Disclaimer : CypherLabs sent us a review sample of the Picollo that will be going back to them. Nathan’s part is in Italic
Hello. My name is Lieven and I’m a CypherLabs Addict.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one out there. Well, addict may be a bit strong. It does however make a great title. At the very least, consider me a crazy fan. “Why’s that, Lieven?” you might say ?
There are several reasons.
Back in the days (think pre-2010) the market didn’t have a lot of high end portable DAPs. When CypherLabs released the first CLAS SOLO, it was a revelation. A whole new world opened. It was so much better than merely attaching a line out to an iPod’s line or headphone output. From the first time I listened to it I was hooked.
[Pssst: and so was Nathan]
Then later the CLAS –dB and –R, came. It allowed you to use it also with your PC. DAC for portable, DAC for computer. Awesome. More recently, Theorem and the Duet have carved up their respective markets. And now there’s the Picollo.
Besides the high quality sound they output – which is the most important – CypherLabs products are built well and look sharp. And then there’s the CypherLabs Spokes Model. Oh boy.
But that’s for another day, we’re here to talk about the new Picollo.
The $399 CypherLabs Picollo was designed for use with your mobile phone or DAP. CypherLabs especially had IEMs in mind. The Theorem had quite a bit of back ground noise, the Duet was much better but still not very quiet. The Picollo takes it another step further. I find it to have a very quiet, black background that is ideal for IEMs: I couldn’t hear any hiss with any of my CIEMs.
The volume pot and the gain stages are other perks: at low gain and low volume there is no channel imbalance and volume is soft enough for quiet listening with IEMs. A lot of portable amps get loud immediately at low gain but the Picollo allows the lower volume listeners to get their volume just right because of the huge range. The only two issues I have with the Picollo is the pop it makes when turning on the power. I strongly suggest you turn it on before you insert your earphones. The other thing is that when using IEMs, even at volume level zero you can faintly hear the music playing. That however isn’t a big deal to me.
The Picollo has three gain stages: low gain (-12db), mid gain and high gain (+11.5db). So while it was developed for earphones and the easy-to-drive portable headphones it does have more than enough oomph under the hood at low gain. Medium gain powers high-end classics like the Sennheiser HD650 (which I am using right now), even the brand new Hifiman HE-560 and the awesome Audeze LCD–XC. Of course you won’t get the dynamics like you would get from the Theorem or Duet but there is plenty of power in case you’d need it.
One thing I never understood is the name of the new unit. I mean, I do get it but why is it written Picollo and not Piccolo like the Italian for “Small”. Or I’m missing the point with the name, that’s another possibility.
Nathan: yeah, I had a very difficult time writing my short/sweet review. Not only did autocorrect keep red-lining Picollo, my brain kept adding a ‘c’ and removing an ‘l’. Right until the end, I failed. As nice sounding as Picollo is as an amp, its nomenclature is a resounding clang to pedantic spellers of the world.
The Picollo is an analogue headphone amplifier. You won’t find any opamps inside but you will find 10 pairs of matched triodes in a discrete component layout. The advantage – according to Cypher Labs – is that there are no unnecessary components, which means minimal interference. Then, there is a higher output of power and better resolution. The down side is that each amp has to be hand-tuned. You can read all the details about the discrete layout right here.
Another thing I love about CypherLabs is that every one of their units boasts great battery life. Picollo manages to squeeze over 24 hours out of a single 4-hour squirt from a full-powered USB port. Quite impressive. And replaceable. Picollo uses a replaceable Sanyo UF103450P 2000mAH/3.7V battery. Of course you can use it while it’s charging and it won’t make any noise.
The Picollo has a CNC machined aluminum enclosure with laser engraving and it only measures 55mm x 85mm x 88mm (10mm with the volume knob). For its size it is quite heavy @140grams (5oz). It comes in black, silver or even something Cypher Labs call gold. To be honest, I’m not a fan of the laser engraving I see on Picollo but to each his own.
Nathan is. Sort of. He likes it when laser engraving is used. Or better yet, quality mill work like seen on the Portaphile Micro. Why? Both laser engraving and mill work tough it out through any degree of rough treatment. The only thing better? Deep laser engraving flooded with pretty paint. Think Leica Elmarit-M 28/2,8.
The Picollo feels like it can take a beating. I am not worried about putting it into my travel bag or pocket.
Nathan: Me neither. It’s a solid thing, and its unibody design affords it better structural rigidity. What I don’t like is its use of philips bolts, especially ones that hug the corners as they do. They should be countersunk them below the bottom plate. Currently, one or two stick out from the chassis a bit and could scar a table. Everything else is nice.
Unlike CL’s latest amps, Picollo has only a single ended headphone out. Power-wise that output puts out 200mW into 32Ω, 100mW into 50Ω, 35mW into 300Ω, and 10mW into 600Ω. It has a <1 Ω Output Impedance making it great for IEMs.
I normally don’t pay much attention to this but the Picollo comes in a handy storage case. A lot of people on our Facebook page seem to like the case and wanted it for their gear so it deserves a mention. (see pictures)
Nathan: I feel this deserves mention. Maybe it’s that I hope that audiophile stuff becomes more market friendly, or maybe it’s because it’s new. But a storage case is a GREAT idea. This one happens to be easy to use, which is a +1 in my book.
It goes on after the click