Tisbury Audio Challenge Amp 1 Review featured image

Tisbury Audio Challenge Amp 1 Review

In this feature, Marcus reviews the £349 Tisbury Audio Challenge Amp 1, which is a new compact desktop analog headphone amplifier capable of up to 1W of output power.

Disclaimer: This sample was sent to me in exchange for my honest opinion. Headfonics is an independent website with no affiliate links or services. I thank the team at Tisbury Audio for their support.

Click here to read more about the Tisbury Audio products we have previously reviewed on Headfonics.

Note that this review follows our current scoring guidelines which you can read in more detail here.

Tisbury Audio Challenge Amp 1 Review featured image
Tisbury Audio Challenge Amp 1 Review
If you are after a smooth effortless vocal-centric performance with good low-end extension but want to avoid tiring dynamics and heavy-handed slam then the £349 Tisbury Audio Challenge Amp 1 could be the right kind of classy addition to your system.
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The Challenge Amp 1 is a dedicated headphone amplifier launched by a relatively new English company from London by the name of Tisbury Audio.

Headed by Wes Young, Tisbury has two main products to date: the Challenge Amp 1, which sells at £349, and a rather tidy-looking pre-amp called the “Mini Passive Pre-amplifier” which empties your wallet for a rather less stressful £135.

The CA-1 is quite a jump up in price but what you get a something handmade and with components locally sourced to comply with that very important ‘Made in England” moniker at the back.

Impressively Tisbury Audio has decided to offer customers a three-year warranty as well as 30 day try-before-you-buy trial.

From memory, only Bose comes to mind that does that 30-day offer and to throw in 3 years of hassle-free listening is a pretty confident gesture from such a new company. Package it with the offer of free international shipping for the Challenge Amp 1 and what you have is quite a bold step for such a new brand.

I love the confidence and after a month of testing, I can understand why Wes is so confident in the Challenge Amp 1. In the days of bold brash power power-hungry do-it-all amps, the Challenge Amp 1 feels like a throwback to a time where sound is everything and understated beauty went hand in hand with purposeful function.

Form Factor

This is not a vulgar-looking brute of an amp. It is not designed to overawe with tons of knobs, switches, and displays to catch your wandering eye.

It is beautifully crafted (by hand no less) and quite a bit smaller than I had originally thought before opening it up. Interestingly it is also quite a bit lighter than I presumed it would be.

Most of the weight could arguably be contained within the beautiful American black walnut wood finish that encloses 75% of the amp chassis.

Do not be fooled though, this is not a piece of wood glued to a metal body type design. The wood itself is lined with copper shielding for enhanced isolation from everyday interferences from the outside world such as EMI.

Tisbury Audio Challenge Amp 1 with LCD-X headphones


The Wood

This is the stand-out aspect of the Challenge Amp 1 design, that wooden enclosure. Shades of Schiit design on the brushed aluminum chassis are obliterated by that wood enclosure, taking it to an entirely different place aesthetically.

I remember those big old Pioneer and Matsui integrated tube amps awash with a mix of fine-grain timber panels and spotless metal mix.

Those classics still sell today in top condition for a tidy sum and one wonders if that same design will allow the Challenge Amp 1 to outlast some of its more complex yet colder rivals.

It literally could have been plucked from any of the last 4 decades and not look out of place in one’s collection. A timeless design gets full marks from me.

Front and Back

Simplicity on the front is matched by simplicity at the back of the Challenge Amp 1.

On the front, the sturdy but high-class Alps Blue Velvet volume pot sits on one end of the branded Challenge Amp 1 decal. On the other extreme left is the quarter jack female port, a high/low gain switch, and the LED power light which goes green to blue when music is running.

On the back you have another simple switch for power, the 12AVC power socket, and analog RCA left and right female jacks. Nothing else guys, that is it from Tisbury Audio.

This is a pure headphone amp plain and simple. To get this working simply plug into the DAC or pre-amp of your choice, turn it on, and throw in a set of headphones and you are good to go.

Tisbury Audio Challenge Amp 1



Inside the Challenge Amp 1 is anything but retro with real thought put into how everything functions in terms of isolation, impedance, and power.

The resulting output at 1w at 50Ω, whilst not as power hungry as say an EF6 or even the Oppo HA-1, does offer a high degree of flexibility with a large range of headphones.

The gain switch levels combined with almost zero output impedance should turn the heads of sensitive IEM users for a start meaning this is not just a pure headphone amplifier but something that could be attractive to earphone users.

At the same time throwing up the gain switch to high, it handily took care of more demanding headphones such as the K501/500 and took a decent stab at the Audeze range whilst falling short a bit once we got up to the Hifiman HE6 range.

I am told by Wes that extensive referencing was done at the design stage with a Hifiman HE500 without any issues so those with newer Hifiman cans shouldn’t fret. The HE6 is one heck of an inefficient power-mad can and it is no shame on the Challenge Amp 1 that it can’t quite deliver the goods.

Power supply

The Challenge Amp 1 surprisingly lightweight can also be attributed in large part to the power supply setup being external rather than internal.

I would normally expect to see something like that on smaller amps such as the Modi and Magni which have 16VAC outputs to external power sources more in line with portable amping solutions.

A midsized desktop with a 12VAC external output is surprising but welcome because of the odd issue I have had in the last few years with ground loops on some of my bigger amps with internal AC. Lower noise levels from the off-board mains transformer will also help considerably with those wishing to use sensitive headphones and IEM’s.

Mute Relay

The Challenge Amp 1 also sports another interesting and very useful feature, the muting relay system. This is one heck of a safety feature and links quite closely with the LED blue/green system on the front panel which acts as the muting relay system visual indicator.

In summary, the muting relay system provides a critical buffer between the power supply and the performance of the amp when switching on and off and your precious headphones drivers.

It prevents potential “pop” and blowing out of the drivers by shutting down the connection to the headphone jack immediately when power is interrupted or turned off.

When turning it on you get a critical approx 2-second buffer of green before the power goes active (blue) on the amp. Coming from a country where blackouts are not only frequent but sometimes a planned norm for power shortages this is a very relevant feature for me.

Click on page 2 for my sound impressions with various headphone pairings.

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