LSA DPH-1 Headphone Amplifier

I love discovering reasonably priced products, squarely aimed at bringing great sound to more people, and new people to our wacky world of audio.

Underwood HiFi scores big time with their new LSA DPH-1 headphone amplifier, which also has an onboard high-res (does DSD too) DAC featuring four inputs. LSA makes use of the AKM 4495 DAC chips and AK-4118 digital input receiver, for those wanting to know…  I say, “implementation,” and in this case, they’ve done a fantastic job.

Right now, in typical Underwood fashion, they are running an introductory special and moving these babies for the holiday season at $799, instead of the $999 they will be asking at some point. Even at $999, this would be a great deal – let’s investigate a little further.

If the DPH-1 were only a headphone amp at $999 it would still be great. The DAC is a true bonus, and it makes the DPH-1 fantastic for personal listening, desk side or bed side. It’s small (14” x 10” x 4”) footprint makes it easy to integrate anywhere.

Ins and outs

Around the back, there are four digital inputs – USB, optical, coax and BNC. Personally, I like the BNC as I have a vintage Wadia transport, which I pulled out of mothballs to give the DPH-1 a spin. Interestingly, you’ll notice a pair of RCA analog outputs marked “Tube” and “Solid-State.” This is really cool and gives you more options, should you decide to use your DPH-1 as a line preamplifier. And if you happen to be a digital only music lover, the DPH-1 is all you need.

The tube output runs the DAC’s output through a tube buffer, featuring a “NOS tube from GE.” Turns out this tube is an ex-military issue item that is very similar to the legendary Western Electric 396A tube. Those of you that aren’t tube geeks: plugging your power amplifier into the tube output will give you a slightly warmer, more tonally saturated presentation. This is super awesome option for those of you running a solid-state or class D amp, and it works miracles on budget amps too!  Consequently, the solid-state outputs add a little extra dynamic slam to your favorite tube amp.

You can even run both the tube and solid-state outputs into your integrated amp or preamp and switch sonic characteristics on the fly. It’s like having two separate DAC’s in one box. Or, as we do with our reference DAC here, if space allows, or you have systems in adjoining rooms, you can run both systems from the same DAC. Very versatile indeed.

That being said, mating the DPH-1 to a vintage (but tastefully rebuilt) Dynaco Stereo 70 and the LSA-10 Signature speakers was absolutely heavenly. Either way, the ability to fine tune your system to taste is cool, especially at this price.

Getting personal

Running through the gaggle of headphones on hand, from the $3,000 Focal Stellia to my Grado SR-60s, the DPH-1 delivers an excellent experience. The amplifier does a great job driving everything, and has particularly good control in the lower registers. Zooming through some vintage Little Feat tracks, particularly “Romance Dance,” from The Last Record Album, reveals the DPH-1s ability to control a pair of headphone drivers and deliver a convincing musical foundation. Next up, the Bell Biv Devoe classic, “Poison.” If I was listening on a 2-channel system, I’d be blowing the doors down with bass – and as it was, I caught myself turning the volume down, because the distortion free playback this amp provides might tempt you to turn it up too loud. So, watch the volume.

After a solid sampling of phones, the bulk of our test listening was done with the Focals, showing off just how good this amp is. Regardless of where you are on your headphone journey, you’ll be able to move up from wherever you are to some pretty premium phones without worry. That’s value.

Bass is not the only dimension at which the DPH-1 excels. Joni Mitchell just released her Archives – Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967), and this set handily shows the inner detail, definition and upper range smoothness this amplifier offers. Joni Mitchell’s voice is a tough one to nail down – almost like a violin, when it’s wrong, it’s harsh and shriek-y, but when it’s right, it’s dreamy. We’ll happily put the DPH-1 in the dreamy category here, and this lead us to some of the tracks on Lyle Mays self-titled debut album. Nailing the tonality of a piano is similar in degree of difficulty, and again the DPH-1 sails through.

There’s a sign on one of my neighbor’s lawns that says “Presidents come and go, but Wu-Tang is forever.” Point taken, so on the way back from my morning coffee, I had to fire up some Wu-Tang. In their honor, I cranked up “Method Man” as the six-shot mocha took hold. Good stuff.

The DAC section of the DPH-1 does its job without fanfare, as it should be. We tried all four inputs, and were pleased each time, using our Wadia transport for the BNC input, an OPPO 105 (yep, still got one) for the coax input, a MacBook Pro for the USB input and our faithful Sony ES changer from the garage system to evaluate the optical input. Suffice to say, whatever you have, the DPH-1 will accommodate it, and the higher resolution capabilities this DAC provides easily illuminates the additional resolution that high res formats have to offer. Good as it is with high res, the DPH-1 does not compromise 16/44 playback in any way.

Putting the DPH-1 in the context of a nice two-channel system makes for a great, compact music system, requiring minimal rack space to rock. Whether you buy a DPH-1 as a headphone amplifier, or as an anchor to a digital two channel system with a pair of speakers – you’ll be happy wherever your journey begins.

Simple elegance

LSA has followed the aesthetic vibe started with their other components, and the DPH-1 is nicely finished, but not overly ostentatious. It feels good when you unbox and pick it up, and it looks great on your rack. Its basic functionality (volume control, input selector, and headphone jack) makes it easy to use. Fortunately, the power supply is built in, so there’s no external power supply to lose or deal with. A big plus.

By using casework like other LSA products, they keep the cost down. When you’re investigating components in this price range, it’s nice to see a manufacturer stick to basics, striking a balance with a product that sounds great, and has the looks to back it up without going overboard.

Add it all up and LSAs DPH-1 is a fantastic DAC/Headphone amp. If I didn’t spin records, I could easily live with it as my main two-channel preamp and build a great system around it featuring speakers. It ticks all the boxes – easy to use, reasonable price, and sounds fantastic. What else do you need?

A High Value Amp and Pre From Emotiva

With record clamps fetching upwards of $3,000 these days, it’s nice to see that someone has some common sense.

The PT-100 preamplifier and A-150 power amplifier from Emotiva offer great performance at a price everyone can enjoy.
Both barely tipping the scales at $299 each, the PT-100 preamplifier also includes a 24/192 DAC, headphone amplifier and a tuner,
all in one box. Oh yeah, it even has a MM/MC phono stage too.

The A-150 amplifier is substantial, with a class AB output stage and a real power supply to match.

Both offer uniform, yet tastefully understated cosmetics, as part of Emotiva’s BAS-X series.

Our review is almost finished, but the short story is you can’t go wrong with these two. Whether you make this pair
the anchor for your first, last, or additional system, the level of sound quality and functionality can’t be beat.

Click here to see the rest of the lineup. (they have some pretty cool sub/sat speakers too!)

The Audolici AVP-01

Vinyl enthusiasts embracing analog well beyond the entry level is becoming more and more common, with many of our readers possessing or contemplating multiple turntables, or at least a turntable with two (or more) tonearms. The more diverse your record collection and shopping habits, the more having more than one cartridge at the ready makes perfect sense.

The further you go down the rabbit hole, the tougher it is to find one cartridge, no matter how expensive, to do justice to a diverse record collection. Often, having a pair of moderately priced, but different sounding cartridges will serve a broad record collection better than a single, mega cartridge. As you add mono records, vintage records and especially the more time you spend in the budget bins, a second cartridge is handy. Enter the AVP-01 from Audolici, handcrafted in Portugal.  Priced at only $4,930, it combines an excellent line level preamplifier and two separate phono inputs – one MM and one MC. The MC has adjustable loading, with settings at 100, 200, 470 and 1000 ohms, which should be enough for nearly everyone.

On the other end of the spectrum, with DAC’s becoming increasingly broad in their functionality, in many cases they have become the digital hub of a system, only requiring the linestage to have one more analog input to accommodate it. For this user, the AVP-01 is perfect. Its single (RCA) analog, line level input allows you to connect your favorite DAC along with two turntables. There’s even a headphone jack on the back panel, bonus!

At the heart of the AVP-01 is a handpicked, Russian military 6H2P tube. US importer Harold Cooper of Sound Consultant Ltd. tells me this tube is equal to a 6SL7, but suggests sticking with the stock Russian tubes supplied as “this is what they voice the preamplifier for.” There are two line-level outputs on the rear panel, one marked “high” and the other “low, referring to the output impedance, (not output level) with high offering 47k and low only 2,000 ohms, bypassing the output buffer.

The AVP-01 takes a novel approach to utilizing the tube inside. Where many hybrid designs put the tube squarely in the gain or buffer stage, Audolici uses the 6H2P as part of the MM gain section, with MC relying on a single, low noise transistor. The output buffer stage is solid state as well, so your high level source will have a slightly different sonic character than the turntable of your choice.

In concert with the Nagra 300p power amplifier, the reference in my office system only about two feet away, via a short Cardas Iridium interconnect, the low impedance output offers more transparency and immediacy, so experiment with your amplifier and setup. If the high frequencies appear rolled off, you’ve got it wrong.

An engaging phonostage

Unable to resist temptation, the tube was installed and I went straight to vinyl. The AVP-01, like any tube component takes about 30-40 minutes to fully warm up and give its best performance. Where some preamplifiers take hundreds of hours to fully burn in, the AVP-01 sounds great out of the box and only improved slightly after a few hundred hours, so this is one you’ll love right away. The new Technics SL-1200G, with removable headshells made it extremely easy to switch between the Gold Note Vasari MM ($385) reviewed in issue 82, an Ortofon 2M Black ($900), Ortofon Cadenza Bronze ($2,700) and the Transfiguration Proteus ($6,000) cartridges with ease.

Taking advantage of both inputs called for the AVID Ingenium turntable with a pair of SME 3009 tonearms. Moving between different cartridge combinations proved oodles of nerdy analog fun. Settling on a Denon DL-103r and the Ortofon 2M Black made for exciting comparisons, with the Denon slightly on the warm side (and requiring the 100 ohm loading) where the Ortofon is more natural, with no embellishment, yet offering more extension.

This pair of cartridges on the Ingenium made for a great analog setup that didn’t cost a fortune and made for a lot of enjoyment, especially tracking through current as well as vintage LPs. Neither the 70s nor todays vinyl has cornered the market on sonic consistency; once you get used to having a pair (or more) of cartridges at your disposal, I suspect you won’t go back. The AVP-01 makes the process effortless.

Dropping the stylus on a 45 r.p.m maxi single of Prince’s “I Hate U,” reveals a delicacy that is definitely not present on the CD. Gone is the typical harshness surrounding Prince digital recordings, with the highs silky smooth, and a soundstage opening up well beyond the speaker boundaries in my nearfield system.

An overall sonic treat

Comparing the AVP-01 to a few other things on hand, from vintage to contemporary, leaves the impression that it’s overall tonal balance is just so slightly tipped towards the warmer, more saturated side of the spectrum, and you’ll never get an argument from this reviewer over that. But choose your sonic preferences accordingly and remember you can always alter the overall balance by the cartridge(s) you choose.

You won’t mistake the AVP-01 for an all solid-state preamplifier, but it doesn’t sound like a vintage tube preamplifier from the 70s either. Transients are quick and zippy, the bass has weight without sounding slow, sloppy, or one-note and of course, the midrange is lush and full of body. Considering what a separate two input phono stage along with a linestage would set you back (and an additional power cord, pair of interconnects, etc. etc.) the AVP-01 is a pretty incredible value.

Running the AVP-01 through a gamut of power amplifiers after initial listening with the Nagra also proved easy. It had no problem driving anything from our vintage Conrad – Johnson MV60SE, SAE 2200 or the Nakamichi 610. Modern day amplifiers proved equally fruitful, with the new VT80 from Audio Research being particularly lovely.

While I suspect you will probably invest in the AVP-01 for its analog capability, it’s worth mentioning that it is no slouch as a straight-ahead linestage either. Bringing the dCS Rossini DAC/Clock combination into play made for equally pleasing digital listening sessions.

The AVP-01’s output buffer must be labeled a success because it did not seem terribly cable dependent. Some tube preamplifiers can be fussy when choosing output cable, but the AVP-01 sailed through. The same can be said for power cords; a bit of improvement was there to be had with a Cardas Clear power cord, but the AVP-01 isn’t lacking plugging it into the wall with the stock item.

Private sessions

Headphone listeners should be excited by the AVP-01’s headphone amplifier, and considering the ease by which it drove the Sennheiser, AKG, Audeze and Oppo phones in my collection, I doubt that you would want to invest in an additional outboard headphone amplifier. It had no trouble driving any of my phones and the sound was indeed robust.

Even the AKG-701s, which are usually tougher to drive, exhibited great bass control and a big, broad soundstage. The planar phones also did very well, and all could be driven well beyond reasonable volume, so watch yourself there!

The perfect solution

If you have two turntables at your disposal, the Audolici AVP-01 preamplifier is going to provide you with ease and enjoyment. If you don’t have a second record player, I suspect you will before you know it. In addition to excellent sonic performance, the understated elegance and modest profile of the AVP-01 will fit into any situation with ease. Our review sample arrived in the silver you see here, but it is also available in black or red. Tempting.

Bottom line, I’ve purchased the review sample to use as a reference component in my office system. The two analog inputs are just what the doctor ordered for evaluating cartridges while editing copy. The performance and flexibility offered for the price asked is way above what you’d expect. So, we are awarding it one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2017. And, you can expect a long term follow up in about a year. We’ll let you know how the AVP-01 stands up to 12 hour a day duty. Highly recommended.

The Audolici AVP-01 Preamplifier

MSRP:  $4,930 (US Distributor) (Factory)


Turntables                 AVID Ingenium w/SME 3009 tonearms   Rega Planar 3, AVID Volvere SP, Soulines Kubrick

Cartridges                  Ortofon 2M Black, Ortofon Cadenza Black, Denon 103r, Sumiko Blackbird, Gold Note Donatello

Power Amplifiers      Nagra 300p, Conrad Johnson MV-60SE, Audio Research VT80

Speakers                    Graham Chartwell LS3/5, Focal Sopra no.3

Cable                          Cardas Clear