Snapshot Product Reviews

Apr 1, 2008 12:00 PM


Education Guide

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High-Output Personal Headphone Amp

The HeadPod 454 from Aphex is a 1-input/4-output headphone amp. Priced at $249, it works in many situations, including computer-based production, location recording (if AC is available) and live sound, but I found that the 454 excelled in tracking loud instruments (i.e., drums) and providing detail at low levels.

With the 454's “high output” as a prime selling point, Aphex provides an output vs. impedance chart that indicates a maximum level for each of the four headphone outs at approximately 1,200 mW (8 ohms) diminishing down to 110 mW (600 ohms). The form factor is small, coming in at 5.5×2×4.25 (W×H×D) inches, about three-quarters the size of a PreSonus HP4, but the 454 isn't rackmountable — it's a tabletop unit.

The 454 is a sturdy box that should stand up to daily use and a lot of moving around. The top-mounted controls are straight-ahead: one master volume and four individual output controls for each output channel, all continuously variable. Inputs are metal TRS jacks (another plus for ruggedness), with a 20k-ohm input impedance and a maximum +24dBu input level. A rear panel switch selects the dual, balanced TRS inputs for left/right signals, or the single, unbalanced TRS input, which can be used for L/R signals coming from the output of a soundcard, portable computer or any source that needs a kick in volume. Power is provided by a 12VAC wall wart.

I A/B'd the 454 with a PreSonus HP4 using a 250-ohm Beyer DT770 Pro, a 65-ohm Audio-Technica ATH-M30, a 63-ohm Sony MDR7506 and 600-ohm AKG K40M headphones. I referenced mastered, commercially available CDs, as well as 24-bit/96kHz original Pro Tools files, both of which had plenty of punchy drum tracks. The DT770s reached their limits before either headphone amp. The ATH-M30s were a different story: The 454 had more headroom. I reached the limits of the HP4, but the 454 gave that extra kick that started moving the headphone pads away from my head, simply from the SPL. The MDR7506s produced similar results — both amplifiers had more drive than I could stand. With their higher impedance, the AKG K40Ms were definitely better served by the 454. At low levels, I noticed subtle differences in ingredients up front in the mix when compared to the output of the HP4. Vocal ‘esses’ have a bit more detail, along with the rest of the vocal range, particularly in the upper-harmonic structure. Reverb tails had a bit more separation from the primary signals.

Bottom line: Clean is the name of the game with the 454. At high and low levels, this box provides plenty of gain and detail at both ends of the SPL scale.

— Bobby Frasier

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