Alright, I actually have long known this amp from reading the local headphone forum (www.sgheadphones.net
) but in the end I’ve got myself a used Melos SHA-1. I have more disposable income now so…. Ha!
Anyway, for those who are interested in getting one for himself while he’s in Singapore, you can do so from Precision Audio which is located on the first storey of “The Adelphi” Shopping Centre, which is accessible by City Hall MRT Station....all locations are very near to Orchard Road and Chinatown. If you are a photographic and computer enthusiast, I am sure the prices over at Peninsula Plaza/Peninsula Hotel Shopping Centre and Funan Centre is lower than most countries (low tax here also, 5% only and it’s refundable at the airport…if you can afford to queue up that is…haha). Here’s a map : http://www.streetdirectory.com.sg/si...evel=6?292,281
Price of the HA-1A including taxes and credit-card charge absorbed : S$650, or about USD360. Dealer agent is good enough to give me a 2-month One-to-One shop exhchange warranty, backed by 1-year warranty from the main distributor (Ban Leong Enterprises).
The dealer is a very friendly person and provides excellent aftersales service.
A little introduction :
Source : Marantz DV6400. Decent and Safe source which has not many flaws, outstanding price-performance ratio, even though it’s discontinued now (paid only USD240 new beginning of this year)
Cables : DIY 0.75m of Van Den Hul D102 III Hybrid
Headphone in test : HD650
Amps : Melos SHA-1 rolled with Mullard E88CC CV2492, internal wiring changed to Van Den Hul SCS-16 wiring (supposed to be top-end in the lineup), wired directly from RCA jacks to PCB, skipping 3-way selector switch.
Cayin HA-1A rolled with Mullard ECC83, Tesla E802CC and 2 x JJ EL84
(Actually I started off with a Earmax + HD600 about 9 years ago….i know its bad combi if you wanna blast, rolled it with high-end Mullard and Siemens NOS tubes but that still failed to bring it to the quality I wanted…. It’s in cold storage now anyway after I got the SHA-1. Very cute little amp though, and it’s reliable enough to be still working now)
Music : main test disc is Analogue Production’s Breaking Silence from Janis Ian. Some classical stuff from Deutsche Grammaphone SACDs (particularly Anne Sophie Mutter), vocal stuff from Chesky SACDs, good CDs like Jazz at the Pawnshop etc…….
Linkin Park, Ferry Corsten and some trance stuff for fun… heh
Declaration : I do not have golden ears. I have been to hifi shops and I do not hear a single difference when people switched between a $500 power cord and a normal $2 cord. I do not hear the difference when you put coins on cables, plugs, equipment. I listen to music, I care more about the music, I choose to collect more music that’s why I have about 600 discs and so little equipment. So I guess the difference I hear here could be pretty significant for others.
I have been burning in the setup/tubes for about 18-hours now and finally got down to seriously listen to it. Anyway, the stock Chinese and Russian tubes suck big time when I first plugged in the system. Haha…..no reason to even want to waste time and burn them in.
I shall not write a full detailed review but I shall just write out the most significant differences and impressions.
First things first, aesthetics and built. This is quite a well-built amp. Solid front aluminum face-place, a knuckle test indicate that it’s pretty solid. The chassis cover is the usual computer chassis stuff, but it’s the thick stuff and not those hollow covers on the mainstream Cambridge Audio, Rotel, Marantz equipment. I’d say more solid than my Melos SHA-1.
Of course this is still tube stuff, so don’t try to abuse it when moving around. You will not get this kind of built from USD350 stuff from Marantz, Denon, Rotel etc…. never seen it. RCA plugs and speaker lugs are of of good quality. When opening up the unit, I found that my unit is the latest version 4 (?) one…. My toroid transformer is shielded, and the LED in the tubes section is orange in colour and not blue as found in some of other versions. Personally, I find orange to be better suited for the tubes compared to blue.
Secondly, this thing runs pretty hot. The huge chassis can buffer a lot of the heat until about 1 hour later where the top part gets warm to touch. My digital thermometer indicated a temp of about 55 deg C, so it’s even hotter inside. But it’s hot here, night time temperatures hover around 27 deg C, so this could be a non-issue for temperate countries like the US. Specs indicated 60W, and I guess most of this gets wasted as heat.
Thirdly, I couldn’t really hear a significant difference between the ultralinear and triode mode. Can’t pinpoint anything, but maybe the ultralinear is more “Exciting” to hear? Music sounds every slightly more punchy? Triode is more relaxing? Anyway, there is one significant difference, that is the triode mode has a noise floor that is lower, as in the hiss is much less. You will hear the hiss when no music is playing, and in ultralinear mode that is quite objectionable….so it could be an issue for low-volume music. Triode mode is quite ok. There is a very so slight hum when no music is playing, but there is no issue even for a low-volume track because this is very low in level (note pls : my version has a shielded toriod transformer and not the exposed one).
Fourthly, my tubes are slightly microphonic. A fingernail rap test on the chassis indicate the problem to be on the left channel. Left JJ EL34? Not sure…to be experimented. Not an issue too, my SHA-1 is even more microphonic. For headphones listening, this is not a problem, compared to speaker listening.
Fifth. Now the interesting part, the sound. Starting from the bass, I am not sure to say whether it’s the SHA-1 that is lower extension in the bass or that the HA-1A has a more pronounced presence in the mid and high bass, I guess I’d go for the latter. It could be the tubes in the HA-1A. I went for the Mullard ECC83 instead of the Mullard CV4004 because I heard from 2 reliable sources that the CV4004 is quite warmish (besides CV4004 is 4 times costlier). If this is really true, then the CV4004 may not be suitable if you are not after a warm sound. Compared to the SHA-1, the HA-1A is definitely warmer and has more presence in the upper bass, lower mids. More than enough for my vocal CDs.
Another quite noticeable difference is the SHA-1 has slightly better punch, or what they call transients? The guitar plucks have more presence and I can pick them out individually better. I am not sure what guys call this, but I could pick out individual instruments better on the SHA-1 too. This is the only area(s) which the SHA-1 that I found to be more enjoyable for me. (remember – for me, your mileage may vary)
The SHA-1 has better extension in the high treble. The HA-1A has got more of it in the mid and lower treble. I found both to be palatable for me, not much preference for either, I can live with both.
Now, very important thing here, which do I prefer? Seriously it could be due to the new and different sound, but I find that the HA-1A presented the music as a whole rather than in a “High-Fidelity” way. I do not own a lot of equipment and of course I have zero musical talent, but in these 15 years of music listening I’d prefer music first, equipment and hobby second. I find that the SHA-1 is pretty good, the overall presentation is that it is a very clean, detailed and “hifi” way of playing music. I am not good with audiophile terms, so in a nutshell it’s enjoyable in a hifi way.
A short side-track. I have listened to the Stax SR-4040 and at first I was bowled over by the immense details. Every fingernail pluck is heard clearly, and at first I was very impressed. Deep bass extension is actually very good. After 2 hours, I was still deciding if I should buy it… But I decided against it because it is not my cup of tea, it is too hifi and too sterile, it focuses too much on instrument individuality and whacks your face with much with this. I could not sit back and enjoy the show. This is not what music is about.
For the HA-1A, it portrays the music as a whole. So in essence this is the complete opposite feeling from the SR-4040. Everything gels together ok, the presentation is very palatable for me. I could feel more of the texture of the music. It’s very difficult to explain, and definitely everyone’s mileage would differ. The Senn HD650 has been said to be a dark headphone, but partnered with the HA-1A, no way, it’s not dark.
Ok, that’s my info. Conclusion is that for a first amp, this is pretty safe and if you can get it for below USD400, it’s really very good. If you can check out the internals, I am sure there is enough space for component upgrades, and the good DIY guys can definitely modify this beauty as they have done so for the SHA-1 and turn it into an excellent piece of audio equipment.