I have fond memories of the original Aragon 4004 power amplifier from my days when I worked as a high-end audio salesman. That was in the late 1980s and the big 200 watt amp sold for a lot less money than the reigning high-end amps of the period. The distinctive styling, with a "V" cutout in the 4004's chassis, made it stand out from rows of lookalike designs at the store. While the Aragon amps sold for a couple of thousand dollars, they were more affordable than most high-end amps. A few years after the 4004 arrived … Read more
It's impossible to keep up with all of the new headphones crowding the market, but great-sounding headphones are still pretty rare. The Noontec Zoro is the rarest of the rare, an audiophile-oriented design that's affordably priced.
The headband and earcups' high gloss finish conform to the fashion of our times, and the headphone's build quality is good for the money. The hinged steel headband allows the headphone to fold up and fit inside the included soft carry case, and the user-replaceable headphone cable is tangle-free and plugs into the left earcup. Both ends of the 48-inch long, … Read more
Blackie Pagano's skills as a repair technician and designer of one-of-a-kind electronics and speakers have ensured a steady stream of happy customers. He started in New York City, relocated to LA and lived there for seven years, but now he's back in NYC. He's played guitar and bass since he was 11, been a roadie, then a live sound engineer, a recording engineer, and a studio tech; through it all, he's been just a guy who loves building stunning works of not just art, but art that also sounds great.
Pagano mostly makes his living repairing … Read more
I was shaken and stirred by the Bowers & Wilkins P5 on-ear headphones back in 2010. It set a new standard for sumptuous sound and build quality for very small, on-ear headphones. Designed with portable music players and phones in mind, the P5 was definitely a step up from most ear buds, and the sound was easy to listen to over the long haul. The P5 ($300) is still around, but B & W recently introduced a similar, but less expensive model, the P3 ($200).
When I unboxed the new one I decided to first judge it without directly comparing … Read more
Is the music from your iPhone sounding a little lifeless? The Vamp could bring your audio back from the dead with a built-in headphone amplifier and digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that bypasses the iPhone's audio circuitry.
Designed for Apple's iPhone 4 and 4S, the Vamp is also a very solid-looking case that's made from "aircraft-grade metal." Inside, there's a high-quality DAC and two 150mW amps (at 32 omhs) to drive headphones of various sizes. A rechargeable 2,200mAh battery powers the setup for up to 8 hours, which isn't very impressive for a high-end headphone amp.
It also serves as a backup battery for your iPhone, which will undoubtedly leave you with even fewer hours of music. … Read more
I've reviewed my share of portable headphone amplifiers, but ALO's new Rx-MK3B just might be the best on a number of counts. First, the amp is compact, just about the same size as an iPhone, but twice as thick. ALO invested two years of engineering and development time in the Rx-3B, and makes it in the U.S.
The Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo is a portable digital-to-analog converter designed only for use with iPhones, iPads, and iPods, but it won't work with computers (it's not a USB DAC). There are precious few portable DACs that can … Read more
Head-Fi is a national headphone club, and I went to the local meeting in Babylon, N.Y., last Saturday.
The vibe was friendly, and it was great to hear Head-Fi members' home-built gear, but there were a few surprises popping up from the headphone and electronics manufacturers in attendance.
Logitech Ultimate Ears' Personal Reference Monitor in-ear headphones feature a new twist on custom-molded-to-your-ears headphone design. Lots of brands now make custom in-ear headphones, and Logitech's have been among my favorites for years, but the upcoming Personal Reference Monitor takes the personalization to the next level. Once your ear canals' &… Read more
I've written about the Audeze LCD-2 headphones in this blog before, but now I'm going to cover the LCD-3 model, Audeze's best headphones. At first glance the two don't look all that different, but the LCD-3s sport real zebrawood earcups and have thicker and softer real lambskin leather cushions to coddle your ears. This is a fairly heavy (550-gram) set of headphones, but they're comfortable to wear for hours at a time. Details of why the LCD-2s and LCD-3s sound different aren't forthcoming from Audeze, other than the drivers, which use similar technology, are … Read more
British audiophile brand Arcam appears to be making a greater effort to go mainstream these days with products such as the Arcam rCube iPhone dock and now, an entry-level USB DAC/headphone amplifier (amp) combo.
Meant as a smaller (and cheaper) alternative to the rDac digital-to-analog converter, this model only has a single USB input, with an asynchronous DAC. Audiophiles tend to prefer asynchronous USB inputs on DACs for the more consistent audio quality they're supposed to provide as the device creates the clock signals and not the (sometimes ancient) USB controller.… Read more
Red Wine Audio makes some of my all-time favorite headphone amplifiers, but they're pretty expensive. The Isabellina HPA LFP-V Edition, for example, runs $2,500; it was designed and built in Vinnie Rossi's small factory in Durham, Conn. The Isabellina is more than just a headphone amp, it features a spectacularly good digital-to-analog converter and a hybrid transistor/vacuum tube audio amplifier. While the amp can be run off an AC power outlet, it sounds best powered by its built-in 25.6 volt Lithium Iron Phosphate battery pack. The battery can play for up to 10 hours, and … Read more