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Reviews by: Currawong

The MrSpeakers' Ethers are all of outstandingly detailed, neutrally-toned and very comfortable. Dan Clark has made a winner.

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Pros: Highly resolving, effectively neutral, awesome treble, light-weight, comfortable and flexible, yet fairly easy to drive.

Cons: Bass impact is lacking, very sensitive to source and amp quality.

  An early welcome greeted me when I arrived in Los Angeles for the 2015 CanJam SoCal meet: A new pair of MrSpeakers headphones. Dan Clark, having spent many years modifying the inexpensive Fostex T50RPs, up to and including 3D printing his own cups and modifying their drivers, was working up to something even bigger as it turned out. The Ethers are 100% unique, using no parts from other headphones, but encompassing all the technology Dan had developed making his previous models, having taken the T50RPs to their limits.   In the Alpha Primes, we not only saw his cleverly 3D printed cups, but the “V-Planar” stippling applied to the drivers to make their performance more even...
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The Aurender Flow is a neat, attractive, and with well-chosen computer settings, a wonderful-sounding DAC and amp that drives headphones very well.

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Pros: Fantastic headphone amp, attractive design that is simple to use, 384 kHz input capable USB. mSATA option is a neat feature.

Cons: A bit heavy to be usefully portable in some situations.

Unboxing:    Review:  

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Head-Fi.org › Currawong › Reviews by Currawong