In 2017 Exposure Electronics launched the ‘XM’ series of hi-fi components, cleverly packing an impressive complement of high-end features into a compact and affordable design. Now, the XM3 phonostage, XM5 integrated amp, XM7 preamp and XM9 mono power amps are joined by the new XM HP headphone amplifier.
‘Real world’ hi-fi at ‘real world’ prices is something Exposure has always been particularly strong on and the XM series very much ticks that box, offering an appealing alternative for music lovers who want superior audio performance but aren’t necessarily in the market for a hi-fi system that risks emptying their bank account and filling their home.
While some hi-fi die-hards draw a clear line between ‘music lovers’ and ‘audiophiles’, Exposure’s chief designer Tony Brady is not so quick to categorise. “Passion is passion,” he says. “Take the current resurgence of vinyl in a digital age. I’m all for both. In fact I’m convinced that both formats are here to stay and that both have further growth and development ahead of them, fuelling a desire for the best of both worlds. People want soul-stirring sound quality and convenience and flexibility and value for money. For a designer that’s an interesting challenge.”
Compactness without compromise
The XM series is the first of Exposure’s ranges to cleverly pack a full quota of high quality features into a narrow, half-width design. Kicking off the series were the XM3 phonostage alongside the XM5 integrated amplifier which, despite its compact size, put the ‘integrated’ back into integrated amps with its incorporated phono stage and DAC. These were soon followed by the XM7 preamplifier and the XM9 mono power amps, the latter described by Brady as “the highest performance amplifier we could fit into a compact chassis”.
The new XM HP headphone amp is a variation of the XM7 preamplifier but specifically honed for the discerning headphone listener. Like the XM5 integrated amp and XM7 preamp, it includes a built-in moving magnet phono stage and DAC, allowing both vinyl and digital bliss. The phono stage sports two line level inputs and the DAC, five digital inputs.
Peering under the hood, what the XM series loses in bulk, it adds in high quality detail. While most smaller hi-fi components (and indeed a good many larger ones) fall back on switch-mode power supplies – which are far from audiophile grade and pollute the mains supply with noise – the XM HP features a linear power supply with a 60VA custom-made toroidal power transformer. Only high quality resistors and capacitors are used in the signal path.
As you might expect, the XM HP features enhanced headphone circuitry in which an all-discrete audio output stage delivers high drive capability for low impedance headphones. Its two pairs of 6.35mm jacks and of XLR sockets allow two sets of headphones to be used at once, and there’s also a separate pre-amp output.