Zähl HM1 - Reference Headphone Amplifier - Official Thread

Yeah it’s just so versatile in what you can do with it. I’ll probably have one input fix straight from the dac and the second one for either different dacs or a tube pre. Then I’ll also use it as pre for my active monitors and maybe also as pre for one of my tube amps.
Since I’m not a purist I’ll also happily play with the eq since I add a low shelf on almost everything - currently mostly with a Lokius since I personally prefer analog eq over digital eq. I just expect it to be even better implemented on the HM1 compared to the Lokius.
The soundstage knob also seems to be usable and not just a gimmick which I honestly just can’t wait to try :grin:

I see it as a solid state center piece for my setup that - if it’s not completely terrible :sweat_smile: - will stay there for years to come. If I want different flavours I’m going tubes anyways :fire:


Got the chance this amp last year right before CanJam SoCal, going Dangerous Convert 2>Zähl HM1>HD 800S/HE-6 and both sounded absolutely stunning for me. Zero issues at all on the HE-6 and showed how well the HD 800S could scale up.

Really adore this amp, we were borrowing the prototype amp for CanJam and we got a laundry list of new changes and improvements the unit was getting for the real production run. Awesome amp, glad Munich show was where lots of folks were finally able to experience it as well to hear how good this thing sounds.


I don’t need one and still want one. Damn this hobby.


The FOMO is real on this one. Went from a “pass” to a “well I do need a new solid state” in about 48 hours from first hearing the hyper :sweat_smile:


I went through the same steps and finally gave in to the curiosity :grin:


I just threw my hat in the ring for one of these, as well*.

Not sure if it will augment, or replace, my HSA-1b (my only remaining solid-state amplifier), but I fancied something a bit different for solid-state drive … and this looks like the way to go**.

Here is my power chart for it (feel free to move/add it to the original post, if desired):

Only thing I can think of that I’d have liked to see on it is … VUE METERS …

But then I want those on everything.

And the HM1 has outputs that can be used to drive such meters, so I’ll likely have a friend create me a nice (matching) chassis for some big, illuminated, Vue meters and run those on top of it.

*You know I have to be pretty interested to get back into such things at this point.
**It might all be moot come the HE-1/October, but it should be fun in the mean time.



Willpower ran out. :money_mouth_face:


@Resolve in your last Q&A in your answer about speaker amps and the HEv6 you mentioned we shouldn’t chase expensive amplification thats costlier than headphones as a method to affect sound and should focus more on the headphones (my paraphrasing I apologize).

What’s your take on your initial response to the HM1 then considering the above? Not trying to nitpick but truly am curious since you seem to really be impressed by the Zahl and it’s clearly a uber high end expensive amp

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Yeah, the position requires a bit of nuance I think. It’s not that this stuff doesn’t make a difference, merely that typically… it’s not proportional to the differences you’d find when just switching headphones. My advice to most people is to not chase the amp/dac upgrade train, when in the majority of cases the differences won’t be meaningful, especially if you’re looking for something that’s intended to improve your listening experience.

With that said, there are absolutely times when I’ve heard equipment that has made a meaningful difference (depending on the headphones too). The Zahl is one of them. So the point is not that there’s no difference, rather that in most cases the difference isn’t worth it over just getting a different headphone.

Think of it not as an ideological stance, more as practical advice on where to put most of the spend. Once you get into the crazy high end territory, or if you’ve decided that price/value and isn’t something you’re worried about - maybe for you it is ‘worth it’ - then absolutely this stuff can lead to better listening experiences.


100% understood and agreed with. I started caring more about my chain once I got to the Susvara and felt other headphones is just stepping sideways and not upgrading so moved to optimizing around them.
Thanks for the thoughtful answer.


I believe once you’ve reach Sus and have experienced that the dac/amp in front of it play a big part of how it sounds, it’s hard to believe that those components don’t matter. Personally the journey after Sus lead me to lean towards speakers just cause the gear that I was pairing with Sus gave new life to my 10 year old speakers. They would make me put down Sus more often than not because even Sus could not provide a speaker experience.

However if all you can have are headphones, I do think some headphones synergize a lot better with certain types of gear. To ignore synergy would be missing a large piece of the puzzle when it comes to the audiophile journey imo. I was even able to get a Beyer hating audiophile to praise the sound coming out of a DT990/600 with the right pairing. So while switching headphones might allow for more differences, there might not be a direct upgrade to the sound that you like which means the only way to continue improving your system would be to find synergistic components that could really make or break the experience.


Yeah, it matters. But I’d still argue that the person who praises the dt990 off of the right synergy will have a better time if the money spent to achieve that was put into different headphones altogether that might be better suited to that person’s taste.

It really is a different recommendation to the person who is just starting out as opposed to the person looking specifically for a particular pairing for headphones they already know are their jam.


I agree with you that it’s highly probable that someone would like a different setup over the dt990 off the right synergy. However, you’re assuming that dt990 doesn’t suite that person’s taste when it could’ve been that they just never heard it with the right synergy. The same person that was surprised by the dt990 used to hate all Sennheisers that he listened to until he found a black silk baffle HD650 and his particular tube amp. That’s a different story for a different day but I think even slight differences can be all the difference that is needed to change someone’s mind.

I think the pitfall is saying that the differences between sources aren’t “worth it” and that it’s better to go to a different headphone is that at some point for everyone, it makes sense to stop changing headphones but there’s no way of knowing when that is. If we take your advice to the logical conclusion, someone might not look at sources until they reach a TOTL headphone like Susvara or Utopia. I think we all know that using a dongle with a Susvara makes 0 sense. I also know that trying to pair a lower end source and amp (i.e. schiit stack, JDS stack, topping stack, smsl stack) won’t do Susvara justice either.

So where is that happy medium where source components do make sense when it comes to building your system? My point is that since there are differences to be heard with source gear, it should always be in the discussion when building a system.

I also want to touch on the word “differences”. Obviously differences is a broad term. Differences can be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s easy to say going from and HD600 to an Empyrean will have differences but are they good differences or bad differences? I’d argue many bad differences and in that case, you’d benefit greater from spending money on upgrading your source than buying an Empyrean.

Using a blanket statement that moving to a different headphone will give you bigger differences doesn’t really mean much if someone was genuinely asking to improve upon their system. Like you said, there ARE differences between sources. For the most part, if they’re posting in a dac/amp thread, I think it’s safe to assume they’ve already started their journey and are looking for ways to improve the headphones they already have.

Words like “meaningful differences” and “worth” are very subjective. I think each person needs to make that determination on their own of what is worth it and meaningful. I would say in the beginning when you have a budget of less than $300, putting the most money towards a headphone is a great idea. Once you reach past that, I think finding synergistic source gear should always be in the discussion.

Obviously everyone’s journey is going to look different and there’s no one correct way to go about it. I’m at the point where I’ve found that expensive amplification and source can take a well designed transducer a long way.

Going back to the amp, I do hope this amp changes a lot of people’s minds when it comes to amplification. Like many of my friends joke, if someone tries a stealth or Susvara and doesn’t think there’s any bass to it, it’s really cause they’re underpowering the headphone. I think there’s much more to an amp than just power specs though. How it handles clipping, where is the best power window for the amp, how quickly it provide spikes of current, etc etc will separate a good amp from a bad amp.


I worry that this actually isn’t safe to assume. I get what you’re saying, because in some cases yeah this is what’s going on. Someone (for some reason) may in fact be chasing the best their dt990 can sound. And it is worth having an open mind to that sounding better. However, if the source isn’t changing the frequency response (which is the majority of cases), then it’s far safer to assume that anyone who doesn’t enjoy the dt990 would be better off spending the $500+ on a set of headphones that suits them better.

Mainly what I worry about is folks thinking that going from a topping L30 to a topping A90 is going to magically improve their dt990 (for example), or going from one ‘good enough’ source to another one is going to be transformative, when in reality the dt990’s flaws aren’t being improved or even changed by doing so.

Moreover, the sunk cost fallacy is extremely strong in this hobby - and understandably so. You just bought a pair of headphones, and it makes perfect sense to try to get them to sound the best they possibly can. It makes sense to get the most out of the thing you have. But getting that last level of excellence out of a thing can end up costing you thousands of dollars, to the point where you may as well have just gone with a different headphone in the first place.

Anyway this is just my opinion on the matter, I’m fine with folks having a different take on it.

Getting back to this topic, I’m hopeful to start evaluating more sources in the near future, along with getting some new tools to help with the evaluations. Hearing stuff like the Zahl amp makes me think there’s something the community as a whole can learn from this, and maybe it subverts the existing orthodoxy on concepts like ‘transparency’ haha.


Yes please I’d love to get your take on some gear. If you need biased recommendations on what to start with I have a list lol

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Right now the ones I want to get into are the Zahl HM1 (not sure if or when I’ll be able to check this out in the studio), but also the DCS stuff, as well as Enleum.

I do have the EF1000 hooked up right now, but I’m going to wait until I’ve got the right tools like an ABX to do a proper evaluation.

I’ve also been spending time with the Forge and Leeloo, and they’re both very ‘tubey’ for whatever that means hahah. But it’s a lot of fun getting into that world.


We assume that whoever likes a headphone that we don’t like can surely do better if they spent money on buying a “better” headphone instead of buying a dac/amp. I think everyone loves to pick on DT990 but what do you tell to the person who actually has a headphone you like and something that they like? Would you change the advice you give them?

I think the main issue is that people are recommending “higher end” topping products when the lower end topping product is already bad. Of course going from one bad product to another bad product isn’t going to be transformative. The fact that we’re not recommending a tube amplifier with a dt990 is the root of the issue. The idea that you need to change the headphone rather than possibly buying gear that actually work well with the headphone seems strange to me and not actually helping anyone except for headphone manufacturers or dealers.

This also has the same issue as before. The assumption that a different headphone will be “better”. At some point, a different headphone isn’t where that person wants to go. I would say that it’s much better to spend that money on an amplifier or dac that will improve all your headphones rather than buying another one just to find a different sound. I have still yet to encounter a headphone that is similar to a CD900st that improves upon it in every way while keeping the same unique tonal characteristic that it can provide. So I’m left with trying to get the last level of excellence out of it.


Haha yeah I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this topic. But I respect your opinion and appreciate the discussion :slight_smile:.

Let’s get back on track with the Zahl HM-1.


Was there any hint of future products in store (maybe a DAC) in the near future? I don’t think it was asked during the interview video you guys did…

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Since the company seems pretty dedicated to pure analog devices I wouldn’t expect them to come out with anything digital. I also think that the HM1 is more of a statement piece from a small company normally geared towards professionals. So I don’t see them coming out with a bunch of other products in the near future. But that’s just how I see it at the moment. Happy to hear other peoples opinion on it.