard issue" response from Leckerton, because immediately after placing my order I contacted them (him) through the website regarding a special request on the amp. An email response arrived a few hours later, (written by an actual human being!) thanking me for the purchase and letting me know my request would be granted at no additional cost. The amplifier arrived on April 20th (shipping time was acceptable considering the distance/date shipped, the 18th) shipped in a cardboard box. Inside the box there was my Invoice, the instruction sheet, the MICRO USB cable (a first for me with an amp) and the UHA-4 carefully wrapped with rubber feet taped to the inner bag. The box was well packaged, and the items placed in it with consideration. The instruction manual was a nice touch, none of my other amps came with instruction manuals.
The Amp Itself;
The UHA-4 is a slimline amplifier in an aluminum enclosure. The faceplates are stamped, not milled like most aluminum amps I've encountered, it leaves it looking a little, well, cheap (IMO) The faceplates don't line up PERFECTLY with the case, but considering they are stamped, that is to be expected. The text is not engraved into the faceplates in anyway, so the possibility of the text wearing off exists. Other than that the text lines up with the corresponding ports/switches/lights, it is clear and legible. The shape of the amp is rather unique, rather then being more on the rectangular side, it is more squared, leaving it wider and shorter than most slimline amps considering its length. The wider/shorter profile and the location of the volume control might make adjusting the volume while in a shirt pocket (see shirt pocket comparison photo) difficult. Personally I like the way it feels in my shirt pocket, getting used to the fact it will probably always be wider than the source (it is roughly equal with my Zen Vision) will take some time. The UHA-4 is indeed a slim amp, nothing award winning, but it will fit nicely in a shirt pocket with an Iphone comfortably.
The UHA-4 feels solid, nothing loose, no tooling marks. The power switch has a nice smooth feel to it and makes a quiet click. The crossfeed and gain switches are plastic, leaving the possibility of breakage, however so are the arrow's. The volume control is a shuttle switch, it is smooth and easy to adjust, the quality feels on par with a couple of shuttle switches found on sony gear I've had. The input and output jacks are secured against the face plate (note the collars) it reassures me that next time I snag my IEM's cable on something and it rips it out of the amp that the contact points on the board won't bear the brunt of it. The overall fit and finish are honestly a touch short of the price, but you might want to disregard that considering my first amp was the Lisa III and it set the bar rather high .
The UHA-4 comes with a Micro USB (not mini) cable, four rubber feet, and an instruction sheet, no 3.5 cable is included (the only amp I've ever had to come with one is the PA2V2) This is consistent with the other amps I've purchased nothing more to report here.
The Headstage Arrow 3g
The Headstage Arrow 3g is a SUPER SLIM heavily featured headphone amplifier aimed at (IMO) Mid/high end IEM users. It's price generally rules it out as a starter or even an upgrade amp, the arrow is (IMO) a top level portable amplifier. The Headstage Arrow can be purchased for $300 (at time of writing) directly from Headstage; www.headstage.com and includes a 30-Day Money Back Guarantee and a 2 year warranty.
The Ordering Experience;
The waiting times for the arrow very GREATLY. I had ordered my Arrow approx. two months ago. I went to their website and ordered the amp, checking out required you to make an account, which struck me as kind of overkill considering they sell only one amp. I received an automated email shortly there after stating my order was "processing" Kinda scary considering how long some people wait for these amps. A week later I received another email stating that my order has shipped, this email was automated as well. Another week passed by and the amp arrived, Impressive speed considering it came from Germany!. The Arrow was shipped in a white "pizza box" style box in a white bubblelined mailer. I assume this is to keep shipping costs down, I found it unsettling considering the trained monkeys working at my local post office (I have some rather interesting stories about some posters I've ordered) that deliver my mail. Fortunately my amp arrived safe and sound. Inside the box I found a mini USB cable, a torx screwdriver for battery replacement (the Headstage website currently states that a replacement case will be provided due to flaws on the current cases) Tesa power strips, and the Arrow amp in a smaller white bubble mailer. The items were adequately packaged (for most people, who's postal workers are humans instead of the gorillas working at my post office), and placed with consideration.
The Amp Itself;
The Headstage is a super slim (the headshells for some of the 3.5mm plugs are thicker than the amp) pocket headphone amplifier in an aluminum enclosure. The Arrow is housed in a aluminum "sleeve" that it is held into by two torx screws, a very unique housing indeed, allowing for one of the slimmest amps available. The amp feels solid, yet not hefty, there is no rattling, no loose parts. The faceplates appear to be plastic and are slightly recessed into the "sleeve" Due to the fact the faceplates are recessed, and the amp is so thin, the chances of the text wearing off are "slim" The text is clear and legible and matches up perfectly with the corresponding switches/jacks/lights. The edges of the input and output plugs are equal with the edge of the sleeve. The fact the jacks appear to have no reinforcement is a little concerning, fortunately the amp has two inputs, one on top, one on the bottom, and two headphone jacks, so if one fails you won't be left without an amp. There is no power switch, the amp turns on/off automatically (very nice). The length of the amp works nicely with most sources. The volume control is smooth but stiff, I assume with further use it will loosen. The switches mounted on the bottom are made of plastic, carrying the risk of breakage, their movement is a little more solid then the UHA-4's, however this might have to do with the fact they are 3 way switches. I personally like the Arrow with my X1061, both have top mounted controls allowing for a very convenient pocket rig. The overall fit and finish is good, what one would expect from a $300 amp.
The Headstage Arrow comes with a mini USB cable, a Torx screwdriver, and Tesa powerstrips. The powerstrips are a nice touch, on par with some other amps that come with bands, I personally find the powerstrips more logical for an amp of this size and weight. No instruction manual or the like is included with the Arrow. Nothing more to mention here.
THE AUDIO TEST
Leckerton Audio UHA-4
I finished charging both amps last night so tonight ITS ON!. I grab the UHA-4 and gather my X1061, it's LOD (an Ecbuy ebay LOD, silver plated copper) and my ER-6's, I apply DeoxIT GOLD to the dock connector on the LOD. I then applied NYOgel to all 3.5mm connectors. I turn the X1061 on, then the UHA-4 I hear a quiet, muffled pop, nothing that would require concern. I select my first album; Formica Blues by Mono (Trip Hop) and I begin...
Clarity; The amp is clear, a VERY SIGNIFICANT improvement over the ER6 plugged into the X1061 directly (that integrated S-Master digital amp is no slouch either). The sound is crisp, and clear, I'd say with a hint of brightness. The clarity extends down, every thing is clearer, the lead singers voice, the bass guitar, everything.
Detail/resolution; Again, the amp provided a down right amazing improvement over the unamped X1061, I can make out minute details buried in the mud of the unamped X1061. Instruments that are off in the "distance" are detailed and easy to make out. To make my point a little clearer, if I could tell someone was speaking in the background before, I can tell what they are saying with this setup. I switch to a country song loaded with guitars, yes I can hear immense amounts of detail even the guitar playing in the background is clear and as detailed as the main guitar, the separation is excellent. This amp is keeping things apart and it's keeping them clear, impressive.
Grain; Grain is a hot button topic with me, especially since I got my hands on the Fostex T50RP's and fell in love with the smoothness. I notice there is some grain to the highs, but only on some tracks, leading me to believe it is a recording issue, on the Oingo Boingo (yes, I'm quite the Boingomaniac) "Dark at the End of the Tunnel" Track "Is This" Is is smooth, damn impressive for sub $100 IEM's the amp adds clarity without adding grain (the PA2v2 does this sometimes), however unamped is still nearly as smooth. The instruments have good body considering I'm using SS portable gear, this hint of warmth I'm picking up is most definitely the X1061, it is known for it.
Soundstage; I noticed only a small difference between the UHA-4's and nonamped X1061 in the soundstage department. Digging all that mud out around everything did help the sound stage seem larger, but A/Bing it I'm not picking up a significant difference between the placment of the instruments. The ER-6's in this reguard have acceptable width, nothing to write home about, and equally acceptable depth. WITH CROSS FADING ON:With the Crossfading on, everything is taken from inside my head and placed infront of me, giving me a speaker like soundstage similar to what the HD650's are known for. This effect is Incredible! I also sense it helps expand the depth of the sound stage, with crossfading off it seems a bit flat. To be honest I never planned on using crossfade but I am now a believer, I don't think I'm going to be able to live without it... (damn shame my Lisa III doesn't have a crossfade switch, at least the rockboxed pod does...)
Bass Impact; I believe bass impact is a two player game, requiring a pair of phones capable of handling bass neatly enough to HAVE impact (the triports for example, cannot have bass impact, their bass is as loose as a seasoned prostitute) and a nicely juiced amp capable of dishing it out. The UHA-4 and the ER-6's mesh VERY nicely in this regard, the bass is clearly defined, and hits with appropriate impact for neutral IEMS nice and tight, but not insanely impactful like the Ultrasone Pro650's (out of the Lisa III they'll damn near blow your ear drums) The bass impact reminds me of the 650's on the Lisa III, even the nearly lowest registers have a degree of control, very nice (song used was "Angel" by Massive Attack from "Mezzanine")
Dynamics (Impact); The dynamics are excellent, a remarkable improvement over the unamped X1061, very close to the dynamics the HD650's show on the Lisa III, The dynamics are present throughout the frequency range. Everything is nice and tight no sloppiness that I can hear.
Presence;The Bass, lower mids, mids, upper mids, highs. seem to be unaffected by the amp, everything is neutrally presented nothing upfront or recessed that I can hear, and the ER-6's are neutral so they'd show me if something was up.
The Headstage Arrow 3g
I just got done drying after my shower, I do my usual progold/nyogel treatment to the LOD/3.5mm connectors, grab the Arrow and assemble the ensemble. I plug the X1061 in last, and the arrow turns itself on, there is a quiet pop, a microtouch louder than the UHA-4 but not muffled like the UHA-4. I play the first track, Strict Machine by Goldfrapp, and I begin...
Clarity; Like the UHA-4 it is quite clear. The Arrow also provides a SIGNIFICANT improvement over the integrated S-Master amp. The lower mids, bass, is not quite as tight as the UHA-4, they are a little looser, and I played the same tracks. Overall it is not QUITE as clear as the UHA-4 AFTER BURN IN; I have noticed it is a little bit clearer, not QUITE as clear as the UHA-4 but if you didn't have both to A/B you'd never know.
Detail/Resolution; Now the first thing that struck me about the Arrow is that it is NOTICEABLY brighter than the UHA-4, which is already a touch bright. I will also dare say it, the arrow is a bit on the harsh side in the upper highs, it lacks some of the higher end detail I find present in the UHA-4. I'm not able to resolve the cymbal taps on "Life in Mono" by Mono as easily, they are not as detailed, or as clear, it gets lost in grain. I play the same country song, and the Arrow handles it better than it did "Life in Mono" but I'm still not able to as easily pick out plucked strings on the guitars as I am on the UHA-4 AFTER BURN IN: The detail in the highs has gotten a little better, still not as good as the UHA-4 and it's apparent, the UHA-4 is still more detailed and I'm still able to resolve things in the background better.
Grain; The Arrow is noticeably grainier than the UHA-4, especially in the highs, it is not as smooth, not as refined, better IEM's might help with this, on Oingo Boingo's "Is This" the grain got very noticeable especially when the drums kick in. The instruments still have the same good body as the UHA-4 AFTER BURN IN; The Arrow has gotten MUCH better, IMO it has shown the most improvement in this area. considerably smoother, but still not as smooth as the UHA-4 and it's apparent. The Arrow is STILL brighter than the UHA-4 and the harshness, although a little subdued, is still present.
Soundstage; The soundstage on the Arrow is wider and a little bit deeper than the UHA-4 (when the crossover is off on the UHA-4) Instruments are much more widely placed then on the unamped X1061. Considering these are IEM's the Arrow does a good job of building a soundstage. WITH CROSSFADING "I" ON: The effect is not very apparent, infact I am picking up some distortion, it sounds "warped" the sound stage is off a bit. Some instruments moved a little closer to the center, but I'm not picking up much. WITH CROSSFADING "II" ON:The effect is much more apparent, not quite as refined as the crossfading on the UHA-4, the soundstage sounds warped, not as natural as the UHA-4. AFTER BURN IN; The soundstage on the Arrow has widened slightly, but the UHA-4 has widened considerably, the UHA-4 is still not as wide as the Arrow, but if you didn't have both to A/B you'd never know. The Crossfeed is still troublesome on the Arrow, still warping the soundstage, infact when the crossfeed is OFF there is still an effect present that is moving the soundstage a little toward the center, it makes vocals a little annoying, especially considering that burnin didn't resolve the harshness issue.
Bass Impact; The Arrow is digging a little deeper than the UHA-4, and hitting harder. Bass is not as tight at all as the UHA-4, but there is more bass. AFTER BURN IN; I have noticed that the Arrow has tightened up signifiantly in this regard, but it still trails the UHA-4 and it is apparent. The UHA-4's bass has opened up some, it has gotten closer to the Arrow but still remains tight, the Arrow however still has more bass (and even MORE with the bass boost enabled) The bass boost on tha Arrow does as advertised, gives you a nice tight bass increase, the lower registers remain looser than the UHA-4.
Dynamics (Impact); The UHA-4 was tight all across the board, The Arrow lacks this tightness, on the UHA-4 everything (bass treble mids) was tight and had such a nice clean slightly punchy edge to it, even the lower bass registers had a hint of control on them. On the Arrow everything is looser, not as well defined and neat, the tightness is simply not there, anywhere. I played around with the gain and impedience switches thinking more power might make it better, nope louder, but not tighter. The grain didn't help in this regard. AFTER BURN IN; The Arrow has improved well in all areas except the lowest bass registers, still loose there. The UHA-4 is still more dynamic across the board, and it is apparent.
Presence; As with the UHA-4 I'm not noticing any difference in the presentation. AFTER BURN IN; The upper mids on the Arrow have been brought up, and considering they are still on the harsh side, on some tracks it can be annoying. No change on the UHA-4
THE HD650 TEST
Leckerton Audio UHA-4
COLOR ME IMPRESSED! It drives them, quite well! MUCH better than the PA2V2. Well enough you would actually consider using it to power the HD650's Not as good as the LISA III but a good way up the ladder. It is a touch brighter, but still smooth. The soundstage is nice and wide. The bass is not hitting quite as deep as I know it can. The tightness I heard on the ER-6's is still there. THERE IS NO (0) VEIL AT ALL!!! The volume at max is about as loud as I'd ever want them, considering they are open air, if you have to turn them louder than this can get them, you need to move to a quieter location. But you can tell this is as far as the UHA-4 goes. Overall it drives the HD650's very well (sooooo well....), enough you'd consider actually using it to drive the HD650's transportably.
Headstage Arrow 3g;
I can tell right off the bat there is a bit of veil in the mids (and YES ALL SETTINGS ARE SET TO MAX) The volume can go UP MUCH louder than you'd ever want to hear the HD650's. The soundstage is nice and wide. The harshness is still there. Regarding dynamics, they are nice and punchy, MUCH closer to the UHA-4, I'd say nearly dead even, nearly approaching the Lisa III realm. The mids are NOWHERE near as smooth or natural as they are on the UHA-4 I cannot stress enough how much better the mids are on the UHA-4. The Arrow has more juice, that's for sure, but it's not running the HD650's as well, any problems I had with the Arrow on the ER-6's are amplified on the HD650's. Overall it can drive them, but you'd be reaching for a bigger amp if this was your only portable option.
IN MY OPINION, TO MY EARS WITH MY EQUIPMENT, THE UHA-4 WON THIS COMPARISON (YEAH, I SAID IT)
Reasons being the Arrow, although sleeker, and sexier (I'm still gonna use it to power the ER4s) and having better polished hardware, is simply too harsh, the soundstage is warped slightly shoving the uppermids (female vocals especially) in the front, center of the sound stage, and to be honest it is grating, rather unpleasant to listen to. The UHA-4 is smoother, more refined, more dynamic all across, has a better crossfeed, and is simply more pleasant to listen to, on the ER-6's and the HD650's.
When I decided to write this comparison, I did not know what to expect, I had the arrow for a month before I got the UHA-4, and had not used either, I was awaiting the ER4s before I used the arrow.
I thought when I wrote this comparison, I was basically going to describe to you how close the UHA-4 got to the Arrow, but it surpassed it. I'm not a fan boy, hell I preferred the arrow to the UHA-4 simply because of it's refined looks. The arrow being all polished and professional looking simply awesome, and the UHA-4 looking like someone threw it together in their garage, I thought it was cut and dried. But the UHA-4 (IMO TME WME) Sounded better and that threw me for a curve. I was not given these amps, I own them both, and was given no discount. I paid full pop and waited like everyone else (although two weeks from order to arrival is a little on the fast side for an arrow)
Edited by Blasto_Brandino - 4/26/11 at 10:37pm