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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Headphones

If your headphones sound dull or lifeless, you might need a headphone amplifier

The Audiophiliac plugs in the Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Picollo amp, and likes what he hears.

picollo-with-nano-and-mini-cable.jpg
The Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Picollo, shown with an iPod Nano. Cypher Labs

I've reviewed a ton of portable digital converter/headphone amplifiers, but what we have here with the Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Picollo is just a portable headphone amp. This little guy can coax better sound out of headphones than the amplifier built into your phone or portable music player. That's the theory at least, so I plugged in a few pairs of headphones to see what the Picollo could do.

It's a "booster" amp that will come in handy for folks with a collection of full-size headphones that are really designed for use at home, but who would like to take them on the road.

For example, my 300-ohm Sennheiser HD-580 and 250-ohm Beyerdynamic T90 need extra juice to strut their stuff; plugged into a phone or my iPod Classic, those headphones sound lifeless.

Those two 'phones really benefited from the Picollo: bass firmed up, treble detail shone, and the Picollo could play these headphones louder than my iPod Classic. I also heard some improvement with my 32-ohm Grado RS 1 headphones with the Picollo in play.

The 2.2-inches-by-3.9 inches-by-0.7-inch CNC-machined aluminum enclosure, available in silver and black, looks and feels great. Connectivity is dead simple: it has a 3.5mm analog input and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The rear end has a Micro-USB port for charging the Picollo's lithium ion 2,000mAH, 3.7-volt battery via a computer or USB charger. Included are USB and 3.5mm-to-3.5mm analog cables, along with a nicely designed carrying case. The Picollo plays for up to 24 hours on a single charge.

I also tried the Picollo with a few high-end, in-ear headphones, first with my Shure SE846 to see what the Picollo could do, and the answer was not much. The sound was a wee bit livelier, but with in-ear headphones the Picollo doesn't bring much to the party.

Priced at $400 the Picollo is expensive, but not out of line if you have a few high-end headphone models that you'd like to listen to when traveling. Unlike portable digital converter/headphone amps with uncertain compatibility issues, the Picollo will work with any portable component with a headphone or analog output jack.