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Review: Little Dot II (with a dose of Grado and a bit of Bada)

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
There have been plenty of questions about the Little Dot II here on the forum, but very few comments and not a review in sight. A few weeks ago I decided to bite the bullet and try out one of these newcomers to the audio headwear world. I purchased the unit to serve as a backup amp, but my plans have probably changed, as you'll come to learn.

The amp arrived about a week ago, straight from China. It is well protected in a pair of foam clamshells. I received the amp four days after it shipped... much quicker than I expected!

The first thing that strikes you about the amp once you take it out of the box is its size.... the name Little Dot rings true, as this amp is SMALL! The footprint is only 4" x 7" on the Deuce, and its only 2.5" tall.

Speaking of physical, a few more details. There are four tubes: a pair of tiny 1B2 (uses Roman numbers and states 1BII) and a pair of 4P1S is the outputs. The quality of the tubes appear quite low; the bases on the output tubes appear to be made of a low grade steel, and the glass nipples on the input tubes are crooked and lean to one side.

The fit and finish of the amp appear decent. The case can be ordered in five colors; my LDII has the gold case with a black transformer cover. The volume control turns smoothly... it doesn't have the feel of an expensive pot, but it at least it doesn't feel cheap.

As the tubes are powered up, the very obvious blue glow of the tubes are on display. Huh? BLUE glow? Yep... aided, of course, by a pair of blue LEDs within the case under the input sockets. I can't decide if the effect is cute or cheesy. Oh, by the way, there's also a blue LED on the front panel to indicate that the unit is powered on.

The LD II is extremely microphonic. Taking your fingernail and "pinging" the side of the case results in a loud ringing through the amp into the headphones for almost 10 seconds! Even moving around while listening results in microphonics if the headphone cable hits the table that the amp rests upon. I am unsure if the tubes or the case itself are the root cause of the microphonic issue; I think the problem is somewhat synergistic.

I've had a few other amps in the house in recent months, primarily a Bada PH-12 and a Grado RA-1, both significantly more expensive. My expectations for the little Little Dot II were relatively low. I expected a polite, smooth, and rolled off little amp due to a tiny power supply.

Was I ever wrong!

Let's talk about the details the LD II gets right: timbre and dynamics. This amp gives the music the dynamic energy and shadings that captures its essence. These are gradients that are so hard to capture, and the Deuce has it to spare. The sound has an earthy quality -- full of texture, not overly detailed, never analytical. Jack White's jams on "Ball and a Biscuit" sounds beautifully distorted and full of grit and energy, and yet his acoustic work on the same album also capture that great tone of his production work.

Let me state that a real failing of the Grado is its inability to capture timbre and body. It has a good tonal balance, probably due to the care placed in part selection and matching, but in my opinion the LD II does a better job of capturing music's energy. The timbre on the Grado leans to brightness; the Bada is engulphed in lushness and liquidity. The LD II splits the middle in this regard.

The LD is not particularly fast, like the Bada, but not slow either. I'd place as average in that category. It cannot define the empty space between notes like the Bada, which excels is superb in that regard.

Resolution is just fine, thank you very much! However, it's not in the league of the Bada PH-12. With that amp, for the first time I identified the intense processing of Lucinda Willaims' vocals lyrics that give her a rough edge, all the while hear band sounded sweet and realistic. The Bada gave me the ability to actually make out the words in Jack White lyrics... not with effort, but with great ease.

The Little Dot showed off the beauty of Johnny Cash's final release before his death, "The Man Comes Around," a wonderful Rick Rubin production. It sounded sweet and clear, very musical and natural with sufficient detail. Subtle nuances and shadings of voices and acoustic guitars were there in spades.

However, the Bada provided more detail; for example, JC's voice came across much darker and with significantly greater emotional impact. (I am not a country music fan, but if haven't seen the video of "Hurt," the single from this disc, which is an original tune from Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, you must. Stunning and impactful... MTV video of the Year. And this ain't no twangy country disc either).

The bass sound solid and firm. The first session was very boomy, brutally so, but it cleared up after about 30 minutes of use. It continues to tighten up and became more defined; however, won't compete with a Bada in terms of low frequency resolution (most likely a benefit of its hybrid design). The LD captures the pounding drum beat on "Mannish Boy" from Muddy Waters without a problem, yet still presents all the nuances of the tune, such as Johnny Winters' screaming (both guitar and voice) and the power of the harmonica work from James Cotton.

I've listed some nits with the Little Dot.... does it have failings? Yes, and a big one. The amp tends to get bright when the music gets congested. In addition, push it too hard and that brightness comes into play. There seems be a level that you can almost push on volume, but never cross. Once you do, you'll pay with losing all the wonderful tonal qualities that this amp can provide.

By the way, driving the Grados hasn't been a problem. The volume control always stays somewhere between the 8:00 and 9:00 position with the HF-1s.

I also believe that the amp has a bit more high frequency energy and elevation than it should. Cymbals sound a bit too shimmery; high plucked notes sound too bright. I am unsure if this is the LD itself or brightness coming from the Marantz, cables, or the even the HF-1 phones (however, this wasn't an issue with the Bada). Not to a painful level, but it's surely noticeable.

Imaging is not as good as either the Bada or Grado. The LD doesn't place air between instruments as well as the other amps. In addition, instruments sometimes tend to stay in the ears instead of getting the effect of pinpoint placement in the head. I find this characteristic variable; sometimes it's an issue, other times it is not. To this point, I'm unable to identify any pattern to this flaw.

In the intro, I mentioned my plans to use the Little Dot II as a backup amp. Well, based upon its surprising performance, it will stay in the starting role for a while. I do expect to purchase another amp that can provide the detail and balance that the LD cannot, but for now I'm having fun with this beer budget winner.

Equipment: Marantz CD-63 se and Grado HF-1 phones.

Music:
John Coltrane: A Love Supreme
Nirvana: Nevermind
John Lee Hooker: Chill Out
Muddy Waters: Hard Again
Johnny Cash: The Man Comes Around
Rickie Lee Jones: (her self-titled debut)
Andreas Vollenweider: Caverna Magica
Shadowfax: The Dreams of Children
Resphigi:The Pines of Rome (Chesky)
White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan; Elephant
post #2 of 18
Thread Starter 
Here's a pic. I'll get a pic capturing the "blue glow" tonight....

post #3 of 18
Nice review!!

Don't they advertise somewhere that they are fine tuned for the HD600? That could explain the brightness when used with Grados.
post #4 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by kramer5150
Nice review!!

Don't they advertise somewhere that they are fine tuned for the HD600? That could explain the brightness when used with Grados.
Thanks!

Yep, now that you mention it, I do recall seeing something about that fact somewhere. That probably explains it...
post #5 of 18
Nice review.

In my experience with many tube combinations, using four different brands of tubes, the BADA PH12 needs one Shugang 6N8P in front (input or power tube) and two Electro Harmonix Gold 6NS7 tubes in the rear (output or driver tubes) to really show natural and realistic sound. These tubes take it to the highest level. Chinese Namking 6H8C subbed as the two driver tubes are the next step down. Other tubes or other combinations are an even lower step down.
post #6 of 18
pjr300 thanks for the review. I have had my LDII for about a month and am really digging the sound: smooth as butter with my HD580s, never harsh.

Like you, I find the Chinese 1B2 tubes microphonic, although I don't notice it when music is playing. I bought Telefunken DAF91 tubes and they reduce the microphonics a little. 1S5 tubes will also work.

You didn't mention how hot the amp gets, does yours get real hot?


Quote:
Originally Posted by pjr300
Thanks!

Yep, now that you mention it, I do recall seeing something about that fact somewhere. That probably explains it...
post #7 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by johnas
....You didn't mention how hot the amp gets, does yours get real hot?
Well, relatively so. Comparing it to a Dynaco 70, Audio Research Classic 30, Quicksilvers, MFA, Jadis, or who knows how many tube amps I've had over the years, it's about the same. I surely wouldn't leave it on all the time, that's for sure!

Quote:
Originally Posted by johnas
....Like you, I find the Chinese 1B2 tubes microphonic, although I don't notice it when music is playing. I bought Telefunken DAF91 tubes and they reduce the microphonics a little. 1S5 tubes will also work.
Try pinging the side with your finger with the amp on but the sound off... it rings like a tuning fork!
post #8 of 18
I've got an updated LD I. The ringing appears to come from the tubes.
The LD II was supposed to handle a wider range of impedences.
Don't even try an under 100 ohm can with LD I ! The noise floor comes out loud and clear with my Beyers(80 ohm version). With the Senns, its dead quiet
as long as you don't touch it. The price on LD I was too cheap too pass up. Still looking for a better amp, but for now, this does the job nicely.
post #9 of 18

Nice Review

Very nice review pjr300. Well done.

Revliskciuq has posted your former amp for sale here.

I have a question. In the review you mention that the amp is using two 1B2 tubes, but in the photo Revliskciuq provided for the sale, the tube clearly reads 1K2, which is a different tube all together. I was wondering if you could shed any light this?



Thanks

USG
post #10 of 18
Thread Starter 
Hmmmm..... either he replaed the tubes (unlikely, since I remember that little "hooked nipple" as pictured in the left input tube), or I read the label wrong. Actually, now that I think about it, I got the tube designations from the web site. I know that they changed the tube compliment... looks like I copied the old specs to the review that I posted.
post #11 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by pjr300
Hmmmm..... either he replaed the tubes (unlikely, since I remember that little "hooked nipple" as pictured in the left input tube), or I read the label wrong. Actually, now that I think about it, I got the tube designations from the web site. I know that they changed the tube compliment... looks like I copied the old specs to the review that I posted.
Hi pjr300

I wonder if the 1K2 is a Chinese version of the 1S5T or 1U5 which were designed as improvements to reduce the microphonics of the 1S5-DAF91 family of tubes?

Regards

USG
post #12 of 18
1K2 is also used on my LD3.
maybe mr yang has switched to using 1K2 for all his amps now.

on the microphonics issue, it is still very bad. but i have yet to try out the tube dampeners. maybe it'll help out a lot.
post #13 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by shochu
1K2 is also used on my LD3.
maybe mr yang has switched to using 1K2 for all his amps now.

on the microphonics issue, it is still very bad. but i have yet to try out the tube dampeners. maybe it'll help out a lot.
Hi shochu

How is your LD3? Can you compare it to an LD2? How would you describe the sound?

Regards

USG
post #14 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by upstateguy
Hi shochu

How is your LD3? Can you compare it to an LD2? How would you describe the sound?

Regards

USG
i really wish i can give you some kind of an answer, but the LD3 happens to be my first and only headphone amp. sorry
post #15 of 18
Hey Im using telefunken tubes on my LDII right now and it is not microphonic AT ALL so this could possibly solve a lot of concerns that people have about the amp
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