Pros: Very Well balanced, Forgiving, Non Fatiguing, Good Sound-Stage Depth, Powerful, Neutral but fun, Bass Impact and slam, Small physical footprint
Cons: Lacks detail compared to Burson, Bass rolloff below 40hz, Sound bleeding from other inputs, Volume pot sensitive for some IEMs
First I would like to thank Todd The Vinyl Junkie for giving me the opportunity to review this unit. I would also like to mention that I am always honest with my reviews. If I don’t like a product I will let you know, I won’t hold back any criticism. So I hope that this review will be helpful to anyone considering the purchase of the APEX Butte headphone amplifier.
I would say that I’ve first heard about APEX audio earlier this year and I’ve been interested in hearing some of their products. Unfortunately most of their products were just way out of my price range. I believe this is one of the reasons that they produced the Butte. The Butte is effectively a very good entry product in their line to showcase the APEX name brand and their products in my opinion. So how well has it done this? You’ll have to read to the end to find out for yourself. For testing this headphone amplifier I used the following:
Lossless Music, Some 24/96
Music Streamer II+
Burson 160 (For Comparison)
Build and What’s included
So whats included? Well honestly not a whole lot, I would like to point out though that the packaging was very good and I can’t see it getting damaged in transport. The only thing included was the amp itself and the wall wart that goes with it. Simple and to the point I suppose, however I keep thinking about the fact that it uses a wall wart when most things in this price range would have some pretty hefty transformers in the unit itself. I suppose though that the sound quality will tell all.
So how is built? Well, I’d have to say its built pretty solidly. The case is made of good metal and I believe the front panel is made of wood but don’t quote me on that. The knobs and buttons could feel a little more solid though. They are not bad but they are not like a Burson either. It is a very small, low profile case and that might work extremely well for those with smaller desk or spaces.
Connectivity and Power
One other thing to note is that unlike most amplifiers this one has two separate inputs, however that's where some of the troubles start. One of the inputs is a set of RCA inputs and the other input is a 3.5mm jack for connecting things like iPods I suppose. As others have mentioned there is bleed over from the other inputs when they are not selected. I don’t hear any noise when the other one is off and I don’t get any buzzing or weird noises like others have reported though. This problem does make the two inputs a little less useful if you start having ground issues or one of your sources need to remain powered on. I’d still count it as a plus as many of us have more then one source for our amps.
How much power does it have to drive those hungry headphones of yours? Well 750mW into 33 Ohms according to the official site and I believe it, I never had to go past 11 O’clock with my 702s. Well, I would say it likely has more power then you’ll ever need for conventional headphones, the only ones you might have problems with are some like the HE-6 or K1000s but for general use it has more then enough power. In fact it might be a little too powerful for in ear monitors, I felt that when using IEMs that the attenuator was a little too touchy.
The first thing I noticed when I started listening was how much impact bass notes hit with. I feel that the bass with this amp is rather odd. It almost sounds like it starts rolling off just ever so slightly below about 40Hz as another user has also observed. However even with this slight roll off of lower frequency it has more impact then a lot of other amps I’ve heard. It tends to really kick and punch out those notes, doing so with a decent, but not amazing amount of detail.
Another thing I noticed is how neutral and uncolored it sounded. Its one of the most neutral amps I’ve heard and yet not exactly a what goes in comes out kind of deal either. It has a very smooth sound that tends to make poor recordings sound a little better due to its forgiving nature. No one frequency seemed to stick out from the rest, everything blended together very coherently.
One thing this amp does lack in my opinion is detail. Maybe its bit harsh to compare it right up against the Burson but it seems fair to me, both being near the same price range and both being solid state. The Butte tends to be smooth sounding as mentioned but I find that this is so at the cost of detail. The detail is present but seems to take a backstage to things rather then presenting it to you in a proper manner. This seems to hold true across the frequency spectrum.
The smoothness I mentioned earlier also gives this amp a euphoric “Fun” sound.. I don’t know how they accomplished to both be neutral and fun at the same time but apparently its possible. If you listen to a lot of trance or anything that you might zone out on, this would be a very fun listen. It sort of just lets you transport yourself into the music.
The Butte definitely does sound-stage well, but different from a lot of amps. It has a pretty good width to the sound-stage but where it really shines is depth. It has a really accurate and large sound-stage depth for a amp in this price. I would go so far as to say that the depth is larger and more well controlled then the Burson however the width is not as wide or controlled as the Burson, so it has its trade offs.
Transparency is very good and you can clearly distinguish different instruments. You can really notice this when there is natural reverb, you can distantly and clearly hear the separation from the actual singing and the reverb of the singer. The transparency is truly great.
You will never have to worry about fatigue with this amp. The treble is very mellow and a little laid back which means you’ll never have your ears pierced by screechy highs or peaks in the frequency. Honestly this has almost a tube like sound to the upper frequencies very musical, but well extended.
Very well balanced
Good sound stage depth
Neutral but fun
Bass Impact and slam
Small physical footprint
Lacks detail when compared to Burson
Slight bass roll off below 40Hz
Sound bleeding from multi inputs
Sound-Stage width not as controlled as Burson
Volume Pot too sensitive for some IEMs
This amp does a lot of things very right in my opinion. For the price I don’t think there are any amps that I’ve heard that can compete. I’ll admit I was skeptical of how this would sound seeing the wall wart and no large capacitors inside (looking at Tyll’s pictures) but wow was I impressed. It has a very different sound from the Burson 160 amp that I have and some my like it and some might not. Its more fun sounding, then the Burson yet at the same time retains extreme neutrality. Its not quite as revealing as the Burson but that can be good on poorer recordings, this is why its such a forgiving amp. Besides some slight roll off below 40Hz, the neutrality is something to be admired, not to mention the amount of impact bass notes can hit with, truly astounding. The impact is rivaled only by much more expensive amps such as some of the Eddie Current stuff. I’ve not heard a ton of amps but I’ve heard quite a few and this stacks up well against a lot of them I’ve heard, its very unassuming from the size of this unit.
Its not all peaches in cream however there are a few things I would really like to be resolved in the next version or in a update to the production units. I would love to see the multiple inputs fixed. As it stands if you want to leave two devices plugged into it you will definitely hear them even when that input is not selected. I would also like to see a hi and low gain switch on the front for more control over the volume when using IEMs. But all said and done this is magnificent amp and gets a 5/5 from me!