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Headline review

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December 3, 2011 1:38 PM

A couple years ago I heard Headlne with NAPSC and thought it was promising. And now as my old HiCap was getting some interest from buyers, I thought I should still try it with a Headline before letting go. 

 

Only after bringing home a demo Headline RCA version and hooking it up with HiCap, I realized that SuperCap might also be worth a try…

 

I've had Stax SR-404 electrostatic headphones and a Stax SRM-006t tubed headphone amplifier since they came out in 2001. While this Stax set provides a much better boogie factor than the earlier Stax models of the nineties, I've continued to use also dynamic headphones as they do provide better…dynamics. Over the years I've owned and sold Grado RS-1, RS-2 and others before settling with Sennheiser HD 650, which I consider a good all-rounder - neutral sound and plays music too.

 

I've never been quite satisfied with any of the headphone amps that I've owned. So that's why I've had many. The Creek headphone amp worked pretty ok with Grados but I kept  looking for better, then had the Grado amp for a brief wile, then side-stepped to Musical Fidelity. But I got tired of the MF and let it go. After that I've mostly just been plugging my HD 650's straight into a Benchmark DAC1 which has a pretty good headphone amp built in.

 

Last winter when visiting Tokyo, I got an opportunity to try the SR-007A "Omega" top-of-the line Stax headphones. Was impressed and bought them on the spot. Back at home, I set them up with a direct Hi-Line connection from the HiCap of my then brand new SuperLine to that old SRM-006t - and the Staxes let me hear a lot of what SuperLine can do! I didn't manage to get the Staxes to work well with the NAC 252 tape out though, so the Staxes have been resting aside for a while - and with NAC 252, I'm actually getting more enjoyable music replay from my speakers than from headphones.

 

So those are my points of reference.  

 

 

HEADLINE/HICAP VS BENCHMARK DAC1 HEADPHONE OUT

 

Now the Benchmark DAC1 is not the top choice for flat earth musical enjoyment, but I was surprised how good music I was getting out of it with the Headline.

 

I started off with Mac Pro running Pure Music software, Wireworld Supernova 6 optical cable to Benchmark DAC1 with Ensemble Powerflux power cable, Headline RCA-version, SLIC to HiCap with PowerLine. I then compared Sennheiser HD 650 from the Banchmark headphone out versus Headline. 

 

With a selection of well recorded pop female vocals and a Jazz record, I quickly realized Headline was providing a better overall tonal balance. The Benchmark headphone out has a bit thinner sound, with slight high-frequency emphasis which can actually get a bit irritating with higher volume levels. The HD 650 / Headline / HiCap was just well balanced.

 

I did get a familiar foot-tapping effect with the Benchmark headphone out, but it seemed to be partly due to that high-frequency emphasis which accentuated cymbals and such. Headline/HiCap was also rhythmically engaging, but in a bit more subtle way, inviting to listen for a longer time. Both had acceptable although not fantastic tunefulness in the bass region. In other frequency regions Headline just went ahead delivering easier to follow tunes, and was more engaging in that sense. With Headline I wanted to keep the headphones on and just continued listening to the music. This was the best HD 650 amplification that I'd heard.

 

I'm not used to experiencing space and sound staging with headphones, but Headline was doing that too, or at least better than anything else I've had at home.

 

After listening to this setup I decided that Headline with HiCap is good enough as it is, and whatever more Supercap might offer, I'll keep the HiCap and buy a Headline DIN version to use with my NAC 252. 

 

Headline warm-up improvement was significant during the first 15 minutes, after 1 hour it still improved, and more slowly thereafter. After 20 hours I disconnected HiCap, to try SuperCap.

 

Let me know if you'd like me to add here also the SuperCap and Stax comparisons. I have notes but must clear them up before putting here...

 
 
 
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December 3, 2011 6:24 PM

Never heard Stax and I wish I had.

But I have a pretty good experience with number of stand-alone and built-in headphone amps.

Still consider tube headamps as the best.

One of the best SS I had was Lehmann Black Cube Linear (very close to tubes) and Headline/HC (which has some merits comparing to tubes).

Actually I preferred HL/HC to Lehmann.

I'm currently using HD650 but most probably will migrate to HD800.

I definitely like what HD800 is doing soundwise but the way they sit on my head is just AMAZING!!! 

The other option I would like to consider is Weiss DAC202...

 
 
 
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December 4, 2011 11:53 AM

Fedor, yes i would be interested to hear more if you don't mind. I listened to a Headline and Hi-Cap, via an NDX, through my HD800's and it sounded very good. But in the end i bought a Weiss DAC202, AMA, if you are considering one, the sound is just mesmerising, full of detail, and oh so natural, with VERY big soundstage. Not saying it sounds better than the Naim DAC, as although i had one, i have not done a direct comparison.

 

Just a very neat 1 box solution, if you are using headphones as main way of listening.

 

Regards

 

Justin

 
 
 
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December 4, 2011 12:18 PM

Justin, did you try DAC202 with external power supply?

 
 
 
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December 4, 2011 1:12 PM

No, just on its own. I don't like lots of boxes.

 

Still good though.

 
 
 
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December 4, 2011 2:02 PM

Hi,

So here goes:

 

HEADLINE/HICAP VS HEADLINE/SUPERCAP

 

The improvement brought by SuperCap was not small. Music was even more engaging - for example when I was trying to A/B bass reproduction, the vocal line of the song just caught my attention, pulled me into the music so I just forgot about that whole comparison thing. I wanted to keep listening to full tracks and then full records - it was hard to interrupt a track. 

 

In comparison with HiCap, the SuperCap sound was also more tangible, felt three-dimensional and quite real, more like "being there". 

 

It was funny to see the small Headline box being power by that big power supply. Does little Headline really need all that power all to itself? In fact before running them as a pair, I tried having an idle 252 being powered from the same SuperCap as Headline. There was no hum or such. This was better than HiCap, except that I noticed a certain hardness in the sound, a sort of impurity in the high frequencies. And if I tried to play music through 252 while listening through Headline, there was a subtle diminishing effect to the Headline sound that is difficult to put into words - it was not right. 

 

After removing 252, powering up just Headline/SC and hitting play, my first and very immediate thought was: "This is how it should sound!". Also in longer listening there was no obvious weak points, nothing specific that I wanted to improve, other than being aware that there are of course better headphones (I bet Headline/SC would be a perfect partner for HD800). There are of course better digital sources too, but I've never heard Benchmark DAC1 play this well - I found myself continuing into late nights with rips of old CD's that I'd forgotten about, and then looking for more CD's of those same artists…

 

After hearing SuperCap, going back to HiCap was a bit sad (and I did proper warm ups). I anyway ordered now just the Headline DIN version to go with my HiCap, but It's nice to know that if I ever get another SuperCap I'll have more than one good use for it!

 

 

HEADLINE/SUPERCAP/HD650 VS STAX

 

Getting to do the Stax comparison took some time, as every evening I just rather chose to enjoy music with the Headline/SC setup. But this was a good excuse for extending the loan of the Headline. 

 

Eventually I did the Stax comparison, but with the RCA and XLR cables that I had at hand and with the Benchmark DAC1 as source, I just wasn't able to get anywhere near the kind of  musical enjoyment that I was getting with Headline/SC. I'll probably try again with vinyl when I get the Headline DIN version.

 

Both Stax and Headline/HD650 could make the foot tap, but timing felt more stable and steady with Headline/SC. Stax was able to reveal some detail that HD650 missed, but overall the HD650 setup was better balanced tonally. With high quality recordings the Staxes delivered a very pure sound and there was a feeling of being closer to the performers. But the HD650/Headline/SC setup played well not only with well recorded material but also with not so well recorded music, as long as the music was good!

 

I also compared the mid-range Stax phones against HD650/Headline/HC, with again Headline being the clear preference for musicality.

 

Tips for those of you trying Stax phones: The quality of signal cable is very important. Hi-Line works well and Linn Silver is also pretty good (I had neither as RCA/RCA for this comparison). Compared to the mid-range Stax set, the cheaper Staxes are quite miserable, and the top-of-line headphones and amp are much better than the mid-range ones. You can mix and match but you'll get best bang-for-buck by having headphones and amp of same level (I happen to have top-of-line phones but mid-range amp).

 

Hope that was useful,

 

Fedor

 
 
 
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December 4, 2011 5:14 PM

Hi Fedor,

 

Very interesting, thanks for sharing that with us. I would love Naim to build a higher quality headphone amplifier (Super Headline, similar to Stageline/Superline products). This would then truly warrant the Supercap, and I'm sure deliver an incredibly detailed sound with huge impact.

 

Just my 2 cents worth.

 

Justin

 
 
 
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December 4, 2011 5:43 PM

Justin, I had that same thought - until I actually tried it with SuperCap! Before listening, I was thinking the captive cable should be Hi-Line and so on...but funny thing it's so good as it is.

 

In my trial when I put in SuperCap it felt like the headphones (HD 650) and the source (DAC1) became the limiting factor in the setup.

 
 
 
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December 4, 2011 5:46 PM

Very interesting, thanks for sharing that with us. I would love Naim to build a higher quality headphone amplifier (Super Headline, similar to Stageline/Superline products). This would then truly warrant the Supercap, and I'm sure deliver an incredibly detailed sound with huge impact.

 

I spoke to Doug from Naim at the recent Tom Tom Naim event about this ... and he confirmed that this just wasn't on the radar given all of their other R&D priorities - a shame but not at all surprising, I use Headline 2 / SC2 and HD650 and whilst it's totally fab you know that a suspended chassis Superline level beast would blow the Headline away

 
 
 
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December 5, 2011 12:10 PM

Originally Posted by andrew jameson:

I spoke to Doug from Naim at the recent Tom Tom Naim event about this ... and he confirmed that this just wasn't on the radar given all of their other R&D priorities - a shame but not at all surprising, I use Headline 2 / SC2 and HD650 and whilst it's totally fab you know that a suspended chassis Superline level beast would blow the Headline away

I do understand that Naim is so busy with huge R&D in streaming area and kind of "all-in-one" solutions.

 

But they didn't come up with any serious analogue solutions for quite a long time.

 

So what is this department actually doing in research?

 
 
 
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December 5, 2011 11:16 PM

Originally Posted by AMA:
Originally Posted by andrew jameson:

I spoke to Doug from Naim at the recent Tom Tom Naim event about this ... and he confirmed that this just wasn't on the radar given all of their other R&D priorities - a shame but not at all surprising, I use Headline 2 / SC2 and HD650 and whilst it's totally fab you know that a suspended chassis Superline level beast would blow the Headline away

I do understand that Naim is so busy with huge R&D in streaming area and kind of "all-in-one" solutions.

 

But they didn't come up with any serious analogue solutions for quite a long time.

 

So what is this department actually doing in research?

 

I agree - whilst the cash is clearly all in streamers & all in one's (and yes i've got a Qute and it's lovely) it would be nice to see something 'out there' that's just done for the love of it / a category defining product if you will .. it might not sell in huge numbers but important IMHO for those of us who have 500 series products who haven't seen a great deal of high-end envelope-pushing for a while (Ovator Snaxo notwithstanding).

 
 
 
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