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REVIEW: AKG K1000/Bottlehead Paramour/Foreplay

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
Thanks for tuning in. I've got my AKG K1000/Bottlehead Paramour/Bottlehead Foreplay system up and running for about four weeks now, so I'm over the first overenthusiastic reactions and proud papa syndrom and ready to post a review of this system.

Since the AKG K1000 headphones are the only headphones suited for the Bottlehead Paramour mono blocks, this is really a review for a complete headphone system consisting of Bottlehead Foreplay tube preamp, Bottlehead Paramour tube power amps and AKG K1000 headphones.

Let's start with the headphones:
AKG K1000:
Dynamic headphones with unique design: Headband is held just above the ears and rectangular shaped speakers are hanging down from head to allow adjusting angle and position of speakers to taste. Adjusting the angle changes perceived frequency and widens or narrows soundstage. Moving the speakers forward and backward changes the depth of the soundfield. These changes are not subtle and are part of the fun with these headphones. You can convert a small jazz hall into a large ball room or move an entire orchestra from a closed hall to an open air bowl. Don't like sitting in row five? Move headphones forward and listen from the distance.

The K1000 are the most detailed dynamic headphones I know of and they play in the same league as electrostatic headphones when I compared them at Headroom's tour last year. I don't know how the K1000 measure across the frequency spectrum, but they sound balanced to my ears. I didn't have any WOW thoughts about lows, mids or highs when I first listened to them. I like this, because short-term WOW effects often become boring and fatiguing in the long run.

The K1000 don't have a sonic signature on their own, but rather like a chamaeleon assume the sonic signature of the equipment further up the stream. I've used them with some mid-fi solid state amps and they sounded harsh, brittle and metallic, attributes that don't fit the bill at all after hooking them up to the Paramours, but more about that later.

I find the K1000 comfortable to wear, but I guess I'm a poor judge of that since I find almost all headphones comfortable to wear. I also haven't listened for more than four hours straight with these phones.
It's difficult with these headphones to move around though, because they don't clamp down on your head as tight as other headphones. It's also difficult to stretch down on a sofa with these.
The K1000 are open headphones and they leak a lot of music (or noise depending on which side your on) and you'll also be able to be influenced by outside noises. In this regard there are similiar to small bookshelf speakers at moderate volume level.

The K1000 are rated at 120 ohm and an efficiency of 74 db/mW, which means they need about one full watt at 120 ohm to pump out 104 db. I know only of one discontinued (SAC) and two recent (Audiovalve RKV and Jan Meier's Prehead) dedicated headphone amps that deliver that much power , so the only other option is to drive the K1000 with regular power amps which leads me into the next section:

Bottlehead's Paramour Power Amp and Foreplay Preamp:
Bottlehead Corp. sells amp kits through the web and the owner (Doc B.) is quite adament about not selling finished products to his customers. This may disqualify some enthusiasts, but on the other hand if you manage to finish the job, you become part of the money-can't-buy-me-everything-in-the-world club.
There's a whole dedicated -you could even say fanatic- crowd out at Bottlehead's forum on AudioAsylum that is eager to help you finish your kit, if you run into problems and also has a ton of tweaks to push your system further.

You could also watch out on eBay for pre-owned, but there's a good chance that an even greater fool than yourself put that lemon together and is trying to unload some potential hazardous waste.

The Paramours are two 3.5 watt mono blocks, that are driven by a 2A3 and 12AT7 tube each. These are the lowest cost power amps available from Bottlehead.
On paper, 3.5 watts into speaker loads is not enough power for the K1000. Practically I don't run out of steam with my current setup, but I also listen to relatively low volume. Doc B. was kind enough to provide me with information about some minor and major tweaks to deliver more power into the headphones if needed and I will try these out and explore in a couple of weeks. I'm still enjoying my setup too much to tear it apart and I don't think I'm missing anything anyway.

The Foreplay is even less expensive and is available with optional upgrades like stepped attenuators, C4S power supplies and Magnet hookup wire. My Foreplay is equipped with all the above Bottlehead upgrades. My sweet whispers stepped attenuators are built with -50 to -20 db option and I rarely have to turn them up more than 3/4 turn.
Instead of the Foreplay you can of course choose any other preamp and most likely even your current headphone amp. Be warned though, that the K1000 paired with the Paramours are very revealing and you may not like what it makes out of your current headphone amp. The Foreplay is inexpensive and doesn't leave a sonic impression on the music.
In stock form the Foreplay has three inputs and one output, but can be modified without voiding warranty (there's none, you've built it yourself remember?). It also features separate pots for each channel, but the stepped attenuator upgrade can be ordered as a stereo switch (mine are two monos).

The kits are well documented and all parts except tools, solder, glue and paint if you want to be creative with your wooden base are provided. Parts are of high, but not best quality (gold plated RCA jacks), high quality magnet hookup wire, high quality resistors, capacitors and transformers are used. You can upgrade later to the usual audiophile boutique parts like Vishnah resistors, Auricap capacitors and Magnaquest transformers, but you can easily outspend the whole kit with a handful of parts. My Paramour and Foreplay were both built entirely with stock parts and the sound is fantastic, but there's room for improvement.
The supplied tubes are of lower quality and most everybody would want to replace those fairly soon. My Foreplay developed some hiss on one side after a couple of hours, that was caused by one of the tubes. I've replaced the tubes with Electro Harmonix and it's working fine ever since. The Paramours are still running with kit tubes.

Assembly took me about 25 hours for the Paramours including painting and assembly of the base and the C4S power supply upgrade, which is included in the stock kit. The Foreplay initially took about 20 hours and all the upgrades probably another 10. I'm pretty new with the soldering iron and my only experience I had before was a cmoy pocket amp. I was also fortunate that both amps worked the first time I've switched them on.
Because of the high sensitivity of the K1000 you will have to build and add the optional C4S power upgrade to reduce hum. I've also experimented with different output taps and decided to use 8 ohm impedance.
Even with the C4S module installed, there's a very slight background noise with the Paramours, that is lower than what my phono stage produces. But in case you're used to pitch black background, you'd have to check out Bottlehead's support forum on how to kill background noise completely on the Paramours.
My Foreplay is a tad noisier. The hum is noticable during very soft passages and can be distractive if your really looking for it. Bottlehead's forum is a great help in this regard and I've got several options for the Foreplay to reduce or kill the hum. I'm not so much concerned about the hum itself (most of my records have louder tape hiss than the Foreplay hum), but I think the Foreplay will be quicker and will have more dynamics with reduced noise.

Now at last how does it sound?
It doesn't sound at all, there's just music.
The K1000 completely vanish around you and leave you alone with the music. With all other equipment I've owned so far I was always distracted by listening to the equipment's strength and weaknesses. Now at least the headphones are out of the picture. When the music is playing, you can't tell where the headphones are and the instruments are placed around naturally in front of you. There are other good headphone/amp combination for great soundstage, but with this AKG/Bottlehead combo I've never felt compelled to listen for separation of instruments and whether I could hear the difference between the first and the second violin, just like you don't try to listen for that stuff when going to a live concert, it's just there.

Single instruments are extremely well captured and I've had the same experience as with soundstage: The instruments are so real most of the time, that you don't have that WOW-did-you-hear-that-that-just-sounded-like-a-piano effect and your brain or any other part of your body can relax and get into the music. Like live music: You never think, WOW, I think that sounds like a piano. You see the piano, you see somebody banging the keys of the piano and of course your hear a piano, doh! So you relax and just listen to the music.
One of the most troublesome instruments for audio reproduction is a plugged upright bass, at least in my experience. It sometimes is difficult to distingush from an electric bass. That's still an area where the K1000/Paramour combination has room for improvement, although it beats anything else I've heard. Similiar experience with single low octaves notes on the piano: You're telling yourself you hear a low key on a piano, but it should be automatic and the thought shouldn't even come up.

My listening experience has changed. I'm listening mostly to classical and jazz, but every tenth record or so I'll also spin some rock. The most dramatic change has been in jazz and chamber music. Because single instruments are represented so well, music with just a handful of instruments are very close to the real thing. Especially solos in jazz draw your complete attention. I'm much closer to the musician and his or her expressions. It's difficult to follow the whole band when somebody plays a riff. You ears are glued to the soloist.

I said it another post before. The best way to describe the sound is, that you stand on top of a high mountain and take a deep fresh breath of air. I think this system is clean, fresh and unpolluted.

In case anybody is interested: I'm listening mostly to vinyl through a Clearaudio Champion turntable with Rega 250 arm and Benz Micro Glider low ouput cartridge. Phono stage is a Phenomena with battery and loaded at 1000 ohm with a gain of 60. I'm using Bottlehead's Entwined interconnect kits that uses the same magnet wire as in the amp kits.
No power tweaks.
post #2 of 14

Bottlehead

Very informative post jopi! Bottlehead gear is a great deal $$ and sounds sweet. Give your Foreplay and Mores about 10-20 hours to break-in. Please let us know how things sound to you later………..Dan
post #3 of 14
Ditto on the comments by Dan H. Great, informative, and well written review of the headphones, amps, and DIY field many here are more seriously looking into like yourself. It helps to know that one can buy a kit and get such great sound, not to mention help from others with the assembly, for such a low price!!

Thanks jopi!!!!
post #4 of 14
Oh man, I really wish I could do DIY stuff. I have no skills yet. I've never had the chance because of no room (being in an apartment) so there's no project space. Everytime I see a cool project I want to do it more and more.

Thanks for the review. I already have the K1000s so I sorta know what you're talking about but I'm a small mountain not a tall one yet
post #5 of 14
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by lan
I've never had the chance because of no room (being in an apartment) so there's no project space.
I didn't have the space either. I was unpacking my box every night and used the kitchen table and had to pack and clean up after I was done.

That excuse won't do.
post #6 of 14
Killer review!
I had this combo in the back of my mind and always wondered how it would sound together.
You are making it very hard for me not to try it this year.


Can you elaborate on the modifications that Doc suggested?
post #7 of 14
Great work, Jopi!

BTW, you must have really bad electricity if you get hum from the Phonomena w/battery. I wonder whether a minimal power conditioner (like the Monster 1100) would help. I think I'll need to bring mine over for an Orange County mini-Head-Fi meet!

post #8 of 14
Quote:
Originally posted by jopi
I didn't have the space either. I was unpacking my box every night and used the kitchen table and had to pack and clean up after I was done.

That excuse won't do.
I don't think that will happen because the family wont' be happy with that haha! I have other projects needing space, computers, making speakers, some art stuff. There's no safe haven for them to turn without seem one of my "things" I'm not going to push it by taking over anything in the kitchen. I'll figure it out somehow.
post #9 of 14
Nice Review, Jopi.

It would've been nice to see the finished product, but I guess these pictures will have to do: http://www.bottlehead.com/et/adobesp...r/paramour.htm

man, talk about temptation (buy the upgrade parts before putting together?)
post #10 of 14
Thread Starter 
Here is a picture of the amps and of the whole system. I can close the doors and lock them to keep my kids and my cartridge from getting toasted.
post #11 of 14
Thread Starter 
Here's #2
post #12 of 14
Very, very nice. The wood of the enclosures matches te surrounding wood quite well!! Nice photo and thanks for sharing it with us!!!
post #13 of 14
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by bootman

Can you elaborate on the modifications that Doc suggested?
Best option would be to exchange the existing output transformer with a Magnaquest TL-404 autoformer. gdahl is using this jewel in his self-designed and built headphone amp and can probably tell you more about it. The transformer is very expensive, around $400 for a pair last time I've checked.

You can also convert the stock output transformer to an autoformer by connecting primary signal with secondary ground and tapping off another primary winding, at least that's what Doc's been telling me. I've tried this briefly by just desoldering and alligator clipping, but got too much hum that way. I have to sit down one of these days and take a couple of hours to try different taps and solder grounds instead of clipping them together.

I was worried about the impedance mismatch before ordering, too, and I may not have the best match yet, but even in stock form it certainly does not disappoint.
But also remember, that I mostly listen to accoustic music with little bass. Rock music through my former setup (Max with Senns) sounded fatter, although I can't say better, just different.
Your miles may vary though.
post #14 of 14
Thanks jopi! Great, detailed review. I think I'll keep my kits until I have time to build them.
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