The Pico manages to perfectly blend musicality into its neutral sound without adding excessive coloration, with the latter being the pitfall of many lesser designs. Music just sounds so enveloping with the Pico!
The Pico achieved this musicality by adding just a slight dose of tube-like warmth to its presentation. This coloration results in a very seductive bass and midrange while maintaining a silky-smooth and yet revealing treble. I will first talk about this very musical bass. The Pico has a firm and punchy bass, not overbearing at all with just the perfect amount of impact and texture. The bass is also fairly detailed, allowing us to hear different bass notes. Extension-wise, there is nothing to write home about but keep in mind that we are talking about a portable design here, not some stand-alone desktop units with dedicated power supply. All in all, the Pico has a very good foundation of the low frequencies.
Midrange is where the Pico truly shines. If you thought that the bass is impressive, the midrange of this portable amp is even more jaw-dropping. The vocal from the Pico reminds me of a sound from a good tube amplifier but the main problem of this tube’s coloration is that it can often sound too thick and syrupy, drowning the other frequencies. The Pico has none of that: the midrange remains clear and effortless throughout and yet it has a tube-like texture and smoothness. Hence, we have a slightly forward midrange that goes hand-in-hand with the other frequencies, producing an almost magical vocal presentation.
The treble presentation with the Pico is a curious one. I would say that the Pico has a very good treble extension but more than often, this detail is accompanied with unnecessary glare or sharpness that can sound unpleasant to the ears. These bad side effects are absent with the Pico and I would even go as far to say that the treble is silky smooth. This combination creates a revealing treble and yet sounds well-rounded throughout, allowing us to hear a good level of detail and clarity in the music but without the associated weaknesses that often come with a detailed and extended treble.
All sonic qualities aside, I have to note that the Pico has a very low noise floor. This simply means that the Pico has no hissing, static nor any residual noise even when the volume knob is turned all the way to zero. I have tested the Pico with the UM3X which is quite a sensitive IEM and it produces no hissing at all.
As much as I liked the Pico, I would come across as a HeadAmp fanboy if I do not talk about its weak points at all. The Pico’s primary weakness lies in its soundstage: it has a rather flat and 2-dimensional presentation. Instruments sound as if all of them lie in the same plane and hence, there is no perception of depth. In terms of imaging ability itself, the Pico is more than decent but the there is a lack of breathing space or so to speak that creates an image whereby the instruments surround you in a closed space and hence, this can make certain recordings sound claustrophobic. As such, the Pico does not fare well with classical music in which soundstage and imaging are paramount.
Indeed, the Pico may fall a little short in the soundstage and imaging departments but in this reviewer’s ears, all is (almost) forgiven with its endearing sonic traits and the classy aura the whole package exudes. The Pico produces a sound that is so neutral, enveloping, effortless and musical that it almost makes you forget that you are listening to a portable system. On top of its beautiful sound, the Pico comes in an eye-turning package with its polished aluminium finish, petite size and superb build quality. And did I mention that this thing comes with a DAC? HeadAmp has certainly hit bull’s eye with the Pico and there is no wonder that the Pico was backlogged for hundreds of orders when it was first released. It is a complete and highly effective system in its form, function and sound qualities.
Superb build quality. Well planned design. Has both DAC and amplifier functions. Neutral and yet very musical sound. Zero noise floor.
No line-out function. Soundstage and imaging can come across as flat and lack breathing space.
System for auditioning:
Headphones: Grado HF2, UM3X
Source: Dell XPS M1350 Laptop, Headamp Pico (DAC)
Amplifier: Headamp Pico with DAC