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Unlike many Western audio companies, Kinki Studio makes no effort to obscure the origins of their products, which are not only manufactured but designed in China—emblazoned on the rear panel of everything they make is the proud statement “We Come From China.” Their Vision THR-1 headphone amplifier costs $1198 including shipping (all prices USD), and, outside China and Hong Kong, is warranted for three years when purchased through an authorized distributor, who will handle any warranty service. For those without a local distributor, Kinki’s website is also an online store, based in Singapore.

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Since 2012, when AudioQuest introduced their DragonFly portable USB DAC and, in the process, created a new type of audio product, everyone else has been playing catch-up. Even Monoprice, purveyor of high-value, no-frills audio gear, has gotten in the game. Now another well-regarded cable company, Clarus Cable, is directly challenging AudioQuest’s current flagship DAC, the DragonFly Cobalt. Clarus introduced the Coda in December 2020, and proclaim it as the finest portable USB DAC now available.

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With headphone amps available in so many configurations these days, it’s refreshing to find one as simple as the Topping A50s ($199.99, all prices USD). Simple amps are an increasingly good idea, because our ways of accessing music have been changing so fast. I remember about six years ago rolling my eyes while sharing a radio show with music industry guru Ted Cohen, who insisted that streaming would be the future of music distribution. Now I can’t remember the last time I listened to anything other than a streaming service. So while I can’t say how we’ll be listening to music in five years, I’m pretty sure that simple amps like the A50s will continue to work with any new source devices and technologies that might come along.

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It’s amazing how many choices we have in headphone amps these days. I’ve covered portable amps, portable DAC-amps, component DAC-amps, amps with programmable digital signal processing, and more. The new EarMen TR-Amp ($249, all prices USD) fits into the portable DAC-amp category, with a twist: a rechargeable battery. The advantage of the battery is that the amplifier section isn’t dependent on the limited current available through the USB output of a computer or smartphone; the battery provides about ten hours of power.

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Reviewers' ChoiceI’m less demanding than Winston Churchill, at least when it comes to headphone amps. Churchill is often quoted as saying, “My tastes are simple: I am easily satisfied with the best” -- but with headphone amps, I don’t even need the “best.” I just want one that’s powerful enough to drive the notoriously insensitive HiFiMan HE6se headphones, and that has balanced output, because a lot of headphones I get in for review offer a balanced connection. And I want it to be affordably priced, which shouldn’t be too tough considering that even very demanding headphones need only about 1W of power. The new Schiit Magnius ($199 USD) seems like it was made according to my specifications.

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The new Helm Audio DB12 AAAMP follows the path least taken for top-notch sound on the go. Path #1 is a high-quality portable media player, like an Astell&Kern -- nice, but often pricey and complicated to configure. Path #2 is a portable DAC-headphone amp, such as the iFi Audio Hip-dac -- nice, but sometimes clumsy to carry and fussy about formats and connections. Path #3 is a small, analog-input headphone amp, such as the DB12 AAAMP -- an option many audiophiles insist is not nice, because it relies on the DAC inside the source device. And of course, that source device is typically a phone made by a tech company we assume is too colossal to care about audio.

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