Positive Feedback Logo

LSA HP-1 Headphones

07-21-2020 | By Sam Rosen | Issue 110

In the audio world, a dealer relationship is still fairly common. As more businesses go online, dealers are adapting and making their products available online as well. Some manufacturers are even starting to forgo dealers and have started selling direct to their customers. The result, when done well, is more performance per dollar. This is thanks to the removal of the additional hands in the process of getting the product from the factory to the customer.

Walter Liederman, the owner of Underwood HiFi, has been slowly building a line of high quality direct to consumer in-house brands which includes LSA Speakers, Emerald Physics speakers and amplifiers, Core Power Power Conditioners, and the excellent Core Power cable line. Walter is not new to this, he has been selling the Emerald Physics brand direct for several years. His goal is simple, provide well-built components and speakers, at prices that are actually affordable. Good sound is for everyone, not just those who can afford it. I have been a customer of Walter's for years, and we talk regularly about his new products and offerings. One day, Walter mentioned that he had a new headphone coming out called the LSA HP-1. It would be manufactured for him by Kennerton, and it would include improvements that would both reduce its weight and raise its performance. A month later, I received the new LSA HP-1. Let's see how they sound.

Review System

For this review the LSA HP-1 was used on a variety of amplifiers and source equipment:

  • Streamer/Server: Pro-Ject Streambox S2 Digital, Auralic Aries G1, Home Built Roon Core
  • DAC: Chord Dave/M Scaler, Chord Hugo 2
  • Amplifiers: LTA MZ3, ampsandsound Bigger Ben, ampsandsound Kenzie Ovation
  • Cabling: Wywires Platinum analog interconnects and Digital Interconnects, Final Touch Audio USB cable
  • Power Cables: Wireworld and Core Power Cables
  • Headphone Cables were a mix of the stock cable, and a Wireworld Nano Eclipse Headphone Cable.

Unboxing and First Impressions

Inside the box is a leather carrying case, headphone cable, and the HP-1s

The LSA HP-1 arrived in a leather carrying case, inside the case are the headphones themselves and the included 2 meter headphone cable. The included cable has a standard 1/4 inch single ended connector. The cable is cloth coated, and in my experience was not microphonic. It does retain shape, and overall was one of my favorite stock headphone cables. The HP-1 uses the 4 pin mini XLR similar to what Audeze, ZMF, and others use, which means you will have many options for aftermarket cables. Likewise, Walter told me that Underwood Hifi's Core Power brand would be coming out with its own line of aftermarket cables specifically voiced for the LSA HP-1s.

The elastic tension band is incredibly comfortable

The HP-1 has wooden cups with leather ear-pads. The headband across the top of the headphone is held in place by an elastic tension band, and is also made of thick padded leather. The result is a headphone that fits incredibly well on my head, and just as well as my wife's head (we have very different sized heads). The headphone is easily one of the most comfortable I have ever worn, it simply seems to float on my head. This is thanks in part to the weight (485 grams), but also the way the headphones distribute the weight on your head. I am incredibly sensitive to heavy headphones, they hurt my neck and I feel them the next day, and I can wear the LSA HP-1 for hours without an issue.

The LSA branding is subtle on these headphones, and is done tastefully. With the exception of a silk screen logo on the top of the headband, which I personally think should be omitted, the headphone exudes nothing but quality.

Switching gears to specifications, the LSA HP-1 is 104dB/mW efficient, and has a 40 ohm impedance. What this means is that even a smart phone will power these headphones and they are incredibly efficient.

I asked Walter to tell me a little bit about the origin story of these headphones. He approached Kennerton with the goal of white labeling a series of headphones under the LSA brand. The HP-1 would be the first in the series.  The HP-1 is based off of Kennerton's Odin, however, in order to lower the weight of the headphone Walter had a few parts, that are traditionally made out of zinc, replaced with aluminum, along with a few other customization. The result, according to the owner of Kennerton, is that the headphone actually sounds much more like a Thekk than an Odin. The kicker is that the Odin retails for $2200 and the Thekk retails for $2800, where the HP-1 retails for $1399. While I do not have a Thekk or Odin on hand to compare, given that the above impression is from the owner of Kennerton, I am willing to take his word for it. Let's dive into the listening impressions.

How do the HP-1s sound

Initially, when taking the HP-1 out of the box, it came across a little bass light and a little high pitched. This is expected, and most new headphones will exhibit this as well. I proceeded to break the headphones in for about 100 hours, checking in on them periodically throughout the process. I would say they began to open up more at 20 hours, sounded great at 50, and completely settled around 80 or so. All of my impressions were gathered after that first 100 hours of break-in.

The HP-1 has a sound that I would describe as electrostatic. What I mean by this is the sound is remarkably clear. Sounds originate out of the background with immediacy and intensity that is shockingly real at times. The clarity is there from the top of the frequency range all the way to the bottom. These are HiFi headphones, and are similar in the way the present content to the Focal Utopia and Stellia.

Bass is incredibly detailed with the HP-1. If I had to find a fault with the HP-1 it would be that its bass does not provide the same ultimate impact and slam as headphones like the Hifiman HE1000SE (over 2x the cost). However, when compared with the Sennheiser HD650s, Mr. Speakers Ether Flows, or HE 560s, both the detail and impact of the HP-1 are superior, in my opinion. There are headphones at this price point that offer more bass impact and slam however, you will sacrifice clarity, speed, and bass quality which I do not believe is worth the trade.

Vocals and midrange presence are clean and clear. I would not call these romantic headphones, but that is a good thing. They are neutral, and take on the voicing of the source equipment behind them. Again, in this way they are much more similar to headphones priced in the $3000 and up bracket. Putting the HP-1 on the LTA MZ3, produced incredibly clean, detailed, and fast vocals. Not the richest or warmest, but that is not the presentation of the MZ3. However, plug the HP-1 into the ampsandsound Kenzie and you are greeted with a warm and rich midrange, with tone and texture that would require a system with a few more zeros to beat. The overall character of the HP-1 remains, with its speed and transparency, but the warmth and weight of the Kenzie can be felt in the HP-1 when they are used together.

The HP-1 can more or less be driven by nearly any amplifier. Your issue with the HP-1 will not be power. If you have an issue it will be that the amp is not quiet enough to be used with the extreme sensitivity of the HP-1. This was not an issue in my testing, however any headphone that is over 98dB/1mW will have issues with noisy sources and amps. The nice thing about high sensitivity is that it opens you up to things like low power OTL and SET amps, as well as portable options like the Chord Hugo 2s built in headphone amplifier. I did not find a single amp that the HP-1 did not sound good being run off of, ranging from a $250 Mass Drop amp all the way up to my $5000 reference ampsandsound Bigger Ben.

Powering the HP-1 off of the Chord Dave's headphone output resulted in a technical performance that was excellent, but when you consider the headphone's retail price, was simply breathtaking. The HP-1 seemed to scale incredibly well with equipment, it sounded good on a $250 mass drop amp, it sounded excellent on a Chord Hugo 2, and it sounded reference level on both the Chord Dave and my Kenzie Ovation. Each rung up the ladder provided additional detail, clarity, and dynamics. Similar to how the Sennheiser HD 650/600 can scale on equipment that ranges from a few hundred dollars to well over a few thousand, I found the HP-1 was able to scale, but with longer legs. It did not seem out of place on a $10,000+ system. To be clear, it does not perform as well as a Susvara or an HE1000SE, but it is also not a world away like many of the headphones priced under $2000, and at times I found myself preferring the HP-1 when I wanted something a little more relaxing to listen to.

Diving into specifics, when listening to Nadine Shah's "Ukrainian Wine," her voice appears front and center. It is tonally rich, and the drum track has the right amount of dynamic energy to begin to recreate the space of the recording studio.

The HP-1 is not the end all be all when it comes to sound stage and micro-details, which I would say is the thing that really separates the HP-1 from the likes of the Susvara, HE1000SE, and the Focal Stellia. Its deficiencies in these areas are subtle though. If the Susvara is 100%, the HE1000SE is 96%, the Stellia is 93%, and the HP-1 is 90%. It is also important to call out that to extract the extra performance from any of the above three headphones will require an incredibly capable DAC and Headphone amp.

One thing that the HP-1 does especially well though, is its treble. I have never found it fatiguing, it is clear and clean, it feels extended, but never grating. Given its lighter and more detailed sound signature this is quite the accomplishment, and not something I expect to see under $3000.

Listening to Melody Gardot's "Mira," one of my go-to test tracks, the HP-1 captured the essence of the performance in a textbook manner. The dynamics were conveyed incredibly well, vocals were clear, and the overall frequency range was represented very well. My memory of headphones that I have had at the price point of the HP-1, put the HP-1 far ahead of like priced competition, and in my opinion makes it simply a no brainer at its retail price.

So is there anything not to like?

I find it hard to find a fault with the HP-1 at its price point. Its comfort and ergonomic design are some of the best I have seen regardless of price, and its performance is so far above its price point that any nitpicks that I can levy just don't seem fair.

If we look at the HP-1 in a vacuum, and do not take price into consideration, micro-details, sound stage, and bass impact are the three things that can be improved on. Micro-details are close to reference level, and require an extremely expensive set of components to make this short-coming noticeable. Similarly, bass detail on the HP-1 is excellent, it is likely that increasing impact will be at the expense of detail, which some will consider a feature rather than a drawback.

Soundstage is probably the only thing that I can honestly fault the HP-1 for, but only when in the vacuum that does not consider price. In my experience, you need to spend at least $3500 to get a sound stage that is better than the HP-1. When compared with its like priced peers, the HP-1 has as good or better sound stage characteristics then the Ether Flow and the Audeze LCD-3, and as far as I remember it bests them both in overall detail and balance.

Wrapping up

Walter's assault on prices and HiFi norms is becoming more aggressive. He and the small team at Underwood HiFi have a good ear. They are identifying great sounding pieces of equipment and finding ways to deliver them at a fraction of the expected retail price.

For years the HD600/HD650 have been my go to safe recommendation. Buy these now, and you can grow your system and they will scale with you. The LSA HP-1 is cut from the same cloth. It starts more expensive, but in my opinion it is technically superior to the HD600/HD650. It is more scalable on the top end, and its low impedance and high efficiency make it far more versatile and easier to mate with upstream equipment.

The LSA HP-1 is now my go to under $2000 headphone recommendation. Its performance is peerless at its price point, and its technical performance puts it within spitting distance of some of the best headphones in the world, regardless of price.

Thank you Walter, these are a gift to anyone who loves HiFi regardless of their ability to spend.

LSA HP-1 Headphones

Retail: $1399

Underwood HiFi