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Reviews by: Currawong

The Bakoon HPA-01 is a unique amp which works very well with planars, but seriously challenged in value by other products.

Posted

Pros: Battery power, good planar headphone driving ability.

Cons: Benefits of current output limit headphone choices. Voltage output has higher distortion. Not as resolving as should be for the money.

  I purchased a Bakoon HPA-01 off Massdrop for around $1200 (it is normally around $1700 retail) due to the reputation of Bakoon Japan for making stunning amps. The HPA-01 is from Bakoon Korea, utilising the same technology as the Japanese models.    I had just purchased a Hugo and was looking for a compact amp to have on my desktop to pair with it, especially one good with planar headphones. The Bakoon technology is unique in a number of ways. First, it uses battery power, charging automatically when switched off. It also has two headphone outputs: One "current" output, and one regular "voltage" output. The former, instead of the usual low output impedance, has a very...
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The FiiO X5 is a good value DAP if your needs aren't great and can be readily used as a transport or source.

Posted

Pros: Inexpensive, great battery life, good with most IEMs. Can be used as a transport or with a separate amp for good results. Dual microSD card storage.

Cons: Poor performance with full-sized headphones and needs a separate amp to work best with those. No touch-screen UI.

Thanks to FiiO for the loaner unit.   If there is a brand other than Apple that is more well-known at Head-Fi than FiiO I’d be very surprised.  A number of their products have become pretty much standard entry-level recommendations and their flagship amp, the E12 is a mere $129! However portable amps have been rapidly going out of fashion with the increasing number of DAPs, or Digital Audio Players on the market, itself a consequence of the increasing number of Android-based phones available, including inexpensive models in China, which in turn have provided much needed components to manufacturers of portable audio gear.   While not Android-based DAPs in themselves,...
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The Aurorasound HEADA is one of those hidden gems of a product from Japan with excellent performance.

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Pros: Very detailed and revealing sound with a touch of warmth. Compact design. Can easily drive most headphones.

Cons: Not ideal for IEMs. Balanced inputs go through the SE phase splitter. No pre-amp option.

  Every 6 months I've had the pleasure of talking to Shinobu Karaki of Aurorasound at the Tokyo headphone festivals. As an ex-Texas Instruments employee he has come up with some interesting designs, most significantly the VIDA phono stage. I’d previously built his DIY balanced amp, which, primarily due to the case cost, was a bit expensive for what it did. After lending Karaki-san a pair of Audeze headphones, he was very clear on the direction he should take with his designs, the result of which is the HEADA. So when he suggested I audition the HEADA I readily agreed.     Aurorasound’s VIDA and HEADA, as befitting an expensive product come by default in a...
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Pendulumic have made a great-sounding and versatile pair of Bluetooth headphones for relatively little outlay.

Posted

Pros: Great sound with an all-round, slightly warm presentation that is good for most music, 30 hr battery life, versatile design, very good comfort.

Cons: European volume limits, some people may want more bass or a more extended treble. Isolation is not so great.

  Back at the So-Cal headphone meet in March (2014) I met Mike Johnson, who was enthusiastically promoting a new headphone brand, Pendulumic. His spiel was that they had made a very good sounding pair of Bluetooth wireless headphones with the help of a Sennheiser engineer and they only cost $200. That's a pretty big ask in my book, so I had a listen. What I heard was pretty good, though I wasn't expecting much. It was pretty clear from the start that APTx, which claims CD-quality wireless transmission is pretty good. I've used it from my AK240 and to my Hugo and it is only slightly behind in sound quality from a direct USB connection.   After a chat with Mike I agreed to...
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The Schiit Valhalla 2 is a excellent value, flexible amp that gives a wide and clear presentation with high-impedance headphones.

Posted

Pros: Inexpensive, solidly-built, wide soundstage with high-ohm headphones, pre-amp is handy with active monitors.

Cons: Headphone choices are limited to high-impedance models for the most part.

“You know, I’ve never owned any Schi….um, any of your products..” I was saying to Jason Stoddard in LA in March. Indeed, the last time I’d sampled anything from his company was years ago at a meet in Australia, where an original Asgard hadn’t impressed me. So I asked Jason if he would send me a Valhalla 2 once they were in production, as the amp seemed to be something of a potential all-rounder, which is unusual for an OTL tube amp, which would normally be suited only to high-impedance headphones of 300 Ohms and above. When the Valhalla 2 turned up, I was greeted with a small, but weighty box. The amp itself looks like it should be light, but the aluminium chassis is thicker than I had...
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Sony's MDR-Z7 is a very solid entry into the market that has fantastic imaging, quite a bit of detail and importantly, fantastic design and comfort.

Posted

Pros: Detailed bass, very good imaging with a spacious presentation. Very light-weight and beautifully made. Balanced and aftermarket cabling too.

Cons: The darker, somewhat bass-heavy and mid-thin sound doesn't work well with a lot of music.

Videos only at the moment. I'll do a write-up later. Apologies if you were hoping for something to read.   Unboxing and design details:     More details about the cables, sound and possible mods:    

Oppo's HA-1 is a very flexible headphone amp and home theatre DAC/pre-amp and about spot-on for the money.

Posted

Pros: No lack of inputs, including Bluetooth; Headphone amp is good all-round with plenty of power; Functionality is well thought-out.

Cons: Mute function for the pre-amp output only accessible on the remote. Knob feel for the volume is terrible. Display text is hard to read at a distance.

  Thanks to Oppo Digital Japan for allowing us to borrow the PM-1 and HA-1.   Oppo coming out with a pair of headphones was quite a surprised, especially a pair of planars. Likewise the HA-1, though it is logical that a company would provide an appropriate matching amp to do with their own headphones.    The HA-1 is based upon the BD-105 essentially, but with fewer features and a better headphone amp, in this case with balanced output. Like the BD-105, apart from the lack of disc playback, it is still designed to be the centrepiece of your home theatre system with no less than 8 inputs: RCA and XLR (balanced) analogue and S/PDIF, optical, AES and Bluetooth...
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The Calyx M is a solid entry into the high-end DAP market for people looking for a good, all-round unit.

Posted

Pros: Easy to use and attractive user interface. Great sound quality, close to AK240. Full-size SD cards can be used.

Cons: Quite large. Poor battery life. User interface is a bit slow and doesn't cache album art. DAC performance isn't as good. No folder browsing.

  Thanks to Calyx for allowing Team Tokyo to borrow a unit for review.   Note: Version 0.6 and 0.95 of the software were originally used for this review. I've updated it to reflect performance with firmware 1.01. The first thing many people wanted when they heard about the Calyx M was an AK240-level device without the price tag. Good luck! But in all honesty, if there is another company (other than Sony) that might be capable of invading the market with something competent, it would be another Korean company. Having owned a Calyx DAC in the past, the DAC 24/192, I was curious to find out how their portable would fare, so when the CEO of Calyx introduced himself at the May...
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Oppo has created a great successor to the old vintage Yamaha and other orthodynamic (planar) headphones with the PM-1.

Posted

Pros: High quality design, light weight with an excellent selection of accessories and a lush sound. Scales well with better equipment. Readily portable.

Cons: "Dark" sound wont be good for everyone nor all types of music.

  It was certainly a big surprise to find out that the company famous for multi-media everything-and-the-kitchen-sink players had come out with a pair of headphones and planar ones at that. With the revival of planar (orthodynamic) headphones we have had had one consistent thing: Weight. Audeze’s and Hifiman’s headphones have been heavy and that hasn’t always been good. One of the endearing things about the old, circular diaphragm planars from Yamaha and others was that they were light and portable and pleasant to listen with. Oppo’s PM-1s, on the other hand, are light and more like a conventional pair of headphones in size. They are beautifully finished and their design is well...
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Head-Fi.org › Currawong › Reviews by Currawong