ECP Audio focuses on developing what might be termed “high purity” headphone amps and DACs, and to this end the firm believes in using transformer coupling in both its tube powered and solid-state designs, while avoiding having capacitors in the audio signal path wherever possible. At Can Jam, ECP showed prototypes for three future products that should be released around the time of the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, later this year. Future products included the tube powered L’espressivo* headphone amp (~$1600-$2500, to be offered with three possible grades of parts, a MOSFET hybrid headphone amp that could conceivably be called the Hybrid L’esspressivo (~$1600), and the high performance ECP DAC ($1000).
Interestingly, the Hybrid L’espressivo is a CCS-loaded MOSFET-powered headphone amplifier with transformer-coupled output and input stages. The ECP DAC, in turn, uses Wolfson voltage-out DAC devices and features transformer-coupled outputs. ECP has also been teaming with Beezar (covered in Part 1 of this report) to create a cost-reduced, kit-version of the tube-powered L’espressivo amp.
* L’espressivo is just a working title for now, so that the product’s name may change before it reaches production.
As the firm’s name suggest, Head Amp is all about developing high-quality headphone amplifiers. At Can Jam, Head Amp showed the beautiful, two-chassis Blue Hawaii SE electrostatic headphone amp ($5000), which is Head Amp’s rendition of a well-regarded Kevin Gilmore design, the GS-1 preamp/headphone amp, the Pico Slim headphone amp ($349), the Pico DAC 96/24 upsampling USB DAC ($349), and the Pico DAC/amp ($499), which essentially combines the functions of the Pico Slim and Pico DAC in one chassis.
As many of you already know, Head Room is both a manufacturer and an extremely well regarded distributor of a diverse range of headphones and headphone-related products. But if you mostly know of Head Room through its portable headphone amps and DACs (e.g., the familiar Total AirHead and Total BitHead), which are quite fine products in their own right, then you may not realize how very serious Head Room’s more upscale desktop audio components have become. Most if not all Head Room products were on display at Can Jam, but the ones that really caught my attention (and that of many other attendees) were the Ultra-series components, including: the Ultra Balanced Desktop Amp ($1699), the Ultra Desktop Amp ($1599), and the Ultra Desktop DAC ($1299). Two other closely related, but non-Ultra-series, components were the Desktop Power Supply ($499), and the Desktop Amp/DAC ($799).
An important tip for value-minded listeners: a Head Room spokesperson advised that listeners seeking the maximum possible “bang for the buck” would do well to consider the Desktop Amp/DAC, since it leverages much of the technical know-how from its higher-end Ultra-series brethren, while combining amp and DAC functions in a compact, cost-effective package.
Hearing Components is a spin-off from the giant 3M Company, and it holds core patents involving use of compliant foam materials for use as eartips for in-ear headphones. Hearing Components offer a range of Comply Foam Tips to fit almost all popular models of universal fit in-ear headphones. Models include the T100, T400, and T500 eartips (three pairs for $14,95) and the TX100, TX400, and TX500 eartips (three pairs for $19.95). The only difference between the T and TX models is that the TX tips provide thin, acoustically transparent Wax Guard screens the prevent ear wax from clogging the earpieces of your headphones. I tried out a set of the TX tips on a pair of Monster Cable Miles Davis Tribute in-ear headphones, and found the results impressive, both in terms of sound quality and wearer comfort.