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Wow.. a 'cheap' headphone amp that brings the HD650 to Omega II & ES-1 level?

post #1 of 49
Thread Starter 
Well, close enough anyways. Being that the new school term is starting, this is probably the only period I’ll have free time to be able to choke out something like this, so here goes.

It's the Gilmore Lite w/ DPS!

I’ve owned the Gilmore Lite and DPS for about two weeks now, and I’ve been holding back on any impressions or reviews without spending a proper amount of time with it. I originally ordered the amplifier as a bedside rig alongside the HD650s, while using the Omega II & ES-1 setup as my main rig. When I finally did decide to order the amplifier in April, Justin told me that he would have a limited edition ‘black’ Gilmore Lite run, but was unsure of when they would actually ship. Given the opportunity, I went for it and after waiting about 8 months (I told him it’d be alright and to take his time), I ended up with #001 of the Limited Edition Gilmore Lite.

In these past 8 months, the Omega II & ES-1 has come and gone, as well as a multitude of other systems, finally accumulating to where I am now (the HE90 and the Aristaeus). A ‘climax’ of such, I guess. To be honest, I realized a few months ago that there really is no point of me owning the Gilmore Lite and the HD650 anymore, and I was originally going to sell off the Gilmore Lite and not even bother opening it when I got it. But when I –did- get it, I became curious and thought, there wouldn’t be any harm in seeing how the HD650s sound through the Gilmore Lite w/ DPS and the Monarchy M24.

One of the systems I sorely missed during these last few months was the Omega II & ES-1, with it’s effortless and extremely seductive signature. But no longer – I have rekindled this missing spot with the unlikeliest of amps – a relatively ‘cheap’ $500 amp, nonetheless. The HD650s coupled with the Gilmore Lite w/ DPS and the Monarchy M24 gives me a special signature that I haven’t heard in any headphone rig since the Omega II & ES-1.. quite impressive, considering that one rig is ~$750 and the other is ~$6500.

A few months ago you may have noticed that I bought some Stello equipment – the HP100 and DA100 -- and that I quickly proclaimed it as the best I’ve heard the HD650s sound. Extremely synergetic, and masking the HD650s faults. Yes, it was the best I’ve heard the HD650s sound at the time, but not anymore.

The HD650 + Gilmore Lite w/ DPS + Monarchy M24’s sound can be expressed in one single word – organic. Organic in its presentation, organic in its bass presentation, it’s silky mids, and it’s delicate highs. The kind of presentation that is almost effortless, absolutely no strain anywhere, with no feeling of the HD650 being pushed too hard. It just sounded natural, like the headphones weren’t there. Sure there is coloration, but it is the kind of coloration that lets you listen to the headphones for hours on end, the kind of coloration that allows you to get lost into the music and stop worrying about your gear. Whereas the Stello system masked the HD650s faults and completely changed the HD650s signature to a more neutral sound (tightening the HD650’s low end and extending the high end -- hence why I said it was synergistic), the Gilmore Lite & M24 setup enhanced many aspects of the HD650s while still keeping its original smooth signature. And that, I like very much.

In comparison with the Omega II & ES-1, the bass is eerily similar. It almost sounds like Headamp had an Omega II & ES-1 in shop and decided to try to tweak the Gilmore Lite and HD650 to ‘mimic’ it (this isn’t a bad thing at all). Sounds farfetched, but who knows? Anyways, I digress. The bass goes very, very deep in both cases – the Omega II has bar-none, the nicest and deepest bass in any headphone I’ve owned. The only noticeable difference is the amount of visceral impact the HD650 has, which the Omega II pales in comparison – while the Omega II goes deep (to the point where it feels like the floor is actually rumbling in some bass tracks, and you can feel the bass swishing around next to your ears), the HD650 + GLite kicks it up a notch and allows drum hits to actually feel like they’re hitting your head. And I like that VERY much (not only on hiphop tracks either – in moderately poor Led Zeppelin recordings, it’s still a pleasure to feel Bonham bang his drumsticks on my head). Like the Omega II and ES-1, the HD650 and Gilmore Lite w/ DPS’ main strengths are in the lower regions.

In terms of the midrange presentation, the HD650 + Gilmore Lite w/ DPS + M24 combination allows vocalists to sound very natural, to the point where it sounds almost like they’re in the room with you. I have experienced this before on the Omega II and ES-1, so it’s nothing new. However, there are many other headphone combinations (such as the K1000 and the Aleph 3) which cannot do this properly. Sure, the K1000’s amazing imaging properties allow you to accurately pinpoint where the vocalists are, but they do not sound ‘real’ enough to give you the illusion that they are there. Inherently I have found that the more warm a headphone is in it’s overall sound signature, the more pleasing and soothing (and as a result, the more ‘realistic’) vocals are, so this may be the reason for this. Again, these are my ears, so maybe there is something different between mine and yours which may lead you to think that the K1000s have a better presentation of vocals. I guess it’s a coinflip on preferences. But the K1000s can’t do bass like this!

Last, but not least, the extremely delicate (almost to the point of being veiled to some) highs of the HD650s and the Omega IIs. The biggest complaint I’ve seen people have with the HD650 and the Omega IIs is that they are ‘veiled’ in the higher regions – that is, the highs do not extend outwards enough. I guess this is true compared to other headphones (RS-1, K1000), but with these set of ears I have found these other headphones (the K1000 in particular) to be a tad on the bright side. I have a reference track, with a saxophone blaring on the left channel, and the only headphones I’ve used where they don’t become shrill and start hurting my ears are the HD650s, the Omega IIs, and the RS-1 – the K1000s and the HE60s rendered this track pretty much unlistenable. The highs on the HD650 & Gilmore Lite w/ DPS & M24 setup are very articulate and not extended in any way – I wouldn’t even say they are recessed. They are near perfect for my ears, like the Omega II & ES-1 once was. Sure, the highs don’t scream out at you when you first listen, but if you listen carefully all of the details are there. This is a good thing, in my opinion, as I found that I could not listen to the K1000s or the HE60 for more than 30-60 minutes before taking a rest, whereas I was able to listen to the Omega IIs for hours at a time.

Anyways, I think I’m rambling on here now, partially due to my boredom with nothing to do during this first week of University, so I’ll wrap it up. Some of you may question my findings considering that I previously owned the GS-1 and HD650 rig but haven’t said much about it. The reason for this is because back then, I had absolutely no experience! I had never heard anything other than the SA5000s, and unfortunately I sold off the GS-1 promptly after I bought the K3000s. But after almost two years of going through a bunch of headphones and systems, I’ve found that I’ve returned back to the place I’ve started, but with ‘new’ ears – I now know what to look for.

Do I still miss the Omega IIs and the ES-1? Yes, but not as much as before. I’d say the HD650 + Gilmore Lite w/ DPS + M24 is the ‘baby’ Omega II & ES-1 rig – so many similar qualities, but if you’re going for that last 5-10%, then I guess you’ll have to go for the Omega IIs and the ES-1. But if you just want a taste of the Omega II & ES-1 magic for 10% of the cost, then try the HD650 + GLite w/ DPS + M24 combo first.

I haven’t a clue whether it’s the amp or the DAC that’s doing most of the magic, but I believe it’s a combination of both. I am willing to bet that it’s mostly the HD650 and the Gilmore Lite doing the brunt work. I won’t have another DAC to play around with for a while, but if (when is probably a better word) I do, I will report back.

Now I patiently wait for my Aristaeus (should get it next week) to see how the HE90 + Aristaeus stacks up against the ‘giant-killer’ HD650 + Gilmore Lite w/ DPS + M24. It is likely I will be keeping the Gilmore Lite w/ DPS to use as a bedside rig, considering the quality of sound I’m getting from it. Just slap on a Squeezebox and I’ll be good to go!

Some quick pictures I took (too busy listening to the combo):





post #2 of 49
I'm sorry, but 500 is not really all that cheap.

It's more of a Upper-mid to lower high level. :P

-The Grinman
post #3 of 49
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dregur View Post
I'm sorry, but 500 is not really all that cheap.

It's more of a Upper-mid to lower high level. :P

-The Grinman
'Cheap' relative to other amps!
post #4 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dregur View Post
I'm sorry, but 500 is not really all that cheap.

It's more of a Upper-mid to lower high level. :P

-The Grinman
In the grand scheme of things it is moderately cheap. High level would be ES-1, Aristaeus, SDS-XLR, etc. (a.k.a. multi-thousand dollar amps). $500 isn't "cheap" per se, but it's at that moderate price range in the grand scheme of things (and particularly in the scope of this review). I believe this review is geared toward a certain target audience, and if you find the G-Lite expensive or "lower high level," then I'm guessing you're not the target audience.

akwok - What do you think played the biggest factor in your HD650s sounding so great in this particular case -- your amp or source (Could you go to a lower amp and get closer to these results? Or could you go to a lower source and get closer to these results?)?

Please do report back on these findings when the Aristaeus lands
post #5 of 49
Nice read and nice pic's . Now , I'm curious what other amps have you heard the 650s with ?
post #6 of 49
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by derekbmn View Post
Nice read and nice pic's . Now , I'm curious what other amps have you heard the 650s with ?
Stello HP-100 and DA-100 (~$1100 for both) were the ones I spent the most time with (critically listening with the HD650 100% of the time). I have owned a couple of other dynamic amps in the past, like the legendary AudioValve RKV MKII. Check out my sig for more amps -- I've tried the HD650 with almost all of them (I've always had one by my side). Nothing has impressed me as much so far, though.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Azure View Post
In the grand scheme of things it is moderately cheap. High level would be ES-1, Aristaeus, SDS-XLR, etc. (a.k.a. multi-thousand dollar amps). $500 isn't "cheap" per se, but it's at that moderate price range in the grand scheme of things (and particularly in the scope of this review). I believe this review is geared toward a certain target audience, and if you find the G-Lite expensive or "lower high level," then I'm guessing you're not the target audience.

akwok - What do you think played the biggest factor in your HD650s sounding so great in this particular case -- your amp or source (Could you go to a lower amp and get closer to these results? Or could you go to a lower source and get closer to these results?)?

Please do report back on these findings when the Aristaeus lands
I don't know whether it's my amp or source, but I'm pretty sure the amp is playing a significant role in letting the M24 unleash it's full potential. The only other source I have is an iPod, and I can try hooking that up (via the line out) to the GLite tomorrow if you'd like, once I get the proper cables.

Yeah, I can't wait for the Aristaeus. Hopefully it's soon, and hopefully the HE90 + Aristaeus is significantly better than the HD650 + GLite + M24. The latter already sounds heavenly right now!

Even with the RKV MKII, opamps rolled, and the same source (M24), I can't recall it being anywhere near this euphoric. So I'd wager it's the amp.
post #7 of 49
Nice photo's, good review always wondered what those OII's sounded like. IMO, to know on the cheap, while keeping the bass, etc., is even better.
post #8 of 49
I cant help but remember you telling me that you don't do reviews akwok, just take really nice pics. You lied to me. My feelings are hurt now.
post #9 of 49
Akwok, nice review and photos!

I've really enjoyed the HD-650 through a Dynalo. I know they're not exactly the same as the Gilmore Lite, but there's some good synergy going on with this circuit and the Senn.

So good, I bought two more Dynalo boards and a couple of STEPS to go with them. I think the Dynamid is the way to go with Sennheiser.
post #10 of 49
So to paraphrase, a well-made, moderately priced (by head-fi standards) amp can be part of a system that compares at least somewhat favorably with a megabuck system.
post #11 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by 003 View Post
I cant help but remember you telling me that you don't do reviews akwok, just take really nice pics. You lied to me. My feelings are hurt now.
Maybe AK's really impressed with the combo this time. It's always nice for a person to find out a sound that he likes and this is not easy too. Hope seeing a review from him on the HE90 and Aristaeus some day.
post #12 of 49
You still haven't heard those HE90's? You might not be impressed....
Those HE90's are going to be much more 'picky' about associated equipment than the HD650.

Neil
post #13 of 49
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Iron_Dreamer View Post
So to paraphrase, a well-made, moderately priced (by head-fi standards) amp can be part of a system that compares at least somewhat favorably with a megabuck system.
Yup. Interesting little setup this is -- I'm going to try putting a Squeezebox into the chain and see how it goes, bypassing the M24.

Quote:
Originally Posted by neilvg View Post
You still haven't heard those HE90's? You might not be impressed....
Those HE90's are going to be much more 'picky' about associated equipment than the HD650.

Neil
Aristaeus should ship on Monday, so I should be able to hear the HE90 magic soon! Getting it expedited next-day to Canada, can't wait.
post #14 of 49
Great read akwok!

Now, I look for a suitable angle to talk you over to the line of amps that really will take your HD650 by the horns and allow it to show its true colours, fully and naked.
post #15 of 49
Excellent review Akwok and nice pics too. I may have to upgrade my GL with a dps as well 909 mentioned last week at our mini meet that that was a must for the HD650's.
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