Some more thoughts on the prototype
Now that it is probably ok to say more about the prototype I've heard, I'll gladly do so. What I'm going to say now is what I personally feel and I feel too lazy trying to be as objective as a review would need to be. I hope that's fine. Most of the listening was done with the Hd 650 (2 Zu cables, balanced and unbalanced) and JaZZ's McCormack UDP-1.
Marcel and I did some extensive comparisons with a Dynamight and it does seem like a very unfair comparison at first, $400 vs. >$2000, but still a valid one imo. In any case, we used three different sources (a McCormack UDP-1, a high end Dodson DAC and my custom cd player) and source differences were more apparent on the Corda than with the Dynamight. Does this tell something about neutrality or accuracy? I don't know but I did wonder why the Dynamight sounded pretty much the same regardless of the source used and I doubt it's a matter of impedance mismatching.
As expected, the Dynamight did things like soundstage, transient response, bass impact or resolution better but
I found the Aria prototype to be the more musically involving player, a bit warmer and with what seemed like a better sound integrity or coherency. Let me try to elaborate on this issue a bit further.
Playing some funky acid jazz, I was taken back by the Dynamight's ability to resolve all the little nuances and air between the notes but it didn't get my feet tapping like the Aria did and in the end I enjoyed the music more thoroughly with the Corda prototype. The spirit of the funkadelic sax soli were captured more vividly by the Aria. The same thing happened when I listened to Holly Cole's "I Can See Clearly Now". There was more depth to the bass and resolving power in her voice with the Dynamight but the various notes and details seemed to lack something to keep them together as one piece of music, a bit scatter-brained perhaps. Going back to the Aria, the loss of resolution, soundtage and a less fast presenation were noticeable but the music seemed to flow more effortlessly and consistently and simply in one piece. One note led to another as if it was the most natural thing to do. I admit that a lot of songs sounded better with the dynamight, like electronica and certain types of classical music which really benefits from a big soundstage. Also, you just can't deny the Dynamight's greatness in the bass. Summing up however, I found it to be somewhat cold and detached sounding most of the time. I think a Dynamight with a different tonal voicing would be spectacular.
Comparing the Aria to the Dynamight reminded me of the various Hd 650 comparisons I've done with other headphones. When switching back and fourth between the Dynamight and prototype, the differences were really apparent, both in the technical as in the tonal domain. However, I think A/B comparisons are great to depict differences but not so great at telling us what's "better" since hearing works by comparing the current sound to a previously heard sound, which has become the baseline of reference since sensory evaluation is a relative evaluation (comparison against previous stimulus and most common stimulus). I think this is one reason why the HD 650 sounds "veiled" and why it still sounds the best for me in the long run notwithstanding. The Aria prototype in the same regard sounded a bit veiled compared to the Dynamight when doing fast A/B comparisons but it's really the long term impressions that matter imo. The ear needs some time to acclimatize itself to the new sound (just like after hearing a 1Khz signal, a perfectly neutral pink noise will be perceived as to have a dip at 1Khz).
All things considered, I think that this is all certainly a matter of personal preference, especially when it comes to something as elusive as the emotional connection one forms with a certain type of sound signature, and it goes without saying that the Dynamight had the superior technical capabilities in most areas. Still, I can only say what my ears tell me and in the long run, it's the Dynamight I would use to impress my buddies, but in 7-8 out of 10 cases it'd be the Corda prototype I would reach out for to enjoy, not all of, but certainly my favourite albums with.
Just some quick notes about the tone of the Aria prototype. Actually when I first A/Bed the Aria and the HA-2 MKII, I hardly noticed any difference because they were so similar in tone and it's usually easier to hear differences in tone than actual technical improvements. So if you're familiar with Corda amps, that's an excellent starting point. Compared to the Emmeline SR-71 I had, the Corda amps sound a tad more open in the treble and a bit leaner down bottom. The midrange characteristics are fairly similar. The Corda also has a somewhat "floating" character (does this make sense?). Whereas the SR-71 had black space between the notes, the Corda amps have more air (not noise) between the notes even though it's just as silent. Hard to say which sound signature I like more. Anyway, I don't think I'm describing this very well.
What the prototype did better than the HA-2 MKII was imo a more natural and effortlessly sounding treble. I've always found that compared to the Prehead MKII and other amps like the PPX3, the treble on the HA-2 could sound a bit strained (even more so on the MKI than on the MKII) so I really welcomed the change the Aria prototype brought. I think that's the most apparent difference I heard.
I remember saying to JaZZ that it's weird for a Ha-2 replacement to be coming out so fast not so long after the HA-2 MKII's launch, so I expected the prototype to come out much later. Or I expected a watered down version to appear as a HA-1 MKII successor but to see the same prototype amp to be marketed as the Ha-1 MKII successor (and more because of the ubs dac), I think, is something from which the listener can only benefit from.
So what are my gripes about the Aria (prototype)? I think for one, the design. I really liked the old black and utilitarian design that meant business but admittingly, I haven't seen an actual Aria in real life yet. Soundwise, there's nothing to complain about at $400 but faced with more expensive and imaginary competition, I think the Aria could use more bass slam and a bigger soundstage (mostly in width). A lot of amps I've heard have a better (and for me that means bigger) soundstage and it's something I'd love to see in a Corda amp as well. The soundstage is very consistent, quite holographic, has good depth and height and is well-focused but I wouldn't mind more soundstage width. The bass tends to be on the leaner side. Some people like that refined tightness but personally I really like the bass slam some tube amps have. This is not to say that the Aria lacks bass but there's always that extra miniscule improvment to wish for. All things considered, if the greatness of an amp is determined by the sum of its virtues minus the drawbacks, the Aria still ranks very highly in my book even when faced with stiff competition with amps from the next higher price class.
I have no affiliations with Meier-Audio and the only product I still have are a 120 Ohm adapter, some Tech+Link cables and a pair of velour pads I bought from Jan a year ago. So then why am I rooting so much for an amp I have no interest in buying? I think it's because I still can't get over the fact that this amp (not even yet considering the built-in dac) only costs $400 and because it's such a great asset to the amp community and one, which in my opinion stands out as a real bargain value. Improved HA-2 MKII sound quality + USB DAC for $400, need I really say more?
Originally Posted by Andrea
That's definitely true. I think I know well, as I myself practised tweaking&such quite a bit in the past (one result of those playful times being the great sound I'm now getting from my modest Cambridge cdp
). But then again, Headroom's implementation of the top DAC from Crystal/Cirrus looks somewhat masterful. Not meaning to comment on the sound at all, I rather wanted to clarify the facts.
Sure, the Cyrus chip looks better on paper than the TI chip but what does that tell us about the specific DACs in question? Very little in my opinion.
Originally Posted by r3b
Hi guys, is the new Corda Aria a good match with the Sennh. HD 600 ?
We did most of the listening and comparisons with the HD 650, which sounded very good with the Aria prototype, so I think the same should apply to the HD 600. I think the Aria sounded good with any headphone thrown at it, be it PS-1, RS-1 (here I preferred the Earmax Pro however), HD 650, SA5000, and even the AKG K1000.