Published on May 27th, 2015 | by Greg0
Pangea Audio HP 201 Tube Amp: A Musical Story
Many headphone amplifiers offer a USB input, as in a combination DAC. And some tube amplifiers are reasonably priced and fairly compact. But very few amps combine all of the above, taking your digital signals from a computer and passing them through an analog vacuum tube before they are ready for you to enjoy via your headphones, all without busting your budget or taking up too much space on your desk.
The hybrid Pangea Audio HP 201 Tube Amplifier is sold in the United States through Audio Advisors (and doesn’t even appear on the Pangea website that we could find at press time). It’s a DAC as well, for use with your digital sources- no driver is required for Mac OSX users, though Windows users will need to install one available on the support section of the Pangea website. There is a smaller sibling, the HP 101, and a story behind the product that we found pretty compelling. Like much of the audio gear today and many other consumer goods too, it starts in China but continues with a redesign focused on boosting quality to American and European audiophile standards. They’ve taken what was a great base and updated it to include full 24-bit/192-kHz support.
Unlike other manufacturers’ headphone amps in this price class, there are no op-amps or other integrated circuits used anywhere. After testing a variety of them, they decided to use discrete MOSFET output devices instead. The HP 201 looks fairly standard at first glance, but the plastic cap to protect the tube is interesting, and the power supply is bigger than most competitors this size. There is an RCA input and an RCA pre-output as well making this capable of serving as a pre-amp, plus the requisite 1/4″ jack that can accommodate your cans of choice. At five and a half pounds, it’s also heavier than you might expect, and more solid, with a nice hefty volume control knob. The included tube is the best surprise of all, a swappable 12AX7 so you can use any of the many available.
We burned it in for a couple of days, and proceeded to test with both types of computers, with dozens of headphone makes and models and quite a few styles of music. It’s a pretty flexible, capable amp, and suitable across a wide range of impedances. We liked the sense of space compared with many others- the HP 201 offered plenty of detail on percussion and richness on vocals, and a very analog feeling, warm and soulful. Electronic music and hip-hop lost a little bit in the translation; we tend to prefer a bit of a bass boost and a more neutral, colder and sharper, swifter amp for those genres. But jazz and classic rock tracks- even from high-definition files- sounded great. And it offered no noise, even at high volumes. Expect to spend around $300, online and in stores, for the Pangea HP 201, available now.