I've reviewed and auditioned a lot of headphone amplifiers over the years, but Red Wine Audio's Isabellina HPA LFP-V Edition stood out from the pack. The amp improved the sound of almost every headphone I used with it.
Priced at $2,500 the Isabellina is very much a high-end audio product. Designed and built in Vinnie Rossi's small factory in Durham, Conn., the headphone amp's elegant functionality belies its technical sophistication. Rossi started Red Wine Audio in 2005, and before that he worked on high-speed laser transmitters for Bell Labs.
The Isabellina is more than just a headphone amp; it features a spectacularly good digital-to-analog converter and a hybrid transistor/vacuum tube audio section. While the Isabellina can be run off an AC power outlet, it sounds best powered by high-current lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries. Rossi claims "The batteries use organic, phosphate-based material, providing an ideal combination of performance, safety, reliability and environmental friendliness...in fact, more so than any other rechargeable battery technology."
The amp's digital connectivity options include USB, Coax, and Toslink/optical inputs; there are no analog inputs. The Isabellina has analog outputs, so it can be used as a stereo preamplifier, with a separate power amp to drive speakers, or a digital-to-analog converter in a hi-fi system.
The Isabellina features old tech 16-bit, non-oversampling digital-to-analog converters. Rossi acknowledges the latest chips' specifications look more impressive on paper, but he thinks most of them (even some really expensive ones) sound "quite sterile and artificial" in comparison. The Isabellina will work with digital sample rates up to 192kHz, but it will only playback with 16-bit resolution. … Read more