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HeadAmp AE-2 impressions (w/ burn-in updates) (over)

post #1 of 142
Thread Starter 
5/20/07 - Impressions now over - formal amp review thread to follow later this summer

I got this in Friday, started listening today. These are literally initial impressions, I haven't had time or the energy to start a critical listening session.

- Disappointed by the lack of precision. The Gilmore Lite v2 w/ DPS definitely beats the AE-2 in this aspect. I've been listening to the Gilmore Lite regularly for the past weeks and the AE-2 feels like an instant downgrade. I hope this increases with burn-in.
- All operation is identical with that of the AE-1. The amps are physically identical. The AE-2 uses red LEDs where the AE-1 uses green LEDs.
- I can now confirm that both the RCA and mini jacks act as loop output for each other. Big thanks to Justin, this was a "hidden" feature I love about the AE-1!
- The volume pot is also notched so you can finally tell where the volume level is, unlike the AE-1 where you can't tell at a glance and have to look for the end of the screw hole.
- Bass level is about the same as the AE-1 right now. It's no more emphatic or forceful or deep (I'm using the AD2000 to gauge this).
- Treble energy is weaker than the rest of the frequency spectrum. Sounds as if the treble is being rolled off, around the 14-16 kHz range. Attack is slightly slow as well, I'm not getting the impression the amp is really on the ball with keeping time.
- Control over dynamics isn't as tight as on the Gilmore Lite v2. Sounds like it's quelling too much on loud bursts.
- Ultra-low bass lines are recessed, similar in line with the other battery-powered portables I've heard. Doesn't sound like it's digging deep.
- Signal crosstalk and soundstage are a step up from any portable I've heard so far. Stereo separation is top-notch - sounds in the left and right channels are cleanly placed and very positional sounding. It also has some of the airiness and width of the AE-1, but not quite as much, it's a bit smaller.
- Layer separation isn't up to par. It congests & muddies up with multiple concurrent layers going. It also has a hard time separating the lower and mid frequencies so they kinda turn into a blob.

Burn-in updates below!

Pics:



Gear mentioned in this thread:

post #2 of 142
good read. looking forwards to more comments ^^
post #3 of 142
Thanks for the quicky. Can't wait for updates!
post #4 of 142
ugh..Sounds pretty bad.. & this thing retails for 350.00? Correct? How much better is the portaphile maxxed compared to the AE-2
post #5 of 142
Thread Starter 
It doesn't sound any worse than the AE-1 though, and in fact right off the bat sounds better balanced, because the AE-1 has quite a few sonic deficiencies.

Also I'm purposely being as critical as possible on this amp so I can explore both its good and bad points. And not a lot of Head-Fiers here are very critical on "new-toy purchases" you know.

In comparison to the Portaphile V2^2 Maxxed w/ LT1210 and Black Gate caps that I heard (via AC power only, bypassing the battery), I prefer the AE-2's signature over the PV2^2's already. The V2^2 was too aggressive for me, it did have a very nice bass slap though.
post #6 of 142
I've been enjoying my AE-2. I'm no amp reviewer so I'll spare you all ...but I feel the AE-2 has a tubey sound, which I like a lot.
post #7 of 142
Thread Starter 
12-hour burn-in update!

Incremental improvements since I listened to it yesterday. Small, but noticeable. Balance over the frequency spectrum has evened out a little more. In direct comparison to the AE-1, the AE-2's focal point is on the upper mids, whereas the AE-1's focal point is on the lower mids. I should say that the AE-1 has a unusual frequency response IMO - recessed low bass and mid-bass, a lower-mids hump, an upper-mids recession, a very minor treble spike (accentuates the area where notes can sound metallic), and not a whole lot of air around the edges of notes. The AE-2 seems to fix a few of these areas - the bass is very slightly more than the AE-1 (thought it would be more), no lower-mids hump, no upper-mids recession, no treble spike. Still, it doesn't give air around trebly notes.

I'm still unimpressed by the amp. Bass isn't where I'd like it to be, and I'd dissent with the "tubey" claim - it's not that the mids are recessed, it's just that there seems to an upper-mids glare at the moment.

About the recessed upper treble, well it's still a bit recessed. Oh it's there, but you can only really hear it in simplistic tracks. It's obvious though the upper treble is at least 200% more refined than the AE-1's, it picks up cues that the AE-1 doesn't, and has a better "grip." Attack is still a bit weak but at least it's audible, it's barely perceptible on the AE-1.

Definition of soundstage is a definite leap over the AE-1. The AE-1 gives very nice width and projection, but in the process it loses a sense of defined space - the AE-2 brings this back and seems to bring down the walls, so to speak. Delineation of position is way better - the AE-1 is simply too blurry and indistinct of where instruments are, the AE-2 has a great ability to pinpoint in space and track a moving instrument. In other words, the AE-1 sounds airy (in the ephemereal sense of the word), while the AE-2 sounds spatial.

If I had to summarize this update, the AE-2 is showing an improvement over the AE-1 in: treble refinement (though not very audible at this point in time) and frequency balance. The lower-mids curve of the AE-1 is really noticeable against the AE-2.
post #8 of 142
Curious…

What type of source and headphones are you using?

What portable amps have you heard w/ the same set-up?
post #9 of 142
Thread Starter 
24-hour burn-in update! No discussion on this thread yet? Every other portable on this forum has had tons of discussion, why not the AE-2?

Quote:
Originally Posted by 909 View Post
Curious…

What type of source and headphones are you using?

What portable amps have you heard w/ the same set-up?
I'm using Arcam DiVA CD73 as source, headphones are ATH-AD2000 and K701. Other portable amps I've used with these include the AE-1, Portaphile V2^2 Maxxed w/ LT1210 and Black Gate caps, Xenos 1HA-EPC, Go-Vibe V6, RudiStor NKK-01 (I'm not much of a portables guy anymore). Also the CDs I'm using are Neotropic - Mr. Brubaker's Strawberry Alarm Clock, Hybrid - I Choose Noise, KT Tunstall - Eye to the Telescope, and Jewel - 0304. Interconnects are the Signal Cable Silver Resolution Analog and SilverMini (having both the RCA and mini-plug inputs is awesome!).

Onto the burn-in update!

Holy shmoly! The AE-2 is now clearly a cut better than the AE-1, and it's more than just incremental! The AE-2 makes the AE-1 sound scrunched up and messy. It's able to pull apart the layers with distinction now so you can actually hear what's going on in complex mixes. The difference is pretty noticeable now - the AE-1 sounds like everything is colliding into each other, while the AE-2 keeps things spaced apart so you can hear stuff like background trumpet blares and other sprinkles that round out to fill in a mix. The separation is so much better that some people might call it night and day!

The spatials of the AE-2 continue to impress me. None of the AE-1's ephemereal airiness, it's just more sanctioned off. It hasn't widened any but it does seem to have gained some depth - instruments in the background actually sound like they're in the back!

Treble is still weaker than ideal but it seems to have increased a bit too. Refinement is way above the AE-1 - it's not splashy, metallic, or grainy. It really needs more attack to help it, but even with the weak attack it's just so much more cleaner and clearer. Fast notes and the edges around notes are clean with no fraying - it's just hard to hear it because of the weak attack. Definitely the kind of thing you could fix with EQ on a computer setup...

Bass is now a bit fuller than the AE-1's. Not too much more, it's only incremental in this aspect, but there's definitely an increase. More weight & heft. Still not enough for headphones like the AD2000 though. Come on, burn-in!
post #10 of 142
I'm very interested. I have an AE-2 coming next week (hopefully). But it seems best to wait until your AE-2 to comment on or question its SQ. This is a very welcome thread and I read every addtion to it. It makes be feel better and better as you AE-2 gets better and better as it breaks in!
post #11 of 142
Wow did you get a GS-X and an AE-2 back to back? Nice Asr!
post #12 of 142
Quote:
24-hour burn-in update! No discussion on this thread yet? Every other portable on this forum has had tons of discussion, why not the AE-2?
Maybe this has to do with the high price and the fact that there are still no official infos available. The last time I went to the Headamp site I was told that the AE-1 is now ready for shipping??? It seems a bit as if the manufacturer has no real interest in promoting his amp.
post #13 of 142
Quote:
Originally Posted by dr.morton View Post
Maybe this has to do with the high price and the fact that there are still no official infos available. The last time I went to the Headamp site I was told that the AE-1 is now ready for shipping??? It seems a bit as if the manufacturer has no real interest in promoting his amp.
Justin hasn't updated his website in quite a looooooong time. This lack of updates is not limited to HeadAmp. You will notice that a number of audio vendors do not have the latest stuff on their websites (often times than not, the products are outdated by quite a few months or even over a year). In terms of headphone amplifiers, Mkhail hasn't updated his website in a while either.
post #14 of 142
Thanks a lot for the impressions! Even though I have absolutely no plans to do so, you're tempting me to add a lil' amp to my portable rig... I feel that itch...

Re: dr.morton
Maybe it's because most of HeadAmp's sales originate from Head-Fi. Most of us here know about Justin's line-up and don't need to refer to the website much for information apart from pricing and payment. That said, Justin does change his high-end (electrostatic) line-up rather frequently and often those models are very limited-run (10-15). Potential customers for those amplifiers would tend to contact Justin directly for a consultation since those amps are more or less bespoke. Frustrating as it is, by the time the amps are produced, they've already sold out. Hence, it wouldn't make much sense to put information about those products on his website. However, I completely understand and agree that he should probably keep his main-stream products well updated as they don't change that often.

Mikhail works in a similar manner to some extent: bespoke and customisable amp building catered for the high end. Most customers either contact Mikhail directly or use Head-Fi as a source of information. The website only gives a small glimpse of what Mikhail is capable of. Again, I would love to see Mikhail put up a sample price list for his products with all the options listed out and explained. I received the price list for the ES-1 and it was a joy to read through because Mikhail goes through each option in great detail. It would be great to see that information on his website for those who don't really want to bug him.

Anyway I digress. Another congrats for joining mid-fi/hi-fi/whatever-fi-you'd-like-to-call-it Have a pleasant journey.
post #15 of 142
Quote:
Originally Posted by Asr View Post
I got this in Friday, started listening today. These are literally initial impressions, I haven't had time or the energy to start a critical listening session:

- Disappointed by the lack of precision. The Gilmore Lite v2 w/ DPS definitely beats the AE-2 in this aspect. I've been listening to the Gilmore Lite regularly for the past weeks and the AE-2 feels like an instant downgrade. I hope this increases with burn-in.
- All operation is identical with that of the AE-1. The amps are physically identical. The AE-2 uses red LEDs where the AE-1 uses green LEDs.
- I can now confirm that both the RCA and mini jacks act as loop output for each other. Big thanks to Justin, this was a "hidden" feature I love about the AE-1!
- The volume pot is also notched so you can finally tell where the volume level is, unlike the AE-1 where you can't tell at a glance and have to look for the end of the screw hole.
- Bass level is about the same as the AE-1 right now. It's no more emphatic or forceful or deep (I'm using the AD2000 to gauge this).
- Treble energy is weaker than the rest of the frequency spectrum. Sounds as if the treble is being rolled off, around the 14-16 kHz range. Attack is slightly slow as well, I'm not getting the impression the amp is really on the ball with keeping time.
- Control over dynamics isn't as tight as on the Gilmore Lite v2. Sounds like it's quelling too much on loud bursts.
- Ultra-low bass lines are recessed, similar in line with the other battery-powered portables I've heard. Doesn't sound like it's digging deep.
- Signal crosstalk and soundstage are a step up from any portable I've heard so far. Stereo separation is top-notch - sounds in the left and right channels are cleanly placed and very positional sounding. It also has some of the airiness and width of the AE-1, but not quite as much, it's a bit smaller.
- Layer separation isn't up to par. It congests & muddies up with multiple concurrent layers going. It also has a hard time separating the lower and mid frequencies so they kinda turn into a blob.

So far not very impressed. Will provide more updates within the week.

Pics:



I so do lust for one after these pictures. That gold knob.........
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