Goldmund Telos HDA Headphone Amplifier – Almost Clockwork

Disclaimer: Goldmund’s Japanese distributor graciously loaned me the HDA to me for the period of this review. You can find out more about the Goldmund Telos HDA Headphone Amplifier here. Telos goes for around 10.000$ USD.

The HDA Telos headphone amplifier (herein called Telos) is as Swiss-made as my lumbars have had the displeasure to heft. It weighs Twelve Swiss kilograms from the floor to the desk, and chest-high into a HiFi niche, it feels like fifteen. It comes in Swiss grey. All external plates are nudged into place by flush countersunk bolts, each lining up like clockwork, front to back. You could fasten a guide rope from its RCA jacks. Its screw-driven feet could pierce a Soviet T34.

But heavy or no, Telos is lovely. Telos is strong. And Telos leaves a mark.

After icing my lumbars, the first thing I noticed about Goldmund’s amp was its accurate-as-the-pre-APO-Leica-Summicron-90 (my favourite portrait lens) volume pot, which comes wrapped front to back in a grippy aluminium pyramidical topography. Its firm post ensures you’ll never twist it too far one way or the other.

Telos’s dual headphone jacks sit in wells 4mm deep and are skirted by enough room for the largest classic ALO plugs out there. The text above them reads _HEADPHONES_ in all caps. All text (with the exception of the laminated seal on the bottom) front and back, is finely engraved and paint filled.

Goldmund employ abbreviations. Analogue becomes ANA, Digital becomes DIG. I’m not sure what to make of that. There’s enough space to write both digital and analogue. To me, this is unnecessary obscurity, and I’m calling Goldmund out for it.

Telos doesn’t look exotic, but it feels like a million bucks. It goes for about 10.000$ USD. I would imagine that the detailed work that went into perfectly aligning all case elements, not to mention the beautiful engraving and gorgeous lay out, took up a sizeable chunk of that change.

In the subjective terms of luxury, Telos shames every single headphone amp I’ve touched. Yep, it even shames ALO’s awesome Studio Six. Actually, the comparison is almost unfair. Studio Six is beautiful, but the level of detail that went into it isn’t even close to the same level. The feet screw on in perfectly driven wells, with ribbed grips perfectly fit for human hands of all sizes. The ins/out array at the back is self-explanatory, simple, and gorgeously laid out. The front is equally as gorgeous. That said, I don’t think Telos is going to win the beauty competition you wish it would.

If you aren’t into luxury gear, Telos won’t appeal to you. It sounds great, but it isn’t made to a budget. It is made to a customer. If that’s not you, there are a million options out there tailored to your budget.

I need to call out Goldmund on one more thing:

The placement of a protruding bolt too near the rear-right foot, which keeps the foot from going flat against the chassis, and which can potentially damage the foot’s screw socket. Considering how precisely everything else is designed, I’m more than surprised that Goldmund missed this. It behooves them to fix it.

Everything else is Swiss.

Sound

I have tested Telos with a large variety of headphones. And just to be thorough, I threw very sensitive earphones at it. Firstly, in no square wave or RMAA test, was Telos ever stymied by any combination of load I sent its way. That means, Beyerdynamic DT880/600 in one channel, Earsonics SM2 in the other, or both split on one channel, while the other fed my sound multitrack recorder and a second earphone, or any combination of IzoPhones-60, Alpha Dog, DT880, et

At no point did the output signal degrade in any way. In no way did noise audibly jump up. At no point did Telos puff up IMD into any channel. At all points did Telos drop by drawers. Damn, it sounds, and performs, fine

More after the break

Goldmund Telos HDA Headphone Amplifier – Almost Clockwork
4.3 (85%) 12 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.

18 Comments

  • Reply April 22, 2015

    ZEISSIEZ

    Could it be a ground loop issue?

    • Reply April 22, 2015

      ohm image

      Likely. External transformer-powered gear has no problem with it.

    • Reply June 19, 2015

      ohm image

      I should also mention that I have now tried three other DAC/amps on the same power. There are two units which suffer from ground loops and two other units that do not, each plugged straight into the wall without wall warts or other power supplies.

      This is the ONLY problem with TELOS, which otherwise, produces flawless sound.

  • Reply April 22, 2015

    johthor

    Very nice review indeed Nathan. Sorry to disagree with you regarding looks “Its case is excellent on the eye and on the finger”. In my opinion this is one really ugly unit for $10,000

    • Reply April 22, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Yeah, I don’t like its looks either 🙂

    • Reply April 23, 2015

      ohm image

      I should have explained myself: there are no extraneous bits that catch the eye that trigger this reaction: this is in a bad place. It isn’t a good-looking amp, but it is made very very precisely.

  • Reply April 22, 2015

    dalethorn

    I can never understand how these upscale amps can have 2 headphone jacks and only one volume control.

    • Reply April 23, 2015

      ohm image

      I guess they assume you will use the same headphone, or one very similar.

      • Reply April 23, 2015

        dalethorn

        That’s no problem, but my wife listens at a much lower volume than I do, and I hear just as good as she does.

    • Reply May 20, 2015

      digitldlnkwnt

      i will never understand how they cost 10,000 dollars.

      • Reply May 20, 2015

        dalethorn

        It’s interesting – people talk about the law of diminishing returns, in that we increase the price more and more, but in return we get not so much improvement compared to what we pay. But there’s another side to the story – the manufacturer who wants the best sound that he can reasonably build into his amp, uses better parts and components, and spends time testing until he’s sure he didn’t let any one of 10 thousand things get past him that could compromise his design. When he has the masterpiece completed and ready to sell, it must be depressing for him to hear “Oh, another fancy box with capacitors and resistors that they want a fortune for.” Maybe that’s all it really is, but I look for the one that’s different, the one that the designer/manufacturer really put his best efforts into.

        • Reply May 20, 2015

          digitldlnkwnt

          The same thing applies to watches going for 6 figures…OK it’s a good watch. No one talks about the year it took one man to make it, or how every piece was explicitly made for that particular watch, requiring hundreds of thousands in tooling costs, r&d rtc. Being I sell network equipment I’m used to seeing “latest and greatest” go to doorstop in as little as 5 years. I guess I’m just more cynical about electronics, even though I can fully appreciate the engineering effort that goes in. Maybe a part of me is wondering where the ceiling is for these items and at what piont do we all turn around and say “OK dude, we get it, it’s a great amp/headphone etc let’s come back to earth now”.
          Great article btw.

          • Reply May 20, 2015

            dalethorn

            Not exactly. The 10k price certainly suggests “limited edition” etc., but it’s not really a custom product. Expensive watches are virtually always made for collectors, not wearers. My 18k gold Rolex fell apart 3 times in 8 years, which was expected when worn every day in all conditions. My $8k U-Boat 55 mm not only broke a couple of times, but the black anodizing wore off, needing a $1200 refinish. This amp is made to be used, not collected. If it were the latter, the cosmetics would at least come up to Dan D’Agostino standards.

            • Reply May 20, 2015

              digitldlnkwnt

              Well the point is that somewhere in the 10K price tag there are going to be high-end components and the like – not really custom, outside of machining case components but certainly not out of the bargain-bin. We could debate – use v collection all day long, but as far as I am concerned any amp, watch, car whatever should always be useable – albeit with certain degree of care. You shouldn’t even wear the same leather shoes more than 3 days in row – bad for the leather, but they are still usefull.

              • Reply May 21, 2015

                dalethorn

                Stereophile has critical articles on high-end manufacturers using fancy enclosures for high-priced kit, but internal inspection shows them cheating with common inexpensive parts. That’s the real world – some people cheat. But cheating like that for an exclusive mfr. is very dangerous to their reputation, and reputation is what underlies our willingness to spend big. So some things take care of themselves.

                BTW, I don’t believe that luxury watches have to be useful by any one person’s definition – just collectible if that’s what the customer wants. OTOH, I can tell you a horror story about the Official Rolex Service Center, and it could have been even more nightmarish if I hadn’t been warned in advance to not let them “refinish” the watch. You wanna buy luxury goods? Better know what you’re doing.

  • Reply December 5, 2015

    HJ Kim

    Have you tried woo audio wa5?
    If you did which one did u like more?

    • Reply December 22, 2015

      ohm image

      I have not, I’m sorry. TELOS is the most incredible all-in-one I’ve tried (minus susceptibility of the power source to ground hums). Still, the two are diametric opposites, one a valve amp, the other a DAC with a great solid state headphone amp.

      I would assume that if you’re into valves, Telos wouldn’t be an options. Conversely, I’d assume the same but in reverse if you are into solid state and need a DAC.

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