• Headstage Arrow 5TX (Enhanced Bass Boost) Review

    October 18, 2015 Luckbad 9

    Comments across the tiny Hi-Fi corner of the internet might lead one to believe that Headstage amps are a mere myth. An ultra-thin amplifier of high quality and a plethora of features created by an eccentric genius. Delays, periods of silence during development, and confusion abound. But it’s here now. Was it worth the wait?

    Headstage Arrow 5TX In the Box

    • Amplifier w/ battery installed
    • USB Cable (USB A to Micro)
    • Short 3.5mm <-> 3.5mm cable
    • Short Micro to Micro USB cable
    • 30-day Money Back Guarantee (After Receipt)
    • 2-Year Extended Warranty

    20150928_084035 (1)

    Headstage Arrow 5TX Features

    Apart from moar bass, the Headstage Arrow 5TX and Enhanced Bass Boost editions are identical. The features of this incredibly tiny amplifier, however, are ample.

    • 3 Gain Settings: 0, I, and II. You can power anything from extremely sensitive IEMs to power hungry headphones (excepting insanely demanding cans like the HE-6).
    • 3 Position Treble Boost: 0, I, and II. Boost the treble (or don’t) for dark headphones or recordings.
      • See the frequency graph below for what the Treble and Bass switches actually do to the sound.
    • 3 Position, 3 Frequency Bass Boost: 0, I, and II switch to decide how much you want to boost the bassl; Low (L), Medium (M), and High (H) settings to determine the turnover frequency of the bass.
    • Digital Volume Control: 65-step volume control with mute function (by pressing in the volume control). Even at super low volumes, there is no channel imbalance.
      • Incredibly fine control is possible with this design combined with the gain controls. I had no trouble powering anything from 16 Ohm IEMs to 300 Ohm Sennheisers.
    • Portable/Station USB Dac: This can be used as a DAC on the PC as well as on Android and iPhone/iPad devices. You can switch the DAC off completely and use it as an amp only (0), switch it to PC mode (P) to draw current/charge from the PC and work as a DAC, or switch it to Mobile (M) mode to be powered by the internal battery. In 0 mode, you can also charge it on the PC without turning itself on as a sound card.
      • Less well-known is that you can leave this plugged into your PC all the time, even when playing music. That is a common limitation of portable amplifiers like the Cayin C5 that is not an issue with the Arrow 5TX.
    • Patented Automatic Power Adaptation: It can change battery voltage between 4V and 12V to prevent distortion without wearing the battery out when that kind of power isn’t needed. This lets it work for an even wider range of headphones than most.
    • Automatic Power Switch: You can switch power to Off (0), On (I), and Automatic (A). In Auto mode, it will automatically switch on when an audio signal is coming through and will turn itself off 3 minutes after the audio signal stops.
    • Ultra Slim Design: 8.5mm thick x 56mm wide x 98mm long. This is marginally larger than stacking several credit cards on top of each other (credit cards are 0.76mm thick x 53.98mm wide x 85.6 mm long).
      • The Arrow 5TX is the most portable amplifier I’ve ever used.
    • More Features
      • Patented Power Adaptation with up to 12V Internal Voltage
      • Maximal 10V Output Voltage (Peak to Peak)
      • 25 Hours Battery Play Time
      • AD8620 and BUF634 Buffers at Output Stage
      • 65 Step Digital Volume Control with Mute
      • USB DAC for PC/MAC/Android/iPhone/iPad (iPhone/iPad via Camera Connection Kit)
      • ON/OFF/AUTO Illuminated Power Switch
      • Three Selectable Gain Settings
      • Two Bass Switches (Amount and Range)
      • Treble Switch
      • High-Capacity 1200mAh/4.2V Lithium-Ion Battery
      • High Efficiency Battery Charging from USB Port
      • Two Audio Input Jacks
      • One Headphone Jack
      • Low-Battery Indication (Slow and Fast LED Blinking)
      • Fully Anodized Aluminium Enclosure with Laser Engraving
      • Size: 8.5mm x 56mm x 98mm (0.33” x 2.20” x 3.86”)
      • Weight: 100g

    Headstage Arrow 5TX (Enhanced Bass Boost) Impressions

    Was it worth the wait? YES!

    This is an incredibly capable, versatile, and clean sounding amplifier. Its bass boost is second to none. If you’re after the most portable basshead amplifier out there, you can stop reading and order one of these right now.

    Compared to its closest rival, the VorzAMP Duo, it is much more portable, has a better bass boost, works better with IEMs, and has very slightly less clarity than the Vorzuge offering. That said, I happily used the Headstage at work for several weeks as my desktop amplifier and didn’t feel like I was missing much.

    Back to the bass boost. Wow! Three frequencies to choose from and two levels of bass boost (0 is none). You’ll see in the charts below how chest-thumping you can get the bass boost to go.

    The treble boost is quite good as well. I tend to dislike enhanced treble of any kind, but this is implemented well and does not contribute any background hiss.

    It’s hard to talk much more about how good this tiny thing is. Look at the features! Look at the comments on Head-Fi about the sound! Look at the… okay… it’s really good.

    If all you’re looking for is a desktop amplifier that you’ll never take anywhere, there are options at similar price points from Audio-GD, iFi, Vorzuge, and Garage1217 that could do you better in the overall sound department (but not the bass department, in my opinion. The closest you’ll come is the iFi iCAN for a basshead desktop amp at a nice price point, but it still doesn’t add as much bass as the 5TX). But really, we’re talking a few percent better sound. The Headstage Arrow 5TX is firmly into the territory at which you’ll notice very few differences between the sound of amplifiers.

    It’s extremely well implemented. It has a nice clean sound without any harshness, but it can be bright if you want it to be with the treble switch. It is the best portable IEM amp I’ve ever fed to my ears.  And, it can be used as a desktop/portable solution if you don’t want to buy separate amplifiers for each purpose.

    I really love this thing. It is, as of this writing, my #1 basshead headphone amplifier for people who need an amp for portability and IEMs in addition to full-size headphones.

    What are the negatives? The DAC is pretty meh. I’d rather he left it out and included crossover or something else that takes up a similar amount of space instead. When you punch into this price point, you should feed an amplifier this capable with a worthy DAC. I didn’t find the DAC section to be any better than that of my Galaxy S5.

    It’s also not going to give you absolute gobs of power. 600 Ohm cans and juice-monger planars are going to want something bigger. It had no problem with my 300 Ohm Sennheiser HD650s, but it also didn’t give me the dynamics and clarity of a desktop solution like the iFi iCAN or Garage1217 Project Polaris with something that beefy.

    That’s really it for weaknesses.

    The Headstage Arrow 5TX (Enhanced Bass Boost) is a tiny monster of an amp that you really ought to consider. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section below.

    Headstage Arrow 5TX (Enhanced Bass Boost) Measurements

    I had to get rid of some of my measurement setup before this review, so all I have for you are the frequency response measurements you’re probably most interested in anyway: bass and treble boost functionality!

    headstage_arrow_5tx_switches

    Headstage Arrow 5TX (Enhanced Bass Boost)

    $399.00
    Headstage Arrow 5TX (Enhanced Bass Boost)
    89

    Overall Sound

    9/10

      Features

      9/10

        Basshead Potential

        10/10

          Build Quality

          9/10

            Reviewer Bias

            9/10

              Pros

              • Bass boost is incredible
              • Most portable amp ever?
              • Tons of innovative features
              • No channel imbalance
              • Great with IEMs to full-size

              Cons

              • If you pre-ordered, the wait sucked.
              • DAC is largely unnecessary
              • I'd love a crossover switch
              • Won't power your HE-6
              • Slides around a bit on my desktop

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