Stereophile's Products of 2012 Headphone Component of the Year
Grace Design m903 D/A headphone amplifier ($1995; reviewed by John Marks, Vol.34 No.12 Review)
The American-made Grace Design m903 D/A headphone amplifier received nothing but first-place votes (7), thus collecting the third highest total number of votes (19) of any of our winners. Our writers absolutely hate agreeing with one another, so what makes Grace's latest headphone amp such an uncommonly common choice among our contentious crew?
The m903 is an almost total revision of its predecessor, the already excellent m902. Its DAC, USB 2.0 module, transimpedance amplifier circuit, and volume control are all new; its power supply, balanced current-to-voltage converter, headphone crossfeed, digital lock, and numeric display are all improved; and it comes standard with balanced analog outputs. Besides all that, the m903 is packed with conveniences: It has two headphone jacks, two sets of line-level analog outputs, balanced and single-ended analog inputs, and a volume knob with a three-stage acceleration curve in increments of 0.5, 2.0, and 4.0dB.
But best of all, the m903's USB module is the asynchronous sort, using technology licensed from Wavelength Audio and developed by top-rankin' digital guru Gordon Rankin. Grace isolates the USB port from the audio ground, thereby preventing the computer's rascally power-supply noise from getting into the precious audio circuits. Sweet!
The sound? JM said it was a lot like the earlier modelswarm, rich, full-bodied, and easy to lovebut with even better resolution of musical details and greater overall sophistication. In fact, the m903 handled music so gently, so gracefully, that one visitor to JM's home was moved to call it "feminine." (Ooh-la-la.)
JM concluded: "The Grace Design m903 continues the tradition set by its predecessors by being a great, high-resolution DAC in a very cost-effective package that offers remarkable clarity, continuity, and roundness of tone, and is better in almost every way than the m902."
Runners-up (in alphabetical order)
Audio-Technica ATH-W3000ANV headphones ($1299.95; reviewed by Sam Tellig, Vol.35 No.7)
Musical Fidelity V-CAN II headphone amplifier ($199; reviewed by Sam Tellig, Vol.35 No.2)
Pioneer SE-MJ591 headphones ($299; reviewed by Sam Tellig, Vol.35 No.9)