While the main chassis and heat sink fins of the BHSE amplifier and power supply are always finished in satin black, owners can specify the color of the amp/power supply’s faceplates and trim pieces (several choices are available, as you’ll see from the photos accompanying this review).
This doesn’t mean tube rollers or aftermarket modifiers can’t attempt to tweak the design if they wish, but there is really no need to do so. The Blue Hawaii SE is aimed toward buyers who wants (and expect) the designer to ferret out the best choices rather than leaving users to “finish” the design by making various parts upgrades. The Blue Hawaii SE falls solidly in the “this product is fully optimized—no further tweaking required” camp.
The other element of the Blue Hawaii that merits attention is the batch-build and direct sale approach. When you realize that electrostatic headphones and especially a super-premium model like the SR-009, are low-volume, niche products, then you can see that a small company like HeadAmp probably has a difficult challenge forecasting demand for special-purpose electrostatic headphone amps. Their sensible response is to accept orders and, as they see demand ramp up, to run off a batch of amps to meet current orders and, in theory, to complete a few more units for inventory. Wilson acknowledges, however, that thus far production batches of BHSE’s have almost always sold out before all the amplifiers in the batch were completed. For this reason, prospective owners should understand that the best strategy is to pre-order their BHSE amps (a refundable deposit is required) to reserve a unit in the production queue. As you’ll learn in a moment, the BHSE is well worth the wait.
Consider this electrostatic headphone amp if:
• You seek an amp that works beautifully with the very clean, clear, and revealing Stax SR-009 headphones—an amp that marries resolution with a superb sense of warmth, life and integrity in the music.
• You prize an amplifier that shows how individual pieces and parts of the musical fabric are woven together to create a cohesive whole (this in contrast to amps that delineate elements of the sound, but sometimes neglect the overall sweep, flow, and “feel” of the music).
Look elsewhere if:
• You love electrostatic headphones precisely because of their ability to capture subtle nuances in the music, and therefore want an amp that lets you maximize your access to analytical detail and resolution. The BHSE is extremely good in both these areas, but some competing amps push the edge of the resolution envelope even harder than the Blue Hawaii does.
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced electrostatic headphone amps):
• Tonal Balance: 9.5
• Clarity: 9.0
• Dynamics: 9.5
• Input/Output Flexibility: 8.0
• Value: 8.5
When we talk about good amplifiers we often describe them using the same adjectives we use for the sound of speakers or headphones. This suggests that the differences between amps are as marked as the differences between speakers, which decidedly is not the case. It is pretty easy to hear the differences between amps, but the degree of difference isn’t anything like what you might experience with transducers (that is, headphones, loudspeakers, etc.). It is important to keep that in mind when comparing the review of an amp like the Blue Hawaii SE with a competing amp.
Overall, the Blue Hawaii SE seems rather neutral, with perhaps a touch of warmth and a bit of grain apparent on first listening. Interestingly, the neutrality of the Blue Hawaii SE shows up in a listening perspective that focuses on the musical “forest” as much as on the “trees”—a quality that allows you to focus on musical themes and dynamics as much as on instrumental detail or the amplifier’s underlying frequency response characteristics. When listening through the BHSE, the related short–term reaction you may notice is the desire to listen to whole tracks and to keep exploring your musical library, hour after hour. We mention these initial impressions because experience teaches that these more visceral, intuitive reactions are often predictive of responses that will linger long after our intellectual or analytical attempts to characterize or explain the amplifier’s sound.