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Positive Feedback ISSUE46
HQ-1 Headquarter Desktop headphone amplifier
as reviewed by Robert H. Levi
Lately I have been most interested in headphones and head amplifiers. For dynamic cans, my references are the Benchmark DAC1 and the Grado Headphone Amp. Both are extraordinary and totally satisfactory for private high definition listening. Now folks, you have three choices. Enter the KingRex Headphone Amp from KingRex of Taiwan. It's a bit pricey at $895, but is built to the extreme, gorgeous to look at and sexy to use, and may be used as a limited preamp with one input and one single ended output. Sonically, it's just absolutely fabulous and one of the very best headphone amps I've heard to date.
The innards are the best of the best. From their website:
The HQ-1 has amazing definition, mellifluousness, and dynamic energy. With an extended frequency response to 80kHz, this baby is airy to the max. I tried three pairs of cans including the Grado RS-1s, the Beyer DT770s, and Sony's MDRV250s. I used the incredible Kubala-Sosna Elation interconnects ($6000), the revealing Jorma Number 1 interconnects ($4000), and the ultra high value Dynastrand Dynasty interconnects ($439)… each imparted their own musical fingerprints and the HQ-1 changed accordingly.
One thing is for sure, I have never heard a more powerful, super dynamic headphone amp than the KingRex. Plus, with all that wallop you get spectacular ambience and air. I have heard headphone amps powering all brands of cans costing up to $4000. I can't imagine why you'd spend more than $900 after living with the HQ-1. Overall, I heard more dynamic slam with the HQ-1 than with the Grado. I heard more overall definition and ambience than with the Benchmark. That much is clear to me.
You must put 300+ hours on these under load before listening critically. I let them cook for an entire month before reviewing. After 150 hours, I almost returned them to PFO as they just did not sound open or high-end. No worries. At 300 hours, they define open and high-end! They are also are limited to single-ended facilities, so pro fans are out of luck.
As I mentioned earlier, you will want to carefully choose your cabling along with a good power cord. I used the $500 Harmonic Technology Fantasy PC with excellent results. Simply put, the better the ancillaries, the better the definition and overall performance. You should hear the HQ-1 with the Kubala-Sosna Elation interconnects. WOW!
The KingRex HQ-1 is a sonic blockbuster. Sounds as good as your ancillaries and will drive anything in a headphone you might own. And while it needs tons of break-in, it is clearly worth the wait, though I will hesitate to say it completely tops either of my references or is state of the art. Until… there is a half meter balanced cable connecting the two headphone boxes—the power supply with the amplification components. This umbilical will naturally affect the performance of the unit. The stock balanced cord is very neutral and detailed, but lacks warmth and textural cues in the important midband. Every balanced interconnect of high quality I tried in place of the stock cable improved the sound. I ended up using one leg of a one meter Kubala-Sosna Emotion balanced pair of interconnects. The $1500 single cable enhanced the overall performance to a level similar to that of my reference Stax. Meaning that the HQ-1 is now performing way beyond either of my headphone reference amps discussed earlier! This is very exciting. I recommend you buy this excellent HQ-1 and experiment with balanced links instead of the stock cable. The better the power supply balanced leg, the better the performance. You may end up tripling the cost of this baby, but it's more likely you have an unused balanced interconnect in storage which will wield magnificent results like the K-S Emotion did for me!
This gorgeous smallish two box outfit is only $895 and still managed to rock my world. What fun! Very highly recommended. Robert H. Levi
KingRex Technology Co., LTD.