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Portable Amps item created by ranjanis, May 5, 2011
Pros - Smooth, soundstage, mids and high sound like from desktop DAC, filter 1&2 selection
Cons - Heavy, battery or chips issue, battery life, no bass adjustment, built-in amp not power enough, useless case, big annoying volume knob
Best i-Device portable DAC ever listened to, very neutral and smooth like from a desktop DAC. Currently using it with my iPod touch 5 (Yes, it's support lightinig connector). I will prefer filter (2) than (1) as (1) is more flatter. Built-in amp is not powerful enough to drives some headphones, currently I using SE535 and Bowers & Wilkins P7 both headphones sounded perfect with HP-P1.
Now battery is the most problem given to me. After 6 months I get HP-P1, the battery seems to be not function at all but under warranty my dealer change it a whole new one for me, but after a year plus the battery seems to have some charging problem, after 20 to 30mins of charging time the battery light keep blinking and won't charge at all, sent back to my dealer this time out of warranty for about 6 months, finally my dealer said that Fostex have to charge me about $323 to replace some sort of chips and board so I decided not to repair it, now while I charging if the light start blinking I have to plug out and in again to get charge.
Overall It is worth buying it? while it's depends on yourself because out there, there is cheaper and average good sounding portable DAC to choose, but if you want an awesome sounding portable i-device DAC you should give it a try, it will make your i-device becomes a Hifi i-device.
Pros - Exceptional materials, DAC reader, 80 mW/channel, perfect sound quality, 2 filters and 3 types of gain.
Cons - A little bit big, nothing else.
I've bought it for 489.90 euros and worth them all, the materials are magnificent (the Fostex is MADE IN JAPAN), DAC reader, 160 mW, 2 filters and 3 types of gain.
I've listened it for about 2 weeks, so I can say that the sound quality of this portable amplifier are absolute perfection (FOR ME), if you are searching of the maximum perfection and of maximum audiophile sound quality, the Fostex is probably not for you, the Fostex costs about 500$, there are other better portable amplifiers for over 1000$, but for 500$ the Fostex beats them all.
Apart the fact that the Fostex is a little bit big, i can't find any defect.
Pros - SQ is top notch
Cons - The bondage carrying bag... >..<
Just received it. Sounds amazing with my current phones. The 2 filter options are really handy to help taper off phones that had too much of a treble spike (using filter 1), while the "flatter" sounding phones sounded awesome with filter 2.
Soundstage improvements aren't that noticeable compared to my iQube width wise. But there is a noticeable improvement in the layering of depth in the soundstage. Helps with imaging and makes everything that much more "3D".
Going to spend a couple of weeks listening to it and report back~
Pros - Great resolution, highs and bass. Excellent sound stage. All in one solution which fits into my pocket quite nicely
Cons - Battery life is on the low side, volume knob dampening too light, slight unit rattle, useless case
Fostex HP-P1 mini first impressions:
Original thread: http://www.head-fi.org/t/596755/fostex-hp-p1-vs-gen5-5-imod-rsa-sr-71b-balanced-output-now-with-fostex-hp-p1-review-page-2/15
I am moving from iPhone 4S playing lossless files + RSA Tomahawk + SE535LTD
Build quality good: is industry leading. It is solid, curvy, beautiful and integrates very well with an iPhone with the cut outs on the top. It just oozes quality. Think RSA build quality. It fits well into my jeans pocket as a unit surprisingly, so quite portable considering all it does.
Build quality bad: The unit rattles? erm well not really rattles but it's like the battery is free moving inside the unit or something? Not a huge problem or even a problem, just being pedantic. You have to purposely vigorously shake it to hear it. The volume knob is a bit big, and not as solid as I'd prefer. The dampening or resistance of the knob when turning it is very light and you feel like you can accidently bump it and turn it up/down, not that that has happened. But I have noticed that my ALO usb cable sticks out a lot and the volume knob is dwarfed by the ALO cable (The ALO cable sticks out way too far, it's not at all a "portable" cable... why can't anyone invent a really really short, low profile or even hard mount 90 deg to 90 deg USB cable? I might have to DIY) . A large 3.5mm plug such as those from Pailiccs or Viablue will dwarf the volume knob. Bottom line although it looks big and looks clumsy, in practice it's not actually a problem and probably better that it's big as everything else on that side of the Fostex is big too. Need more time to suss out if this is a problem in the long term or not
That case: what were they thinking? The Fostex is such an artwork of industrial design and then they want you to park it in a monstrosity of velcro and nylon straps! Sure I can see that it was designed to carry everything and sort of be useful, but in practice it makes the unit feel 2x bigger and annoying to use as you have to rip velcro everytime you want to access your ipod. I honestly gave it a good try, in the end I slipped the unit into a fake leather pouch. I think it will so fit into a leather case made for Garmin 5" GPSs or even something for a Nintendo DS. I've ordered some cases on fleebay and will update if anyone's interested.
Sound Quality: Left the best for last. At this early stage I can only give impressions on 4 things that stood out the most initially:
1) Bass. Let me start by saying the RSA Tomahawk is no slouch when it comes to bass, but the Fostex simply just has more of it! I attribute this to the P1 DAC compared with iPhone's DAC. There's more of it, it's more pronounced, it's deeper in some tracks compared to iPhone+ Tomahawk, but not muddy or droning. It's tight, defined, rounded at the edges. Pretty much the same as Tomahawk just more of it and deeper depth, possibly from higher resolution of the DAC.
2) Resolution. I honestly think the resolution difference in moving from iPhone+Tomahawk to Fostex is the same as moving from iPhone headphone out to Tomahawk! Yes this Fostex Dac has amazing resolution and resolves tracks very very well. It's a whole new level of clarity, background singers come to life, instrument separation is superb, quality of the notes are crisp and accurate. Nuances in some tracks are clean and clear. I don't feel it takes away from the musicality of tracks as the synergy overall is very good. It just sounds superb.
3) Soundstage: Filter 2 which is described as: 2: AKM’s newly developed digital filter called “minimum delay filter”. It accurately reproduces the original recorded sound without pre-echo. To me it enhances sound stage two fold. Flipping from 1 to 2 and back again on most tracks confirms that I like filter 2 much much more. Filter 1 sounds flat and 2D in comparison. Filter 2 is more forward, positions the music further into the darkness infront of you, but not to the point of "Grand Hall" setting on my home theatre receiver. It simply gives more air and depth. I dunno but to me it's a much more desirable. Need more time to suss out ultimately if it is better
4) High end shrill: This was one thing that bothered me a lot when I first got the Shure's. Let me try to describe it: On some tracks, the high end was very fatiguing, sometimes overbearing, best to be described as "shrill" or "shrieking" where high pitched spectrum was just compressed into one blob and pushed out, and made my ears uncomfortable to listen to those tracks for long periods. Maybe I am sensitive to high end frequency I don't know. Would make me wince sometimes it was that noticeable. I had a feeling this was to do with the iPhone DAC. It was noticeable enough for me to want to try the Fostex out and take the monetary risk. Well I am glad to say I was right! The Fostex resolves this upper frequency mish mash with accuracy and I no longer hear the high end shrill. It's made my music much more relaxed at any volume. I am SO glad this was the case and that it wasn't just me imagining this. Overall this "fix" alone was worth the money in my opinion.
Caveat: I have not tried the Fostex line out to the Tomahawk because I don't have a high quality mini to mini, but I am sure most of these issues that I list above have nothing to do with the Tomahawk itself. I feel that the Tomahawk will do a stellar job as an amplifier and was only held back by the source of iPhone 4S dac. So bottom line, if you have a good amp, just buy a CLAS and save money, that's if you don't mind carrying 3 units. But as a single package, the Fostex is unbeatable.
Hiss: Now I am allergic to background amp hiss. I break out in hives and start coughing. I cannot stand it and it's the first feature I look for in an amp. Unfortunately there is hiss with the HP-P1 on the SE535ltd's but I am happy to report it's acceptable. It's not as deep dark and silent like RSA Tomahawk, but on the lower gain setting it is just barely audible. If you turn the unit off and on, only then can you hear it. It is nowhere near as bad as the FiiO E11 which hiss sounds worst than the Fostex on highest gain setting. Turning the volume to any level does not increase hiss. It is acceptably low enough not to be an issue so I am pleased and relieved at that. I am itchy but have not broken out in hives...
Battery and charge: As per what the folks in the Fostex thread were talking about: http://www.head-fi.org/t/566026/fostex-hp-p1-portable-amplifier-and-dac-for-ipod-iphone-short-review-and-impressions-thread the Fostex plugged into power does not drain the iPhone. I've been listening for 4 hours now and my iPhone 4S battery has remained at 88% without dipping. This is a BIG BIG feature for me as it would be unacceptably inconvenient to have to stop half way during the day to charge the iPhone cause it's out of juice! What would have been great is having that final step of the Fostex charging the iphone too, that would be enormously advantageous. But so far because it "tops up" the iphone it's not a major issue for me.
Bad: 7 Hours is all you get which compared to the Tomahawk's 400 hours, it's miniscule. But then again 400 hours is ridiculous anyway but still, 14 or 20 hours would have been nice. Again not an issue for me because my commute is 45mins max between power plugs. I did notice that recharge time was long, even plugged into the wall socket rather than PC the HP-P1 still wants a longer than usual time to charge. Again, not a problem for me as it remains on power all day at work and when I get home. Pretty much I think it matches my Iphone 4S's battery life of a single day (heavy user) so I religiously charge my phone anyway.
Conclusion: I think as a single unit solution, THIS IS IT. I agree that a Fostex/CLAS + Ibasso DB2 + RSA SR-71B + Balanced phones would rip holes in the HP-P1 but then it should, it's 3 boxes compared to just 1. Even CLAS + SR-71B may be better than Fostex on it's own but then that's 2 boxes. My point is for one box solution it's awesomeness. Turn off the Fostex, the iphone recognises this and switches off music at same time, very nice and convenient feature that can't be done on 2 or 3 boxes.
I've said it before but I'll say it again: If (big IF) Ray Samuel's releases an iDevice integrated portable balanced DAC I will be forced to sell up and buy that and the SR-71B and recable my SE535LTD.
Value for Money: Since I purchased my Fostex for a STEAL of a price I can't be trusted with the value for money comment because in my case it was RIDICULOUSLY good value for money.
Music I listenned to for the review: Michael Jackson's HIStory, Queen 2011 Remastered Greatest Hits, Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits, The Corrs Forgiven Not Forgotten, Bee Gees The Greatest Hits the Record, The Eagles Greatest Hits, Pink Floyd The Wall, Guns n Roses Greatest Hits, Live - Awake, Adele 21, Missy Higgins (all), Dolly Parton Treasures, Enya Greatest Hits, Kelly Clarkson Breakaway, Norah Jones Come away with me, ABBA Gold.
And now a quick review of the DIYMod + RSA Tomahawk vs Fostex HP-P1 (to answer my own question!)
I purchased a DIYMod based on a gen 5.5 ipod classic which comes with CF upgrade, using Blackgate caps (whatever they are?) from a member here on Head-Fi. I also have my iPhone 4S to compare to so I will do a 4 way review/impression
1) iPhone headphone plug
2) iPhone 4S + Tomahawk
3) DIY + Tomahawk
4) What I think about the three versus Fostex HP-P1
None of the equipment has been burnt in so I can only offer my first impressions. Sometimes I find this to be easier as it's what you notice right away before getting to used to a sound signature.
Tracks used: Micheal Jackson: Beat it, The Way You Make Me Feel. Norah Jones Come Away With Me. Fleetwood Mac Big Love (live), Tusk. Queen, We Will Rock You. Pink Floyd The Wall. The Corrs Erin Shore. Roxette Listen To Your Heart, It Must Have Been Love, amongst many others.
1) iPhone 4S on it's own
High pitched Shrill is present. Any powerful and "busy" set of high and loud volleys of high notes or vocals and it becomes a mish mash of high pitch shrieking. I truly believe this is the iPhone 4S DAC. Soundstage is the least of the 4 options. Small hall is the best I can describe it. It's not a convincing soundstage as it sounds too compact and closed. Resolution is lower, not as crisp, mids less defined, high end suffers alot and is a significant downgrade. Bass has is the biggest downgrade. It's muddier and less defined. There's less of it and the thump has less authority and body. Voices are not as convincing, being somewhere between your ears. In general the music sounds compact and closed. The iPhone does exhibit some hiss, after a track there is about 2-3 seconds of very very low but still audible hiss before IOS shuts off the DAC (I presume) and you hear an audible click after which is proceeded with absolute silence.
Good: After carrying the Fostex or Tomahawk along with the iPhone, you really appreciate just the phone on its own! So much less to carry! Acceptable performance considering it's a phone.
Bad: Worst option of the four reviewed here in terms of sound quality but still OK. Compact sound stage. High freq shrill.
2) iPhone 4S + Tomahawk
High pitch "shrill" is there, ever present in most tracks, probably worst than iPhone on it's own because it's now being amplified by the Tomahawk. Sound is more compact and not as forward as HP-P1. Instrument separation is still pretty impressive and resolution is pretty good too, all the nuances are present and audible. Acoustic guitar and cymbals are most impressive. Voice is intimate and close by, roughly positioned in front of your face. Sound stage is good, about a small concert hall sized. Bass is strong and thumping as it always has been without droning or muddiness: it's pretty tight. The Tomahawk is an impressive unit indeed. Hiss is not present at all, I can't tell difference between the Tomahawk being on or off. The iPhone hiss is still present but the Tomahawk is completely silent, deep and dark. Overall acceptable and quite enjoyable, if not for the high freq shrill. If it wasn't for the high freq shrill I'd end my audio journey with this set up because it is quite acceptable and enjoyable.
Good: Impressive considering it's a phone. Resolution is good, bass is good, mids are clear and well defined.
Bad: High end shrill, Tomahawk outclasses the iPhone so it's the weakest link
3) DIYMod + Tomahawk
Surprisingly good performance for a 6 yr old iPod! High Pitch shrill is still here. I feel it's worst than iPhone 4S + Tomahawk as cymbals and high frequency vocals are a mash of sound rather than metal cymbals. Vocalised "S's" become sort of a SHHH sound. There is an overall feeling that the DIYMod has a more analogue sound, not as clinical as iPhone 4S, quite like... a vinyl record actually but nearly as convincing. It almost sounds muddy. I have a turntable and Luxman 2 Channel amp hooked up to KEF floorstanders downstairs and I can't exactly say it's as convincing as that setup. It's almost "artificial". Resolution of cymbals and acoustic guitar is not as crisp as iPhone 4S. Everything else seems pretty much on Par with iPhone 4S. Instrument separation is still good, resolution is still high quality, able to hear the usual nuances present in the usual tracks. Bass is still thumping, tight and good quantity. Voices are about the same location, roughly in front of your face. Voices seem not to be as crisp and intimate however, I am used to clinical precision with voices so this might be my own ears. Sound stage to me sounds smaller than the iPhone 4S, only very slightly on some tracks. Hiss is about the same as iPhone 4S, basically nothing at all. Overal quite impressive and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would have.
Good: Overall a good sound, very little difference from the iPhone 4S which I feel is already pretty good. More analogue sounding, not as clinical
Bad: High end shrill still there, possibly worst than iPhone 4S in come cases. Transfer times from iTunes to gen 5.5 is on USB 1.0 so it's really really slow compared to iPhone 4S, twice or more slower to transfer same amount of songs. Lastly I would not carry a DIYMod on top of a iPhone 4S if I already have the iPhone 4S. This would mean carrying 3 devices which is unnecessary (unless you want to for some reason).
4) Fostex HP-P1 and iPhone 4S
Wow, after 3-4 hours on the other devices, we come round robin back to the Fostex. Yes it sounds the best of the four, noticeable straight away. It reaffirms the price of admission. Sound stage is large dark concert all, it's quite impressive and addictive. Voices are somewhere 20 or so rows of seats infront of you. Enya is just ETHEREAL! Some tracks give me goose bumps. Adele is superb on the Fostex. Instrument separation is superb and is leagues ahead. Mids are most impressive, precise, clean and highly detailed. Bass is very very impressive, thumping yet tight, deep depth. High freq shrill is completely eradicated, instead the Fostex accurately resolves strong high pitched "volleys" of sounds, making it less fatiguing. S's are S's and not SHH's. Hiss is just slightly more than scenario 1 or 2 but really it's quite acceptable. Overall the Fostex is the most enjoying to listen to off the lot, biases aside. I really feel the overall balance of the dac+amp combo is fantastic. If you are somewhat into this hobby, you owe it to yourself to demo one, it's that good. Leave your wallet at home though when you do!
In order of best to worst has to be:
1) Fostex HP-P1 - No shrill, massive and impressive sound stage. Overall it sounds very good!
2) iPhone 4S + Tomahawk - Only because I then don't have to carry an ipod as well as my phone, but mainly because I think there is very little difference between the DIYMod and iPhone 4S.
3) DIYMod + Tomahawk - look it is impressive but just can't overlook the shrill and slow transfer speeds. I am not sure I prefer a more analogue sound of the DIYMod, it's not convincing enough.
4) iPhone on it's own - No surprises
After 4 or so hours of swapping around and listening carefully I am convinced I've chosen the right rig. It's the most enjoyable and least fatiguing. It's convenient and a good one box solution.
Thanks for reading!
Pros - High quality sound, more like that from a desktop DAC, quite flexible in possible uses.
Cons - Frustrating carrying case, quite big, volume knob sticks out too far and has channel imbalance at the lowest point, digital output is only optical.
For some time I've been looking for a decent piece of kit to travel with. Previously I tried a HeadRoom Portable Desktop amp/dac, but didn't like the overall sound, though the DAC was good. The Fostex, allowing digital output from an iPod or iPad to a high-quality DAC is more appealing, especially as it was reported to have a half-decent headphone amp. Something has to give in all this, and it is the headphone amp which, while decent with low-impedance, easy-to-drive headphones, such as my V-MODAs, Audio Technicas and Symphones Magnums (eg: Grados), doesn't do so well with high-impedance ones.
However, a rig that does well with both would require adding a good portable headphone amp, such as an ALO Continental or the like (or simply plunking down the $1200 or so for their complete rig). As I don't intend to travel with a pair of HD-800s or LCD-3s, but only the Magnums, I don't need anything quite so overkill.
As a physical device, the HP-P1 is quite chunky with a solid feel, being that it is made from aluminium, with a thin, but not quite rubber-like cover or coating around the body. The top is slightly indented in a way that suggests an iPhone or iPod touch should sit there. The bottom, for reasons presumably to do with the style, is concave. This gives it a unique and easily recognisable look.
For it to work as a bound rig with either i-device requires some thinner than usual rubber bands of the type often supplied with portable amps. I happened to pick some up in Tokyo while I was there, from one of the companies displaying at the Fujiya Avic show. However, the HP-P1 comes with a case in which it is supposed to sit, along with your iPod or iPhone.
The case itself is a confusing affair of straps and velcro that is fiddly to get the HP-P1 in and out of. This is where the stylish design becomes an issue, as it resulted in edges that catch on the case when inserting or removing it. The case has two ends, both with two velcro straps, presumably to prevent anything falling out when one needs to access a socket. One end has a small, permanently sewn strap between the velcro straps, meaning that the HP-P1 and iDevice have to be inserted in the other end. Wrapping around the side is a cover strap that, when opened, reveals a window for accessing your iDevice. Inside, between where both sit is a fixed internal strap that looks to to be intended to sit between devices. This is going to be a nuisance if you have managed to find a means by which to attach the HP-P1 and your iPod or iPhone together, but the logic of its presence makes a little sense as Fostex likely didn't imagine people would attach them together.
Also present is a belt loop, rings for a shoulder strap and a finger-sized net-covered pocket on the cover strap, presumably for adaptors, cables or IEMs, as that is all that would fit in it.
As for the sound, it's definitely an improvement as amp even with more lowly headphones such as the V-MODA M80s and RE-ZERO IEMs, though the latter, due to their sensitivity require an amp or they sound awful. I had hoped it would form a good transportable rig with my Symphones Magnums that wouldn't make me miss my home rig while I am travelling, but interestingly while it is possibly overkill for the V-MODAs, it was clear the difference between my main rig and the HP-P1 with the Magnum V4s. However, using it as a DAC to my Stax rig, tonally it was indistinguishable, only not as resolving or clean-sounding.
Another member described the HP-P1 compared to the CLAS as being "darker" sounding. My main rig is somewhat "old school" with the proverbial black background, unlike the more bright-sounding gear that is often produced now, with a more "hi-fi" sound, which tends to give people used to newer designs the impression that my, and similar equipment is "dark".
Indeed, plugging my Magnums into my iPod and then the HP-P1 to listen to Jamie Cullum, the iPod had the more aggressive "hi-fi" sound, and the HP-P1 opening up the space around Jamie between him and his instruments and presenting him less harshly and more smoothly. Now I had to try this again on my main rig and then I just had to stop writing to listen to the whole song all the way through...
So, back to the HP-P1. Worth meaning is everything on the back panel, which I mostly ignore. There is a small socket for USB charging and a 3.5mm direct line-out that isn't volume controlled to use it with a separate amp. My one gripe, the presence of an optical digital output as opposed to a coax S/PDIF socket is here too. Toslink isn't a great method for digital transmission and my experience is that some DACs sound a bit harsh using it as an input, depending on their design. A 3-position gain switch gets around the slight channel imbalance at the beginning of the volume adjustment, but I found I never had to switch it from high-gain though it might be a good idea with some IEMs.
Last is the filter switch, which changes between, respectively, a steep cut-off filter and a more superior one. The differences between the filters, for me, was subtle, with filter 2 sounding a slight touch smoother and less harsh than the steep cut-off one.
(Feb, 2012 Edit). I recently purchased a Triad Audio L3 to use with a pair of prototype Sennheiser HD-700s, as I wanted to give them a fair run. This also gave me the opportunity to better evaluate the HP-P1's inbuilt amp. Using the L3 with my Magnums, the Audio Technica W3000s and other headphones, the L3 provided a noticeable jump in overall clarity and soundstage. This nailed it for me as an extremely satisfactory (if extremely expensive) travel rig.
So, overall, I reckon the HP-P1 is a great piece of kit, if not an amazing one. I reckon it hits its price almost exactly in terms of features, capability and sound quality. With most people who carry headphones around using low-impedance models or IEMs, the lack of ability to drive high-impedance cans isn't a great deal of a loss. If you must, you can pair it, for a great deal more with a good portable or desktop amp if using it at work or the like. However, for a portable rig, it is rather chunky and arguably overkill for IEM users who might simply benefit from something like a Pico Slim for their needs. If they could simplify the case design, make it smaller, shrink the volume knob and provide a good case, it would go from very good to great.
Questions and Answers: (Feb, 2012)
Does it work with FLAC Player?
Yes, even with high-res files. I haven't verified if they pass through high-res files to the optical output.
Does it work from a computer?
Not as far as I know, only from compatible iPods, iPhones and the iPad.
Is the battery replaceable?
It's soldered in, but appears to be otherwise.
Can the firmware be upgraded?
Yes, but only by Fostex. I'm guessing that due to Apple's terms Fostex isn't allowing firmware downloads.
Pros - My Shure & KRK happy testing & Very nice sound. Get it last Friday. Buy from DMT HK.
Cons - Very Nice~~ I love it ~