The AirHead portable headphone amp boosts the output and sound quality of the puny amplifiers in iPods and MP3 and portable CD players--and it works like a charm, although some users may find it too bulky. HeadRoom sells the AirHead online for $149.
This little amp is nonetheless slightly larger than an iPod--it measures 2.875 inches wide, 1 inch high, and 4.125 inches deep, and it weighs less than a pound fully loaded with 4 AAA batteries. That extra heft helps explain why the AirHead so easily betters the flyweight amps built into portable players.
The amplifier's front corners each house a headphone jack; between the corners, you'll find the power switch and a proprietary processor switch that reduces the closed, inside-your-head effect of most headphones. The left-rear corner houses the AirHead's power receptacle for a 5- to 12-volt AC power wall wart (HeadRoom offers one for $15). At the right rear, you'll find an audio minijack input--HeadRoom supplies a one-foot cable that runs between your portable's headphone jack and the AirHead's input.
Hooking up the AirHead to our iPod yielded immediate results. David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album sounded weightier; the bass filled out and firmed up. And even we before we engaged the AirHead's unique processor circuit, the stereo soundstage was downright cavernous. Clicking the processor on, the sound became subtly more open. The AirHead could also play much louder and cleaner than the iPod.
Up to this point, we were using our Shure E3c in-ear headphones, but we also plugged in our Grado SR80s and our el cheapo Sennheiser PX30s and marveled at the sonic enhancements the AirHead had on each headphone.
The AirHead's one downside was its scratchy volume control, which made noise whenever we adjusted the levels. That issue notwithstanding, discriminating listeners looking for a portable headphone amp will find the AirHead well suited to their needs. Listeners in sedentary environments, on the other hand, should check out Grado's mahogany-encased RA1; its classic mahogany case outshines HeadRoom's plastic offerings, but it costs significantly more.
The Airhead is just one of a vast range of headphone amplifiers offered by the company. The $199, for example, is a nearly identical model that also includes USB connectivity for PC audio. HeadRoom also offers a range of thoughtfully designed travel bags so that you can stash your AirHead and MP3 player (read: iPod) in one neat package, hangable on your hip.