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Ultraportable headphone amplifier

Headstage Arrow 5TX

Rating:
5/5,
  • Ultraportable headphone amplifier

Recent Reviews

  1. flinkenick
    It's finally here - The Arrow 5TX
    Written by flinkenick
    Published Aug 24, 2015
    5.0/5,
    Pros - SQ, bass boost, size & portability, battery life
    Cons - the wait before production started..
    Introduction
    Robert started Headstage when he built the first Arrow – an incredibly thin and portable amp, providing power and sound quality rivaling amps several times its size. Although the Arrow gradually evolved over the years, retaining its small appearance but improving performance, the company didn’t - Headstage is still a one-man company, building one product: the Arrow. Robert develops and builds the Arrow by himself. Due to numerous unforeseen problems the development of the new Arrow, the 5TX, kept on being postponed. But being a one-man company Robert is forced to deal with all aspects of running a company by himself. As a consequence customer service, more specifically communication, tends to suffer. Customers that ordered the Arrow had to wait with hardly any updates or projection when the 5TX would arrive.
     
    The waiting became gruesome for many customers, which was reflected on the thread. Being part of the Headstage thread felt like being stranded on an island with a small community. There was the wait, that endless wait, without having any clue when news would come or what we could expect since communication with Robert was sparse. The waiting became desperation, and from desperation came chaos leading to mutiny. Customers who had purchased the 5TX started filing paypal claims, if only to get in contact with Robert – a fruitless attempt. See Robert was focused on his amps, and would only bring the 5TX on the market if it met his high standards. But the ‘senior’ members of the thread who had owned previous generations were loyal and always preached patience, being very satisfied with former versions. If you wanted the latest Arrow, this was all part of it; and it is always worth it in the end. With the 5TX it’s no different - Robert has once again delivered a magnificent product.
     
    The Arrow 5TX
    Most important features from the Headstage website:
     
    MRSP: €359 euro (in the EU, incl. VAT) / $399 (outside the EU, excl. VAT)
    • 25 Hours Battery Play Time
    • AD8620 and BUF634 Buffers at Output Stage
    • USB DAC for PC/MAC/Android/iPhone/iPad 
    • Three Selectable Gain Settings
    • Two Bass Switches (Amount and Range)
    • Treble Switch 
    • Size: 8.5mm x 56mm x 98mm (0.33'' x 2.20'' x 3.86'')
    • Weight: 100g
     
    IMAG0199.jpg
     
    The Arrow is roughly the length and width of a pack of cigarettes - maybe 1 cm longer, depending on your cigarettes :wink: But it's as thin as a smarthone, making it incredibly compact. Despite that it will play endlessly, the 25 hours in the product description isn't an exaggeration.
     
    Nice features are the automatic power switch that turns the Arrow on when your source sends a signal and turns it off when it’s idle. The bass frequency switch is also a nice gimmick that allows you to boost bass in the low, mid or high bass frequencies. It has a very noticeable effect, which simply said sounds like you’re adding a higher quantity of bass, although it can become more bloated and uncontrolled each step depending on your iem/source. There’s also a switch to determine whether the power source should come from the computer, the Arrow itself, or the dac should be switched off when you’re just charging it from a computer.
     
    The 5TX comes in 2 versions: a normal version that can add +0/+6/+9 db’s of bass, and a boosted version that can add +0/+9/+18 db’s. I went for the boosted version.
     
    IMAG0200.jpg
     
    IMAG0201.jpg
     
    IMAG0202.jpg
     
    Equipment
    For this review I’m using an EarSonics Velvet (->Toxic Silver Widow cable); first of all because my review of the Arrow 5P was also written with it, and second of all because of its characteristics. It’s fairly neutral and detailed, without being analytical. And frankly it just has awesome bass to amp up. Powerful and punchy, delicious for bassy genres as rock, EDM, hip hop and pop. Good characteristics to test the sound signature of the 5TX  (opposed to with a very coloured iem as the Heir 8.A). The 5TX is connected to a Cowon P1. The P1 is fairly neutral, with a smooth tonality designed to give a natural sound, often referred to as analogue. It is not inherently warm as some might think.
     
    IMAG0204.jpg
     
    Impressions
    Embarking on the only part that matters: the sound. I’m going to use the following track to describe the sonic improvement of the 5TX over the P1 unamped: Gui Boratto’s Atomic Soda (soundcloud link). Better yet, only the first 50 seconds. The reason for this track is that the analytic nature of electronic music like progressive makes hearing slight differences easier (for my ears), compared to instrument-based music with 'big' sounds as vocals and electric guitars. Bass and treble switches are all set to ‘0’.
     
    So the track begins with the bass and a monotone tone to the right. After about 15 seconds a high hat comes in the left and the second bass line kicks in, with an occasional brief drum burst in the center. Shortly after small flashes start to light up the soundstage in different areas like fireworks. The second high hat begins to the right. 
     
    Now without the 5TX, the bass is more uncontrolled and bloated, which represses the first tone to the right as well as the second bass line. The 5TX tightens the bass up considerably giving it more punch, but thereby also giving the first tone more room to breath, as well as separate space for the second bass line. The high hat is pushed further to the left, slightly widening the soundstage. The flashes of sound are much better defined in space and have more of a 3D, holographic feel.
     
    When the 5TX was first mentioned on the Headstage website about 8 months ago, it was described as the warmer sibling of the 5N and 5P, the ‘T’ standing for tube-like sound (although this is no longer mentioned, and the other models aren’t for sale right now). That being said, the 5TX is still better described as fairly neutral with a hint of warmth. The Arrow doesn’t impose it’s own signature on the P1’s sound, similar to the 5P. But the bass is far more controlled, and tones are better defined: focus is improved with more black space around them. The improved definition allows for more detail retrieval, since there’s less overlap between the separate components. Simply said, it doesn’t add more detail but it is much easier to hear it.
     
    Coming to one of the Arrow’s most important features, the bass switch. Like the 5P, the 5TX is really a basshead’s best friend (especially the boosted version). I'll refer you to my 5P review for a more lengthy and colorful description, but in short the 5TX packs one hell of a punch. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say the Arrow can make the bass 2 or 3 times as powerful, without sounding bloated (in the L freq setting). But especially with bass, your mileage will very depending on your iems/headphones and source.
     
    When I still used the DX90 I’d always have the 5P (that has the same specifications) in setting I (+9db), and go for II (+18db) when I listened to bassy music. But the DX90 provides far less bass compared to the P1’s as is, so I usually don’t really add more bass due since the low end can become too overpowering – even for a basshead as myself. Detail tends to get lost more easy due to the clouding from the bass. But that’s while listening with the Velvet. With relatively bass light iems as the Rhapsodio Rti1 or Ocharaku Kuro you can easily max out the bass without the lower range becoming too dominant or clouding the overall signature. When switching iems or sources, playing around with the bass and treble switches is incredibly fun to fine tune songs, or give you that extra boost when listening to tracks that call for it.
     
    As with the previous generations, the inception of the 5TX came with a long waiting period along with long periods of silence, that frustrated many customers who had paid for one in advance in good faith. But now production has started - and like the many loyal owners of previous generations they too will realize it’s all part of the magic of owning one, which has made the Arrow somewhat of a head fi cult classic. Incredible sound, and power to drive full size headphones in a miniscule package. A philosophy that Robert has built on for many years, and still managed to improve with every generation.
     
    -edit-
    Just to be clear, when I'm mentioning 'the wait' I'm referring to the pre-production phase of development. Now that production has commenced, the amps should be on their way within a reasonable amount of time if you decide to order. I'd also like to thank Robert; while I've extensively mentioned the waiting period, I was personally hardly affected by it since Robert was generous enough to provide a 5P on loan in the meanwhile (as mentioned in my 5P review).
      PurdueAlum and fizzytao like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. PurdueAlum
      Nice first review. It seems you are using the audio input.  How is the DAC in the arrow? I currently keep the Fiio E17 with me when I am on the go, so am interested in how the 5TX with the DAC stacks up to the Fiio or other  Amp/DAC combos. Thanks in advance.
      PurdueAlum, Aug 24, 2015
    3. zolom
      Great review; Thanks
      zolom, Sep 1, 2015
    4. Eric95M
      Very nice review.  Thank you!
      How much power does this have?
      Eric95M, Mar 21, 2016

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