Goldmund Telos HDA Headphone Amplifier – Almost Clockwork

In fact, I can fully max its volume pot through any of my headphones (and blow my earphones to be sure) and get the cleanest possible signal.

More impressive still is how it nails perfect left/right balance at the lowest volume settings even when matched with sensitive earphones. You couldn’t ask for better.

And herein lies Telos’s largest gotcha. You’ll need a perfectly cleanly grounded system, or a good external power supply to eliminate/ameliorate ground noise. Even Velvet picked up its hum. Both Grado’s GR10 and the new Grado GR8e are right out. Ultrasone IQ? Forget it. If internal, it should be fixed, especially in lieu of how noiseless Antelope Audio’s Platinum DSD Zodiac is via the same power outlet.

But back to sound impressions. Let me explain what I mean by luxury. Basically, it’s weight. Detail freaks will be happy that the TELOS HDA nails a perfectly linear frequency response, from the lowest of lows, to the highest of highs. There are no drop-offs, no current dives, no sudden suckouts, no matter what you have paired into it. But its the weight of bass notes, the width of low-frequency slam area, the smoothness of the high end, that makes a lasting impression.

Bass tones are full, round, and grippy. They fit EDM especially well, especially when fed through MyST’s excellent IzoPhones-60. Highs extend as far as you’d want, but swap grit and clang for couthiness.

And that’s the problem. TELOS HDA is a 10.000$ whose sound is powerful, and powerfully couth. With the major proviso of uncouth power supply noise, which affects all earphones and most hi-end portable headphones, it is infinitely addictive. But is this what 10.000$ sounds like?

Hell no. You don’t pay for sound quality. If you did, we’d all be Schiit owners, end of story. We’d all drive Nissan R35s and shop at Uniqlo. Each of us would be typing on Dells or Acers. We’d cheer on the clones and luxury brands would be laughed out of existence. That’s not a world I’d want to live in.

In hi-end audio, even Japanese makers clothe their stuff in couthy, handsome materials. 10.000$ is a creative, powerful niche.

And the HDA Telos is aimed squarely at that niche, at the user that isn’t going to pay less for a shit volume pot, or wiggly RCA jacks, for poor digital sync, or for a flexing case.

HDA TELOS could double as an anchor, a cornerstone, as an armored tile from a Geobukseon warship. It’s an amp and DAC you  invite people to touch, to listen to, to fondle. It’s not cheap thrills.

I reckon that most people reviewing the HDA Telos will pull out their favorite audiophile guitar, jazz, and vocal stuff, and test mention their orgasmic face. Barring that, they’ll whip out ridiculously niche music that only gets plays on CBC’s Radio One on Saturday afternoons. Fools. When apparent space and sound pressure in the bass is so damn good, it’s time for EDM and industrial space. It’s time for trance. It’s time for drums. It’s time to rejoice in what Telos kicks out. And sure, it sounds fab for the typical audiophile stuff. But let’s bog ourselves down in good ol’ musical enjoyment, not audiophile pretense.

The stage cast by the HDA Telos is wide, and fuller in 3D depth than mere expanse. It goes widest in the middle, peripheral details in bass and treble clamping along the sides. That lovely bass nails everything in place.

If you’re looking for recommended headphone pairing, I’d say: stick with relatively well-controlled headphones that don’t go off the high rails. The DT880/600’s sometimes-sibilant upper edges is reined in through the Telos, but the better pair Mr. Speakers Alpha Dog and the lovely IzoPhones-60.

HDA TELOS’s DAC is more than up to snuff, supplying every whim and fancy with the least fuss. Switching between digital sources is easy breezy, and I hear no difference between USB, coax, or optical, which is good news. Lesser DACs tend to get stuck on USB input, stymied by poor input chips.

And there’s not more that needs to be said. Telos’s DAC and amp are perfect. If only you can keep your ground to stay mum.

Conclusion

Which makes me wonder at the utility of review sites like 6moons, that wax lyrical about … whatever the hell it is they wax lyrical about for page after page after page.

HDA Telos sounds very good. There is no question of that. But, you’ll need to tweeze your hydro for cleanliness, or have access to great downstream power conditioners. It’s an amp that supplies endless power for everything you can throw at it. Its left/right performance is the best I’ve tested.

Its case is excellent on the eye and on the finger. Its volume pot waits for input, never jumping ahead at accidental bumps. If only that rear right foot sat flat.

If only all was perfect. HDA Telos really really does the right stuff and gets you in the feels. Largely, it performs like I expected it to. But it is 10.000$. And that fulsome sachet calls attention to design divots: the foot being the least clever of them. If you have a perfectly clean power system, Telos could be the darnded finest-sounding amp/DAC combo you’ll hear.

 

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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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