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New! HeadRoom Desktop Balanced Amp!

Tyll Hertsens

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Hi All,

Since half of you are banned at Head-Fi, I thought I should repost this here:

Ho ho ho! And Melly Kalikimaka! (That?s Merry Christmas in Hawaiian.)

I?m heading down to the Florida meet in a few days and will be showing prototypes of our newest product (so new that it's not even out yet). I thought I better start a thread in which you can ask questions if you?d like, about our new Desktop Balanced headphone amp.

First, some luscious pix of the prototype:




The Desktop Balanced Headphone Amp will be available with Desktop or Home modules---remember it?s balanced so that?s two pairs of module boards. Max modules are too big, and put out too much heat, to be used in the Desktop enclosure. It will also be available with both Desktop and Home Balanced Digital to Analog Converter card options. The amp has two combo jacks on the front, so you can plug in one balanced headphone, or two unbalanced cans. It has a Crossfeed and gain switch on the front in addition to the volume control----which is an Alps pot that can be upgraded to our balanced stepped attenuator.

The rear panel has one pair of balanced inputs and one pair of unbalanced inputs. Yes, you heard right: unbalanced inputs. We are using a balanced line driver chip internally to create a balanced signal from an the single-ended ins---it?s not as good as using a balanced source, but it?s amazingly close and oh so much fun to hear an iPod on balanced cans. Besides, we couldn?t fit a second set of balanced ins; and the ability to use an unbalanced analog source seemed handy dandy.

The amp comes stock with a new high-current switching power supply---so you don?t HAVE to buy the Desktop Power Supply to drive the thing (though it will sound better if you do). (P.S. Those of you wanting a better supply for your current HeadRoom gear who don?t want to drop the big bucks on the desktop may be interested in these supplies for your current gear. They won?t be available for sale separately for a little while---as we get our supply chain up to speed---but they are better than the standard low-cost supply we ship with gear. Price as yet unknown.)

Preliminary pricing for the amp will be $899 with Desktop Modules. $199 Home modules upgrade. $299 Desktop Balanced DAC, $399 Home Balanced DAC. $199 balanced stepped attenuator upgrade.

PLEASE, ask any questions here and DO NOT CALL in for info as the sales folks are buried in Christmas, and really don?t know much about the amp yet. Well?they?ve taken home for listening sessions, but so have I. Which brings us to: HOW DOES IT SOUND, DANGIT!

Well, with the Desktop Power Supply and Home modules, pretty much like a balanced Home?which means pretty darn good. It always amazes me how good balanced amplification sounds: clear, tight, articulate, resolution with ease. Folks here are digging the heck out of the prototypes; we?ve had more positive comments about these amps by employees than almost any other amp. Why? Well, one thing is that it?s not so easy to drag a big Max or Home to your home or desk and give it a listen. I tend to think people are just not expecting this level of performance from such a small amp. They plug their computer or iPod into it and are pretty much floored by what they hear. So, it?s not that the Desktop Balanced is better than a Home or Max, it?s just that folks aren?t expecting it to be almost as good and it is.

Oddities of note: we might have been able to squeeze Max modules into the amp, but the heat load would have gone over the line. The Desktop Balanced with Home modules gets plenty warm as it is. Mind you, not so hot as to be damaging (really, the chips like to run warm to sound their best), but we don?t recommend leaving the amp on 24/7 as over 5-10 years of continuous operation you might audibly degrade the electrolytic caps.

Other oddity: don?t bother mentioning the fact that some of the lettering is askew, or that a hole in the front panel looks funny---we?re still figiting.

Oh yeah, when can you get one? Probably in early February.

Feel free to ask questions!

Head-Fi thread is here

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Sorry Nate, I didn't see your thread and I'm so Pavlovian-trained from Head-Fi not to post improperly that I didn't even look. Anyway, here's some pix of the guts (which I also posted in the Head-Fi thread:

Here's a pic with my hand in it for scale:


Here's a pic of the insides next to the amp


Here's a closup of the boards. The board on the left is the top board; it has the input power filter caps and the DAC board mounted on it, the board on the right is the main board, you can see the four modules and the four stage stepped attenuator, plus all the decoupling caps on the main board.


Also want to remind you this is a prototype, so you'll see lots of hand writing and hacked up boards here; production units will be significantly cleaner.

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I think the coolest part of it is that with an internal DAC, you've got a balanced rig from any digital output, for less than any other balanced amp. It's certainly a unique product, in both size and capability.

Thanks, and I'll third that. I could tell the difference between the Meridian 588 and the internal DAC, but just barely, so the whole built in DAC thing is pretty cool.

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I could tell the difference between the Meridian 588 and the internal DAC, but just barely, so the whole built in DAC thing is pretty cool.

Mind if I ask what you were using for a transport when you were using the internal DAC? I only ask because I've often wondered how much difference an external transport makes.

And thanks for the internal pictures. That certainly is a crazy amount of electronics all packed in there.

I'll also add, for anyone seriously considering this amp, that the home modules sound pretty damn sweet indeed. And that's coming from my lowly little HR Millett. Everyone I've let listen to this amp comes away saying the same thing, "That's a Millett?!??!" ;D

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I was using the Meridian. I had it hooked up balanced, unbalanced, Toslink, and coax. Pretty wierd haveing an amp hooked up to a source four different ways at the same time. Result, heesh I was really hard pressed to hear much difference between any of the settings, but it did seem to me that the balanced in had the most finesse. Frankly, I got tired of trying to hear the diffrences, and I must admit that I'm a bit scared of hooking it up to the Wadia....but I will and I'll let you know what I hear tomorrow.

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Tyll you have sold me. Feb is the perfect time for an upgrade right after my boards.

And I'm stealing that Hawaiin thing, because it's so much cooler than Merry Christmas.

Whenever I think of hawaii, I'm reminded of the saying "Remember kids, Mahalo means trash!"

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Wow $899 for a balanced amp, thats fucking cheap! I mean thats really really cheap..finally a balanced amp that alot of people can afford. even the built in dac option is for $300 added is even better if you don't have a truly balanced source, then again wait until a few headfi'ers get there hands on it to compare the dac/amp against their stuff also.

Its about time HR made a product where people look and say "DAMMMMMMM!!!!!!", of course HR has just not in recent years.

I can not wait till people get their hands on these really, see what they think and say about it.

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wow, you are making me regret the zana deux

Oh, don't do that; the zana deux is a lovely amp...and quite different. Keep it AND buy a Desktop Balanced! Go ahead...make my day. >:D

Its about time HR made a product where people look and say "DAMMMMMMM!!!!!!", of course HR has just not in recent years.

700 Micro Amps and 300 Micro DACs sold this year to date says your full of shit...again...Billy.

(OK, a bit harsh, but come on, stop being such a ray fanboy. Thanks for your other kind words though. Why don't you just call "me first" on one, I'll let you in on the front of the line?)

Just going to repeat my post from the amp forum thread:

Fuck a duck! It's hard to keep track of what's being said where! I wish this rift in the community didn't exist. AAaaaarrrrrgggghhhh!

Well I just spent the morning listening to the two amps off the Wadia. And Iron Dreamers and The Sloths comments are pointing pretty strongly to what I'm hearing. It seems to me that the Desktop w/Max modules (DM) is faster and more articulate than the Desktop Balanced w/Home modules (DBH). But the soundstage is wider and deeper on the DBH, and the sound, though a bit warm and fuzzy compared to the 627s in the DM, is also more coherent and less harsh. My guess is that while the DM is articulate and clean, it also suffers from some of the distortions that get partially canceled in the balanced drive configureation. Based purely on what should theoretically be true: the DB should have more 2nd order distortion because some of the odd order stuff should be cancelled by balanced operation, and therefor the DB should be more "tubelike" then the DM. (Major assumption there, I'll try to get some measurements to verify that some month soon.) It is a VERY wierd comparison because at first blush it just sounds like the DM is a bit brighter and quicker than the DBM; that would usually give a better sense of "air" and deeper image. But as you listen you begin to hear this ease with which the DBM projects an image and space that the DM doesn't achieve quite as well.

I tried both K701s and HD650s in the test and the nature of the differences was roughly the same for both cans, however, the general consensus around here is that the 650s improve more with balanced drive than the K701s do. We assum that's because the lower impedance of the 701 causes a larger change in damping factor from balanced to unbalanced operation. (Assuming a 1 ohm output impedance of amp and 62 Ohm impedance for 701 and 300 Ohm for 650: Dammping for 650 is 300 on DM and 150 for DBH, for 701 is 62 on DM and 31 on DBH. Because your really starting to get close to the magic damping factor of 10 with the 701 driven balanced, these cans may suffer from a slight loss of damping when driven balanced compared to the 650.)

In the final analysis, I would take the DBH over the DM because I am so highly averse to harshness and I really like a layed back and easy sound, but I know there are some folks who want a lightning quick sound and would percieve the DBH as "warm and fuzzy" compared to the DM. I also think that to oversimplify my listening to harsh vs. warm and fuzzy would be wrong; it really is true that there is significant latitude in "good sound" and listening tastes out there and these two products are a perfect example of really good products that sound different.

How's that for spin?

Not really spin though, as we all know that there are a lot of great amps out there and they all have there own character. Simply saying a Single Power is better than a Rudistor is oversimplifying to the point of usless advice, because it simply may not be true for some folks. To be truthful, this is not an easy lesson for someone like me to learn. I really want to believe there is one "right" and that I'm working towards it. To be in the position of knowing that there is more than on satisfying solution means that there is no simple goal to shoot for. Fortunatly, there are so many other issues driving the end result (price point, portability, technologies used, feature set) it really is usually a matter of making the product you are working on as good as possible rather than making the product you are working on sound a certain way.

Here's the picture of the test set-up.


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Tyll I actually didnt mean nothing regarding Ray..in fact not even sure where you would get that.

what I meant by the DAMMM!!!!!

is who else has a balanced amp at $900? even better with a built in dac for $300 more? nobody...not even close. this product will bring headphone amps into a new direction as far as price/features go and thats where the Dammmmmm comes in. fuck sale numbers, you can follow the lead of others and get nice sale numbers there, but when you break the balanced price balls you lead...

my question is what will people think of it when it arrives? whats the re sale value going to be? then again...who gives a fuck its a balanced amp under $900 man...

I must say I am not surpised this product coming from HR, you are the people who brought people in and said "there is a high end headphone market here" and your also the ones who have the most famous balanced headphone amp ever. like I said its about time you people step back in the line as price/feature/performence leaders..


if your going to do the HR "between your ears" logo on the amp with an led inside it (like on other amps) then please for all fucking christ use a blue led. you all know I hate the blue led's but your logo is blue so please..if your got the sexy make sure when people see the logo/led on the amp they know you brought it back!

also do you even have Serial numbers on the back of your amps? when its coming out again?

I might be down for a #0001 on this bad boy...I really mean it, let me know Tyll..

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Alright, Billy, I'm sorry; I'll be nice.

my question is what will people think of it when it arrives? whats the re sale value going to be? then again...who gives a fuck its a balanced amp under $900 man...

Um...I think they'll think, "Man, that sounds pretty sweet for such a small amp. HOw the fuck am I going to get my Audio Technicas recabled?" or something like that. Sometimes I have a hard time believing that there will be any real market for these things when people have to figure out how to get their cans recabled. We're only going to be doing the 701 and 880 for a while. Eventually we'll add more cans, but I doubt we'll ever get around to doing too many models. If it does get popular, I'll be there will be a number of one-man headphone recabling companies that start-up and they'll do a good business.

Re-sale value? Fuck, I don't know. I have heard the comment that HeadRoom's products resale value suffer from us changing models so regularly. Frankly, I just can't listen to the argument; I've GOT to keep trying to improve the products. After all even in your post you knock me for not doing enough new cool stuff. I'd counter by saying that we re-vamped the entire product line; added USB and digital capability to headphone amps; lowered the price of and improved the performance of our AirHead/BitHead; and, most importantly, stayed alive and kicking in the process with continued product developement---that seems like a pretty full plate to me.

if your going to do the HR "between your ears" logo on the amp with an led inside it (like on other amps) then please for all fucking christ use a blue led.

Sorry, the product lines are color coded: Micro=red; Desktop=Green; home=Blue; and Max=Gold. So the DB has a Green LED.

also do you even have Serial numbers on the back of your amps?

Yeah, we have serial numbers on the back. They're usually date driven though so the first will be DBD(or H if home moduled)07010001. But I'd make an exception for you, buddy, and make it say "Ser#000001 Just for Billy" and sign the back panel myself.

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