HeadRoom Supreme headphone amplifier Wes Phillips, July 1996
HeadRoom's $399 HeadRoom Supreme headphone amplifier seemed the logical comparison to the Audio Alchemy HPA v1.0/PS3. The portable HeadRoom can run off either a small wall-wart, or an external four-D-cell power pack. I prefer its sound with the battery pack, so I used that for my comparisons.
They were both very good, but the Audio Alchemy sounded just a shade coarser, with a bit of grit in the upper octaves. On "Third Uncle," from Brian Eno's Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy), remastered and Super-Bit-Mapped on Virgin's Eno Box II (Virgin 3 V23Z 39114 3-CD set), this added an edge that was not out of keeping with the music—an effect that I enjoyed, even as I questioned its faithfulness to the signal. The Audio Alchemy controlled the headphones with greater authority, however, and propelled Brian Turrington's bass-line along like crazy.
"Rasd al-dhil Bashraf Sammai," from this month's "Recording of the Month," by the Eduardo Paniagua group, of course, did not benefit in the same way from the Alchemy's edginess. There the leading edge of the plucked oud just sounded coarsened and somewhat fuzzy. The frame drum had greater body and slam, but its reverberation in the room sounded diminished. The HeadRoom was, to my ears, slightly but significantly better. [And] if you travel, the HeadRoom can play off of its battery pack for over 20 hours—which will get you pretty far around the world before you have to recharge.—Wes Phillips