CanJam-RMAF 2010 Report, Part 2 of 4

Headphone amps and amp/DACs
CEntrance DACmini CX DAC/Headphone Amp,
HeadAmp Pico Slim,
CanJam-RMAF 2010 Report, Part 2 of 4

This is Part 2 of a four-part report.

·      Click here to read Part 1.
·      Click here to read Part 3.
·      Click here to read Part 4.



CEntrance products offer a compelling blend of high technology (CEntrance develops high performance USB interface technologies that have been licensed to some of the best DAC makers in the market) and sheer cleverness and usability. A great case in point would be the CEntrance DACport (click here to read the Playback review), which is portable, USB-powered, 24/96 USB DAC combined with a pure class A headphone amplifier offered in a package that looks for all the world like a high-tech, machined aluminum “cigar.”

But for CanJam-RMAF, CEntrance rolled out a versatile new product call the DACmini CX ($795), which is sure to delight users of Apple’s popular MAC Mini (yes, the similarity between the product’s names is deliberate). The DACmini is a powerful and versatile 96/24 DAC and class A headphone amplifier fitted into a chassis that is the exact size and shape of a MAC Mini (the two look great when stacked upon one another). The DACmini CX sports USB, Toslink, and coaxial SP/DIF digital audio inputs for its DAC section, a line-level analog audio input, and, of course, an analog line-level output.

According to Michael Goodman, CEntrance’s managing director, the firm eventually plans to offer as many as six different versions of the DACmini, including a DAC-only version, a version with a built-in iPod dock, and a version that will include a built-in integrated amplifier. AVguide/Playback will keep you posted further details become available.


Fosgate/Musical Surroundings

Here’s an exciting new headphone development that, technically speaking, was not part of CanJam but was part of the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Legendary high-end audio circuit designer Jim Fosgate (yes, he of Rockford-Fosgate fame) has announced that he is in the process of developing a vacuum tube-powered headphone amp, which will be manufactured and distributed by Musical Surroundings. Few technical details on the new amp were available at RMAF, though the Musical Surroundings team brought along a design mock up to show. As you can see from the photo, the headphone amp will follow the same elegant industrial design theme pioneered in Fosgate’s award winning Signature Phonostage Preamplifier. If the headphone amp sounds as good as the Phonostage does, then we’re all in for a treat.

Head Amp

Head Amp had not announced any new models since CanJam-Chicago 2010, held in June of this year, though it had key elements of its product range on display at CanJam—RMAF.  

Among those products were Head Amp’s very thin Pico Slim portable headphone amplifier ($399), the Pico portable amp with upsampling 24/96 USB DAC ($499), and the spectacular Kevin Gilmore-designed, tube-powered Blue Hawaii SE electrostatic headphone amplifier ($5000).

The big, beautiful, two-chassis Blue Hawaii SE sounded superb when matched with the set of Stax electrostatic headphones that Head Amp had on hand at its display table.


Regular Playback readers will already be familiar with the HiFiMAN HE-5LE orthodynamic (or planar-magnetic) headphone ($699), of which our editors think very highly. For CanJam-RMAF, however, Head-Direct/HiFiMAN’s Fang Bian announced the full production release of his even more impressive flagship HE-6, which is a hand-made, planar-magnetic model ($1199).

The HE-6 builds upon the formidable strengths of the HE-5LE design (click here to read the Playback review of the HE-5LE), but pushes the performance envelope even harder in pursuit of extraordinary levels of resolution in a design that can still be powered by conventional headphone amplifiers.

Earlier prototypes of the HE-6 needed to be powered by full-size amplifiers of the type you would normally use to drive loudspeakers, but the production version of the HE-6 is more efficient than the prototypes and thus can be powered by normal headphone amps (albeit with volume levels turned up a good bit).

Watch for a full-length review of the HE-6 to be included in the upcoming Playback Guide to Full-Size Headphones, which will be released just a few weeks from now.

One other item of interest was Fang Bian’s working prototype of HiFiMAN’s upcoming EF-6 preamp/headphone amplifier. At this early stage in the development process, pricing for EF-6 could conceivably range anywhere from $700 to $1500, depending on how final parts selections affect overall build costs.

Humorously, the prototype EF-6 used the faux leather-clad presentation case of one of HiFiMAN’s full-size headphones as its, um, “chassis”—complete with hand-marked notes warning CanJam attendees not to touch the high voltage components within (see photo). The EF-6 sounded terrific when driving the new HE-6 ‘phones, though your guess is as good as mine as to what the final production version might look like.  

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