I’ve been a huge fan of HeadAmp’s products for pretty much a full decade. Everything from their now discontinued GS-1 to their flagship GS-X had me eagerly anticipating purchasing a unit of my own in order to hear my favourite headphones sound at their very best. So when I was presented with the opportunity to review their newly released GS-X mini balanced headphone amplifier/pre-amp, I could barely contain my excitement to hear what HeadAmp had come up with next! Being a massive fan of their GS-X Mk2, the GS-X mini continues in the same tradition by offering a truly beautiful product with some of the best build quality around! Instead of two separate pieces (a power supply and separate amplifier), the GS-X mini contains everything you’ll need in one unit. The faceplate; like the GS-X Mk2, is available with several colour options that you can customize to best fit your liking. The particular unit sent to me was “Satin Grey” and I absolutely love the look of this amplifier as it sits on the shelf directly above my main “
Setup was a flash and a new huge update is that the GS-X mini does not require a balanced source to run in balanced mode! Many similar headphone amplifiers require both balanced inputs and outputs to run in balanced mode, but this new innovative design of using a special variation of their renowned GS-X Mk2 amplifier, the GS-X mini forgoes the input requirement of balanced inputs which in turn should be a huge benefit for those who are quite happy with their non-balanced sources! This new design does not however compromise your listening experience from your high-end headphones as they will always enjoy the benefits with a balanced amplifier; even if your DAC/source isn’t balanced. So for this review I primarily used my Chord DAVE with its RCA (unbalanced outputs) to feed the GS-X mini as the DAC designer Rob Watts has typically recommended this configuration for using the DAVE.
The full specifications for the GS-X mini are:
|Output Power||4W @ 50 ohms|
|Gain||Varies with volume setting, L – 3X, H- 10X|
|Line Voltage||100V, 115/120V, 230/240V|
|Volume Control||ALPS Blue Potentiometer or DACT 24-step attenuator|
|Inputs||1 XLR, 1 RCA|
|Outputs||4-pin XLR (balanced), 1 x ¼” TRS (stereo), 1 XLR/RCA active pre-amp outputs (switchable)|
|Dimensions||11.375 in. x 10.25 in. x 2.0 in. [289mm x 260mm x 51mm]|
|Weight||5.5 lbs. [2.5 Kg]|
|Price||Option 1: w/ ALPS Potentiometer – $1,795 US Option 2: w/ DACT 24-step attenuator – $1,995 US|
For this review, I wanted to throw several different headphones and drive requirements at the GS-X mini to see how it could handle them. As a result, I settled upon the newly released RAD-0 by Rosson Audio Design (https://www.rossonaudiodesign.com/shop), the harder to drive Abyss Phi TC by Abyss Headphones (https://abyss-headphones.com/pages/abyss-ab-1266-phi-reference-headphone) and the 300 ohm Sennheiser HD800S flagship dynamic headphones (https://en-us.sennheiser.com/high-resolution-headphones-3d-audio-hd-800-s).
First up, I decided to select the newly released flagship RAD-0 headphones from Rosson Audio Design. Rosson Audio Design is a company started by one of the founders of the world-renowned Audeze Headphones – Alex Rosson. I will be reviewing these headphones separately in the short term, but I wanted to make sure that I included them with the GS-X mini as I found the synergy between these two components simply outstanding! For this critical listening session, I decided to go with Tool’s latest release “Fear Inoculum”. After an incredibly long 13
A few days later, I decided to change things up a bit and go with the Hi-Res stream of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” by Carlo Maria Guilini via Qobuz. For this selection, I used the venerable Sennheiser HD800S flagship dynamic headphones. I’ve always loved these headphones with classical music due to their speed, clarity and expansive sound staging capabilities. From the first Act, I was immediately astonished with the absolute drive and control of the HD800S’s drivers that the GS-X mini provided. The speed and tactility of such a complex recording was never held back with this setup and this amazing amplifier not only maintained a stellar level of clarity and instrumental separation, but it added a much needed ethereal experience that added a more organic and musical experience that the HD800S lacked with many other top flight solid state amplifiers. I typically prefer these headphones with tube amplifiers for this very reason, but the GS-X mini offered a more analog experience that brought these headphones to a whole new level with a solid state amplifier. The stringed instruments sounded incredibly detailed and particularly quick, but with a richness that I wasn’t familiar with from these headphones. The ability to approach the speed and transparency of the flagship GS-X Mk2 amplifier, but offer a warmer and slightly more musical presentation was quite the experience. While the GS-X Mk2 offered slightly better clarity and sound staging, I think I might prefer the GS-X mini’s overall presentation with these headphones. There certainly is no wrong answer here, but I was certainly surprised just how well the GS-X mini excelled with these rather picky headphones.
Finally, I decided to revisit an old standard of mine: Eric Clapton’s “MTV – Unplugged”. I love all things Clapton (and Cream for that matter) and his MTV Unplugged special from 1992 is truly a classic showcase of this legend’s ability to play the guitar and perform. For this CD (using my Cambridge Audio 840C cd player –> Audioquest Diamond Toslink –> Chord DAVE), I used my harder to drive Abyss Phi TC headphones and the GS-X mini. I quickly realized that High Gain was ideal for these more power-hungry headphones (47 ohms and 88 dB/mW) in order to get them to play at sufficient SPL levels. Throughout this album, the GS-X mini fully drove these planar magnetic headphones without even breaking a sweat! Knowing that I had 4W of power on tap to drive these babies was comforting as I’ve found many other desktop amplifiers (in the 1W and less range); though powerful enough for most headphones, seemed to run out of steam with the Abyss Phi TC. Right from “Signe” and “Before You Accuse Me”, I was in audio heaven with this setup! The dynamics, punch, detail and controlled presentation
Whether you love the musical and analog sound of tube-based amplifiers or are a fan of the convenience and clarity offered by solid-state amps, the new GS-X mini has all of your bases covered! It won’t break the bank coming in between $1,795 and $1,995 US like so many