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.
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.