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Shootout: Beyerdynamic A1 vs. Meier-Audio Corda Opera.

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
I’ve yet again been so fortunate to borrow a Beyerdynamic A1 amp.
And this time I could compare it to my own Meier-Audio Corda Opera. :-)



Equipment used:


Sources:
-PC with a Creative X-Fi XtremeMusic (optical/Coax cable to DAC/Opera).
-Foobar 0.9.4.2 with ASIO 1.2.4 (I also tried without ASIO).
-Lite DAC60 tube DAC. Modded quite a bit, and good tubes are used.

Amplifiers:
-Beyerdynamic A1 ($1300).
-Meier-Audio Corda Opera ($1100+)

Cables:
-Cardas 300-B Micro interconnects.
-Amphenol interconnects (included with the A1 amp).
-Headphone cables are all stock.

Headphones:
-Beyerdynamic DT990-32 (Beyer Manufacture custom).
-Beyerdynamic DT770-32 (Beyer Manufacture custom). Leather pads.
-Beyerdynamic DT770-250 Pro+Light Edition 2005 (Limited Edition)
-Beyerdynamic DT880 (Previous version).
-Audio-Technica ATH-W1000.

All headphones are well-used, so there’s shouldn’t be any issues regarding burn-in.
The same goes for both amps, they’ve got 400-500 hours of use.

Music used:
Mostly WAVs and MP3s (ÜberStandard), but also a DVD-Audio (“Imaginary Day” by Pat Metheny)
Some of the artists:
-Mark Knopfler
-Ani DiFranco
-Opeth
-Massive Attack
-Rage Against the Machine
-Faithless
-Pink Floyd
-Dream Theater
-Patricia Barber
-Steve Vai
-Niacin

Some info on the testing procedure
For most of this test, I used the Lite DAC60 connected to the Opera, which is then connected to the A1. This makes it fast and easy to switch between the two amps, using the same source. I tried connecting the A1 directly to the DAC60, but I couldn’t hear any differences from when it was routed through the Opera.

The modified Lite DAC60 is a very nice DAC. Nice, smooth, tubey midrange and highs, and a very dynamic bass. I tried comparing it to the internal DAC in the Opera, and the DAC60 is better in my opinion. It’s more dynamic and just as detailed. Way better than the Zhaolu D2 I had before.

Crossfeed was not used.
The zero ohm output of the Opera was used.


Construction
A1: See my first A1 review. Here I also compare it to my Mapletree Ear++ tube amp.
Opera: Much has been said already, so do a search.
I only want to say that it looks way better in real life, than in pictures. Also, I would have wanted the switch for USB/Internal DAC to be located on the front. Oh, and the bloody clicking of the relays can be annoying sometimes.


Comparison using the DT770-32 Manufacture
The highs: Quite evenly matched. I can’t hear much difference between the two amps. However, the A1 seems to be a little brighter.

The midrange: Again, not many differences, but here the A1 seems a to have a little more resolution and possible a wider soundstage. There’s some more body to Mark Knopfler’s voice. Actually a little more texture too. On recordings with huge soundscapes, there’s more space between the sounds with the A1.

The bass: Ok, here are the differences. The A1 got some serious punch with enormous control. It’s just so fast and dynamic. Drums sound bloody realistic. The Opera is also top notch, but it’s slightly reserved in comparison to the A1. It’s also easier to pick out bass-lines that usually get a little drowned in the mix. Rage Against the Machine is hysterical fun with the A1 and DT770-32. :-)

Conclusion using the DT770-32 Manufacture: Quite interesting to hear that this fairly easy-to-drive DT770-32 also can pick out differences between these two superb amplifiers. However…with this headphone and on some recordings (often of lower standard), the bass can actually come close to be overpowering. But this will depend on the source. The DAC60 is bass-heavy, and when switching to the gentler inboard Opera-DAC, overpowering bass is less likely.
Let’s try another headphone.

Comparison using the DT770-250 Pro+Light Edition 2005 (Limited Edition)
The highs: About the same as the DT770-32. The A1 is a little brighter, but not fatiguing in any way. I think there’s a little additional air with the A1 too.

The midrange: This DT770 got a brighter and more detailed midrange than most DT770s, which makes it ideal to pick out differences on equipment.
Again, the A1 adds more body to voices, and I think there might be a hint of more details. The A1 seems to have slightly better control over the soundstage when things get really busy in the midrange.

The bass: This DT770 haven’t got the huge, deep bass of the regular DT770s, but it’s faster and tighter.
Even with this fairly bass-light phone, there’s still a feeling that the A1’s got something in the bass-regions that the Opera hasn’t. It’s especially noticeable when there’s a lot going on. There’s more energy, and yet easier to pick out a single bass-line.

Conclusion using the DT770-250 Pro+Light Edition: This is a harder to drive headphone, but the differences are very similar as those heard using the DT770-32. It was easier to hear that voices got more resolution and texture on the A1.
It was interesting to hear that the A1 made this already fast bass even faster. There’s truly something special going on here.


I tried the other headphones too, but I couldn’t find any other interesting differences, so I’ll just rather sum it up in the final conclusion.


Final conclusion
First of all; these are two extremely good solid state headphone amplifiers. Based on sound-performance alone, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending both to anybody.
The Opera is superbly smooth and balanced. I can’t think of any music it wouldn’t do full justice to. It’s just that the A1 does a few things even better (or differently, if you will).
Honestly, I couldn’t hear any significant differences in the highest frequencies. The A1 might have a tad more air and brightness, but it’s too close to even bother.

In the midrange there’s less body and width on the Opera. Male voices sound more robust and got more texture on the A1. It’s also easier to pick out details when the music gets really busy and crowded. But beware, these are fairly small differences. Not being able to directly compare the amps, I doubt many will notice them.

However, in the bass-region, most people will easily notice the differences. The A1 is dynamic monster. I haven’t heard speed, attack, control and dynamics like this in any amplifier (I haven’t tried THAT many amps, though). It finds more rhythm and groovyness that you ever thought was possible in your favorite tracks. Not only in Rage Against The Machine’s hard drums, but also in Ani DiFranco very percussive guitar-picking and when Steve Vai gets really complex.

The A1 still won’t make your DT880 sound like a DT770, but it will make it a little more entertaining and dynamic, if you like those sort of things. Even the W1000 got some more down low grooves.
There’s something really special with the A1 dynamics.

But if you got a very bass-competent source and headphone, the A1 might actually be a little too much. I think this will occur very rarely, and you must be bass-sensitive. Also the A1 is without mercy regarding badly recorded music and low bitrate MP3s.

The biggest problem with the Beyerdynamic A1, is still the price. It still feels too high, even if it is an extremely good amplifier. The slightly boring looks aren’t helping either, I guess. There are other amps on the market with better reputations and might be considered sexier.
However, having heard the A1 with a better source than my Zhaolu D2, it’s apparent that it scales very well with better equipment, so the price might not be that bad after all.
It's a tricky one...

I’m probably not going to sell my Opera for an A1 any time soon. The Opera is an excellent all-rounder with fantastic sound and great features at a very good price. A package that’s very hard to beat.

But man….those magical A1 dynamics….
;-)
post #2 of 24
Nice review! I have wondered about how the A1 stacks up, sounds like it does quite well for it's self. I can't help but wonder whether the A1 will find a home with many <headfi-ers > given the $1300 price tag?

- augustwest
post #3 of 24
EXCELLENT review JensL. Thanks. I have been wondering how the A1 would stack up against another great headphone amp.
post #4 of 24
Great review, I have been waiting for more comparisons to the Opera.
post #5 of 24
Great review.

siang
post #6 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by augustwest View Post
Nice review! I have wondered about how the A1 stacks up, sounds like it does quite well for it's self. I can't help but wonder whether the A1 will find a home with many <headfi-ers > given the $1300 price tag?

- augustwest
It seems like the price tag is fair considering the Opera sells for 1,100, & from the review, the A1 seemed better in most area's, even is some were only slightly better..
post #7 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by kool bubba ice View Post
It seems like the price tag is fair considering the Opera sells for 1,100, & from the review, the A1 seemed better in most area's, even is some were only slightly better..
Well, the Opera got a very good DAC, two headphone outputs, low/hi gain switch and Crossfeed.
The A1 just got the basics.

So the price difference is more than just $200.
post #8 of 24
Hi Jens

Nice comparison. Just one question:

Did you compare the A1 to the right headphone output of the OPERA or to the left headphone output?

The reason is, that the A1 has a high output impedance of around 150 Ohm whereas the right output on the OPERA has a very low impedance.

The left headphone output on the OPERA (which in the standard version has 120 Ohm output) should be more comparable to the A1.

An increased output impedance like on the A1 generally enforces the bass. An explanation can be found on my website, chapter tips and tricks. This may well account for the differences between the two amps.

Cheers

Jan
post #9 of 24
That is most interesting, Jan. That's not a great choice on Beyer's part using a very high output impedance, since they offer 600 ohm headphones for sale.

Jens are you able to try the comparison again using the Opera's 120 ohm output?
post #10 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jan Meier View Post
Hi Jens

Nice comparison. Just one question:

Did you compare the A1 to the right headphone output of the OPERA or to the left headphone output?

The reason is, that the A1 has a high output impedance of around 150 Ohm whereas the right output on the OPERA has a very low impedance.

The left headphone output on the OPERA (which in the standard version has 120 Ohm output) should be more comparable to the A1.

An increased output impedance like on the A1 generally enforces the bass. An explanation can be found on my website, chapter tips and tricks. This may well account for the differences between the two amps.
Jan!

First of all: Thanks for making a great Amp/DAC combo. :-)

I tested using mostly the right output on the Opera.
The headphone output on the A1 is 100 ohm, as stated by Beyerdynamic.

I see your point regarding more bass on the left (120 ohm) output. I just did a little test now, and all my phones are more bassy on this output.

However, I don't think this necessarily is a better bass. It feels a little sloppier and slower, especially when compared to the A1. It looses some of its hardhitting punch somewhere in the mid-bass.

Also, I think phones generally sound a little darker with the 120 ohm output. On some phones, voices looses some resolution and texture.

These differences are nothing major,though.
I guess it's another plus for the Opera, as this makes it more flexible than the A1.


Skylab: No, I have returned the A1, so no more direct comparisons can be done.
post #11 of 24
JenSL -

I wonder did you happen to have a chance to try Grados, on both, or either of the amps and if so how did they fair?


- augustwest
post #12 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by augustwest View Post
JensL -

I wonder did you happen to have a chance to try Grados, on both, or either of the amps and if so how did they fair?
No, unfortunately I have no Grados at all.
I tried a SR60 a few years ago, and didn't like it at all.

I have been thinking about trying a high end Grado, but I prefer closed phones.

So I can't help you here. :-)
post #13 of 24
nice review and comparison..thank you
post #14 of 24


hmmm, yea, it's very good with Beyers, K701, Ultrasone 2500 but not that impressive with HD650.

I have not tried any grado yet but I think it will be also good
post #15 of 24
Did you used High Gain or low on both Amp ?
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