Today (7/3/07) I received a package from slwiser, it contained the Xenos X1HA-EPC, the Go-Vibe 6, and the HeadAmp AE-2. Each arrived with a clearly marked PSU. First thing I did was to plug them to top them off as needed, secondly is that I decided to due this review in three stages. These are:
I. Today (7/3/07) I will drive each of these amps using Apple Lossless files via iTunes in my Dell Desktop. The signal will be sent via an optical cable from my Chaintech soundcard to a Musical Fidelity X-Dac V3. I will use a Blue Jean Cable (BJC) RCA to Mini to send the signal from the X-Dac V3 to each of the three amps. This dac is stock except for a PinkFloyd Little Pinkie PSU.
The music I used tonight is Al DiMeola's Consequence of Chaos Album and the cans tonight will be my modded Equation Eartool RP21. To maintain some continuity I will compare the three amps received with my RSA SR-71.
Here are pictures of the amps, modded RP21, BJC IC, and the cover of Consequence of Chaos.
AE-2 vs. SR-71: The AE-2 is a bit faster and has more treble energy. I find the soundstage of the SR-71 slightly larger with a sweetness/lushness that is lacking in the AE-2. The SR-71 puts the listener closer to the stage, kind of a 1st row versus 10th row for the AE-2. IMO the SR-71 is a bit clearer and more detailed.
AE-2 vs. Go-Vibe 6: The AE-2 truly outclasses the Go-Vibe 6 and it should at 3.5 times the price. Is the any of these amps 3.5 or 4 times better than the Go-Vibe 6? No, and if I only had $100 the Go-Vibe 6 would be a fantastic amp and a heck of a performer at that price.
AE-2 vs. Xenos X1HA-EPC: The Xenos is more in your face and IMO has more detail and clarity. The AE-2 is mellower.
SR-71 vs. Xenos X1HA-EPC: I had to go back and forth a few times to hear the differences among these two amps, which speaks very well of the Xenos X1HA-EPC. The soundstage is a bit wider on the SR-71 with the stage being a bit closer on the SR-71. Say 1st row for the SR-71 and 5th row for the Xenos X1HA-EPC. The SR-71 has a mellower and lusher presentation while maintaining the same level of detail and clarity as the X1HA-EPC.
SR-71 vs. Go-Vibe 6: The SR-71 has a much wider soundstage, even more noticeable than when I compared the AE-2 with the Go-Vibe 6. As expected the SR-71 is more clear, detailed, and has more impact in its presentation.
Xenos X1HA-EPC vs. Go-Vibe 6: Pretty much the same as with the SR-71.
So in tonight's comparison with the above equipment which amp came on top? Well the answer depends on what you value most: sound, cost, or portability.
If sound alone was the sole criteria then I would rank them: 1) SR-71, 2) X1HA-EPC, 3) AE-2, and 4) Go-Vibe 6.
If we use cost as the sole criteria: 1) X1HA-EPC, 2) SR-71, 3) Go-Vibe 6 tied with the AE-2.
If we use portability as the sole criteria: 1) SR-71, 2) AE-2, 3) Go-Vibe 6, and 4) X1HA-EPC.
If all three are included giving sound a 60% weight and cost/portability 20% each then the ranking would be: 1) SR-71, 2) AE-2 tied with the X1HA-EPC, and 4) Go-Vibe 6.
At this point I would like to add that although my comparison may seem to indicate that the Go-Vibe may not be appealing that is far from the truth. The Go-Vibe 6 is a great amp and only when compared with amps costing more than twice its cost does it come short. BTW some of the differences are not that big. I would also like to state that I like the sound out of the Xenos X1HA-EPC a lot, it is very close to the SR-71 and if Xenos could maintain the current price while making the X1HA-EPC shorter by 1.5" it would IMO sell like hot cakes. I also would like to call attention to the placement of input and headphone in the X1HA-EPC. It is back wards of the norm amongst mainstream portable amps, I would suggest that Xenos find a way to reverse their location.
II. Tomorrow (7/4/07) I will use a 2005 Beyer DT990 (250 ohm) and an AKG K501 to listen to the same four amps. The music will be Wes Montgomery - Full House 'live' at Tsubo - Berkley, California and Chet Baker in Paris Barclay Sessions 1955-1956.
Edit 1: Well it is Wednesday, 7/4/07 and I have just listened to both Wes Montgomery and Chet baker via all four amps and my AKG K501. For some reason although the above impressions I had with the Equation Eartool RP21 were validated with the AKG K501 the differences were less pronounced. That is the sound only based ranking above stays the same but since the amps are much closer in sound quality it would be very hard to justify spending $400 or $350 when I can get such a great sound from the Xenos and Go-Vibe. I guess if you have the money and the source and cans are of high quality the SR-71 would still be the way to go. However if you have Mid Fi or less as a source and cans you would be perfectly happy with the Go-Vibe 6. Tonight I will listen using to Wes Montgomery and Chet Baker with a 2005 Beyer DT990 (250 ohm) via the four amps and update via an "Edit 2".
Edit 2: Now, is Wednesday Evening, 7/4/07 and I have listened to both Wes Montgomery and Chet Baker with all four amps using a 2005 Beyer DT990 (250 ohms). Although from an outcome perspective this is a repeat of the two previous listening sessions I was surprised at how much closer the four amps sounded. Not only did they sound closer but for some reason the sound seemed a bit veiled/congested as compared with the previous listening sessions with the RP21 and the K501. I can not explain it, perhaps the much higher impedance has something to do with it. The SR71 was the least affected by this veil/congestion. I should mention that the Beyer DT990 is one of my favorite cans and until today it is 2nd only to the RS-1 and like all the cans used it is fully burned in. Next Saturday (7/7/07) I will meet with Vorlon1 and we will be using IEM's (E500 & Triple.Fi) for cans and iModded iPods as sources.
III. Saturday (7/7/07) I plan on using various songs in a 4th Gen 60gB iModded iPod via Revelation Audio 99.999% pure silver Cryo IC with the same four amps. Perhaps Vorlon1 could be available and he could bring a 5th amp to the evaluation a TTVJ Millet Portable Amp and use it as additional reference point for the three amps Asr graciously loaned. I will be using a Shure E500 to change the pace a little bit from full size cans.
Edit 3: Well, Vorlon1 and I did get together tpday Saturday, 7/7/07 and spent about two hours going back and forth the three amps that Asr graciously loaned. For sake of reference we added two amp a Ray Samuel SR-71 and a TTVJ Millet Portable headphone amp. Today we concentrated on IEM's and to that effect we had four, these were:
1. Shure E500 (two pairs)
2. UE Triple.Fi
3. V-Moda Vibe
We also had an Equation RP21 to see if we could reproduce what I had heard on 7/3. I did! The second variation from the last two entries I have done here is that the source today was a couple of iModded 4th Gen iPod Photo 60 Gb.
Here is a pic of the gear we used (click on the thumbnail to view the full size picture):
Today I used to artist for my comparison, Mark Whitfield and Diana Krall. Both were recorded in Apple Lossless on my iModded iPod. Here are the covers of the two albums.
Basically the results I reported in the two previous occasions remains valid. As far as Vorlon1 I believe he liked the AE-2 much more than I did, I hope he has the time to post his impressions.
Edit 4 (7/11/07): I decided to include an opinion of the the three amps from a physical point of view. First all three amps are very well built but the AE-2 (like its predecessor the AE-1) is built like a tank on steroids. This amp exudes quality and inspires confidence it can go through anything you throw at it. Having a mini and rca adds to its flexibility, or you can use either as a loop out. The gain switch in the AE-2 is not the easiest to use, this IMO is a good because being recessed it would be very hard to change the setting and blow your ears out.
The Go-Vibe 6 is also very well built and I for one like the big knobs on the back door (used to access the battery compartment). Some have stated that they are big, yes but that is a good thing. Having lost some of the diminutive nuts in other amps I rather have the larger ones since they are easier to use.
Finally the Xenos, nicely built and I only have to issues and they are minor. First the light is way to bright and IMO should be toned down a bit. Heck doing so may add more playing time. The second item is that I also found that the input jack to be hard to use and not as confidence inspiring as the ones in the AE-2 or the Go-Vibe. And of course all three have an internal charging circuit which is a major plus in my opinion.
I like to close by thanking Asr for his generosity in sending these three amps to basically strangers to test. Thanks.