Next up we were treated to a preview of a model destined to become a (somewhat) cost-reduced version of the TH-900; namely, the TH-600 (~$1499), which sports 1 Tesla dynamic drivers.
Finally, Fostex’ HP-A8C DAC/headphone amp ($1999) is now in full production release (it was shown at last year’s Can-Jam as a pilot production prototype. The HP-A8C is a desktop component that, upon close inspection, seems almost unbelievably full-featured. For starters, the HP-A8C sports a stereo analog input plus a 32/192-capable Asahi Kasei AK4399 DAC, which supports the unit’s digital inputs: two optical, one coax, one AES/EBU, and one USB. Moreover, the HP-A8C provides an SD card slot through which it is possible to play DSD-format audio files (which can also be played through the USB input). There are also two Asahi Kasei-designed digital filter options, including a “minimum delay” setting said to “eliminate pre-echo.” The faceplate sports output jacks for two headphones, an alphanumeric status display, and controls for selecting inputs and outputs, where the user can choose digital (coax or optical) or analog (stereo RCA jack) outputs, and has the option of choosing “Direct Out” settings that bypass the HP-A8C’s volume control. Last but not least, the HP-A8C comes with a compact, full-function remote.
Depending on whom you ask, HeadAmp may be best known in some high-end headphone circles for its spectacular, Gilmore-designed, tube-powered Blue Hawaii SE electrostatic headphone amp, but for Can Jam the firm focused on two new product positioned at much more modest price points. Specifically, HeadAmp showed its new, ultra-compact, USB-powered, 16/48-capable Pico USB Upsampling DAC ($299) and its impressive Pico Power 18V portable headphone amp ($450). For both these units the emphasis is less on “Oooh-Ahhh"-grade specifications designed to wow the masses and more on the fundamentals of build quality and sound quality.
In fact, company founder Justin Wilson told Hi-Fi+ he considers the Pico Power 18V the best sounding portable amp the company has offered to date. As to build quality, let’s just say that Wilson appreciates finer points of workmanship that most manufacturers either don’t know about or (perhaps) don’t care about. His dedicated efforts add up to quality you can readily see and feel whenever you lay hands on HeadAmp products.
HiFiMAN is arguably best known for its broad family of great-sounding planar magnetic headphones, but long before the firm ever made headphones it got its start by offering high performance portable music players (in fact, in the early days the company offered what were essentially rebuilt and seriously hot-rodded Sony Walkmans—hence the name “HiFiMAN”). You can see those roots in a highly evolved form in an upcoming new HiFiMAN product that was previewed at Can Jam: namely, the HM-901 high resolution portable music player/DAC (~$1000), which HiFiMAN claims will be “the best sounding portable music player on the market.”
To get an idea of just how serious a product the HM-901 is meant to be, understand that it will be a portable player based on not one but two ESS 32-bit ES9018 Sabre DAC chips, which are used to provide decoding for multiple digital audio formats at resolutions up to 24/192. But resolution, alone, is only part of the story, because the HM-901 is exceptionally full-featured and capable of being used not just as a portable player, but in many other contexts. For example, the HM-901 provides a lovely full-color graphical user interface, a built-in WiFi (music server) interface, a socket for installation various types of optional amplifier modules, a stepped attenuator volume control (whose design is the subject of a patent application), and an I/O socket that provides access (via an optional break-out cable) to the following: analog line out connections, coax inputs and outputs, a USB port, and a charging port. Several options are planned for the HM-901, including an outboard power supply, optional amplifier cards and a tabletop dock that will enable to HM-901 to serve as the primary DAC in full-size home audio systems. Pricing for the HM-901 and optional accessories is still subject to change, as there are numerous small configuration details yet to be worked out. To demonstrate the HM-901’s prowess, HiFiMAN invited listeners to compare the sound of their new portable to a very costly Meridian disc player/DAC, both playing identical music files, with results that were eye opening to say the least.