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 headphonesFinal 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
(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.