We have a small B-Room here at The Hangar with a Digi 002 and a Rolls HA43 4-channel headphone amp. So when Aphex asked if we'd be interested in reviewing their HeadPod unit, I said sure, I can do that. Both units are similar in that they both power four sets of cans with individual volume controls. The Rolls is black, the HeadPod is white. The HeadPod adds a master volume and your choice of individual L/R balanced TRS input jacks or one unbalanced stereo TRS jack. They both use wall warts, but the Rolls is 12 VDC while the HeadPod is 12 VAC. AC or DC? Great band name there somewhere. Comparing headphone amps is a tricky business. For this test, engineer Bryce Gonazales and I each picked a song we knew really well and had heard on headphones before. Using two pairs of Audio Technica ATH-M30 headphones (my second favorite set of cans after the ATH-M50s, which sound amazing!) we first compared the Rolls to the high-end headphone reference amp in our Grace 802 monitor controller. After level matching the tracks and getting the hang of quickly switching between headsets, we both agreed the Grace was much cleaner and open sounding. Kind of what you'd expect from a $1500 headphone amp compared to a $100 amp. In defense of the Rolls however, it didn't sound fifteen times worse than the Grace; it actually sounded okay. But the Rolls had a peaky upper midrange that I suspect would quickly get tiring after a long session. Next, we repeated these tests with the HeadPod and the Grace. The peaky midrange in the Rolls was absent in the HeadPod. The Grace still sounded a bit more open and hi-fi, but the gap had been narrowed quite a bit. So, if you're looking for an inexpensive 4-channel headphone amp, you should definitely consider the HeadPod. It's a few bucks more than the ultra-cheapy units, but your ears will probably thank you after long sessions. ($249 MSRP; www.aphex.com)

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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