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Review: C&C Studio Labs - C&C Box v2

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 
Intro
When C&C Studio Lab's C&C Box v2 first arrived on the scene just a couple months ago, most billed it as an imitator and knock-off of the previously-popular Little Dot Micro+, long hailed as one of the best portable amps under $100. It may use the same enclosure as the LDM+, but that doesn't mean the two are the same - actually the C&C Box v2 ended up being quite a bit better.

Equipment Used
Source: Onkyo CS-V720 (DVDP)
Comparison Amps: HeadAmp Gilmore Lite v2 w/ DPS, HeadAmp AE-2, Xenos 1HA-EPC
Headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-AD2000 & ATH-ES7, AKG K701 & K601
Interconnect: Signal Cable SilverMini

The amp was subjected to ~200 hours of burn-in for this review.

Test CDs
Alison Krauss - Now That I've Found You
Hybrid - I Choose Noise
Jewel - 0304
Howard Shore - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King [OST]
Neotropic - Mr. Brubaker's Strawberry Alarm Clock
Renee Fleming - Thais (Massenet, 1894)

Pics
(click for larger versions)


- Photobucket Gallery: C&C Box v2
- Custom Web page (1 MB): C&C Box v2



Caveat

When listening first started for this review, the source being used was my reference CDP, the Arcam DiVA CD73. That however immediately went out the window as soon as a CD was played, as there was a very large amount of distortion, not just in the bass frequencies, but over the entire sound. The amp was subjected to over 100 hours of burn-in to see if it just needed to be burned in, but the burn-in cycle did nothing for the distortion, it remained. There was also distortion on another CDP, the Cambridge Audio Azur 640C V2. Separate investigation on this subject proved that the amp cannot be driven from a disc-based source that outputs a standard-level line-out signal.

This was unforeseen and very unprecedented, and made me almost throw the amp out of consideration for review (and then to be subjected to immediate FS status of course), when on a whim I tried the amp with an alternate source, the Onkyo CS-V720, which outputs a weaker line-out signal. The amp did not distort with this source, so the Onkyo became the reference source for this review by default. Since the Arcam is my usual reference I did spend over a week getting reacquainted with the Onkyo, so I did factor that variable in as well.

Hence, the amp cannot and should not be used with standard "rackmount" size disc players that output high-powered line-out signals. Very clearly an amp only for portable sources.

Soundstage

The C&C Box's V2 soundstage is decent for an amp of this level - could certainly be better, but no major flaws. Very little depth to it. The recurring theme with test tracks on soundstage specifically was an inability to retrieve a sense of space and air around instruments. The amp failed to pick up forward/backward positioning. It could be said that this was a detriment of the source being used, but comparisons with the Gilmore Lite v2 and AE-2 took away all doubt - this was clearly a fault of the C&C Box v2.

The amp also struggled with left/right positioning - more often than not it sounded like the amp was merging two (or more) instruments onto the same spot in the soundstage, blurring their focus and clarity. There were many instances in which I found instruments completely out of focus - they were indistinct amidst complex mixes and didn't cleanly come out.

Not that the amp's soundstage is bad of course, it simply doesn't compete with a higher-end portable like the AE-2, nor does it provide the tracking & positioning of the Gilmore Lite on either static or moving layers. The amp does have an "SF" switch that toggles a Stereo Field effect for crossfeed, and this proved to work a lot better than the implementation on the Xenos 1HA-EPC. Whereas the Xenos' crossfeed sucks out air and flattens imaging and is best for headphones that have no innate soundstage abilities (like Grado and the lower-end AT models), the C&C Box v2's crossfeed actually works to simulate a greater sense of space, without destroying the abilities of headphones like the ATH-AD2000, K701, or K601. The instant impression of this crossfeed was that it provided acoustics very similar to what you'd get in a concert-hall venue - more reverb, more projection, more air.

Transparency/Frequency Response

The amp proved to be significantly less transparent than the Gilmore Lite v2 (the jury's still out on the AE-2), with a noticeable upper-treble recession that makes it sound weak and frayed, a slight boost in the upper mids (female vocals for example stick out a bit on it), an unusual sinkhole in the lower mids (vocals and instruments lack resonance and power), and some noticeably recessed regions of the lower bass (not a lot of drive and force). An admission on this though as I haven't found a battery-powered portable yet that doesn't have a lower-bass recession, the C&C Box v2 is just the latest addition to my list of bass-lacking amps. Estimation of its level of transparency: 80%. Unacceptable at any price point IMO, even for a portable.

Overall sound of the amp is nice & pleasant though, but it won't win any awards for truly faithful sound reproduction. In its favor, it does have a very clear, open sound, and it doesn't sound terrible either - it's just that it doesn't sound terrific, at least to these ears.

Treble is acceptable with no glaring faults, but it is noticeably recessed in the upper region, as the very edges of notes aren't clean or clear, and there's no snap to tightly grab onto leading or exit trails either. There's also a lack of "purity" to capture tiny details cleanly without sounding forced - the amp tends to sound like it's working to get details rather than effortless. The general treble area is also a weak spot for the amp, as it struggled to keep pace with violins in orchestral music, to make them sing out in force over the rest of the orchestra, and it doesn't have the grounding to make music sound "epic" either.

Mids are ok on it, nothing really special, but there's a lack of chest resonance on vocals that takes away from the performance, and there's also a very slight "forward" presentation on the upper-mids, which can make female vocals in particular sound a bit unbalanced as a result. On the K701 and K601 this kinda resulted in a double-whammy of double emphasis on female vocals - not that it was unpleasant, it just made music sound unbalanced. However, the more noticeable aspect here was the lacking lower-mids, as music just sounded like it was missing its meat, energy, and drive. The "MF" switch on the back doesn't do much to help this, it just makes music sound more trebly and brings out instruments like guitars more.

The LF switch doesn't do much to help bass either, as it just adds more mid-bass and not enough low bass, nor does it give a more balanced sound when it's on. Bass by itself is ok, it slams with enough strength for most intents & purposes, but doesn't do much else. It's not deep, or very tuneful, or very forceful - it's just "there."

OOBE & Customer Service

The "Out-Of-Box-Experience" for this amp is probably the best one I've had so far. A lot of amp vendors can put together a product that looks as good as it sounds and package it with lots of foam peanuts or bubble wrap, and double-box it too, but how many go the extra mile to make sure your unwrapping experience feels like you just got the new toy that you did? I ordered this amp from Headb.com and it was an amazing experience looking at everything they included and how they packed it - a purple velvet carrying bag for the amp with mini-mini IC and AC adapter all in a tough translucent plastic bag, and the amp itself was in a box that could've doubled as a container for women's jewelry - and inside, it was resting on a plush black cushion and wrapped in a clear plastic sheet to prevent dust from catching on it. Inside this box was also a Quick Start guide along with a product certificate. Talk about quality!

And the customer service experience was excellent too - fast, friendly, and they sent a tracking # too. What else needs to be said? And if you ever have any problems ordering from Headb.com, I'm sure C.Felix (who also has MoT status) here on Head-Fi will probably take care of any problems for you.

Conclusion

The C&C Box v2 is a decent amp for ~$100, for those who need an amp only for a portable source (DAP or PCDP). The sound is good but not great, but then again there are plenty of amps that are worse. Lots of "bling" factor on it as well, as it looks very nice indeed. At this price though, it's a little hard to recommend, as the Go-Vibe V6 isn't much more (with all the optional accessories) and has fewer sonic deficiencies.



Post #3,500
post #2 of 4
Thanks for the review Asr! Nice work. The amp looks like a part that fell off C3PO from Star Wars!
post #3 of 4
Nice review.

I didn't like my C&C Box for the first 75 hours. From 100-150 it started approaching the level of my GV5. At 200 it's now easily surpassed it.

One reason I actually bought the Box was because it's one of the thinnest amps out there (I think it's the fifth thinnest behind the MiniBox-D, iBasso T1, Xin Supermini, and Xin Supermicro in that order). It's a little thinner than a Tomahawk (0.75" vs. 0.7935").
post #4 of 4
Good review ASR. The amp looks like a gold nugget lol
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