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REVIEW: Purity Audio K.I.C.A.S. Caliente home headphone amp - updated with comments on regular KICAS

post #1 of 395
Thread Starter 
I received a PM from Oriel Mendelovitz, who is the founder of Purity Audio, asking me if I would like to review his K.I.C.A.S. headphone amp. It looked to be an attractively made amp, and being a discreet design and not using op-amps, it seemed to be value-priced, so I decided to give it a listen. Information can be found here: Purity Audio

The amp is pretty simple – one set of RCA inputs, one ¼ headphone output. It lives in an attractive but not overly fancy metal black case. It uses an outboard “wall wart” power supply, which, all things being equal, I prefer not to see. But the amp is really excellent sounding, and so I ended up being able to forget all about that small issue.

Oriel specifically asked me to use a high end source to test the KICAS. So I used my Denon SACD player in addition to my normal iMod >VCap dock set-up. I also briefly used my analog rig. Headphones used were primarily the Denon D5000, with short stints with all of my other home headphones (see sig).

First, a glamour shot:

The short story here is that the KICAS sounds TERRIFIC. It’s incredibly enjoyable to listen to. It’s highly transparent, very detailed without being bright, and really eminently musical. The mids are nice and lush but still VERY transparent. The midrange on this amp is actually a real joy. I was very impressed. It may be important to note that my KICAS was the “Caliente” version, which is supposedly “tube-like” in its voicing. I don’t think it quite sounds like a tube amp, but it definitely has a really enjoyable midrange presentation. Female vocals were incredibly well served. Sharon den Adel’s haunting vocals from Within Temptation’s “”Jillian” were spine-tingling.

That album also has some very deep bass on it, and the KICAS really DOES kick ass down deep. It has very controlled, VERY deep bass. I mean really wicked deep bass. Honestly, no amp I have ever heard rivaled the bass I could get from the D5000’s like the KICAS. It bettered even the Blue Circle SBH and Meier Audio Opera in this regard! I was stunned. The CONTROL that the KICAS exerted over the D5000 and DX1000 was really something to hear. Highly impressive.

On top, the amp is detailed but not at all bright. It may lack just the tiniest bit of top end air and extension versus the Blue Circle SBH, but this never detracted from the music at all, and in some cases I am sure would be a benefit. The KICAS was clean as a whistle too, with no treble grain. The cool instrumentation at the beginning of Jerry Garcia and David Grisman’s take on “Sitting Here in Limbo” was very well rendered.

The soundstaging was very good, but here it was not the equal of the SBH. The soundstage was enjoyable, stable, and believable, but it wasn’t as deep or wide as the SBH or my better tube amps. Nonetheless, it was engaging and convincing. That is wasn’t better than my amps costing 2-3 times as much is no embarrassment! Its soundstaging was certainly quite good. This is where perhaps the extra money does buy better performance.

In addition to the SBH, I also compared it to the Travagan’s White, While the White is very good indeed, has more features and is $100 less in price, The KICAS delivers better sound. The KICAS simply sounds “higher end”, in all of the good ways – more detailed AND smoother, and with an overall higher level of transparency and musicality. This isn’t to take away from the White – it’s a very nice little headamp and has a nice built-in DAC. But the KICAS Caliente is a level above.

In spite of the maker’s description of the Caliente as tube-like in its sound, I found it only a touch warm of neutral, and this was very welcome, and never at the expense of transparency or believability. I basically consider the amp to be neutral, but it certainly isn’t bright. Anyone with slightly bright headphones would be wise to get the Caliente version – if you have super-warm headphones already, I would advise sticking with the regular KICAS.

While the KICAS has plenty of gain, it did not have so much that the volume control was unusable, like many amps, and I found this to be a huge plus. I could actually use the first half of the volume control. It has no issue driving any of my headphones though, including the 600 ohm Beyers.

So what do we have here? We have a $399 solid state home headphone amp that proves once and for all that you can get a good home amp for not much more (or in some cases less!) than a portable amp, that delivers much better performance, and in fact delivers performance that rivals much more expensive amps. The KICAS Caliente is incredibly easy to recommend, and in fact, is such an easy recommendation it’s hard to be enthusiastic enough about it. This level of performance for the money is really a pleasure. Nice job, Purity Audio!

UPDATE: auditioning of KICAS non-Caliente (regular) version

Oriel at Purity Audio was nice enough to send me a regular KICAS (non-Caliente version) to audition. The plan was to compare it to the Caliente side-by-side, but this was not to be, as unfortunately I loaned my Caliente to another head-fier who has vanished with my amp

I did spend some time listening to the regular KICAS, though, and from memory I will say that I was quite surprised that it sounds much more similar to the Caliente than I expected. The regular KICAS is still very smooth, nicely detailed, with an a very neutral, even sound. It is neither bright, nor bass-deficient. Just as I found the Caliente not to be overly warm, I do not find the KICAS to be overly lean, or even lean at all. It's smooth and pleasant to listen to.

In almost every way the KICAS and Caliente sound very, very similar. Without being able to do a direct comparison it's almost impossible to define exactly how much difference there is, as I am certain that the difference between the two is quite subtle. If one has slightly lean headphones, it makes sense to get the Caliente, and conversely the regular KICAS would be the way to go if one has warm-ish headphones. But in neither case is either Purity Audio amp so colored that matching is all that critical. I enjoyed both versions with all the headphones I tried.
post #2 of 395
Nice review. So you got the shot of the glamor, so where is the gore and guts? :^)
post #3 of 395
That's what People have been screaming for, a descent entry level discrete Solid-State design that delivers where it counts. Excellent review and perceptions as always Skylab!! Thanks from all of us!! And yes I would like a peek under the hood also, I know Jam does.
post #4 of 395
wonder how it compares to their other amp, the normal KICAS
post #5 of 395
I wonder how the K701s will sound with this amp...
post #6 of 395
Seconding that request for the innards =)
post #7 of 395
Thread Starter 
Thanks guys! I will try to take some internal pics later...
post #8 of 395
How would you compare the KICAS Caliente to stationary amps of comparable price, like the Meier Arietta or the 2007 Micro Amp?
post #9 of 395
Internal Pics, puleezee.

"Power Supply: class 2 - unregulated, 12VDC, 0.6 to 1.0 A input."

I'll bet a better PS will transform that amp. 12VDC battery or linear PS are a plenty out there..
post #10 of 395
So what type of circuit does it use? All discrete, opamp, combo?
post #11 of 395
Originally Posted by achristilaw View Post
That's what People have been screaming for, a descent entry level discrete Solid-State design that delivers where it counts.
Yes, that's what I've been whining about for a long time. An amp like this can be made portable. I have an all discrete current feedback amp running in my pocket. I like the sound of it better than any monolithic opamp based amp I've built. It doesen't sound (much) better if I increase the voltage supply. I think it's more the simplicity, no capacitors in the signal chain, class A operation and high quality transistors that does it. One could for instance build a battery powered Gilmore lite, JISBOS, discrete opamp or whatever in a pocket sized enclosure.
post #12 of 395
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by sbulack View Post
How would you compare the KICAS Caliente to stationary amps of comparable price, like the Meier Arietta or the 2007 Micro Amp?
The Meier Arietta impressed me as being a VERY good amp when i had one to review, especially for the money. I no longer have it on hand, so a direct comparison isn't possible. But from memory, I'd say the Caliente is a step up from the Arietta in terms of the combination of resolution and detail. Both are exceptionally smooth, but the Caliente has that enticing combination of being smooth and just a touch warm but still having plenty of detail and resolution.

These are the two best sub $500 SS headamps I have heard, but the nod does go to the KICAS.

I have never heard the 2007 MicroAmp.
post #13 of 395
This IS what we have been waiting for:

1-Discrete output for $399 vs. $899 for a Headamp GS-1.

2-One of the biggest complaints is that the GS-1 sounds too clinical/solid state. This may work for warm headphones such as the Senn 600 but results in a sterile sound for sharper headphones such as the AKG 701's. For us tube lovers we have the option of getting the KICAS in a standard or a warmer version.

Gee Skylab, deeper bass than the mighty Opera (which is one of the best in this regard)?

Mine will be here next week.
post #14 of 395
tbonner1 - funniest avatar in the history of the internet.

On topic - This amp might be just what I need. Waiting eagerly for the internal shots.
post #15 of 395
Excellent review.

Originally Posted by gyrodec View Post
Waiting eagerly for the internal shots.

Plus, I second the request for someone's take on this amp with the AKG K701s.
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Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Headphone Amps (full-size) › REVIEW: Purity Audio K.I.C.A.S. Caliente home headphone amp - updated with comments on regular KICAS