Pros: Fantastic sound, solid construction, good EQ
Cons: Open design may be a problem for some
I purchased this tube amp on eBay for 75 dollars in new condition. This is my first tube amp of any kind. The only other headphone amplifier I have owned is the Fiio E5.
First of all, I will state the entire listening set up I have that I use with this in order to provide a more solid frame of reference for the review:
- My turntable is an Audio-Technica LP-120 turntable with the green stylus that came with it. It tracks at 1.5 grams.
- I use a dedicated phono pre-amp rather than the internal one. The pre-amp I use is the Art DJPpre II Phono preamplifier.
- For CDs I use my LG blu ray player's RCA outputs. When I listen to CDs I do have to turn the volume down as the CD audio is louder than what the vinyl set up outputs, but this is not a problem.
- Finally, the headphones I use with this are Sony MDR-V6 headphones. They have an impedance of 63 ohms.
- As different set ups can be better or worse for different genres, I'd like to state that my listening preferences largely are made of blues, 60s rock (The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Animals, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, etc), blues-metal/blues-rock (Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath), heavy metal spanning from the 80s to now (ie, I like Iron Maiden, but also recent bands like Rammstein, Tyr, and Alestorm), and to a limited extent some electronic music (Kraftwerk). I also like a few punk bands, such as The Ramones, Buzzcocks, and The Undertones. I also like some miscellaneous other groups like R.E.M. and Rush. I have in fact listened to music from all of these genres since owning the amp & MDR-V6 headphones to get an idea of their versatility.
Overall, I absolutely love this pre amp. Compared to my FiiO E5 pre amp I feel like this provides a more natural and less harsh sound. Granted, these differences are marginal and not night and day, but I do notice the difference a bit. I also notice that CDs with more modern mastering sound better. CDs with clipping sound like the clipping is softened a bit which makes them more listenable. CDs & vinyl mastered with good dynamic range sound VERY lively. Loud sounds hit hard, and softer sounds are noticeable but not overbearing -- just the way good mastering should be.
I don't really use the EQ settings. I find that a flat setting gives the best sound. Do note that if yours arrives and the sliders are all at the bottom you need to move them up to the middle. Mine were at the bottom when it came and I thought that must be the flat setting (which I found odd), and quickly figured out my initial intuition that they ought to be moved to the middle were correct. In my set up, the bass notes hit hard and accurately. They don't rumble like those "beats" headphones. It's very precise. Some may not like this, but I enjoy the accuracy. After all, this amp DOES have an EQ if you want more bass. In any case, when listening to Kraftwerk's "The Mix" and "Minimum-Maximum" I found the bass impact more than enough. The mids sound great and natural to my ears, and the highs are not harsh, but clear and precise.
Inevitably, this review also ended up being partially about my headphones, as one cannot listen to a headphone amp without headphones. I can't really compare this to other tube amps since I have never had another tube device, nor can I state how it will sound on other set ups, but for me this is just perfect. I love it, and understand why others love tub amps (again, it's not a night and day difference, it's subtle, but there). If you have similar headphones, a similar set up for your turntable, or similar musical preferences, you may enjoy this. Do keep in mind that this is an open design so you will have to have a can of air to keep dust out of it, and make sure pets stay away. Another possible downside is that I noticed if I leave both the red/white RCA cables and the auxillary input plugged in the volume takes an audible drop by around 2-3 decibles, even if the other device plugged in is completely off. For this reason I only keep one device plugged in at a time.