Headroom Airhead = Big Disappointment
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crymsonsunset

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Perhaps I was expecting too much.

I received my Headroom Airhead (HAh) headphone amp today. Excited, I opened up the package, loaded the HAh with fresh batteries, connected it to the line-out of my Panasonic SL-SX510 and selected Dream Theater's Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence Disc 2 for my first listening test.

Then came the hurt. Well, not really hurt, but disappointment. Extreme disappointment. I thought the purpose of a headphone amp was clarity, detail, drive. I got distortion.

FWIW, I'm using the new 4.5V version of the HAh. Now don't get me wrong, fantastic sounding the headphone jack on the SL-SX510 is not. Still, it can drive the Sony earbuds to reasonable volumes without much distortion. Sure, it distorts like a mofo on crack when you get too wild with the volume knob, but even with some of the loudest program material (just about any Dream Theater album) you can usually turn it up to around 8, and the good ol' 510 might make your ears ring after a while with a pair of earbuds. (NOTE: I'm not hear to debate what is or isn't healthy for your hearing. I'm well aware that excessive volume levels can cause hearing loss.)

What I was expecting from the HAh: Something that would rival the sound I can get by plugging in any pair of headphones I own to the headphone jack on my Yamaha RX-V995 A/V Receiver. High volume with lots of clarity - that is what I desire. I figured that if the headphone out of a $125 PCDP (That's what I paid for the 510 if memory serves) can be generally mediocre and occasionally better than mediocre, then a $120 amp devoted *solely* to driving headphones ought to be insanely good compared to what the 510 could offer. After all, I reasoned, a lot of what I spent on the 510 must have gone towards whatever componentry was required to for a CDP leaving the built-in headphone amp an afterthought at best. This logic is severely flawed, apparently.

Not only does the Panasonic SL-SX510 built-in headphone amp perform far better to my ears driving earbuds, it drove my Grado SR-60s and Koss KSC-35s to higher levels and sounded cleaner than the HAh, even at similar levels.

At low volumes, the HAh performs similarly to most PCDP headphone amps that I've heard. It's hard to be completely objective when it comes to small detail, but some music seemed to have a bit more warmth and the treble was smooth. As I increased the volume, there was audible static and the output quickly became horribly distorted.

I could only achieve any kind of acceptable sound at low volume, and so I tested the "image processor" at a low volume, switching it on and off often to compare the effects.

Excerpts from the HAh manual on what the processor does:

"When listening to speakers, you hear both the left and the right signals in both ears. Not so with headphones- when you stick a pair of speakers directly to your ears (i.e., headphones), you lose the spatial/acoustic cues your mind needs to locate sounds in space.

"Despite this lack of acoustic data, your mind attempts to laterally locate sounds. The result is a troubling blobs-in-the-head sonic image. Your brain ends up frustrated and fatigued.

"The audio image processor solves this problem. Analog filters are used to take an attenuated signal from each ear, slightly delay it (about 300 ms), and feed it to the opposite ear. This is the acoustic information your mind needs to create a believable audio image in your head. This added information eases the burdin on your brain by spreading out the clumped image in your head. Ahh, sweet relief."

Does it work? Yes and no. The processor didn't make me believe that the music was coming from in front of me, but there seemed to be less separation between the left and right channels. It tended to accentuate the midbass and midrange a bit while the treble seemed to lose some sharpness. I found the resulting sound to seem like it was confined to smaller space, not spread across a larger one. Even so, the effect wasn't necessarily displeasing or bad, just different. I had difficulty deciding which really sounded better to me as there were aspects of each the processed and non-processed sound that I thought were good and bad. All things considered, the image processor is nice to play with, but not anything particularly spectacular. And it certainly can't compensate for all of the product's other shortcomings.

I'm so extremely let down. I'm packing up the HAh for return tonight. What a complete piece of junk and waste of money. What gives? Is there any way to get the kind of sound I desire in a portable package? What do you think? What are your experiences with the Headroom Airhead?
 
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Nezer

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Somethings not right, perhaps your source is too hot for the op-amp. Try using line-level out or turn down the volume if using a headphone jack.

You might also have a defective unit... My TAH is pretty darned good and doesn't distort at all from my PJB's headphone jack when cranked to full.
 
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DeanA

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Since Headroom did not get where they are today by selling products that are "... a complete piece of junk and waste of money", I'm guessing it may be a defective unit, assuming Nezer suggestion doesn't work. I have the TAH 4.5 and it has served me very well for months.
 
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crymsonsunset

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Nezer: I'm using the line-out from the Pana SL-SX510, not the headphone jack.

Do you know if your unit is the older 9V?

I'm beginning to think that's what I should have gone for, but I don't *really* know if that would make any difference at all. Strangely enough, all references to the 9V version seem to have been removed from the Headroom site, though there was information about it available late last week...
 
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Eagle_Driver

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Nezer, DeanA: The original poster reviewed the plain Airhead, not the Total Airhead.
 
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crymsonsunset

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Quote:

Originally posted by DeanA
Since Headroom did not get where they are today by selling products that are "... a complete piece of junk and waste of money", I'm guessing it may be a defective unit, assuming Nezer suggestion doesn't work. I have the TAH 4.5 and it has served me very well for months.


Certainly didn't mean to offend anyone. Everything I wrote reflects only my opinions, and opinions are subjective. If it is working for you that is all that matters.

I suppose it is possible I got a defective unit, I will check into that. There are others though who have seemed to have the same problems as me - such as the static.

I'm curious - do you listen to your headphones pretty loud? Does your TAh distort when you crank it?

One other note: I didn't get the Total Airhead, it's just the plain vanilla Airhead. I know there are some differences in quality, but I didn't think the extra cost for the T would be worth it since the most expensive pair of headphones I own is a pair of Grado SR-60s at this time.
 
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jpelg

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Quote:

Originally posted by crymsonsunset
What are your experiences with the Headroom Airhead?


Well, it's not secret here what my feelings about the new Airheads are. But rather than dredge that up, you can do a search on a few of the threads that involve this subject.

But a few points:

1. The volume pot "audible static" is well documented at this point. Again, do a search and dig up the not-so-old threads.

2. I found that the crossfeed filter on both my old 3V Airhead, and the new 4.5V Total Airhead, had a negliglble effect on my Koss SportaPros (same driver as the KSC35's), and my AKG 501's too. Very dissappointing. But with my Sennheiser 580's, it was like night and day. WOW! It seems almost like HR used the Senn's to design their crossfeed, or something.

3, It is possible you have a defective unit anyway. I returned my 4.5V TA for the same reasons and more. You don't need to defend your opinions or your decisions to anyone.
 
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Ken

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you need to calm down a bit. Crossfeed will take some getting used to . I felt like you did the fist time i heard it , but I just listened to it a while while it wasnt as exciting as wide sound stage I now prefere crossfeed .
As others have said you may have too much input volume for the TAH
 
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jlo mein

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hmmm....i was think of purchasing an airhead or TA soon....now im not so sure.

I'm starting to heavily look in the direction of the porta corda.
 
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Ken

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Every one should calm down Airhead is market leader and there is something amiss here , it just maybe the fact that the crymsonsunset is new.
 
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crymsonsunset

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I don't think anyone is overly excited... if the slightly sarcastic tone of my initial post made it seem that way I apologize. I didn't want to start a war.


Ken - It's true I'm new to this board, but I'm not new to audio in general, just portable/personal audio.

The opinions I posted may go a little against the grain here, but I expressed them honestly.

I'm going to take the suggestions I received and see if I can get a unit for exchange. I'll post the results here when/if I can get another unit to evaluate. It is certainly possible that there is something wrong with the particular unit I received, I'm not ruling that out just yet. In fact, I hope that's the case.

One last thing: I opened my review by suggesting that perhaps I was just expecting too much. I then went on to say that I was looking for something comparable in SQ and output level to the headphone out on my Yamaha RX-V995. I'm asking this completely sincerely (really!): Am I just expecting too much?

Good listening!

 
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Ken

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I have purchased a lot of equipment in the last few months and I know that when a lot of new things are happening , alot of times what you expect does not seem to happen. The Total Air Head is market leader , as for its sound being the best on the market it comes down to hair splitting and personal preferences.
If the unit is faulty headroom for fix that.
I just feel that time fixes alot of things. Things settle down . I remember when I have first heard a new amp , well not always does it sound good right away. Then after a while it slowly hits you what you had been missing before.
The total airhead should be louder than out of your player. But I hope you are looking for a quality sound not just volume.
With the cross feed just listen to it for a couple of days , dont think about it . Then after a couple of days you may or may not like it. I liked it enough to hard wire it so I can never turn it off on my homemade amp.
Good listening.
 
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jpelg

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Quote:

Every one should calm down Airhead is market leader and there is something amiss here , it just maybe the fact that the crymsonsunset is new.


Methinks the lady doth protest too much. BTW, it is not hard to be a market leader when you are the only full-time game in the town of portable headphone amps
.

Quote:

Am I just expecting too much?


Unfortunately, the answer maybe 'yes'. I had such expectations and was equally disappointed with even the more expensive TA. I personally think that for $120 or $200, the Airhead/TA's are not worth the price. I have not heard, nor seen the Dutch/German PortaCorda from Jan Meier, so I cannot comment on that. But most posters here who have compared all three, prefer the PortaCorda. But keep in mind that is in relationship to each other, not compared to all amps as a collective group.

A home amp such as the Creek OBH-11, or the HR Little, for at about the same price as the TA, are MUCH better products. If you plan on using your amp at home more often, then look at amps like these. If you must go portable, then try to find an older 3V Airhead used at a good price. Or contact one of the DIYers here to make you one. They are usually less expensive than the new Airheads and certainly cannot be any worse (more likely much better).

Any don't worry about the "wagon-circler's". They come out whenever someone has a critical thing to say about an HR product. Just 'listen' to your own ears and gut, as far as what is right for you and your wallet.
 
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jedai

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Hi crymsonsunset, could you try the CDP's headphone jack to feed Airhead instead of the line-out? I am suspecting that the under-used line-out connection might be faulty. My Panasonic CDP had poor connection on line-out that caused static and horrible sound when connected to a headphone amp. Just to see whether your line-out is healthy. When connecting the Airhead to CDP's headphone out, set the CDP's volume to about 7.
 
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Ken

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Quote:

Any don't worry about the "wagon-circler's". They come out whenever someone has a critical thing to say about an HR product. Just 'listen' to your own ears and gut, as far as what is right for you and your wallet.


We wagon Circlers just want to remind you that Headroom offer a unequalled refund policy for U.S customers who are not happy.


Within 30 days I think
 
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