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Fostex HP-P1 Portable Amplifier and DAC for iPod/iPhone (Short REVIEW and Impressions Thread)

post #1 of 1291
Thread Starter 

I can't figure out the difference between a 'Review', 'Impressions', 'Discussion' or 'Appreciation' thread; so I kind of made up a title of my own.  biggrin.gif

 

Intro:

Ever since I first saw one of these a few months back my curiosity about it began to grow.  It seems like most of these have been sold in Japan and are finally starting to creep into the U.S.  So when I saw it being sold domestically here at a good price, I guess you could say curiosity killed the wallet.  It seems we haven't heard a whole lot about this piece, let alone the inevitable showdown between it and the Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo/ RxII.  While I cannot provide the latter (yet?), hopefully this will be the start of a useful resource for both owners and interested Head-Fiers.  I just got mine the other day and I'm still a little high off of the 'new toy' buzz; so I hope I don't come off overly enthusiastic at any moment.  I'm not big on reviews so I'll try to keep this somewhat brief and superficial.  Please keep in mind that theses are initial impressions and I'm just as eager to hear from other owners about their experiences.

 

front.jpg

Why did I buy it:

I know it's rather expensive for a portable amp (and DAC).  But I am and have always been into my music.  And since my living situation precludes me from having a full-blown speaker setup, this is it!  If you take that into consideration, this portable stuff is actually not that bad of a deal- granted they are not the exact same experiences.  My goal is to have a single portable listening system that I can take from room to room or into my bed.  Of course I want it to be completely free of wires (headphones excluded) and I will not be regularly taking it out of my home.  I'll stick to just the iPod for that in most cases.  So size doesn't really matter as long as I can strap it to my iPod Touch.  I like the fact that the Fostex takes a 'standard' mini-USB plug to charge from.  I have several devices that use this already and I want to keep the number of plugs and adapters to a minimum.


Form:

One of the reasons I chose this amp was the lovely build quality.  I also recently purchased an iQube v2 which has an amazing build quality and finish of its own.  If this is a design competition they are very close.  While the iQube has the dull, bead-blasted finish with smooth rounded edges and a rubbery skin, the Fostex has brushed end caps, sharp (but finished) edges, sculpted curves, and a coarse matte black finish which feels very durable.  They are two very different design approaches and both are well executed.  The switches on the Fostex for 'Gain' and 'Filter' are gray plastic toggles.  They are very short and nearly recessed so they won't catch on anything or break; but they are very easy to use.  The volume knob is not as solid as the iQube's knob but it is easier to turn.  If you apply pressure to it from the side it will wiggle a bit like a loose tooth.  But this does not affect nor is it noticeable throughout its operation.  From a build quality standpoint I prefer the iQube's knob; but from a functional one I like using the Fostex's a little more.  It is smooth with no binding and you don't feel the need to hold onto the unit while turning it.

 

back.jpg

Function: 

When my Fostex first arrived, it worked straight out of the box without any charging.  While this may not really mean anything, I generally take this as a good sign.  I played with it for about an hour and then I charged it overnight.  To power up, you just turn the volume knob.  There is the very slightest of turn-on clicks and a slightly louder turn-off click.  I want to stress that both are very subtle and of no concern whatsoever.  If you have the iPod connected already, turning on the HP-P1 will put the iPod into LOD mode immediately and the music will start in under a second.  The same thing will happen if you plug the HP-P1 into the iPod when both units are already on.  No glitches, no pops- nothing.  Another neat thing I noticed is that if you turn off the HP-P1 while music is playing, the iPod will act as if the device has been unplugged which will put the music player into pause mode.  I think that's convenient because it makes turning off everything possible with a single action.  The line out jack appears to be completely independent from the headphone jack.  This means that not only does it bypass the volume control, but also you can run both it and the headphone out at the same time if you find the need to do that.  I have not tried the Toslink out yet.

One caveat For some reason I expected this to be compatible with all recent iDevices including the iPad.  But after trying it out with my 1G iPad, I heard little random 'clicks' during playback.  I've heard this before in other USB audio chains.  After looking at the manual, website, and brochure, I realized that they never made the claim of iPad compatibility- iPods and iPhones only!  This is not a big deal for me.  But be aware.  The Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo apparently does work with iPads, as it is stated specifically on ALO's website.  I also tried the HP-P1 with my 6G Nano with fine results.  Edit:  At the suggestion of cooperpwc, I went back to the iPad and did a reboot (just normal, not 'hard'), plugged in the HP-P1, and it works just fine!  No clicks or any other noises during playback.  Thank you so much for the tip!  This gives me more options and may come as a relief to others.  Sorry Fostex!  I'm still curious why they didn't list at least the 1G iPad on their compatibility list.

 

IMG_3224.jpg

At the end of my first complete battery cycle I got about 8+ hours of playback time.  I was very pleased with this!  Whenever I read the manufacturer's claims of battery life, I usually expect about 60-70% of the stated runtime.  (Apple seems pretty close though.)  This one actually went well over the claimed 7 hours.  In contrast, nobody can seem to get a solid number from Qables for the battery life on the iQube v2.  (I get about 12 hours from mine.)  Oh- and when the battery does die the Fostex just goes silent without the slightest bit of drama.  No clicks or pops (unlike my iQube) and the iPod just acts like the LOD was unplugged.  It will also play and charge at the same time since the USB charging port is separate.  I don't have the guts (yet) to open the Fostex up to see what kind of battery pack it has; so I hope it's something relatively easy to replace in the future.

If there is one impression that I walk away with right now it's that all of the functions of this thing have been well-tested and there are no bugs or 'personality traits' that often come with ground breaking or esoteric devices.  It's how I would imagine the Lexus LF-A: exotic, but with all the quality and 'normalcy' you'd expect from a Toyota.  


Sound:  
DISCLAIMER:  To my ears and in my head the differences between various amps (including iPod headphone outs) on IEMs is relatively small.  Sometimes I can A/B them reliably- sometimes not.  In most cases I doubt I can correctly and reliably identify (actually name) an amp if played on its own.  IEMs and headphones are a different story for me.  So now that you know what you're dealing with and with that out of the way, on to the sound!  This portion of testing was done with my iPod Touch 4G, UE Reference Monitors, and Sennheiser HD580s where noted.

For noise floor testing I ran my Sheffield/Coustic 'All bits Zero' test track and… let's just say I had to skip to the next track to make sure that everything was working.  Is this thing on?  There was nothing.  Zero.  Zilch.  This is with the 'Gain' switch set to minimum and the volume pegged at max.  I would consider my UE RMs to have slightly above average sensitivity for IEMs.  I was incredibly pleased with this absence of noise because one of my goals is to have a set-up that is noise free- a very objective and reasonable goal.  The (analog) LOD on my iPod Touch is not noise free.  It's not bad, but it's not dead silent.  The Fostex is dead silent!

Next, I ran my Alpine Reference CD 'Bruel & Kjaer Installation Sine Sweep' just for kicks.  All went smoothly.  No strange irregularities, pops, noises, or anything else weird.

I would say about 80% of my listening is done with IEMs.  The rest is with headphones.  I used a set of HD580s for this next test to get an idea of how well the HP-P1 can drive headphones.  With the 'Gain' switch at the maximum setting, the vast majority of my listening could be done at around 1-2 o'clock.  To give you an idea of the relative loudness this unit is capable of, here are some popular tracks that you might also have in your library and the volume position needed to get to reasonable listening levels:

- Michael Jackson 'Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' (The Ultimate Collection) Volume position = 12:30
- Dire Straits 'So Far Away' (Brothers In Arms) Volume position = 3:30
- Esperanza Spalding 'Winter Sun' (Chamber Music Society) Volume position = 2:30
- Supertramp 'School' (Crime of the Century) Volume position = 2:30
- Tower of Power 'What Is Hip?' (Direct CD-17) Volume position = 5:00 max**
- U2 'Where the Streets Have No Name' (Joshua Tree) Volume position = 2:00
- James Newton Howard 'E-Minor Shuffle' (James Newton Howard & Friends CD-23) Volume position = 5:00

** wish this could've gone a little bit louder.

As far as volume tracking goes, with the HD580s (maximum volume gain setting) there was only imbalance at the very beginning of the volume travel- just as you can start to hear some sound.  With the UE IEMs (minimum volume gain setting) there was some imbalance and fuzziness at very low levels.  But we're talking about a level so low at which I can't imagine anyone listening to- even for background music.  I hesitate to even bring this up.  I would consider it a non-issue unless you have some special need that would require such listening.

In a brief listening comparison with the iQube:

 

  • iQube has more clear and present upper midrange (~3k).  The Fostex is a little warmer with emphasis around the lower mids (~350hz).
  • Fostex has more bass- quite a bit more.  I thought it might have been the overall tonal balance, but I think it has more weight and impact too.
  • Fostex seems to reach a little higher in the highs (~10k).  The quantity is similar to the iQube's, but there is a wee bit more sparkle on the Fostex.
  • The results of some of these tonal differences are that the iQube has a slightly taller soundstage while the Fostex sounds more grand- think large hall with a lower ceiling.

 

The above testing was done between the iQube via LOD and the Fostex via digital LOD, both from iPods.  What's interesting is that when I switched the Fostex to using the analog line out from the iPod, the results were pretty much the same.  This tells me that a lot (or most?) of the differences between these two units are coming from the amplifier sections.  I haven't figured out a quick and easy way (yet) to send simultaneous digital streams to these or other outboard DACs to compare just DACs.  Hopefully I'll get around to that later.

As for the 'Filter', I have yet to spend significant time playing with it.  However, my initial impressions are that sometimes I think I can hear a difference between the two settings- and sometimes I can't.  What I can say is that if there is a difference, it's quite subtle.  I'll wait and see what others find and spend some more time with it myself.

Summary:
If you look at my collection of gear you might ask, "Where is he going with this?"  The answer is: I like variety.  So to ask me which amp do I like better- I'd have a hard time answering that.  It depends.  What music am I listening to?  Which recording?  What IEMs?  What is my mood?  And so on.  If pressed, I would say that the iQube does sound a little bit more 'honest' and revealing- perhaps closer to neutral.  All I can say is that for a guy who normally doesn't hear big differences between these things, I'm glad that these two each have a fairly distinct sound of their own and I will gladly use both of them.

Well, that was not a ton of information; but I hope it helps start the conversation!
 


Edited by Mkubota1 - 8/8/11 at 11:51pm
post #2 of 1291

Nice review! Have been waiting to hear more about this item.

post #3 of 1291

Very cool new approach- thank you for giving me some idea of how these might sound to me.

 

I keep two portable amps around because one sounds great with Grados and one sounds great with the UE RM.  So I get having multiple amps!

 

  • Do you find that you prefer the UE RM with one amp over the other pretty consistently or is it very dependent upon your mood/genre/etc.?
  • Those really are beautiful...but how big so they seem in person?  (The iQube seems big in pics when it is by itself...)
  • And, do the volume pots make any noise when you are adjusting them?  (The iQube always looked like it had a really nice pot.)

 

Thanks for the the impressions on two <fairly> rare amps that look like they are of high-quality!

Reply
post #4 of 1291
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by CEE TEE View Post

I keep two portable amps around because one sounds great with Grados and one sounds great with the UE RM.  So I get having multiple amps!

 

Multiple amps only?  I'm shooting for the personal audio equivalent of this:

 

IMG_2209aaa.jpg  smile.gif


The UE RMs have detail… LOTS of detail.  Most of the time that's a good thing and I love them for it.  But sometimes I like to take the edge off a bit, and the iQube seems to do that well.  It's also why I love pairing the v2 with the TripleFis.  But one thing the Fostex has is bottom end, and that helps the RMs in the fun department.  I almost no longer feel the need to get the UE11s!  For this reason, the Fostex also mates well with the Ety ER-4Ps.  And yes, of course mood and music always play a role.

To me everything looks bigger in photos than it does in real life.  And the Fostex (and the iQube) are no exceptions.  However, compared to what most people consider portable the Fostex is rather large.  If you compare it to the TTVJ Slim, Pico Slim, or Headstage Arrow, it will seem downright huge.  But if you use the built-in amp, I can't imagine it would be much larger than the CLAS plus any of those amps put together.

The volume pots on both are silent.  But then both units are under a month old, so they haven't had time to get dirty or worn.

post #5 of 1291

Thanks for this. I am an ergonomics guy so I really appreciate your attention to those details.

 

It is interesting that turning off the Fostex pauses the iPod Touch. The CLAS doesn't have that function - at least with the Classic.

 

As regards the iPad, do a hard reboot* and try again.

 

I look foward to your continuing impressions as you spend more time with the unit.

 

* Hold the Power and Home buttons until the screen goes dark and the Apple icon comes on. Then let go and do this process immediately again. The second time the Apple icon comes on, let go and allow the iPad to finish rebooting. $20 says that the clicks go away. Good luck collecting if I'm wrong. ;-)

post #6 of 1291

Thanks Mkubota1. Nice review. normal_smile%20.gif

Do you notice a huge difference in the amplification when using only the Fostex with the iPod and when using it PLUS the iQube?

What i am saying is: do we really need another brick to party? The internal amp of the HP-P1 isn't good enough?

After all, isn't that the goal of this device? An all-in-one thing?

Again, thanks for sharing.

post #7 of 1291

aaarrgghh, just when i thought i had finished collecting portables, the thing is just so ****** sexy that i cant resist, plus i have a half way excuse for this one, i do 'need' a portable transport for my diy portable dac/amp and while i'm waiting for someone to release a digi out only idevice compatible unit, i;ve given up holding my breath for it to happen.

 

design aesthetics weigh heavily in my decisions too, being a former graphic designer and this one is very pretty indeed. i also like the access to the rolloff settings on the filter and i feel confident i would be able to modify it pretty easily for i2s output, which has proven a bit bunky with my iriver and also limited to 16/44. i wonder if they will ever come out with a remote for this, thats one thing i would miss about the iriver.

 

oh one thing, you say it doesnt work with ipad, in recent updates we can pull 24/96 digital out of the ipad, does this apply to the later iphones and touch too? ie can you play bit perfect 24/96 with this using your idevice as source, or is it always upsampled?

 

so thanks..erm.....i think

 

I might wait just a little longer to see if it comes down any more, fingers crossed

post #8 of 1291

Jeremy, if you want digital out only, why would you choose this over the CLAS which is coaxial out, not Toslink, and smaller? Just curious.

 

(Also the CLAS reclocks before the digital out...)


Edited by cooperpwc - 8/7/11 at 8:57am
post #9 of 1291

well, because i know and like fostex gear and they have been making good digital for years, its japanese tech, i know it has its pedigree in pro audio so its going to be stable as, the look is much nicer imo and although i havent seen real measured numbers yet, i believe the phase noise plots (jitter) will be better. I dont want it reclocked, it means nothing to me, its just another process on the sound, as my dac internally asyncronously reclocks at 32bit/1.4mHz using a 100mhz clock and it has both toslink and coax on mini bnc (transformer coupled with a comparator). In the end it doesnt mean a lot to me, as i'll have it open in a jiffy looking for i2s to use instead; if i dont have any luck i'll just tap the spdif, terminate it and either send it to the analogue input jack for coax out, or depending how gutsy i feel, replace the toslink with a mini bnc. 

 

plus although its not a big ticket item for me, with this if i dont feel like using the big rig i can just use the internal headphone amp, which again going by my experience with their pro gear will probably be pretty decent.

 

nuff said :D

post #10 of 1291

Got it.  (And yah, I thought that your DAC would be reclocking. Reclocking twice doesn't make a lot of sense.)

post #11 of 1291
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by cooperpwc View Post

As regards the iPad, do a hard reboot* and try again.


THANK YOU!!!  I'm not sure why that worked, but it did!  I actually just did a normal reboot.  (See edit in OP.)  I guess I owe you $20.  wink.gif  This is why Head-Fi is great!

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Vitor Teixeira View Post

Do you notice a huge difference in the amplification when using only the Fostex with the iPod and when using it PLUS the iQube?

What i am saying is: do we really need another brick to party? The internal amp of the HP-P1 isn't good enough?


Hahaha... the photos are really just for show.  I haven't really played with it in that configuration yet; it's been mostly just the iPod > Fostex.  If I hear anything significant in that form I will definitely report back. 

 

Edit: (8/13/2011)  I'm actually really liking the HP-P1 as a DAC > iQube.  The combo of low noise (compared to iPod LOD) and the sound of the iQube goes really well with my TripleFis!  The amps do sound significantly different from one another.

 

 

Actually, I'm trying to beat this guy:

 

Portable-Stack2  biggrin.gif
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by qusp View Post

oh one thing, you say it doesnt work with ipad, in recent updates we can pull 24/96 digital out of the ipad does this apply to the later iphones and touch too? ie can you play bit perfect 24/96 with this using your idevice as source, or is it always upsampled?


I'm getting off topic here, but are you talking about with the camera connection kit?  I never got one of those and haven't been keeping up with that iPad/DAC thread lately.  It would be nice to have that option.


Edited by Mkubota1 - 8/13/11 at 6:52pm
post #12 of 1291

@ mkubota1, yes i'm talking about the camera connection kit, recent firmware updates mean that the ipad can output 24/96 to selected devices.

 

about the internal battery, i think there is very little chance it will be anything but a custom specced battery pack, hopefully they will buy stock and sell replacements themselves, but i dont like your chances of finding one the same. that being said, its probably either lithoium polymer,or lithium ion/nanophosphate/lifepo4. each cell in these packs has a specific nominal voltage, so probably when the time comes, you would be able to find a replacement that is higher capacity (but should be the same voltage) although, with a properly set up charge management system the chances of the device outlasting the battery are slim, these things (especially lifepo4) take thousands of charge cycles before they even start to go off meaning they should last for decades, in fact they only have simulated estimates of how long lifepo4 lasts, i guess it hasnt happened yet haha


Edited by qusp - 8/8/11 at 6:48am
post #13 of 1291
Quote:
Originally Posted by qusp View Post

@ mkubota1, yes i'm talking about the camera connection kit, recent firmware updates mean that the ipad can output 24/96 to selected devices.

 

about the internal battery, i think there is very little chance it will be anything but a custom specced battery pack, hopefully they will buy stock and sell replacements themselves, but i dont like your chances of finding one the same. that being said, its probably either lithoium polymer,or lithium ion/nanophosphate/lifepo4. each cell in these packs has a specific nominal voltage, so probably when the time comes, you would be able to find a replacement that is higher capacity (but should be the same voltage) although, with a properly set up charge management system the chances of the device outlasting the battery are slim, these things (especially lifepo4) take thousands of charge cycles before they even start to go off meaning they should last for decades, in fact they only have simulated estimates of how long lifepo4 lasts, i guess it hasnt happened yet haha


Hi qusp,

 

Does that mean that we can actually output 24/96 from an iPod/iPad?

So this is a dream came true! An iDevice and the HP-P1 is all we need to carry an outstanding music library!

But the downside it's that we cant sync those files with iTunes, right?

And for the iPad it's only possible with the camera conection kit?

I'm a bit confused..
 

 

post #14 of 1291

Thanks for the nice review.  I have been waiting for the review of Fostex HP-P1 for some time.

Where can you order that?   How much it is?

What gen of ipod can it be used with the greatest result?  Can we use with the imod or whipmod?

What kind of connection gives you the best result?

post #15 of 1291
Quote:
Originally Posted by kiertijai View Post

Thanks for the nice review.  I have been waiting for the review of Fostex HP-P1 for some time.

Where can you order that?   How much it is?

What gen of ipod can it be used with the greatest result?  Can we use with the imod or whipmod?

What kind of connection gives you the best result?


You can find it here (It's out of stock atm, but it seems that it will arrive in 12.08.) or here.

 


 

 

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