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Little Dot LD II+ Review and comparison to LD II

post #1 of 426
Thread Starter 
Little Dot LD II+ Review and comparison to LD II


Here is a follow up to the Little Dot LDII review posted here:

http://www5.head-fi.org/forums/showt...&highlight=dot


Little Dot II+ capsule review

Treble
The LD II+ has a different presentation and is not as bright as the LD II. The LD II+ has a smoother high end with longer decay of notes.

Midrange
Richer than the LDII

Bass
A bit more full and sounds closer to typical tube amplifier bass.

Imaging
Slightly improved depth of soundstage, width is about equal.

Dynamics
More rounded presentation is less congested with better delineation during complex dynamic passages.

To be blessedly brief: The two main differences I hear with the new LD II+ are a less bright, smoother presentation and less congestion during complex music passages.










BACKGROUND
I was very surprised at the high quality sound of the LD II with Sennheiser 650 headphones. One problem users have commented on was the perception of low quality tubes used in the LD II. These are relatively obscure Chinese manufactured radio tubes with specific values that do not have easy to find plug and play replacements from traditional tube makers. I would forget about sport tube rolling with this amp. The LD II front-end (1K2) tubes were also microphonic adding to the perception of low quality compared to high end tube amps using easy to roll ubiquitous, but more expensive tubes.

However, are these really low quality tubes if they produce sound this good or merely low cost? I think it is takes more talent and innovation to design a Honda S2000 than a Porsche Boxster because the Honda must have similar high performance with strict (lower) price constraints. The LD II currently sells for $95 including four tubes. To reach this price point takes out of the box design and research to find good sounding inexpensive tubes aside from the usual suspects (12ax7, 6922 et al)


BUILD QUALITY
The LD II+ has the same high quality alloy metal case as the LD II, which is a good thing. This is a strong case and not the comparatively flimsy stamped sheet metal case of other low priced units.

The silver metallic color on my LD II+ looks like a powdercoat equivalent. It was much nicer than the flat black paint on my LD II which I have heard from other users does not stand up so I would not go back to black.


TECHNICAL INFO
The LD II+ uses different Mullard EF91 front end tubes and the same power tubes as the LD II. It is hard to perform a true apple to apple comparison of these amps to determine precisely how much the tubes alone altar the sound. You cannot easily swap tubes between the LD II and II+. Even if you could swap tubes, the different parts including passive components like upgraded capacitors, upgraded volume control and added preamp capability with the LD II + make it difficult to isolate changes in sound. There is a new ALPS 16 volume pot on the LD II+ that is said to track left and right channels more evenly than the unit on the LD II. Audiophiles pay big money for even higher quality volume pots or stepped units (around $150) because they know this can be a bottleneck to the sound. I had no problem with the balance tracking of the original LD II although it did not have that expensive feel we all like as noted with the Gilmore Lite. But I have suffered with preamp volume pots that shifted the stereo image to one side and if you get a bad unit, it needs to be fixed. I am a conspiracy theorist and believe every change alters the sound, so a better ALPS pot is welcome along with the upgraded caps and other improvements on the LD II+. I did not test the preamp out but will soon.

My take is that the new Mullard tubes alter the character of sound the most. It is noteworthy that this change in the LD II+ evolved after the designer, Mr. Yang, changed the tube configuration from the 1K2/4P1S in the LD III to the Mullard EF91/4P1S in the LD III+. This same tube array now finds it’s way in the LD II+. Don’t you love trickle down technology?

The LD II+ is not as microphonic as the LD II. The problem is not completely solved and I still hear some ringing, but it is a big improvement.

I always have believed heat is the enemy of electric components and the LD II runs hot, too hot in my humble opinion. While the capacitors on the LD II were upgraded to absorb the heat in order to conform to MTBF(Mean Time Between Failure) specs, I am still not happy with the high heat generated because I fear it will affect ancillary components within the amp. There is more heat than other tube amps I have tried such as the Woo 3. It is not heat from the tubes but heat from the case that I refer to.

The heat problem has been resolved with the LD II+. It runs less hot and in line with other tube amps and about the same as my solid state mosfet M3 amp.


SOUND
After 300-hour burn in, I sat down for Bed-fi A/B comparisons.

I immediately noticed less congestion during complex music passages. I noted this congestion in the original review of the LD II and I am glad to see this area improved.

The LD II+ was not as bright, which many may perceive this as less detailed. Perhaps one of the reasons why many people like the synergy of the LD II with the Senn 650 is the LD II would offset the dark presentation of the Senn’s with it’s inherent bright tilt. I have also read comments that the LD II sounds similar to the Gilmore Lite regarding it’s tonal balance. Many people have also found the slightly bright Gilmore is also a good match for the Senn 650’s


Perhaps understanding that some people would prefer it’s brighter presentation (which is somewhat rare in the tube world) the LD II is still a current model for those who want this sound signature. My experience is that many of the comparatively inexpensive Chinese tubes have a somewhat bright sound bordering on harsh when pushed. It is nice that we have a choice of two versions of this amp.


CUSTOMER SERVICE
This continues to be good from David Pang (Ebay name davidzhezhe). I got the Little Dot II+ from China via EMS 4 days after I paid for it on Ebay. Communication is clear, quick and friendly with good technical support.

OTHER HEADFI LD2 OWNER COMMENTS

Here is a comment by Svperstar on how close the LD II sounds to the Gilmore Lite:

http://www5.head-fi.org/forums/showt...&highlight=dot

Svperstat comments:

“Some initial impressions for those curious about the amp vs. the Gilmore Lite.

Now that I have the dirty power noise reduced quite a bit I am comfortable saying a few things about this amp. I am running the Loop Out of the Gilmore to the LDII+ and have both powered on, this makes it as simple as swapping headphone jacks to make a comparison.

First thing, the volume knob on the LDII+ feels very cheap and flimsy compared to the GLs sturdy knob which has a bit of weight to it and just feels very solid. The knob on the LDII+ just feels bleh compared to it. As to the sound though....

I am amazed at how close it sounds to the Gilmore Lite. I was expecting them to be be vastly different since one is a warm tube amp and the other is an analytical solid state amp. I thought they would be different the way the Sony MDR-SA5000s and the Sennheiser HD580s are.

However they have an extremely similar sonic signature. The do emphasis the music in different was. The main difference is that on the LDII+ clipping isn't as bad.

For an example, the Sigur Rós track Svefn-G-Englar has VERY noticable clipping from the beginning to about the 20 second mark as it increases in volume with the main singer. On the Gilmore Lite this clipping is rather painful and extremely obvious.

However on the Little Dot II+ the clipping is still very present but not quite as wince inducing. All the qualities you either love or hate about the Sony SA5000s are still there, hiss and hum is out on display plain as day, it just isn't quite as ugly.

Everytime I think I hear a detail on the LDII+ that isn't present on the Gilmore Lite, I switch headphone jacks and sure enough, it is there, it just has a slightly different tone.

Bass sounds a bit cleaner on the Gilmore lite, but more distant. The LDII+ makes the bass a bit more musical to my ears. Reguardless the sloppy overpowered Sennheiser bass is still too much on either amp and makes me feel like I am at a sub competition.

The amp is a real champion and sounds terrific but I am disappointed. Why? I bought the amp because I wanted to see what the Big Deal is with the "Tube sound" from what I am hearing it isn't that different from the "bright, cold, analytical, distant" solid state Gilmore Lite. I am confused more than anything.

Let me put it another way, the common opinion on this forum is that the Sony SA5000 is bright, cold, analytical, brutally revealing, and with a smallish soundstage. The common opinion on the Sennheiser 580s is that they are warm, colored, bassy, and have a large soundstage and the "middle of the concert hall" Sennheiser sound.

Anyone that compares those two cans can immediately hear why people say that and is plain as day. You don't have to be an expert audiophile to hear that the SA5000 and 580 are almost polar opposites.

However the same is said about the difference between tubes and solid state. The Gilmore Lite in particular has a reputation for being on the cold anayltical side, compared to "tube warmth" like the LDII+.

What I hear from the LD is the same sound as the Gilmore only a little less harsh, slightly different bass, and maybe a bit wider soundstage. It is hardly night and day. I would absolutely LOVE to do a blind test where someone turns their back and does an ABX test between the Gilmore Lite and the LDII+ I am willing to bet it would be nearly 50/50.

Keep in mind I have only had it running for about 10 hours total vs. the Gilmore which has 100's of hours on it.

Will post a full review after I have had more time to listen, maybe tube roll”

Svperstar comments end

Tom’s comment:
This is a great comparison. I think the best reviews include comparisons since I find sound quality ratings relative to known benchmarks to be more useful than those without. That the LD II+ compares to a respected amp such as the Gilmore speaks highly of the LD II+.

One note regarding the test methodology for Svperstar’s comparison is with the LD II + being feed the loop out of the Gilmore. It may be a bit cleaner to compare the sound of the LD II+ with the same direct source connection and with the same interconnect as the Gilmore Lite. Connecting the Little Dot II+ to the Gilmore loop out with the extra interconnect may be adding capacitance and coloration to the sound of the Little Dot. I wonder how many comparison tests do not use the same interconnect, the same source or even the same headphones?

The Gilmore is currently around $300 plus shipping and the Little Dot II+ is $145 plus $37.50 for EMS shipping which takes about 4 days.

CONCLUSION
The tone balance of the LD II+ has shifted to more neutral from the slightly bright LD II. The other principal sound quality improvements are better detail delineation during complex music passages and less microphonics.

One added comment I could make is the quantitative sound quality difference between the LD II and LD II+ is analogous to the Grado 325i and the Grado 225. Many here prefer the sound of the less expensive, but plastic 225 to the more expensive aluminum 325I. They do sound different, but which one is the most faithful to the music? Many may still prefer the bright (with what they perceive as more detailed) sound of the LD II and choose to listen “through” it’s congestion. If you do not have the LD II+ to directly compare, one might not notice. We love options here on Headfi.

I am keeping both the LD II and LD II+. But, if I had to choose one, the technical improvements to the LD II+ with the Senn 650’s make it the way to go for me.

REALITY CHECK
Is this Little Dot mania too good to be true? There must be something wrong at this price! The M3 is a respected design around here, but the Little Dot II+ has better soundstage and dynamics. My M3 (with Elpac Panasonic FM caps, no STEPS or high bias) sounds bland compared to the LD II +.

I am not a Grado fan, but I am open to the possibility that some of the brighter Grado models (SR80 or 325i) may not mate well with the older LD II. My SR80’s were driven ok with the LD II+. I would like to hear how Grado fans feel about this amp.

I did not like the way the LD II+ mated with my Altec Lansing IM716 which proved harder to drive and did better with the Feel 6922 hybrid amp. There is plenty of power to drive the Senn 650’s through both the LD II and LD II+, with perhaps a bit more gain from the hotter running LD II.

MANUFACTURERS COMMENTS

Here's what (Mr. Yang, the designer has to say (roughly translated):

1. The initial draw was that Mullard is a very well-known vacuum tube maker with high quality products. Mr. Yang wanted a tube that was much more recognizable than "obscure" Soviet and Chinese 1K2/1B2 tubes that like you mentioned, would raise eyebrows in the West.

2. Heat generation was a big issue with the original Little Dot 2, and while the rather high temperatures were within tolerance specs for the various components, it did bother customers. Mr. Yang decided his upgraded version would avoid excess heat output and thus he driver tubes chosen on the 2+ runs 200 mA current (less than the original) as well as with higher efficiency. This translates into lower operating temperatures without compromising current supply.

3. Based off of 2), although the Mullard tubes run "only" 200mA, comparable plated tubes have only 8mA current capacity, and thus the Mullards' output stage is quite robust (especially for low-impedance phones and other "difficult" loads). Sound quality again superior to similar tubes.

4. And of course, taking the aforementioned into account, there must be a stable supply of the tubes to design a product around it. Customers also do not want to be forced to hunt high and low for rare tubes with questionable gains in SQ over more abundant ones. Again in this capacity, the Mullards satisfied Mr. Yang.

RE: Tube rolling: Mr. Yang has confirmed the CV131 as being equivalent to the EF92. This is the only one he has tested extensively, but other tubes that should be directly swappable include the 6065, U/S 6CQ6, Brimar 9D6, CV131, V884, VP6, W77, and the M8161 which is a high quality version of the EF92. Some of these are fairly difficult to acquire in China so they have not been fully tested and guranteed to work, but that being said, they should all theoretically work
post #2 of 426
Wow, thanks! You should be paid to review! If everyone here would chip in a quarter, you would get a decent salary. Those pics are gorgeous! I'm planning on getting this amp soon for the basement lounge as a supplement to the Sony CE 595 that's on sale right now.
post #3 of 426
This was a great treat, thanks. I can't believe you like this amp over the M3. That's saying a lot
post #4 of 426
Great info.

Low cost tube amplification can sound good.


With tube amps, the right tubes can make for much better sound than otherwise.


Thanks for the review.
post #5 of 426
Bloody hell! Cracker of a review!

thanks so much!
post #6 of 426
I'll probably add a good power chord too with quality interconnects. Can't wait to get it.
post #7 of 426
Getting mine soon as well.

Gonna pair it with a pair of MS2is.

cant wait!
post #8 of 426
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tbonner1
One note regarding the test methodology for Svperstar’s comparison is with the LD II + being feed the loop out of the Gilmore. It may be a bit cleaner to compare the sound of the LD II+ with the same direct source connection and with the same interconnect as the Gilmore Lite. Connecting the Little Dot II+ to the Gilmore loop out with the extra interconnect may be adding capacitance and coloration to the sound of the Little Dot. I wonder how many comparison tests do not use the same interconnect, the same source or even the same headphones?
Ouch! That is pretty harsh compared to when you PMed me about it Implying that I may not have even been using the same headphones over a loop out? That is just a touch mellodramatic I think :P

I would argue that the volume level of the amp would add a bigger difference in the sound than a loop out connection, since if you are using 2 different volume pots I doubt you can match them up perfectly other than guessing the are at the same volume. As people have pointed out before most perfer louder gear when testing *cough* Crystalizer *cough*

For the record I have spent a lot of time running both of the amps connected directly to my Elite Pro via the cable TerryMx made for me. I just got tired of swapping both back and forth so I opted for the Loop Out options Also if you look at the start of the review I said that I was only comfortable talking about the LDII+ because I purchased the Belkin PF31 Power Center and it cleaned up the annoying power interference I was getting.

After you pmed me about this I tried the Little Dot II+ by itself and running from the loop out and directly to the soundcard, back and forth. The sound is identical to my ears, volume and everything else. My opinion is exactly the same. I wouldn't have posted the review if the sound was colored. Keep in mind I am using the Sony MDR-SA5000s which are one of the most detailed cans made, and I can hear things at low volume with them that aren't even present at full blast on my AKG 240s.

The Loop Out on the Gilmore Lite simply passes the signal along and does not go through any of the GLs amplification proccess. It is even more of a direct connection than a Y-splitter would be. You could make the argument that the RCA cable I used "colored" the sound but it is a shielded oxygen free cable and such.

Like someone said a few days ago in a thread here in the amp forum, amp builders become nervous adding useful features to their amps when people freak out over a connection that may add 1/6000th of an ohm of resistance and would probably not even register on equpiment.

I think the fact that you agree with my short comparison of the two supports the fact that the loop out does not color the sound.
post #9 of 426
I've used the SA5K with the Little Dot 3 (it was my main setup for awhile) and I thought it was excellent. The SA5K was a bit thin otherwise.
post #10 of 426
Thread Starter 

LD 3

There is not much info about the LD III or LD III+.

Can you (or anyone) comment on how the LD III sounded with the Sony 5000 compared to other amps with the same headphones?
post #11 of 426
tbonner1

very good review you have made
have you test the LD2+ with other tubes?
have you listen on other tube amps in the same price range?
can you add some own pics, when the unit is on?

Regards David
post #12 of 426
Quote:
Originally Posted by tbonner1
There is not much info about the LD III or LD III+.

Can you (or anyone) comment on how the LD III sounded with the Sony 5000 compared to other amps with the same headphones?
I've owned the LD3 for quite awhile and I think they pair pretty well with the SA5ks. I really like the SA5ks with a few exceptions: the bass could be a little fuller, the midrange (vocals) could carry a bit more weight, and the highs less sibilant.

By far the most "offensive" error the SA5ks makes is the sibilance. Unfortunately the LD3 does not do anything to remedy this, however it does do very well in alleviating the problems with bass and midrange fullness.

The SA5Ks are pretty much sibilant with any setup I've used it in. I don't believe the headphones actually impart sibilance, but rather reveal it in poorly recorded material. This is because some recordings are completely free of sibilance, while others are not. If it were the fault of the SA5ks, then one could reason that sibilance should show up everywhere.

The Little Dot 3 doesn't mask the SA5K's highs, but it does do wonders for the rather thin midrange and bass. Vocals are fuller and gain weight, while the bass becomes more abundant while still maintaining the relative tautness the SA5ks are known for. Out of some amps the SA5ks just sound straight up unnatural, but with the LD3, I can say they sound pretty good, which is why they rank among the top headphones I've heard.
post #13 of 426
Thread Starter 
Hi Davve,

"Mr. Yang has confirmed the CV131 as being equivalent to the EF92."

I edited the LD II+ review and included tube rolling. I have not tried other tubes with the LD II+ yet and feel no need to try (gasp..). I would say you have a choice of different sound via different tubes between the LD II and LD II+. If you want a slightly brighter sound you can get that with the LD II. The LD II amp with array of 4 tubes costs $95 plus shipping currently.

Right now, I am more interested in trying the LD III+ which has the same tube array as the LD II+ but can run in Class A. The LD III+ has several additional features including a separate power supply which may run a bit quieter.
post #14 of 426
I am planning on paring my A250s with a LDII+, I cant wait.
post #15 of 426
Quote:
Originally Posted by phergus_25
I am planning on paring my A250s with a LDII+, I cant wait.
Should sing... The A250 loves warm, open detailed all - tube amps.
Wow nice review!
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