HM1 REFERENCE HEADPHONES MIXING AMPLIFIER. ANALOGUE TECHNOLOGY IN PERFECTION

Reference Amplifier with unprecedented transparency and precision, attention to detail and massive power performance. Rich feature set for both high-end enthusiasts and professional users. Designed and manufactured in Germany.

AM1 - Pure Analog Mixing Console

Special Features

Unique: Class A power and a step beyond

  • Class A power amplifier in its purest form
  • switchable negative feedback ("servo") while maintaining Class A operation
Class A power
HM1 mixing, cross-fading or comparison of 2 stereo sources

Cross-fade, compare or mix two stereo sources

  • Cross-fade or switch between two stereo sources (channel A /channel B)
  • perform a precise, critical A/B comparison with independent volume compensation
  • create a mix from two audio sources

Sound adjustment and Stereo Base control

Precise, finely tuned tools for sound adjustment. Stereo base control for adjusting the stereo image (spatiality).

Sound adjustment and stereo base control

"The HM1 will drive any headphone to its optimal performance."


HM1 and HMP1 overview

Manufactured in Germany in a limited edition of 50 units per year

HM1 front - details and legend
HM1 rear - details and legend
HMP1 front - details and legend
HMP1 rear - details and legend
Wolfgang Hackhausen

Review

By Musicalhead Wolfgang Hackhausen

Musicalhead Logo

(...) this acoustic precision weapon has no inherent sound at all. And in my opinion, this is one of the greatest compliments that can be paid to a device for reproducing music (...) outstanding timing and precise spatial imaging (...) both fine- and macro-dynamically capable of playing any (ortho) dynamic headphones on this planet effortlessly (...)

Read full German review on musicalhead.de
or full review English version here

Details HM1

Power Stage

Class A - HM1 realisation

The HM1 power stage provides massive power reserves, which is already evident from the fact that it consumes almost 40W in idle mode. The output power is more than sufficient for any application, and in the millisecond range it is increased substantially. The output resistance is remarkably low. The optimum operating point of the power stage was first specified by theory, then by measurements on the sample units and finally fine-tuned during numerous listening tests with experts, especially mastering engineers. The same applies to the selection of components. This meticulous way of design largely compensates for the possible disadvantages of Class A described in the theory paragraph below.

Class A & Servo - HM1 realisation

To take Class A one step further, we implement an idea which is as simple as it is ingenious: We take the best of Class A and the best of negative feedback amplifiers and put it together: Class A operation is supplemented by negative feedback ("Servo"). Since there is no crossover distortion, there is nothing for the feedback circuitry to correct. Rather, it only corrects the errors which result from the interaction between the power amplifier and the headphones. The feedback path is designed in such a way that no artefacts are created by the correction. The output resistance drops to a value which is smaller than the sum of headphones cables and connectors. In this way, headphone systems can be controlled precisely. One can say that with the HM1, any headphones sound as they should.

Why Class A and Class A & Servo?

The previous paragraph may lead to the conclusion that the optimum is achieved with Class A & Servo operation. So why do we still have the switching option? Quite simply because we judge our circuits by ear. Our Class A amplifier was developed with the highest musical demands in mind. We experienced that is does not sound the same as the servo version, but it sounds equally outstanding. Depending on headphones, music and personal preference, the user can make his choice. Even we were surprised to find that despite clearly different characteristics and measurement results, the hearing difference is rather subtle.

A little theory

Class A

Advantages: no crossover distortion at the output transistors and no artefacts caused by negative feedback.
Disadvantages: The internal resistance of the output transistors and usually also the emitter or collector resistors are in series with the load. Simplified, one can say that the material properties of the output stage components substantially determine the sound. And since both the resulting internal resistance of the output stage and the resistance of the load, i.e. the headphones, are complex items, the result is also complex: it is quite common that certain combinations of even very high-quality amplifiers and headphones do not produce optimal results. Experienced audiophiles know this experience.

Class AB with negative feedback

Advantage: Any error at the output caused by the effects described above is "corrected" by a negative feedback circuit. And furthermore, the output resistance of the power amplifier, as long as there is no overload condition, theoretically approaches zero; practically it is in the 2-digit milli-ohm range. The complex internal resistance of a headphone system is almost equalised by the low impedance output. A headphone system is therefore tightly “guided” by the power amplifier.

Disadvantage: The crossover distortion occurs first, then it is corrected. Thus, negative feedback control (at least theoretically) always runs a little behind the action, which can lead to artefacts in the signal. However, modern negative feedback audio power amplifiers are usually not purely Class AB. Very effective techniques are used to keep crossover distortion low without having to use the costly and power-intensive Class A technique. Certain techniques are used in the negative feedback signal, so that the "lagging" of the correction almost no longer plays a role.

Mixing Stage

A/B comparison

CConcerning the reference quality of the HM1, the idea of using it for critical A/B comparisons is most obvious - be it for evaluating different sources like D/A converters or cartridge systems in the high-end range or comparing different mixes or sound processing options in the professional range.

For this purpose, the HM1 has two inputs with independent level control and on/off buttons. Exact level matching is essential for a critical A/B listening comparison. By the way, the on/off function can also be operated via a cable remote control, which facilitates a blind comparison.

Cross-fade

The mixing stage can also be used to crossfade two sources. A very musical alternative to the otherwise usual "hard" switching.

Mixing two sources

And of course this stage is suitable for mixing any two sources. A new programme is created from two music programmes. This new programme can then not only be listened to in the headphones but is also available at the line outputs on the back of the unit, which can be used for connecting active speakers and recording units. This turns the HM1 into a 2-channel stereo mixing console with reference quality.

Also important: If only one channel is used, the mixing stage is not superfluous "ballast". An unused channel is switched off directly at the input stage and thus cannot negatively influence the signal integrity. This switch-off is realised via relays and is triggered as soon as a volume control is set to minimum or a channel on/off button is in the off position.

Sound Adjustment

This stage is not designed to massively affect the sound. As a rule, all audio gear connected to the HM1 is of extremely high quality, a classic tone control would not be appropriate.

However, it can be advantageous to make fine, precise adjustments in the frequency response domain, depending on the headphones, music programme or even personal preference.

Low and high frequency adjustment

The low and high frequency adjustment, each in three fixed steps as boost and cut, is primarily designed for musical purposes. We have further developed proven circuits from studio technology to achieve a stage which sets subtle accents rather than changes the sound character. The basis are filters with selected components, of course all circuits are precisely switched by relays.

Professionals use the functionality, for example, to find out whether a mix is balanced in terms of low and high frequencies or can still be optimised.

Stereo Base control, a little theory

A special feature is the possibility to adjust the stereo width. The perception of spatiality when listening with headphones differs from listening with loudspeakers. Instead of a cross-feed circuit, we use our stereo base width setting. It is based on the mid/side technique which is commonly used in professional studios. It provides additional benefits.

The stereo signal is converted into a mid signal (in simple terms, what L and R have in common) and a side signal (in simple terms, what distinguishes L and R). Summing mid and side signals in a 1:1 ratio will result in the original stereo signal. However, if you change the ratio between mid and side before summing them, you change the stereo base width. In our circuit, we leave the mid signal as it is. We only adjust the level of the side signal. If we lower the level, the stereo image becomes narrower, if we raise the level, the stereo image becomes wider.

Stereo Base control, what it does

You have direct access to the perception of spatiality. With a music programme which seems too "wide" in the headphones, one will turn the control one or two steps to the left. If you perceive a recording as too "dry" (centred), turn the control one or two steps to the right. The leftmost position is mono. This is the preferred setting for early stereo recordings, when individual instruments have been mixed to the extreme left or right - without spatial reference.

Professional users check the spatiality of their mix with this function and may discover possible problems, especially in the extreme positions.

Also important: With the DIR (Direct) button, this stage can be completely switched out of the signal path. In this way, the purist approach is taken into account.

Balance

A precision potentiometer with 21 detents is available for balance control. The centre position is perfectly calibrated and haptically clearly defined. In fine increments, left/right volume differences of up to about 2.5 dB - caused by music programme, headphones or individual perception - can be compensated.

Headphones Outputs / Balanced Connection

XLR 4-pin connector and ¼ inch jack socket are wired in parallel and are intended for alternative use. Theoretically, you could use both at the same time, the power amplifier is strong enough. However, for a reference quality listening experience, we do not recommend such use.

Ideally, the XLR 4-pin is used in conjunction with balanced wired headphones. In this case, the signal currents of the two power amplifiers are not mixed with each other, mutual interference is impossible. The HM1 can unfold its full quality (also refer to chapter "Dual Mono Design").

Dual Mono vs. Balanced amplifier design

With its dual mono design, the HM1 features the same advantages as a balanced output stage but avoids the drawbacks.

The drawbacks of a balanced output stage are the significantly increased number of electronic components - a balanced output contains two output stages per channel which work in reverse phase. Two output stages result in doubling the output impedance. More components result in an increased risk of non-linearities.

¼ inch jack compatible

Another advantage of the HM1 architecture is that unbalanced headphones with ¼ inch jack plugs can also be operated without any problems.

Line Inputs

Balanced signals (XLR) or unbalanced signals (RCA) can be connected to Line Input A and Line Input B. XLR and RCA must not be used simultaneously on the same input. The Bal/Unbal switches set the inputs independently to balanced (Bal) or unbalanced (Unbal) mode.

Each input provides another switch which adds an extra 15dB gain. This ensures that even signals with low levels can be processed without any problems.

Line Outputs

The signal at the line outputs corresponds to the signal in the headphones, except that it does not pass through the headphones amplifier, but through balanced or unbalanced line output stages and is routed to connectors on the rear.

Connect active speakers, power amps or other gear

Balanced and unbalanced outputs may be used simultaneously to drive power amplifiers, active speakers, level meters or other components. If, for example, the HM1 is used for comparing two stereo sources, the result may be recorded using one of the outputs. The same applies when using the HM1 as a mixing console.

„A Thru“ Output

The "A Thru" signal is tapped from Input channel A, post input amplifier. The switchable 15dB gain stage at Input A affects the “Thru” signal. The Thru output has an unbalanced output stage.

Setup your own test bench / experimental bench

A signal connected to Input A can thus be routed to another application without loss. Application example: "A Thru" is routed to a sound processing device or effects unit, the output of this unit is fed to Line Input B. The ratio between original and processed signal can be set by the A/B volume controls. Of course, this setup is also excellent for testing any device: Channel A supplies the original, channel B the signal coming from the unit to be tested.

Dual Mono Design

The idea

The idea behind strictly separating left and right channels is to keep any interference away from the circuits. A term like “crosstalk” does not get to the core of the matter. Music signals usually have left/right references, so that an extremely low crosstalk value - moreover, usually measured with sine waves - does not mean so much. But with music highly energetic signal pulses occur, and then high currents are individually demanded by the output stages. It is extremely important that in these cases there is no coupling via a common power supply or via ground lines carrying signal current. Only this way an amplifier can produce absolutely undistorted output signals.

Realisation inside the HM1

In the HM1, the power supplies for left and right channels are separate, for preamplifiers and power amplifiers. The mains transformer has independent, completely potential-separated windings for each channel. Rectification, filtering and voltage regulation for each channel are individual. For logic circuitry and front-panel indicators, there is another winding and separate rectification, filtering and voltage regulation.

The ground potentials of the two channels are connected to each other at one point only, but this is done purely as potential equalisation; it is impossible for signal currents to be mixed.

Optimal output connection

If the XLR 4-pin output is used in combination with balanced wired headphones, the dual mono principle is implemented in full consequence.

When using the jack output, the ground wires of both channels are connected in the jack socket and the jack plug of the headphones. The use of headphones with jack plugs therefore is not that ideal. In the HM1, however, an optimised ground routing ensures that the disadvantageous effects are as low as possible.

(also refer to chapter: Headphones Outputs / Balanced Connection)

Power Supply

Mains voltage and mains transformer are always potential sources of interference - consequently, we have outsourced them to the HMP1 mains adapter.

The mains adapter also contains a standby power supply unit which delivers a stabilised low voltage. This voltage is applied to the Power switch on the front panel of the HM1 and serves to switch on the actual mains transformer via a relay.

Worldwide operation

The standby power supply has a wide-range input, is a purely linear design and complies with the common standby power regulations.

The mains input is equipped with one of the best interference filters available and can be set for operation on the following voltages: 100V-110V-120V-220V-230V-240V.

The mains switch on the back of the HMP1 can be used to completely de-energise the unit.

Variable cable length

The connecting cable between the mains adapter and the main unit carries potential-separated low voltages only. The length of the cable is variable over a wide range and can be defined by the user when ordering.

Technical Data

Inputs/Outputs

Line Inputs balanced – Impedance 20KΩ – max. level +23dBu
Line Outputs balanced – Impedance 47Ω – max. level +23dBu
transformer-like behaviour: hot or cold may be connected to ground without loss
Line Inputs unbalanced – Impedance 20KΩ – max. level +23dBu
Line Outputs unbalanced – Impedance 47Ω – max. level +23dBu

Headphones Output

Impedance Class A 0,8Ω, Class A & Servo 0,045Ω
max. level +23,5dBu (+/-16,5V)

Output Power per Side

RMS 4W/30Ω; 7W/15Ω
Peak 7,6W/30Ω; 11W/15Ω; 12W/10Ω (18W for 1,5ms)

Frequency Response

10Hz ... 30kHz -/+0,05dB
1Hz ... 500kHz better than -3dB at Headphones Output @ +6dBu

Gain

Line/Line – 0dB – +15dB switchable on rear panel
Line/Headphones – +6dB – +15dB switchable on rear panel

Noise

20Hz ... 20kHz flat RMS / A or B active
XLR/RCA Output -102dBu
Headphones Output -97dBu

Headphones Output THD (Total Harmonic Distortion)

Class A 0,07% – Class A & Servo 0,0005%
(typ. @ +20dBu/7,75Veff / 30Ω load / 2W RMS)

Power Supply

Mains Voltage – AC 50-60Hz, switchable 100V / 110V / 120V / 220V / 230V / 240V
Power Consumption – typ. 40W, max. 60W

Measures and Weights

HM1: WxHxD approx. 225 x 90 x 300mm, approx. 5kg
HMP1 (Mains Adapter): WxHxC approx. 170 x 60 x 185mm, approx. 1,2kg

Application Examples

Conventional

Preamplifier in minimalist system

Conventional

Preamplifier in minimalist system

Example for a conventional setup as headphones amplifier: Your reference DAC at Input A and an analogue source at Input B

By connecting power amplifiers or active speakers to the Line Out outputs, the HM1 can be used as a preamplifier. Example of a minimalist setup: Streamer to HM1 Input A, turntable (with built-in or external RIAA amplifier) to Input B, active speakers to Line Out.

Precision comparison

2-channel mixing console

Effect/Test

Precision comparison

2-channel mixing console

Effect/Test

Two sources connected to Inputs A and B, precision level meter connected to Line output. Source levels can be exactly matched using the level meter and the volume controls. Then sources are alternately activated by the Chan on/off switches.

As a mixer, the HM1 can merge any two sources at Inputs A and B to create a new music programme - or simply cross-fade from one source to the other. The mix is present at the line out outputs and may be fed to an audio recording device.

By using the "A Thru" output, a sound processing or effect device can be "looped in". It is fed from "A Thru" and its output is applied to Input B. The ratio between original and effect unit is set at the A/B volume controls. Instead of the effect, any device to be tested can be looped in. The listening comparison is then made by carefully matching the volume controls and then pressing the A/B on/off switches.

Story

Why HM1?

An enormous development has taken place in headphone technology in the last 10 years.

Headphones in the professional field

Today, top-quality products allow applications in the professional field which were inconceivable before.

While in the past headphones were mainly used during recording, today they are also used by sound engineers for reference monitoring during the final mix. It is essential that the reproduction is pure and does not mask or brighten up anything, as it is the basis for the mixing process and sound processing if necessary.

Headphones in the high-end range

Demanding high-end enthusiasts - in general - primarily have in mind to enjoy the music. So why shouldn't their headphones or amplifiers shape the sound a little more pleasingly than the recording actually is? The answer will be clear to anyone who has studied the subject thoroughly: Unfortunately, such "sweetening" cannot be relied upon. What is advantageous for one recording can be disadvantageous for the next. Even within the same recording, a sound colouration which makes one instrument sound better is usually at the expense of another or of the overall balance. If a recording is really good, true-to-life reproduction is always the best option.

That’s why HM1

At this point, professional users and high-end enthusiasts come to a common conclusion. This is what led us to develop the HM1.

The power amplifier of the HM1 is extremely powerful and incorruptible in terms of sound.

Read more…

Michael Zähl and Mark Ernestus

About Zähl - The man and the company behind HM1

Zähl Elektronik-Tontechnik has been a manufacturer of analogue studio technology for more than 35 years. The current range of products stands for top technology. Present flagship is the AM1 analogue mixing console, which has no equal anywhere in the world. Its users include numerous internationally renowned music makers and producers.

History

Michael Zaehl started his professional career in 1978 as a sound engineer's assistant in Conny Plank's studio, where legendary recordings were made (e.g. by Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, DAF, Ultravox, Gianna Nannini, Eurythmics and many more). Michael Zaehl gained experience working in the studio, but then turned to technology. During his time in Conny's studio, he created his first custom-made mixing desks, e.g. for Conny’s recording truck and for CAN studio. Michael Zaehl went into business for himself in 1982. In 1985, he custom-built the large 56-channel mixing console, which remained in service at Conny's Studio until the end. Zaehl’s focus always remained on analogue technology, mostly custom-made or small series. Over the years, numerous mixing consoles and other products for music production studios or mastering studios, for public and private broadcasting stations and many more were created. Later, the portfolio also included a product line for pure broadcast applications.

Work Setup

Zähl is a relatively small size, personally run company. Circuit development is Michael Zaehl’s domain, as well as bringing product to series production, whereby the ideas and experience of committed and qualified employees flow in. Production steps where the use of large production machinery make sense, such as SMT PCB assembly, front panel and mechanical manufacturing, are carried out by selected external partners. In-house, all individual parts are tested, sensitive components are added, the internal wiring is prepared and finally all components are carefully assembled into the final product. Before delivery, each product undergoes an elaborate 100% single-unit inspection. This method of working combines the advantages of modern, effective production techniques and careful, qualified manual work.

Concept - Design

Due to the numerous custom-made products, it has always been a matter of course for Michael Zaehl to develop products very close to the respective application. For about 12 years now, this claim has become even more solidified. The Berlin musician and music producer Mark Ernestus supports the conceptual development work. He brings in his experience and contributes a bundle of creative ideas.

Analogue vs. digital?

Zähl was founded when digital audio technology was still in its infancy. High-grade studio technology was analogue. As the quality increased, digital technology took over a large part of the applications and many believed that analogue technology would be displaced. Today, it is clear that analogue and digital technology can coexist perfectly, as both have their advantages in terms of sound and functionality. In creative recording studios, they stand side by side, with high-quality analogue technology steadily gaining relevance. In the high-end sector, analogue technology has always maintained its place. However, here too the demands are increasing - to the advantage of the Zaehl brand.

Analogue is not vintage

Zaehl products are purely analogue, but not "vintage". Michael Zaehl stands for the conviction that with today’s means better products can be developed than was the case in the past. Moreover, the applications have changed extremely. A wealth of experience is an excellent basis, but only when openness to new things and an alert eye on the users are added, can really useful products be created.

How to Order your HM1

The HM1 is manufactured in Germany in a limited edition of 50 units per year –
a binding pre-order is required.

Our Dealer for Germany, Austria, Switzerland:

audioNEXT GmbH
D-45130 Essen
Germany

Phone   +49(0) 201 - 79939404
Mail   info@audiodomain.de
www.audiodomain.de

Contact for all other countries or other enquieries

To buy the HM1 in countrys other than Germany, Austria, Switzerland or to ask a question feel free to use our contact form.

Zaehl Elektronik-Tontechnik
Odenthaler Straße 47
D-51465 Bergisch Gladbach

Phone   +49(0) 2202 - 863901
Mail   highend@zaehl.com

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Contact

Zähl Elektronik-Tontechnik | Michael Zähl
Odenthaler Straße 47 | D-51465 Bergisch Gladbach | Germany
Telephone +49(0) 2202 - 863 901 | Fax +49(0) 2202 - 981915 | support@zaehl-hm1.com

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