Fostex HP-V1: Tantalising

Disclaimer: I have very fond memories of the three weeks I spent with the Fostex HP-V1. Fostex, you did yourself proud. But like every proud moment, the end has come. I drank heavily the day I sent the amp back. I even missed a hair appointment. I’m still pining. Evidently, you can buy the HP-V1 at Headfonia’s shop for Rp6,250,000, whatever that amounts to. Musica Acoustics also sells it, for 598$ USD.

Part of the excitement that courses through me as I tear open new Fostex gear comes from expectation. Fostex’ penchant for creating high-quality products at prices that cool their we-build-it-for-you China competition makes me giddy. And unlike many Chinese-made or Chinese-developed battery-powered valve headphone amps, the HP-V1 feels, looks, and performs very unlike its adolescent mainland competition.

Why Valves?

It’s a fair question. Personally, I’m a solid state guy. I prefer the lower distortion levels and noise values that solid state brings. But the timeless audio virtues of valves: intimate, homely, smooth- these cannot be understated. Of course, when making the transfer to the portable realm, valves create problems for manufactures; heat being one, battery consumption being another. Thus, in order to hide powerful batteries and still dissipate enough heat, portable valve amps such as ALO Continental, GoVibe Portatube, and the HP-V1 are large. And, they get warm.

But valves done right have a sonic quality unlike anything on the market. The Continental is ultra-warm and soft, which is a taste a lot of people love. I prefer the higher resolution and rich midrange of the GoVibe. In fact, until today, there is not a single portable amplifier out there whose sound I have loved as much. The good news is that the HP-V1 is close to the GoVibe in most cases, and on par, in others.

The Marque

In the last few years, Fostex have garnered awesome support from headphone enthusiasts. A mere handful of years ago, Fostex were known as an OEM manufacturer for pretty much anyone under the sun. Their break from the unknown has been successful. Today, they are a brand loved by enthusiasts.

And the branding they’ve applied to the HP-V1 is far and away the most thorough among portable valve amps. Logos are engraved, labelling is clear and concise, print quality is good. And the on/off lamp is perfectly understated. What a great bedside rig!

Living in Japan, the MADE IN JAPAN label means nothing. I live daily with Japanese-made sinks that clog at the bat of an eyelash; I skid daily to my foyer on plastic flooring that shreds under foot, bump shoulders on plastic walls and plastic faux glass and plastic handles and doors that no longer align themselves in their frames. I’ve lived in this flat for just two years. I go outside and before my eyes are Japanese buildings erected a mere ten years ago, whose forlorn, greyed-out, pock-marked exterior look like condemned Detroit. This country thrives on fake, on plastic, on cheap. I hate it. To be honest, I shy from Made in Japan labelled goods.

That said, the HP-V1 isn’t like today’s MADE IN JAPAN. It is well made. It’s like the MADE IN JAPAN stuff put together back when Japanese companies did their best to match, if not exceed, the quality goods from from post-WWII Europe. It is a throwback to a better time. And it deserves the space. Especially because I live in this pre-fab-everything country, I wish beyond hope that Japanese corporations will start shooting for the stars again; will stop competing with other ridiculous plastic shit. I wish beyond hope that other audiophile companies will look at what Fostex are doing, and emulate, if not better it.

The Ins and Outs

Rather unique to the HP-V1 is the installation of two line inputs, one aft, and one fore. The performance of both is identical. Ergonomically speaking, the implications of being able to choose which way to feed you amp, are many, and all praiseworthy. For home use, feed the back end from your HiFi, or desktop DAC. For portable use, strap your source to the HP-V1 and feed the front end, assured that nothing will bump or grind the rear end and cause damage to your gear. Genius.

Less genius is the output port. Despite sitting abreast a massive chassis, this port is a 3,5mm single-ended plug, which is a shame. The HP-V1 could easily fit a 6,3mm stereo jack. Carefully engineered, it could fit both a 6,3mm and a 3,5mm jack, much like the GoVibe Portatube. And as the HP-V1 is an amp that works so well atop a nice HiFi set, it is an absolute shame to be stuck using ungainly adapters, that both lower the stability of the amp, and can damage its internal circuitry.

At least the ins and outs are well made. Each is anchored strongly in its niche and sits almost flush to the case. Not a one sports conduction spacers, but in a valve system, absolute signal quality isn’t the be all and end all anyway, especially when plugged into the mains.

The Chassis

The HP-V1’s large chassis looks like it hopped out of a mixing bowl whose ingredients were the metallic stars of Disney’s Star Tours and the original Battlestar Galactica. The amp rests on aggressive, battle-droid feet and the long radiator grills give a scary peak at the inner Cylon eye.

It’s not a design your wife will enjoy. I’d put money on it. But it gushes aggressive geek chic like no other portable valve amp out there. It’s a 1980’s Camaro in a 2000’s world. And screwing all that muscle together are sturdy hex bolts, which are less prone to stripping their Allen counterparts.

As a man obsessed with knobs, it would be remiss of me to forgo the HP-V1’s super smooth volume pot. Its balance is almost perfect, never wobbling, never brushing the casing below it. Its singular boner is rather formidable. I discovered after weeks of use. It rotates too easily. Not that the HP-V1 will fit in your trouser pockets, or that even if you managed to stuff it in, you could still muster the wherewithal to twiddle it (that’s what she said), but it moves with too little force. Earphone users are bound to blast their eardrums many times because of inadvertent changes in volume.

Keep care of your ears, earphone users. When not on the desk and in plain sight, the HP-V1 is a clear and present aggressor.

Click below to keep reading. It get’s even more exciting!

Fostex HP-V1: Tantalising
3.7 (74.71%) 34 votes

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

45 Comments

  • Reply April 17, 2014

    Dave Ulrich

    Awesome!

  • Reply April 17, 2014

    L.

    I SO want to hear this now!

  • Reply April 17, 2014

    K.

    Epic! I am not too sure about Japan becoming a prefab plastic land….I still have found memories, and always feel lucky to travel back….I had prejudices about this amp, but I have failed to spend time with it. Experience, experience….

    • Reply April 17, 2014

      ohm image

      Japan is all about prefab plastic. It’s all around. There are no houses even today that have anything but pre-fab outsides. Inside, it’s all plastic veneers. And since that is now normal… real materials are becoming expensive. And the average Japanese doesn’t even know the difference because they are so used to fake.

      That aside, this amp is the real deal. The only one I may slightly prefer to it is the amazing Portaphile, but it is trumped in several key areas by the HP-V1.

      • Reply April 30, 2014

        K.

        Thank you Nathan. I am not sure where I can try the Portaphile…I have lived in Japan for a few years, but that was – I realise now – a long time ago. Nostalgia still makes me buy “made in Japan” products…

        • Reply May 1, 2014

          ohm image

          I thin the V1 is a great example of what ‘Made in Japan’ products can be. it is beautiful, well-engineered, and sounds great. With the placement of rear and forward inputs, it is a breeze to use, too. I think Fostex outdid themselves with this design, and, for the most part, outdid much of the market. It is worth the label back from when the label meant anything.

  • Reply April 17, 2014

    spudgered

    Nathan, nice review, what’s the battery life/runtime like? Thanks.

    • Reply April 17, 2014

      ohm image

      I’ll have to update that, sorry. It’s about 9-10 or so hours. I had no problem listening for a day.

  • Reply April 17, 2014

    ohm image

    As stated under the performance section, I got around 9 hours per charge, sometimes more. Often I didn’t charge all the way.

  • Reply June 11, 2014

    Arne

    How is this compared to the Cypher Duet when it comes to sound stage/bass response and overall quality? I can unfortunately not listen to either one and have to go on reviews.

    • Reply June 11, 2014

      L.

      I’m afraid I don’t have the Fostex. Let’s hope Nathan sees this question

    • Reply June 22, 2014

      Marc

      I too am quite curious of the differences in performance between the Duet and the HP-V1 other than just tube/solid state. On a side note, has anyone here heard the HP-V1 with the Fidelio L2?

      • Reply July 17, 2014

        ohm image

        Marc, I borrowed both units, so I can’t give a good rundown between them. DUET has better benchmark performance, but if you are looking for a _sound_, V1 gives a sparkly version to the classic valve skew. I love it. DUET is also a balanced amp, which the V1 most assuredly isn’t.

        • Reply October 26, 2014

          Marc

          Nathan, would you have heard the Analog Squared Paper TUR-06 by any chance? If so, even if based on memory, may I ask for a comparison with the HP-V1? I’m very keen on buying a transportable tube/hybrid amplifier for my Fidelio L2.

    • Reply July 7, 2014

      ohm image

      Sorry, I didn’t get a notification of this question. The question you asked is very subjective. I’m of the strong opinion that slightly more intimate stereo images help the ear to better understand width.

      The V1 and DUET both output incredible stages with lots of details especially in the midrange, where most spatial cues are formed. V1 also gives more of a contrasty sound so you may find that it is more 3D, but again, that depends on how you listen or what you listen for.

      I prefer the V1 on most fronts, but DUET is a far better IEM amp (perfect gain stage, doesn’t get hot) and I’m more an IEM guy than a headphone guy. It depends on what you need.

      • Reply July 8, 2014

        Arne

        Very informative – thanks a lot.

  • Reply June 14, 2014

    Vaibhav Pisal

    this review has made me want to get dt880 and a tube amp.

    recently auditioned akg q701 with alo pan am for very good pairing.

    i thing neutral headphones like these with tubes are way to go for me (for now)

    • Reply July 7, 2014

      ohm image

      That is an awesome configuration. I really with Fostex installed a 6,3mm jack though.

  • Reply July 28, 2014

    lowbies

    Hello..please help me deciding which amp I will use for my ocharaku kuro..my setup : iphone 4s + fostex hp-p1. My goals are making my kuro to have little more bass impact (not overpowered one) and adding more resolution + 3D sense of space. My option right now are fostex hp-v1, alo continental, pico slim, portaphile 624/micro or maybe vorzuge ii? I didnt like super dark amp like national because it’s smoothened the kuro’s treble too much..yes I’m a treblehead btw 😛

    • Reply July 31, 2014

      ohm image

      The HP-V1 won’t give any headphone more bass. It will fix bass deficiency from sources that are unable to supply the right current to sustain the right amount of bass from low-Ω earphones.

      For a clear tubey sound, the HP-V1 is the best. For a husky tube sound, the Continental is best.

  • Reply August 13, 2014

    Nat PML

    Hi Nathan, I’m in love with the HP-V1, which I bought on a whim after reading your review (not really an habit) !

    Yes, it’s a shame there’s no 6.3 mm jack, and the volume pot rotates to easily, but that sound is magic ! I can’t listen to my other portable amps, now. I miss the way the Fostex sublimates everything. With DT770/32, it’s just perfect. Things come to life. Thanks to your review, I discovered what I believe to be “my sound”.

    Now, I need to find a desktop version of this. Can’t live without it now !

    (I’m also very curious about the Continental, and asked ALO when it would be back, and they answered a v4 was on its way.)

    • Reply October 3, 2014

      ohm image

      You keep using past tense words. Did you sell the Fostex? I’m with you: it is magic. Glad this review helped.

  • Reply October 10, 2014

    Aldy Ariffi

    Hi Nathan, I am seriously considering to acquire this amp after reading your review. Well, for several times 🙂 Even the packaging looks good (someone post the photos of unboxing his hp-v1). Do you think this amp pairs well or would have good synergy with hd650?

    • Reply October 26, 2014

      ohm image

      I’ve not used the HD650 with it. As long as you’ve tried, and liked HD650 with rich amps, then the HP-V1 likely will love your phones. I’m a HD600 man, so I’m a bit… off of your target. That and the HP-V1 wasn’t mine.

      That said, I’m going to purchase one in January. The prices are good here in Japan.

  • Reply October 17, 2014

    s. zorin

    Do you know if this amp can drive Beyerdynamic T1 ? T1 are 600 Ohm headphones like DT880 but T1’s impedance peak at bass frequencies, centered on 100Hz, is about 1300 Ohm and DT880’s impedance peak is only about 730 Ohm – a big difference as it is harder to drive headphones drivers that have high impedance numbers. Must be tried against the Continental to see if T1’s bass is as good with HP-V1 as it is with the Continental.

    • Reply October 17, 2014

      dalethorn

      It’s not in the specs, it’s not in the owner manual, and it’s not discussed in 50 or more reviews I read. I bet no, unless you compromise the bass a little bit in some music. What would worry me more in portable use is the heat.

    • Reply October 26, 2014

      ohm image

      My DT880 are the 600Ω kind. They run like a dream on the HP-V1. The only thing to maybe worry about is that if you are very loud volume listener, you may not get crazy volume levels. That said, I couldn’t listen with the volume pot turned too far on the HP-V1 with the DT880/600. It supplies great current to high voltage settings, and therefore, thick, rich sound even when you are blasting things.

  • Reply October 18, 2014

    Patrick Michael Graf Murray

    I know this is probably not ideal for 600ohm headphones, but I wanted to ask on how it could drive something like the HE-560 and other orhos like that and the T50RP modded ones like ZMF x Vibro? Please get back to me on this

    • Reply October 26, 2014

      ohm image

      I don’t own the 560, but do have the ZMF headphones on hand (for another couple of weeks, until the review is out). They are no problem at all. The HP-V1 puts out good current into all voltage levels, and can sustain a good signal. That said, it doesn’t get super duper loud, but even at its loudest volume settings, it pushes excellent quality signal that doesn’t piddle out or get thin.

  • Reply October 28, 2014

    Marc

    Nathan, would you have heard the Analog Squared Paper TUR-06 by any chance? If so, even if based on memory, may I ask for a comparison with the HP-V1? I’m very keen on buying a transportable tube/hybrid amplifier for my Fidelio L2. (I’m unsure the comment saved the first time I posted it. I don’t see it on mine).

    • Reply November 27, 2014

      ohm image

      Marc, I do not own that amp, but I may be able to get ahold of one long enough to write a review. That said, the V1 isn’t mine and was sent back long ago. If I purchase one it will be when it has a 6,3mm headphone jack. If and when that happens, I will be sure to kick up a comparo.

  • Reply January 25, 2015

    Haryanto Suryonoto

    Nathan, what do you think Fostex HP-V1 against GoVibe Portatube+?
    I’m a daily swinger between Audeze LCD-3, B&W P3/P5 and Beyerdynamics T51P. Looks like Fostex is more superior to the Portatube from your review above.

    • Reply September 18, 2015

      ohm image

      I’m sorry this is late. Portatube+ has a DAC. This one doesn’t. If you need a DAC, there’s only one choice. Apart from that, I reckon this is the better amp.

  • Reply February 2, 2015

    Ian

    Is the HP-V1 able to drive the TH900?

    • Reply February 2, 2015

      dalethorn

      Do you really need portable use?

      • Reply February 2, 2015

        Ian

        I’m considering purchasing the TH900s and would like it if I could use them in different parts of my house without having to be tethered to my PC. I don’t plan to take them to work or into town though.

        • Reply February 2, 2015

          dalethorn

          That’s good, since using indoors will require less volume. More power would be better to get the most out of the 900, and one possibility is to get an amp that has a DC input from a “wall wart”. With those amps you can usually rig up a battery pack to supply the DC current, and while it’s heavier, it’s still easy to carry if you configure it right.

    • Reply September 18, 2015

      ohm image

      No problem.

  • Reply September 13, 2015

    Yaroslav

    Hi Nathan, do you think they are a match for HD650? Not in “portable” sense, but for trans-portability, of course?

    • Reply September 18, 2015

      ohm image

      I’m not a big fan of the HD650 and therefore don’t own it. So, I’m not qualified to suggest that the V1 does justice to them. I hope you get some good feedback.

  • Reply August 19, 2016

    Warren peace

    Nathan-

    I know you wrote this years ago, but I actually have an HP-V1 with 6.3mm headphone jack. It might be available if you happen to still want one. I wouldn’t be against some kind of trade where I end up with a 3.5mm one, either. The advantages of my unit are wasted on me. When I saw it for sale though, I thought “now that’s rare,” and I had to snap it up.

    I agree with the above commenter who mentions using it to carry around the house and set down in whatever room you’re in. It’s absolutely perfect for that sort of use, or at most taking to a friend’s house. If you want something pocket-portable to enhance your phone/DAP, there are plenty of better, cheaper options. This one’s “home-portable,” and still extremely useful in that capacity.

    I have to agree as well about the synergy with the DT880 (mine are 250 ohm). Thanks to Fostex I can’t stand to plug the 880s into any SS amp anymore, at least none I’ve heard so far. The same synergy goes double with My Grado sr225e. In fact that’s probably my favorite combo of all combos right now.

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