has been dedicated to improving the sonic experience of headphone listeners by
providing hi-end electronics to audiophiles willing to pay for it. Their product
line is extensive and includes headphone amplifiers, digital-to-analog converters
(DACs) and other accessories that make the audio experience something to remember.
Luckily, there are a good number of folks out there that want to improve the quality
of the audio electronics that drive their headphones and for good reason. There
are just too many products out there that do not provide the audio quality one
might expect especially when using headphones such as the Sennheiser 600 or AKG
701's that reveal amazing detail. The HeadRoom Desktop Amp is described
as the "Swiss Army Knife" of audio and that is indeed what it is. The
Desktop Amp is loaded with features that include a variety of standard
digital inputs and analog interfaces. Analog inputs and outputs are available
for those lacking a digital interface or simply if the analog source is preferred.
This flexibility allows the Desktop to be used in virtually any setting
including, but not limited to your home or office desktop. We connected the Desktop
Amp to our office computer and a new level of audio enjoyment was experienced.
The Desktop Amp measures 6 ¼ x 6 ¼ x 3 1/3
and weighs approximately 1.8 pounds.
The front panel of the Desktop Amp offers the maximum in flexibility by
providing users with a full-size 1/4" as well as a miniature 1/8 (3.5mm)
stereo headphone jacks. The current drive is good enough to drive both headphone
output jacks at the same time. Three types of digital inputs are available on
the rear panel depending on your situation or preference. Since our desktop computer
was being used as our audio source, we made use of the USB interface. The computer
immediately recognized the Desktop Amp and did not require any additional
software for it to operate. Two pairs of analog line level inputs as well as a
single pair of variable level analog outputs are provided through high quality,
gold-plated RCA jacks. The latter feature actually allows the Desktop to operate
as a preamplifier complete with onboard DAC processing capability. A 3-position
gain switch allows users to select different volume control ranges depending on
the output level of the source. Depending on your tastes, a set of discrete crossfeed
and filter switches are available to allow the user to adjust the type of audio
processing HeadRoom is known for. The main power switch is also available on the
The rear panel of the Desktop Amp has all the digital and
analog interfaces and includes a 3-position digital input selector switch and
source selector switch to choose between the digital and analog inputs. Since
these switches are seldom used, HeadRoom made the decision to place them on the
rear panel. Two independent sets of RCA analog inputs allow different sources
to be connected to the unit. An input selector switch is used to choose between
the two sets of analog inputs. A 5-pin DIN connector accepts ±15VDC power
from the outboard linear power supply. While linear power supplies are less power
efficient and heavier, they typically provide much lower noise and line ripple
in the power. This reduces noise and increases performance of the the analog circuits
that utilize them.
The convergence of the poor sounding PC and the Audiophile has now morphed with
products like the HeadRoom Desktop Amp. No longer do critical listeners
have to put up with the often grainy sound offered by so many computer audio products.
Rarely do outboard amplifiers alone produce good sound from an inferior DAC built
in many computers. The HeadRoom Desktop Amp takes care of it all from the
DAC to the headphone. Best of all, users can choose just how much quality they
want to get out of their desktop setup since HeadRoom offers a variety of options.
The basic Desktop Amp is fantastic as it stands, yet HeadRoom
felt the need to offer better components for those who want to squeeze a bit more
performance out of the unit. The first option customers should consider is the
freshly-revised HeadRoom electronics module. It is most cost effective to have
this installed initially rather than to have it changed later. The upgraded Home
Electronics Module ($99) option makes use of the same Burr-Brown 2134 op-amps,
but adds a series of constant current sources to force the amplifiers into full
Class A bias. The result is a an ultra-tight sound with amazing musical
detail and resolution over the entire frequency range.
the top-of-the-line Max Electronics Module ($399) is physically larger
than the other modules to accommodate the single-amp-per-package Burr-Brown OPA627
op-amps. These precision FET (DiFET) operational amplifier are some of the best
and most expensive audio op-amps available. But what is cost when trying to achieve
audio nirvana. The Max module also uses gold coated, heavy 2 oz. copper traces
with gold coating all on a four-layer circuit board.
If you are willing to get the Max Module, then you
may want to consider the stepped attenuator volume control option. The sonic clarity
offered by the discrete resistors design with the custom-made 24-position stepped
attenuator volume control is superior. HeadRoom is always available should you
need assistance in choosing the various options on your Desktop Amp.
to Analog Converter (DAC) Options
HeadRoom offers the basic Desktop
DAC ($249) that is based on the Cirrus CS4398 chip which is their top-of-the-line,
flagship DAC. The CS4398 is a 120 dB, 24-Bit, 192 kHz Stereo D/A Converter with
impressive performance. The CS4398 has a selectable fast and slow digital interpolation
filter followed by an oversampled multi-bit delta-sigma modulator that includes
mismatch shaping technology that eliminates distortion due to capacitor mismatch.
The next stage is a multi-element switched capacitor stage and low pass filter
with differential analog outputs.
HeadRoom also offers the same Burr-Brown OPA627 op-amps used in their Home
DAC option ($299) and places the Cirrus CS4398 DAC unit into true constant-current
Class "A" bias. This results in an improvement in overall DAC smoothness
and musical detail resolution.
the ultimate DAC performance, HeadRoom offers the Max DAC option ($399),
which features a high performance Analog Devices AD1896 is a sample rate converter.
The AD1896 chip sits between the digital receiver and the CS4398 DAC. It receives
the incoming digital data from the digital receiver, stores it, up-samples it,
interpolates it and then sends it off to the CS4398 DAC.
There is no doubt that Class-A operation draws a significant
amount of current from the power supply and that is why HeadRoom offers the Desktop
Power Supply (DPS). The DPS features voltage tracking regulator circuits that
precisely and accurately responds to dynamic current variations. Six independent
outputs located on the rear panel of the unit provide clean power to as many as
six of your audio components using 5-pin DIN-plug power receptacles.
used the Desktop Amp for several months and our desktop audio never sounded better.
Even with sources that were a bit compressed using 320 kb/s MP3 files, audio sounded
excellent. It became quite obvious that our factory DAC electronics in our PC
was doing very bad things to the audio signal. By running the USB cable from our
PC we heard incredible detail especially when paired with a set of AKG
701 or Sennheiser HD600 headphones.
We also enjoyed the new clarity we heard on our Shure E500PTH earphones.
also connected the Desktop Amp to our PC speakers and heard a noticeable improvement
in sound quality. While audio performance can vary widely between speaker systems
connected to the PC, it was still clear that this front-end was making a huge
improvement in sound quality.
The Desktop Amp is a great product that offers audiophiles improved sound
quality for their laptops or desktops. The higher performance options will please
the most critical audiophile. Our desktop actually became an enjoyable source
for our audio and with the large disc capacity and internet access for the content
information, we developed a new fondness for our PC. We all spend a significant
amount of time on our PCs, probably far more than we want to. Having high quality
music content at your fingertips will help get you through the day. The Desktop
Amp may be the ticket.