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REVIEW: Beta 22 Headphone Amplifier and Opus DAC

post #1 of 37
Thread Starter 
I have been fortunate enough to have a new Beta 22 sent to me for review in between its being built by Mazuki on its way to a very nice customer of his. Mike (Mazuki on head-fi) did a really nice job – this is a very substantial beast, weighing over 25 pounds the pair. VERY nice looking too:




I had never heard a B22 even at a meet, and since I have not been in the market for a solid-state headphone amp in this price range, I had not read much about it. I had seen ASR’s thread about how much he loved his, but that’s about it. So I listened to it on its own, and compared it to the tubed Darkvoice 337 and Singlepower Extreme, and to the solid state Blue Circle SBH. I know the B22 is expensive – this unit (which does contain a very nice DAC) has a PARTS COST of $1,600 (about $1,000 for the amp alone) – paying someone to build it for you would of course add a good bit more. So I did expect it should be a competent performer.

I evaluated the B22 with a wide variety of music, and with my Denon D5000, JVC DX1000, and Beyerdynamic DT990/600 headphones. Source was a Denon CDRW1500, which is an excellent CD player, which I fed both the B22 via the Denon’s analog outputs, and also the Opus DAC via the Denon’s coaxial digital output. I also played some vinyl through the B22 via a Denon DP59L with a Denon DL110 cartridge and Bellari phono preamp (this is my “second” vinyl rig).

Sound: Beta 22 Amp


Well, after connecting the bugger, and a little burn in (during which I didn’t listen to it even once), I put on a CD and fired it up, and…well…was VERY impressed. This is a world class headphone amplifier. It features excellent, captivating sonics. The B22 was highly open and transparent sounding – impressively so. It was definitely right up there with the very best amps I have in that regard. I know this is a fairly expensive amp, but I was still really impressed. For those seeking a high-end, transparent, neutral (but NOT aggressive or “ruthlessly revealing”) amp of excellent quality, this is definitely a serious contender. The B22 is right up there in terms of transparent with my SinglePower Extreme, which I consider to be reference class in this regard.

Bass was deep, powerful, and extremely well defined. Bass was on par in terms of musicality with my SinglePower Extreme, but perhaps just a tiny but better controlled. There was slightly more bass quantity with the B22 than with the Blue Circle, and in general I slightly preferred the bass performance of the B22 over the SBH. I confess I like the very slightly plumy bass from the SP and DV better with some material, and the iron-fisted bass from the B22 better on others. But during Iced Earth’s “The Clouding” from “Framing Armageddon”, the depth and power exhibited by the B22 was just awesome. I’m not sure that I have ever heard better bass via headphones than I got with the B22. My memory of the RSA Apache is that it had bass response that was in this league, but I have not heard the Apache in quite a while.

The Midrange was clear, open and transparent. This is the main strength of the mids. Listening to Aimee Mann’s new “@#%&*! Smilers”, Aimee’s voice was very naturally rendered, but not as richly as my SP MPX3 or Darkvoice 337. I would characterize the mids as very strictly neutral, which means they seem just ever-so-slightly lean when compared directly to my high-end tube amps. The mids on the BC SBH are also just a tiny but warm of neutral, and were just as transparent as the B22. In terms of transparency, the SP Extreme is probably still king of the mids, but the B-22 is very close. And I think the B22’s mids are certainly very enjoyable, and really more than anything they would be sort of dead-neutral, versus the slightly lush mids of the SP or DV amps, which are almost-but-not-strictly neutral, although I really love them. Even though the DV 337 and the SP Extreme are both known, and rightly IMO, as being “non-tubey”, they have a touch of “glow” or lushness in the mids that I really, really like, and that was absent from the B22. I simply prefer to listen to female vocals (and I listen to a LOT of female vocals) on the SP and DV amps. But overall, the B22 will not disappoint here, and many will prefer its very neutral midrange.

On top the B22 is remarkably smooth and grain-free, and not at ALL bright. In fact it might be just a tiny bit laid back, although it is essentially neutral . Treble detail is outstanding, especially since it’s not at all bright sounding. The SinglePower Extreme has a little more treble extension, and perhaps a little more detail, but this was very elusive and hard to pin down. And the B22 has plenty enough detail to keep things interesting to be sure, while being unfailingly smooth. For treble resolution I use two tracks: the triangle in Steely Dan’s “Aja”, and the tiny bells in the intro part of Jennifer Warnes’ “Joan of Arc” from “Famous Blue Raincoat”. Both of these were very cleanly represented. I was actually really impressed that the B22 did not have any unpleasant edge or etch in the treble, yet was of high resolution. I expected the resolution, but I was also bracing myself for some solid state edge or glare, which wasn’t there. I was won over very quickly by the B22’s super-clean and non-fatiguing treble. It gets top marks here as well, although here again it isn’t better than my three reference amps.

Soundstaging was also excellent. The imaging was very holographic. Both width and depth were outstanding, although this was another area where I felt the SP Extreme was a little better, and the B22 wasn’t quite as good as the Blue Circle SBH in this regard. But the soundstaging of the B22 was very convincing, and was in the top-class of headphone amps to be certain. There is a massive change in “atmosphere” during Shawn Colvin’s “Sunny Came Home” from “A Few Small Repairs”, and some amps don’t get this right, but it was very plainly obvious through the B22. I think to get much more holographic soundstaging than this you have to have unacceptably bright treble. The B22 just sounds “right”.

Opus DAC:

I did compare the Opus DAC to the (excellent) sound of my Denon CD player’s own analog outputs. I was again surprised here – the Opus DAC sounds better to me than the Denon, and I have always liked the Denon’s sound. But the sound of the Opus DAC exceeded the Denon’s in every respect. As such, the comments above all relate to the sound if the B22 with the Opus DAC. EVERYTHING was better via the Opus than via the Denon’s analog outs. I don’t own any stand-alone DACs with which I could compare the Opus, but it sounded better to me than my Denon CD player.

Conclusions:

As mentioned above, the Beta 22 just sounds “right” to me. There is nothing in the way of the music – music just flows gracefully and effortlessly out of it. It’s a really great headphone amp. If I myself were a DIY’er, I would build one for sure. Having the integrated DAC is nice, although it also sort of worries me – DAC technology changes rapidly, and I would prefer to keep these totally separate. I put the B22 up against some pretty serious competition, but competition right in its price class, and it acquitted itself very well, although I do not consider it a world-beater. For me personally, I am really more interested in high-end tube amps -- if I had $1,200-$1,500 to spend on an amp, I would choose the SP Extreme over the B22, and I would have to think very hard about the very similar priced solid-state Blue Circle SBH, which was very competitive sonically, although with a slightly different character. But all that aside, the B22 is a world-class headphone amplifier, and I think that it would make any owner very proud.
post #2 of 37
Nice write up! I'm trying to get my Opus done and hope to hear a B22 someday. This is encouraging to hear.

How big are the cases dimension wise?
post #3 of 37
Thread Starter 
Thanks! Cases are 13.5" W x 11.5" D x 3.5" H. These cases are very nice to look at and very solid.
post #4 of 37
Wooty woot woot woot!!!! Glad to hear a review from ya on the B22. We share very similar opinions in amps, and reading what you had to say about it somewhat comforts my thoughts in knowing how good it is.

Problem is...I don't think I can ever go back to a dynamic can again. Something as small as the Baby Stax have tainted my outlook on the headphone world....
post #5 of 37
Do you know who makes the cases?
post #6 of 37
Thread Starter 
I don't - perhaps Mazuki will chime in with that info.
post #7 of 37
Quote:
Do you know who makes the cases?
Hifi2000 from Italy
post #8 of 37
Outstanding! Thank you Skylab and hats off to Mike.
post #9 of 37
Ahh... those really nice ones... Nice work man.
post #10 of 37
the beta looks great. nice review skylab.
post #11 of 37
Only if I could hold a solder iron. :droooooool:
post #12 of 37
Enjoyed the review Skylab many thanks.

I thought I'd throw in a link to the pics of this amp in the "Post Pics of Your Build" thread here at Head-Fi:

http://www.head-fi.org/forums/4404911-post3386.html

I assume this is the same one....

Ech0
post #13 of 37
Great job Skylab !!! What a tempting DIY project......maybe next year

Nice pro finished look, inside and out Maz !! That's not easy to do by any means !! Takes skill and the ability to think far ahead during the build up to avoid costly errors.

Peete.
post #14 of 37
Quote:
Takes skill and the ability to think far ahead during the build up to avoid costly errors.
Yeah, there were a couple of costly errors before it was all completed.

Quote:
Only if I could hold a solder iron. :droooooool:
Actually, the hard part was doing all the milling.
post #15 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mazuki View Post
Yeah, there were a couple of costly errors before it was all completed.
I know that feeling.

You certainly put together an extremely clean build Mazuki. Nice job.
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