PROS: 1. Appears well built from good quality materials externally. 2. Enough power for the likes of Susvara (possibly my next HP addition) on high gain and the likes of Utopia will be safe on low gain. 3. Some unique circuit features allowing “tuning” of the sound to suit at time of build.
CONS: 1. 1 year parts and labor non-transferable warranty. 2. Expensive
DESCRIPTION: 1. An SE headphone amp using discrete transistors in a Class A/B push-pull design (first 50mW pure class A).
FEATURES: 1. The Head-Space has fully regulated independent power supplies, a proprietary selective feedback technology, and a unique output topology. 2. ADF: “Adaptive Damping Factor”, a technology that allows each unit to be individually “tuned” to the customer’s listening preference. As was explained to me by Vinh Vu of Gingko Audio, ADF can adjust the mids to be lusher, the bass tighter, or the tops more extended at will, which can make it for a bespoke component, like a commissioned musical score. This is a unique feature in my experience. (I’m not sure how this works or is implemented per the customer’s request, perhaps further information will be available from the manufacturer). 3. “Locking”, high quality, ¼” and 4 Pin (for convenience) connectors on the front panel. 4. Front panel power button. (Yeah, this is a good feature) 5. Adjustable dimmer knob for the blue “ON” lighting around front volume knob located on the back panel. (Another good feature) 6. Optional speaker driving capability can be added.
SOUND: This is one beautiful sounding solid state headphone amplifier. The Head-Space can mimic a tube designs midrange and highs and yet have solid and tight bass more like a solid state amp. It’s effortless sounding with my Abyss 1266 Phi CC and Sennheiser HD800S. It captures the acoustic of the recording venue well. Puts air around instruments and voices. Images like the best designs I’ve experienced and those images have a slightly sculpted or rounded dimensionality to them which many good tube designs display. It reproduces the sound stage and these other parameters as well as the recording captured it.
This demo amp was lent to me by Vinh Vu of Gingko Audio for my evaluation and my feedback for 9 days. My more extensive write up including some comparison with my Formula S / Powerman and RAAL HSA-1b, and specific music used to evaluate, will be posted in the Danacable User Feedback thread in a day or so and I will put a link to it here.
(Note: I am not a professional reviewer, or an electrical engineer, and I did not earn my living working in audio. I’m just someone who’s been involved in the hobby since 1970 and I do an occasional review for fun, not compensation.)
This is my Short (?) Review of the DanaTone Head-Space Headphone Amplifier, Comparisons with my XI Audio Formula S + Powerman, and RAAL HSA-1b. My music preferences, especially for evaluation purposes, are about the sound of acoustic instruments and classical music.
This “short” review is culled from my full review which includes some background, specifics of my process, sample music I used for evaluation and why, and other uninteresting blather. My full review is posted in the "Reviews" section.
When a new piece of gear gets installed into one of my rigs I always anticipate a parting of the clouds with God-Rays hitting my ears.
Never really happens but….
This Head-Space unit has probably spent many hours in operation with a number of other listeners so I have little doubt that it is fully broken in.
Well, the first 4 days were fun, but new toy syndrome coupled with using the different cabling options (Danacables on the Head-Space, JPS Labs for Formula S&P, CFL Mogami 2549’s on the HSA-1b) yielded good results on all 3 amps but had me wondering if I was hearing each amp on equal footing. So, with day 5 starting I replaced all cabling for the Head-Space and HSA-1b with my familiar old CFL Mogami Neglex 2549’s (run through a good quality SE switch box with all 3 on it and removed "Loki" and it's associated cabling from the run to the HSA-1b) and for uniformity, Pangea 14 to supply AC power to all 3 amps.
Note: What follows is my attempt to describe what in many instances are small differences in sound between these 3 amps that are noticeable and meaningful to me, but maybe not be to others.
Once all 3 amps were running on the same cabling I think I was able to make better progress in comparing them. Doesn’t make sense to me, cables don’t make a difference, do they? (Sarcasm mode: “ON”. Let each listener decide that for themselves). I set my HSA-1b to 0 db gain when I received it and I wasn’t about to pop the lid to adjust the various gain switches. When I switched from low to high gain on the Formula S&P and Head- Space and made adjustments with the sound level meter I discovered just how powerful the Head-Space is. I had to turn up the volume on the Formula S&P a little; I had to turn down the volume on the Head-Space. I’d say it has plenty of power in reserve and may likely handle power hungry phones like the Susvara well (most likely my next HP audition / addition).
Methodology was always the same. A few years back I got tired of juggling 2 dozen plus different CD’s(being CD only for source) and their jewel boxes. So, I burned a playlist making 8 CD’s of excerpts (mostly classical) from these discs to simplify and speed up the process. I’d play a track on the Head-Space, the same track on my HSA-1b, then on my Formula S&P, and then again on the Head-Space to confirm my thoughts and make notes.
Now, to get to the heart of the matter, the Head-Space is one beautiful sounding amp. Regardless of what cable combinations I used I could always hear something special in the midrange; a transparency with body, “there-ness” (for lack of a better word.) The HSA-1b had a bit warmer, thicker sound (that I think complements the SR1a perfectly). The Formula S&P has a cooler, “see thru” type of transparency. (Always difficult finding the words to relate my listening takes when describing sounds).
Per Vinh, with the Head-Space that midrange is the result of the Adaptive Damping Factor (ADF), a technology that allows for the ability to “tune” the sound, even to a customer’s specific listening preferences, although I don’t know how that works. I suspect this is done during the build, it is most likely not a user adjustable feature from inside the case. But, with ADF the amp can be tuned to make the mids lusher, the bass tighter, the top end more extended, and so on. This may also have a bearing on the cost of the Head-Space factoring in the variables of customization to produce a specific sound to suit.
The ADF setup on the Head-Space I’m listening to seems to deliver the most tube-like sound in a solid state amp I’ve experienced yet but the bass is still nicely detailed, full, and deep ranging as well.
The mids on the Head-Space sounded a hair more forward than the Formula S&P and closer to the HSA-1b in nature but with none of that “in my face” perspective on it (or the HSA-1b) that I’ve gotten with some other amps with a bold midrange. With the Head-Space I hear the bass as having a little more “grunt” to it and the highs are detailed without an exaggerated edge, highs do have a tube-like smoothness. Imaging is as pin-point as the other two amps. The Head-Space Images are perhaps a bit better sculpted or rounded dimensional-ly and the sound fields depth and layering are presented as well as the recording captured it. But perhaps the Formula S&P is a hair better with depth at times and maybe that is also a characteristic of how the ADF is set up on this amp. I think the center fill between the channels is a hair better with the Head-Space. The L/R spread is equally wide on all 3 amps with either my HD800S or 1266 Phi.
(Note: In my experience amps combined with HP’s that have dips in the mid frequencies tend to convey an illusion of more depth to the sound field, amps combined with HP’s that have a bump in mid frequencies display a shallower sound field. But it’s much more complicated than that when you factor in the source recording and what the engineers / producers wanted to convey and captured).
This is certainly one of the most interesting solid state amps I’ve listened to, to date.
Without a doubt these are three of the finest sounding solid state amps I’ve ever heard to date. I do prefer the Formula S&P and Head-Space with both my planar 1266 and cone drive HD800 over the HSA-1b by a small margin. But I own that specifically and primarily for use my RAAL SRA1.
As all quality amps do, all 3 reveal the good, the bad, and the ugly in a recording. In addition there are a lot of other amplifiers out in the wild I have never or will never experience. Even over 5 decades and dozens and dozens of amps I’ve only sampled a very small number of all the possibilities. And especially with the demise of so many brick and mortar audio only stores it’s difficult in the extreme to get to sample all of the new ones as they appear on the market.
In time we may get a more technically oriented review from someone to illuminate certain aspects of the Head-Spaces build, features, and why it does what it does so well.
So, where does this put me? If I didn’t have, or didn’t plan to own the SR1a, I would choose the Formula S&P and Head-Space. The Formula S&P and Head-Space are both special in my listening experience and they appeal to me exactly because of their differences in sound presentation. I really can’t say I’d pick one over the other so for me would be "Ill take one of each, please" and many long months of enjoyment running them side by side.
The Formula S&P is very clean, very transparent, and very quiet, very pure sounding and checks all the sonic boxes for me and from all reports can drive any headphone very well with my favored music and at the volume levels I listen at. Its sound reminds me of every good Class A solid state power amplifier I’ve experienced driving speakers over the many years, and it’s a keeper for me. Would I keep it if I were to sell my 1266 Phi? Yes, I think it is just that good for a solid state HP amp.
The Head-Space is also very clean; transparency is there as well but in a slightly different way compared to the Formula S&P. The presence it give voices and instruments is what sets it apart from the Formula S&P for me. I have spent many hours trying to come up with an appropriate one word description for this quality to no avail. It is dead quiet in low gain mode with my either my 1266 Phi or HD800S. The high gain mode is not necessary with my 1266 Phi and certainly not with the HD800S. I’d be surprised to find out that the Formula S&P delivers more power into these loads than the Head-Space based on my re-balancing of volume levels with certain recordings, but it may also be that high gain setting on the Head-Space may only be needed with a small number of extraordinarily power hungry headphones. But then again, I suspect I listen at lower levels of volume than most. For me, loud live music and loud reproduced music are two different experiences. I have never been able to truly match the peak levels and wide dynamic range I experience in the concert hall at the same levels in a home (or store) system even with a dedicated, treated, listening room for speakers or if using headphones, so I don't.
The ADF and its implementation and how it does what it does is a mystery to me, maybe more info will be forthcoming down the road.
The Head-Space is something I think I’ve been waiting for since the early 70’s when I was in my mid 20’s and into kit-built amps, pre-amps, and tuners. I started with comparing my tubed Dynaco Stereo 70 to my transistorized Dynaco Stereo 120 and began attending more live concerts for a point of reference. At that time the tube versus transistor sound business got added to my quest for exploring the vast number of classical composer’s music and musical styles within periods. Later on came the analog versus digital stuff and that added more comparison listening. The opportunity to do comparison evaluations is a fun and interesting part of the hobby for me. Well, at least with amps and transducers, maybe DACs too. The other pieces parts that make up a sound system from the sources and especially the connecting wires are an adventure in self-flagellation for me.
This Head-Space to my ears has some tube-like character to its sound for a solid state HP amp. Is it the same sound as the many all tube amps I own currently or have owned over the years? No! But is it a compelling listening experience and different from my experience with other solid state amps over the years? Yes!
The Head-Space sound, set up as it is, strikes me as existing somewhere in between tube and transistor sound with some of the hallmark qualities of both. It does this better than I’ve heard before in similar attempts and with the hybrids I own and at the same time is not lacking in any area of the listening experience. But it’s up to each listener to make this determination for them self.
And again, I want to emphasize that the sound differences in these three amps is not like chocolate, vanilla or strawberry, these are some very close calls in some cases but that’s the stuff that makes it both challenging and enjoyable for me. Almost as much as comparing different recorded performances of the same composition.
One final thought, when I have a new component installed in the chain and I hear a positive improvement I wonder if it might just be the result of the sonic signature of one piece working hand in glove with that of another in the chain compensating each other’s strengths and mitigating the shortcomings? If one could afford to put together a system consisting of the “best” acknowledged component in each category regardless of price I wonder if it still might not produce the “best” end sound? But that’s another call to be made by each individual. Add personal preferences and I think it would not. But that’s enough thinking already.
Shipping the Head-Space out after 9 days of use just isn’t enough time as was enjoying it way too much. Also, for me, the true test of a keeper is extended use and comparisons over many months but you only get that with any piece of gear by purchasing it. I miss the Head-Space already now that I’ve been without it for 7 days and I wish I still had it here to sustain my listening addiction and pleasure. As my little gray cells ponder all of this they are also suggesting that the addition of Susvara to my menagerie of headphones with all 3 of these amps under my roof makes sense and is a sound next step.
Such is the life of an audiophile. All things change with time but there is always something to look forward to. FLTWS June 20, 2021