Wells Audio Headtrip II Headphone Amplifier
Many headphone community members are seeking that one amp that has enough power to bring their hard to drive classic headphones to life. The HiFiMan HE-6, the Sony MDR-R10, and the original Abyss AB-1266 all required huge power to light up properly. Stories of the HE-6 being tapped to actual speaker amps are passed around in hushed tones. Naturally, no self-respecting community member would give up sonic quality just to get power. The amp must also bring finesse, speed and be as close to sonic nirvana as possible. That's all, just bring all the best aspects you can find and fit them into one king of the mountain box. Is there such a unicorn?
When the JPS Labs team needed an amp to bring the mighty Abyss AB-1266 to life, they approached Wells Audio of Campbell California to build one. Known in the audiophile world for exceptional speaker amplifiers, like their Inamorata Signature 150 Wpc Class A amp, they often receive Best Sound in Show for their gear. Jeff Wells used the Inamorata as his inspiration and came out with the Headtrip. The Headtrip could only be described as the Solid State headphone amp to beat. We reviewed it highly in 2015.
Four years later, Wells Audio has brought upgrades and improvements and now offers the Headtrip II for your listening pleasure. What constitutes the changes for the new version 2.0? The first thing you will notice is the new acrylic chassis. The Headtrip II is nearly all acrylic except for the bottom panel. The original prototype was aluminum but cast acrylic is a very hard substance and is used for making bulletproof glass. It is also lighter than cast aluminum making the amp easier to handle when moving. If it gets scratched, you can buff it out to a like-new shine. Once Aluminum is scratched you cannot fix that easily. Plus, the heatsinks were moved inside removing the sharp metal edges we all love so much on amplifiers. Next was the evolution of the main circuit with updated components and layout updates. Sonically everything is faster, less colored, more transparent, more neutral. Listening tests in the lab alongside the original Headtrip confirmed the new Headtrip II surpassed its older sibling.
Talking to Jeff Wells about his engineering philosophy he stated that the circuits are "designed to lower noise and distortion, that is all they really do so we don't change the circuit often," he said. "However, improved parts do come along and with listening and experimentation you find better combinations to improve your gear". "Keep it simple, use the fewest good parts and execute the design to the highest standards you can".
The original Headtrip had two blue LED's by the Right and Left outputs to indicate power was on. A few clients complained that the lights were bright and distracting so they were removed and replaced with a green lit power button that is more subtle but still indicates the unit is on. It is still a dual mono amp but now has only one lit power indicator. The original had dual 3-pin XLR's for balanced out while the new version has one 4-pin balanced XLR output. What has not changed is the units power output of 50 Wats per channel at 8 Ohms, 25 WPC at 32 Ohms and 1.8 Wpc at 600 Ohms. It is a powerful amplifier and yet in listening to it, you discover a vanishingly low noise floor. The Headtrip II also has the ability to display all the nuances of the recording including the most subtle and delicate passages and details. No matter what headphones you own, the Headtrip II will drive them with aplomb.
The Headtrip II also uses other high-quality parts including WBT Nextgen input connectors (pair of RCA unbalanced and pair of XLR balanced) plus Neutrik output connectors (1.25" stereo and one 4-pin XLR balanced). The spec sheet also lists "upgraded Rike PIO input coupling capacitors, A Khozmo stepped attenuator with gold plated connections as well as Bybee Labs AC purifiers for AC line noise filtering and Bybee Music Rails for up to -45dB of DC noise filtering.
How Does It Sound?
Next up was the Sennheiser HD-800's with the Toxic Cables Silver widow's with a 1/4" single ended stereo connection and the CD of Seal 7's "Padded Cell" [2015 Warner Bros]. Once again, the presentation had terrific space. The Headtrip II let the vaunted HD-800 soundstage scale as wide as it needed to. This recording has heavy orchestration which can clog some amps as the layers get trapped on each other. Not so with the Headtrip II. All parts of the presentation had their own room and yet the whole of the song was complete and effortless. Vocals occupied their specific space to the complementary effect of the music. EDM bass lines were very deep and highly impactful. Seal's soulful voice rang clear above the music. It was an excellent presentation that was very engaging throughout.
Moving on to some classic arena rock I put on the Scorpion's Crazy World album [1990 Vertigo, Mercury] and fired up "Kicks After Six". If you have perhaps the most powerful headphone amp around, paired with the fantastic Audeze LCD-X headphones and Toxic Cables Silver Widow cables in fully balanced mode with a 4-pin XLR, then you might as well crank it. The Headtrip II delivered this hard rock grinder's signal to the LCD-Xs with full-throated power. The double kick drums pounded out arena level concussion. Guitars thrashed with metal abandon and the bass line thumped with 16-year-old rock fan depth. It was a fun flashback to the old days of general admission tickets and fighting your way to the front row. I followed it up with the next song, "Hit Between the Eyes" and let the good times roll. I know the Headtrip II is well able to deliver subtleties but to unleash all of that power. The LCD-Xs come in at 20 Ohms so that means over 30 Wpc stereo available to them via the Headtrip II! I had to pause for a few minutes to let things calm down after this session. Five raised lighters out of five!
Last Listening Session
Gear Used In This Review