Sunday, January 10, 2016

Garage 1217 Project Starlight

I'd like to start by thanking Jeremy Helms of Garage 1217 for extending this demo unit to me! He was kind enough to even include a few extra tubes for me to roll.

Pros: BLACK background, versatility, build quality, Exceptional Sound Quality

Cons : Headroom, can be finicky


Build [5/5]

Sporting a solid Aluminum base and top with and open chassis, the Starlight has nothing to hide. It features solid metal screws up top to hold the upper plate to the lower one. The volume pot is sensitive and offers a smooth action when changing the volume, in addition to the solid 6.5mm headphone out.  I don’t experience any noise when changing the volume or removing my headphones from the amp. All in all, despite the open chassis, the Starlight is extremely well built, meticulously assembled and rugged.




Specs
Hybrid Tube Amp
OpAmp Output Auad LM4562
Stock Tube is 12UA7 JJ ECC 82
Frequency Response 15- 80, -0.5db, 4-230kHz -3db
Maximum Power 64Ohms: 625 mW RMS per Channel
Maximum Power 600 Ohms: 75mW RMS per Channel
THD <.015% [Depending on Tube, in most cases better]  
SNR >93db
OutPut Resistance is Adjustable [2.5, 34, 72ohm]
Gain ~ 20db (depending on the tube)
Power Consumption 7.2W Peak
Size 5.75L x 5W x 2.75H


Utility [Inputs, Outputs, Features ect…] (4.8/5)

The Starlight has a limitless amount of customization, accepting both 12v and 6v tubes. You can also roll different Opamps into the amp. It also offers 3 different output resistance settings.

The wide range of both tube and opamp combinations give the user an almost limitless variety of sounds. For the purposes of this review I’ll be sticking with the stock tube. My only issue with the amp however, is the lack out RCA outputs.

Now, while Garage 1217 flagship Ember II has Auto Bias, the starlight… does not. With that regard, it can be a little finicky when it comes to adjusting the bias, anytime your swap a tube you’ll need to adjust it. Additionally you may want to just check it every few days as well. For me part of the fun is tinkering around with my Jewelers screw drivers, though for others… they may just find it tedious. 


Price to Performance : [4/5]
[$189-$229 Assembled ] [$159-199 DIY]

          The price is dependent on your choice of base plates; I have the Aluminum plates on my build.  For those of you, able to assemble the DIY kit, the price is even lower! With an almost limitless amount of customization, the Starlight is well worth the price! The only downside to the Starlight though, is it’s inability to drive higher impedance headphones or older less, efficient Orthos.  Meaning, it’s going to perform its best within the 16-300 impedance range of dynamic headphones.

Now, if you’re looking to power a high impedance headphone or a low efficiency ortho, the Project Ember II would be the way to go! 


Chain
          FooBar 2000k KS: Audio GD NFB10ES2 Line out Project Starlight
I used the stock tube for this review.

Sound [5/5]
           
          Sound Signature- The Starlight has a very clean sound, with a very black background an excellent left/right/center channel separation. I found it very enjoyable for gaming, movies and music listening. For me it brought a touch of tube warmth, without a huge loss of sound stage or 3D layering.

Though that sound signature can change drastically, depending on the opamps and tube you’re using.

For example, I swapped in a 6H6N Tube, no idea what brand it is? Or was? Or anything, it was included in my demo set! Either way it sounds REALLY great, it… was very intimate… a little boxy but overall added a very heavy weight to the sound as a whole, without giving me to much decay or a softer upper mid range! Very enjoyable! It offered a nice change in how the amp sounded and gave me an idea of how much the tube in this amp, can change the sound!


Swapping back to the stock JJ ECC 82… I found I gained my sound stage depth back, at the expense of some intimacy and weight.

Closing Thoughts
I highly recommend the Garage 1217 Starlight to anyone looking for an amp to complement any low impedance dynamic headphones; my LA D5k, Senn Grado and Allesandro MS1i are very enjoyable out of the Starlight! It offers an exceptional level of personalization alongside a well balanced and lively presentation.

As a matter of fact, I prefer almost all of my older Jazz recordings with the Starlight as opposed to the NFB10ES2s balanced out! So much so that I'll probably wind up purchasing a Starlight for myself! 

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