Blossom is a Japanese manufacturer whose BLO-0299 Artifact Headphone Amplifier is imported to the U.S. by Moon Audio. For obvious reasons, I hope, I will refer to the amp as “the Blossom” in this review.
The Blossom’s claims to fame are the use of integrated circuits instead of discrete parts (I know that this is backward from the normal pitch, but that’s the claim) and the ability to drive difficult and/or balanced loads. Moon can supply the Blossom with a Wellborne regulated power supply in place of the normal wall wart design, and that is the way we tested it.
Other features of note include point-to-point wiring, the use of relays for all signal switching to keep signal paths short, the incorporation of metal film resistors and the use of no electrolytic capacitors in the signal path. In addition to being able to drive headphones with balanced wiring, the Blossom can alternatively drive two pair of single-ended headphones. The amp accepts balanced or single-ended inputs, and has line outputs so it can also drive a power amplifier. Finally, gain is switchable for use with those difficult loads mentioned above.
Consider this headphone amp if: you want an amp with an even tonal balance and purity of sound, but you also want to avoid the edgy or harsh sound that can accompany more aggressively “transparent” designs.
Look elsewhere if: macro-dynamic slam is at the top of your list of sonic desires or you really need maximum output with tough loads.
Ratings (compared to similarly-priced headphone amplifiers)
• Tonal Balance: 9.5
• Clarity: 9.5
• Dynamics: 8.5
• Output Flexibility: 8.5
• Value: 9.0
The Blossom left me with the impression—I almost hate to say this—that it is the prototypical ultra high-end Japanese amp, at least sonically speaking. I mean this as a complement. When listening to it, I was repeatedly reminded of the sound of the superb (and stratospherically priced) Zanden audio components. Fortunately, the price of the Blossom is perfectly reasonable for the quality on offer here.
By referring to the sound as “high-end Japanese”, I mean several things. First of all, each tone on the Blossom is treated with respect. I’d say the Blossom has super low distortion, or in audiophile terms very low grain. Each note simply emerges without a sense of edge or grit. This purity allows the listener to relax and focus on the music, and is the kind of quality you might not realize is desirable until you hear it. I assume that the tag line for the amp, “Artifact Headphone Amplifier”, comes from the “Lost In Translation” department rather than the Irony department at Blossom HQ. Whichever is the case, “Zero Artifacts” would be more like it.
Secondly, the Blossom puts just a bit of light on the midrange. This is not an amp where bass air or treble zing are overemphasized, and this again gives the musical proceedings a relaxed naturalness. This can lead to a sense of bass reserve or lightness, however. And, on the treble end of things, I might call the results “golden” in that mid and upper treble are well accounted for but ever so slightly diminished in volume.
Dynamically, the Blossom seems very controlled, in keeping with the overall purity of the design. Treble transients have a sublime mixture of speed and grace, which can be quite involving. At times I wanted a bit more slam, but experience teaches there is often a price to be paid for that desire in terms of occasional bloat and splash.
Someone who loves musical subtlety was probably involved in voicing the Blossom, since it simply sounds right many discs, and never does anything to draw your attention off of the music.
On The Unthanks’ song “Because He Was a Bonny Lad” [Here’s The Tender Coming, Rough Trade], the opening voices are presented in a natural acoustic, which you can hear well (because it isn’t smeared over), though at same time the decay of the reverb is a trifle over damped. The voices on this and subsequent tracks sound more real than I’m used to with the similarly priced amps we’ve had in the lab.
On Charles Mingus’ “Better Get It In Your Soul” [Mingus Ah Um, Columbia] the opening cymbal work is clean, open and detailed—sounding like actual cymbals (a rarity). This observation held up even when the Blossom drove the Sennheiser HD 800s, which aren’t always clean up on top. Related to this, I wasn’t bothered as much by the upper midrange dip of the HD 800s with the Blossom.