Headphones and Earphones

Burson HA-160 Headphone Amplifier

ARTICLE INDEX

In Use

I set up the HA-160 on my desk using my Headroom ultra desktop as the DAC. It was fed a 24 bit 96 kHz SPDIF signal from an M-Audio 2496 PCI soundcard. I ran the HA-160 at moderately high volume level driving my Denon AH-D7000 over a weekend. All the Headroom processing features were turned off during my listening. After the break-in, the HA-160 immediately sounded brilliant.

The first and most clear improvement over the Headroom Ultra Desktop (which is a great amplifier, by the way. I own one), was an improvement in dynamics. Transient impact and overall “aliveness” gained ground. The Denon headphones have absolutely fantastic, skull crushing bass when called for, and the HA-160 really brought out the true measure of power in the low range with the Denons, without making them sound bloated or heavy. In fact, the HA-160 managed to add power, impact and depth, while making them simultaneously sound lighter on their feet.

My favorite bass heavy album of late, Daft Punk’s Human After All was absolutely fantastic. Super deep, powerful and fast bass, with every last bit of texture and detail you could hope for. In addition, the top end was even more airy and extended than the Headroom amp, without sounding even a trace hard or harsh. The upper midrange was particularly good. Regina Spektor’s Begin to Hope raised the hair on the back of my neck with its tonal purity and realism, particularly with Spektor’s unaccompanied voice. The place where the HA-160 gave up something to the Headroom amp was in imaging and soundstaging. Headroom’s “crossfeed” image processing technology, that mixes signal from one channel into the other through a time delay, really does result in better imaging. Compared to the Headroom, images in the HA-160 were less focused and precise unless they were exactly in the center of the soundstage. The soundstage collapsed into three locations: center, left and right. There was little or no clear depth information. The Headroom amp had a continuous soundstage from right to left, and offered plenty of depth information, taking the soundstage outside my head. As usual with the Headroom system, the sound seemed to come from above my head, not in front of it, but the spatial information and presentation was considerably better than the HA-160. I guess what it comes down to is what you find important. If tonal purity and dynamics are the most important, than the HA-160 is the winner.

If you love imaging and soundstaging, then the Headroom is the way to go. For me, I can’t give up the spatial superiority of the Headroom, but I still think the HA-160 is a wonderful amp. With the addition of the Headroom crossfeed, it would be perfect for me, but that is definitely not the Burson way.