Let me start by admitting that as a THX Certified Professional, I am confident in buying anything that has a THX logo on it. However, this doesn't mean that I end up loving everything I buy with that logo. For example, when THX Certified DVDs with bad transfer were released, or THX Certified VHS tapes, I was sorely disappointed.
On the amplification side, however, THX has developed its AAA amplifier that has been used for speaker-use power and standalone headphone amplification. I tried them and I like them both. However, the home power amplifier is too rich for my blood. And I seldom use headphones at home so there is no use for me to buy a standalone headphone amp. It would make more sense to find an in-line headphone amp. And thanks to Helm Audio, my prayer was answered.
Helm Audio released the DB12 in-line headphone amp using THX AAA technology. The in-line amp is the size of my thumb and powered via USB for up to eight hours of playback time. It plugs directly into the sound source so you can not only use your phone, but any source at all.
For my review, I used my newly purchased Sony Discman and Sony Minidisc player connected to the amp along with my faithful PSB M4U-4 headphones. Suffice to say the (up to) 12dB boost of the in-line amp created a much better punch, transients, and imaging compared to the headphones connected directly to either the Discman or Minidisc player. Unlike MegaBass circuitry to boost the bass for a more exciting sound found in Sony products, the Helm Audio DB12 has +6dB Bass Boost which I prefer over Sony's MegaBass circuitry. It's cleaner and has a faster transient.
This headphone amplifier doesn't only work with my personal set of headphones but also Westjet's $12 "hifi earphones." It makes the god-awful sound into something that is listenable and not stress-inducing. Of course, I don't expect miracles. After all, Westjet's $12 "hifi earphones" don't fare better than $4 Dollarama earbuds.
Whether I'm listening to Renee Oldstead, George Michael, Kylie Minogue, or Judas Priest, the DB12 outperforms any sub US$500 in-line headphones amplifiers I've tried thus far. And it only costs US$200. It doesn't make sense but it works, and it works very well.
For what it is, it's affordable and I'd totally recommended it. The DB12 will definitely be used often alongside my Minidisc player and PSB M4U-4 headphones as I travel locally and abroad.