This is a review of the headphone output of the Emotiva BasX A-100 Stereo Flex Amplifier. If you’re not familiar, Emotiva makes some great audio products at incredibly attractive price-points. They offer a host of speakers, headphones, amplifiers, processors, and other gear. I have owned their portable DACs which are a tremendous value; I ended up parting ways for lack of need. They were quite good sounding though and offered a robust build quality. I currently have some of their power equipment which is also well built. If I were a home theater afficionado, I’d likely have even more of their gear.
Emotiva has a value-oriented 2 channel amp called the BasX A-100. Normally it is a speaker amp providing 50 watts per channel into 8 Ohms and 80 Watts per channel into 4 Ohms, which is plenty for most setups. What is also pleasing for those with limited in-house real-estate is that the unit is half width, so 8-1/2” wide x 3.125” high x 15” deep. That saves half of your shelf for another piece of equipment/some headphones or something else.
Perhaps what is most interesting about the A-100 is that it can be used as a high-powered headphone amp. Granted, very few people would need this capability, but it is there. The unit does need to be internally jumpered for this operation as it is unsafe for standard headphones. The output is:
8 Ohms: 50 watts / channel
33 Ohms: 12 watts / channel
47 Ohms: 8.5 watts / channel
150 Ohms: 2.6 watts / channel
300 Ohms: 1.3 watts / channel
600 Ohms: 0.6 watts / channel
So, what headphone owners would be interested in this feature? Owners of low-sensitivity headphones like the HiFiMan Susvara, HiFiMan HE-6 or HE-6se, the HEDDPhones, the Abyss AB-1266, and others.
Normally I use an external box with some high quality resistors to convert a speaker amp’s output for headphones (it has some protections built in for amps with output transformers) but given the low cost of the A-100, it was a no-brainer to at least try it out.
Starting with the good news, the A-100 produced plenty of usable volume with the HE-6se and drove them with spades. There are some caveats though. The first, I noticed the amp takes a bit of time to warm up. When listening immediately, the midrange wasn’t well defined. After 10-15 minutes this seems to go away. Second, I found the sound to be fairly cool/bright and slightly lacking on the low end. This isn’t a big deal if you don’t mind EQing. I found reducing the upper midrange and increasing the low range to help make the sound more agreeable for my personal preferences. If you are listening from a computer, you can use the free program PEACE to make adjustments, if not, you can pick up something like the JDS Labs Subjective3 or the Schiit Loki. Neither of these offer an ideal level of control to get the A-100 exactly right (for me), but they are well made and get the job done affordably.
|Running the HifiMan HE-6se with the Emotiva A-100|
It seems that perhaps the weakest link of the A-100 is its potentiometer (volume control). Early into turning it, there was very noticeable channel imbalance. This seemed to subside quickly as the volume rose; however, it is important to note. A good potentiometer can be costly, so this was likely a price point issue. Given an Alps Blue Velvet (RK27), a frequently used entry-level potentiometer for audio, is around $12 per piece in bulk, it would be very hard to implement at this price level.
|You get a lot for your money in terms of parts and build|
Overall, the Emotiva BasX A-100 Stereo Flex Amplifier is impressive at its price point given the heft, solid and attractive build, and ability to send 50 WPC to a pair of headphones. Also the internal rectified power supply (no wall wart) is typically reserved for more expensive gear. If you were in the position to have purchased some HiFiMan HE-6 or HE-6se and had very little left over for a suitable amp, this is probably the only game in town, aside from potentially the balanced output of the Schiit Magnius which I haven’t yet tested.
If you were only interested in powering speakers and don’t mind purchasing used gear, you might want to cross-shop an older receiver from a reputable brand like Yamaha, Onkyo, Outlaw, or Denon. If you are DIY-minded, a chip amp like Akitika is a good route to investigate for speakers.
If you are trying to power low-sensitivity headphones via a speaker amplifier, please check out the CBOX at Zynsonix.com. It provides a safe consistent load for your amplifier while delivering the juice your headphones need.