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Headroom Balanced Desktop Ultra Amp Review

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Headroom Balanced Desktop Ultra Amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. Better known as "BUDA," the unit came out in 2011 I think and cost US $1,189.

The BUDA reminds me of getting my first headroom amplifier circa 1999 (bought a portable and then a desktop unit with the latter being a disappointment). It is a chunky unit with outboard power supply:

Headroom BUDA Balanced Ultra Desktop Amp Headphone Amplifier Audio Review.jpg

You can use two headphones with 1/4 stereo jacks or one balanced headphone with dual male XLR connectors.

The back panel is what you expect:

Headroom BUDA Balanced Ultra Desktop Amp Headphone Amplifier Power Supply Back Panel Audio Rev...jpg

The large, 40 watts external power supply gave me hope of lots of power into low impedance loads. Alas, measurements showed this hope was misplaced.

I used the XLR Input for all of my testing.

Headphone Amplifier Measurements
Here is our performance with 4 volts in using XLR, and 4 volts out using stereo 1/4 jack:

Headroom BUDA Balanced Ultra Desktop Amp Headphone Amplifier Audio Measurements.png


A couple of years ago this would have been newsworthy level of distortion and noise. Alas, time has moved on and innovations have left the BUDA behind:
Best balanced headphone amplifier review.png


Signal to noise ratio is very good at 4 volts output but disappointing at just 50 millivolts to simulate what you may experience with a sensitive headphone or IEM:
Headroom BUDA Balanced Ultra Desktop Amp Headphone Amplifier SNR Audio Measurements.png


Most quiet headphone amplifier hiss free review.png


Frequency response is flat enough in audible band but I expect to see flatness extend to 40 kHz for the sake of it but it did not:

Headroom BUDA Balanced Ultra Desktop Amp Headphone Amplifier Frequency Response Audio Measurem...png


Power into 300 ohm load was very good, albeit with elevated noise and distortion relative to what you can buy today:
Headroom BUDA Balanced Ultra Desktop Amp Headphone Amplifier Power into 300 Ohms Audio Measure...png


The situation became quite sour when testing with 33 ohm load:

Headroom BUDA Balanced Ultra Desktop Amp Headphone Amplifier Power into 33 Ohms Audio Measurem...png


This is embarrassingly bad. It is as if it is running out of current but as I explained, there is plenty available.

I was hoping to measure the output using balanced connection but I could not find any cable that would work. It needs dual XLR mono streams which I did not have despite having 30 other variety of balanced connections. :(

Output impedance is higher than I like in this class product:

Lowest headphone amplifier output impedance measurements.png


Conclusions
If used with high impedance headphones, the performance of Headroom BUDA is very good. With 50 ohm or loader, performance drops substantially so don't recommend it for that application. Unless you can find one really cheap, or need its functionality or looks, then I suggest looking at a bunch of high performance headphone amplifiers I have reviewed which outperform it from $99 to $400.

So, if you have it, keep it. Otherwise don't go searching for it.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

To keep up with how much gear I have here to review, I thought of cloning myself. Looked into prices for sheep cloning and it is actually reasonable. But for a human, likely they charge 10X given the high cost of liability insurance. It would still be worth it to have one of me review speakers and another, the electronics. If you agree, please donate generously using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

bigx5murf

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#3
I have a headroom cosmo. It's been sitting in a drawer, as I've always found it lacking subjectively, compared to my o2. Like this, the cosmo also has a crossfeed circuit.
 

Kyle / MrHeeHo

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#5
Is this one of the products Tyll was involved involved in? There may be better designs since this came out but for a 9 year old design it seems pretty good
 

YSC

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#7
despite the power, the SINAD is good enough for transparent listening, and the channel balance is great! if not using planar headphones and use the good old dynamics this should still be great enough as a keeper to me
 

Blur

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#9
I bought the amp because I lived in Bozeman where they made it and liked the sound. I still think it works great for IEM’s and other headphones.
 
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MRC01

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#10
Headroom amps were SOTA for their time, and they did their part in making headphone listening better. 20 years ago I had a Maxed out Home which was one of the best headphone amps available at that time. But that was a long time ago and as seen by some of the new products reviewed here, things have improved further.
 

Fregly

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#11
I had a Maxed out Home and found it muddy compared to a Gilmore amp I got right after, and others. The crossfeed was poor and messed up the sound. Click it for goop and bass boost.
 
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#12
Thanks for the measurements. I always loved all the Headroom gear i've purchased.

I wonder if the Headroom Micro Amp would measure better? I saw some measurements on Inner Fidelity a few years ago but spent an hour trying to find them with no luck at all! Anyone still have the PDF or a link to them? Tyll did the measurements.

The Micro Amp has been my all time favorite amp since I purchased it as an upgrade from the Schiit Asgard 1. It seemed to work equally well with both my HD-650 and K702, which the Asgard 1 failed at. The Asgard 1 was just a bad first desktop amp.

I actually think the Magni 3+ is the first Schiit amp that sounds equally as good (and as transparent) as the Micro Amp. I'm loving it right now, but haven't tried the Heresy.

I can send the Micro Amp in for measurements if needed, but chances are there is very little interest in Headroom gear these days. I think they're out of business. I also have the Micro DAC which uses the Cirrus CS4398 chipset.

EDIT: Found some old measurements of Headroom Desktop, Micro Amp and MAX. Tyll took them back in 2013:
https://web.archive.org/web/20130806042634/https://www.innerfidelity.com/images/AllAmpGraphs.pdf

Are the Micro Amp measurements decent, bad or good? Trying to decipher them. Not sure if it's the battery powered version, but I think it might be. Mine uses the Astrodyne 40 watt PSU and not batteries. I still have the original PSU which was supposedly lower quality.
 
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Blur

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#13
The micro amps are the ones used by their headphone reviewers back in the day. I think all of their amps have the current limit issue. I compared the BUDA to the Magni 3 that I have and to my ears they sound the same. The BUDA of course has a much better build, 3 gains selections, and a way better volume pot.
 

Blur

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#14
Unfortunately. HeadRoom amps aren't getting any newer.

I wonder if the balanced stuff in front is causing some problems.
I'm actually more curious if running RCA would have helped, but it's pretty clear the BUDA is current limited.
 

Veri

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#15
I wonder if the Headroom Micro Amp would measure better? I saw some measurements on Inner Fidelity a few years ago but spent an hour trying to find them with no luck at all! Anyone still have the PDF or a link to them? Tyll did the measurements.
Up-to-date measurements of pico here: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...700-measurements-of-pico-headphone-amp.10655/
Old innerfidelity measurements of pico and pico power(last page) here: https://www.innerfidelity.com/images/AllAmpsJuly2013.pdf
If Pico power is better than pico, I believe it's still a fine amp even today.
 

schalliol

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#18
Hi everyone. First post here. I use a Headroom Triple Stack (BUDA, balanced ultra desktop DAC and the crazy Desktop Power Supply that was almost as much as the amp at one point), which I believe had good measurements back when released. I've never used my BUDA single-ended or without the Desktop Power Supply. Do you think the DPS or running balanced would help the measurements? Maybe not, just curious.
 

AnalogSteph

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#19
Do you think the DPS or running balanced would help the measurements?
Quite possibly, actually - THD over level suggests dominant H2 up to at least 50 mW / 33 ohm.

Looks like the amp is using some sort of buffer that, while providing plenty of power, runs fairly lean and has some symmetry issues.
 

schalliol

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#20
The BUDA was $1,599 actually, though it EOL'd at like $1,200. The DPS was $549 and increased in price toward EOL as their costs went up (not sure what the original MSRP was or if $549 was the higher price).

I've attached the for sale page, as well as the manual for the BUDA and DPS. I'd love to see measurements with the DPS balanced. I know that the balanced config couldn't be tested and would be happy to send the set on for testing if that were desired. Assume not, but just sayin' :)
 

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