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Published on September 20th, 2011 | by Greg


Music Hall PH25.2: Awkward Name, Great Headphone Amp

Head­phones are the way to lis­ten to mu­sic. We said it- they can be so much more pre­cise and ad­justable than any pair of speak­ers. Spend $200-$400 on head­phones and you’re pret­ty well-set… but $200 won’t get you more than a mediocre set of speak­ers when it comes to ac­cu­ra­cy and tone. Place­ment is­sues can mar even an ex­pen­sive set­up, and driv­ing that au­dio­phile-lev­el set of cones will take a ma­jor amp- siz­able and al­so pricey.

For par­ties, we’ll throw on the speak­ers. But for se­ri­ous lis­ten­ing- ap­pre­ci­at­ing the pro­duc­tion qual­i­ty, the lay­ers, sam­pling de­tail- we’ll throw on our head­phones and pick a good amp. We’ve seen a few re­cent­ly- the best we’ve test­ed so far, the Hi­Fi­Man EF5 bring­ing most any­thing we threw at it to a new lev­el even for the un­trained lis­ten­er. The small­est of them, the OBH-11 from Creek Au­dio, was small, cute, and portable (and about half of the cost of to­day’s mod­el) even if it did feel a lit­tle re­strained. In pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cles, we dis­cussed the val­ue of a good pair of head­phones (buy them first) as well as a DAC (if you’re us­ing dig­i­tal files).

But to­day’s piece of gear, the Mu­sic Hall PH25.2 is our largest head­phone am­pli­fi­er yet, and of­fers a mix of both tubes and sol­id-state op­er­a­tional amps (or op-amps). The bot­tom line: im­pres­sive sound, a good fea­ture set, but a bit too large and bulky for us to rec­om­mend with­out some reser­va­tions. Let’s break it down.

For starters, it looks and feels se­ri­ous. Right out of the box, you’re greet­ed with sev­en pounds of hard­ware, a nice sol­id feel­ing that makes a good first im­pres­sion. Al­so, the jacks aren’t mi­ni-jack- you’ll im­me­di­ate­ly no­tice two 1/4 inch plugs for your mon­i­tors. That’s right- two. You and a friend can en­joy the mu­sic si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly, with­out fight­ing over who gets to use it. Al­so, we loved the in­clu­sion of two in­puts (CD or AUX) and a small switch for tog­gling be­tween them. Handy! Less use­ful for us on a reg­u­lar ba­sis was the in­clu­sion of a pre-amp out­put, but it did make test­ing the amp sim­pler.

Set­ting up, then, was sim­ple- RCA jacks to our DAC source and com­put­er as well as a old Sony CD play­er, Gra­dos serv­ing as our tra­di­tion­al head­phones. Flip a switch and bam- we had for­got­ten to ad­just the vol­ume first and were un­for­tu­nate­ly caught off-guard. That’s a mis­take that won’t be re­peat­ed twice, but luck­i­ly our ears and gear were fine. We let the unit warm up a bit, a cou­ple of hours run­ning sol­id, and then came back to try our lis­ten­ing tests. At first, we ad­mit to be­ing a lit­tle sur­prised- the sound wasn’t as rich or warm as we ex­pect­ed from a tube-based amp (and there are two of them). We wouldn’t call it clin­i­cal- there was still plen­ty of jazz added to the bass end and mid-range, es­pe­cial­ly on vo­cal tracks and pop. Coun­try and acous­tic sound­ed flu­id and broad, though hip-hop and rap tracks felt a bit too snap­py on per­cus­sion- we felt a lit­tle fa­tigue set in. The sound­stage was great but not as im­pres­sive as we’ve seen- more like a mid-sized posh room than a con­cert hall. That’s fine for most songs- we pre­ferred this unit over any oth­er for pure tech­ni­cal vir­tu­os­i­ty, less for lis­ten­ing to opera.

As al­ways, it can de­pend heav­i­ly on what type of mu­sic you’re lis­ten­ing to, along with the source and head­phones them­selves. We might’ve wished for the head­phone jacks to of­fer dif­fer­ent impedance lev­el- some­thing that isn’t at all com­mon but might help those with dif­fer­ent head­phones (GS1000i users and oth­er folks with low impedance sets should look else­where). The de­sign of the unit drew mixed re­spons­es- some liked it’s sim­ple and classy brushed met­al, oth­ers thought it looked a bit old-fash­ioned. That’s not a bad thing by any means- these are hand-built af­ter all, and fea­ture high-end com­po­nents that should sat­is­fy any au­dio­phile. No one would walk away dis­ap­point­ed in the PH25.2, and we strong­ly rec­om­mend it for it’s ver­sa­til­i­ty. Those in need of some­thing small­er, more portable, or less ex­pen­sive should pass this one up, but if you need a sec­ond head­phone jack or want the flex­i­bil­i­ty of ex­tra in­puts or a pre-amp out­put then the Mu­sic Hall guys have your dream am­pli­fi­er. At $400, it can take a toll on a pock­et­book- but these are in­vest­ments, meant to hold up for a life­time, and looked at over the course of your mu­sic spend­ing or oth­er en­ter­tain­ment gear it’s worth it.

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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