As recording studio engineer/designers go, Rupert Neve is a rock star. His mixing consoles are so highly sought after, Dave Grohl made a music documentary, "Sound City," that featured a Neve console. Rupert Neve was named man of the century by Studio Sound Magazine readers in 1999, and in 1997 he won a Technical Grammy award. Neve consoles are used by such noteworthy artists as Jack White, Kanye West, Adele, AC/DC, the Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson and many others. So when I heard that Rupert Neve Designs was now making the RNHP headphone amp that might be of interest to audiophiles, I requested a review sample. The cool factor of owning a Neve design just might be impossible to resist!
Based on the headphone amplifier circuit in the all-analog, 24-input Neve 5060 Centerpiece Desktop Mixer, the Rupert Neve Designs RNHP ($499, £429, AU$849) is a reference-quality headphone amplifier with XLR, RCA and 3.5mm analog inputs (there are no digital inputs). The RNHP is made in the US.
It looks like a no-frills pro, not consumer design, but the folded steel chassis is small enough for desktop use; it's just 6.5 x 4.6 x 1.9 inches (165 x 117 x 48mm). A bright green LED glows above the selected input on the front panel, and a 6.3mm headphone jack is the only output. The RNHP is powered by a wall wart, which is included with the unit.
Soundwise, the RNHP did not disappoint when I started listening with a Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro headphone. Transparency was absolutely first-rate, dynamic punch was right up there and stereo imaging from this closed-back headphone was admirably spacious. The RNHP was designed to be neutral, and indeed that's what it sounds like.
Moving over to the Sony MDR 7520 headphones and switching between the RNHP and an Arcam irDAC II digital converter/headphone amp, the RNHP had a more laid-back, less forward sound. The irDAC II seemed to make harsh recordings a wee bit harsher, the RNHP was easier on the ears. The soundstage was wider, and the bass kicked harder over the RNHP.
Even my hard-to-drive, high-impedance 600-ohm Beyerdynamic T-1 headphones didn't make the RNHP stumble. The sound is sweet and clear, but I have to admit I just loved the idea of having a Rupert Neve design sitting on my desktop!