I'm a lucky guy, I've heard most of the world's very best headphones: Sennheiser's HD 800 and their legendary Orpheus, the Audeze LCD 2 and 3, the Stax SR-007 ($2,600), SR-009 ($5,200), and now I'm spending quality time with Hifiman's flagship HE-6 planar magnetic headphones. I've long admired Hifiman's designs, starting with their very first model, the HE-5 back in 2009. The HE-6 looks nearly identical to Hifiman's current HE-4, HE-400, HE-5LE, and HE-500 headphones, but the HE-6 is heavier (502 grams), and it feels like it's built … Read more
I've written about Schiit's amazing headphone amps before, but their new Lyr is the company's first high-output headphone amplifier. It delivers up to 6 watts into 32 ohm headphones. If that sounds like overkill for most headphones I'd agree, but there are a few headphones that need more power to sound their best. That's where the Schiit Lyr ($449) comes into its own.
I cover a wide range of headphones on this blog, everything from the $40 Deos earbuds to the state-of-the-art Woo Audio WES headphone amplifier ($4,500) and Stax SR-007Mk2 headphones ($2,410). I've written about a lot of great headphones priced between those two extremes.
The common thread to all of the headphones I cover here is they all have excellent sound quality, but if there's one thing I know about the audio business, it's that most people don't prioritize sound quality, even when a better sounding product fits within their budget. With headphones, most buyers … Read more
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