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Tom Christiansen Audio HPA-10 Review (Headphone Amp)

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the TCA HPA-10 compact headphone amplifier. It was sent to me by the designer and member @tomchr. It costs US $469 and is manufactured and assembled in the friendly country north of us, Canada.

The HPA-10 as noted is quite small compared to other high-performance headphone amplifiers we have tested:

TCA HPA-10 Review Headphone Amplifier.jpg


The single on off switch feels quite solid and industrial as if it is controlling a few thousand watts. :) There is no gain switch which makes use easier but will be harder on the design.

Not much on the back than the necessities:
TCA HPA-10 Review Power Supply Headphone Amplifier.jpg


TCA HPA-10 Measurements
As usual we start with our dashboard:
TCA HPA-10 Measurements Headphone Amplifier.png


The lone third harmonic distortion is below -130 dB which well, well before threshold of audibility. Noise therefore dominates and pushes SINAD up to 112 dB which is at threshold of audibility in the best case scenario. In plain English, this is a transparent headphone amp and any impairments you hear will be that of the headphone or your source (at this playback level).

Frequency response is super extended and flat as we have come to expect from high-performance headphone amplifiers:
TCA HPA-10 Measurements Frequency Response Headphone Amplifier.png


Dynamic range is as expected from our previous measurement:

TCA HPA-10 Measurements Headphone Amplifier dynamic range.png


When driven at very low output of just 50 millivolt (to simulate usage with a very sensitive IEM), performance is quite good considering that there is no low gain mode:

Lowest Noise Headphone Amplifier Review.png


Power is almost everything in headphone amps so let's measure that against distortion and noise with 300 ohm load:

TCA HPA-10 Measurements Headphone Amplifier power into 300 ohm.png


My threshold for excellent performance is 100 milliwatt and the HPA-1 nicely exceeds that. It is gain limited though so if you had a DAC with higher than 2 volt output, it could produce more power yet. Same is true of 33 ohm load:
TCA HPA-10 Measurements Headphone Amplifier power into 33 ohm.png


The lower impedance does give rise to more distortion than higher impedance but at nearly -100 dB below our main tone, it is unlikely to be an audible issue. This is a much smaller amp than its competitors so something had to give a bit.

Finally, here is the channel balance performance. As always, there is some variability here in each sample:

TCA HPA-10 Measurements Headphone Amplifier channel balance.png


You should be fine if this is the performance you get.

Headphone Amplifier Listening Tests
As always I start with my killer test which is the Ether CX closed headphone with 25 ohm impedance (and hard to drive). Performance here was excellent with excellent fidelity, detail and bass performance. I could barely tolerate the loudness at maximum level. Switching to Sennheiser HD-650 produced similar (good) performance. As the measurements predict, you can crank up the volume to max and never hit any clipping or distortion.

Conclusions
It seems every month we are treated to another high-performance headphone amplifier but each brings its own specificity. Here you have a great designer who is a member here and builds and manufactures the HPA-10 in Canada. Yes, with that the cost goes up but such is the nature of our economies.

I am happy to recommend the Tom Christiansen HPA-10.

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

Appreciate any donations using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

PeteL

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That's near perfect. Yes we may find it pricey, but when I look at it. for the same price, sure you do get more features. But fore some of us, me first, I don't use balanced, gain switch are nice, but if the noise floor is not audible on sensitive headphones, well, it does the job, assuming the channel imbalance is not audible in the bottom of the pot course. In my opinion this has a place. Even from the big asian guns, yep they offer more value, if we don't need anything else, I don't think I've seen something offer more power on a straight unbalanced TRS, easily portable, for this price. The compact package is key, good job.
 

YSC

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#6
great nice amp which don't take up a lot of space! but one thing I am always wanted from these small little amps are the use of relay or stepped atteunator type volume control. As headphone sensitivity varies a lot in the HP world, the volume tracking in the lower 1/3 range are become more and more important. with a high power amp like this something with perfect channel balance would be preferred.
 

acbarn

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Even from the big asian guns, yep they offer more value, if we don't need anything else, I don't think I've seen something offer more power on a straight unbalanced TRS, easily portable, for this price.
JDS Labs Atom, El Amp, Schiit Magni Heresy?
 
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tomchr

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Thank you for the review, Amir. I really appreciate it. I hope that you will find time to add the multi-tone IMD as well.

Interestingly, I just finished adding my own measurements to the HPA-10 product page. You can find them in the Performance Graphs tab here: https://www.tomchr.com/products/hpa-10-headphone-amplifier

Tom
 

tomchr

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The TCA looks very nice but it’s a tough sell at that price.
Tell me about it... :) That's life at low-volume production.

There are many approaches here. I could compete harder on price, but that pushes the design into corners that I don't like. The HPA-10 is about as hard as I'm willing to push it in that direction.

Tom
 

acbarn

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Tell me about it... :) That's life at low-volume production.

There are many approaches here. I could compete harder on price, but that pushes the design into corners that I don't like. The HPA-10 is about as hard as I'm willing to push it in that direction.

Tom
I totally get it. It’s amazing how competitive the sub-$500 headphone amp market has become over the past few years. Congrats on a great looking product and best of luck!
 

tomchr

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LOL. Not at $500... :) That said, it could be a fun DSP project in a more advanced (and more expensive) amp.

Tom
 

soundwave76

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Great job Tom! How about offering custom choices on the color / appearance of the device? Simple things that don’t add a lot of cost, but might still be REALLY appreciated.
 

PeteL

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Tell me about it... :) That's life at low-volume production.

There are many approaches here. I could compete harder on price, but that pushes the design into corners that I don't like. The HPA-10 is about as hard as I'm willing to push it in that direction.

Tom
I encourage you to stick to viable pricing.Tried that before, trying to compete at all cost is a downward spiral impossible to escape.
 

tomchr

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Great job Tom! How about offering custom choices on the color / appearance of the device? Simple things that don’t add a lot of cost, but might still be REALLY appreciated.
Thank you. Which colours would you like to be able to choose from? Would black and silver be enough or would you like other colours as well?

My main reason for not offering choices of colour is that I use standard parts. If I was machining my own volume knobs, for example, I could make the volume knob the same colour as the chassis. As it is, I'm stuck with either black or silver (clear anodized aluminum). I would also hate to end up in a situation where one colour just doesn't sell. That means I get to sit on inventory (= dead money) for a long time ... or that my recycling bin fills with some rather expensive metal scrap.
That said, I personally think a silver chassis with black knobs and buttons could be pretty classy.

Tom
 

Doodski

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Thank you. Which colours would you like to be able to choose from? Would black and silver be enough or would you like other colours as well?

My main reason for not offering choices of colour is that I use standard parts. If I was machining my own volume knobs, for example, I could make the volume knob the same colour as the chassis. As it is, I'm stuck with either black or silver (clear anodized aluminum). I would also hate to end up in a situation where one colour just doesn't sell. That means I get to sit on inventory (= dead money) for a long time ... or that my recycling bin fills with some rather expensive metal scrap.
That said, I personally think a silver chassis with black knobs and buttons could be pretty classy.

Tom
Finishes are each costly beacoup and that's without managing the finished product. Black looks great, "Unobtrusive and professional." :D
 

tomchr

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Yeah. It may not cost (much) extra to dip the parts in a different soup, but it could easily mean that the digital print of the front and rear panel becomes more expensive. With, say, four colours, the digital printing could be processed as QTY = N/4, which would increase cost. Never mind the inventory management.

Tom
 
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