Pros: A very airy sounding amp with great 3D imaging, wide soundstage, and extremely transparent presentation.
Cons: Awkward shape, drives low impedance earphones/headphones, slight hiss
Ortofon Japan and MHd-Q7 Introduction
Aside from importing and distributing Ortofon's global products such as turntable needles, their Japan office also makes some local Japan-only products such as earphones and amplifiers. Ortofon Japan produced their Hd-Q7 a few years ago and was already reviewed here.
Around early 2012, I was privy to the development of a portable amp Ortofon Japan. But for about 6 months I hadn't heard of any further progress form it until the e-earphone event in mid October where I met my Ortofon contact who then told me that he will ship me the MHd-Q7 for a review.
Physical Design and Signature the MHd-Q7
In a current portable amp market these days, there seems to be a trend to make more powerful amps that can drive high impedance headphones. Raw power seems to be requirement to get some attention and to "fit into the club".
Although Ortofon is a new participant to the portable audio bandwagon with this new portable amp, they have opted to stick to their philosophy of an analogue sounding signature that focuses on subtleties rather than just raw grunt power. As such this amp has a somewhat hint of a tube-ish taste.
As with it's older bigger desktop amp brother, the Hd-Q7, this small portable amp was designed with very stylish and clean-cut lines. It's very simple yet very classy. Although not a very practical shape, it's definitely attractive.
This amp weighs at 150g, measuring 82mm (from the knob to the back), 67mm wide, & 27mm thick. It charges via a miniUSB at the back and a full charge leaves the MHd-Q7 running for approx 22 hours. The input and output 3.5mm jacks are in the front next to two leds (green for power on/off, and red for battery level low). The volume knob acts as a power on/off too.
There was a little weirdness to the circuitry of the amp that when it charges, it will automatically stop charging when it's fully charged. It doesn't trickle charge. So during simultaneous charging and operation, you may find that even though the miniUSB is plugged in, the amp may run out of charge after 22 hrs. You'll need to swtich off/on disconnect/reconnect the miniUSB to charge it again. I've mentioned this to the maker and although they can't make anymore circuitry changes, they've updated their manual to reflect this.
The MHd-Q7 & JDS Labs ODAC combo :-
As with the Hd-Q7, the volume knob is firm yet smooth. No channel imbalance was noticed at -any- setting. There's no sense of scratchiness nor static or noise during the volume knob operation. I wonder why other makers can't do this.
The MHd-Q7 is not a powerful amp. It will drive IEMs and low impedance headphones really well but not designed for high impedance headphones like Sennheiser HD800's, Hifiman HE-series, nor Audeze LCD-series. However headphones like the Fostex TH-900s, and naturally its own IEMs eQ-5 & eQ-7 are fine.
Update [30th April 2013]: The output impedance of this headphone amp is 0.38ohm. This further makes it suitable for the low impedance ear/headphones.
How Does It Sound?
If Ortofon Japan has aimed for a really clean sound that suited for classical and jazz, I'd say that they've done it and very well at it if I may add. The MHd-Q7 maintains very analogue almost tube-ish sound. It's extremely transparent, clear, and has a very airy presentation. It's bass has a nice warm touch to it. The midrange and vocals are also extremely warm and intimate.
Most of all it does a brilliant job of creating a deep 3D imaging and wide soundstage presentation. I must say that in single ended mode, for most of the genre I listen to, I actually lean more towards the MHd-Q7 over the ALO Rx Mk3.
Buena Vista Social Club
Listening to the Chan Chan track the MHd-Q7 sounds richer than the ALO Rx Mk3. It edges out in clarity, transparency and staging. The Rx Mk3 actually sounds flat-ish and un-engaging by comparison. Meanwhile the RSA SR-71b has never really been my favourite amp and remains the same in single ended mode. The SR-71b sounds murky by comparison.
The MHd-Q7 has a nice warm midbass and highly involving vocals whilst the Rx Mk3 has a deeper sub bass but sounds thin in the midbass and mids by comparison. The highs on the MHd-Q7 also sound more airy with clarity and detail by comparison. But probably the combination of the 3D imaging depth, and wide soundstage that grabs my attention. It has a more immersive impression than the Rx Mk3.
Similarly with the El Cuarto de Tula track, the MHd-Q7 sounds more immersive and engaging. Due to the wide soundstage, the instrument separation sounds more distintive yet coherent.
Lana Del Rey's Born to Die
On listening to strong vocals like Lana Del Rey's Video Games, the 3D depth difference is somewhat less but still edges out to the MHd-Q7 than the Rx Mk3. Again, Lana Del Rey's voice is filled with bloom and extremely immersive.
Cher Lloyd's Stick + Stones
For a change, I tried something modern like Cher Lloyd's Want U Back. For fast songs such as this (and the rest of Cher Lloyd's album), the MHd-Q7's tube-ish signature starts to show its weaknesses. The Rx Mk3 responds faster whilst the MHd-Q7 seems to feel laggy.
As such the MHd-Q7, as the makers intended, is not a general purpose amp but catered really for those who like classical, jazz, and slow deep vocals. I do enjoy my Vivaldi collection, 50's/60's West Coast Jazz, Bossnova, and some country vocals such as Anne Murray with this amp.
On the other hand, as previously mentioned, more modern genre like hip hop, electronic, and dance the MHd-Q7 isn't suitable for such genre.
Although the MHd-Q7 has a rather awkward shape for most of the DAC/Amps out, it does work out with some combinations. The JDS Lab's ODAC was already shown above to work quite well and even the new iRiver AK100 seems to match pretty well with the MHd-Q7; resulting in a more cube stack.
Alternatively just using it with an iDevice has also been quite rewarding :-
This amp is quickly becoming my default amp to throw into my satchel. It works well with most of my DACs and earphones I have and most importantly for the easy going genre that I listen to most of the time.