Ah pictures! That means my review on the Little Dot II++ is finally here!
Let me start off by saying that my previous LD2+ from Little Dot was, in fact, my first tube amp. Its pricing and sound quality totally impressed me. However, there were certain issues regarding the amp that i and many other users were not so happy with (you can find out what by doing some searching). As a result, I made my switch to Ld2+'s improved model -- the LD2++. I have to mention here that I am very happy with the great customer service I received from both David (my reseller) and Mr. Yang (the designer). Alright, on with the review!
Parts & Specs:
- Mullard EF92 driver tubes
- Beijing 6C19 J power tubes
- ALPS-16 Potentiometer
- Pre-amp functionality via RCA outputs on rear
- Transient voltage suppression diode
Input: Gold-Plated Unbalanced Phono (RCA) Jacks
Output: 1/4" Gold-Plated Stereo Headphone out
Frequency Response: 20HZ - 100KHz (-3dB)
Suitable Headphone Impedance: 32 - 600 ohms
Power Output: 300mW into 300 ohms
Dimensions: 230mm x 130mm x 110mm (height)
Weight: 2.6 kg (5.73 lbs)
Ld2++ is very well constructed. No loose part whatsoever. The metal chassis is rigid and the edges seem well aligned. It sure looks like it can take a beating. My black Ld2++ and the orange glowing tubes matched with an orange LED look very pleasing, especially when they're glowing in the dark! The four tubes were also very convenient to install as the pattern of the pins provide a dumb-proof plug-and-play installation method. Comparing with the hassle of fitting in the power tubes on the LD2+, the 6C19J are far more secure, stable, and easy-handling.
Nonetheless, there are some parts of this amp that still can be improved. First, the volume knob. Probably due to its hollow aluminum construction, it gives a flimsy feeling; and being the most oftenly touched part of the amp, its construction gives a knock to the first-hand impression from those who emphasize on quality gears. Secondly, the power connection with the stock cord seems very difficult to plug. However, using my own 3-pin power cord, I've deciphered that the fault was the stock power cord and not the jack itself.
The construction of LD2++ is highly acceptable. Comparing to Ld2+, it's more superior in terms of gap and edges. I'm also very pleased to see Little Dot has gold-plated both the headphone jack and the rear input/preamp channels.
Like its predecessors, the heat from Ld2++ is a major problem. While it takes longer than the Ld2++ to reach "untouchable" level (around 2.5 hours in a ventilated area @ 21 Celsius room temperature), it still does require personal attention and need to be turned off when unattended for an extended period of time (due to safety and fire hazard). Since Ld2+ was my first tube amp, I do not know if such heat level is normal for most tube-amps. So this is open to question from other experienced tube amp users out there. Nonetheless, although the amp does exceed extreme high temperature, if you make sure nothing is physically touching it, it will not damage anything as the rubber feet provide a good gap between the amp and my desk.
Sound [in price-to-sound ratio] (8.5/10)
This is the reason why even though I've experienced technical problem with my LD2+, I still want to continue with a Ld2++. Its sound reproduction totally wow'ed me. On one of Little Dot's Ebay sale sites, a reseller states that the Ld2++ delivers "lush rich full bodied" music and that the sound becomes "smooth, sweet, and detailed combining with excellent low frequency performance." Well, is this true? I cannot speak for its synergy with other headphones, but I can say this: coupled with a pair of Sennheiser HD595, the Ld2++ produces a very full-bodied sound with liquid-like mids. There is a small emphasis on high-mids while the Ld2+ had an emphasis on lower-mids. Treble and Bass, while both extend far, are not the main focus. The bass with the stock tubes and interconnect is neither sloppy nor over-powering. It hits the low notes pretty accurately. The hit is fast and low. However, Ld2++'s low-notes performance gives me a feeling that it "slightly touches and leaves." I hope the translation of my hearing into words makes sense for you. If i were to summarize the bass performance of this amp, i'd say that the LD2++ has a quick and clean bass response that is neither emphasized nor lacking in its music reproduction. Although not as warm as the Ld2+ (which I prefer more), the LD2++ truly embodies the nice warm signature of tube amps.
Another factor worths mentioning is the soundstage. As a result of getting a bit colder than its predecessor, LD2++ also has a wider soundstage. The soundstage of HD595, which is well-known to be limited in width, was sweetly widened. Coupled with HD595's good depth, the amped soundstage has given me an intimate feeling that takes place in a very large room. My impression on the enlarged soundstage was dramatically proven correct when i did an amped/unamped comparison of a virtual 3D soundtrack (the one with someone shaking a box of tic-tacs around you).
I've also tested the Ld2++ with a pair of AKG K501. While the impression was not as good as the one I had with the legendary Marantz 2226B receiver, the LD2++ ultimately drives it very decently. But because of its high-mid emphasized nature, which the K501 also has, the synergy was not as great. If you can find some tubes that make the LD2++ more low-mid and bass emphasized, it would suit much better with the K501. The way of finding a well-matched amp for your headphone is to first look at the good character of your phones, then to find out the part that needs improvement in order to create a good all-rounder. In this case, because the K501 tends to focus on upper-mids and treble, and lack lower-mids and bass, finding an amp with a bassy character will be the thing to do. Nonetheless, the Ld2++ effeciently drives the K501 and gives the sound a much more classical-oriented and fully powered feeling.
Sound Score Breakdown:
Treble -- 7/10
Upper-Mids -- 8.5/10
Lower-Mids -- 8/10
Bass -- 8/10
Soundstage -- 8.5/10
I also want to mention that the new Ld2++ is no longer microphonic! (comparing to Ld2+)
What comes in a small package, glows in the dark, and unleashes liquid warmth to your music? I think you already know the answer. Although the Ld2++ has some minor improvements which can be made, such as the construction of the volume knob and the amp's heat, I'm satisfied with the result on my music listening experience, especially considering the money I paid. According to other users, this amp still can be improved by swapping various tubes! I've already ordered some Sovtek 6C19Pi and will write on the impression once they have arrived. In all, because of its high mids-emphasized character, the LD2++ is a very good choice for female vocals and male with a medium-high voice. Its tuby warmth, impressive soundstage, and liquid sound have made the LD2++ a fun and musical joyride. At such a low retail price (less than $200), the Little Dot II++, without question, is one of the best intro tube amps for someone who wants to enter into the world of high-end dedicated tube amps for headphones.
In comparison to the stock combination:
Beijing 6C19 J + Mullard EF92:
Much more bassy than the Ediswan. Volume improves. Soundstage, however, is not as large as previous as a result. Also, clarity is reduced and is not as detailed.
Sovtek 6C19Pi + Ediswan EF92 (stock):
Much more transparent and the sound is much more accurate. Treble becomes much more emphasized and evident in the music. Bass becomes cleaner, more impactful, and less coloration to the overall sound. Mids, however, become weak and less emphasized. As a result, the sound is LESS fluid-like and much colder.
6C19Pi + Mullard EF92:
Treble stays crystal clear and bass stays more impactful and less coloring than the stock power tubes. However, mids, comparing to the Sovtek+Ediswan combo, became way more existent. The Mullards have added a warmer signature to the sound and returned most of the fluid like quality of the LD2++. Although less transparent, the music stayed accurate and fine-tuned.
In conclusion, for referencing purposes, the Sovtek 6C19Pi + Mullard EF92 combo is the winner. It brought together exceptionally clear treble, warm fluid mids, and accurate and impactful bass with minimum coloration of notes. However, while it is great for referencing, I personally find this combo too fatiguing for my ears. If you would let me choose, I'd still stay with the stock combo for everyday music listening purposes.
This review, with updated pictures, can be found on Compudio Gadget Reviews