Archive for Headphone Amps

digiZoid ZO 2 on sale until the 18th for $85

zo2 sale 560x215 digiZoid ZO 2 on sale until the 18th for $85

digiZoid is having a fall sale right now on their ZO 2 personal subwoofer. The ZO 2 was released almost a year ago, and is the successor to the original ZO that Martin reviewed last summer. The ZO 2 is a “portable subwoofer,” essentially a headphone amp that focuses heavily on boosting bass, without completely destroying the sound in the process.

I have a ZO 2, and I’d describe it as a hardware version of the Mach3bass (BBE) technology licensed by Cowon. They’re not actually related, but I can count on one hand the number of bass boosting technologies I’ve tried and actually like, and on that one hand I only really need two fingers: One for the ZO 2 and one for Mach3bass. It’s a great little device, and the only portable headphone amp I actually still have and use.

Anyways, the sale puts the ZO2 at $85, which is $35 off the retail price. I caught wind of the sale a bit late, and it actually ends on Sunday, November 18th, so there aren’t many days left to take advantage of this deal. I love my ZO 2, so I can whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone who think their music could use a bit more “oomph.”


FiiO E17 “Alpen” is out, the E7′s big brother

fiioe17 FiiO E17 Alpen is out, the E7s big brotherA few years after FiiO introduced their unique, feature-packed E7 portable headphone amplifier and USB sound card, they revamped the concept, resulting in the freshly hatched E17.

A lot of tech is packed into the fancy brushed metal housing with the familiar two-color OLED display. Inputs and outputs certainly are on the more versatile side of things: two parallel 3.5mm headphone outputs, an S/PDIF input (presumably both optical and coaxial), a line input, FiiO’s proprietary 18-pin port (working with their L7 dock and E9 desktop amp), and of course a standard USB input. The E17 supports 24/96 over USB and 24/192 over S/PDIF, so audiophile dogs and bats won’t complain about lacking treble.

Several sound adjustments can be done in the E17′s firmware: bass, treble, gain level, and – sometimes miracles do happen – pan/balance. It seems FiiO did read our E7 review, and the included rant about audio balance missing on almost all portable devices nowadays. I, for one, am very grateful that they added this basic – yet for some people very important – feature.

The E17 should go for about $150, which definitely is a fair price, considering all the included features and the nifty metal housing.


The Digizoid ZO2 is (almost) released

zo2 The Digizoid ZO2 is (almost) releasedPutting it subtly, one could say I’m a rabid fanboy of the Digizoid ZO ‘portable subwoofer’. It is basically the best bass boosting headphone amp available.

The first version of the ZO wasn’t without some flaws, though, as I wrote in the review linked above. Being very good listeners, Digizoid took many improvement suggestions by users into account for their freshly updated model.

On the audio side of things, the new ZO2 should have less background hiss, should be better EMI/RFI shielded, the 32 processing steps should be more evenly spaced, and there should be no more clicks and pops at turning the amp on or off. The new housing is rubberized instead of glossy plastic, and the ZO2 now has a volume control, so it can be used with line-level outputs as well. Battery life is slightly improved, and a low battery indicator as well as improved shutdown handling have been added.

The ZO2 can be preordered from Digizoid – expect my review of it soon-ish.

FiiO E6 Portable Headphone Amp Review

 fiio e6 main FiiO E6 Portable Headphone Amp Review

FiiO is a Chinese audio company that should need no introduction by now. Among all the headphone amp, soundcard, and cable manufacturers they are probably the one with the best bang-for-buck ratio, consistently delivering high quality products for a very fair price.

Their older tiny portable amp model – the E5 – is still quite popular among users, and seriously well performing for its $20 price tag. Let’s see if FiiO could up the ante a notch with the E5’s recently introduced successor, the E6. Continue reading…

FiiO E6 unveiled: E5 plus 1

fiioe6 FiiO E6 unveiled: E5 plus 1

With the new FiiO E6 being announced, the popular and inexpensive FiiO E5 headphone amp seems to get its well deserved retirement.

While the E5′s housing was basically a blatant ripoff of the 2nd generation iPod Shuffle, FiiO went with a unique and rather fetching design on their new offering. The E5′s all-metal housing got replaced by a plastic one on the E6, resulting in half the weight. Contrary to the sturdy metal clip on the E5, the new clip looks rather flimsy, being made of transparent plastic – but on the positive side it is removable. Technical specs appear to be basically the same for both amps, but the E6 sports an improved bass boost and gain switch with three variable settings. It still has the same digital volume control as the E5, which should provide good sound without crackling or channel imbalance. Let’s just hope FiiO ironed out the one obvious flaw the E5 had: background hiss with sensitive IEMs.

For less than $20 the E5 was pretty much the best bang for the buck as far as portable amps go, outperforming many more expensive toys. It measured and sounded well, and could drive most headphones without issues. Let’s hope the new E6 will continue this heritage of affordable quality.

[MP4Nation Blog]

Objective 2: The open source headphone amp

o2 Objective 2: The open source headphone amp

NwAvGuy is a man who recently made quite a few enemies in some audio communities and got banned from some enthusiast/audiophile forums as well. He’s rather outspoken and doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to pointing out flaws in shoddily designed – and often overpriced – gear (which sometimes goes against commercial interests of said sites, unsurprisingly).

Since some of his adversaries asked if he can only criticize other people’s designs or if he indeed has the skills to create better performing devices, he now has a point to prove, it seems. The result is known as the O2 – short for “Objective 2″ – headphone amp.

NwAvGuy was very transparent on his blog regarding the design process of the O2, and he open sourced the schematics under a Creative Commons license. He will not be selling finished amps, but everyone is free to build their own – no matter if for personal use, or for commercial purposes.

Some design principles of the O2 are:

  • State of the art audio performance with most any headphone out there, from the most sensitive multi-armature IEMs to full-sized high-impedance headphones
  • Usage of inexpensive quality parts instead of overpriced “boutique” components
  • Easy to solder and assemble (no SMT components)
  • Precise volume control (no crackling or audible imbalance at low volume levels)
  • No dangerous clicks/pops at turning on/off
  • Usable as a portable or a desktop amp (batteries and AC power)
  • Switchable gain
  • Battery rundown protection

In the end, the price of the parts used in the O2 should come to about $30 (without enclosure, panels, or wallwart) – and according to NwAvGuy the audio performance should be indistinguishable from top quality studio gear like the $1600 Benchmark DAC1. I, for one, am very interested in building my own O2 to find out how it performs.

Detailed info on NwAvGuy’s blog: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 – and we also got an ABI forum thread about the O2 going on.

Hong Kong’s Headphone Heaven

mingos Hong Kongs Headphone Heaven

Our man in Hong Kong, forum member Lestatar, took photos of a local headphone store called Mingo’s and posted them in a forum thread.

Reactions from resident headphone nerds were unanimously jaw-dropping. Seems I have no other option than to pack my bags and move to Hong Kong, since I doubt I’ll ever see something like that locally – or in any other place on this planet, for that matter. I wonder if they allow overnight camping in the store. Then again, I’d never want to leave that store ever again, so that might be an issue.

The store has a website too, offering anything from $1 OEM phones to $2800 Ultrasone Edition 10 pimpmobiles. Check out Mingo’s (in Chinese). See Lestatar’s full-resolution photos after the jump (and don’t mind the Blackberry image quality – it’s certainly the content that counts). Continue reading…

Digizoid ZO Portable Subwoofer Review

dzzomain Digizoid ZO Portable Subwoofer ReviewDigizoid – or, digiZoid, as they write it – is a relatively young company from Arizona that specializes in sound enhancing techniques. Their patent-pending technology called Smartvector promises to improve several aspects of an audio signal originating from any source – be it from a portable MP3 player, be it in a recording studio used during mixing/mastering, be it while watching a movie on a home cinema setup, be it in a live DJ setup.

Since Digizoid are very secretive about their technology, it is easier to say what Smartvector is not: it is not a run-off-the-mill bass booster, it is not an EQ, it is not some psychoacoustic algorithm, it is not digital. Smartvector operates in the analog domain; it recovers the signal’s dynamic range, expands the spatiality (soundstage), and extends the low-frequency cutoff of a speaker/driver, making it deliver lower note extension than generally possible. I don’t know how they do it, but it doesn’t affect the THD (total harmonic distortion) of the signal, so they certainly don’t go the cheap route of harmonics enhancers/exciters.

Digizoid’s first commercial product utilizing Smartvector technology is the ZO, a portable amp, or “personal subwoofer”, as they call it. The ZO uses only a portion of Smartvector, named Lofreq. Unlike a still-theoretical Fullspec variant, affecting the whole audible frequency range, the ZO only operates on frequencies up to about 1 kHz.

Being a fan of natural sound reproduction – contrary to ‘neutral’ – I have to say that the ZO is the best thing I’ve heard so far in portable sound enhancements. Until now Cowon’s BBE and Mach3Bass have been the cream of the crop to my ears, as far as putting some excitement in ‘polite’ phones is concerned. The ZO however is the new king of crisp, precise, yet bassy sound, if you ask me.

Don’t be put off by the “personal subwoofer” slogan. The ZO is not some cheap boombox replacement for trunk rattlers. It is a very refined sounding tool to make audio more enjoyable – without damaging any part of it. Read on if it’s the thing for you.

Continue reading…

FiiO E11 Headphone Amp: Rather Fetching

fiioe11 FiiO E11 Headphone Amp: Rather Fetching

FiiO, manufacturer of no-nonsense headphone amps for a reasonable price, seems to have topped themselves with the announcement of their upcoming E11 portable amp: this thing looks really good. The way the volume knob is protected in the drawings is rather ingenious. The rest of the design reminds me a bit of the Cowon D2.

Not much is known at the time of writing, but the E11 might sport the same opamp as the Headstage Arrow 12HE, the Analog Devices AD8397. It is said to have an easily user-replaceable standard cellphone battery, the usual FiiO bass boost, three gain levels, and a standard mini-USB port for charging. Output power should be higher than the currently available portable FiiO amps, and pricing might be between the E5 and the E7 – which would be fair.

In somewhat related news: FiiO might also release an MP3 player in the foreseeable future, we’ll see how well that goes. Nothing more is known at the moment.

Read more in the sponsored Head-Fi advertising thread.

HeadAmp Pico Slim Portable Amp Review

img 2377IMG 2377 HeadAmp Pico Slim Portable Amp Review

I have been enjoying the original Pico for over three years now and it’s a great portable amp which I have no plans of ending our relationship any time soon. Knowing first hand the overall quality that Justin Wilson, owner of HeadAmp Audio Electronics, puts into HeadAmp products I decided to sign up early for the Pico Slim to reduce the size of my portable amp and see if going with a digital potentiometer would make a difference for me. So I became interested to sign up to the pre-order and  received it about 11 months later, I have been using it now for a few months (5/14/09 received 04-19-2010). Sure that seems like a long time to most people but in the beginning this was a concept that moved to a prototype and finally went into production, so this long wait time should not be the case with normal orders, but I have to say that this might be my last venture with pre-orders.

Contrary to what others have written, I like the overall performance of the original Pico more to my liking, although there is a size difference but not a problem for me and the channel matching difference may not be as good on paper but very difficult to notice a difference unless you listen at extremely low levels. Without further delay let’s discuss the Pico Slim.

Continue reading…