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.