So, I got the ALO modded HFI-780 in Today (Saturday 23rd feb) and didn't get to check them out till after church tonight. I also have my stock HFI-780 (with 220 hours on them) to compare to the ALO ones. I will call them ALO-780 from this point forward. According to Ken, "the ALO-780 only have about 48 hours on them but a good 36 of that was having them hooked up of a fry kleaner (sweep generator) that will exercise the drivers and burn in the cable. But yeah they are pretty much not broken in yet."SOURCE and PROGRAM MATERIAL:
I listened to a variety of FIM HDCD and hybrid SACD jazz discs, plus a Diana Krall "dual-disc" with CD on one side (DVD on the other). My Dynamic rig that I used tonight to listen was my Marantz CD5001 connected to my DarkVoice 336i amp with silver plated OFC copper interconnects (see top of the line tubes in sig). This was used with the ALO-780's, stock HFI-780 and Edition 9. For a comparison, I left my STAX amp connected to my iBasso D1 as DAC, feeding it Apple lossless files of the same music, via optical out from my rockboxed iRiver H140. Plugged in and charging were my SR-Lambda and SR-Lambda Signature.IMPRESSIONS: After listening to the ALO-780 tonight, the first question that I asked Ken (without knowing this thread existed) was, "When exactly did you plan to tell me just how CLOSE to a stock Edition 9 your modded ALO-780's sound?"
It appears he wanted to test whether I was paying attention or not. I haven't been able to remove the ALO headphones for the past 2 hours - it's like I'm hypnotized into keeping them on.
During the first song, I was like, "Wait a sec, grabbed the wrong ones. Yikes!" Okay, so by the end of the first song I CAN tell the difference between ALO-780 and Edition 9, but the ALO-780's sound clearly falls between the stock 780 and the stock Edition 9, but closer to the Edition 9 than to the stock 780. Well Done!!
While I am calling them ALO-780's and not HFI-780's, they could just as well be called ALO 9's.
VS the 220 hour stock HFI-780, the unburned-in ALO-780 have more ambience and space (or air) around the instruments, and the soundstage gets slightly deeper as well. The mids didn't change much, and remained rich and slightly forward (but not grado forward, more like HD600 forward). VS the Proline 2500 the Prolines are lacking in the mids. The bass is crisper and more defined, almost making the stock bass feel slightly muddy or sloppy. At first the ALO-780 gave the illusion of maybe 1-2db less bass than stock, because the bass wasn't over-powering, but with further close listening that doesn't appear to be the case at all. There is plenty of bass, and NOT less than stock. It was the increased definition and detail in the bass that took away a big cloud of bass hanging over the music - a cloud that I didn't recognize in the stock ones, because the stock bass was tighter and more defined than my Denon D2000 with APS V2 cable that I used as my initial measuring stick. Switching back to the stock HFI-780, the bass is a little less distinct but not more powerful or pronounced. The ALO bass is actually within 1-2db of the Edition 9 but not quite as much, but I am just guessing here. VS the Darth Beyer bass, the Darths have a 64-125Hz peak that needs 3-4db of EQ to remove - the HFI-780 and ALO-780 have no such nasty peak to deal with.
People have been worried about the treble on the HFI-780, without ever having heard them yet. I say don't worry about it. The ALO-780 treble at first sounded about the same as the stock HFI-780, guessing maybe 2db more than the Edition 9 treble, but it is still not excessive and still enjoyable. It only shows sibilance on recordings that already have it in them. Good recordings, don't have any issues. On the recordings with sibilance, it seemed like the stock HFI-780 had slightly more more issues, despite the longer burn-in. But, if you read further you'll see that the amp and source have a lot to do with the treble as well. Much of my testing with HFI-780 had been done with the Meier headfive because it is connected to my iRiver H140 running 24/7 with music on repeat. About an hour into my testing of the ALO-780 I switched over to the Darkvoice 336i amp with Marantz CD5001. With tube rolling the treble is not an issue with the ALO-780.OTHER COMPARISIONS:
I synchronized my STAX rig with my Dynamic rig, playing the same music, and switched back and forth between the ALO-780 and STAX SR-Lambda and Lambda Signature (my STAX amp runs two pair at one time). I then went to compare the ALO-780 treble to my STAX Lambdas and Lambda Signatures, and was surprised again. The STAX were brighter than the ALO-780's!
It puts the treble into perspective, with the ALO-780 being closer to just right.
I find the STAX do have an advantage in lightness or delicacy, and transparency or effortless reproduction, but they are brighter and have less bass, as well as more fragile and not portable at all. In the process, I discovered that the ALO-780 and Edition 9 are ultimately just as rewarding to listen to as my STAX SR-Lambda and SR-Lambda Signature (and to some degree the stock 780 too), at least with the jazz I was playing tonight. SYNERGY:
I have my Meier HeadFive plugged into the STAX setup, and with that the HFI-780/ALO-780 (and even Edition 9) do indeed sound brighter than with the Marantz with DV336l. So, system Synergy is more important than I had assumed, and the DV336 with Marantz was more suited to the task than the other setup. That lead me to experiment with tubes. I discovered that I can drop in my $99 Hytron 5692 Brown-base preamp tube, which my Grados have good synergy with, and I can eliminate ANY sibilance and further refine the treble. Interestingly, I went back to the RCA Grey Glass VT-231 because it sounds airier, and even with the extra 2-3db of treble it is quite enjoyable with the ALO-780's. So, it should be pretty easy to find the right opamps or tubes for whatever headphones you are listening to, to get the best synergy - then just leave it set that way and you're done.SUMMARY
There is still something special about the Edition 9 that the modded 780 don't have, but these ALO-780 are the closest dynamic headphones I have to the $1,500 Edition 9 right now, making the ALO-780 sound world class to me even without a full burn-in. It's 1:30am and i have had these ALO-780 on my head for 2 hours since I finished the comparison and started my write-up, and I can't stop listening!
The beautiful thing about the stock HFI-780 is that they still sound good after listening to better headphones. But, the ALO-780 clearly surpass the stock ones, and they actually get closer to the Stock Edition 9 sound than any $250 MSRP headphone should be allowed to.
This re-cable with diode board removal is simply a no-brainer. The 6 foot length is just right. The lighter 20G cable with 1/8" plug is more practical for a headphone that might be used portable, but I would still love to hear the costlier 18G Jenna Labs cable.
These headphones have to go back to Ken when I am done testing them, so I NEED to send mine to ALO for this mod, because I can't stand to be without it. And, I probably will need to then re-cable my Edition 9 too, just so they can maintain a safe margin of superiority over the ALO-780.
Until then, I'll spend most of Sunday and Monday doing more in depth comparisons with other genre of music, and continue to burn them in 24/7, and if anything changes I'll let you know. Not that I expect my impressions to change, but when I typed "doing comparisons" above, I had that in my head as comparisons vs the Edition 9. I had to kick myself to remind me that I should be doing more comparisons in regards to the stock 780 too, that's how surprised I am by these.