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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.

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.