Pros: Strong value for money and features
Cons: lacks the transparency and fluidity of the top tier of (more expensive) amps
REVIEW: Meier Audio Corda Classic solid state headphone amp.
My first serious headphone amp was the Meier Audio Corda HA-2 Mk II. It was something of a revelation to me at the time – I had never heard a headphone amp that sounded as good. I didn’t have much experience with headphone amps back then, and the HA-2 mk II was a huge cut above anything I had experienced. The crossfeed was especially important to me as I first got used to headphone listening as a serious alternative to speakers.
I’ve probably listened to over 100 headphone amps since then. Meier has cranked out a pretty steady of very fine headphone amps since that time, including, most recently, the Concerto, which I thought highly of. The Corda Classic is based on the Concerto, with some feature additions, and some tweaks (like, says Meier, using the nicer and costlier Nichicon FG caps rather than the FW of the Concerto). The Classic does have selectable two-stage crossfeed, which is a hallmark of the better Meier amps, and often a useful feature. It also has the subtle bass compensation circuit for the crossfeed, which can be handy regardless of whether one is using crossfeed, to compensate for recordings.
Dr. Jan Meier offered to loan me a Classic for review, to which I happily agreed. Most of the time I will not review products that are not already commercially available, and I never review pre-production prototypes. In this case I agreed to review a production unit in advance of the release date, as Meier's reputation is such that I was not concerned that the unit would not come out. [Note to people who are not long-time readers of my reviews - I almost always review only loaner units from manufacturers, although I will occasionally buy units to review. Such loaner units are provided at no cost to me for the review period, but are NOT "freebies" - following the review I either return them or, on occasion, I will purchase the review loaner].
The Classic, like many solid state amps, outputs significantly more power into low impedance loads than high impedance ones. Jan provided me the following information:
- Maximum output current: 500 mA / channel
- Maximum gain factor: 4,9 x (+14 dB)
- With a source signal of 2V rms the limiting factor normally is the gain factor. Maximum output voltage becomes 9,8 V rms.
- At 600 Ohm: 160 mW / channel
- At 300 Ohm: 320 mW / channel
- At 50 Ohm: 1.9 W / channel
- At 30 Ohm: 3.2 W / channel
As such, I thought it mated very well with the Audeze LCD headphones, The Ultrasone Edition 8, and with the Audio Technica W3000ANV. It also sounded good with the Beyer T1, which is 600 ohm, but the T1 is VERY efficient. Something like the 400 ohm AKG K-340 would probably not do well (but I no longer had a pair to try it).
Looks are also “classic” Meier:
Info from manufacturer’s website: http://www.meier-audio.homepage.t-online.de/classic.htm
Build quality is very good, with a solid but non-fancy chassis, and, mercifully, an on-board power supply that would make many modern speaker/power amps blush.
I auditioned the Classic over several weeks, using the headphones mentioned just above, plus the Ultrasone Edition 8. I compared it to the Red Wine Audio Audeze Edition with the LCD-3, and to the Trafomatic Experience Head One with the AT, Beyer, and Ultrasone cans. As always, my comparisons were done by using an SPL meter to match levels to within <1dB, and calibrated at 80 dB A weighted peaks.
As with the majority of Meier products I have reviewed, the Corda Classic provided what I felt was essentially neutral, transparent, clean, and generally “out of the way” sound, more or less directly connecting source to headphone, within its power delivery limits. The real departures from that come when you start to play with the features.
It's a little difficult to describe the soundstaging of a Meier amp that employs crossfeed, and you can subtly change it. There was no crossfeed setting that gave me the depth or holographic imaging of my Trafomatic or Leben amps, but the soundstage was nonetheless quite convincing. The soundstage does shift with the two stages of crossfeed, as it takes on better center focus but loses some channel separation. The effect is actually fairly subtle most of the time, but on some recordings I much prefer the crossfeed on. The soundstage gains depth and moves out of the head, which is a pleasant effect.
The bass contour can also drive you a bit mad…is it better with or without? Hard to tell. I generally used it when the crossfeed was on, and not when not, but I actually sometimes preferred to use it regardless. The nice thing with both of these features is you can always choose not to use either of them, and in this case the Classic is still a very neutral, transparent, and high quality amplifier.
I would love to say a lot more about its sound, but there really isn’t that much to say, which is a good thing, really. The Classic doesn’t have much of its own flavor. It won’t power crazy-hungry headphones like the Hifiman HE-6, but aside from that, it was revealing enough to allow me to easily hear the difference between some DACs I was comparing while it was here. I thought it was good enough to be the main amplifier for headphones costing 2-3 times what the Classic itself cost, which makes it something of a bargain. It did a good job with detail retrieval, and was nicely extended at the frequency extremes.
If I had to pick a few nits, it doesn’t provide quite the level of iron fisted bass control of the LCD-2 and -3 that I get from the RedWineAudio Audeze Edition, and it doesn’t have quite the same extension at the very top of the frequency range, either. There were also a few times when things seemed to get a little congested on the Classic with the LCD-3, whereas the same piece of music, at the same level-matched volume, did not sound congested on the AE. And the AE may be just slightly more transparent. But otherwise, the difference between the two was not that significant driving the Audeze headphones.
Driving the Ultrasone Edition 8, the Meier again basically stepped aside sonically. I thought the Trafomatic Head One was a little more open sounding in the mids, and has the slightly more holographic soundstage. But remember that the Trafomatic is a significantly more expensive amp. When keeping that in mind, the Meier did very well indeed.
I really wish I still had the Concerto around to compare, but in my Concerto review, I felt that the Concerto could on occasion be just the slightest bit bright. The Classic seems to have resolved that, as I never heard even the slightest bit of brightness from it. Nothing stuck out at all in its frequency response. If anything, the Classic is just the tiniest bit warm, but only slightly. And you can subtly change that with the bass level switch. So you can really do some nice system matching that way.
If you want a neutral, clean, transparent solid state headphone amp that performs at a very high level without costing a fortune, the Meier Audio Classic is a very good option, IMO. I still find that almost all mid-priced solid state headphone amps, for me, lack a little bit of musical realism, compared to what I hear from tube amps. Many will call this effect a coloration, and perhaps it is, although I think it’s more complex than that. And it could certainly be considered a personal bias of mine (although clearly shared by numerous others). In any case, the Classic isn’t going to be confused for a tube amp. I still prefer to listen to headphones through thermionic valves. If it were MY $700, I would buy something like the WooAudio WA6.
But many people don’t want to mess with tubes, and in the under $1K price range, the Classic has a lot going for it. While not exactly cheap, the Classic does provide good value in terms of sonics, rated output, and features, IMO. Jan Meier has a deservedly excellent reputation in the head-fi community, and I think the Classic is a good example of why. Another excellent product overall from the estimable Dr. Meier.