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Headphone Amplifiers item created by , May 5, 2010
Pros - Great DAC, Headphone Amp & Preamp for the money
Cons - wish there was a switch to enable output from headphones and speakers at the same time if/when desired
I just got an HDP (my first DAC/headphone amp!) a few weeks ago and have been enjoying it immensely since I got it. So far, I'm just using it as a USB DAC and headphone amp plugged into one of my W7 laptop's USB ports and playing mostly lossless files with Foobar with the WASAPI plug in with Foobar's volume at zero db (max) going out to the HDP. I've been pretty much blown away by the upgrade in sound the HDP provides over the stock sound of my HP laptop which I had previously thought was pretty decent with my 530 IEMs. But now after experiencing the difference the HDP has made, I know better.
Compared to many here, I don't have a lot of money that I can spend on lots of audio equipment so the HDP's 3 in 1 value proposition is very important for me. Although I don't have anything besides my previous stock setup to compare it to, the increased fidelity, clarity, space, transparency, etc. it provides has been dramatic and a wonderful revelation for me, especially with lossless source material. I am amazed, indeed at times almost shocked by how much better my 530's sound plugged into the HDP. Lossless files really sound so much better with this setup so I have already started to rebuild my music library with more lossless material.
After seeing some of the comments about the HDP in another review thread about hiss and various volume pot issues experienced by some, I feel really lucky because the pot on my unit is as close to flawless as I could reasonably expect. I have zero detectable channel imbalance even at very soft volumes and I cannot discern any hiss at any volume I can reasonably tolerate with music playing through my Shure 530 IEM's which I would think should certainly reveal it if any is there. But I can only hear some very faint, barely detectable hiss if I listen hard for it with the volume turned all the way to max while no music is playing. Also when no music is playing, I can hear some faint crackling as I rotate the pot, but it only starts to occur when the pot has been turned past the 3:00 level (with HDP in vertical orientation) which is pretty close to max volume. But this is a complete non issue because the maximum volume I can comfortably listen to the HDP with the 530's is at about 9 to 9:30 with most material which is barely turned up at all.
In sum, neither hiss nor channel imbalance is a problem for me at all with the HDP, even with my IEMs. However, I'm 58 and my ability to hear high frequencies is most certainly diminished, probably a bit more than normal for my age. So someone with more sensitive hearing would likely be able to hear more hiss with my unit than I do.
Another thing I should mention is that I initially found I was getting some occasional annoying glitches in the sound that were apparently being generated by my computer through the USB connection. This led me to try the WASAPI plug in for Foobar which bypasses and isolates the data stream from the WIndows volume mixer, enabling bitperfect output from the computer to the HDP. Fortunately, this simple fix completely eliminated those annoying audio glitches.
To sum up, although it was a significant chunk of change for me, I'm really glad I decided to spend the money on the HDP as it's providing me with a huge upgrade in sound for music in a nice looking, small, easily transportable package that should be able to scale up nicely as I expand my system with active speakers and full size headphones (probably HD650s) in the near future.
Pros - Great sound, high res DAC, analog volume control
Cons - Price?
I'd like to knock the price, since $450 seems like a lot for a little headphone amp/DAC, but you get what you pay for, especially in the high-end audio world. And, in my opinion, this is a great product.
I am just getting back into high-end audio, building a new kit. The first things I wanted to do were to digitize my CD collection in lossless, build a media server with direct digital out, get a really good headphone amp/DAC and good headphones.
After a long search, reading several forums, I bought the following:
I'm mroe than happy with all 3.
For the E7, I use that as a headphone amp between my laptop or my iPod and my Grado 60's. Great portable setup. The E7 will drive my HD650's, but I prefer to keep that setup separate from my portable kit.
The Icon is my home headphone amp/DAC. I can use the digital in from my laptop to the HD650's, which sounds amazing. I can also use the analog out to connect to a small amp/speakers for a 2nd location.
Overall, I think having a separate portable and home setup is nice to have, since I don't have to move things around, and I really do prefer having the Icon wired up at home to my system. It would work fine connected to an iPod, if needed.
As far as the high-end audio stuff like "extreme cross-over, wide dispersion, ample headroom, vast soundstage", I don't feel qualified to comment. This is my first dive into this world, and I bought this setup without listening to it first, just based on the reviews I read on-line. For the sound quality, it's amazingly higher quality than headphones plugged into a laptop or A/V receiver or iPod. The difference is striking. To be honest, I wasn't planned on re-ripping all my music, but once I heard the difference with the new hardware, I had to re-do my collection in lossless. You CAN tell the difference, even with 320K MP3 files.
Again, overall, a great setup. Thanks to everyone on the forums who helped me with the decisions and spent their time posting very extensive reviews of the equipment.
Pros - compact and affordable all-in-one DAC/amp and preamp
Cons - bright, analytical sound signature
After reading some glowing reviews, I decided to give the HDP a go. I needed a compact and hassle-free solution for my work rig, and one that could drive any headphones I decided to bring to work with me (including the difficult-to-dive 600 ohm beyerdynamic cans).
After receiving the HDP, I was impressed with its looks and build quality. Even the packaging and branding were pretty sleek.
However, it was upon powering up the device when my impressions started to turn for the worse. The HDP is, to my ears, a pretty nice source paired with a somewhat bright and not exceptionally powerful headphone amp.
The DAC section of the HDP is nice, but perhaps a bit on the analytical side. It is detailed and wide open sounding. The headphone amp section of the HDP, however, I found a bit bright for my tastes.
I found that using EQ to roll off the treble gave me the sound I was looking for, but the nagging feeling remained that I could find another amp to more suit my needs...
If I were using the HDP as a DAC only, I perhaps would have kept the unit, as it was a nice sounding source. However, i bought it to perform both DAC and amp duties, and as such it was a slight disappointment for me.
All this is not to say that different folks may not like the product. But I, for one, found its sound signature was not exactly to my liking. Functionally, and otherwise, it was more than fine.
Pros - Great value in a compact 3 in 1 package
Cons - Nothing yet - Does what NuForce said it would
This is my first headphone amp purchased with my first "better quality" headphones (DT 880/600) in years. Nothing else to compare them with as of yet. The HDP is hooked-up to a Sony all-in-one desktop computer via USB. The preamp outputs are connected to a pair of Audioengine 5 powered speakers. The sound through the speakers is excellent for the type of setup, but with headphones connected, it is nothing short of Hi-Fi quality. The volume turned up all the way, there is not even a hint of distortion. Except for a slight bit of brightness at the higher end of the frequency range, the sound is dead flat with just enough bass impact and lively midrange. Hopefully, I will have more to comment on as I put more miles on this setup...
Pros - excellent connectivity, USB, SPDIF, analogue out, headphone out
Cons - not really portable desk
This is an all-around terrific value for what it does very well and transparently.
I'm listening to 200-hour burn Senn HD600s with cardas cable upgrade.
The headphone amp is dead quiet at full gain, super clear, and uncolored. It delivers transparent, super quick transients and crispy detail without fatigue or pooling in any particular frequency.
The Analogue outs go into my NAD C553BEE for a deep and fully detailed stereo experience through my KEF 103.2s.
As a Headphone amp it works without any fatigue, noise, coloring, or mud in the guitar samples.
percusion, Cajón, tabla and deep african drums are accurately and clinically deep without any smear and harmonic concomitance.
You can connect it to an MBox 2 via spdif and monitor your session on Protools.
The headphone gain is characteristically clean and unfettered at its limits. You get more music without anything extra. Separation, placement and colored trademarks of each instrument are heard and felt with uncanny sharpness and definition.
I will comment after another 100 hours of burn time.
Love the simplicity and starkness of a well-designed device that sounds so good.
Ordering with Nuforce online was smooth and trouble -free.
Pros - Excellent pre-amp, headphone amp and dac for a great price
Cons - Nothing I can think of
After having a few dacs and amps , I wanted an all-in-one package that would leave me happy for a very long time. The size of this thing is small and portable which is an added bonus. I didn't like dealing with interconnects with amps and dacs so this thing was a blessing.
I only owned a handful of amps but I compared this Meier Corda Arietta and from what I was hearing out of my RS1 was better attack and speed. It is not as warm as the Arietta but for me this is a good thing. The transparency and soundstage depth is improved over the Arietta as well. I felt the HDP amp is a better match for my RS1 than the Arietta. If there was one thing that I wished it could improve on would be the width of the soundstage but this is minor for me since my AD700 already offers a huge soundstage.
I did not get a chance to compare with my other DACs since I sold them all betting that the HDP would triumph them all . Clearly it does not disappoint when I received it.
There is no hissing on my unit with my AD700 and RS1. The unit runs cool all day and never gets hot, but lukewarm leaving it on 24/7.
Overall I'm impressed by the price and the features of the HDP, it's hard to find anything with all the features at the same price. I feel as an headphone amplifier, it could very well be worth the entire price of the HDP at $449 but Nuforce managed to fit an excellent DAC packed with features all for the price of one. Like some have already said, this entire package offers a lot of bang per buck.
My first headphone amp. No experience with others, so my impression of this one is in comparison to regular output from MP3-players and receivers. With this in mind I still feel the value is high (even though I realize I need to spend some time with other amps in order to justify my praise to this one in particular).
I'm very happy with the HDP.
Price paid 3879SEK(VAT excluded) ~$500