Epiphany Acoustics EHP-02 Portable Headphone Amplifier

This review wiritten by Malcolm Steward was first published in Hi-Fi Choice magazine (UK) in 2012.

Epiphany seems a rather grandiose name for an inexpensive, portable headphone amplifier.  According to dictionaries, it can be the revelatory manifestation of a divine being or it can mean the sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something. I guess, given the improbability  of divinities materialising, the manufacturer intended the latter: i.e, the Epiphany EHP-02 should provide a revelatory exposure to the essence of music.

The unit is based upon a DIY design by internet blogger, NwAvguy, who set out to make something superior to the popular, but considered flawed by many, CMoy design. The goal of the NwAvguy with his Objective 2 was to demonstrate how much performance is possible on a limited budget.  The Epiphany, therefore, which is based closely on his Objective 2 design, is a dual-NiMH-cell, rechargeable battery powered device that is supplied with a wall-wart that acts as a charger and operates as a power supply for listening at home when required. The specifications quote eight hours of battery life, which ought to cater for the requirements of most people. Note: changing – as oppose to charging –  batteries is not a two-minute job here because it requires removing both front and rear panels from the case and then sliding the PCB out of the casework. If you wanted to replace the wall-wart you would need an AC supply capable of delivering 16V and 700mA (11.2VA).  Many such are available at a variety of prices from suppliers such as Mains Cables R US, Item Audio and Russ Andrews, or you might even listen to a cheaper linear analogue supply from the likes of Maplins.

I tested the Epiphany using an iPhone on the move, and with the pre-amp output of a Naim UnitiQute at home, with a pair of 32Ω Focal Spirit Ones, a set of popular (non–audiophile) ear-buds  and, a pair of audiologist-fitted, made-to-measure Etymotic Research (decidedly audiophile) in-ear monitoring headphones. The home connection was made with a Chord Company iChord interconnect. In all situations the Epiphany turned out to be a delight to use, even though I might question its ‘portability’. It is not unduly large, being about the size of two packs of cigarettes placed side by side, but it certainly was not portable for me without using a messenger bag: I could not persuade it to squeeze into the pockets of my shirts or trousers. I guess it would fit into most casual jackets or coats, though. It worked well with all the headphones tested, giving the best match with my aged, original and scrupulously revealing, Etymotic IEMs.

It certainly seemed a delight in operation. It was, as any transparent headphone amplifier needs to be, exceedingly quiet. There was no background noise evident even with the most subdued acoustic music. The sound was detailed and mixes were very well and congruently layered, and appeared to extend over the full-bandwidth, even if the extremes could seem a tad gentle with some headphones initially. Acoustic bass, for example, had impressive body and weight but its leading edges did not exhibit sufficient bite at first. The same was true of instruments at the opposite end of the spectrum, the likes of tambourines sounding a tad too polite and soft. This situation appeared to right itself after some energetic warming up with a few albums including John McLaughlin’s lively “My Goal’s Beyond”.

The midrange, from the beginning, seemed brilliantly judged and open, exposing the detail of a range of vocal techniques, explicitly differentiating one singer from another – even within vocal harmonies. The voice of Marianne Faithfull, for example, was expressive and wonderfully communicative on “The Crane Wife 3” from the album Easy Come Easy Go.

The EHP O2 was equally convincing with vocal and instrumental dynamic shadings on this album, distinctly unfolding the harmony vocal lines on the tracks “Children of Stone” and “How Many Worlds” and giving a compelling account of the backing accompaniment and Faithfull’s idiosyncratic vocals. Meanwhile, Greg Cohen’s bass on the dirge, “Sing Me Back Home” best approximated the loudspeaker experience on suitable headphones, sounding vividly sonorous.

A genuinely fast headphone could reveal individual strikes in a drum-roll through the EHP O2, so its recreation of both timbre and timing seemed close to spot on, and it truly lent itself to a far wider selection of music than I have mentioned.

The only remaining question about this amplifier is whether you should buy the £99.00 Epiphany  EHP O2 or spend possibly half as much by buying the Objective 2 DIY kit off the internet and assembling the project yourself, provided you have the skills, tools and enthusiasm required. At this low price, however, I would simply pay the chaps at Epiphany to do all the hard work.

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