Features and Specifications

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What is a headphone amp, and why do I need one?

The first and most obvious answer is that many high end components have no headphone outputs. The Andante, a semi-portable, battery powered headphone amp, is the best and simplest way to add headphone functionality to any existing system.

Because of the outmoded belief that serious audiophiles don't use headphones, built in headphone jacks are often driven by barely adequate chip circuits that are hastily thrown together using cookbook formulae. This is the kind of uninspired design that caused the disdain for headphones in the first place. Another common means of driving headphones is to connect them to the output stage of a power amplifier using resistors to reduce the volume. This is a poor idea, as the dynamic transducers in headphones need the same control and damping as speaker cones, which can only be had by direct connection to a low impedance driver stage.

The Andante addresses these deficiencies with its purpose-built fully discrete circuitry, wielding a delicate control that doesn't steal the life out of your recordings.

Mass market portable sources are designed with headphone use in mind. Unfortunately, other factors such as cost, battery life, and limited battery voltage mean they can't reproduce the program material's dynamic peaks without clipping, specially with less efficient phones. Even at lower volumes, they suffer from the same lackluster performance as their non-portable counterparts. The hope here, is that a cleaner signal can be had by connecting a better, dedicated headphone amp to the device's line-level output. This is where the Andante excels, with its 1/8" stereo and premium RCA input jacks, allowing connection to many analog sources without resorting to cheaply made adapters.

The Andante's inputs are much easier to drive than actual headphones, so when line level outs are unavailable, try the source's headphone output. You might be pleasantly surprised. The easier load typically means less distortion, and if the portable's headphone output is cap-coupled, the high input impedance of the headphone amp will lower the bass cutoff frequency. This means you'll hear deeper into the ambience of the recording space, as opposed to suffering a muddy bass "boost". Raising the output of your portable and then using the Andante for volume control may even net an improved signal to noise ratio.

Almost as compact as a portable CD player, the Andante is as much at home fully integrated into your high end audio system, as it is sitting unobtrusively yet stylishly on your desktop. Its sleek, low profile case encloses two sealed lead-acid batteries; an ideal, low-noise, hum-free, high-current power source, capable of driving even the greediest of power hungry headphones for days on end. Built-in batteries mean no fumbling for spares. The tri-color status indicator lets you know when they're low. Relax. You've got over an hour of use until the Andante puts itself into sleep mode. Just plug in the supplied universal adapter, and return to your dream state. The charger is self-terminating.

Rest assured, this is no glorified "op-amp-in-a-box". Build quality is evidenced from the machined, anodized, laser-etched faceplate to the stout Cardas RCA jacks at the rear, and it continues on inside. Its fully discrete, DC-coupled design, total isolation from the power grid, and careful layout featuring the highest quality parts (metal film resistors in the audio path, ultra low ESR capacitors, silver content solder, etc.,...) combine to ensure that you will hear all your music source has to give.

Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.

A Note on DC Coupling:

DC coupling assumes zero DC voltage from the attached source i.e. cap or transformer coupling or a properly nulled pre-amp output. For the vast majority of audio gear, this is a safe assumption. The lack of (additional) cap coupling at the Andante's input eliminates unnecessary phase shift, and reduction of bass response, not to mention other sonic artifacts often attributed to cap coupling.

If you are not sure of your source component, it can be easily verified with a voltmeter. An ideal measurement is zero volts. In practice, a few milivolts is not unheard of. Higher DC levels may damage your headphones, specially if you like to crank up the volume. It is the user's responsibility to determine the suitability of your equipment before connecting the headphone amplifier.