January 19, 2020 § Leave a comment

“The given power ratings are identical for both balanced XLR and single-ended outputs on the SP200, unlike the Drop THX amp which outputs considerably less power to its single-ended headphones. Swapping out single-ended for XLR cables on the MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Open does indeed prove that the sound pressure levels are identical for both XLR and 6.3mm connections, implying that the topology of the SP200 is not fully balanced from end to end. This being the case, the provision of the four-pin XLR output is there for convenience and compatibility more than anything else. But, it does mean that the SP200’s single-ended performance is markedly stronger than its competitors, and worth noting if you plan on using single-ended headphones. “

TA – ZH1ES Review

January 18, 2020 § Leave a comment


January 17, 2020 § Leave a comment

“The entire low end of this TA-10 is firm, dense and plentiful. The stock tube is not known for excellent low-end depth, but this amp has it anyway, which is a testament to internal circuitry pairing. It isn’t always about just the tube, or just the DAC by itself, especially not in a hybrid design.

If you enjoy meaty bass, this is a great option and I would recommend you kick the stock tube out and hunt for a very warm replacement. You won’t regret it. Fun and musical headphones really sing with this model, bassy headphones and high levels of warmth are accentuated by the natural low-end experience the TA-10 offers.”

Manley Labs Absolute Headphone Amplifier $4500 Review

January 14, 2020 § Leave a comment

“The all-important test is how this thing sounds, and for the most part this amp delivers on so many levels. I switched between multiple sets of headphones, such as Audeze LCD 3, XC, EL-8, Grado customs, and even some IEMs just to see what it would be like. I settled mainly with my trusty LCD 3s, but rest assured that this amp can handle many different headphones with aplomb (varying the impedance allows for multiple headphones to be compatible). Listening to Hi Res digital tracks for this review, I cued up the song “Chitlins and Gefiltefish” from Christain McBride featuring Gina Gershon. The playful song tests the ability of the amp to produce human voice, pace, and reproducing the bass. I enjoyed this track in push pull mode at 10dB negative feedback to give the bass a plucky deep sound coupled with a hop and bounce to induce the prerequisite toe tapping on my part. The recording session was brought to life, and the joy of creating music together was reproduced in great detail without ruining the overall improvising and pace. The second track was Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.” That soulful voice was never lost in this quintessential Winehouse track. Winehouse is in fully fleshed form. The back beat with the bass track and melodic instruments was well rendered in the background. Switching to single ended mode, and turning down the negative feedback, I put on an old but new track in Jennifer Hudson’s “Memory,” from the newly released Cats Motion Picture Soundtrack. Although the film itself has been getting mixed reviews to say the least, the song and Hudson’s voice is beautiful and raw with emotion. The amp in single-ended mode rendered her voice with intimacy and a hint of added warmth left out of push pull mode. “

dCS Bartók Network DAC with Headphone Amplifier Review

January 11, 2020 § Leave a comment

“The quality of the rear-panel digital and analog I/O connections and AC/Mains inlet and rocker switch is rock-solid with zero play on anything anywhere. It’s like the whole chassis was milled out of one billet of alloy, but you can trace the seams with your hands and eyes and realize it’s not, but there are no visible fasteners anywhere but the rear panel and the underside where the massive, metal/rubber isolation feet are also attached. While it may not have as much heavy metal as a Rossini or Vivaldi in its chassis, dCS has done a great job of giving buyers the look and feel of the higher model lines without the associated parts/build cost involved with using the higher-gauge alloy plates (and the Rossini/Vivaldi’s multiple power supply architectures, separate boards, etc.).

HiFiMAN Jade II Electrostatic Headphone System $2499 Review

January 10, 2020 § Leave a comment

The Jade II follows much in the sonic footsteps of the original Jade, in that it offers a carefully judged combination of transient speed, transparency, exceptional midrange purity, superb spatial characteristics, and an inviting quality of natural, organic warmth. If you were hoping for a headphone that emphasizes bleeding-edge, razor-sharp transient definition and sub-microscopic levels of detail, then the Jade II might not be your cup of tea—not because it does not possess those qualities in reasonable measure, but because it doesn’t make them the centerpieces of its musical presentation. So, the Jade II is not about creating hi-fi-centric shock and awe experiences, but more about conveying the vibrant tonal and textural richness of well-recorded music, while also capturing the always engaging dynamic shadings that help bring music alive. Also, more so than many top-tier headphones, the Jade II provides large, spacious soundstage envelopes that help keep the music from sounding as if it is trapped inside the listener’s head. Several musical illustrations will perhaps help to show what I mean.  

On “Zapateados” from Pepe Romero’s Flamenco [K2HD, 16/44.1], the Jade II presents Romero’s exquisite flamenco guitar, recorded in a richly resonant natural acoustic space, juxtaposed against the striking handclaps and foot-and-heel taps of an expert flamenco dancer. Many transducers—loudspeakers and headphones alike—turn this track into a hi-fi extravaganza, which sadly redirects the listener’s attention away from the musical event and toward a narrowly focused preoccupation with sound quality. The Jade II, however, is different. Yes, it captures textural and transient sounds with exemplary clarity; yet it also captures the varied and subtle dynamic moods and the spatial cues that are so vital to conveying the “you-are-there” sense of being present at the original performance

Warwick Acoustics APERIO Electrostatic Headphone System $24,000 Review

January 1, 2020 § Leave a comment

Spaciousness and soundstaging? Oh my, yes. I got a glimpse of what the Aperio could do when I put on an old and well-loved audio chestnut, the title track from Andreas Vollenweider’s Caverna Magica [Savoy, 16/44.1]. “Caverna Magica” has long been famous for the way it produces enchanting 3D soundstages through most audio systems, but through the Aperio system I found there was suddenly not just a little but a lot more magic in the “Magica.” In fact, the Aperio took the song’s 3D presentation to a whole new level, creating a huge, resonant, cave-like environment, which Vollenwieder’s sumptuous-sounding harp filled beautifully. My point is that whenever there are useful spatial cues in music, the Aperio will find them and put them to great use.

I like to try to offer critical commentary where appropriate, but there really is nothing I can fault in the Aperio’s sonic performance. The only drawback I encountered—and it is one common to most electrostatic headphone systems I have heard—is that if I moved my head suddenly while listening, pressure levels within the earcups would change momentarily, causing a soft “clicking sound” from the diaphragms. Apart from that, the Aperio listening experience was an unalloyed joy.

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