HeadRoom Max headphone amplifier
I guess it all started when I was a kid—I'd go to bed and tune my radio to faraway stations. That's where I first heard real R&B, Chicago-style blues, and hard-core honky-tonk. It was comforting listening alone in the dark and, well, sometimes I'd get really excited.
Such as the first time I heard Howlin' Wolf. Nothing in my white-bread upbringing had prepared me for that, let me tell you. I didn't know what to make of it, but somehow I just knew there had to be more where that came from—and I knew I had to get me some.
When I finally got a stereo of my own, the first thing I did was take it apart to see if I could add a headphone jack. I didn't have a clue what went on inside an amplifier, but that 'phones jones had me so completely in its thrall that I traced the circuit back from the outputs and discovered that it made sense. I breathed my first solder fumes that day.
That could well have been a pivotal point in my adolescence—after all, sitting in the dark and brooding is considered unhealthy, but sitting in the dark listening to music is socially acceptable. Sort of.
I was going to say that headphones saved my sanity when I lived in a college dorm, but that point could be considered debatable. Less arguable, however, might be their role in saving my life. I stayed sane by drowning out my dorm-mates' Grand Funk Railroad and Deep Purple records, playing my own Harry Partch, Edgard Varèse, and Stravinsky records through my Koss Pro 4AAs. Had I instead tried to outblast the dorm with my stereo, somebody would have killed me for sure.
Ditto most of my later roommates. And, for all of her understanding and tolerance, my wife as well. Somehow, she's never been able to hear the point of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music—least of all at high volume.
No one is more surprised by this turn of events than I. Somehow, I'd always assumed that being an adult entailed doing whatever you wanted—especially in your own house. (So, I'm not very observant—I never reckoned on such tiny details as jobs, mortgages, and kids. What can I say?)
You might think that my exposure to the best of the High End would have spoiled me for headphone listening, but thanks to companies like Grado, Stax, Sennheiser, McCormack, Melos, and HeadRoom, the best in headphone listening has kept pace. Considering that Sennheiser's Orpheus rig can set you back a cool $15,000, or that Stax's Omega represents an investment of $4500, it's obvious that I'm not alone in my solitary passion. However, those systems represent the ultimate in headphone listening and are as out of reach for me as are any of the speakers in Class A of "Recommended Components."
Fortunately there are folks out there like Tyll Hertsens of HeadRoom, who has made it a personal mission to bring high-end headphone listening to the masses. I wouldn't dream of traveling without his portable Supreme (reviewed by JA in Vol.17 Nos.1 and 2), and I've derived hours of pleasure from his Home HeadRoom (reviewed by me in Vol.18 No.1). Now Tyll has gotten ambitious. His new HeadRoom Max (shades of Matt Frewer!) is his contender for the state-of-the-art headphone amplifier crown—and at less than $1500 to boot.