Violectric HPA V281

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Headphoneus Supremus
Violectric V281 Limited Edition - As Good As It Ever Was
Pros: 10 New Features - Will Discuss in review
Inky Black Background
Wonderful Energy and Dynamics Below 500k
It is the Freaking Violectric V281
Wonderful with High Impedance Dynamics
Extremely Proficient with Lower Impedance Headphones
Extremely Flexible with Gain Options
Amp ONLY - No option for a DAC
Cons: It is the Violectric V281 - With So Much New Stuff, Does It Still Have a Place in a Sea of Amps?
Not Really Anything.
Because of Arthur at Power Holdings, I was given the opportunity to spend a few weeks with the Violectric V281 Limited Edition. Over the past couple years Arthur was getting blown up by customers looking to buy a V281. To enjoy one of the first really great amps of the early 2010's. When the hobby was just starting to really grow in popularity. Products coming out at an alarming rate, new companies, and prices climbing as fast as manufacturers could enter the space with their version of awesome. Before things really started to heat up Violectric came out with the V281, an amp that was lauded by pretty much everyone as a reference headphone amp with the ability to manage low impedance planars and high impedance dynamics with similar amounts of power. High quality components and options to add even nicer parts. When the V281 came out you could even add a DAC. So, Arthur worked with Violectric to re-create the V281 with some very nice upgrades without changing the sound of an amp that really needs no introduction.

As always, I was not paid to write this review, all thoughts and opinions are my own and the amp will be shipped back to Arthur this coming week. He sent me his own V281 because he is gracious and kind. If you haven't had the chance to work with Arthur and Power Holdings, I highly recommend you reach out. I have yet to meet someone who cares more for the industry and his customers.

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As you can see by the front of the V281 there is an important new addition. That would be the addition of a 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced connection. However, I don't have any headphones that use a pentaconn connection, so unfortunately I cannot tell you in this review if there is a difference in the sound. However, I assume the sound to be very similar to the XLR output since they are both balanced output connections. But, I cannot say this definitively.

I did use the 1/4" output, and while it sounds good, I believe the amp sounds best out of the XLR output. But, again I didn't get a chance to hear it out of the Pentaconn. While the 1/4" isn't to the same level, it still sounds great and if you only have 1/4" cables you will still enjoy great music. The manual only gives one set of power numbers, but the numbers are for XLR and Pentaconn, therefore you will get half as much wattage out of the 1/4". However, I did not notice much change in where I was with the volume pot using 1/4". The sound was a bit muddier and I noticed a hint of grain in the midrange, whereas the sound was clear as a bell through the balanced outputs. The differences weren't night and day, but noticeable. I would say percentage points and if I could only use the V281 singled ended, it wouldn't deter me. Yet, I did hear a difference and I preferred the amp balanced. As for the inputs on the back, I didn't notice a difference with RCAs or XLRs. Both sounded great as the differences were from the outputs, not the inputs in my experience. But as always, YMMV.

What Changes Were Made:
Arthur took all the feedback from the community and the litany of people asking if they could still buy a V281 and made the following changes.

  • The case will be smooth brushed black anodized aluminum (No more gray nextel coating that chips off).
  • The front plate will have Light-Edge milling (45 degree silver polished edge).
  • The feet will be silver polished aluminum.
  • The knobs will have white inlaid indicator marks (like all the new models).
  • The addition of a 4.4 Pentaconn balanced headphone connector (Along with the 4 pin XLR balanced and 6.3 unbalanced connectors).
  • A second RCA unbalanced input (Now with 2 x RCA unbalanced inputs and 1 x XLR balanced input).
  • A relay volume as standard with REED relays 128 steps (no more mechanical clicking when adjusting the volume).
  • Additional gain setting of +/- 18db (now with three gain settings +/- 6, 12, & 18 db).
  • The input voltage can be set to 115v or 230v via an internal switch (just remove the top cover to access).
  • The new style small aluminum remote control included.
So, which of these additions did I find to be useful?
1. The 128 step Reed Relay is very similar to my Corda Soul, so the sound of the volume clicking doesn't bother me. I prefer having a better volume solution and use the volume pot so that I minimize my association with any noise. I found the Volume Attenuator to be great and had no issues whatsoever with it.
2. The addition of a +/- 18 db gain gives the amp even more flexibility. However, I never used it as I was happy with the amp at 0db unless using my Final D8K Pro; at which time I would use the amp at -6db.
3. The addition of the remote control makes the amp easier to use if you are someone who likes to sit away from your chain and listen from a chair or couch.
4. What I found most useful about the new touches Arthur had Violectric add, is that now there are no extra charges. You get the amp at its best and don't have to mess with add-ons. I personally don't love add-ons. Just charge me for the whole experience and give me one price. Easier for me to understand and decide what I want.

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Here is a great picture of how the V281 LE is laid out on the back. As you can see, there is no option for a DAC. This is pure amplification, and maybe my favorite part. I have never been a huge fan of Violectric's AIO's, so just getting this amp as an amp only is something I really like. Here is one more picture highlighting the changes and a great diagram of the amp and its options. The buttons are easy to use and the amp is very straightforward. The hardest part is determining which gain settings you want to use. I found 0db to be the perfect place for me to keep the volume between 11-1 with all of my headphones with 4.5-5 vrms inputting into the V281. I didn't change the gain for the 1/4". Only for my Final D8K Pro, which is a pretty efficient headphone.

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Talking about an amp that has so much history and reviews is very difficult. What do I add that hasn't already been said? How do I discuss the sound when it has already been gone over hundreds of times since 2014, which is when I believe this amp was first introduced? So, I thought I would take a bit of a different stance.

Being someone who sees a lot of live music, and a lot of bands who will put there own spin on covers making them their own; sometimes they are faithful to the original, and sometimes they make it completely their own song. The point being that some things in life deserve to be heard, or eaten, or smelled, or seen. How we evoke our senses is the most important part of the arts. When I need a pick me up I watch Almost Famous. When I need food that makes me feel comfortable and safe I have a perfectly made pot of Poulet Pot, or Artichokes Barigoule with seared Alaskan King Salmon, or a perfectly made bowl of Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese where the caramelized cheese covers the crispy crust; it helps me to connect my senses to the context of who I am. I don't think about the fact that it is a 100 year old dish, but that it is perfectly made and makes me feel good inside. Or that the movie is now almost 25 yrs old. It still evokes the same feelings and I leave it feeling closer to my inner core.

The V281 Limited Edition fits into this same mold. It is such a good amp, it just deserves to be heard, and it deserves the chance to have some slight but important updates bringing it into the modern Hi-Fi world. The V281 is a seminal headphone amplifier in the hobby and the Limited Edition gives those just entering the hobby the chance at enjoying an amp that still stands the test of time. The sound of this amp is still incredible, regardless of how many shiny new toys have joined the fray. It gives me the same feeling of connecting me to my inner core, of providing me context in an ever increasingly confusing world. Sometimes it is just the little things that we need to stay connected. The V281 has this in spades and deserves every accolade it has enjoyed over the past 10 years. Now, even better the V281 still evokes those same feelings. A friend wrote me and said V281-Taurus-Atrium Open. Nuff Said! More on this later...

The reason I am giving the V281 LE 5 stars is because the amp is every bit as good as it always has been. It was a 5 star amp 8-10 yrs ago, and nothing has changed, just improved. I don't like to use EQ, and I mostly listen to music patched straight out of the soundboard, so I am getting exactly what the band is hearing. The sound is dynamic, punchy and life-like. I am hearing my music exactly as I want to hear it. If there is static in the recording, I can hear it. I don't love static, but if the recording has it, the V281 will present it. I always use the beginning of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb as a good barometer for an amps ability to present the little things that make something great. At the beginning you can hear David Gilmore clear his throat, and it is so alive and visceral. Immediately I heard it and I immediately got goose bumps. Good start! It is so natural and organic. I love that it was left in the recording and that you can hear them in their natural environment being themselves... Another great way to hear an amps ability to show how it handles lateral definition and depth is to listen to Pink Floyd's "On The Run" on Dark Side of the Moon. The sounds go left to right and front to back at a break neck pace that is so incredible. The V281 just nails it.

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System for Using the V281:
Matrix X2 Pure
Musician Taurus
Roon NUC10
ZMF's Galore
Final D8K Pro
HEKv2 Non-Stealth
LFF Code X

What Does the V281 Sound Like:
I have gone back and forth about how to describe the sound of an amp that so many people already know, and so many have reviewed. So, I thought I would keep this part short. Most people already know how this amp sounds. But, for those who have never heard the V281 here are some things to know.

1. The V281 has an incredibly musical tone, north of neutral that gives it a tube like quality. Timbre is holographic and also just north of neutral. Paired with more than 3 watts at 300 ohms, you get an incredible experience with high impedance dynamics. My Atrium Open sounds as good out of the V281 as it does my Eddie Current Aficionado, or any of my Dynalo Amps that have more power than any sane person needs.
2. Planars also have about 4 watts, which keeps them relevant and while I prefer my Dynalo amps with Planars, I could happily live with the V281 and not feel like I was missing anything.
3. The bass is incredibly dynamic and punchy. It isn't over done, but can at times present a lot of energy below 500k which with the right recording is blissful. A lot of times I would not love this elevation, but the V281 renders it so tastefully that you never get any bleeding or slowing of the pace of the music. It just gives it weight and opens up the pocket leading you into the midrange.
4. The Midrange is my favorite part of the V281. It isn't even close. There is just so much information, and so much grit and weight set by the basses pocket that the instruments just float through the music and hit your senses from all angles and the midband opens up like a beautiful Lilly in the spring. That juxtaposition of physicality and subtlety is what makes the midrange so enticing. You can almost smell the concert hall, feel the energy of the crowd, or the energy between the musicians in the recording studio. Guitars especially benefit from that slight timbral tube like quality that makes them sound searing, and soaring. Especially when the guitar player goes into a blissful tone and floats above the beautiful pocket and melody.
5. The treble is subtle and wonderful. Cymbals sound prominent with a perfect lift around 6-8k giving the amp a beautiful shimmer to keep it from sounding dark or bass and midrange heavy. Again, Pink Floyd's "Time" is a perfect example as the sounds of the clocks don't make me wince, but make me shake with energy.

I used the V281 with two different DACs. The Matrix X2 Pure, which is my reference DAC, and the Musician Audio Taurus. Their new flagship R2R DAC. I had two different experiences, yet both were amazing with the V281.

X2 Pure with V281 LE:
The X2 Pure is an incredibly well designed DAC, with 2, 9039Pro Chips, which essentially means that it is using 32 channels per side, in dual mono. The 9038Pro and 9039Pro are essentially two of the 9018 in one. Their ability to engineer this DAC is amazing and the sound is extremely clean and pure. Per the name, the DAC focuses on Micro properties and allows the music to shine. Everything is there, and everything is balanced and musical. Coupled with the V281 the sound is just about perfect. The X2 Pure and V281 combo is fast with the perfect combination of pure musical conversion with the timbral and tonal accents of the V281. It is similar to matching it with a fast and clear tube amp. I loved this combo and would highly recommend anyone who gets a V281 to use a DAC that is extremely pure sounding. But stay away from DACs that are compressed and have that bright plastic sound that so many can have. The ESS chipset must be properly implemented to get the most out of that type of DAC. When that occurs, the combo with the V281 is magical. There is a difference between Pure and that analytical DAC that has detail and resolution, but lacks that "something" that makes music click. There are many of these DACs on the market, and some are lauded for their insanely good measurements. Listen before you decide. Always listen and then use a graph if you aren't sure what you are hearing. Trust your ears above all else and remember that your first impression won't always hold up. Give it time to settle in and for you to learn the Amp and DACs secrets. They will reveal themselves when you are listening. A graph can't tell you how something is going to pair, or whether or not synergy works. The X2 Pure is a perfect companion, and not because of its SNR or THD, but because of how smartly it is engineered and how well its balance, speed, and micro properties pair with the V281. There is no way to explain this other than to hear it. And the Element X2 will not be the same. It has one less chip, a different transformer, and the addition of a headphone amp. Take away all of that and add better power, with all 4 stages electrically isolated with linear power and you have a completely different musical experience. Trust your ears!

Musician Taurus with V281 LE:
The Taurus and V281 is a totally different experience. But, by no means worse. Just different. The Taurus is weighty, and has incredible macro properties with a huge soundstage, and the ability to pick up all macro details and give you a natural and organic sound. You would think that it might be too much of a good thing with the V281, but it isn't. It pairs beautifully as the Taurus is not a warm DAC. Most will say that R2Rs can be a bit warm, but when they are properly designed, they are not warm, they are detailed and resolving with an incredible ability to capture everything happening in the extremities of the music. Listening to a live Phish show from 9.4.21 at Dick's in Denver, I can hear every sound in the recording. They mixed in the perfect amount of audience, and during the moments when things peak, or quiet down you can hear just the perfect amount of the crowd. Something that the X2 Pure doesn't focus on nearly as well as the Taurus. The Taurus is by far the best R2R I have had in my system and the sound is beguiling. You would think it should sound a certain way, but it doesn't. It is fast, it is nimble, subtle, and possesses incredible musical attributes that make connecting to your music a breeze. Plus, the macro properties of this DAC must be heard. Again, trust your ears as I am sure many DACs will measure better. But that doesn't mean this DAC is a waste of your time. In fact, the exact opposite. It is a pure music making machine.

Back to that Phish show after a small deter....

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Listening to their version of Trey's song "Everything's Right" is a picture of perfection with the ZMF Atrium, Taurus and V281. The sound is powerful, dynamic, and big. Just like being at the concert. As they weave through 25 minutes of jamming, the Taurus and V281 keep up with all of the changes, from the polyrhythmic drumming, to the piano and hammond organ, and especially Trey's guitar moving in and out. The slight sounds of people in the crowd grooving, approving and bringing you closer to the experience is really a passionate place to be.

Just like with all live music, image specificity is very important. Getting the right amount of air and being able to hear the space between the notes is the difference between a good and great musical experience. Both DACs excel at providing a solid image, space between the notes and allow the V281 to what it does best. Amplify that signal to my headphone of choice for a truly exceptional listening session. I felt the same way listening to Goose, The Allman Bros., Tedeschi and Trucks, Railroad Earth, and Xavier Rudd. As always, I listen to Beck's Morning Phase, which is maybe my favorite studio album. I also listened to Bruce Springsteen's: Songs on Keys for some intimate time with Bruce and his piano. This is where I pulled out my Code X, which has the sweetest tone and just excels at imaging and evoking all the emotions of my favorite music when paired to a great chain. Whether the DAC, the V281 and the headphone I used gave me goosebumps time and time again.

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While I could keep writing and writing, I think you get the point. The V281 LE is a fantastic amp that falls into the same camp as great songs like Velvet Underground's "Rock n Roll", or a perfectly braised artichoke. It might not be new, but it deserves to be heard and enjoyed. I highly recommend the Violectric V281 Limited Edition. If you enjoy music, then you owe it to yourself to hear this amp and to enjoy your music even more. After all, we are all at our best when we are engaging our senses and bringing out the best of our favorite music. Which is the whole point of this hobby. Thank you, Arthur for allowing me to spend time with this incredibly well made and extremely fun amp. I am going to keep listening until I have to box it up and ship it home. 2 Big Thumbs Up!
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Geoff is gear lust enabler.
I can speak from personal experience that that’s true!!
Great review! Listening to Tame Impala on mine with the HE1000 Stealth as I read it, and I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said.


Reviewer at Sound Perfection Reviews
Formerly affiliated with HiFi Headphones
Pros: Power, Resolution, Natural sound, transparency
Cons: Looks a bit industrial (not really a con)
Firstly I would like to thank Violectic USA for sorting out a loan unit for me to review.

*disclaimer: This sample was provided on loan for the purpose of writing a review, no incentive was given to write a favourable review. All opinions expressed are my own subjective findings.

Gear Used: HP Laptop / Audio Opus #2 > JDS Labs EL DAC > HPA V281 > HiFiMan Susvara / HE-6, German Maestro GMP400 and Grado SR60e Wood cups.


Tech Specs:
MSRP: $2,349.95 (basic version without DAC or upgraded volume pot)

Packaging, Build Quality and Accessories:
Well the HPA-V281 comes in quite a boring card box; it is very well packaged though and well protected during shipping. The box really isn’t anything special here but I really don’t mind as the money has gone into designing an incredible amp and not on luxurious extras.

The build quality is quintessentially German, very robust and definitely substance over style. It is an industrial looking amp that feels like it will survive forever. A hefty all metal build, with excellent quality sockets and a stepped volume knob finishes off this excellent amplifier. Nothing on it feels like a second thought, or feels cheap, everything has weight to it. No issues at all with the build quality here, but the looks may divide opinion.

Accessory wise all you get is a power lead, nothing else. Again this is a high end amplifier so I am guessing you already have interconnects for this amp.


The V281 is fully balanced with XLR input and a 4-pin XLR headphone output, along with 2 6.3mm single ended outputs. This version is the amp only version but it can be ordered with a DAC module too, along with upgraded volume pots.
There are multiple inputs which you select with a button on the front panel; there is a Mute button and a Head button which allows you to toggle between headphone amp and pre-amp for other devices. On the top right you have a balance knob, which is sure to help those with imbalanced hearing.
There is a pair of XLR and RCA outputs for using the V281 as a pre-amp, and some gain DIP switches (-12, -6, 0, +6, +12).
Feature packed and easy to use, I found myself using it with the gain set at 0dB.


This amp is actually very hard to sum up as it does what it is built to do. You get what it says on the tin, it amplifies the signal with minimal change to my ears, it does not have an upfront and aggressive sound, yet it isn’t soft and laid back. I would say there is the smallest hint of smoothness to it however this really is only slight.

What is most impressive is the driving power on tap; this thing can drive any dynamic and planar headphone out there in my opinion. Testing with the Susvara I only had it on 0dB gain and it powers them with ease. Controlling the large diaphragm and recreating a very wide and effortless sound. You cannot tune the sound like you can with a tube amp, but you get the assurance that you are pretty much getting all you can out of a set of headphones.

Equally at home driving easier to drive headphones, Grados have never sounded better due to the low output impedance not messing with the sound like a tube amp can.
I am very impressed with this amp, it may not have the features of the iFi Audio Pro iCan, but it is simple sturdy and has insane amounts of power on tap for all headphones out there.


As I said, it is very hard to sum this amp up, as unfortunately I don’t have any high end amps on hand to compare it to. It just does what it sets out to do with excellent results, detailed, airy yet smooth without any artificial tone to it. Everything you put into this amp comes out with a natural tonality and superb layering, nothing sounds strained or grainy.

Conclusion: This is one of those products that gets out of the way and lets you enjoy the music, it doesn’t throw details at you, and yet it doesn’t veil them either. It is superbly transparent, with a smooth and natural delivery. This amp can power any headphone you throw at it and bring out the best in them without the hassle of having to try and find synergistic tube combinations.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy tubes for tuning the sound, however the V281 just works and is natural and neutral allowing you to hear the tone of your headphones and not the amp.

Sound Perfection Rating: 10/10 (A true TOTL amp, natural sound and powerful output)



100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Power, Versatility, Transparency
Cons: None yet
After listening to my V281 for a few months with a variety of different headphones and reading the V281 thread, I decided to write a review of the V281’s versatility. Several Headfi members wanted to know how the V281 sounds with a certain headphone, if it has enough power for headphones like the HE-6, or if it’s overkill for headphones like the LCD-X.  I will do my best to answer those questions. First I will fill you in on how I decided to use the V281 as my reference amp.
Over the years I’ve upgraded, downgraded, and sidegraded my headphone gear. (See my profile for a list) I still enjoy/enjoyed the other amp/dacs that I’ve had in the past but I’ve always craved more, I wanted an end-game one and done setup. I started reading every review I could find on amps and DACs. As for the DACs the Schiit Yggdrasil seemed like an obvious choice but it wasn’t out yet and seemed over hyped. I also didn’t want to leave it on 24/7 which seems to give the Yggy the best results. Instead I went for the PS Audio DirectStream DAC. The difference after a short burn-in was night and day over all of my other DACs, as it should be based on price. To say a veil was lifted is an understatement. As for the amps I wanted a versatile solid state that would play well with all of my current and future headphones. (I have 3 and 5 y.o. kids so no tube amps for a while.) I auditioned the Bryston BHA-1, HiFiman EF-6, Schiit Ragnarok, Cavallia Liquid Crimson and the Violectric V281. In a perfect world the DAC and Amp should be totally transparent letting you hear the music as it was recorded. Having said that, I personally like a little warmth to my music. I chose the V281 because it gave me better transparency, power, and a slight tube like warmth when compared to the competition. With all of my headphones, with the exception of the HE-6 and sometimes the HE-560, I kept the pre gain at 0db. Most of my headphone can get crazy loud at   -6db but there is pitch black background at 0db so I just keep it there for my constant headphone swapping.
MacMini using iTunes/BitPerfect ->Cardas Clear USB->PS Audio DirectStram DAC->Bellatone Reference Series XLRs-> Violectric V-281 using stock (or my DIY) 4 pin XLR cables to the headphones. Mac, DAC, and Amp plugged into PS Audio Dectet Power Center. All music was lossless. I used albums I’ve heard over and over with a range of genres. I will list all of the artist at the end. I just wanted to focus on the V281 so I decided to only use the PS Audio DAC for my testing due to its transparency.
Unless you are using the exact source and DAC there will be different input levels being amplified. The DirectStream DAC I used outputs 2.81 Vrms (+8dBV)/5.3 Vrms (+12dBV) if its set to MAX. If I set the DAC to Low I would probably have to keep the V281 on +6 to +12db. With other DAC's I've used if I have the V281 at the below levels my ears would bleed so YMMV. The only reason I posted the db and volume setting was strictly to compare the different volume levels vs the other headphones on my setup. Keep in mind I listen to my headphones at a rather high volume. It's also to give you guys an idea how much power is needed vs headphones you may already own or at thinking about buying.
Here are the Headphones I tested in alphabetical order.
AUDEZE LCD-2.2 pre-fazor
AUDIOQUEST Nighthawk (Missed the photo shoot due to the late arrival.)
HiFiMAN HE-560
HiFiMAN HE-1000
MrSpeakers Alpha Prime
MrSpeakers ETHER
AUDEZE LCD-2.2 pre fazor
With the V281 set to 0db and Volume at 2 to 3 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
The LCD 2.2s where my first good set of headphones, the fuel to my headphone addiction. Simply put the 2.2’s are fantastic on the V281. The mids/vocals sound better than any other amp I’ve hear them on, putting them very close to the sound of the LCD-3’s. I’m going to sound like a broken record with this amp but the soundstage widens, separation, and clarity are noticeably better. One of the things I like about the 2.2 is the Bass and Mid-bass. On some amps it can get a tad bloated with some spill-over into the mids. The V281 hits hard and fast but keeps everything reined in. The Bass on The Piano Guys - Cello Wars made my ears tickle. A fun song with fun headphones that made me smile. That’s what it’s all about!
With the V281 set to 0db and Volume at 2 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
I loved my LCD-3’s but sold them after I bought the LCD-X’s. The LCD-X edged them out ever so slightly for my taste in music. I want to thank Ray Samuels for letting me use his. The first song I tried was Fiona Apple’s - O’Sailer. The Bass was “holy crap” strong in a good way. Even better, the vocals. The Lushness of her voice made me regret selling the LCD-3’s in the first place. The LCD-2.2 and 3 love the power the V281 has on tap. I feel the reason the amp never strains with the 3’s helps the soundstage adding a tad more size. The treble is pretty much on par with the other higher end amps I’ve heard the 3’s with. The treble laid back, never fatiguing. The V281 pretty much leaves the treble alone on the Audezes. The warm tilt to the V281 accentuates the dark Audeze sound I like, so if you like the Audeze house sound you will love the V281 pairing.
With the V281 set to 0db and Volume at 10 to 11 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
As I already mentioned, I replaced my LCD-3 with these. The LCD-X has a better balance than the LCD-3’s. The soundstage and separation on songs like Coldplay’s Don’t Panic Make the LCD-X stand out. The bass on the LCD-x is fast and tight. Try NIN The Fragile – Somewhat damaged and you’ll see what I mean. Do you need the power of the V281 to drive the LCD-X? I’ve seen that question more than once on Head-fi. The answer is NO, not even close. You can buy a less powerful amp but it’s unlikely to sound as good as the V281. If you own headphones in this price range the odds are you have or will have more than one pair. A lot of high current headphone amps will have some audible hiss on a sensitive headphone, not the V281. I love this pairing! Think of the V281 like a Bugatti, you may never use the 1000 hp but the rest of the car is better, performance wise, than the car that only has the power you need. I’m trying to decide what my favorite headphone is on the V281 LCD-X or the HE-1000……Such decisions are tough, guess I’ll have to keep listening!
With the V281 set to 0db and the Volume at 10 to 11 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
The Nighthawks, due to their recent release, have the least amount of ear time compared to the rest of the headphones tested. With the newness of the Nighthawks I will talk about the pairing with the V281 but I can’t relate to how it sounds vs other amps. I will however integrate a mini review of the Nighthawks. I burned them in for 150 hours with the balanced cables per the manufactures recommendations. The real world sensitivity of the Nighthawks is close to the LCD-X, they both sound moderately loud on my iPhone 6+. That puts these in the “they don’t need the power the V281 has” category. The first thing I noticed about the Nighthawks was the warmth. I just came off of an extended listening session with the LCD-X and Nighthawks made the LCD-X seem super bright. The V281 has a slight tube like warmth to start, the Nighthawks are a warm sounding headphone. The touch of warmth helps the HD800 but I don’t think the Nighthawks need added warmth. The Nighthawks paired with the V281 sound really good, much better than the abundance of warmth and claustrophobia the more expensive Denons have. I would put the Nighthawks in the same class as the HE-560 but polar opposites as far as sound signature. For a $599 headphone nothing can touch these including, in my opinion, the closed back EL-8. (I’ve auditioned the open-back and was supposed to test one but they never arrived.) The Nighthawk is very comfortable headphone with a very nice suspension system for sizing. I would like to thank Skylar for sending me these headphone and the balanced cable to try. I really wanted to put these up against the Audeze open-back EL-8’s but that will be a different review. (On a side note, a friend of mine who knows nothing about all of these headphones but put a lot of time listening, picked the Nighthawks and LCD-X as his favorites.)
With the V281 set to 0db and Volume at 10 to 11 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
“The Denon AH-D7100! What the heck did he test these for?” Back in the day, when these were released, my buddy worked for Denon. He got me a pair and I still have them. The Denons and the Alpha Primes are the only closed-backs tested. The good news is they are REALLY comfortable on my head. The bad news, they make me think I’m listening to a high end pair of Beats.  They are so damn dark that everything has bass, they are claustrophobic, and sound very unnatural. But hey, if you love Hip Hop, the D7100 and the V281 make Ludacris – Chicken and Beer sound pretty damn good. Actually NIN -Pretty Hate Machine sounds damn good too! It reminds me of the 90’s when I had 2 MTX Terminator 15” subs in the entire back seats of my Camaro!!
With the V281 set to +12db and Volume at 1 to 2 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
“Does the V281 have enough power to drive the HE-6?” I’ve seen this question many times. The simple answer is YES. Grabbing the HE-6 is the only time I have to turn the V281 off, move the L and R gain switches to +12, and turn the amp back on. Takes 10 seconds not a big deal. I have the habit of turning the volume down anytime I switch headphones. A good idea if you forget your going from the HE-6 at +12 and plugging in the LCD-X. I enjoy the HE-6 but they don’t get as much ear time as they used to. I’ve heard the HE-6 on speaker amps and on headphone amps like the Dark Star and Ragnarok. The speaker amps have too much background noise for critical listening. The Dark Star and Rag have the power and sound fantastic with the HE-6. If you only ever own the HE-6, which is unlikely, The Dark Star or Rag would be great choices. The V281 has both the power and quiet background to make the HE-6 sound great. The HE-6 is more neutral than most of the headphones here but the warm tilt of the V281 gives them a sound more to my liking. This pairing just proves the V281’s versatility.
HiFiMAN HE-560
With the V281 set to 0db and the Volume at 4-5 o’clock (close to max volume) or 1-2 o’clock at +6db, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise. This is the only other headphone of the group, along with the HE-6, where I took the amp off of 0db.
 I like the HE-560, especially at its price point. In my opinion the HE-560 shares a lot of the same sound characteristics as the Sennheiser HD 800. It should go without saying then that the HE-560 has awesome detail and soundstage, however with several amps, the HE-560 is a tad bright for me with weak low end punch. The HE-560 is also a demanding headphone power wise to make the HE-560 shine. The V281 with its transparency, power, and slight tube like warmth makes this a perfect pairing for me. It give an extremely detailed wide open sound. The bass is fast and accurate. The treble is bright but not overly so or fatiguing. The HE-560 loves the power of the V281 and turns a headphone I didn’t use that often into one that I really enjoy.
HiFiMAN HE-1000
With the V281 set to 0db and Volume at 2-3 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
The HE-1000 is a headphone I picked up from RazorDog Audio as soon as they were released. They are easy to drive as far as HiFiman headphones go but you won’t be using them with your iPhone. The V281 drives them with ease at 0db gain. The HE-1000 and the LCD-X are my favorite on the V281 and most other amps as well. The HE-1000 bass on the V281 is fantastic! Mids are just good and there is just the right amount of treble. Soundstage is also top notch. I would be happy with the V281 paired with the HE-1000 and sell the rest but the LCD-X has more detail and crispness. Compared to the LCD-X and LCD-3 the HE-1000 sounds a tad artificial because of how well they flow through the frequency changes. I think because of this the separation is not a good as the LCD-X. It’s a unique sound that I like but I also like the LDC-X with the crispness. That’s what is great about this hobby mixing things up. The HE-1000 with the V281 is a great “get lost in the music” combo and if you crank it up the HE-1000s slam!
MrSpeakers ETHER
With the V281 set to 0db and Volume at 12 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise. 
The ETHER is MrSpeakers new flagship. Dan and his team spent 2 years in the making of this open-backed Planar Headphone. The first thing you notice when you put these on is the comfort and lack of weight 370 grams. They feel like the HE-560’s on my head but with better ear pads. The second thing you notice out of the V281 is the very wide Soundstage with a natural crisp, clean sound. I found the vocals forward and crystal clear. The bass is fast with good impact, no spill-over or bloat. Mid-bass is controlled and not as pronounced as the Audeze’s so the ETHER’s don’t sound dark. The closest headphone for comparison would be the HD800 only the ETHER has less fatiguing treble and better bass. The only issue I’ve had with the headphones is finding the sweet spot on my head to get a proper seal. Without it, like with all planars, you lose all of the bass. The MrSpeakers ETHER pair with the V281 is a winner and this combo continues to grow on me. Time to sell the HD800’s.
MrSpeakers Alpha Primes
With the V281 set to 0db and Volume at 1 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
The Alpha Primes were the Flagship headphones for MrSpeakers until the ETHER was born. They still are a fantastic closed-back headphone that takes the Fostex T50 driver to its limits. I’ve enjoyed listening to these with but the V281 really opens these up. Sometimes I find myself reaching up double checking to see if I still have closed-backs on. I never did that with any of my other amps. I love the bass on the Primes. The V281 makes them pound, so do my other amps, but the bass is faster and more controlled with the V281. Vocals are a tad more forward, my preference, than I’m used to with the Primes. There is a noticeable improvement with separation which is a reoccurring theme with the V281.
With the V281 set to 0db and Volume at 10 to 11 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
The HD800s and I have always had a love hate relationship. The first time I hear them was in Ray Samuels shop on his Emmeline II B-52 which is a $5000 tube amp/pre amp. They sounded fantastic! I love how they feel on the head and how they sound with the right song and setup. The hate comes anytime I hear them on a solid state amp. The brightness makes me squint at times and they are very fatiguing. I was hoping the V281 with its slight tube like warmth would be a perfect match. The truth is the V281 helps take the edge off but it’s not enough to make me want to listen to the HD800 for an extended amount of time. For me a tube amp is the only way I can enjoy the HD800. With that being said, if you have a HD800 and love how they sound on a SS amp the V281 will be a great pairing. You will hear every detail of every recording. It will give the HD800 the warmth it needs and your ears won’t bleed from the brightness. To sum up the pairing, if you love your HD800 on a SS amp you will love it even more on the V281.
To me an amplifiers job is pretty straight forward, take the incoming information and amplify it with total transparency.  The problem is most amplifiers change the information. Some amps change the equalization, add distortion, background noise, or just don’t have to power bring out your headphones potential. The V281 is the most versatile and capable amp I’ve used. It’s now my reference amp and will be for a long time. The V281 paired with a good DAC will let you hear what you’re supposed to hear out of any headphone or earphone you can throw at it. (Except electrostatics)  To answer the questions in the intro. It can handle the HE-6 with ease and is overkill power wise for the LCD-X and most other headphones for that matter but the sound quality is unmatched at this price point. It’s a good feeling to know that if a new flagship headphone comes out the V281 will bring out its best. I am so impressed with the V281 that I will buy their new V850 DAC as soon as it’s released to pair up with this Beast. The Lake People did their homework and knocked one out of the park with the V281. If you are in the US and have any questions call Arthur. He runs the show for Violectric in the states. Thanks for reading!!
Violectric has a site wide 15% off sale going! The sale is ending September 22.
Radiohead - Amnesiac
Bjork - Bastards
Donald Runnicles - Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Beethoven: Symphony #9
Ludacris – Chicken & Beer
Depeche Mode – Delta Machine
Fiona Apple – Extraordinary Machine
Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks & Pretty Hate Machine: 2010 Remaster
The Piano Guys – The Piano Guys
Mezzanine – Massive Attack
Henryk Gorecki – Symphony No.3
Coldplay - Parachutes
Excellent review. I'm getting a V281 today and will be pairing it up with the NightHawks and the classic LCD-3. Glad to see that these HP's should sound good with the V281.
Thanks for the great review and details
I got the V281 and also V850 Vio Dac. I am waiting for my balanced cable for HD800. For me HD800 is a winner. I have not heard extensive gear like you but had K712, LCD 2/f, AKG k3003i and have X2, Focal Elear, HD800 and AKG K812. Once I got HD800 then I know I found my dream. I have had Bursoon conductor wilth 9018 DAc and have mojo and Luxman P-200 (nice laid back sound with HD800)
I noted that you have sold Schiit Mjolnir and Bryston BHA-1. These were two amps I was considering to get for my HD800 but decided otherwise (never heard them of course). V281 was decided only looking at the voltage and wattage it has from 16ohom to over 600ohms and I have not seen anything like it on paper and my interpretation was that on paper Schitt products loose its might at 600ohm-700ohms required to drive HD800 to give enough to show its strength in base slam..
Could you kindly provide your impression of HD800 paired with Schiit Mjolnir and Bryston BHA-1 and V281 in balanced mode
Thanks in advance
Got a used V281 4-5 weeks ago w/the 128-step remote controlled pot. Borrowed a balanced cable & finally heard balanced for the 1st time on my ZMF Omni/Ori (so fine!).
This review is excellent--detailed, comprehensive, very informative. It's one of the best reviews I've seen of the V281. I especially appreciate the efort you spend addressing input voltage variations, DAC-to-DAC (people forget this & lay everything on the amp, as if it was the only electrical component in the chain).
I never heard most of the headphones you mention here, but find myself agreeing with everything you say about this rock-solid, unfazable amp/preamp (and it is a spectacular preamp as well as HP amp). IMO the V281 is a revelation of just how good solid state can get. It will take me quite awhile to fully understand what V281. This week I'll hear the new ZMF flagship HP, the Eikon, on it. Is there any headphone anywhere that wouldn't shine on the V281?


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