Hehe...ya, sorry about the huge images, I just didn't have the heart to shrink them down
Anyway, I wanted to post some more detailed impressions of everything that went on Saturday...
First off, the amps:Headroom Max
The build quality on this was amazing. The first thing everyone noticed. It's built like it was carved out of a big solid metal brick. It also looks really sleak and nice. And of course one of the first things I wanted to do was move the pot a little to get a feel for it... It's REALLY smooth and nice, wish I could put this pot on my Melos.
Anyway, on to the sound. This thing obviously had the longest line to listen to at the meeting, everyone wanted a listen. I got to spend quite a bit of time comparing it to some of the other amps, mostly my Melos, the Cosmic, the Total Airhead, the MG Head, and a JMT-built amp in a penguin mint tin. I'd just like to preface my comments with this; I am NOT bashing the Max in any way, it's an amazing product, just didn't suit my tastes.
The overall sound to me was dark. It was certainly very smooth, but was just lacking something in the highs that made me think something wasn't right. The amp is fine though, I think it's just the way headroom products sound. And that's not bad (as you'll see with my impressions of the Cosmic), just doesn't suit my tastes for alot of things.
I did most of my testing with the Etymotics ER4S headphones. To me they have beautiful, smooth, extended, musical highs that just flow out with ease. Plugging them into the Max certainly smoothed things out and tamed the highs...the only thing was, the highs didn't need taming. If I turned on the processor, the highs got even worse. "But what about the filter" you ask... Well, that helped, but I really don't like doing that, and Headroom's crossfeed is very subtle anyway, didn't help me out that much. So I was a little disappointed with the highs, but the details were surprisingly still there. Maybe this is why people like the Headroom stuff? I can imagine someone being able to listen to it for hours and hours without every getting fatiguied or tired. So the details are there, the frequencies are mostly still there, they're just so laid back in comparison to what I was used to.
On to the mids! I enjoyed these actually... They were smooth and lush, very musical. Still laid back, but female voices and instrumental stuff did sound very good. I want to keep these impressions seperate from other components, but I have to say, my Melos, being a tube amp, beats the Max in this area, but the Max is very close. Surprising for solid state. I played one of my favorite tracks (you've probably heard me mention it before) for female vocals... I Dreamed a Dream off of the original London cast's recording of Les Miserables. The Max held up pretty well, accurately reproducing the vocals with ease.
The bass was really nice. It was extended, seemed to go really deep. There really wasn't much impact, then again ety's and hd600's don't have that much impact to begin with. But what impact they did have seemed to smooth out and just become nice bass. The bass did seem to be very detailed and accurate, never boomy, never bloated, never too much. Again, this range just oozes nonfatiguing sound... Could listen for hours. It just flows.
As far as the soundstage goes, it seems a little closed in, but overall, I'd say it's pretty accurate. The seperation is something I was disappointed with, then again I'm coming from the Melos, and I consider that to be one of it's strong points. When switching on the crossfeed circuit, the soundstage collapses a little, but on stuff like the Beatles, it's absolutely necessary. Anything with hard seperation can greatly benefit from crossfeed, I just didn't enjoy it all that much with other stuff.
So would I reccomend the Max to anyone? If the person really liked solid state equipment and wanted the best, certainly. I'm more of a tube guy myself, but can certainly understand that the Max has it's place, and can immediately recognize the quality, time, and effort put into this magnificant amp.Melos SHA-1
Ah, my baby
Aside from the Max, people were really curious to hear this. It's somewhat mysterious, and once you see it, you just have to try it out. It's a HUGE amp, rack mountable, makes everything else I have look small. Melos made tube stuff, but eventually went out of business. Some people complained that they had alot of problems with their Melos gear, so buying it used (which is the only way to buy now) certainly poses some risks. I consider myself very lucky. I got a great price, and the unit is in near perfect condition, with some nice tubes. If you ever run accross a used Melos, see if you can demo it, and if it's in good shape, definitely pick it up, seeing as how cheap they are now. Oh ya, this is the silver face version, so it looks pretty
So how does it sound? Heavenly. It's a tube amp, uses 2 6922's. I've got 2 Sovteks in there right now, a matched pair. I've got an extra of the same kind the previous owner sent me, just in case these go out. Anyway, across the entire frequency range, the Melos shines.
It's treble is beautiful. It's extended, and can easily handle very high frequencies without getting harsh, but without blending everything together. I listen to alot of Dave Matthews Band, and the drumber, God love him, is cymbal happy
This was certainly a problem with Grados, and at times the ety's out of certain equipment. However, with the Melos, the ety's are amazing! Everything comes out so crisp and clear, but it's still amazingly smooth. It just flows out so easily, so detailed. I was surprised to find out how great the treble sounded, but I now consider this to be one of the strong points of this amp. Heck, most things are the strong points of this amp
So how are the mids? They're great! Playing the same track on the Melos (I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables) yields impressive results. The female vocals are very sweet sounding. Lush and smoother than I've ever heard them. I think if this amp was paired with something like the Sony E888's they'd just melt in your ear. I'd love to be able to compare it to the Earmax Pro, but I can't see it being better. With the ety's, a headphone I consider extremely neutral, the mids were the same. Lush and beautilful, it really makes them sing. Paired with the HD600's I almost passed out. I love the midrange on the HD600's, and the Melos just enforced that. It's also very balanced in comparison to the treble. When the treble is supposed to shine in a song, it does, the mids are never overpowering. If they were, I'd consider it sometimes muddy, but it never gets that way.
The bass is nothing short of amazing. It definitely adds punch and presence to my HD600's. Before getting the Melos, I listened to them out of my integrated's headphone jack and a MG Head. Both sounded muddy in comparison. The Melos adds a punchy tightness that's hard to describe. The HD600's bass is something I would have never described as really tight before now. But the Melos fixes all that. Almost impactful? Maybe so. I'd also like to comment on the amp as a preamp at this point. When I put it in my system this is the first thing I tested. All of a sudden my speakers had lots of great bass! This is all beecause of the Melos, so I was very happy. I expected nothing less when I listened to my headphones for the first time, and let me tell ya, I wasn't disappointed.
How about soundstage? This is what it's all about
Pinpoint accuracy, I can tell where all the instruments are. Seperation is great. Nothing ever gets in the way of each other. It's all blended beautifully, and of course I can pick out individual instruments whenever I want because of the airiness and wonderful seperation. It's what I first heard with the MG Head the first time I plugged it in, just much more of it, and much higher quality.
There's just so much to say about this amp. It's definitely my favorite headphone amp. Granted, I haven't heard the big dogs like the Holmes Powell, the Cary, the Zeus (uh, anyone wanna comment on this one?
), the Ear, haven't heard those. But for the price, I think I'm going to keep this Melos for a while. It's the single most musical and enchanting piece of audio equipment I've ever had.Headroom Cosmic
I'm not going to say TOO much about this, but basically, apply everything I said about the Max to the Cosmic, just tone down the quality a little
. Not much, because the sound is very close. So do I feel the same way about the Cosmic? HECK NO!
What? Why not?!?! Because it's portable
This is portable bliss. I never expected to get so much out of a portable amp. Todd sent it with a traveller bag, Panasonic CT470, and a really nice kimber kable interconnect. Well, I slapped my Panasonic CT780 in there to see how it compared to my normal setup which includes a JMT-built amp. Suffice it to say the JMT is close, but not close enough that I wasn't VERY impressed with the Cosmic. I found myself walking around the apartment with the traveller bag over my shoulder imagining how great it would be to have this around campus! It has all the crossfeed features of the Max, and if that's your thing, you won't be disappointed because it works about the same.
I never expected to get sound like my Melos in a portable, but I'll definitely settle for the Max's sound in a portable
I hate to use percentages to compare audio equipment, but I'm willing to say the Cosmic is 95% of the Max, if not more. It's still a very expensive amp, but hey, if I had that kind of money sitting around, it'd probably be the first thing I'd buy. Just too good to pass up. Anyone in the market for the very best portable system money can buy, look into a Cosmic/traveller bag/ety combo. You won't be disappointed, I promise.The Rest
There were so many amps at the meeting, I just wanted to cover the big three. But I was very impressed with many of the others. Most notable was the cmoy with Jan Meier's natural crossfeed circuit, built for Adi, compliments of JMT. This crossfeed was very noticeable, even with regular CDs. It moved the image from each side of your head to the front, much like speakers. It did absolutely nothing to the highs, and was really impressive. It's probably the most non-fatiguing sound I've ever heard. If you ever have a chance to check it out, build it, order a Corda, whatever, do it! If you're a crossfeed fan it'll be worth it.
Other notable amps included the Creek OBH-11. I've had one of these, and loved it. It's got a smooth, warm, musical sound, all for under $200. Gotta love that. Anyone in the market for a first headphone amp, or an inexpensive headphone amp for the office, something like that, definitely look into the Creek. It can power anything from Grado's to Senns, and you won't be disappointed.
The MG Head was there (my old one, now my roommate's), and I think there have been plenty of comments on this amp in the past. It definitely sounds like a tube amp, but lacks deep bass sometimes, and isn't exactly clear in the lower frequencies. Still, for $300 you can get a real tube amp at a marvelous price, and really can't go wrong for a nice little amp to power Sennheisers, or even ety's. Etys sound wonderful with it, so if that sounds like you, check into it.
JMT was well represented with a couple penguin mint tin amps, and they of course sound great. Neutral, maybe a tad bright, but never harsh. Can power anything with ease, well, at least anything you're gonna use with a portable. Can't power HD600's as well as something like a Cosmic, but handles them pretty well. If you need a portable amp, and are on a budget, definitely contact JMT. He does great work.
I have a Total Airhead that we listened to a little, and it has a typical headroom sound. It's a little warmer than the JMT, and has the crossfeed of course. I enjoy my penguin tin amp better, but if you have bright portable headphones, or need crossfeed go for the TA. It's really just personal preference for me, as it's a fine amp.
There was an X-Cans v1 there, and it was less than impressive. But Nicholas put in some new tubes after the meeting, so hopefully he can report to us how it sounds now, and how the sound has changed.
I wish I could report on some different headphones, but I think it's official, Texans love Sennhesiers! We had my HD600's, 3 pairs of HD580's (one with blue clou), and Adi's pair of HD560's. At least we were consistent in listening to the amps.
I also want to mention the stuff Danny brought. He works at GR Research
, and brought some very impressive speakers. They come in DIY kits, and sound absolutely amazing for the price. We compared those two speakers to mine, and I think it's probably just a matter of personal preference. His speakers had more bite, punchier, good for some stuff, but didn't suit my tastes for orchestral stuff and female vocals. Anyway, if you're in the market for some nice speakers, don't mind putting together a kit (Danny says they're VERY easy to build), and have a limited budget, definitely contact Danny, he's got what ya need.
I'd like to thank everyone for coming and bringing their stuff, it was a great meeting! We're definitely going to do it again, and I'm going to try to get some different headphones for us in addition to amps next time
There was so much to listen to it was hard to sit down with everything. But anyway, everyone who came was very nice, great guys. It was nice to meet some people here from the board in person. And I'd also like to give a big thanks to Todd and Headroom for providing us with the pleasure of listening to the Max and Cosmic, and just adding alot to this community.
Let me know if anyone has any questions about what I wrote above!