The Desktop Audiophile: Channel Islands Audio VHP-2 Headphone Amp

Tech Test Lab Review

Product: CI Audio VHP-2 Headphone Amplifier
Price: $399 (direct)
Rating: Strong Recommend*

Headphones and earbuds have made a big comeback in the last few years thanks to the MP3 generation, including higher end models. Just like audiophile speakers, hi-fidelity headphones require quality amplification with low noise and enough power to drive a variety of models. Cue in a headphone amplifier. With small casework and a clean industrial design, the CI Audio VHP-2 provides enough juice for even the most demanding headphones.

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Features: Using my Macbook and a USB DAC (CI Audio Transient MK II) I listened to uncompressed music played through iTunes and Pure Music. The VHP-2 headphone amp served as the amplifier for my Sennheiser HD-600 headphones. The brushed aluminium faceplate incorporates a single 1/4 inch stereo headphone jack, a 2 gain levels button, and a smooth functioning volume knob. Inside and out, this hifi headphone amp uses carefully selected parts. A simple blue LED indicates power is connected and the amp is ready for use.

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The rear provides RCA inputs, a Loop input for sending the audio signal out, and a power input

Setup: Connecting the CI Audio headphone amp was easy and straight forward. With RCA inputs, a variety of sources can be fed to this amp. CD players, USB DACs, phono amp/turntables and even ipod docks/DACs can be connected. The loop thru RCA jacks provide a way to send the audio signal out. This might be useful if you want to send your music out to a stereo receiver or recorder.

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Minimal cables can be cleanly organized for simple interconnection

Listening: Starting off with some simple settings, the VHP-2 amp provided an excellent tactile feel when I reached for the volume knob. Using the higher gain setting with my Sennheiser HD-600 headphones provided enough volume without needing to go past the 11 o'clock position.

After I had tweaked the levels, Kings of Convenience was the first band I listened to. With a quiet background, the music emerged with grace and beautiful even tone. Voice and guitars were reproduced with precision and clarity that was accurate and very involving. The separation of instruments in the stereo field was easily discerned with the VHP-2 providing the amplification.

To further examine this headphone amps sound, I moved on to some more demanding orchestral recordings. The London Symphony's performance of Mysterious Mountains by Alan Hovhaness provided a dynamic performance with many layers of sound to appreciate. The staccato violin and flute came through and were easily heard in contrast to the walking bass line. From the quietest passages to the most dynamic climaxes, the VHP-2 amp maintained control and clarity over the sound.

Moving on to some newer releases, I cued up The XX's album Coexist. Electric guitar and bass rang through with a true solid tone. Synth pads and subtle sounds came across better than I had previously heard. Listening deeper into the mix was engaging and this little amp had me hearing a variety of sounds that The XX used to fill out their mixes. The VHP-2 had me fully immersed and listening deep into the mix.

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The Channel Islands VHP-2 headphone amp certainly qualifies for audiophile approved sound. It's small size and silky smooth volume knob provide hifi functionality. If you want to push the performance even further, CI Audio even produces an optional upgraded power supply called the VAC 1.

Maybe it's the neighbors, or you just don't have the physical space. Whatever your reason, personal hifi can provide an outlet for reconnecting with your music in all its soul and glory. Powering your headphones with The VHP-2 amp will allow you to fully realize your music's potential.

Pros: Clean even balanced sound, quiet and able to express music dynamics very well, drives most makes and models of headphones, clean industrial design, volume knob has excellent tactile feel, loop out provides output for another device, excellent build quality.

Cons: For the amateur audio enthusiast this may seem pricey, but for a well seasoned audiophile it's a good value.

Our Ratings:
Strong Recommend*
Recommend
Weak Recommend
Don't Recommend

Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. This specific product was provided by the manufacturer for testing and review purposes.

(Images: Vahan Baladouni)