Pros: Very inexpensive but good sounding tube headphone/speaker amp
Cons: not the last word in sound quality (though great for the money); slim on features
I purchased a sample of this amp to review. Normally I don’t do that, but in this case I did, for two reasons:
1.I wanted to try a 6V6 based amp, to get a chance to try this type of tube
2.It was CHEAP! Holy poop, is it cheap - $200!
The MP-301 is actually transformer-coupled. And indeed, it had no problem driving low impedance headphones. Zero hum at all. It’s surprising enough to find an OTL amp at $200 – but a TC one? The worry here is that by necessity the transformers are cheap – and you do hear the sound of the output trannies – so the question is – at that price, can it possibly sound any good?
To find out, I bought some good tubes, to give it a fighting chance. I used Ken-Rad 6V6GT’s, and Mullard 6AU6’s (this is the driver tube type). The tube sockets are spaced too closely together to allow the use of the very sexy ST/”coke-bottle” shaped 6V6G – which is really a pity. There are plenty of 6V6GT’s to be had – including new production ones from Russia and China (which I did not try). I did try Raytheon, Tung-Sol, Sylvania, RCA, and GE 6V6GT’s and Sylvania and RCA 6AU6’s, and all of them sounded pretty good, with some differences that were easily ascribed to the specific tubes used. Tube rolling options are definitely very diverse for this amp. In addition to the 6AU6, the 6AK5 can be used as the driver tubes. However, since the 6AK5 provides more gain, which is not something I needed or wanted, I did not try any of these.
This amp is SMALL – just 9” w x 5.5” deep (not including knobs or jacks):
The amp is sold out of Canada, and according to the seller, designed in Canada, although it is Chinese made:
Note that the headphone jack is around back. This might be a PITA for some folks, but an advantage for others. In any case it is worth noting. I broke the amp in for 120 hours before reviewing. I never had any problem with noise, hum, or anything of the sort with any of the headphones I tried.
So what is amazing about this little amp, is that for $200, it sounds WONDERFUL. It is definitely an all-tube amp. It’s a tubey tube amp. If you are sick of SS and you want to spend just a little money and get a truly tubey sounding amp, this is the one. It’s lush to the point of being just slightly syrupy. It’s slightly rolled off at the frequency extremes. The bass is a little flabby on the bottom (kind of like me).
But you know what? I *always* enjoyed listening to it. A LOT. Every time I would glance over at it, I would smile. How can this thing be making this sound??? It throws a VERY wide soundstage. It BOOGIES. It grooves. It makes MUSIC. Big time. Unfailingly, and earnestly.
Is it the last word in transparency? Good lord no. Earth shattering dynamics? Nope. Treble so etched you can hear the individual hairs on the crickets in the background of the performance? Sorry, not here.
But does any of that really matter when you consider that there wasn’t a single song I played through it that didn’t get my juices flowing? And that – cripes – the thing is $200???? This amp has bedside rig written ALL OVER IT. Need a cool amp for the office, where your PC or iPod will always be your source? Here you go.
Female vocals were a delight, but don’t think the MP301 is just for small jazz ensembles (although these were great through it). Listening to “Never Enough” by Epica, both the vocals AND the driving goth-metal were so meaty I couldn’t really concentrate on anything other than the song. “Eruption > You Really Got Me” from the first Van Halen album also totally cooked through the MP301. Power Pop like “Smash” by The Murmurs propelled along at the right pace. But some music like Third Eye Blind’s “Graduate” was too thick through the MP301. The MP301’s euphonic coloration is still a coloration, after all, and it won’t work perfectly with all music.
It also doesn’t work perfectly with all headphones. It was TERRIFIC with all of my 600 ohm Beyers. It was especially great with the DT880’s. On the other hand, it wasn’t a good match with the JVC DX1000, although I highly doubt anyone will pair the two of them together. But it wasn’t a great fit with the JVC RX900, either, since they are a little thick sounding already.
I did not try the MP-301 as a speaker amp. I could never get it past 9:00 on the volume control with headphones, so I’m sure with efficient speakers it would work fine in a room of modest size. But I wouldn’t recommend it for anything more than a small speaker in an office/bedroom/dorm room type of set up. But if I were about to go off to college (oh, if only I were that young again), taking the MP-301 with me would make perfect sense given how compact it is and that it can drive speakers or headphones. Just don’t ask it to rock the whole dorm during a progressive drinking party.
A lot has been made of the tubes vs. SS dichotomy, and in general, while I have come to much prefer tubes, I think the differences are not that great. But that said, I will also say this: I have absolutely never heard a SS amp that cost $200 that was this musically enjoyable. Sorry SS lovers, but there it is. Even including the $60 or so you have to spend for good tubes, the MP-301 is about the biggest bargain in headphone audio I have heard in a while.
Admittedly, for $100 - $150 more or so there are some pretty nice amps out there. But when we’re at the lower price levels, that $100 can mean the difference between buying an amp or not for a lot of people. If you don’t have a home headphone amp today, and you have $200 to spend, I can’t possibly imagine a better way to spend it. Right now this amp is on sale for $189 – I suggest to RUN to their website and order one if you have been thinking about a cheap tube amp. Highly, enthusiastically recommended.