Most people don’t need a headphone amplifier, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t consider one anyway. Most commercial headphone amps these days do away classic design in favor of a more “plastic look.” Not this one. The Feliks Audio Espressivo is hand-built, uses tubes (or valves for the Brits), and is exquisitely well-designed.
If you’re looking for an excellent headphone amplifier on a budget, this may well be the headphone amp for you. We put it to the test to see just how well it performed.
When you first take the Feliks Audio Espressivo out of its box, you’ll be greeted with a beautifully classy looking piece of equipment. You will have to do a little DIY to get things up and running — each of the four included tubes has to be plugged into its respective slot, but the process is pretty simple. You’ll want to look at the instructions to determine where each one goes upon first getting the amp.
On the front of the amplifier, you’ll find the headphone output, as well as a large volume knob and an input selector — you get a very helpful three stereo inputs to choose from, each of which is selected with a nice click.
On the back is where all the wiring happens — you’ll find the three stereo RCA inputs, a line input, and a power input, which is where you’ll plug in the included power cable.
In general, the Espressivo is beautiful. It features two wooden sides, while the rest of the case is made from metal and feels super high quality. The entire amp is around 3/4 of a foot squared, so it will take up a fair footprint on your desk — but in this case, we don’t mind.
In general, we loved the design of the Espressivo. It would have been nice to have some more input and output types, but at this price we can’t really complain — especially considering the fact that this amp absolutely oozes quality.
So the Feliks Audio Espressivo looks great, but does it match that great design and build quality with a good sound? Turns out that yes, it does.
The headphone amp offers a pretty decent soundstage and imaging, especially for the price. No, it doesn’t go above and beyond headphone amps of a far higher price in this category, but most people won’t know the difference anyway.
Before we go into the different frequency bands of this amp, we will recommend change out the tubes for some less limiting ones. The amp comes with two power tubes and two driver tubes in the Russian-made 6N1P/6N6P tube family, and while those are fine tubes, you may want to upgrade to something a little higher calibre.
We tested the amp with a number of different headphone models, but the most used headphones we used were a pair of Shure SRH840’s. We also used a few different inputs, including from a computer, but we generally stuck to our Audio Technica AT-LP60 record player.
The bass of this amp may not be enough to please the rap and hip-hop crowd, but there’s still plenty on offer for almost everyone else. This amp really shines in the mids and high-end, but that doesn’t mean it underperforms in the bass area — on the contrary, there’s enough bass for most genres of music while refraining from getting muddy, and still offering a nice, clear low-end. A little more bass wouldn’t have felt out of place, but don’t take that to mean that the bass is lacking — it’s not.
The mids are extremely well tuned on the Feliks Audio Espressivo. They don’t stray into “radio” territory — on the contrary, it feels like Feliks Audio has managed to find a perfect balance between enough mids without going to too much.
We felt like there were slightly more high-mids than low-mids, which may contribute to the ever so slight bass dip we experienced. Those high mids seriously help bring out instruments like guitars and even vocals — AC/DC’s “For Those About To Rock, for example, sounded absolutely amazing.
The low mids are, of course, still very present. We probably wouldn’t describe the sound here as overly warm, but some of that warmth you would expect from a tube amp is still most certainly there.
The highs are another area where this amp seriously shines through. Cymbals are nice and clear, while vocals shine through the mix without being too piercing. There’s not much to say about the highs beyond that — they’re almost perfectly balanced here. Some might argue that there’s sometimes slightly too much high-end — but for our tastes we really liked that.
The Feliks Audio Espressivo headphone amp is an audiophile on a budget’s dream. At under $400, you really can’t do much better.
Let’s make something clear — this amp is best for audiophiles. If you’re an average Joe listening to music through your iPhone, there’s no reason for you to shell out for a headphone amp. If, however, the idea of putting on a vinyl record through some headphones in front of the fire with a tumbler of whisky in hand appeals to you, but you don’t want to shell out too much for a good-sounding amp, then don’t walk, run to buy the Feliks Audio Espressivo.
|Frequency response||15Hz – 45kHz||Inputs||Stereo RCA (3)
|Rated impedance||100 kΩ||Outputs||6.3mm|
|Optimal headphone impedance||100-600Ω||Power requirements||230V/120V|
|Total harmonic distortion
||0.4% at 20mW||Dimensions||330 x 220 x 140mm (13 x 8.7 x 5.5-inch)|
|Power output||400mW||Weight||3.5 kg (7.7 lbs)|