red wine audio isabellina hpa
Aug 25, 2009 at 12:38 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 85


500+ Head-Fier
Nov 4, 2005
over the past few years i have bought and sold many pieces of headphone gear here on head-fi,like many other people,trying to find that perfect balance that attempts to bring us as close to our favorite recordings as possible!
enter the red wine audio isabellina hpa(headphone amp/dac combo).
my testing was used with my mac mini(alac files) >locus design polestar usb cable> "the hpa dac/amp"> alo occ copper hd-800 cable & sxc cable>sennheiser hd-800. please note,that i will be reviewing the alo cables in the "cables & interconnects" forum soon,so stay tuned,for that review!
the "hpa" is unique and different than my past and present a/c powered combos.
the heart and soul of the hpa is a 12 volt sla battery! a system design that has way less in the signal path than any a/c powered design.(like transformers,filters,dirty wall power and the list goes on and on!
by talking with vinnie,he mentions that the 12 volt sla battery is the best battery to use for home audio,having the lowest resistance and highest current!
so how does the hpa differ in sound,compared to many of the a/c combos that i have heard?
the background noise is thee blackest of any amp!
-richer tonality
more seductive
more natural sounding(realistic & believable)
now for the most important trait! THE HPA SETS A NEW STANDARD FOR THE TERM "NON FATIGUE" you can listen to this amp/dac for hours and hours and
hours at a time.
another thing that really amazes me,is that "ALL" of my headphones in my collection sound great with this unit! i really honestly cant say this about past or current a/c combos that have stayed,came and went!
i wish vinnie lots of luck with the hpa,and all his products.
in closing ,one last comment!
12v sla power + discrete amp & discrete dac stages = audio bliss

yes! vinnie gets it right!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Aug 25, 2009 at 1:27 AM Post #2 of 85
Hi decur,

I really appreciate your feedback, and I'm glad you are enjoying your Isabellina HPA!

Also, thank you for letting me try out your HD800s along with ALO's OCC copper and SXC HD800 cables. I'm really looking forward to listening to them and will keep you posted!

Thanks again.

Best regards,

Aug 25, 2009 at 1:37 AM Post #3 of 85
I could not agree more, currently listening to it as I burn in a pair of HF2's. The totally black background, impact, separation, AIR and musicality are qualities which are above an beyond what I am used to hearing. This DAC/AMP draws you in and holds you captive, it is very hard to pull away and go to sleep.
Aug 25, 2009 at 7:06 PM Post #4 of 85
Thanks for sharing!
The Isabellina HPA seem to get quite a lot of love these days, and with right it seems. Enjoy!
Aug 26, 2009 at 2:45 AM Post #5 of 85
I am also an owner of a Isabellina HPA and i have got to say that after 400+ hours of burn in and of listening that i have too found my nirvana in headphone amps. my previous two solid state amps were the Grace Design M902 and the Lavry Engineering DA11. Both of those amps were on opposite ends of each other in terms of soundstage. I found the M902 to be a bit harsh and very sterile sounding, whereas the DA11 came across to me as sounding to soft or plushy for lack of a better word to describing it.
The Isabellina HPA sounded great right out of the box and over the long hours i noticed that it just seem to get subtlely richer and clearer and as another member put it "blacker" with no coloration whatsoever. I am able to listen to my Sennheiser HD800 with stock cables and the Isabellina HPA for hours on end withouit any signs of fatigue. The combo is just a joy to listen to.
it was not to long ago that i discovered(thru - Listen to free music with internet radio and the largest music catalogue online) a group called Ashra(orginal name was Ash Ra Tempel) that was founded by Manuel Gottsching(German) back in the early 70's. He is a master at the guitar and the keyboards. If you go the Ashra - The Official Website you can read all about him and the group that spans all these years. His music is like new age/jazz/rock instrumental. I am also a dedicated Tangerine Dream fan as well as Led Zeppelin, Scorpions, Pink Floyd, Rippingtons, etc...
My unit is #002 and i am currently using the stock usb cable(many here have the locus and seem to really like them and I may take a look at them) that came with the Isabellina HPA. At present I am starting to look into upgrading my HD800 cables. my music is played off Windows 7 Pro using Windows Media Player 12 set at WMA Lossless.
Well you get the picture of what I listen to on my Isabellina HPA and Sennheiser HD800. Until Vinnie comes out with something a whole lot better than this, then this is what I'll be listening for a long time to come.
Sep 13, 2009 at 2:59 AM Post #6 of 85

Here is a sweet new option for the Isabellina HPA:






Until Vinnie comes out with something a whole lot better than this, then this is what I'll be listening for a long time to come.

That is going to be a really tough task - and there is just too much of the good stuff right here and right now to even begin to go there

Thanks again for all your feedback!

Happy Listening, always,

Sep 15, 2009 at 5:11 PM Post #9 of 85

Originally Posted by Vinnie R. /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Here is a sweet new option for the Isabellina HPA:

Sweet indeed!
Going fully off-grid with something like the 170iTransport -> Isabellina HPA -> HD800.
Sep 18, 2009 at 11:49 AM Post #10 of 85

Originally Posted by mrarroyo /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Yeah very sweet! My Isabellina HPA has been shipped for this mod, now I can't wait to get it back. Looking for an used Wadia i170, anyone? Thanks.

Excited to hear how you like the combo. VERY cool off the grid and portable solution. The only think I read about a few times is the high jitter of the Wadia dig output, and don't know how the DAC of the HPA would reject it. I think I remember reading about modds that can be done to the Wadia (i.e., clock replacement) that would give it a nice boost in performance.... if you're ever interested and 100x handier than me!
Sep 18, 2009 at 12:07 PM Post #11 of 85
Wanted to provide some feedback on the HPA in this thread (had left some in one of the other related threads but will add it here as well). I've now had the HPA burned in for about 250 hours (most of it with XLO Ref burn-in or Purist Audio Design burn in tracks; music when I'm listening to it). It goes without saying that I love the HPA!

I'm using with an iMac with playback via iTunes + Amarra in my home office. Revelation Audio Cryo USB cable. HD800's and will receive a pair of MarkL LA7000's any day now and look forward to that pairing as well. The sound is really great with the HD800's, and that's with the stock cable. I was about to send the HD800's back for giving me migranes, but after using the HPA I am now able to listen for a long time without getting a headache (here I thought it was the weight of the headphone and in hindsight it was more likely the fatigue from the sibilance the prior setup was generating, which includes a couple big name DAC's). Big evolution in the HPA over the 250 hours, and really love the sound. Great detail, extension, imaging, musicality, silent background, analog sound, absolutely LOVE female vocals on this unit. My wife wonders now why I've been building (translate - spending so much time/resources) a hifi system in our living room after listening (!!). Have been listening to 16/44 WAV files (ripped with EAC and stored on SSD), but have a bunch of high res files I'm planning to give it a run on (recognizing it will play 16 bit, but lock into 88/96/176/192) - will do this via a Weiss unit (firewire from Mac; SPDIF to HPA). Will post experiences once I've had a chance to do this.

The one thing worth noting also about the HPA is the ability to enjoy great recordings of lesser sonic quality (we all know there's plenty of those out there!!). The HD800's were menacing/merciless on anything but pristinely recorded and mixed music before the HPA for me, and while it retains its strengths and transparency, the combination is so much more forgiving and I'm finding myself really enjoying music I know I otherwise would be having a difficult time with using these headphones (at least with the other equipment I have and others I was trying them on). The HPA kinda turns the HD800's into an all purpose can from what I was guessing earlier was a more targeted use (no flames pls! just one bozo's viewpoint).

Congrats Vinnie on a great product.... you've got me very tempted to upgrade to the full meal deal.... ) love being off the grid! (I have spent a lot of time and money cleaning up the power in our NYC apartment which is an old pre-war, so you can imagine the situation; so much simpler to go SLA and more effective).

Sep 19, 2009 at 11:40 PM Post #12 of 85
Nice post silverlight! Now I need to get some vibration control bases for the Isabellina HPA. I too have read of the jitter claims out of the Wadia but time will tell. Meanwhile here is a picture of my modded Isabellina HPA, besides the 12 volt out option I got a second analog out via RCA's.

Sep 20, 2009 at 12:06 AM Post #13 of 85
Nice rig. Someday I might have to get a second output.
Oct 17, 2009 at 10:23 PM Post #15 of 85

Just an update:

There has been some interest in an alternative to the Wadia iTransport:
Onkyo Europe - ND-S1

See threads:


Looks like it does offer a true digital output (like the Wadia) - I just ordered one from the UK and I'll test it.

The Onkyo ND-S1 runs on 5Vdc, but I can easily install a 5V linear regulator in the Isabellina HPA and feed it from the internal SLA battery - so the Onkyo ND-S1 can can powered by the Isabellina HPA (just like the Wadia, as shown in the pics above).

I'm looking forward to receiving it and comparing it to the Wadia. I'll post my findings once I receive it and give it a listen. It looks really promising and is even less expensive than the Wadia and has more features.


If its really good, I hope they start selling them in North America, too!

Should be a lot of fun!


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