July
2024

Country of Origin

Singapore

HP²A

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (i5, 256GB SSD, 40GB RAM, Sonoma 14), 4TB external SSD with Thunderbolt 3, Audirvana Studio, Qobuz Sublime, Singxer SU-6 USB bridge, LHY Audio SW-8 & SW-6 switch, Laiv Audio Harmony; Active filter: Lifesaver Audio Gradient Box 2; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 monos & Gold Note monos on subwoofer; Headamp: Enleum AMP-23R; Phones: Raal 1995 Immanis, HifiMan Susvara; Loudspeakers: Qualio IQ [on loan] Cables: Kinki Studio Earth, Furutech; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, Furutech DPS-4.1 between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 6 x 8m with open door behind listening seat; Room treatment: 2 x PSI Audio AVAA C214 active bass traps
2nd system: Source: FiiO R7 into Soundaware D300Ref SD transport to Cen.Grand DSDAC 1.0 Deluxe; Preamp/filter: Lifesaver Audio Gradient Box 2; Amplifier: Kinki Studio EX-M7; Headamp: Cen.Grand Silver Fox; Loudspeakers: MonAcoustic SuperMon Mini + Dynaudio S18 sub; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF, Akiko Audio Corelli; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~3.5 x 8m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win10/64; USB bridge: Singxer SU-2; DAC: Sonnet Pasithea; Headamp: Kinki Studio THR-1; Speaker amp: Crayon CFA-1.2; Speakers: Acelec Model One
Headphones: Final D-8000 & Sonorous X, Audeze LCD-XC, Raal-Requisite SR1a on Schiit Jotunheim R
Upstairs headfi system: FiiO R7, COS Engineering D1, Cen.Grand Silver Fox; Headphones: Raal 1995 Magna, Meze 109 Pro, Fiio FT3

2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; All-in-One: Gold Note IS-1000 Deluxe; Loudspeakers: Zu Soul VI; Subwoofer: Zu Submission; Power delivery: Furutech eTP-8, Room: ~6x4m

Review component retail: TBA

Vitamin C. 'C' words come in all sizes. A fan unfavourite is compromise. We all acknowledge it with bended knee but like to pretend that we don't. Confirmation can be salve for the uncertain soul. When it comes to Laiv's Harmony DAC, by July 4th it had already nabbed compound confirmation with awards from us, Twittering Machines, HighFidelity.pl, SoundNews.net and YouTuber Grzegorz of speaker brands Cube and Qualio; plus at least five more gushing reviews. For a new brand's maiden product, that was quite the collection of trophies; a kind of Phelpsian gold grab in a single season's audio Olympics. Yet all along we knew this to be just the beginning. Since day one their site had teased a road map of four more models. Today is about the first of that second wave. It's the HP²A, a matching so half-width headfi/preamplifier in silver or black with gold detailing either way; and a matching FMJ remote. For the less-is-more crew of hifi builders, one thing the Harmony DAC lacked was analogue volume to direct-drive an amp or active speaker. The HP²A adds that plus a drive-all headphone amp. That latter category is second only to phonostages in just how critical it is of residual self noise. Vinyl's challenge is the demand for extreme gain which amplifies microscopic noise to unacceptable levels because of upstream gain in linestages and power amps piling on.

Headfi's challenge is transducer proximity plus potential efficiency. With drivers within centimetres of our ear drums, noise has nowhere to hide. Yet certain flagship earspeakers like Susvara and Tungsten demand high power. A headphone amp for all seasons and reasons must combine high gain/drive with extremely low noise to also cater to high-sensitivity emo loads. Those contrary demands equally suit a first-rate preamp. So adding to a headamp speaker-system RCA/XLR outputs makes perfect sense. Where a dedicated headfi driver needs no remote control or display when we sit within reach, a serious preamp mandates both. A display preferably of the numerical sort must be big enough to remain legible from 3-4 metres and ideally have a black-out option for nocturnal session which briefly lights up with remote triggers.

Given compact size, could the HP²A tick all of those boxes without forcing us to bend too low to reality's big boss Lord Compromise particularly when this won't be a €10K indecent proposal given the Harmony DAC's €2'700 sticker? With a planned Q3 reveal, the jury remains out but certain members on it are already mighty curious. That's particularly apt when the maiden model's unusual gold grab has set stiff expectations. Could the Laiv brand follow up with equal style and panache for their second-born? And if compromise relative to max headamp power is to be in the cards—after how, just how big of a power supply can fit inside—what about the pending Harmony LExt which looks like an outboard power supply? Tantalizing questions all for our daily dose of vitamin C. For potential answers I'd word in with Weng Fai Hoh to see whether he was willing to feed us some crumbs before launch date.

"The Harmony HP²A is currently in the testing phase and we'll share more details soon. The Harmony LExt is actually an extension unit for it, not an uprated power supply. We'll provide more information on this as well and soon will send you a review sample."

… to be continued…