The Fostex HP-P1

fostex_hp_p1_02

Hot from the oven is the new Fostex HP-P1: portable digital transport, DAC, and amplifier all in one box. I have received the device straight from Hiroaki at Fostex Japan (thanks, Hiroaki!), and pairing the HP-P1 with the Ipod Classic, and out to Fostex’s TH-7B headphone (equally impressive, by the way), I am literally drooling at the sound quality this little DAC produces.

The HP-P1 takes on the same concept that we’ve seen earlier from the CLAS (Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo). By acting as a portable digital transport to the Ipod, then feeding it to its own internal DAC, it produces a source quality that’s superior to the Ipod’s built-in DAC. The HP-P1 also adds its own internal amplifier, making for a more complete product package than what you get on the CLAS. With a target MSRP of $799, the HP-P1 roughly takes in the same base price of the portable transport & DAC of the CLAS device, and adds some $300 for the internal amplifier circuitry.

The sound quality of the HP-P1 is simply mind blowing. The sound of the AKM AK4480 equipped HP-P1 is simply smooth and colorless. Taking a different stance from the heavily colored but analog sounding Hifiman HM-602 and HM-801 players, the HP-P1 gives me an impression of a very refined digital source. It’s very precise, very clear, transparent and colorless, and yet the whole sound is very smooth and refined with none of the nasty coldness often associated with digital sound. The soundstage layering is very precise and clear-cut, the frequency extension very good with one of the smoothest frequency extension I’ve heard on any DACs. Guys, this stuff is good.

Lately I’ve been a big fan of the older, analog sounding DAC like the PCM1704, the TDA1541 and TDA1543, which is why I heavily favor the HM-602 and HM-801 for their very analog sound reproduction. In phase with the vinyl revolution, these old DAC chips have been the ones heavily favored by the audio crowd as they give a very analog sounding reproduction with great sound ambiance, tonality and emotion superior from most of the newer DAC chips. The sound of the Fostex HP-P1 is quite the opposite, as it clearly takes on the stance of the more colorless, often dubbed “digital sounding” DACs. And yet, this may be one of the best version of the “digital sound” group I’ve encountered so far. The colorless sound and precise instrument separation and layering is very impressive, and while most other digital sounding DACs fail, the HP-P1 shines with a truly smooth and musical without the slightest hint of coldness to be heard. This is very impressive, even by desktop DAC standards.

Size comparison with an Ipod.

 

Size comparison with an Ipod.

 

Continue to the next page…

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  • Joon Jang

    Hey Mike, I’m in a bit of a problem spot here. I’m trying to upgrade my portable rig — it’s an iTouch and an Edition 8 and I’m trying to fill in the gap. I’m leaning towards the CLAS and Continental v2 combo offered by ALO as I feel it’ll fill in the mids that I feel lacking with the 8s, but I can’t ignore the HP-P1 for its convenience. I also realize there’s a bit of a price difference here, so I’m wondering if the CLAS + Continental v2 justifies the price. I listen to mostly vocals, rock, pop (in that order). Anyways… Your advice?

    Thanks,
    J

  • Joon Jang

    Oops, double post. Ignore my previous post below. :)

  • ZenFire1

    Hi, I have the HP-P1, and wonder, can I use the headphone out on my MacBook Pro into the HP-P1 audio in, then connect HP-P1 to an office amp and ceiling speakers to either play music from iTunes, or increase volume and locations for incoming Skype calls to run a conference for 50 people through the ceiling speakers?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Just skip the HP-P1 and go directly from the Macbook Pro into your office amp.
      Or if you want get a good USB DAC like the HRT MS2 for $149.

  • Odin k

    Great review. One question, can you use the HP-P1 while it’s charging?

    • Glen Bierworth

      Yes. I use it all the time while it’s plugged in. Most times I use it as a portable sound system while working, playing through my
      Soundmatters – FOXL v2 speakers. I use two in stereo. It’s quite the little rig. People cannot believe the sound. So, yes, it works while charging.

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        Thanks Glen.

  • Marcus Lackey

    Mike,

    Thanks for all of your reviews.  I have a 7th Gen iPod and SE535-LTD (reds).  Since I am only using an IEM, I am looking hard at the Fostex HP-P1.  However, I’m also considering the SR-71A.  I recently purchased a Pico Slim but am going to be sending it back because it seems to have a narrow soundstage and a general coldness to it.  While the clarity is great in the Pico Slim, the music doesn’t sound as alive as I would like it to.  So my present dilema is choosing between the Fostex (superior clarity but questionable liveliness) and the SR-71A (warmth, liveliness but less clarity since no DAC).  I can’t afford to buy the SR-71A and the CLAS at the moment, but might be able to add the CLAS in 6-9 months.  So I guess my question is what would you do?  Am I going to be disappointed by the SR-71A for 6-9 months or am I going to be permanently disappointed by the Fostex?  Such a hard call!  Thanks again for all your time and help.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Marcus,
      With an IEM I don’t think you need to go with the 71A. You can get the Mustang or the Shadow and be fine. The Fostex direct to the SE535LTD would be enough too, as you don’t need that much power with IEMs.

  • http://twitter.com/l3A7VA7VA BANANA

    Any other headfonia members own the Fostex hp_p1?

    Any impressions you would like to share?

    • http://twitter.com/l3A7VA7VA BANANA

      Whoops here are all my posts, hiding down here. Sorry for the spam Mike.

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        Alright no problem. The new Disqus’ fault.

  • http://twitter.com/l3A7VA7VA BANANA

    Any recent impressions from actual owners of the Fostex hp_p1?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Test reply

  • http://twitter.com/l3A7VA7VA BANANA

    Banana test post.
    Anyone care to share their fostex hp-p1 experiences. Thanks

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The post is there, I just replied to one of it.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      What you need to do is on the Disqus navigation menu, Discussion > Newest

  • http://twitter.com/l3A7VA7VA BANANA

    I finally bought the Fostex hp_p1 tonight, sounded good right out of the box. Looking forward to see how it is after a few hours to loosen up.

    Thanks for the advice/s.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Nice! Congrats for the purchase!

  • l3A7VA7VA

    Sorry for double post, joined up with disqus proper, All smooth now.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks.

      I’m still quite puzzled to how changing LOD fixed a channel imbalance on the Fostex???

      • l3A7VA7VA

        I`ve no idea myself.
        As I wrote earlier I tried all my headphones, the (R)right earpiece was always slightly louder or at least the sound was not central in my skull but slightly to the right.The only thing that worked was changing the LOD.The Apple LOD is a considerably much tighter fit.
        I`m no technical expert so I can`t really say anything more.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Yes, thanks for sharing.

      • l3A7VA7VA

        Deleted and flagged my own posts, it may have just been my music files, please delete my erroneous posts. apologies.

  • Rawdawg3234

    Was wondering if my sennheiser hd 800’s would pair well with the hp-p1?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      It’s quite good, but better from a proper desktop set up.

  • Shirish Tiwari

    Run, wallet! Run!

    :D:D:D

  • Shirish Tiwari

    I had quite a few questions regarding this piece, but patiently reading the comments answered all of them.
    So I just bought this unit. Cost me $1007 here in India! Bugger! Grrrr :x
    I am using this only with IEM’s, Shure 535 mostly. Thankfully my unit doesn’t make any hiss, glitch, hiccup, poo-paa or any other noises.

    And boy, does it sound AMAZING!! I have a big fat shameless grin on my face all the time :D:D:D

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Good to hear that, Shirish! I think the newer versions area all free of the glitches.

  • Ahmet Karalar

    does the dac work with the iphone? i couldn’t get it

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yes Ahmet, it does work with an iPhone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.loke.7 Stephen Loke

    Hey Mike,

    Will the HP-P1 and Ipod Classic be better or the HM801?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I still think that the DAC quality of the PCM1704 based HM-801 to be best. UI, of course Ipod system wins.

      • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.loke.7 Stephen Loke

        How about compared to the HM602?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Read the review?

  • Laurencewayne

    Hi Mike- Based on your recommendation I popped for the HP-P1. Absolutely perfect for making my HD 800 portable and even improving my AKG 3003i (have you heard these?) Since your responsible for this purchase ;-)) a question: nowhere can I find that I can charge the battery by using a wall charger into the USB (i.e. Apple phone-small or iPad-larger) The manual and all reference on line is to a USB on Mac or PC. Think I’d be alright and not hurt anything by wall charging? And thanks again and again for the effort to make such a great site!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      It should be okay to use a wall charger as long as it’s a USB spec. The voltage is a universal 5V.

      Thanks and glad you find the site useful! :)

      PS: IEMs, let’s say that lately I prefer single driver models. ;)

  • l3A7VA7VA

    What is the output impedance of the Fostex? Thanks.

  • l3A7VA7VA

    Mike, how would you compare/rate the amp in the Fostex hp_p1 with the Headstage arrow and pico slim?
    Thinking of creating a brick with my Fostex and another amp.
    Thanks again.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Transparency would be better on the internal amp as the signal path is shortest, but the Arrow amp would be more powerful. The pico slim is an IEM amp, so you don’t get too much volume/loudness with it, but it’s also punchier than the Fostex internal amp.

      • l3A7VA7VA

        Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=542815355 John Clare

    Hi Mike, just for the heck of it, how do you rate the fostex’s built-in amp versus the JDS c241? Thanks!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Most noticable probably the C421 having better punch and impact, a little more grain than the Fostex built in amp.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=542815355 John Clare

        Thanks Mike. I noticed when you reviewed the Matrix portable you talked about the CLAS being your favorite DAC, but in the Fostex review I got the sense that you preferred the Fostex at that time to the CLAS. What changed you back to the CLAS?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Hi John,
          Initially I was very impressed with the HP-P1. It’s spacious, smooth and airy. The sound is more spacious and smoother than the CLAS.

          After some time, I started to appreciate what a good black background brings to the sound (from doing the KingRex DAC review, and also the Altmann Tera player), which the CLAS does better than the P1. But I think the finishing “blow” for me is the bass. The P1 is lacking the bottom end weight when compared to the CLAS. This is just my personal preference though, I can understand why some people prefer the P1.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=542815355 John Clare

            Thanks for the detailed explanation Mike!

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              You’re welcome, John.

  • thethirty3rd

    Hey Mike,

    How would this pair with the TG!334s?

    Also, if you’ve tried it before, would you prefer the CLAS to the Fostex with the 334s?

    I listen to basically every music genre, with about 60% of my library being modern-ish music (last 2 decades or so?)

    Might buy the new CLAS + DAC or the HP-P1 soon!

    Thanks!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I haven’t tried the Fostex with the 334ToGos.. I think it should be great though.

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  • Eric

    Hi, I currently have a hpp1. I really like its smoothness and naturalness it provides to me. I’m currently looking for a desktop dac/amp combo that has a similar sound to the hpp1. I’m looking for within 500 dollars. Do you have any recommendations, Headfonia? Thanks in advance!

    • Trent_D

      Have you tried the Fostex HP-A3?

      • Eric

        Yes I did. It is indeed very similar to the hp-p1, but I don’t find much improvement from the hp-p1 to the the hp-a3. It’d be nice if there’s some improvement from the hp-p1, but thanks for the suggestion anyway. Any more recommendations?

        • Trent_D

          Well, if you can spare two thousand dollars, there is the HP-A8. As far as resonably priced dac/amp boxes go, you could try the ALO’s Pan Am. It is a hybrid tube amp, with a built-in dac. By the by, what headphones do you use, and what types of music make up your playlists?

          • Eric Tam

            I apologize for the late reply, Trent_D! And thanks for the reply! Haha, I understand what you guys are saying. You pay for what you get! The more you pay, the more you get!

            My headphones of choice are the Audio Technica ES-10 and the Denon A100. They are both quite heavy on bass and the HP-P1 has complimented with my two headphones very well because the HP-P1 itself does not provide sufficient quantity of bass, but the quality of bass is definitely here by giving deep and “not muddy” bass.

            I mostly listen to Japanese Pop, rock and classical piano, so i have a mix of different genres.Overall, i’m not looking for a setup that is overly bassy and coloured. I’m leaning toward to more a neutral setup.

            Btw, Tread_D. What is your impression to the ALO’s Pan Am? I haven’t tried it, so I’ll need your input. Thanks!

            • Trent_D

              I haven’t actually heard the Pan Am, although I seem to be finding my preferences somewhat similar to Mikes. So I would go from his review. ALO has a 30 day return policy as well, if you want to give it a spin.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Well yes, if your budget is around there…

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike
      • Eric Tam

        Thanks for the suggestion, Mike! In your HP-A3, you had more emphasis on how the tonality compares between the HP-A3 and HP-P1. Would you mind to have a brief say about how HP-A3 and HP-P1 compare in quality? (Like is there one thing that a particular Fostex is doing better?)

  • Marshall

    Hi Mike,

    Is the Fostex compatible with the new iphone 5 and it’s lightning port? if not would you recommend any portable dac/amp that is. The V-Moda Vamp Verza perhaps? Any other suggestions would be great

    • dalethorn

      The digital out of the iPhone5 is the same as the digital out of the iPhone4, so the HP-P1 should work OK. I have just the Verza myself, which does more – i.e. it works as an i-device DAC, Android DAC (most but not all), and Apple DAC for both older iPods and the new Lightning types. I think the description in the above review has the HP-P1 as “digital sounding”, and I think that description more or less applies to the Verza too.

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        Confirmed that the IPhone 5 works with the HPP1

        • Marshall

          thanks dale and mike. would you guys have any other recommendations for iphone 5 compatible portable amp/dac? what would be your personable favorite?

          • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

            The Sony is a good one.

            • Marshall

              Didn’t you say the Sonys were a big disappointment in your review?…

              • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

                I did. Funny the new batch I got sounds remarkably improved.

                • l3A7VA7VA

                  Hmm, I may have to retry the Sony again then.

                  Just got a new Firmware on my Fostex hp_p1. Sounds better than ever.

                • Sammy Wu

                  Can you elaborate a little more on the Sony? How would you compare it to the Verza and Fostex?

                  • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

                    The Sony was good. Dark warm spacious smooth with good bass and mid body. A bit loose on the bass section.

                    Fostex is more neutral, better detail and resolution.

                    I don’t have the Vmoda yet.

  • Hoang Nguyen Minh

    Hi Mike? How can i update new firmware from hpp1 by myself ?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Ugh, try Fostex’s website?

      • l3A7VA7VA

        You can`t update it by yourself. You have to send it to Fostex or one of their distributors who have the license to update it. What is your current firmware and hardware (under general>about on your ipod).

        • Hoang Nguyen Minh

          Hi. My software version is 1.1.1 and hardware version is 1.1.2 .Does it good ?

          • l3A7VA7VA

            That is the software that 99% have. It is fine. I have 1.1.2 because i sent mine in three weeks ago. No need to update in my opinion.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Yeah none of our customers have asked for an update too.

        • Hoang Nguyen Minh

          Thank you so much.! What’s hf do you use with hp-p1? I use my fostex with senn hd600. Do you think i need to buy another amp to improve sound quality .

          • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

            I think the built in amp can use some additional power yes.

  • Richard in St. Louis

    Mike, I am interested in your opinion on two subjects: 1. What are the best couple if options for iDevice based headphone/IEM DAC/amps. Specifically, your thoughts on the coming Sony PHA-2, NuForce iCon iDo and the like. AND 2. What are the best couple of options for computer server based headphone/IEM DAC/amps under $1000. Specifically, the meridian products, Dragonfly v1.2 and the like. I’m driving AKG K702 and Q701 headphones and Monster Turbine Pearl IEMs. Thanks.