• HP-A8—Desktop headphone amplifier/32-bit DAC, shown in pre-production prototype form. (Due in early 2012, priced at about $2000).
• TH900—Closed-back, circumaural headphone with dynamic drivers featuring magnet systems rated at 1.5 Tesla (!!), and lacquered cherry wood ear cups, shown in pre-production prototype form. (Due in early 2012, priced at about $2000)
• HP-P1—Portable headphone amp with built-in digital iDevice-compatible DAC. ($649)
The giant Japanese firm Fostex exhibited a wide array of products at Can Jam, but three in particular caught my eye: the HPA8 flagship desktop headphone amplifier/32-bit DAC, the TH900 flagship dynamic driver headphone, and the HP-P1 portable headphone amplifier with digital iDevice-compatible DAC. The first two of these were new product announcements for Can Jam, while the third was an already released product that has generated significant buzz within the headphone community of late. Let me provide a few key details to describe each in turn.
The HP-A8 is an extremely ambitious headphone amp/32-bit DAC. The DAC section of the device can support audio files with up to 32-bit resolution (or 24-bit resolution from Windows-based sources) at data rates up to 192 kHz. Digital inputs include USB (asynchronous mode with high precision clock), AES/EBU, coaxial, and a pair of optical inputs; the HP-A8 also provides a switch selectable 2x or 4X upsampling feature (or allows upsampling to be turned off). Finally, the DAC provides two digital filter settings—one allowing “sharp roll off” and the other allowing “short delay.” One very interesting (and quite uncommon) feature is that the HP-A8 also supports playback of DSD (direct stream digital) files from a built-in SD card drive. The analog section of the HP-A8, says Fostex, provides a “large-capacity toroidal power supply,” features an “all-discrete analog circuitry headphone amplifier,” and offers an “audiophile quality electronic volume” control. We’re looking forward to hearing it.
The TH900 headphone appears perfectly straightforward at first glance, but the genius may well be in the details, as is so often the case. The TH900 is a closed-back, dynamic driver headphone, with ear cups exquisitely finished in traditional Japanese “Urushi”-style lacquer (the finish looks almost unbelievably deep and rich). But it’s what’s inside that counts and there you’ll find 50mm drivers powered by motors whose magnet assemblies—please note—provide a staggering 1.5 Tesla of magnetic flux density. To put that remark in context, note that Beyerdynamic’s flagship T1 Tesla headphone was the previous all-time record holder in this area, with driver motors that provided 1 Tesla of magnetic flux density (a feat never before achieved until the T1 Tesla came along). The upshot of this is that the TH900 offers a remarkably open, articulate, and finely resolved sound—a sound that may in fact challenge some of today’s most advanced planar magnetic or electrostatic headphones, at least in some respect. We can’t wait to hear what the final production version of the TH900 sounds like.
Last but not least comes the Fostex HP-P1 portable headphone amp/DAC, which may pack more sonically meaningful features per cubic inch than we’ve seen in a portable product before. For starters, the HP-P1 features an iDevice compatible 32-bit DAC interface. The DAC section, in turn, provides two switch selectable digital filter settings—one for “sharp roll-off” and the other providing “minimum delay … without pre-echo.” The analog section of the amp provides three switch selectable gain settings, so that the amp can accommodate very high-sensitivity in-ear monitors, yet can dial up enough clout to power relatively insensitive full-size headphones (or something in between those two extremes). Finally, the HP-P1 offers both SP/DIF digital and analog line outputs so that it can be used as a recording interface. The last bit of icing on the cake is that the HP-P1 can be powered either by its onboard Lithium-ion battery or by a USB cable. Needless to say, this little portable is incredibly versatile.