Saturday, November 8, 2014

Sennheiser HD 600 Review

Sennheiser HD 600 




Well guys I want to say I finally did it! I broke down, and purchased a Sennheiser HD 600. After hearing about it for YEARS I just had to hear it for my self, and I'm rather glad I did! 

Though it should be noted, my HD 600ish is technically... an HD 580 headband, HD 650 Grills and Cable with HD 600 drivers within. So in a sense, it's bit of a FrankenPhone. But it's got the  HD 600 internals so a HD 600 it shall be!

The build quality on the unit is very nice! It has a good in the hand feel to it. Granted it's mostly plastic, but it still has a nice sense of weight and sturdiness to it. 


To start with the Headband it self is composed of an inner metal band and outer plastic components. The Ear Cups are adjusted with a nice click as you move them down the notched head band. Again everything has a very nice feel to it, nothing's flimsy or weak.


Again these are the HD 650 Grills... but they look nice. Again  nothing flimsy on this headphone. 


The Cable is also from the HD 650, and I'm happy with it! It's a rather long cable and I've rolled over it a few times by accident now, I even stepped on it once. Non the less, like the rest of the headphone it has a good feel to it. Just an over all well built quality through an through! 

SOUND

FooBar 2000 -> Kernel Streaming -> Audio GD NFB10ES2 Dac Line Out -> Schiit Vali

So I'm running these through my Vali and I won't be doing any comparisons in this review! For the test tracks I used  this album.

Late Night Tales : Air

The albums is a lovely mix of Classic Rock and Classical Music, with a little techno added in there! I think it makes an excellent demo Album for any headphone or system!

For my song by Song Impressions and comparisons check out my full review on Head Fi! 

The HD 600 has one of the most Euphoric sounds I've heard! It's has a great sense of organic warmth and is very laid back. 

Now many people claim this is a "veiled" headphone, which I disagree with. The unique color of the headphone is very different! Many of my headphones have a peak around 8-9k, well the HD 600 has a DIP there and a peak around 3-4k. Thus, upon listening to it sounds very different! Though, after about 10mins I found my self noticing a great deal of detail and air within the warm intimate sound of the HD 600.

In short, the HD 600 is a wonderfully organic, airy and detailed headphone. It is certainly intimate and warm, but is by no means fuzzy or veiled. 

You do need an amp for it and I highly recommend the Schiit Vali!

Non the less guys thanks for reading the review! Again check out my full review on Head Fi.Org! 




Thursday, October 30, 2014

LA D5000 Unboxing

Hey guys I got my LA D5000 in today and here is my unBoxing Video!
A big thanks to TubeNews at Head Fi.org for the sale and for taking such good care of these gorgeous cans! Stay tuned for a review! 



HiFi Perfected The Wonderful Hifiman HM 901

                          




A big thanks to Drew and every one at Moon Audio, they handled the sale of this new unit to me and were very helpful in answering all of my questions! 

Preface

Ever since my Hifiman HM 601 back in 2012 I've always loved the Hifiman Sound. The deep bass, the smooth mids and that spacious presentation. Ideally for me I thought the Hm 801 was going be the end all Hifiman DAP for me. How ever I was seeing that the unit did not age as well as I was hoping it would. In addition after spending a year with out it dawned on me one day that it was just a touch to slow, and warm for my tastes. It had that classic deep bass and spacious sound, but just wasn't fast enough. Most of my headphones sounded better out of my NFB 10ES2 so I knew it was time for an upgrade! 

The Box 


Coming from the Old HM 801 Box I was at first glance a little disappointed, the box for the HM 801 was a perfect compliment to the player it self. It was gawd awfully large and accented in gold, how ever it felt a little cheap in the hand. The HM 901 box was little different. While it didn't have the same BIG PRESENCE, like the HM 801 did it had a better feel in the hands. Felt a little sturdier and have a nicer set of textures and materials on the outside as well.

Of course the interior of the two units was pretty much the same, Charging cable, the unit it self and with the HM 901 the RCA Line Out Cable as well. 




The player is smaller than I expected, which was a nice surprise!


Simple clean presentation! 



The User Interface 

I spent about all of 3 mins with Firmware Version 1.083, I then upgraded to the new Taichi 2.01 Firmware, and I must say that I enjoy it! Sadly It's only frozen on my once... in the last 20 hours of use. Which is about right for a Hifiman DAP... I found the User Interface to be easy to use though most of it commands were easy to figure out. 


Some of the more useful commands were not so easy to figure out, though maybes that's just a user error on my part ;3





Either way the complaints of a poor and Buggy UI weren't present in this new Taichi 2.01 interface and I was happy to find that! 


Build Quality/ Utility 

And here is the ugly side of this new unit, as much of a fan of the HM801 Body and Build as I was... I was disappointed with how the HM 901 is built and how it feels in the hand 


The buttons feel about as cheap as they look, the Center button looks and feels really nice! How ever the scroll wheel... is a disaster. It's a touch un responsive, nothing like a smooth an light weight... say iPod Wheel?   The 4 Buttons on the side... feel like a wasted effort, I would think [going back the iPod seeing as they went for that] why not put in a bigger better quality wheel and use it's 4 main axis points for buttons, if your going to remind me of the iPod design you should REALLY live up to it!

Though there is rumors of a Hifiman HM901S to be out soon, apparently us HM901 users get to look forward to a "free" upgrade to a new chaise... we'll see how that goes when it arrives

And the BATTERY LIFE is standard, no better or worse than other Hifiman Player I've ever owned!

Though I'm not a fan of the Line Out... again it's iPod Esque with this BIG multi pin port. My issue with it is it doesn't grip the connector that goes into to well, that and the connector it self is odd... it terminates to the Left? That and while the Wire coming out of it is nice... the port it self looks and feels a little cheap... my iPod LOD has a nice series of locking metal grooves...



Yea that's two cables there... I would have really preferred the old HM 801 style Line Out [you know the 3.5mm kind] that way I could still listen to the player Line Out while I charged it! 


SO let's hope Hifiman gets build quality up to par with the HM 901S launch! 


All of the vanity aside ... I bet your wondering HOW IT SOUNDS!

Well in Short it sounds GOOD

All in all, I found that with transparent headphones or some of the brighter and more revealing headphones the HM 901 proves to be a great dac for these units,  The HM 901 being, dark spacious and very energetic,  dynamic changes and imaging on the HM 901 take the cake for sure! The HM 901 brings a great level of detail, space and speed to the classic "fun" Hifiman Sound. It is the perfection of the Hifiman Sound I came to love in my old HM 601 and HM 801 units! 

It's a very transparent DAP, it's un forgiving of colored headphones, and poorly mastered tracks, though it still has some personality of it's own! Bass that's just a smidge boosted without ever being bloated and a very tactile and dynamic presentation! 

An what I love about the HM 901 is not only does this sound exist in the Line Out but also with the Included Classic Card! I have a dinky little pair of MS1i-W's that sound GREAT out of the 3.5mm out! While I tend to use these headphones on the go, such as walking around campus or even hanging out at the mall, the HM 901 offers both the Hi Quality sound out of it's line out but also offers a great quality out of the Classic Card as well! While the Line out is better, the some what awkward plug don't always make it the most practical choice, that and my pockets are only so big! Still if your looking for an All in One Box Solution the HM 901 is where it's at! An if your like me and you just want to slap a line out into the sucker and run it into your portable amp it's going to offer a top quality sound there too! 


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Alessandro Music Series MS1i [Black Walnut Cups]


Big thanks to JoeDoe of Head-Fi as he performed the cup installation as well as the swapping out the headband. Price for a stock Alessandro MS1i is $109



 Now the headphones themselves have been outfitted with an Auvio Headband. Which offers a slightly more durability than the stock Grado Headband.  

It has a nice construction, very light weight has a good feel in the hand. It also have a comfortable head band and a sturdy feel to it's hinges. 


My only fault with the Auvio Headband is it doesn't feature to much left or right cup rotation, which with an open back headphone isn't a huge issue, though it does affect the sound stage a small bit.


The drive and housing assembly are unique to this headphone as well, the cups are made from American Black Walnut and the drivers are suspend within them. 

A unique feature of the drivers though is the small white pad that sits in front of them, while it certainly has some sonic benefits unknown to me, I can say it does improve the comfort of the headphone.  



In addition to comfort, the headphones placement is pretty simple. Dead center on your ears for the best sound, slightly different from the Senn Grado I reviewed early this month! 

Sound Summarized The MS1i-W has a smooth and mellow

 presentation, it brings the right


 amount of brightness when needed for metal and other very 


metallic  instruments, the bass has 

good body and the overall presentation is airy though a tad


 laid back. All in All if you enjoy a


 fairly smooth presentation or are new to the hobby. This 


would  be a can I could recommend! 


 I'd say in the $100 range this can does well, it's got a nice 


presentation a good sense of 


separation and is just pleasant to listen to without being 


overly smoothed out or just plain  boring.          


As always check out the full article at Head Fi for song by song impressions! 



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Senn Grado [Modded Wonder]

Big thanks to Joe Doe of Head Fi. com for allowing me the chance to demo these very cool little headphones! Essentially 

"They're basically a Sennheiser PX100 driver housed in a Grado style cup." Joe's words exactly! 

As for the visuals, lets take a look! 






Visually I love the look, simple leather headband nice metal accents and of course the gorgeous wood cups. 

How ever, while they look amazing, the comfort is different. These are meant to sit on your ears, the most comfortable position, is the optimal one for sound quality. 

Now let's move onto the sound

These are wired with a single 3.5mm Jack, that said I'll be using my iBasso PB2 Se out. The reasons being is my iBasso PB2 has been optimized for low gain headphones, with my NFB 10ES2 being better suited for Balanced Headphones or Low or High Gain. 

For reference I'll be comparing it to my HE 4 out the NFB 10ES2 Balanced Out, my SE doesn't have quite enough power to drive them. 

Power wise they aren't hard to drive, but they aren't too easy either. I'm sittin at about 2 o'clock on the PB2 SE out 

A general over view of the sound would be aggressive and airy. These are very much a dry headphone, nice detail retrieval and impressive bass response! Speed is nice as well, the dynamics are about average as is the 2D and 3D sound stage presentations. 

Let's get down to the finer details of the Sound

Bass:  Mid bass has nice punch to it and very taut, sub bass though is some what lacking in body and attack though only mildly rolled off on that end. 

Mids:  Mids are the sweet spot for the SennGrado, it has a nice balanced of both attack and decay, with a lovely balance between both the upper and lower mids. Both Guitars and violins have a great tone to them. Male and female vocals are also breath taking! The mids sit a touch forward over everything else, and have a realyl wonderful tone to them! There is also a nice touch of intimacy to the mids as well. 

Highs: Nice and airy, a touch of grain on the top end but overall very pleasant. Nice extension on the treble as well. 

I would say overall, the bass is where the SennGrado is it's only con, the smaller driver lacks the sheer mass to move air like a full Size Planar can, or have the hit that a closed back has. How ever that said, there is a mild Mid Bass Hump that combined with lots of attack and little decay, makes for a pleasantly tactile bass. 

On the positive side though, the Senn Grado has breath taking mids and does a really wonderful job with a wide Variety of  musical genres. I think all in all for any of you who like to mod or are even curious about modding, the Senn Grado would be an excellent place to start! An if your like me and not into modding, head on over to Head Fi and have one of our more experienced Modders build you one! 





Friday, September 12, 2014

A Trip Through Time!

Well guys I've got an interesting piece of equipment with me today. A HeadRoom Little Amp With More Power Supply. This is about a decade old amp, so I figured why not send it through the paces versus my big Fully balanced Audio GD? 

I'm running the HeadRoom Little Amp With More Power Supply through my Audio GDs DAC Line out, set to high gain, as on low gain Line out the HeadRoom Little Amp With More Power Supply doesn't have enough grunt. 

For headphones I am using my HE-4, with a SE to Balanced inter connector made by Brian At BTG, who was kind enough to use my W1000x SE Jack [since I removed it and Balanced it as well] 

But first, let's do some background on the HeadRoom Little Amp With More Power Supply, my seller assured me that back in the day the combo would go for around $600. Putting it at about the same price bracket as my Audio GD, and mind you it's just an amp. 

So that said, my purpose in this review is to in a sense gauge the progress we've made in this hobby! What did $600 get you back in the day? What does $600 get you today! Hopefully by the end of this review, we'll have a bit more appreciation for our gear and how inexpensive it is to get these days! 

It should be noted to, that the date for this amp is around 2001 and was discontinued in 2005.  

Let's start with some pictures! 




Size wise it's not a small amp, in that the power supply is rather large, but the amp section isn't to big either. I've got the two units about a foot apart  with the cables run behind the scene. 

As to the specs on it, I have no earthly idea. Sadly. It has less head room than my Audio GD Unit does and at louder volumes it tends to get a little harsh in the treble.

It like any amp, does get hot after some time. It heats up a little quicker than my Audio GD does. 

So let's talk about the sound, to start with the Head Room is a little noisy, and has a touch of grain throughout. Listening to Michigan & Smileys Sugar Daddy, and the high hats are a touch hot. Additionally, the bass is very full but the mids though lack smoothness. Not to say they are recessed, but there's a touch to much bass to enjoy the touch of decay in the guys voices.  The HeadRoom Little Amp With More Power Supply while having more body to it's sound isn't smoother.  

Moving on now to Sarah Jorasz's The Book of Right on, again I'm noticing not that the mids are recessed but they tend to drown a little when compared to the rest of the music, there's not much body to the vocals. How ever on a positive note, the violins and other upper mid instruments have a really lovely body and presentation to them. 

I'll finish up this review with a little bit of metal, giving Animals as Leaders Woven Web a listen now, I will mention the post processing in the HeadRoom Little Amp With More Power Supply brought out some details within the track that I had not previously noted, namely an almost secondary guitar riff playing behind the main riff. Which is honestly pretty cool to hear! 

Going from the HeadRoom Little Amp With More Power Supply to the Audio GD I immediately pick out the secondary riff  after hearing it on the Little, so that was a pleasant surprise! How ever, the bass in the track is a touch loose on the HeadRoom Little Amp With More Power Supply.

So in conclusion, how does the HeadRoom Little Amp With More Power Supply compare to my Audio GD NFB10ES2. Well the post processing effect is nice in pulling some of the mirco details a bit more forward, but overall the amp lacks a touch of smoothness and definition. However, each amp is today at a totally different price range.

Thus, in the last decade we've made some great progress!  As a side not how ever, I may get in touch with HeadRoom and see if they will allow me to demo one of their newer amps! I'm curious to see what progress they've made in the last 10 years.

Non the less guys thank you for reading! 


Tuesday, July 1, 2014



Review LCD 2 Rev 2.2 Fazor


Big thanks to head fi member jodgey4 for allowing me the chance to demo the LCD 2.2F! 


To start with the comfort of the LCD 2 with Vegan Pads was very good! The headband and ePads distributed the weight of the headphones very nicely, despite rumors of the Audeze cans being "too heavy to wear" I found them to very comfortable and the weight didn't bother me. Of course, some of you may be more sensitive to weight than I am.

As far as the sound goes, the overall profile of the LCD 2 REV 2.2 Fazor 

Was warm, good sense of tactility and speed,  yet still a touch laid back. Easy to listen to, and rich with details



As far as music goes, I found the LCD 2 REV 2.2 Fazor to work wonderfully with vocal heavy tracks, both male and female vocals have a great sense of body to them. 

The LCD 2.2F also worked well with classical duos or trios, music in which only 1 or two instruments are played at once. Avant Garde Classical,  was especially wonderful. Clear on a Cloudy day, which features a spastic arrangement of elements, was wonderful on the LCD 2.2F it's speed and well imaged presentation worked very well. The impressive dynamic speed of the LCD 2 works great for these smaller pieces. 

How ever bigger orchestral pieces, did not work as nicely, in addition the addition of a voice into a symphonic piece shows the flaws of the LCD 2, it does great for voices, and for classical duets, but not a combination of the two.  Epics "Solitary Ground Version" was a little wonky on the LCD 2.2F the lower notes of the singers voice, made the backing for the vocalist some what blurred, or un-focused. 

Now the last genre of music, I'll speak of is EDM. The LCD 2.2F works well with, deep heavy bass lines, and slower more ambient music. Where it falls short is with faster paced music, the LCD 2.2F did not impress me with any break beat, it lacked the ability to produce an aggressive sound for more aggressive forms of EDM. I was not a wobble friendly headphone either, so the LCD 2.2F again shows it self as a more laid back headphone. 


In short, the LCD 2.2F is a colored headphone, with emphasis on the low mids and a noticeably recessed upper mid section. This in turn, makes it an easy headphone to listen to, but it struggles with larger classical pieces and often lacks the proper balance for use with all genres of music, or rather it struggles to add a sense of realism or a "wow" factor to all genres of music, or rather It lacks aggression at times when it's needed and wanted. 


Friday, May 16, 2014

HE 4 Revist [Now with MODS]




To start with, I've owned my Hifiman HE 4 for a few months now, and I've just recently heavily modified mine! The positives is all these mods don't do anything for the sound, but rather improve the looks comfort and usability of the headphone. 

That said though, many of you may remember the Frequency response graphs I posted a few months back,


That Top Green line is the basic frequency response, or objective measurement of how the HE 4 sounds! 

Well seeing as the HE 4 is my new standard, I won't be doing any comparisons here, rather simply commenting on what I enjoy about it! Let's put some words to describe what the data shows! 


Amplification Needed and Recommended Sadly, the HE 4 is not an easy headphone to drive at an impedance of 38 ohms and an efficiency of 86DB. It responds well to a powerful amp. I drive them with about 5wpc at home and about 2wpc on the go. 



For me the HE 4 is the best of both my dynaW1000x and my LA D2k and it cost about 3/4 as both... even better all of this from a completely STOCK headphone! 

So for those of you looking for a very balanced headphone, the Hifiman HE 4 takes the cake. I suggest it to users with a semi powerful amp. At least 2wpc leaves you some nice head room, Additionally, the leaner dry sound of the HE 4 would pair wonderfully with those of you who enjoy tubes. Lastly, for the newer audiophiles this is certainly a headphone to get while you can, as the headphone sounds good with lower powered sources, but it really scales well with higher end gear! 



Thursday, May 15, 2014

Battle of the Modded Wood Backs [Plus a Look at how I write Reviews]






Featured here is my desktop as I write my reviews, on the right is FooBar 2000, with the 7 songs I use to test each song. I don't use eq during any testing which is why as you may noticed the eq tick box is unchecked, in addition it's nice to have the spectral graphs running to help me identify the particulars of each song and headphone,  aside from that is just the folder layout for fooBar 2000. I like the editor that's in Blooger, but I do make copies from these articles to word documents I keep offline as well. 



So in conclusion with a total score of 4 in favor of the dynaW1000x, I'm going to keep them both

The LA D2k-  Has an overall balanced sound, slightly withdrawn but full bodied central and lower mids, with a very powerful and taught Sub and Mid bass, with a smooth top end and slightly aggressive upper mids. The overall tone is very clean, but with a touch of warmth due the some what forward bass and full bodied nature of the mids. The sound stage has great width and average depth and instrument separation.

Where as the dynaW1000x- also has a balanced sound, with much more forward and intimate mids, but an overall drier sound. Bass has good attack, but a little light bodied. The mids tones are more organic or sweet sounding, but also more aggressive with a lot less decay. The sound stage is a touch narrow, but is vastly deep and very well separated.







Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Fiio X5 Review/ Preview

I would like to first send tanks to Fiio and Head Fi member Joe Blogs for giving me the opportunity to preview the Fiio X5, I am not affiliated with Fiio in any way.

For the purpose of this review I demo'd the X5 with my Balanced Modded Denon AH MD 2000 Headphones and my iBasso PB2 Balanced Amplifier, equipped with quad LME 49990 OP amps and dummy buffers. In addition also compared the X5 again'st my Hifiman HM801, using the same music and amplification.

Price for the X5 is said to be $350. 



Here's the X5 sitting atop my PB2 in it's silicon case.


What's in the Box



The X5 comes with some brief paper work in addition to the charger cable, the player it self is encased in a semi hard foam shell within the box, underneath is the paperwork and accessories. It features a usb mirco SD Card reader and high quality usb to micro-usb charging/data cable, 3 push plugs for each 3.5mm port, coaxial cable adapter, USB OTG cable,

The Player


The Top of the player features 3 ports, the headphone out, line out and coaxial out ports, next to that is the power button. Volume is controlled by the two side buttons to the right of the headphone out going down the side face of the unit. 

On the bottom are two ports for mirco SD Cards, the unit that I have did not feature any internal memory, so all music is loaded from the external Mirco SD cards. Seeing as there are two slots, the player has a very large external memory capacity! I usually prefer to use 64gb Cards for compatibility, but it's possible to have 128 or higher mirco SD Cards, non the less 128gbs of Flash Memory is an impressive feature. Unlike the iPod classic, the X5 does not use an internal hard drive, which means there's very minimal risk of data loss due to very few moving parts. 



The player is controlled by the mechanical spinning wheel, and 5 buttons feature on the face of the player. There's a nice feel to the wheel, in addition volume is controlled by two side buttons. Controls are intuitive and menus are easy to maneuver through. 

The player is fairly dense, I enjoy the heavy in the hand feel that it has. I do not feel that it's overly heavy either, it is also smaller in size than the HM801. 

User Interface



The main menu is composed of simple icons that are switched by scrolling on the wheel.

The player does feature an EQ Utility as do most. 

The gain is adjustable as well via the options menu, in addition to other options such as gap-less support and play mode. 


The player does support 24/bit decoding and features album art during play back, in addition in the left hand corner of the screen you'll notice small icons. The X5 features an on the fly option adjustment as well, you can favorite songs in addition to adjusting the play back methods without leaving the now playing screen, If I'm really diggin a song, I can set the player to repeat that song without having to go into the main menu! 

In addition the player does lock it self, during play back. So if you shove it in your pocket there's no worry that you might accidentally change the song, a useful feature that my Hm801 does not have [and trust me pockets and the HM 801 don't get along.]

As far as hang ups go, I've only had an issue with the X5 automatically filling it's library via the media update feature. The unit I have is a demo so perfection is not expected. 

The Sound

I apologize in advance for the lack of pictures, I figured a shot of my ears wouldn't be too appealing. 

Again, I'm using the X5 line out into my iBasso PB2. The PB2 is a fully balanced amp, meaning it splits the SE input into 4 separate channels, each channel is then sent individually to my balanced D2k. In addition, my PB2 is out fitted with LME 49990 OP amps and Dummy buffers, my point in all this is the PB2 is a very powerful and neutral amp. It adds bit of small bit "oomph" or "kick" to the bass as well as enhancing the sound stage depth, width and presentation by a small margin. 

I'll say that in it's own right the X5 is a nice sounding player, it's fairly neutral I don't hear any major dips or peaks in the sound. It does a nice job of keeping my modded D2k slightly boosted bass in check. Paired with the Pb2 it is in it's own right a very nice sounding player. Fairly neutral and enjoyable. 

It's not what I would call a Sterile player, but a very clean and balanced DAP.  The bass, mids and treble are all in equal standing. Really there's little to no deficiency with the sound of the X5.

Conclusion

I would highly recommend the X5 for any one looking for a mid level DAP. The combination of it's size, sound and features make it very appealing.  It's certainly a grab an go friendly player! And I my self prefer the un sleeved case, as I'm a big fan of that lovely metal shell! But the silicon case does a nice job of protecting the player, and will certainly help it stay where ever you put it.






Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Hifiman HE 4


Been a busy month lately, non the less in short the HE 4 is really an upgraded Dt 880 in all respects! And to help demonstrate this, instead of posting my subjective review I'm going to post some Objective measurements of both headphones.

A big thanks to HeadFi /ChangStar Member Purin/Marvey 




The top picture is the DT 880 and the bottom is the HE 4. On the Bottom picture look at the Green line closest to the top. Notice that each headphone has a relative peak around 10k hrz and a dip at about 5k. 
Additionally there is a relative shelf from 200-1000 hrz before the major dip in the central and upper mids.

Also notice that the HE 4 Demonstrates a more linear Bass Response from 20 hrz up to 200.
As well as the slight roll off after 10khrz, what this amounts to for the HE 4, when compared to the DT 880 the HE 4 has a tighter bass, and a touch more mid presentation. And what's seen in the graphs is discernible through listening. 

It should also be noted the Bottom Lines, colored Grey Yellow and Magenta are objective readings, although of what I don't know.  

For the sake of simplicity let us focus on the Green line at the top of the graph! 

But my ears and objective data confirm that, both the HE 4 and DT 880 sound much alike! With the HE 4 in my opinion being a clear upgrade to the latter. It should be noted though, that the HE 4 requires an amp just as the DT 880 does. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Schiit Audio - Vali VS NFB10ES2 Balanced Amp (SE Out)

I Figured it was time I did a review of my Schiit Vali... and while I was at it why not review the NFb10ES2 as well! So here is a comparison of the two!

To be fair, both units where volume matched and I used the SE out put of each.

And let's go ahead and discuss price, the Schiit Vali is $119 new, the NFB 10ES2 is a balanced Dac and Balanced Amp, that said it is $600 new. In all fairness, I suppose we can assume the NFB 10ES2's headphone amp might be comparable to a $300 stand alone solid state. Either way the Vali has it's work cut out for it!

Audio GD NFB 10ES 2 Rear Input Out Put Section [Left and Right channels have same set of Outputs]

Front View


Schiit Vali, with only one Input. 

Schiit Audio - Vali )[$119 New]  VS Audio GD NFB10 ES2 Balanced Amp (SE Out) [$600 New (Unit is a Dac/Amp Combo)

Personal Back-Story  

I’ve enjoyed both Tube and solid state amplifiers over the years, although I prefer solid states. That said, there’s still something magical about tubes for me, thus I owned two before the Vali, both where attempts to find that perfect tube sound, the right mix of warm mids and taught bass and airy treble. That said, I got the Vali, with hopes it would bring the balanced I was looking for. That said, though I’m still undecided about wheather I like a solid state amp or a tube… so it’s time for a comparison!


Notes on the NFB10ES2 Dac
          The NFB10ES2 balanced dac uses a ESS 9018 chipset, that said the unit has a very clean sound. Ton’s of detail and virtually no audible noise in both the internal headphone amp and Fixed Line Out. Micro Details are phenomenal and the ability to opt for a low or high gain Line out makes feeding the Dac into multiple amps very easy, not to mention the incredibly clean sound from the dac. Sound stage is also phenomenal as well, and to reiterate this for the third time, this unit has very clean sound!
         

Vali


Pros: Airy sound, smooth mids, taught heavy bass, scales well

Cons : noisy,  needs high end Pre Amp for optimal performance

Build [4/5]

Schiit… well the know their schiit! The Vali is built very nicely,  sporting a metal case with a silver coat. The RCA jacks, and volume knob are both very sturdy. Each has a nice solid feel to it, though I will admit the Power Switch feels a little flimsy. Thankfully I’m only touching it once every few hours! Still it’s a very attractive unit, and thus far I’ve had no mechanical issues, and frankly I’m not too concerned that I will!

Specs
Sub-Miniature Hybrid Headphone Amplifier
Frequency Response 20-20k, -0.2db, 5-100kHz -3db
Maximum Power 32Ohms: 650 mW RMS per Channel
Maximum Power 600 Ohms: 115mW RMS per Channel
THD <.04%
SNR >93db
OutPut Impedance 6.5ohms
Gain 12db
Power Consumption 8W
Size 5 x 3.5 x 1.25”


Extra Features
The Vali doesn’t have any extra features, it simply does exactly what you paid for it to do! Meaning, it’s an amp with only one input and one output. That said, for the price it’s easy to understand the lack of Extra’s.

Price to Performance : [5/5]
          Excellent! Performs far beyond many similarly priced competitors such as the Indeed G3 and Millet Hybrid Tubes.

NFB10ES2

          Pros; Clean sounding, EXTRAS, Powerful

Cons; Heavy, Large, Headphones Need Re-termination


Build [5/5]
The unit is built rock solid and weighs around 15 or so pounds! While I do not recommend you drop it… chances are it could take the hit. No flaws to the build what so ever in my opinion.



Extras
The Audio GD NFB 10ES2 offers 2 headphone outs, a SE and balanced. On the negative side how ever, the Balanced out is much cleaner and more dynamic than the SE out. While this review was done with the SE, everything that applies to the SE can be said for the Balanced as well. Think of the balanced out as a complete upgrade over the already excellent SE out.



       Price to Performance : [4/5]
For the price there is not a better balanced Solid State amp, however if you only need a SE Amp there may be better options, again the Audio GD NFB 10ES2 is a Dac/Amp combo unit and the amp cannot be purchased separately.  Additionally, to get the most out of your headphones you will need a recable to 4pin Balanced XLR.
Specs
Frequency Response
Maximum Power 50 Ohms: 5950MW [Balanced Out] 1650MW [SE Out]
Maximum Power 600 Ohms: 590MW[Balanced Out] 150Mw [SE Out]
THD <0.0005%
SNR >120DB  
OutPut Impedance 2
Gain: Adjustable
Power Consumption 22W
Size W240 X L360 X H80 (MM, Fully aluminium )





Sonic Test Process

Vali
Source Win 7[Foobar2000 WASAPI] -> NFB 10ES 2  SE Fixed Line Out [Low Gain] -> Schiit Vali -> w1000x

NFb10ES2
Source Win 7[Foobar2000 WASAPI] -> NFB 10ES 2  SE Headphone Out   -> w1000x




Sound
Bold Italic is final preference
Italic Text is NFB10ES2
Standard Text is Vali

           
Vali         
Sound Signature- Very clean, a slight bump on the mids and a small dip from upper mids to highs. Maintains a touch of sparkle, with lush mids. I’d call it the reference sound signature for a hybrid tube, tubey mids and bass with the details of a solid state. The Heart and Soul of a tube, with the detail of a solid state!  

Dynamics- quick and effortless
Timbre-  Very Natural  
Speed- Sufficiently quick, yet has very minimal smoothness.  

          Sound Stage:  A  wide sound stage, great instrument separation, and good 3D  and 2D placement of instruments.


It should be noted as well, that the Vali does have a slight hum of noise in the background, as well as being prone to micro-phonics or ringing in response to external vibrations acting on the internal PCB.
Audio GD NFB10ES2
Sound Signature- Very clean, flawless neutral sounding. No color or noise to be found!  Perfectly Pure Sound

Dynamics- Well extended and fast and natural.
Timbre-  Flawless  
Speed- Lighting fast

          Sound Stage:  Very accurate sound stage, depth is wonderful and 2D sound stage is top notch! Sonically, the sound stage presents instruments realistically enough to differentiate the space between each in inches! The NFB 10ES2 is a very neutral sounding amp! It is lacking completely in any color what so ever! Crystal and uncompressed clarity with a JET BLACK presentation, no noise what so ever.