A Headphone Amplifier for Everyone!
A few years ago, I was
introduced to a small company that provides audio solutions at affordable
prices. I am always a sucker for a good deal and I tend to search out products
that will give the listener the best bang for their buck. Recently, I have been
listening a lot to my headphones and have been looking for a respectable
headphone amplifier that will not break the bank. Joseph at Napa Acoustic
suggested his NA 208 H headphone amplifier to fit the bill. Having worked with
his products in the past, I thought this would be a good opportunity to sample
this little unit and hopefully give me some quality sound through my cans.
The NA 208 H is a member of the 208 family of Napa Acoustic audio components. A physical and cosmetic match to the 208 series amplifier and CD player, the NA 208 H is designed to provide unique options for listening, control and system building. As a headphone amplifier it delivers audio that is balanced, smooth, dynamic and open. According to Joseph, its super-low-noise tube amplification circuitry using a 6N2 tube, ensures even the most demanding headphones will perform at their best.
The NA208 H is much more than just a headphone amplifier. It also boasts an onboard DAC (Burr Brown PCM2702) that will allow you to go straight from your digital device or computer as well as an analog stage that will allow you to use the unit as a preamplifier. There is an analog auxiliary switch for greater flexibility. My only complaint might be the cheesy glow given to the tube that is really not needed and is just a cosmetic detail. The build quality is quite strong and you get this whole little package for the affordable price of $299, a real audio bargain.
I use two sets of headphones in my listening room that are very different. The first pair is a set of Grado SR 125. These cans are efficient, forward and very dynamic. The second set of headphones is my venerable Sennheiser HD650, noted to be detailed and refined units. They require a bit more power to drive them well.
Versatility: Many Ways to Play
With the NA 208 H
my iPod, I played many files that tested the dynamic range of the headphone
amplifier. From jazz to ska, everything I threw at the NA 208 H was handled with
authority. The unit was smooth, detailed and open. One of my favorite recordings
is Cherryholmes' self-titled album. This well-rounded bluegrass recording has
consistent instrumentals and vocals and features the classic tune "Workin' Man".
The NA 208 H ate up this dynamic album and made it a truly enjoyable listening
experience while listening through my Sennheiser HD650 headphones.
Moving on to my living room, I wanted to see how
this little unit would function both as a preamplifier and headphone amplifier.
I also wanted to play a few records albums to hear some of my best tunes. After
listening to several albums, I came to the conclusion that I was definitely
happy with this little unit from Napa Acoustic. The headphone amplifier in
combination with my turntable and Sennheiser headphones was my preferred
listening combination. It was warm, musical and natural. I actually listened for
hours to this combination. Pink Floyd ‘s "Learning to Fly" from A
Momentary Lapse of Reason was special with the tune's trippy guitar
leading the way. There was just one last order of business to hear from the NA
208 H and that was how it would perform as a preamplifier. For my last period
with the NA 208 H, I choose to spend the time listening to Jimi Hendrix and
tunes from Axis: Bold As Love.
The warmth of the simple tube was a real benefit as Jimi's guitar work was
featured in classic tracks like "Little Wing" and "Castles in the Sand". The
little unit that could was quite a surprise and will probably not be making the
return trip back to California (write me up Joseph!).