The Black AMP

The user manual for the most articulate headphone amplifier

I would like to thank you for enjoying the Black AMP. As the designer and builder of the AMP, I offer you this piece of my personal art in the form of a sensual sonic experience. It is my hope that you will enjoy every time you listen to your vinyl music. Bon Appetite! Just as food is to the body – music is to the soul.

Barry Thornton.

This manual is intended to provide you with the information to get the most from your Black Swan and will cover the following headings:

0 – Deboxing

1 – Installation and set up

2 – Operation and control of the various functions

3 – History, how we got here, and why


A thought before removing The Black AMP from its box. The Black AMP has a deep shiny black coating that has been waxed to protect the finish and give it luster. We use a high quality automotive finishing was, hand applied and buffed.

As you open the box you will find a pair of white cotton gloves for you to handle the AMP with while limiting scratches and finger prints. A simple buffing will remove most signs of human contact with the unit.


The Black AMP gets warm because it is operating in Class-A signal domain. The heat generating devices inside tend to be concentrated on the side panels while the heat is transferred all over the unit to improve its dissipation.

Place the unit in an area in which it can ‘breath’, that is dissipate its heat. It won’t be hot, just warm depending on how much cool air it can get.

The Power Supply plugs directly into the wall. And is connected to the unit with a circular DIN connector on the back.


About the Mains Power Quality – The Black AMP takes in 16 volt AC from a ‘wall-wart’ power transformer. The power supply circuit in the AMP employs large capacitors along with circuits called capacity multipliers and active voltage regulators. The group effect of this is greater than you can expect from an independent mains a power conditioner unit. The technological approach lets us operate in a truly balanced power signal domain with no reference to the power or signal grounds in the installation. As the amplifier is truly balanced when using balanced headphones the signals passing through the system are truly ground agnostic offering complete isolation between any of the four audio power signals created.

Rear Panel Connections

The Black AMP is very straightforward and should present nothing new as to set up. All input connections are on the back of the unit and all output are on the front.  Also on the back is the power supply connection and a pair of ‘set once’ controls.


Black AMP Rear Panel


As seen above, on the back of the AMP are three sets of input connections all associated with the input control on the front panel. Inputs #1 (full left on the Input Selector Switch) and #2 (“12-o’clock” on the Input Selector Switch) are both unbalanced RCA connections.  Inputs #3 are balanced signals for the AMP.  There are two types of connections.  A pair of XLR-3 connections for the Left and Right channels, and a single XLR-4 connection which is found on all AAW Products.  This permits interconnecting units with a special Quad Star cable carrying two balanced channels in a single cable.  This is intended to increase the performance of the cables connecting units while reducing the physical wiring complexity.
The pin outs for these connections are industry standard and are:

Pin #       1          2         3         4      Case

XLR-3    Gnd     Sig +   Sig –    na     Gnd

    XLR-4      L+      L-          R+       R-    Gnd

Rear Panel Controls.

Two – on the rear panel:

1 – Dim – There is a ‘Dimmer’ control on the back of the AMP to adjust the illumination of the glow rings around the control knobs.  These rings are a diagnostic tool showing that the power is on and correct.  It is a blue light and the light level should be appropriate to the environment thus you are offered the choice as you see fit to using this control.

2 – Gain – sets the sensitivity of the input to better match headphone sensitivity drive needs.  This control is set by your ear.  Set the Level Control where you like it for normal operation (typically between ’10’ and ‘12’ on the Level Control), then set the Gain Control to the listening level you like.

Front Panel connections

The front panel connections are for headphones. A TRS style phone connector for unbalanced headphones and a XLR style professional audio connector (XLR-4) for balanced headphones.

The signals appearing in the unbalanced output are the Left+ and Right+ signal feeds. These are wired in parallel with the balanced outputs.

You can plug in and use two headphones at the same time, it won’t hurt the Black AMP.

But it will cause the balanced signal to have less Left+ than Left- and the Right+ to be less than the right causing the headphone acoustic output to be less than if there was no unbalanced headphone in use, and vis-a-vesa as they say and will degrade the performance of each to some small degree.

Connect the power supply to the AMP and you are finished. Then plug the Power Supply into your power strip to complete the wiring. The power supply and the AMP are on all the time that mains power is provided. When the AMP is switched off the unit draws approximately 1/2 watt of power, when on approximately 10 watts of mains power.