Headroom Total Bithead Headphone Amp Reviewed

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While the general consensus is that the audio industry is simply lying back and allowing the iPod to consume what few pounds and dollars are out there, at least one company has adopted a more enlightened attitude. HeadRoom, the mail-order-only headphone accessory manufacturer, never lets an opportunity slip by, so their latest portable headphone amplifier might go some way in training iPod owners to appreciate better sound quality.

Although I'm not an iPod user (I simply refuse to touch anything made by Apple), I understand on good authority that the supplied headphones, as with most freebies, are hardly the greatest in the world. Moreover, I gather that they're not the best-built either, so at least one sector of the hi-fi industry is benefiting from the iPod: headphone manufacturers. However, quality after-market headphones require something better than the weedy output from a personal hi-fi, and that's where HeadRoom enters the picture.

As with earlier HeadRoom amplifiers, the Total BitHead is a compact, battery-operated device able to drive two pairs of cans, taking the line or headphone output and amplifying it to drive quality headphones such as Sennheisers or Grados. It features a volume control, a green LED to indicate power on and a red LED to indicate clipping. The BitHead's added extra over other models is the ability to run off USB ports, thus making it a superb add-on for personal computers, notebooks and laptops, and yes, MP3 players so-equipped; there's a conventional stereo 3.5mm socket as well for those without USB. Additionally, the total BitHead features HeadRoom's switchable audio image processor for enhanced performance, which creates a smoother left-right sensation and is worth trying.

HTR Product Rating for Headroom Total Bithead Headphone Amp

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HeadRoom supplies everything you could possibly want bar the four AAA batteries you insert under the rubber cover on the top: both USB and mini-jack to mini-jack cables, and a pile of Velcro 'coins' so that you can attach the device to your portable audio player or your notebook. There are enough for you to set it up for five locations. Unsurprisingly, the unit is the same size as an iPod.

Having tried a number of the company's amplifiers in the past, I only needed a quick burst through the conventional line input. What I loved was the absolutely instant set-up when I plugged the cable into a USB socket. Immediately the sounds of my PC were fed to the Sennheiser HD414s, and I was treated to the sort of headphone playback I expect from a decent amplifier. I also used it with a Sony cassette Walkman and a Panasonic CD portable. In every case, the sound was more robust, solid and clear then using the headphones directly driven from the portables' own headphone sections.

At $269, the total BitHead isn't cheap. You'll get 40 hours of the set of batteries, while the USB power takes over when you use it with a PC running off the mains. If you're a serious headphone and computer or MP3 player user, the Total BitHead will enhance your pleasure immeasurably. And who knows? If enough iPod users taste decent sound quality, maybe the'll upgrade their home hi-fi systems and help save the industry. Ken Kessler

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