I originally started this thread, and while there have been many updates and comments in other threads, I felt this was the best place to record my latest conclusions.
Here's the bottom line: Tomahawk is the winner!
Let's start with me, my music, my components and my listening environment. I've been an audiophile for years, now in remission, settling on Levinson, Thiel and Kimber. I am a guitar player (acoustic now) and therefore listen mostly to guitarists, electric and acoustic. Blues and blues/rock are my faves (Jimmy Thackery, Sonny Landreth, SRV, early Clapton, etc.) but I also mix in "classic" rock (Rolling Stones, Who, Floyd), some pop (John Hiatt, Paul Simon, Alison Krause) and the occasional country tune. I listen to a fair amount of acoustic guitar, mostly blues. I don't really do jazz and don't listen to classical with headphones.
My current rig is an iPod 8gb Nano (all ALAC), to a Jumbo Cryo, to amp, to Westone ES2’s. The Nano is new (from a 5g 30gb iPod) but everything else has been in the chain for about 6 months. Both my Hornet M and TH have over 500 hours of burn in. I have EQ set to off. I have no other headphones and don’t plan on getting any (except as noted below).
I listen at the gym, usually 2+ hours per day, both lifting and aerobics. While this is a slightly noisy environment, the isolation on the ES2’s is nearly total, so I only hear very low levels of noise between songs.
When the TH first arrived my Hornet had around 450 hours on it and was clearly superior to the TH. Bass was far better, it was warmer, had better highs and was more engaging. I could follow individual instruments and vocals better and the “fun factor” was higher on the scale. Over time, as the TH burned in, I started to notice that the clarity, detail, “air,” soundstage depth and width on the TH was slightly better then the Hornet. TH bass was still noticeably less in both weight and punch, high frequencies were a bit less transparent and the TH was a bit cold or dry to the Hornet’s warmth.
At around 350 hours on the TH I still slightly preferred the Hornet, which was a disappointment. I really like the size and ease of use of the TH and really wanted to like it better, but my ears were telling me otherwise. The Hornet was more engaging, was easier the way a big powerful amp on a home system can be, you know, effortless and relaxed, the Hornet had more punch and life. The gap was certainly narrowing, quite a bit actually, but the Hornet was still ahead.
At about 400+ hours I found I was starting to actually like the TH as much - not more - than the Hornet, but for different reasons. The TH has a very deep and wide soundstage, there is wonderful clarity, imaging is remarkable good. Bass was still a bit lean compared to the Hornet, but was tight and had great definition. The trebles on the TH now matched the Hornet, extending way up without any glare or fizz. Cymbals, drums and all those percussive instruments were just right! I found I was selecting the TH perhaps 60% of the time.
I kept burning the TH (and the Hornet) getting both comfortably above 500 hours, I’ve lost count at this point. A few days ago something just clicked with the TH. Literally in a matter of a day it seemed the TH just came alive! Bass is now more than big enough, tight, focused, punchy and, most important, perfectly balanced with the rest of the spectrum. Guitars, vocals and all that midrange stuff is just heavenly. It’s a cliché, but I’m still hearing new stuff on songs I have been listening to since the late ‘60’s (really!) The TH has exceptional clarity and detail without the least bit of clinical focus, there is not the slightest trace of listener fatigue. Highs are superb. I keep going back to the soundstage, it is so wide deep, transparent and clear, it is just a revelation. The air around each musician is simply addicting.
Just to be certain I wasn’t having a good day with the TH, I’ve held off posting for a week to be certain the TH continued to sound good. It has. Yesterday I put the Hornet back in the chain and it actually sounded sort of bloated! Bass was too big for me, the mids seemed sort of mushy and indistinct and the soundstage was limited. The Hornet had just a bit too much warmth for me, just a bit.
Now, please understand, this is on my system with my music and my environment. While the Hornet is a fantastic product, I feel the TH is “better.” I’m frankly surprised, especially given my first impressions. I thought the TH would be a sonic compromise, great size, easy to use, cool package, but a little brother to the Hornet’s sound. Not so, not so at all. As an IEM user exclusively, my final conclusion is the TH is the sonic superior of the Hornet.
Final caveat: I will most certainly be getting the Westone Custom 3’s as soon as possible. I’ll be most interested to see how these two amps compare with a different set of IEM’s. However, given what I have right now today, the TH rocks!