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HeadRoom Triple Stack: BUDA, UDAC, & DPS (Review)

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 

Triple Stack

 

HeadRoom was the first brand to introduce the modern era of headphone amplifiers, and they set the stage for most of the new headphone amplifiers we see today. If it wasn’t for HeadRoom, we may not even have a lot of the headphone amplifiers and DAC’s that we’ve come to love, and that includes both high-end and budget-fi audio. Like a lot of other high end brands, HeadRoom has their own version of a flagship, top of the line system. Entitled the Triple Stack, which consists of the Balanced Ultra Desktop Amp, Ultra Desktop DAC, and Desktop Power Supply, it looks to compete with a lot of the other higher end offerings, both new and old. Let’s take a deeper look to see how the Triple Stack squares up.

 

Sonic Impressions

I was quite surprised when I heard tales of how the Triple Stack was this overly dark, shadowed, and rolled off headphone amplifier that only paired well with super bright and edgy headphones, like the HD800 and HE-6. After a month of continues use, I found that a lot of these tall tales and myths were a bit exaggerated, and you really need to listen to the Triple Stack analytically for quite a length of time before you can truly hear the details under the cloak. Yes, it’s a dark amp, but it’s a very enjoyable one at that, and has a synergy that, when paired with the right headphones, is like no other.

 

Since the Triple Stack comes as a package, I decided it would be best to review it as a whole, instead of individually, as that would take several pages of writing and may turn out to be quite receptive and monotonous in nature. Anyway, the Triple Stack has a sonic signature that’s smooth, lush, and very prominent in the lower octaves. It’s neither rolled off or edgy, and is in fact quite opposite. It extends very far down low and has a mid bass punch to die for. It’s not overly accentuated, and isn’t bloated in any way. Down low, notes start off very fast and decay times are very speedy as well, with a good amount of rumble and power between each transient. Unlike most amps who have a ton of bass power and rumble, the Triple Stack is a bit of the opposite. It has a lot of power, but isn’t quite as colorful or punchy as other high end amps. Instead, it has a quality to it like no other. A fast attack and decay response, a non bloated and overdone mid-bass punch, and a hard enough slam for DnB music fans. When paired with the HD650 (which already has a pretty powerful bass response) or the HD800 (which could use some power), the synergy between the two is absolutely breathtaking.

 

Since the Triple Stack is rather lush in nature all throughout the spectrum, there is a tad bit of bass bleed up into the low midrange, which can be a love/hate thing for a lot of people. It’s very minimalistic in a sense, but there is a bit of coloration there, and it may seem like the midrange is overly lush and smooth, but it's simply isn’t the case. The coloration is very little and only happens in the bottom portion of the midrange, and not in the center or high part of the midrange, which is quite liquid and lifelike. There’s a vocal pronunciation like no other, being both very prominent, and smooth, without any edginess or sibilance. The midrange does seem a tad bit more forward than the bass section of the spectrum, and a lot more forward than the treble region (in fact, the Triple Stack’s midrange seems the least passive of the three portions of the frequency band), and this generally points to a more mid-centric sound. In a nutshell, the midrange is slightly sweet and lush sounding, but for the most part detailed and clear, with a very lush vocality presence and a tendency to sound a bit forward.

 

As you start to head up top towards the top region, you notice things start to clam down a bit. The Triple Stack has a treble presence that’s very smooth, but well extended, with a small amount of sparkle, and absolutely zero edginess. While I think the Triple Stack pairs well with the HD650 down low, it doesn’t pair well with the HD650 up top. The HD650 has been known to be a very dark and shadowed headphone, and the Triple Stack adds to that. It may be enjoyable and easy on the ears for some, but there simply isn’t enough sparkle for me. However, headphones like the HD800 and the PS1000 (it’s the best I’ve heard the PS1000 sound) work perfectly as the bright and edgy nature up top becomes tamed, and takes on a smoother and more enjoyable tonal balance. I really do like the Triple Stacks enjoyable and easy on the ears treble region, it’s just all about finding the right headphone for the amp, and the picky HD800 will find a lot of power and synergy out of this combination. It’s no wonder people have raved about the HD800 + Triple Stack setup for years and years, as it’s one of the best sounding combinations that can be found for both the Grado PS1000 and the Sennhesier HD800.

 

Finally, we’ve come to what may be my most favorable characteristic of the Triple Stack, and that’s both the realistic imaging and sound staging performance. On my HD650’s, the soundstage is rather poorly layered, with instrumental separation being far too thin, and not a lot of air between everything. The soundstage on the Triple Stack is both very wide and very deep, with a good amount of air between each instrument, and the layering is simply outstanding. Everything is placed both perfectly and realistically going (not too far or wide) around the stage and makes for a perfect soundstage experience. It’s not too big not too small, but just right. Again, you need the right headphone for the Triple Stack, so something with a average or undercut soundstage will do just fine with the Triple Stack, as the HD800 might sound a bit overemphasized.

 

The Design & Build

While the Triple Stack may be a bit old when it comes to headphone amplifiers and DAC’s, it still manages to stay quite clean and comes off as being almost perfect for me in terms of aesthetics and fitment on a desktop system. While the design is like comparing apples to oranges (it’s purely up to choice, some will like the all black, clean look, and some will strongly dislike it), there’s no denying that it fits perfectly no matter where you put it. All the components fit on top of each other perfectly (there are little grooves on the bottom of the rubber for fitting each unit together) and since they are exactly the same size, cable management is easy and can fit in even the tiniest of spaces, which is really nice and doesn’t cause a lot of stress when it comes to moving stuff around on your desk or table.

 

The actual build quality is nice too. Each unit is made of high quality, anodized aluminum and features rubber wrapping around the sides for stacking each unit, hence the name Triple Stack. There are a number of different inputs and outputs including both balanced and unbalanced (two) outputs, as well as four different outputs on the UDAC (USB, coaxial, and optical) that can reach up to a sampling rate of 24/192 kHz. Lastly, there are three gain levels (low, medium, and high) as well as a cross feed selection, which is something you don’t typically see even on the most popular and well known high end combos.

 

Final Thoughts

I think that the Triple Stack is an excellent combo when it comes to an easy to use, organized, and well developed high end headphone system. The synergy between each of the units works perfectly, and having a $3K all in one system that ranks at the top of the lists with even todays top of the line amplifiers and DAC’s will be an awesome option for anyone looking to end their search for a good combo. The HeadRoom Triple Stack may be a bit old, but performance wise, it outclasses and matches even the best competition known in the headphone world today.

 

HeadRoom Triple Stack @HeadRoom

post #2 of 3

Nice write-up on the sound, however, I've got to take you to task on this:

 

Quote:
The HeadRoom Triple Stack may be a bit old, but performance wise, it outclasses and matches even the best competition known in the headphone world today.

 

In your review, you didn't directly compare this equipment to anything else, so how can you make this statement? smile.gif

post #3 of 3
Thread Starter 
Good point, Currawong.

In a minuscule nutshell...

I briefly auditioned the WA5 with the HD800 and the LCD-2, which was far less than the Liquid Fire, which I enjoyed for more than half an hour, and I can expand my brief thoughts on a quick comparison, although they wouldn't be very valid for the review, being that I'd need to test them side by side.

From what I remember, The Triple Stack would be the most dark of the three, with the most passive treble. Extended well, yes, but not enough sparkle compared to the WA5 and the Liquid Fire. Additionally, I still think the lower octaves have the best punch and overall speed compared to the Liquid Fire. The Liquid Fire has more clarity, and perhaps a bit more extension, but doesn't have a quite as fast attack ad decay response as the Triple Stack. The WA5, from what I remember, wasn't particularly impressive down low for me, not enough surge and mid bass punch, an not enough slam at all. Midrange goes like this - LF > Triple Stack > WA5. Simple as that. I have never heard such an involving midrange, and the LF tips everything. Soundstage wise, the WA5 is rather big, but not as realistic sounding as the LF or the Triple Stack. Triple Stack wins on depth, width, and layering abilities, but the LF's smaller soundstage works better with headphones that already have a huge soundstage, like the HD800 or K1000.

If anyone would like to add their thoughts or impressions about the differences between the WA5 and the LF, please do so.
Edited by Austin Morrow - 6/30/12 at 12:35am
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