There aren’t a lot of single-ended tube headphone amplifiers currently in the market, but one that does compete with the IHA-1 is the Woo Audio WA7 Fireflies with tube power supply ($1398). The Woo can handle a wider range of headphones than the IHA-1 (it can be used with sensitive in-ears without adding noise). It also has a decent USB 2.0 input to handle digital feeds up to 192/24. The downsides of the Woo compared to the IHA-1 are that the Woo does not offer a balanced XLR connection and it can’t function as a preamplifier. I did not have a WA7 in my possession during the IHA-1 review to make any direct sonic comparisons.
Although it’s solid-state, the NuPrime DAC-10H has a similar price ($1795) and feature set. Both units can handle single-ended and balanced headphones and both can also serve as preamplifiers. The DAC-10H does have greater flexibility than the IHA-1 with more inputs (including analog line-level) and outputs as well as a very good DAC capable of 384/32 PCM and DSD128. The DAC-10H can also handle a wider range of headphones successfully. Sonically, the DAC-10H offers a clean, clear, more matter-of-fact solid-state view of the musical event as compared to the IHA-1’s tube-centric three-dimensional panorama.
As I said at the beginning of this review, nowadays audiophiles have a multitude of options when it comes to headphone amplifiers, from USB-stick-sized units for $100 to multi-functional full-sized components with six-figure price tags. Even within the limited range of $1500 to $2000 you will find almost every type of headphone amplifier, but none offers quite the same combination of sound and features as the Dragon Inspire IHA-1. If you’re in the market for a single-ended, directly coupled, all-tube headphone amplifier with the ability to function as a low-noise line-level preamplifier you should seriously consider the IHA-1. And while sonic purity comes at a price, in the IHA-1’s case that price is far less than you would expect for a hand-built, point-to-point-wired, U.S.A.-made component.
SPECS & PRICING
Input impedance: 100k purely resistive
Frequency response: 12Hz to 32kHz +/-0dB
Power output into 40 ohms: 1.7W at less than 1% THD (primarily 2nd harmonic)
Amplifier gain: 18dB
Noise floor: -87dB
Headphone outputs: 1/4" single-ended and 4-pin XLR
Output tubes: Two 6SN7 dual triodes
Rectification: One 5Y3
Dimensions: 10" x 6" (with tubes installed) x 8"
Weight: 12 lbs.
Price: $1595 base price (NOS tubes, $100; switched line-level output, $100)
106 Brady Ct.
Cary, NC 27511