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Apex High-Fi Audio Peak and Volcano

Posted

Pros: Just about everything

Cons: Chassis, is the only thing I could complain about.

I actually decided to buy the Apex Peak/Volcano, I do not regret purchasing this amplifier even though a loaner program was available for sometime, although I don't know if it was still going on when I bought the amp.

 

For headphones I have the Audez'e LCD-2 and Ultrasone Edition 10.  I only used the ED10 very briefly as I actually prefer the sound of the LCD-2 to the ED10s.  So now that is out of the way, I am using a Q-Audio headphone cable, Yulong D100, and Onkyo ND-S1.  I didn't even bother with using the stock tube the amplifier came with as I have a pretty strong NOS collection of 6SN7s.  I ran the amplifier with a Marconi Osram B65 for about 50 hours and switched over to Mullard ECC32 and have about 50 hours on this arrangement.

 

I generally listen to a lot of rock.  One of my favorite albums to listen to on different amplifiers to see their chops is Eric Clapton's One More Car, One More Rider.  So with the Mullard ECC32, I find that I like this sound the most.  The amplifier was meant to play the electric guitar, when Clapton goes into any of his guitar solos, the guitar just sounds so right through this amplifier.  The amplifier is pretty much as advertised, a blank slate for you to roll your favorite tube in and listen.  I like my sound a little bit on the warm/lush side of neutral and so I tend to pick the Mullard ECC32 over the TSRP.  All my favorite characteristics of the ECC32 come through quite nicely.  I find that this amplifier plays the entire audible spectrum extremely well.  The bass is strong, tight, and well blended with the midrange.  The mid range of this amplifier is probably my favorite part.  The electric guitar just sings on this amplifier, but in general I find it plays pianos, saxes, and really presents what is available in your setup.  This amp has actually made me decide to upgrade my DAC once and for all.  BTW I'll say as far as digital sources go, I'm not one of those types that really believes in the whole spend as much as you can on sources, I come from the school of though that is spend your money on the transducers to get to where you need to go, then analog second (amps, preamps, analog section of DAC, etc.), third digital as seen by my reluctance to get more expensive sources than the D100 and PS Audio DLIII. 

 

My other favorite type of music to listen to is female vocalists.  I really enjoy listening to Natalie Merchant, as I find that her music from the mid 90s on to be such great music to listen to.  In any even her voice really just sounds perfect to me with this amplifier.  I've heard her voice a number of different ways now and I just feel like this is about as good as it gets when it comes to amplifiers and in particular with the LCD-2s.  But knowing that more people in the high end communities will use Diana Krall's voice as a reference point as opposed to Natalie's, I'll just say she sounds great to me with this amp as well, but I have less to compare it to so I won't go so far as to call it perfection, well because I don't listen to her quite as much.

 

In general I find this amplifier as having accomplished what I consider to be the ultimate in amplifier architecture.  The vacuum tube being an inherent voltage device and the transistor well suited for current sourcing. To me this amp has just the right amount of warmth to really give the most pleasurable listening experience, but the deep well defined bass that the best solid state amplifiers can give, which can be at times lost in an all tube amplifier.  The treble of this amplifier is nothing short of excellent.  I love the way it presents cymbals being played from a drum set.  In general, this amplifier has all the detail that I care for, great tonal balance, blends the entire frequency spectrum very well.  I have never really found any headphones that terribly impressed me with imaging/sound stage, and I really don't attribute this to the amplifier, although my comment here would be that it is amongst the best I've heard the LCD-2 do.

 

Finally, TTVJ and specifically Todd, is one of best people I have had to deal with in this particular industry so far.  So I certainly recommend this amplifier to anyone looking for a great amp to use with the LCD-2.  I actually think that if you happen to like th ED.10s you will also like this amplifier for them as well, although who knows as I am not one who considers them my favorite headphones so I am not really sure what those folks are looking for.  Anyways, enjoy and I hope this helps anyone interested in purchasing this amplifier.

 

Edit:  As a clarification, I don't think the chassis is bad, I just think its probably the only thing I wasn't floored by.  Its an otherwise very solid construction.  

Posted

Being pretty new to this hobby, I relish the opportunity to try new things.  So it was with excitement that I jumped on the chance to have a home audition of the loaner Peak and Volcano.  That I would be able to just pick it up from the house of a local fellow head-fier who would also help split the shipping costs of sending the battleship of a case it travels in was icing on the cake.  Granted, shipping ended up being something like 12 bucks because of where I work, but that’s another story.  Anyway, all good things usually come with some sort of catch.  Fortunately for me, the only request from Todd was that I post a review and impressions of the amp…so here is said review.  It’s my first one, so I hope you can either bear with me or have stopped reading already.

 

To give folks a point of reference, my normal setup is a Squeezebox Touch, Assemblage DAC 2.7, Stacker II hybrid amplifier, and LCD-2 headphones with ALO cable.  For my audition, I just swapped out the Stacker in the chain.  Occasionally to get my brain recalibrated and to do comparisons, I swapped back and forth on the amps, but for the most part I will try to keep this review on the Peak itself, and not on any kind of in-depth A/B evaluation with my amp.

 

As far as the setup on the Peak, I mostly used the Shuguang Black Bottle 6SN7 and the Volcano Power Supply.  I did some messing around to find a sound I like, and eventually settled on a loaner Oyaide Tunami GPX power cable that I had been trying out.  I also tried some different tubes (including the stock Tung Sol) and the stock power supply, just to see how things changed up.  I definitely found the most enjoyment with the Shuguang tube and Volcano, and so most of my impressions are using that combination.  If I were to purchase the Peak, I would probably consider the Volcano and a tube upgrade about as close to “must-haves” as I’ve run into so far in this crazily subjective hobby.

 

That all out of the way, let’s begin with what I perceived as the strengths of the Peak and Volcano.  Immediately apparent to me was how quiet and black the background was.  There no hum or hiss audible even when I turned the volume up quite loud.  This fed straight into what I think is one of the primary strengths of this amp: separation.  The detail, clarity, and air surrounding the vocals and parts of the mid range, in particular, were very impressive.  Pieces with various sounds like acoustic guitars and vocals displayed excellent space around the different components and with distinct and precise imaging.  For instance, listening to Olomana’s “Kanaka Waiwai” (one of my favorite Hawiian slack key guitar pieces) I felt I could pinpoint where each of the three different guitars were in relation to each other.  This strong imaging was also apparent in other pieces, particularly in electronic pieces where I could clearly hear when sounds shifted and moved laterally from left to right.

 

To go a bit further, I know it has already been said (but bears repeating) that the presentation of the Peak can be described as holographic, almost as if you could perceive different layers of sounds coming from different distances in a 3-dimensional space.  The sound does tends to come from a slightly forward area, like a cone radiating from the center of hearing, but the left and right soundstage is also still pretty good, though not the widest I have heard.  Certain more newly recorded pieces seemed to benefit a great deal from the layered presentation.   While listening to Do As Infinity’s “Baby! Baby! Baby!” I was struck by the different layers I could make out where guitars, vocals, and percussion seemed to originate from different distances in front of me.  Ironically, however, I also felt that this worked against the music in certain pieces  because the Peak sometimes seemed to separate things almost a little too much, occasionally making a sound or passage come across as a little too isolated and not part of a contiguous whole . While this was not a universal experience, I did find it once in a while on some choral works such as the Kyrie movement from “Mozart’s Requiem” and the painfully simple “Walking Through the Empty Age” from Texhnolyze.

 

That being said, the vocals I heard on the Peak were for the most part outstanding.  If I were to put words to it, I would describe them as silky, smooth, with a round fullness through most of the mid vocal range.  On the higher end, I found the Peak very balanced with certain sibilant sounds coming across well but without excessive energy.  This made the tone and presentation quite pleasant and easy to listen to for me, especially since I tend to be sensitive to sounds that are a little more “hot” in the treble area.  On the lower end, the bass extends very deep, though it didn’t seem to have as much thump or rumble as some might desire.  Elsewhere, I found the lower mid range to occasionally be a little muddy or recessed.  For instance, I felt the synthesizers in Depeche Mode’s “Walking In My Shoes” became a little indistinct below a certain point, like I could hear the harmony line playing clearly, but then when it dropped below a certain range it became a little harder to pick out.

 

Overall, the Peak did very well in portraying music, especially ones favoring the middle to upper mid range.  It has wonderful clarity without crossing the line into becoming overly sterile, though to my ears it did seem to lean a touch toward a more faithful presentation rather than emotional involvement.  This isn’t to say that the Peak is cold or analytical, but as with most any piece of equipment in our hobby, it has its own strengths and whether those are right up your alley is a matter of taste.  It definitely has solid vocals, great clarity, and superb imaging, so if a prospective buyer were looking for an amp with those qualities (particularly one that played well with the LCD-2 and towards some of its strengths), the Peak/Volcano would be something I would suggest they listen to if possible.  It’s not a giant-killer or world-beater, but it is an amp that delivers solid performance and one that really excels in certain particular areas.

Posted

Pros: Great Sound

Cons: You don't own it yet

This is my first review on Head-Fi.  In this review, I will do my best to describe what we all know to be an extremely subjective experience.

Before I review the Apex Peak, I think it's important to talk about my experience with Todd the Vinyl Junkie.  I first met Todd when he was working at Headroom.  He has always been a great guy to deal with.  In over 15 years, I have had nothing but positive experiences with him.  Todd has consistently worked hard to give me great service.  He has always taken the time answer questions and has given me accurate and honest advice.  Whenever possible, I give Todd my business.  Along with the service has come exceptional sound quality from Todd Green and Pete Millet's products.  This is what I hear consistently from TTVJ and Pete Millet designs: everything.  What I mean by everything is that, consistently their products have given me the best of tube and solid state worlds.  Hearing what I have from their products, I have to think that they had to start with a goal to deliver the everything as much as possible given the limits of their price points.  These are the products that I have owned:  the TTVJ Millet Hybrid Portable, the TTVJ FET-A, the TTVJ Portable (Slim), and now the Apex Peak with the Volcano power supply.

OK, I know, shut up and review the damn amp.

Most people would start describing the sound of the amp now, sorry.  Before I describe the sonic bliss that is the Apex Peak, I have to tell you about the other equipment involved in my assessment of the Peak.  I used the Wadia 170i modified by Hot Rod Audio,  an iPod Classic, the Brigatta DAC by Pacific Valve, Elementa Advance interconnects by Purist Audio,  and the Beyerdynamic T1 bone stock.  All cuts used were Apple lossless rips from CD.

I listened to a variety of music (iPod on shuffle).  Here is some music that comes to mind:  Generator by the Foo Fighters, You're Blasse by Wynton Marsalis, Remote Control by the Beastie Boys, Meyer: 1B by YoYo Ma, The World We Live In by the Killers, Modern Guilt by Beck and Baker Baker by Tori Amos.

Here's what I heard:  Everything sounded great.  As you can see I used a wide variety of music.  The Peak did well with everything that I played through it.  Strings sounded great.  I heard the texture of sound that comes from YoYo Ma's bow moving across his Cello strings along with excellent harmonics.  Bass drums kicked nicely.  Cymbals sounded very real,  shimmery when it was supposed to be and decaying the way a real cymbal does.  I've heard people describe speed associated with and amp.  Before now, I had not been able to identify what they were talking about.  The sound was three dimensional but only when appropriate.   I could go on about details, but instead I would like to describe what I like in an audio system.

These are the things that move me:  

Great high frequency response.  This is an absolute must for me.  I cannot deal with rolled off highs.  When a system gets it right, you hear every click that begins an attack, like when the beater of a piano hits the string, or the tip of a drum stick hits a cymbal or bell or drum head.  Another example is when a guitar pick picks the string.  At the same time these things need to be heard without the listener saying aaaaagh that hurt.  When there is an absence of sibilance coexisting with incredible high frequency detail, the system did it right.

Decay.  When an instrument speaks the initiation of that sound should be heard.  After that, the instrument's resonance or the echo in the room or the electronic effect applied to the instrument or voice should not end early.

Micro-dynamics.  When attacks can be heard appropriately at their accurate levels of volume, not overly emphasized, not veiled, then life is good.

Tight bass.  Extended but not bloated in mid-bass.  Still, you have to have some bb bass.

All of these things that move me happen in this system that I am trying to describe.  So if any of this sounds like what you enjoy hearing, you should buy the Apex Peak with the Volcano power supply.

Posted

Pros: Open, liquid sound, reliable, made in USA

Cons: not portable, 2 boxes, needs separate DAC (if desired)

I purchased this from Todd the Vinyl Junkie along with a pair of Audeze LCD-3's. I had already decided to buy the Audeze's, and the Peak/Volcano was the #1 choice on this forum, and Todd offers a great return policy, so I felt confident in my purchase. I was more than satisfied with the result.

 

My source material comes  from my Macbook Pro running Audirvana Plus, feeding into one of two devices I have with high-end DACs. One of those devices is an OPPO BDP 105 that has been upgraded by The Upgrade Company in Michigan. This is a fantastic sounding player with its own headphone jack, but the sound quality was definitely better feeding the analog out from that device into the Peak/Volcano than using the Oppo directly.

 

As chance would have it, I needed to sell the preamp from my main system. That preamp was a Mark Levinson No. 32, which sells for about 7 times the cost of the Peak / Volcano. However, any port in a storm. I had ordered an integrated amp, but it took many months to arrive, and so I used the Peak / Volcano as my primary preamp for those months, in a system in which the wires were more expensive than that preamp. While I won't pretend that it was as good as the No. 32, it did remarkably well--really, outstanding for its price. It includes three single-ended inputs and single ended line out connecters. There's no remote control--just a volume knob, a standby knob, and an input selector--but I was amazed at how well it did. Compared with the far more expensive gear I was used to, its primary drawback was just a bit of emphasis on the upper bass--a feature that many users will probably appreciate (I tend to go for absolute neutrality).

 

I have only listed to it with the supplied Sophia Electric 6SN7 tube, although I have enjoyed reading the forums talking about tube rolling. During thie past 6 months, it has been totally reliable and consistent.

 

Back to its use as a headphone amp: I can't claim a fully accurate comparison, but it has sounded better than any of the headphone amps I have listened to in stores. Given that its sound quality as a system preamp matches that of preamps costing twice its price (although typically with better cosmetics and remotes), I would recommend it wholeheartedly. Adding to that is my appreciation for Todd and his very helpful policies, which take the risk out of auditioning it.

Posted

Pros: Powerful, yet balanced and detailed sound.

Cons: Stacking the units caused a feedback sound to my headphones.

Apex High-Fi Audio Peak and Volcano

 

You can read about the specs from the description and the other reviews.

 

There is a reason this set-up is listed as the most popular headphone amp - the audio quality and design and nothing short of amazing.

 

I am a noob in the headfi community.  I have been a member for just over a year now and have been able to make it to the mid-tier of headphones and headphone amps.  The HD800, LCD3, HE600 are still out of reach for my budget.  For this review I used the Hifiman HE4, Hifiman HE5LE, and the Denon 5000 to listen to my music.  My sources were my mac mini, iPhone, and Hifiman 601 player all using Flac or lossless music.  I listened to classical, classic rock, rap, r&b, and hip-hop.

 

The Apex High-Fi Audio Peak and Volcano was loaned to me by Todd, the CEO of Apex.  He was kind enough to let me demo his unit and because I loved it so much it is going to be my next big purchase.  

 

I have been using all of my headphones for the past few months with a Hifiman EF2A entry level tube amp and a Nuforce ICON HDP amp/dac.  Because I am so new to this hobby, this setup kept me more than happy, in fact I was in love with the combination of headphones I have as well as both amps.  I was up late one night and saw there was a demo program for Todd's amp/power supply combo.  Just like most of you, my curiosity got the best of me and I asked to take part in the program.  Todd responded to me the next day and within 2 more days the unit was shipped to me to San Diego all the way from Michigan.  This demo program costs a lot of money just to ship the unit.  So, thank you Todd for your generosity.  But by no means, is this review a reflection of his kindness.  It wouldn't be fair to anyone if I wrote this review under the influence of his kindness.  I read all of your reviews and trust that your reviews are your own thoughts because that's most likely where I will be spending my money next.  Sorry for the long winded explanation, but now onto the review.

 

The first thing I noticed when I unboxed the demo unit was the build quality.  Just by the looks and feel, I have no doubt that this setup would last years and years before anything failed.  I would have no issues buying this unit used on headfi because I know that any unit used responsibly will last me forever.  Unfortuneatly I never see these used, probably because the owners don't want to part ways with this set-up.

 

Second, it literally took me 2 minutes to set the unit up.  One power cord from the power supply to the amp, insert the tube and plug in the power cord into the wall.  I then hooked up my mac mini to listen to Apple lossless music with all three of my headphones for a hour a night for 4-5 nights for each set-up.  The most impressive trait of the unit is the clean and clear sound of the music.  Nothing is over expressed - the power had a balanced natural sound that enhanced and got the most out of all three of my headphones.  The biggest surprise to me was with the Denon 5000.  Before I demoed the Apex set up, I never really enjoyed my Denon's.  I thought the bass was too muddled and the sound was too unbalanced for me.  But I do prefer Hifiman headphones because I prefer the sound of the orthodynamics- they are more balanced and clearer in my opinion(I know all of this is subjective though).  The 5000's were my first headphones to demo and it was instantly clear how clean the power output is.  The denon's became enjoyable to listen to.  The bass became so much clearer and less muddled that I actually enjoyed listening to them for the first time ever.  I was on the verge of listing them on headfi to sell, but I realized that my problem was the amp.  It was that or commit more money and send them away to get modded...Now I can keep them as they are and when I want that closed sound I just need to buy my own Apex setup.

 

I then used my hifiman headphones with the hifiman 601 and I was amazed.  I no longer have the desire to buy the HD800's or the LCD3's...I am in love with this setup.  I haven't purchased a single new headphone after demoing the APEX unit.  I realized that the APEX brought out the best of my hifiman 601 and the headphones.  A lot of people complain about the high sound that comes out of the Hifiman ortho's and it is true with the Nuforce HDP.  The high treble sound puts too much pressure on my ears and my ears get fatigued quickly.  With the Apex Peak I listened to the headphones for hours.  My wife actually came and got me out of the office to go to bed.  I was listening to my music until 3am...I had listened to all the genres of music I have for 4 hours straight.  It was one of those moments where I completely tuned into my music and nothing else existed.  That was it for me...I knew I had reached and end to desire more expensive gear.

 

I know this review isn't technical - I apologize I don't know as much as all of you in that sense.  I do know what sounds good though and this is it.

 

There is a reason this AMP is number one on the headfi list and it is because the sound is amazingly awesome.  For me, this will be my next purchase.  If anyone has one they want to sell to me, send me a PM.  If I missed something in this review that you would like to know, please send me a PM.

 

 

Posted

Pros: Speed, clarity, incision, impact, separation, dimension.

Cons: Very slight emphasis on upper frequencies.

I was listening to music through the Peak yesterday.  And it was such a thrilling listening session.  However, I did something unusual: I stopped.

 

I hit the pause button after a particularly great song, and took off the headphones.  I held my breath for a moment, and closed my eyes.  I wanted to remember this moment.  Just in case it never sounded this good again.

 

"That was it," I said to myself.  The place I've been trying to find for a few years now.

Then, as I recalled the long and expensive journey that got me here, I became a little upset with myself.

 

I was upset with all the money I had spent on "audiophile headphone amps" which, as it turns out, left so much to be desired.  Then I thought to myself:  Without that journey, would I be able to appreciate just how good this amp truly is?  Probably not, I concluded.  But I suppose I'll never know for sure.

 

So, I came back to the Peak today, and began listening.  And, you know what?  The magic is still there.

The music is immediate, alluring, and crystyal clear.  It is exceptionally well defined, but never analytical.  I can follow each instrument, and locate it spacially.  From the moment of attack, all the way through its decay.  Transients are incredible, but the music never becomes shouty.  In fact, the control through busier passages is something of a revelation to me. 

I will admit that I hear something of an emphasis on the upper frequencies, as others have.  But I will go one further in saying that my ears have been listening to tube amps for a while now, and I'm fairly certain that there's simply more high frequency information here than I'm accustomed to.

 

In summation:  This amp is fantastic.  That's just all there is to it.

 

Update - May 2012:

I just purchased my second Peak/Volcano, giving me matching (sort of) work and home rigs.

And I am pleased to report that the standby and power lights on the Peak/Volcano now are matching yellow, in lieu of the green standby LED used in the first batch.  A subtle change, sure, but one that makes the Peak/Volcano a touch better looking when switched off.  biggrin.gif

Posted

Pros: The sound, Todd

Cons: It's black - I'm a silver guy.

I had borrowed some HD800s for a weekend, and used them w/my Cayin and Benchmark USB amps. I found them to be easily the best headphones I had heard , and was quickly aware that my current amplification was not really up to what these puppies could give me. I bought the phones, and pursued a new amp.

I called Todd because of his great reputation. He is VERY easy to do business with. After discussing things he recommended his Peak/Volcano combo. He specifically told me that Pete is particulary proud of the P/V design and sound. He feels it is 90% of the experience of the Pinnacle, at least - but at 21% of the cost. Todd repeatedly told me he really is no hassle with his 30 day return - if I don't like it, return it (he told me at least 3 times). So I bit.

 

It was not love at first listen. I had a sputtering tube in the left channel (Shuguang black bottle). 15-20 hrs later the tube was quiet (Todd offered to send me a new tube out immediately, but I figured it would settle down w/burn in). Things were now deep dark quiet, but the magic still wasn't there. Good sound, but not GREAT. A week later, I was hoping for more, so I started component switching, and whoa Nellie! - I 've got the synergy!!!!  I'm running my Simaudio Andromeda CDP digital out into my Benchmark, SE out into the P/V.

 

from Positive Feedback-

Todd likes the warmth and humanity of tubes, but he also like the articulation, detail and tight bass of solid-state components. Tube stuff shouldn't sound fuzzy or artificially warm. That's where the hybrid design comes into play. It's not edgy sounding but it has definition and detail."

 

That says it perfectly. Also, as others have said, it is almost holographic in it's 3 dimensionality. It is quite evealing of different tubes - I have 3 tubes that I'm going nuts with - a tall bottle chrome Sylvania 6SN7GT, a Raytheon 6SN7WGT, and the Shuguang. I don't know which I like best - it's like being at the counter inside the Ben and Jerry's ice cream factory - which flavor do you want? I don't know , I love them all - how about a triple scoop!

I will say I tried the "holy grail" Tung - Sol oval plate and found it way too warm and thick.

 

I won't bore you anymore - the prior reviews have explained the strengths of this P/V combo very well. I'm just tossing another one in the ring! Let me sum up by saying that with the HD800s and the P/V, I have never heard such good sound. By a country mile.

 

 

 

 

Posted

Pros: Incredible 3-D like sound stage, tight bass, extended highs, easy tube rolling.

Cons: Casing and design feel light.

 

A wise man once told me, “Ignorance is bliss”.  Pausing for a moment, he then corrected himself, “Actually, ignorance was bliss”.  Never were truer words spoken with my return to Head-Fi after having been “blissful” these past three years.  Having worked through a bit of gear, which I will describe below, and a number of posts, I made peace with my equipment and tried to focus on my music.  Unfortunately, some minor, but annoying issues that seem to be related to my house’s wiring, my power amplifier and/or some noisy tubes led to a call to Todd @ TTVJ last month for some audio advice.

Now, I have known Todd since 2002 or 2003 when he was at Headroom toting amps across the country for the benefit of crazed Head-Fi members.  And while I have bought equipment from him over the years, as well as from Headroom, our relationship has been strictly business.  Well, with the exception of the fact that we are both ex-pat Michiganders, albeit Todd is a “Upper” (pronounced “yooper”).

While discussing my audio equipment frustrations, Todd graciously offer to add my name to the loaner list for his new Apex Peak/Volcano.  Now, when somebody offers you a number one slot to try out  Pete Millett-desinged tube gear, its awfully hard to say “no”, especially when you lost your tube virginity to a Wheatfield amp courtesy of Headroom’s World of Headphones Tour (and Todd).  Well, ignorance was bliss!

The amp arrived over a week ago, complete with a host of goodies to try out with the stock unit.  And it arrived in a crate big enough to hold a mess of rock band groupies!  Unfortunately, Todd forgot to pack them along.  But he did remind me to “have fun” with the amp, and I have doing my best to follow orders.

For those of you that have been patiently waiting, and wading, through these paragraphs to find out how the blasted thing sounds, hold on a bit, as we are almost there.  First, I need to describe my current system so you have some idea of my perspective.  My system resides in my somewhat small living room, is positioned along a long wall, and throws across the short side of the room.  Its not an ideal arrangement, but it works better than it sounds, and it creates an intimate atmosphere for my Rega Jura speakers (which have an extremely high WAF rating BTW).  Amplification is courtesy of a Rega Mira3 integrated amplifier, with the pre-amplifier section bypaseed so the unit is acting strictly as an amplifier.

Pre-amplification is courtesy of a custom Mapletree Audio EAR++ III that Dr. Peppard built for me several years ago.  The EAR++ III is also a headphone amplifier, so I will try to give comparisons of the two units as both pre-amplifiers and headphone amplifiers.  My sources are quite modest.  I am using a Sony CE595 CDP that I had hoped to have modified by TRL, but alas, it has remained stock, yet it still serves me quite well.  I am also a fan of radio, and have Arcam tuner, but am also auditioning an HD tuner at present.  We are blessed to have a great jazz NPR station locally, so I try to take advantage of it whenever possible.  So, all in all, its what I would call a reasonable “mid-fi”system, but one that has not been tinkered with for a few years.  Remember, ignorance was bliss!

Now, finally, on to my initial impressions.  Let’s begin with the Peak as a pre-amplifier.  In short, you would have to be dead not to be able to hear the differences between the Peak, the EAR++ III, and the Mira3 as a fully integrated amplifier.  While none of them are offensive in any way shape or form, I would say that all three pieces of equipment are true to their technology and price points.  And my wife, with the “golden ears”, seems to have confirmed this when I asked for her opinions.

Using an Ella Ffitzgerald CD with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra accompanying her as a test CD, the Mira3 offered a nice tight bass, but it always seems to exhibit the same presentation that pushed me to bring tubes back into the house (I owned a Jolida 302B before the Mira3 and EAR).  I always feel the need to turn up the volume to hear any details in the music, and this almost always seems to lead to listener fatigue after a couple of hours.

On to the EAR++ III.  True to form for a point-to-point tube amp, the EAR has a wonderful mid-range that is rich and smooth, but not syrupy.  Bass is nice, but I would not say it is the emphasis of the amp’s signature sound.  The soundstage is reasonable, and give you the feeling of a “mid-hall” perspective.  With the EAR acting as a pre-amplifier, music nicely blends into the background, and I could listen all day long with a smile on my face.

Now, on to the Peak.  Well, I initially pulled the EAR out of the system and replaced it with the Peak without all of the goodies that Todd shipped.  Who knew my speakers could sound that good?  My god, the bass with there in spades, and tight as a drum.  The mid range was quite nice, but the soundstage was what totally blew me away.  My wife’s comments reconfirmed my initial comments.  The voices and instruments sounded 3-dimensional, almost holographic.  Each instrument was clear and well defined.  You felt like you were sitting in the front row of a concert hall, or in the recording booth of a studio.

As the wife is out of the house now, I am listening to The Blind Boys of Alabama’s Atomic Bomb (and the the volume is just a wee bit louder ).  Its a great album, and a great test for most things bass.  And if The Blind Boys of Alabama will pardon the expression, I think think their CD could raise the dead with the Peak acting as my pre-amplifier! I have ample bass, but its not bloated.

I know many people hate the term PRAT, and even though Rega is known for it, I never easily found it in my system.  Well, the Peak certainly changed that.  But rather than use the term PRAT, I would say that the Peak is extremely engaging, evident by my frequent toe-tapping.  This initially had me worried, as I was concerned that I would find this presentation quite fatiguing.  However, after being in the dining room (which is adjacent to my living room) and listening to music for several days while I worked on a project, I did not find that to be the case.  The amp is not as laid back as the EAR++ III, but the details that I kept hearing were quite enjoyable.  If I had a party or was in a mellow mood, I would probably choose the EAR.  If I wanted to be engaged, the Peak would certainly be my choice; it makes good recordings sound great. It won't work miracles on marginal recordings, but they sound no worse for the wear.

Now, I know everybody wants to know about “the goodies”.  To be honest, I have been so impressed with the improvement in sound with the introduction of the stock Peak, that all of the goodies seem like icing on the cake.  If I had the unit for a bit more time, and the wife was out of the house a bit more, I might be able to give a better impression (come to think of it, she is working late tomorrow night ).  Also, the amount of time it takes to power down, change gear, and power back up really makes quick comparisons quite challenging.  And, while my system is quite enjoyable, it is not going to easily showcase some of the differences as a higher end system should.  So, since I know that some of the others on the loaner list have some nice rigs, I am going to let them give more detailed answers about “the goodies”.

I know that I have not yet addressed the Peak as a headphone amp, but having been taken by its strengths as a pre-amplifier, I have not spent as much time with my headphones.  However, my initial reactions to the Peak as a headphone amp are similar to my comments above, but the differences between the EAR++ III and the Peak are not quite not as pronounced, and this may be more of a factor of my Sennheiser HD-600’s than of the amps.  As I still have a few more days with the Peak, I am hoping to do a bit more listening through my Sennheisers and Ety ER-4’s, so look for more impressions to come. Stay tuned...
 
--Ken
Apex High-Fi Audio Peak and Volcano
Description:

The Peak headphone amp/preamp was designed by Pete Millett and sold exclusively through TTVJ. The Peak is a hybrid amplifier using a 6SN7 input tube and a class A MOSFET output stage. The Peak comes with a standard multi voltage power supply or can be upgraded with the Volcano power supply. A 1/4" jack is provided for headphone use. There are 3 inputs on the amp and 1 pre amp output. Unique design as well as high quality parts make this amp sound so good and yet affordable. Hand built in the USA!

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