Equipment used to test the unit; the source was mostly my SME Turntable, through a Bottlehead Tube Phono Preamplifier, this runs into my Eastern Electric MiniMax Preamp and plugged into the Headfive were my Sennheiser HD540 Reference Headphones (600ohm). The Minimax has no Tape output so the Headfive was plugged into the preamps second set of main outputs. I also directly fed the Headfive from both my CD player and my TAG Mclaren phonostage, to get some non-tube related views of the sound. For those that are interested, mains cable was an old Deltec silver coated/copper, Teflon dielectric (for no other reason than it was the first I came too) one and interconnects were by Apature Audio.
First impression on unpacking were that the unit had excellent build quality for the price, fit and finish were very good as was the overall ‘feel’ of the unit. If I had to be really picky, the crossfeed switch is not quite at right angles to the facia and not quite central in its aperture – but that’s it.
Prior to listening the unit was attached to the CD player with a system ‘burn in’ CD track left on repeat for 12 hours, this was followed by a system demagnetisation track for an hour.
On the first listening session it was apparent that the unit had very good resolution of detail, authorative bass, nice open mid-band (and I’m sure many will liken this to being tube like) but higher frequencies felt slightly curtailed, this is also a factor of a clean overall presentation. Indeed as listening progressed I felt everything was in place and I was missing nothing, but at the same time it was evident that there was quite a high level of system noise that I’d not been aware of before. This was a cross between a low frequency hum and tube rush on the left channel. This turned out to be an ECC82 in the preamp, a 50 year old Brimar, now retired in favour of a younger (35) Brimar 13D5. The importance in mentioning this is to illustrate the resolution capabilities of the unit; this problem was barely noticeable at full volume through my speakers. Whilst on the subject of system noise, the unit itself (using a standard shorting plug test) has virtually none to speak of so won’t be affecting the overall presentation and can be pushed very hard.
Over the last few days I’ve listened to a wide variety of material though this system and if there is a complaint then its that the amp is perhaps a little on the polite side of neutral overall for some tastes – no bad thing in my book, but then again I have only listened with the 540’s – I’ve got a loan of some 595’s to try out shortly. However, it can respond to dynamic swings with gusto and through my set-up provides astonishing insight into percussion, clearly delineating the technique on even the most complex and dense drumming passages. Then again the SME is renown for this, but its great to know that there is no loss through the Headfive. The only time I felt there was a loss of details was on some large orchestral pieces, where, for instance 1st, 2nd violins and viola parts became somewhat merged. Finally, the crossfeed filter. I’m assuming mine is working, but to be honest the effects must be so subtle as to make me wonder why its there. Most of the time I couldn’t hear any difference except the very minor reduction in volume mention in the user manual. Once or twice I did feel there was a change but felt this was a negative one with the stage width seemingly diminished and curtailed spatial positioning information, especially in the context of height and depth.
My final verdict, brilliant value at 200euro – is there another mains powered unit that comes close to this price to quality ratio? Not that I know of and I’m really pleased I bought this unit on spec, as it is providing a positive and pleasurable listening experience.