Published on March 16th, 2015 | by Greg0
Fostex HP-V1: A Portable… Tube Amplifier?!
Portable audio has plenty of advantages, and it’s improved drastically over the years. We’ve moved from analog formats like cassette tapes to digital ones like compact discs and now onto MP3s and other files. Easy downloading and sharing, simple playback controls, and better consistent quality- these are the hallmarks of the modern audio devices. But there are trade-offs, and as we moved to 1s and 0s, we lost a little bit of the warmth in the music.
The Fostex HP-V1 Tube Amplifier is here to bring it back, without sacrificing too much in the way of portability. It’s Japanese-made, and brings the long Fostex history of quality manufacturing into the era where they’re building a solid brand of their own. Witness some of our other recent tests of Fostex gear- from their planar headphones to their mobile ‘audio retriever’. But this is a truly unusual piece of gear- the first pint-sized amplifier we’ve seen that includes an analog vacuum tube. Encased in a solid aluminum chassis, there is a rechargeable battery that will last you about ten hours of playtime. It’s not as light as most portable amps (390 grams) and doesn’t include DAC capability, but it’s definitely an interesting twist on the classic portable amp formula.
Unusually, the HP-V1 has twin inputs, both 3.5mm mini-jack sized that operate identically, one on the front and another on the rear. You can pick which one you want to use, which is kind of nice depending on whether you decide to use it at home or on-the-go. There’s only a single output though, also 3.5mm, even though there would have been room for a larger traditional 1/4-inch headphone (and many higher-end headphones use it). There aren’t a lot of fancy options on-board, but there is a high/low gain switch you can use to adjust to your set. The large knob controls your volume, and it’s size is a mixed blessing- it can twist pretty easily when you try to take it out and about but is well-balanced and feels great. And we would’ve liked a few more steps, as it’s all too easy to go from quiet to blaringly loud with barely a nudge.
Unlike many solid state models, valve amps are more flexible and tend to offer more range, and the powerful hybrid HP-V1 is able to drive even the most demanding and sensitive in-ear monitors. We really liked the lack of distortion, minimal noise, and spacious headroom- even tricky tracks like high-resolution symphonic songs were crisp and clear. Vocals popped, and the low-end was warm and energetic. Not as detailed as some competitors, the emphasis instead is on tone, mellow and even subtle. You’ll appreciate it especially on classic Motown, jazz, trip-hop, anything sultry. The HP-V1 might be a bit too big, it’s and definitely too easy to ratchet the volume level uncomfortably high, but it certainly puts up a compelling case for bringing more analog into your life. Available now for around $500, online and in stores.