CanMania 2014: Cypher Labs, Coffman Labs, definitely not meek


CanManiaCypher Labs has teamed up with Coffman Labs to create an amazing looking and sounding headphone amplifier, called Prautes ($3,900). This thing has tubes and knobs and textured sides and I get all quivery just looking at it.

Some things to note. One, it’s not tiny — expect it to take up some space. Two, it’s a tube amplifier, using a 12AU7 tube gain stage to drive a pair of 50L6 tubes in push-pull mode. Plan on a total of 1 watt (load-dependent) available for your headphones, and the attendant amount of heat.

But the device has some serious flexibility to go along with its good looks. There are four single-ended/RCA inputs and terminals for speakers if you want to use it as an integrated amp (for ~2wpc of output) with your high-sensitivity speakers. On the front faceplate, there are ⅛” and ¼” jacks on the front, as well as two 3-pin XLR outputs (left and right).

Turning to the chunky knobs, there is a lot you can do besides just turn it up. Opposite the input selector is the impedance selector, with 5 settings to choose from (300Ω, 100Ω, 32Ω, 8Ω and “IEM”) to tailor the outputs accordingly. Like bass? Have a troubling source? Or a headphone you want tweaked? Well, there’s an adjustable bass-boost knob (3dB at 31, 36, 41, or 47Hz) that allows you to customize to taste. Oh, and around back there’s a ground lift switch lets you deal with pesky mains issues. This sucker has a lot of features. Wish I’d been able to fiddle with it some more, but what I heard was pretty sweet.

Turning to the more traditional Cypher Labs suite, David Maudlin had his hands full of teeny portable doojabbers. The new Piccolo, a thoroughly mobile headphone amp suitable for use with whatever, but tailored to provide a quiet enough background for IEMs, is $400 and comes in a hot-looking gold finish.

The new Theorem 720 ($799) is a headphone amp and DAC, made to pair with your whatever, be it a Mac, a PC, an iDevice or an Android thingie. The 720 can do the following for you:

  • 16bit/48kHz sampling from Apple devices
  • Sampling on Mac (natively) or PC (with included driver) up to 24bit/192kHz
  • Android devices (using USB Audio Recorder Pro app) up to 24bit/192kHz
  • Up to 18 hours of playback while charging Apple devices
  • Fully balanced headphone output (4 pin RSA)
  • Single ended headphone output
  • Single ended analog line-level output (2.1vrms)
  • High capacity lithium-polymer battery – 8700mAh – isolated AC switching
  • Three volume gain settings for all headphone types

Wired inline between an iPhone and the big Prautes, the sound was remarkably open and neutral when driving a pair of Audeze headphones. The size is a little bigger (taller and thicker) than your average iPhone, but with good bands, should make for a tight portable brick.

Oh, last thing: “Prautes” is a Greek word, drawn from Aristotle, usually translated as “meek”, but really means “the appropriate response”. Think “exactly what your music deserves” and I think you’ll be on the right track. But definitely not meek. From my hands-on, I think that would be a mistake — this is killer stuff.