Firestone Cute Beyond £199

17th Mar 2011 | 11:00

Firestone Cute Beyond

The miniature audio specialist impresses with this headphone amplifier

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

A very informative amp that may lack a little output into the lowest impedances, but shows no sign of running out of grunt or energy in real life.

Like:

Good detail and imaging; Extremely revealing…;

Dislike:

…maybe too revealing for some;

Firestone specialises in miniature hi-fi, so the diminutive Cute is very much part of the overall range. Its features are very simple, though it does include a gain switch mounted at the rear, which gives 15dB extra boost – this could be of use when driving high-impedance headphones.

Inside the unit is a further feature and a most unusual one at that: a pair of switches which allow one to configure the volume control for series or shunt operation, thus giving a slightly different slope to its attenuation. Interesting to try, though it doesn't seem to have any effect on sound quality as such.

Amplification is by op-amps and Class A pairs of discrete transistors, which help maintain the unit's exceptionally low output impedance of well under one-ohm. Current is limited, though, and maximum output into low impedances is well below the average (e.g. 15mW into 30 ohms) – if arguably still enough to endanger hearing!

The tonal character of this unit is noticeable mostly by its absence, with a very consistent sound into various headphone models. It is ruthlessly revealing, perhaps more than some folks will want to live with even, but if you don't mind being told the bad news as well as the good about your treasured recordings this is a good way to learn it.

Detail is good and imaging is precise, though not always the most extended out to the sides. There's a real sense of grip on the headphone drivers and rhythm and dynamics are lively and captivating.

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