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Small Review: Original Master (headphone amp)

post #1 of 59
Thread Starter 
Pre-Intro
Rig: PC (linux; noted since it handles usb differently) -> Guzzler DAC -> Original Master -> Alessandro MS-2 (nudie and cable modded)
Retail Price: AU$300 (approx USD$225)

Intro

I'm no review writer, but I am a music lover. Lately I've been adding to my hif collection and have been reviewing the bits and pieces that I have because some of it is good, some of it is not good, and some of it is fairly uncommon. I've had a growing interest in Chinese hifi and understandably a lot of people are a bit apprehensive about taking the leap into buying hifi from a country known for their low cost/low quality electronics. I hope to provide some actual information about some of these products in particular so that people can consider the products based on realities, not biases/expectations.

First Impressions/Build Quality

Wow. This thing may be Chinese to the core, but it looks like the designer went to the same design school as the guy who designed the Ipod. The Original Master comes in a minimalist sleek, shiny black enclosure, with nothing more on the front than a small, elegant, unimposing red LED, a solid-metal matte-silver volume knob, and a hole where the headphone plug goes. In an attractive feint grey typeface, the word “power” is silkscreened under the red LED. On the top of the enclosure the words “Original” “Master” “phones amplifier” are embossed.

The Original Master's enclosure is beautiful, there's really no other way to put it. Unfortunately, the amp enclosure isn't all on it's own. Accompanying the Master is the world's largest power brick. The brick isn't quite as ugly as a standard power brick, but certainly hasn't had the same attention to detail as the amp itself. On the bright side, I'm a believer that the power circuitry in an amp is of the utmost importance, so I'm at least half glad that there's a big fat power section, and it's nice that it's separate to the audio circuitry.

As mentioned above, the front of the Master has a LED, volume knob and 6.5mm phono socket. On the rear panel is a pair of RCA jacks, a power switch, and a power cable jack. It's layout is almost identical to the Grado RA-1, except that the Master has a power cable coming out rear, unlike the battery powered RA-1 that I played with. Unlike the RA-1 however, the Master does not feel cheap. I remember that the RA-1 had a volume knob which could rotate a small bit in each direction before “engaging”, an off-axis power switch and non-parallel RCAs. By comparison, the Master's build quality is top notch. The single complaint I have with build quality is that the volume knob is so close to the body of the amp that there's a small amount of friction between them occasionally. This doesn't affect the usage of the unit, but I'm picky.

The Sound

Plugging my (modded) Alessandro MS-2 into the Original Master and turning it on is greeted with a soft “pop”. I haven't heard a huge range of commercial headphone amps so I'm not sure how normal this is, but i can say for sure that it is significantly less noisy than the Grado RA-1. A soft reassuring pop, almost.

I've been doing a lot of comparing lately between the Ming Da MC66-AE and the Original Master, and my first impression when I switch between them is the the Original Master sounds a bit thin in comparison to the MC66-AE. Although the Master does not have an overly thin or clinical sound, it's just not as lush as the MC66-AE.

Bass on the Master is deep and punchy. I dunno exactly how to judge bass for a review, but it doesn't feel boomy or over the top, and doesn't seem lacking either. For “Angel” by massive attack the bass seems well balanced. It's possible that the lowest bass is a bit quiet, but I am using Grados.

Treble is somewhat thin feeling. It's a solid state amplifier and has a treble which I often associate with solid state amps. The treble goes nice and high, and there's a lot of clarity in the treble, yet it somehow feels as though something's missing. I cant quite put my finger on it.

Detail is very good. I really didn't notice the amp to reveal anything new at all because it's not very expensive and I've heard my music on all types of gear. However, as I was writing this I noticed a new sound that I'd never heard before on Abbey Road. Moving onto the White Album (which is full of random noises left right and center, before you even get to Revolution 9!), I heard a bunch of new details all over the place. The Original Master seems to be very revealing, especially for it's price.

This amp has no background noise at all with my headphones

Final Thoughts/Conclusion

The Original Master is not a perfect amp, but it is certainly a very nice one. The build quality really is great, and the amp is beautiful. In general, the amp sounds good, but it is not without faults. However, the Master is very affordable, and for this reason I recommend it. Although it is not perfect, it is great for the price.

The above review is only done with Alessandro MS-2.

Value for money: 9/10

Photos (used with permission from seller on account of my digicam not working anymore)

The front of the unit displaying the sleek, simple look


The Master and it's sizable power brick


The rear of the unit showing the inputs. A pair of RCAs, a power plug and a switch


Another photo with the brick


I think the above photos are probably the manufacturers images, but they're true to the unit's appearance.
post #2 of 59
Nice write-up. Thanks for sharing!

I was lucky enough to win an Original CD player at the national meet, but then got so busy listening to it (with the Ray Samuels HR-2) that I didn't even try the "Master" amp which was sitting right there! It seems that I missed an excellent opportunity because everyone who heard the Master has been singing its praises! The retail price in the US is $198.
post #3 of 59
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wmcmanus
Nice write-up. Thanks for sharing!

I was lucky enough to win an Original CD player at the national meet, but then got so busy listening to it (with the Ray Samuels HR-2) that I didn't even try the "Master" amp which was sitting right there! It seems that I missed an excellent opportunity because everyone who heard the Master has been singing its praises! The retail price in the US is $198.
Hey thanks for the comments!

That's pretty awesome that you won an original CDP.. what model was it? I have the Original A8S.. what a remote!.. not to mention the sound

Shame you didn't get to hear the Original Master. it's really quite nice. I remember seeing it's photo in the meet thread so I may try dig it up for some "real life" photos for this thread.

edit:

Here is a photo from the meet


The CDP next to it is the original A8T i *think*, which seems to be approximately the model up from mine, and is a tube cdp. is it the one you won Wmcmanus?
post #4 of 59
i heard this amp at the sunday nat meet - sweetness for 200 bucks, you really can't beat that price! one of the nicer solid states i've heard.
post #5 of 59
am I reading that right in one of the pics... It takes in AC power input, from that PS?... interesting.

Garrett
post #6 of 59
Actually the CD-A8 was the model that I "won" but the CD-2008 MK II is the model that I did the "con" job on and ended up with! Ok, so I'm not telling the whole truth. I didn't really do a con job at all, it just felt that way when the day ws done. In truth, I had the good fortune of winning a raffle prize from one of the most genuine and kind audiophiles I've ever met in my life. Ping Gong from AAA-Audio is a man who is so interested in pleasing his customers, that he gave me (a non paying customer) an opportunity to compare the CD-A8 and CD-2008 MK II and pick the one I preferred!

Ping is just so passionate about the audio hobby that it's unreal. We spoke for hours on into the night and he explained the evolution of his home rig, what he looks for when doing equipment auditions, how he tweeks products to redefine their sonic properties, etc. As it turns out, his sonic tastes and preferences are quite similar to mine and this is why we both prefer the CD-2008 MK II to the CD-A8. The 2008 is a solid state design so it is quicker and extracts more details from recordings than the A8 which is a tube based design. The A8, in turn, is a warmer and fuller sounding player. It doesn't have quite as much snap, but the tube goodness is quite evident and for those who prefer the HD600 type of sound to the RS-1 type of sound, it might just be the budget player of your dreams. There were several poeple at the national meet who have commented that they preferred the A8 to the 2008, so it's not as though the 2008 player "wins" on an absolute scale. It's a matter of sonic tastes and preferences.

Ping is now working on some changes to the main circuit board of the CD-2008 MK II and has promised to send the revised board to me in a couple of months when it's ready. Yes, you read that right. I got a free upgrade from a $698 player to a $898 player, and on top of that, I'll be getting a free upgrade on my upgraded player, which of course was free to begin with! Ping is my new best friend, I tell you. What's cool about this is that I'll be able to spend some time with the player (as is) and compare it to some of my other CD players like the Shanling T100 and Audio Aero Prima MK II. Then when the upgraded board comes in, I'll repeat the cycle and see how it changes my initial impressions.

Because the CD-2008 MK II is such a sweet sounding player to begin with, I'm sure the upgrade will give it absolutely killer sound, especially at this price point. I'm plannning to do a detailed review (including comments about both the pre and post upgraded versions of the player) but it will take several months to get the job done. In the meantime, I'll simply be enjoying my new toy!
post #7 of 59
how you all like the Original CDP? I have heard pretty much everything upto Davinci in their lineup...
abs unimpressed...technically it sounds ok..but it's really not coherent and not musical at all. I picked Eastsound in the end
post #8 of 59
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by kramer5150
am I reading that right in one of the pics... It takes in AC power input, from that PS?... interesting.

Garrett
Ha I never noticed that before, quite interesting.

So in the interest of science and all things good I opened up the power brick to have a peak inside. It does in fact seem to be AC output.

Inside the power brick is a big toroidal transformer and some power filtering. The transformer is bigger/taller than the amp itself so I suppose that's why they kept it seperate.
post #9 of 59
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by chesebert
how you all like the Original CDP? I have heard pretty much everything upto Davinci in their lineup...
abs unimpressed...technically it sounds ok..but it's really not coherent and not musical at all. I picked Eastsound in the end
I like my original A8S. The detail is nice and it makes me dance like an idiot. I've never heard the eastsound though
post #10 of 59
Quote:
Originally Posted by hugz
Ha I never noticed that before, quite interesting.

So in the interest of science and all things good I opened up the power brick to have a peak inside. It does in fact seem to be AC output.

Inside the power brick is a big toroidal transformer and some power filtering. The transformer is bigger/taller than the amp itself so I suppose that's why they kept it seperate.
Can we get some pics of the guts of the amp?


Thanks.
post #11 of 59
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by BennyBoy
Can we get some pics of the guts of the amp?


Thanks.
Sorry I only opened the power supply, not the amp. And my digicam is not in a working state at the moment anyway
post #12 of 59
I was at the nat meet looking mainly for a good amp with small footprint for my work rig.
I tried for the two days a lot of different stuff with my ATH W5000. At the end of the last day I was auditioning the rig WMcManus is talking about: the DB2008 with the HR-2 and found it quite good, but not 100% convincing.
Finally I set my eyes on a little black box connected to the Original CDA8 and I said, well let's give it a spin.
I listened to this thing for over an hour until they litterally kicked me out. I didn't know anything about it, but decided to buy it for any price up
to $1000. Then I realised it was the Original Master, selling for $190.
I don't know why it sounded so good to me, may be was the CDP or the synergy with the W5000, but I found the combo very musical, perfect timing, liquid sound, no harshness at all.
Anyway I will receive it in a week and hope I won't be disappointed
post #13 of 59
After a nice 30 hours break-in my Original Master is really shining through. I hope I'll have time this weekend to crack it open and snap some shots of the guts. I got mine in China for $120-140 or so.
post #14 of 59
I, too, was impressed by the Original Master amp at the national meet. It had an absolutely silent, black background, no grain or harshness at all that I could detect, and really rocked out. It was one of my meet highlights, because the value proposition at < $200. is quite amazing.
post #15 of 59
Man, talk about build quality. Original's CD players are absolutely AMAZING looking, and that amp was gorgeous. You really got the feeling that a cruise missle could hit any of their products, and the amp / player would be the only thing to survive. More than one person came over to the Audio Technica table (where I was) and quickly wandered to their right to check out Original's units! I'm kicking myself for not listening to them for longer on Sunday...
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