I don't remember who told me about Bottlehead, but I'd like to thank whoever it was that made the introduction. I review and play around with a lot of audio gear, and as much as I love great budget stuff, the best-sounding products are always a lot more expensive. Not this time; the Bottlehead Crack amplifier I'm reporting on today goes for just $219, and it sounds like it's five times that price. Bottlehead has been selling electronic kits for 17 years.
First things first; $219 buys the Crack as a build-it-yourself kit, but Bottlehead's founder Dan Schmalle assures me the kit is super easy to build by anyone who knows which end of a soldering iron gets hot. It should take an evening or two to complete. The Crack is an output transformerless amp, specifically designed for high-impedance (100 ohms or higher) headphones like many Sennheiser, AKG, and Beyerdynamic models (Bottlehead offers other amps tuned for low-impedance Grado, Audio Technica, etc., models).
Most Bottlehead customers buy the kits, but the company sells factory-assembled Crack headphone amps for $369, and considering the Crack's build and sound quality, it's still a major deal. The amp's chassis, real wood base, power transformer, PC boards, and even that nifty little Bottlehead badge are all made in the U.S.A. The Crack is a bit bigger than most desktop amps--it's 7 inches wide and 11.25 inches deep--and it was designed by Paul Birkeland.
I first tried the Crack with my high-impedance Sennheiser HD 580 full-size headphones. I bought these at least 10 years ago, and played 'em with countless receivers and headphone amps, but the Crack took the HD 580's sound to the next level. The sound was pure and clear, but never hard or bright. That's what the best tube amps do, you hear more of what's going on in the music, minus the edge or false hyped "detail" of typical budget-priced headphone amps. The Crack delivers bona fide high-end sound.… Read more