By Adam Perlmutter
As a music transcriber, headphones are an indispensable tool, and so it was with great anticipation that I unboxed the Bighead Pro HA-2 multi-function headphone amplifier, which won Best In Show at Summer NAMM 2019. The successor to the innovative HA-1, the HA-2 is one of the latest products from Phil Jones Bass, known for its amplifiers and cabinets for bass guitarists. But this smart accessory has plenty to offer acoustic guitarists—and music enthusiasts in general—as well.
The HA-2 is lightweight, only about half a pound, and comes in a small but rugged steel enclosure that with its soft carrying pouch could easily fit in your back pocket. Out of the box, it was a breeze to set up the HA-2 with my recent iMac using an included micro USB cable. The computer recognized the device right away without the need for software, and I was up and running in seconds.
Using my Grado GH1 headphones, I listened to some selections I had recently prepared in notation for AG—Joan Baez’s “There But for Fortune,” Kinloch Nelson’s “Solitudes,” and others—and was impressed by the greater clarity and detail that the HA-2 offered over plugging the cans straight into the computer. I could hear nuances of guitar playing that I hadn’t previously noticed—a definite plus for transcribing music, not to mention for listening enjoyment. It was easy to get distracted from work by hearing favorite selections from my music library, as well as the excellent new Joan Shelley album, Like the River Loves the Sea.
To test the HA-2’s headphone amp, I plugged in a Martin OM-28 with Fishman electronics into the instrument input, and an iPhone into the auxiliary input. Whether playing a metronome app or backing track, the HA-2 sounded exceptional. The typical acoustic guitarist obviously has less of a need for a headphone amp than an electric player, but the HA-2 would definitely be useful for practicing in a loud or distracting environment.
I then tried using the headphone amp as a recording interface using the Martin and Apple’s GarageBand software. The HA-2’s treble and bass controls made it easy to dial in a good direct tone that sounded much like the unamplified guitar. There were no latency problems, and it was obvious that this unit, with up to 96kHz sampling and 24 bits of resolution, would be a great tool for recording on the fly, and functions as a high-quality preamp as well.
The Bighead Pro HA-2 is a thoughtfully designed, multifunction headphone amp that will work excellently not just with bass but the acoustic-electric guitar and a range of other instruments as well. It’s a no-brainer for home recordists and touring musicians alike.
Master volume, input level gain, treble cut/boost, bass cut/boost, and on/off controls; 3.5mm stereo mini headphone, 1/4″ input, 1/4″ line out, and 3.5mm stereo mini aux input jacks; rechargeable lithium ion battery (up to eight hours); 300mW headphone output power; 10Hz–40kHz frequency response