Antique Sound Labs Headphone Amp

Audiogonisti...any feedback regarding this inexpensive tube headphone amp?

I recently saw a couple of their other products but did not have a chance to listen to them. Looks seemed way beyond the price points. But, on the other hand, one brand new unit had a loose knob tipping off point of origin.

Here's the deal. My system is sounding good. Real good. Finally rounding into shape. But the wife is giving me heavy "stink eye" in the wee, wee hours. Now that I'm self employed -- and worse yet, doing business in Asia at odd hours -- I just need only one squinting eye to make it to the coffee pot in the morning, so I'm staying up until near dawn working and listening to music. Every night. Good electricity at this time to boot.

I thought about picking up a Melos SHA Gold which works damn, damn good as a headphone amp and would be a fine back-up line stage. But, I have serious fever for a turntable. I sold the Sota a couple of years ago and have been vinyl deprived since. I just scored an Arcici Lead Balloon and am hell nebt on getting some buckshot and something to put on top of it. Which brings us back to the headphone amp...

I need something inexpensive and reasonably good. Stuff like X-Cans and Headrooms offend my sensibilties. Anything else out there for a man prowling for good sound on the cheap?

Oh, need headphones too. Left those with an
ex-girlfriend. I'd rather confront a rat in heat than talk to her about returning the SR80's. Any headphone suggestions to go with my inexpensive headphone amp?

Thanks in advance. Jim.
Hi Jim:

First, take it from a self confessed "headphone junkie", whose tried all but the aforementioned Melos, don't rule out the X-Cans, if you havn't heard it.

The latest X-Cans v2, is probably the most amazing headphone amp out there, ESPECIALLY considering its modest cost.

I've "rolled" the tubes in mine to a pair of Mullard "Gold Pins". It is the fastest most "liquid" thang out there in headphone-dom.

Also have the excellent Wheatfied HA-1 ( which to, is darn good, but at twice the price. It really only does the deep bass better than the X-Cans -- and has perhaps a quieter background.

Had the Antique Sound Labs for a while also, very good piece. Amazing parts & build. It falls somewhere between the Wheatfield & X-cans, in my estimation.

Good luck!

Hi Jim,

Check out Lots! of good information about headphone and headphone amps. You'll find all of the information you need there. Good luck!
You have probably checked by now. But as a new user of MG Head, I can tell you this. MG Head is amazingly a good piece of equipment. I don't know what kind of music you listen to, but if you are acoustic music "junkie", tube HP amp is much better than SS, at least to my humble ears. HA-1 is superior, but it costs THREE times. I strongly recommend MG Head + Beyer HP combo.

I have not listened to any other headphone amps but bought the MG Head DT, Sennheiser HD600 combo after listening at my local dealer. It sounds like tubes, lush and full, maybe lacking a bit in midrange/lower treble punch but very easy to listen to. The sound is much better than the op-amp feeds from my Sony cd players.
Looks like the MGHead, XCans2 and the Antique Sound Labs will get auditioned. Thanks for the feedback.
There are times when one must be quiet in his own home, for those times I am using the Wheatfield HA-1 with the Sennheiser HD600 with great success. I must admit that my whole system is a tube bassed system, so I am partial to those glowing tubes.

You all say that the cost is 3 times as much, but, you all also seem to agree that it is a better sound, after all that is what we are looking for isn't it, better sound. My vote, if you can afford the difference, would be for the Wheatfield, it is worth the extra expense.
I can't agree more. Actually, it was HA-1 that took my eyes (I mean ears) at the first place. But I was pretty sure that wife would be pissed off by that kind of instant spending. So, I look around to find MG Head, and succeeded to pursuade my ears to be satisfied with its "return on investment". Sure, if I had had the larger wallet, I would have gotten HA-1, which definitely sounds better.
Bmoto... guess I'll add the Wheatfield to the list. My system is also tube based and I've been doing quite a bit of tube rolling during the past year or two. I need to maintain the tube vibe is whatever headphone amp I ultimately go with. I initially thought about going with electrostatic headphones (since I have esl speakers) but I don't believe I can have those and the tubes at the same time. If I am mistaken, I'd be very happy to be corrected.

Like Khokugo, I need to balance price and performance. The wife likes the 4 Mazda chrome plates I just picked up, and since my new Modulus 3a looks identical to the Mod3 I'm not sure if she even knows that an upgrade occured while she was getting her hair done, but I know she's going to "poop" when I track down 12 matched NOS 6L6GC's or EL34's. Then there's the turntable I want to add to the system...

Thanks for the input.
I've got Grado RS-1's and the Grado RA-1 battery powered headphone amp running directly into the output stage of my Sony SCD-1 courtesy of Mr. Cardas's Golden Reference RCA.(Don't dismiss the battery powered RA-1 Grado -- it's dead quiet, and really let's the source strut its stuff. Critics might call the Grado a touch analytical, but I'm sold on Grado attention to detail and no over-emphasis on any one aspect of the headphone experience in sacrafice of another. Sterophile Class A, for whatever that's worth.

On SACD it's wonderful. Better than my aging STAX. I haven't heard the big Sen 600's on a tube headphone amp, but on Headroom's best amp the Grado's had a slight edge -- probably comes down to listener preference -- I know others who prefer the Sens.

That said, the STAX vs Sen 600 vs Grado RS-1 is classic audiophile battle with each system offering a different experience. Mixing in some of those liquid tube preamps vs headroom's cross feed systems only makes it that much more fun -- and I have no doubt within a year that I'll have two complete headphone systems.
Lonecherry, reflecting on my comment regarding esl headphones and tube headphone amps I seem to recall that Stax offered a choice of solid state or tubes with the Lambda Pro. Do you know if this is correct?

By the way, maybe ts time for you to get rid of those *aging* Stax phones ;-)
Jim: I've never heard the Lamda Pro (though I would like to) My "STAX" experience was mostly with mid 80's SR series and some of the newer Classic series (which sound quite nice, although they just can't get the bass quite right -- may be, just may be, Martin Logan should do a headphone, as those folks have finally figured out the ESL/bass equation.)

Speaking of bass, I have found a way to augment my Grados and get response flat to 16Hz, but my shoulders get sore after 5 minutes of carring around the Velodyne 18" and I keep getting the King Cobra PC caught in my hair -- I think I'll move to a pair of 10" subs, as I can carry one one each shoulder for proper stereo imaging :)

On a serious note and to answer your question, Stax has an excellent web site that details the rich chronology of the brand. Your question will probably be answered there; if not, seek out those ear-retentive gurus of

I am almost too embarrased to tell you what I've done with my old Stax. I was about to throw them to the newbies on eBay and be happy with my $100. But when I got the Grados, the posts I read about comfort problems turned out to be true -- the damm earpads itched -- it was not so much the shape but rather the material itself. Well, the leather earpads from my retired Stax fit perfectly over the outside of the RS-1 and make the headphones very, very comfortable -- the true test being that I sometimes forget they are on my head! Best tweak I done yet. --Lorne
Jim, if your system is tube based, as mine is, maybe you should consider a non-tube headphone setup as an alernative?
My Audible Illusion,CJ,meadowlark system, sounds great but is far from neutral. My headphone system a Grado RA-1,sR 80, panasonic portable is the exact opposite - quick, very detailed and highly addictive. Both satisfy certain musical fixes I have at any given time and now I feel no need for to try and make my main system "perfect". As an added bonus It is truly portable. That being said, I've heard the wheatfield, and antique labs setups with senns and beyerdyamics and they were both very good.

Have fun.

Lornecherry, now you've gone and done it. I checked out the Stax and their new line of products has piqued my interest. Looks like they've made some significant imrpovements -- especially in the specs of the diaphram. Several amps, including tubed, to choose from. I kind of forgot about Stax as they had sketchy distibution in recent years. Oh, and cost is another reason they weren't top of mind.

One more thing gives me "the fear"... I don't really want to start comparing a top-of-the-line Stax system with my esl speakers. This is the kind of thing that could drive one right over the edge, if you know what I mean. It's a good thing that I'm going to stick to my intention of doing this on a budget for now. The Stax, however, is a very likely longer term goal.

Very cool tweak with the Stax pads. Thanks for your feedback.
Pete, good points and an interesting take. I hadn't considered portability and my initial thinking was to try and get a headphone set up that matched my main system as closely as possible. Being a tube junkie, I naturally zeroed in on tube headphone amps. Your idea is food for thought.

I, too, have an AI pre (just upgraded to the 3a after many years with the 3). Also using a Mesa Baron amp and CLS/SW800's (the subs driven by an old Adcom 555). I'm just a hair South of neutral right now in two-thirds triode, due to tube rolling. Two-thirds pentode is pretty damn neutral. I find myself listening more in the pentode mode because of greater detail, adding more triode when the material needs it. Since headphone amps do not have the adjustable features of the Baron, I may be better off leaning towards detail and speed. Thanks for your suggestion -- I'll compare both ss and tube.