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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: 2TB iMac 27" quad-core with 16GB of RAM (AIFF) running OSX 10.8.2 and PureMusic 1.87g in hybrid memory play with pre-allocated RAM, Audirvana 1.5.5 in direct/integer mode, Metrum Hex, SOtM dX-USB HD with Super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2s, AURALiC Vega, Astell & Kern AK100 with RWA mod and 2 x 64GB cards
Cables: KingRex uArt and Light Harmonic LightSpeed split USB cable, AudioQuest Diamond Toslink
Headphones: Audeze LCD-2, LCD-3, LCD-XC; Sennheiser HD800,
AKG K702, beyerdynamic T1 and T5p all recabled by ALO Audio; HifiMan HE500 and HE6; Mad Dog & Alpha Dog; Aëdle VK1
Headphone amps: Bakoon HPA-12R, April Music Eximus DP1 & Stello HP100MkII [on review], Burson Audio Conductor, Questyle CMA800R [on review]
Music sources:,,,
Room size: 5m x 11.5m W x D, 2.6m ceiling with exposed wooden cross beams every 60cm, plaster over brick walls, suspended wood floor with Tatami-type throw rugs. The listening space opens into the second storey via a staircase and the kitchen/dining room are behind the main listening chair. The latter is thus positioned in the middle of this open floor plan without the usual nearby back wall.
Review component retail: $10'500 in the US; €7'950 in Europe

B'b'b'bad to the bone.
'twas 1982. George Thorogood and the Destroyers cut a song with an enigmatic refrain. It's 2014 now. The refrain's machismo roams once again in Roland Krammer's Crayon Audio CHA-1 headphone amp from Austria. One glance askance at its €7'950 sticker should raise your blood pressure. That might only be partially alleviated by the tank-like construction; the drive-all array of 4-pin XLR, twinned 3-pin XLR and 6.3mm outputs; and the -6/0/+6dB gain control and RCA/XLR inputs 'round back. Given the fair €4'250 coin which my treasured 60wpc CFA-1.2 integrated amp with phono demands from Crayon... soft-boiled and hard-boiled observers alike will probably wonder. What unobtainium parts might hide beneath this cleverly screw-less hood? It's easy to have that initial reaction. As we'll see, there's much more to the CHA-1 than silly boutique parts for bling appeal.

Since the assembly scheme is company tradition, undoing the four massive top discs lifts the cover off the four vertical bolts in a jiffy. The sides held captive by mini rail protrusions on the top and bottom come out too. This leaves standing only the front and rear plates. Now your hope for an El Dorado of gold-plated parts should be down. There's lots of empty space. Which gels with Roland's design ethos of compact-most circuit design. So does the absence of a recognizable linear power supply. Like the UK's Linn and Chord, Roland prefers hi-tech switch-mode power. His very specialized PCB design decouples said power supply from the board all the way up to 1GHz. He goes to such extremes "for lowest possible electromagnetic interference". His cross regulators provide balanced currents regardless of operating conditions. The discrete output stage regulator maintains low internal resistance up to 1MHz without deviation.

XLR/RCA input toggle, gain control, Neutrik XLR and WBT NextGen RCA inputs, power switch, power IEC

This translates into 20Hz-200kHz response within 1/10th of a decibel. Relaxed to the usual -3dB it becomes a vertigo-inducing 6Hz-1MHz. Such bandwidth always means speed. Here that's an 800V/μs slew rate with rise/fall times of typically 8 nano seconds. Input impedance is 11KΩ. Max output voltage is 20dBu at 150Ω, max output current is 300mA. Peak power consumption is 25 watts. This collapses to 0.2 watts for the EU-approved standby. Physical dimensions are the CFA-1.2's footprint of 438.3 x 31.2cm WxD. Height is 6.1cm, weight is 8kg. In traditional power speak the CHA-1 puts out 1.9w into 30Ω, 1.8w into 50Ω, 0.6w into 150Ω, 0.3w into 300Ω and 0.15w into 600Ω. Respective peak power is 2.7w, 3.6w, 1.2w, 0.6w and 0.3w.

To learn more required Roland. For a bit of background legend, US importer Fred Crane had this story: "Long before the tidal wave of headphone popularity came along, there was planted the idea of the Crayon CHA-1. It was made to the strictest standards with the hopes of powering AKG-K1000 the way God intended (Harmon, we miss the hell out of our K1000). At the time it was considered too expensive to produce. The few lucky enough to hear or borrow one generally would never return it to Roland. I'm guilty too. I received mine to demo at a show. Now he'll have to pry the CHA-1 out of my cold dead fingers before I send it back. My only chance at redemption is to sell a few."

The phase LED lights up when power polarity is inverted. Schuko users will then want to invert their wall plug. The mains fuse is a 250VAC/2A slow-blow 5x20mm unit.

Back to the bad bad bone. Practicality be damned, formal production scuppered. What became the CHA-1 was never intended for public consumption. It exists only because a few extreme headfi nutters exposed to it by accident or good fortune made it so by voting with their wallets. This obviates the CHA-1's need to justify itself or appeal to cold reason. It's one man's assault at his personal K1000 peak. The few hardy enough to follow may do so. Others may dream, laugh, cry or mock.