Fostex HP-P1 Headphone Amplifier & DAC 11

Fostex HP-P1 Headphone Amplifier & DAC Review

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The Fostex HP-P1 ships in a tightly packed cardboard box.

The bundle is good, but it would have been nicer if it included a USB mini charger. You get the following with a HP-P1: Carrying system for the HP-P1 plus i-devices, one short dock cable, one USB to mini USB cable for charging, and of course a manual.

Like the rest the carrying bag is well made. It fits the HP-P1 and an iPod or iPhone.

Closer Examination

The HP-P1 is built like a tank but hardly weighs anything. At under 300 grams the HP-P1 is very light weight.

The only issue is that the milled aluminium front plate has sharp edges. A few rubs with some emery cloth should do the trick. Finish wise the HP-P1 is extraordinary except for the way the volume pot is mounted. It does not feel as rock solid as the rest of the switches and housing.

The aluminium casing is a thing of beauty. The craftsmanship is astonishingly high and it feels incredibly durable. Size wise it is 2 cm wider than the iPhone 4 and approximately three times as high.

The front plate features two mini-jack sockets: one headphone out, and one analogue in. The digital USB is what makes this devices special since it allows for extraction of digital out from any i-device. The volume pot on the right doubles as an on/off switch. It only has a little imbalance at the start of the pot, but it did not pose a problem not even with the most efficient in-ears we tested with. The volume pot is totally smooth and allows for precise adjustments, add the three position gain switch on the back and pretty much all bases are covered.

The HP-P1 is a feature packed portable monster. From the left you have a conventional 1/8" mini-jack analogue line-out, next is a S/P-DIF out. After that is where it gets really exciting for all the headphone aficionados. The unit offers three different gain settings for the headphone out along with manual filter selection for the DAC!

Filter one makes the DAC operate with a filter that is like that used on the majority of configurations available today it is what is usually referred to as a sharp roll-off filter. Filter option two is quite interesting. Fostex calls it minimum delay and basically eliminates pre-ringing. Without going into the details this type of filter should give a sound which is relatively similar to the old style integrated NOS DACs featured in a lot of newer Hi-Fi DACs or players like the Head-Direct HM-801/602/601. We will get back to the performance differences later on in the performance section of this review.

The HP-P1 is a powerhouse of connectivity. It allows you to pass through a digital signal from an iPod or iPhone to a receiver through its integrated S/P-DIF or take advantage of its brilliant integrated DAC and hook up a system to its analogue out. For all the headphone people out there it has a very well performing headphone amplifier. The fact that everything except player is included in one unit makes it very versatile since it can be used as both a portable DAC and amplifier unit and as a digital transport for your home stereo.

On top of the housing there is a small LED which glows red when the unit is on battery power. The HP-P1 claim seven hours of battery life which has proven to be realistic in our tests of the unit. With the internal amplifier on low gain and the DAC in use, the seven hours can be achieved. With the output on high gain and used with a set of power hungry cans, do not expect anything beyond five hours at normal listening volume.

Seven hours is a bit on the low side since even the iPhone will give you at least 12 hours of play time at normal listening volume out of its headphone out, but we suspect that the integrated DAC and high quality amplifier is more power hungry than the measly integrated stuff inside the iPhone.

A lot can be said about the size of the HP-P1. If it were just a portable headphone amplifier it would be grotesque, but since it incorporates a wealth of features, some more unique than others, its size is forgiveable.

The aluminium casing has a rubberised top coating on it which makes it a bit grippy. It is an elegant solution which stops the unit from sliding around on ones desk.
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