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Hi-Fi+ Products of the Year: Headphone amplifiers and DACs

Hi-Fi+ Products of the Year: Headphone amplifiers and DACs

Desktop Headphone Amp/DAC of the Year

Joint winner: Moon by Simaudio 430HAD headphone amp/DAC/preamp

As the high-end headphone movement has gathered momentum, many traditional electronics manufacturers have tried to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ to offer headphone amplifiers, though few have been as successful as they hoped. The fact is that great headphone amps are harder to design than most people think, meaning that experience counts. Happily, the Moon by Simaudio team really did its homework before setting down the design of its ambitious 430HAD headphone amp/DAC and as a result they created a powerful, versatile, and sophisticated unit able to challenge state-of-the-art designs, straight out of the gate. The amp section of the 430HAD is wonderfully quiet, offers endless power reserves, and is capable of stunning resolution. The DAC section comes straight from Moon’s Evolution-series design book, although the amp section is ultimately the stronger performer of the two. Those seeking a world-class headphone amp/DAC need look no further. (Reviewed in Issue 122.)

Joint winner: Oppo HA-1 headphone amp/DAC/preamp

Leveraging technologies from the award-winning BDP-105D universal/Blu-ray disc player, Oppo’s HA-1 stands as a versatile and accomplished desktop headphone amp/DAC/preamp that offers truly exceptional value for money. The HA-1 DAC section is based on the ESS 9018 Sabre32 Reference DAC and supports PCM formats up to 32-bit/384kHz resolutions, as well as DSD files up to DSD256. The HA-1 preamp section provides AES/EBU, coaxial
S/PDIF, optical, and USB digital inputs, Bluetooth support, and both balanced and single-ended analogue inputs and outputs. Moreover, the HA-1 provides a quiet, powerful, balanced Class A amplifier circuit that can deliver 2 watts into 32-Ohm headphone loads. Capping things off is an attractive chassis and graphical user interface. The result is a component that finds the elusive sweet spot between detail, resolution, and graceful musicality. We highly recommend the HA-1, especially for those seeking near king-of-the-hill performance at an accessible, down-to-earth price. (Review in Issue 119.)

Portable Headphone Amp/DAC of the Year

Chord Electronics Mojo

How could we not include the new Mojo from Chord Electronics? Launched at the end of last year to some fairly significant – but justifiable – hype, the Mojo is the battery-powered ‘son of Hugo’ DAC that delivers extremely high performance, custom DAC quality sound up to the highest PCM and DSD grades, in a package designed for simplicity, coolness, and sound quality. Capable of driving surprisingly punishing headphones on the move, the little £399 portable headphone amp/DAC delivers the sort of hyper-detailed, yet approachable and downright fun performance the best super high-end players were unable to achieve just a few years ago. And yet, it does so in a package designed to be as small as a packet of cigarettes. The only problem is getting one: Chord is making Mojos as fast as it can and still struggles to prevent a long waiting list – such is the price of success! (Review pending.)

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