Naim Headline Clone
Sep 16, 2021 at 2:10 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 26

arpinnurmela

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A Naim Headline clone can be purchased from multiple sellers on AliExpress. Prices can be under $150 shipped for a Naim Headline clone in which all parts are in a single chassis. Prices can be upwards of $550 shipped for a Headline clone that duplicates the Naim look and feel and two chassis design. This review is for a single chassis 110V Headline clone I purchased from FunKenya World Store for $153 shipped.

Desparate Times​

I'm a very happy owner of the Verum One. I was initially powering the Verum One using a Schiit Hel. After hearing the engagement factor jump quite a bit on my brother's Schiit Asgard 3, I knew that I needed to upgrade my headphone amplifier. After some careful listening, I felt that despite The Ass having notably better engagement and life over the Hel, that The Ass was not substantially hitting harder on the Verum One.

I've been an audiophool for a very long time and used to sell hifi part-time for the discount. So like many audiophools, I have certain rules that I play the game with so that I don't go too crazy and spend too much time on the vast product diversity that exists. One of my many rules for solid state amplifiers is the "toroid rule" which simply means to try and always buy solid state with toroidal power supplies. While selling hifi I would often A/B toroid vs EI core receivers, amps, and digital players for customers and other sales associates who wanted to play the game. On blind listening, people would always prefer toroid powered device over the non. At one point it got really silly when Best Buy was selling an Insignia Chinese imported stereo receiver that had a toroidal power supply. I'd run this up against Denons and Marantz that didn't have one, and the $150 Insignia would win every time. It was a silly game, and it's a silly rule. But I still firmly believe it.

Annoyingly, there are few options in the Western markets for toroidal powered equipment. But I knew that AliExpress had a bunch of these since I had already researched this years prior when I bought a LM1875 chip amp off of AliExpress. It's been a stolid workhorse for my bedroom and is well paired with Elac B4 bookshelves creating numerous mesmerizing evenings (I've replaced all the signal carrying wiring with solid core copper on that system inside and outside.). So I began the hunt for something that looked like it could easily handle the current requirements of the Verum One. AliExpress has maybe a hundred or so toroidal designs available ranging from under $100 to well past $1000. My goal: find the cheapest solution that would for sure handle 8ohms (Verum One). Meaning, I wanted the product to be clearly designed for low impedance planars. Nothing was meeting the requirement so I kept increasing my budget. Finally in the $400-500 range I found a single option, the Naim Headline clone in two boxes like Naim sells it. Did a dedicated search to bring up all the Naim clone options and discovered that some sellers were putting the Naim Headline clone board into a single chassis with a toroidal power supply and selling these for less than $150 shipped. But none of them were available for 110V. So I contacted all the sellers and got a response from only one seller who said they would do it and they added a 110V buy option on checkout. All communications on AliExpress are handled by an auto translator chat/message system. Lot's of broken English so I knew to keep my questions and responses very very basic to help the translation process.

The Basics​

I purchased it and waited around 5 weeks to receive it. Arrived in a brown unmarked box, wrapped securely in a lot of wrapping material. It has a volume knob with pretend numbers around it, a single 6.3mm output, and power button with green LED on the front. It has a single RCA pair for input on the back with a basic power plug socket. There are no gain options/settings on the outside or inside. Like the actual Naim Headline, this clone has no features or frills.

Initial Impressions​

After burning it in for a few hours using my old Grado SR60, I picked up the Grados and they sounded pretty much like they always have. "Not good," I thought. Starting to panic a bit I immediately went to get my Verum One from the other room and hooked them in. HOLY COW. A very very different Verum One experience was immediately evident from the first note. Zero mistaking the difference. The Verum One were hitting on bass notes unlike I had ever heard them before. A broad smile grew on my face, tempered however by a bit grittiness, edginess in the sound. Plus I was clearly hearing what I call stranded smearing. Stranded smearing, is my name for the effect of time smearing caused by stranded signal carrying wire. Once you've gone solid core on 4 separate systems, in small steps, getting in around 20 or so good to imperfect A/B experiences, your brain is easily able to identify the sonic signature of time smearing. I feel that it is unmistakable in its presentation and is wholy unlike anything else I've discovered in hifi. (If you've never heard a solid core cable of pure copper or silver air gapped in teflon in direct comparison to a comparable or more expensive stranded wire, then you ain't heard nothin' yet. Yes, you will feel like you've lost your mind until casuals and children tell you that they are also hearing the same obvious difference. And yes, no one will believe you until they hear it for themselves.)

So I put another 20 or so hours of time on it, listened again on the Verum One. Grittiness declined a little bit, mids opened up beautifully, and it retained most of that edginess, and I still heard that stranded smearing. So I decided to ruin baseline impressions and skipped my usual 200 hour burn-in process, so that I could eliminate that stranded smearing. I opened it up, unsoldered the stranded runs from the RCAs to the circuit board and replaced them with solid 24ga silver air gapped in 20ga Teflon. Solid core usually takes 1 hour to reach its >90% potential but will have a notable reduction in time smearing immediately.

Plugged in the Verum One, and (because all stranded wire in the chain was gone) I was hearing sublime tone, timbre, better bass (deeper and more harder). Listened a couple of hours later, and the Headline clone in combination with the Verum One was mesmerizing. The Verum One sounded like a different headphone. I was captivated and captive, sitting for three hours having my mind blown late at night while my family slept. The foot tapping and head bobbing (PRAT) you would expect from an actual Naim product were all there. It reminded me of all my scores of hours of listening to really high end Naim systems. Mids so visceral that they almost trap your mind. It's only fault was that edginess. It hadn't fully gone away.

Time Heals​

I kept this up for a few weeks, but the edginess was really getting to me. There were two possible things causing this problem that I could think of. One was that I hadn't done a >200 hour burn-in. Two was that I had not replaced the gold plated RCA jacks with silver plated RCA jacks. Since I hadn't yet done an A/B for a single jack replacement (I had done an A/B for a jack and connector replacement which was really great, but that's two things replaced, not one.) I decided to do a hardcore burn-in for two weeks straight. After about 10 days of this silliness, the Headline clone finally settled down and softened up in its signature. The "edginess" (whatever that means) was gone! But now I was hearing a sort of "glare". I'm not really sure how to describe this any other way. It's like the glare from a windshield when the sun reflects onto you. It elicited a sort of mental wincing at times. It was not something I was hearing prior to the burn-in, but as things settle down and improve in audio, it's not uncommon to then be able to hear some other quality, that was less than the previous more noticeable "thing". This glare wasn't over the top, but I couldn't deny that it was a weakness of my setup. So I replaced the jack with a pair of ultra thick (10x the normal) silver plating. Not only did this completely eliminate all of the glare, but it was fairly shocking on its own part.

The replacement of this one pair of jacks yielded even better bass than before, and notably more top end detail. It helped give details an air, a sense of depth and space, and I was hearing what felt like soundstage on my head. Truly incredible.

Final Listening Impressions​

Listening to the Verum One on the solid core Naim Headline clone is incredible. Simply stunning. Album after album shocks me and blows my mind. I'm drawn to listen to the setup even though I have three separate hifi systems in my house. It's that damn good. What can I say about the Naim Headline clone now? It's ridiculously good. I don't know what an actual Naim Headline sounds like, but this might be better just for the solid core treatment I've given it. I can't find any faults. Bass is now so good that it is at times ridiculous, where the Verum One can actually vibrate on my head and there is not even a hint, not even a whisper of distortion. I'm playing Seefeel Polyfusia presently and I can't hear any faults. Truly amazing performance, with bass extension that is solid, clear, present, and ear compressing across the volume range. I am using a 1V source, so that could explain why I'm getting zero distortion even at max volume. It has that Naim maximal PRATtiness. Top end is deliciously smooth and offers up as much detail as your source can offer. Vary the source and it's totally a pass through affair revealing every nuance of the source. Mids are superb and have been from the beginning. Noise floor? I can't hear noise on it unless I touch the volume knob with no source playing. When the source plays it seems to eliminate that noise, or at least I cannot hear it any volume level on any music selection.

This Headline clone offers up what to me is the Naim sound on a headphone. If you buy one, expect to put 300 hours on it before it settles down into it's optimal performance levels. Sadly, I cannot tell you how this clone would be in this steady state without the silver wire and silver RCA jacks. But I believe that it will sound like an obvious Naim product and burn in will remove that edginess you will hear when you first get it.

Naim designed this headphone amplifier specifically for low impedance headphones and specifically rates it at the too low impedance of 8ohms for 560mW. Other than the Verum One, I don't know another planar that has such a low impedance. Sort of makes this uniquely qualified as a Verum One headphone amplifier. Another option I've backburnered is the Decware Zen Taboo, also designed specifically for low impedance planars. Until I have $2500 that I don't need, the Naim Headline clone is the only headphone amplifier I need for ridiculously and universally great music reproduction on the Verum One.

All in, I've spent $150 for the amp and $30 for the upgrades. It's a mind-bending value proposition. I need to bring this setup to a headphone meetup to make sure I'm not crazy.
 
Dec 4, 2021 at 5:47 PM Post #3 of 26
Dec 29, 2021 at 12:37 PM Post #5 of 26
Yeah. The two chassis could be the way to go.

Regarding contacting suppliers for higher quality parts I can tell you that I had some very broken interchanges with them. I think I contacted every supplier of the one box version asking them to make a 110V. I got responses from three or four. But as I tried to communicate only two of them were responsive and of those two only one actually fulfilled my order. I say this to illustrate my difficulty in getting something done using numbers. Qualitative things like “better parts” may really get lost in translation. So I’m not saying to not try. I tried and succeeded. And my efforts have opened up a number of options on AE. Maybe if you know some Chinese or use Google translate…

For myself, the trouble was worth it. I think it took me three or four weeks to negotiate a 110V solution.

From my perspective out here, these are small businesses in China with varying levels of quality and service. And as a former entrepreneur I learned to gauge transactions strongly by initial reactions.

Either way you go, let us know how things turn out.
 
Mar 12, 2022 at 2:39 PM Post #6 of 26
I'm very interested in this amp and the mods that you did to it. If you could elaborate a little further the specifics of what you did, it would be greatly appreciated.

The link previously posted isnt working, can you please post where you purchased it, thanks.
 
Apr 6, 2022 at 8:22 PM Post #7 of 26
I'm very interested in this amp and the mods that you did to it. If you could elaborate a little further the specifics of what you did, it would be greatly appreciated.

The link previously posted isnt working, can you please post where you purchased it, thanks.
Hi @dougms3. Sorry for the delay in responding. It had been a while since I checked this thread. Here is a link below:

https://www.aliexpress.com/item/1005001441359988.html

For the mods, I replaced the jacks and signal wire. The jacks were upgraded to CMC style 80micron thick silver plated jacks. And the run of signal wire inside the machine that ran between the jacks and the potentiometer were replaced with 24ga solid silver (no strands) air gapped inside of 20ga teflon tubing. I have a photo of the first upgrade I did which was replacing just the wiring and keeping the original jacks. Like I said I have replaced the jacks as of now and they have been that way for probably 9 months now. The jacks made a silly difference, improving bass performance quite well in purely subjective before and after tests. Obviously, none of my upgrades are amenable to blind listening tests, so I had to trust my ears on this one. I did use the same albums and tracks before and after upgrades, but given that the work took between 1-2 hours, there is no real clean psychoacoustic memory available. The wiring cleans up the signal and straightens out the tones. Again, totally my subjective experience. I can tell you that all of this "nonsense" was convincing enough to my ear to replace every single stranded wire and jack in every subwoofer, speaker, and electronic component that I own.

You'll note in the first picture that I have the original jacks in at this point. (The second picture shows the upgraded silver jacks.) I never bothered taking the circuit board out of the unit and instead ran silver wire to the top of the board, routing the wire to the side of the chassis so that it wasn't too close to the transformer. What I recommend you do prior to this "surgery" is to make yourself your own solid silver RCA cable using solid silver Eichmann bullets. Trust me, the solid silver Eichmanns sound so much better than silver plated RCAs and are simply worth the extra cost. This will allow you to hear the difference that solid air-gapped silver makes outside of the machine. If you like the results, then it is time to perform the surgery... If the cost for solid silver interconnects is too much, then you can build yourself solid air-gapped copper interconnects with solid copper Eichmann bullets. For solder I use 8% silver content solder, which works well with either the solid silver or the solid copper. When I solder I try to make sure that the metal-metal interface is surface to surface and then put solder over it to "lock it in".

But making DIY interconnects first is what convinced me to go crazy and potentially end the life of my Naim clone. If you don't hear a difference, then you're probably better off. I ended up spending probably 100 hours upgrading all of my equipment. It was fairly ridiculous and totally not scientific, but it sounded better to my ear enough that it made me do dumb things like rewiring the inside of my very prized hifi system and turntable. Made some near fatal mistakes along the way, but managed to come out on the other end with all my gear intact and sounding way better. Yay for crazy and unscientific.

IMG_9525.JPG

IMG_9597-1.JPG
 
Apr 6, 2022 at 9:33 PM Post #8 of 26
Hi @dougms3. Sorry for the delay in responding. It had been a while since I checked this thread. Here is a link below:

https://www.aliexpress.com/item/1005001441359988.html

For the mods, I replaced the jacks and signal wire. The jacks were upgraded to CMC style 80micron thick silver plated jacks. And the run of signal wire inside the machine that ran between the jacks and the potentiometer were replaced with 24ga solid silver (no strands) air gapped inside of 20ga teflon tubing. I have a photo of the first upgrade I did which was replacing just the wiring and keeping the original jacks. Like I said I have replaced the jacks as of now and they have been that way for probably 9 months now. The jacks made a silly difference, improving bass performance quite well in purely subjective before and after tests. Obviously, none of my upgrades are amenable to blind listening tests, so I had to trust my ears on this one. I did use the same albums and tracks before and after upgrades, but given that the work took between 1-2 hours, there is no real clean psychoacoustic memory available. The wiring cleans up the signal and straightens out the tones. Again, totally my subjective experience. I can tell you that all of this "nonsense" was convincing enough to my ear to replace every single stranded wire and jack in every subwoofer, speaker, and electronic component that I own.

You'll note in the first picture that I have the original jacks in at this point. (The second picture shows the upgraded silver jacks.) I never bothered taking the circuit board out of the unit and instead ran silver wire to the top of the board, routing the wire to the side of the chassis so that it wasn't too close to the transformer. What I recommend you do prior to this "surgery" is to make yourself your own solid silver RCA cable using solid silver Eichmann bullets. Trust me, the solid silver Eichmanns sound so much better than silver plated RCAs and are simply worth the extra cost. This will allow you to hear the difference that solid air-gapped silver makes outside of the machine. If you like the results, then it is time to perform the surgery... If the cost for solid silver interconnects is too much, then you can build yourself solid air-gapped copper interconnects with solid copper Eichmann bullets. For solder I use 8% silver content solder, which works well with either the solid silver or the solid copper. When I solder I try to make sure that the metal-metal interface is surface to surface and then put solder over it to "lock it in".

But making DIY interconnects first is what convinced me to go crazy and potentially end the life of my Naim clone. If you don't hear a difference, then you're probably better off. I ended up spending probably 100 hours upgrading all of my equipment. It was fairly ridiculous and totally not scientific, but it sounded better to my ear enough that it made me do dumb things like rewiring the inside of my very prized hifi system and turntable. Made some near fatal mistakes along the way, but managed to come out on the other end with all my gear intact and sounding way better. Yay for crazy and unscientific.

IMG_9525.JPG
IMG_9597-1.JPG
I'm a firm believer in the difference the cables make.

Which brand of solid air gapped silver cabling did you use? Or did you just purchase the tubing and silver cable separately?

Very interested in these eichmann bullets.
 
Apr 6, 2022 at 9:57 PM Post #9 of 26
I'm a firm believer in the difference the cables make.

Which brand of solid air gapped silver cabling did you use? Or did you just purchase the tubing and silver cable separately?

Very interested in these eichmann bullets.
I bought my silver wire from http://tempoelectric.com. You can find eichmann bullets at https://www.partsconnexion.com.

Oddly, I was never never a believer in cables. And hated the idea of mods in general. So I'm a convert by ear alone. The solid silver leaves absolutely nothing on the table. Nothing can be better than solid silver. It has the highest conductivity and even if it tarnishes over time, the tarnish is still conductive (just not as much). I bought Tarn-X and have used it to clean my solid silver and solid copper connectors. But my solid silver connectors don't seem to be tarnishing much at all. Copper does need touch up.
 
Apr 6, 2022 at 10:48 PM Post #10 of 26
I bought my silver wire from http://tempoelectric.com. You can find eichmann bullets at https://www.partsconnexion.com.

Oddly, I was never never a believer in cables. And hated the idea of mods in general. So I'm a convert by ear alone. The solid silver leaves absolutely nothing on the table. Nothing can be better than solid silver. It has the highest conductivity and even if it tarnishes over time, the tarnish is still conductive (just not as much). I bought Tarn-X and have used it to clean my solid silver and solid copper connectors. But my solid silver connectors don't seem to be tarnishing much at all. Copper does need touch up.
Thanks for the info, I'll look into making some interconnects with those silver air gapped teflon cables.

Do you think the Eichmann bullets are better than WBT?
 
Apr 6, 2022 at 10:54 PM Post #11 of 26
Wait a sec, where are you getting 8% silver solder?

I normally use cardas or mundorf silver gold solder, didn't know anyone made an 8% silver solder.
 
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Apr 6, 2022 at 11:03 PM Post #12 of 26
Thanks for the info, I'll look into making some interconnects with those silver air gapped teflon cables.

Do you think the Eichmann bullets are better than WBT?
Personally, I haven’t heard the WBT connectors. They were close to 4x the cost when I was doing this last year before inflation. So the 4x differential wasn’t interesting to me. There are some people out there who love WBT for DIY and on the very best cables they often use WBT. But the excuse I used in my mind was that in a theoretical world I would simply solder a wire to a single point on the RCA jacks. So a bullet connector solves that problem without solder and the size of the metal insert is about the size of a 20ga cable which is what I used on my main system. On my main system I used a silver plated connector with 24ga solid silver wire between my CD player and integrated to start. It gave my old hifi system soundstage for the first time. But when I made a 20ga wire with the solid silver bullets, holy cow!! So maybe WBT is better, but it is hard for me to see how it beats the bullet single point contact. The idea of the bullets is to minimize current spread and any possible eddy currents. Of course there’s no scientific paper supporting that claim, but AntiCables uses the bullet connectors and I have switched all of my mission critical systems over to them. Affordable and excellent sounding.
 
Apr 6, 2022 at 11:08 PM Post #13 of 26
Wait a sec, where are you getting 8% silver solder?

I normally use cardas or mundorf silver gold solder, didn't know anyone made an 8% silver solder.
You’re right. I’m not using 8% silver solder. Not sure where I got that number from. I’m using Cardas as well.
 
Apr 6, 2022 at 11:36 PM Post #14 of 26
Personally, I haven’t heard the WBT connectors. They were close to 4x the cost when I was doing this last year before inflation. So the 4x differential wasn’t interesting to me. There are some people out there who love WBT for DIY and on the very best cables they often use WBT. But the excuse I used in my mind was that in a theoretical world I would simply solder a wire to a single point on the RCA jacks. So a bullet connector solves that problem without solder and the size of the metal insert is about the size of a 20ga cable which is what I used on my main system. On my main system I used a silver plated connector with 24ga solid silver wire between my CD player and integrated to start. It gave my old hifi system soundstage for the first time. But when I made a 20ga wire with the solid silver bullets, holy cow!! So maybe WBT is better, but it is hard for me to see how it beats the bullet single point contact. The idea of the bullets is to minimize current spread and any possible eddy currents. Of course there’s no scientific paper supporting that claim, but AntiCables uses the bullet connectors and I have switched all of my mission critical systems over to them. Affordable and excellent sounding.
Eichmann bullets are pretty expensive, are the KLE harmony plugs the same as the bullets ? They seem to be discontinued.
 
Apr 6, 2022 at 11:53 PM Post #15 of 26
Eichmann bullets are pretty expensive, are the KLE harmony plugs the same as the bullets ? They seem to be discontinued.
Yes. The KLEI are the newer Eichmann bullets. And yes they have gone up in price recently with inflation. If you are comfortable with ordering from China or Taiwan, then you can find similar style bullet connectors on eBay in the style of the older Eichmann style before the model was updated. I bought KLEI and stuff from Taiwan off of eBay. I actually thought the Taiwanese stuff had thicker silver and it was what I used for my CD interconnects. For my turntable and headphone I used the KLEI solid silver since I was using smaller gauge silver wire for that stuff.
 

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