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REVIEW: Qinpu Q-2 and A-3 Amplifiers and V-5 Speakers

post #1 of 139
Thread Starter 
Having seen the Qinpu Q2 amplifier on EBay a number of times, I decided to ask Head-Direct, Qinpu’s US distributor, to send me a Q-2 for review. Fang from Head-Direct actually sent me not only a Q-2, but a A-3 amplifier and a set of very small but very cute V-5 speakers. I will review them separately, and in stages, so this review will come together fully over time, but I like to get my thoughts down while they are fresh.

Q-2 Amplifier

This very cute and very small home amp is a tube/solid-state hybrid, using a single Chinese 6N3 tube. The 6N3 is the exact equivalent of the US 5670/2C51/WE396A tube, which is good because the stock Chinese tube is awful. I used a Sylvania black-plate 2C51. The very good sounding GE 5670 can be had for as little as $5, so tube rolling is not costly. My comments below refer to the sound with the Sylvania tube, not the stock Chinese tube.


So the real question is: can a home amp that sells for $125 shipped in the US and which will drive either headphones or speakers possibly be any good?

The answer: YES! Absolutely! Amazingly, it sure can. Is the Q-2 a world-class amp? No. As one would expect, it has some limitations, and some imperfections, as you would think an inexpensive amp likely would. But, with careful headphone matching, it was capable of amazingly good sound, especially considering the price.

Since the Q-2 is solid state output, it had no problem with low impedance headphones. In fact, I preferred it with my 40 ohm Kenwood K-1000 and the 64 ohm JVC RX900 than with my 600 ohm Beyers. Also, the Q-2’s main sonic flavor is that it is a little bright in the treble. Both the Kenwood and JVC headphoens are pretty mellow on top, and this suited the Q-2 very nicely. In fact the $100 JVC RX900 and the $125 Q-2 make a very nice pairing. My Beyer DT990’s were not a good mate with the Q-2, in either impedance or sonic flavor. Too bright on top. There is also a little graininess to the treble, again hardly a surprise in a amp of this price that has a SS output stage.

The Q-2 also does not deliver very deep bass. The bass it has is pleasant enough, but it’s a little light. Again, careful headphone matching is the order of the day. With the Kenwood and JVC headphones, the overall sonic picture was very enjoyable.

And maybe the main reason for that was the Q-2’s midrange – which was startlingly good. The Q-2 lets the wonderful mids that the 5670/2C51 tube can deliver shine through, and the result is an open, uncolored, lush and beautiful midrange. Highly enjoyable, really. It let the music flow out in a very natural, engaging way. Female vocals, like on Mae Moore’s “Love Will Bring You Back” were terrific. And I still really enjoyed Lacuna Coil’s cover of “Enjoy The Silence” through the Qinpu, even though it had a lighter presentation that I would get from one of my better rigs.

The soundstage also was good – reasonably deep and wide. Here you definitely get more out of better amps, but the performance is good enough to be believable and enjoyable to be sure. You get to see right in to the hall during Alison Krauss’s live performance of “Let Me Touch You For a While”.

I did briefly use the Q-2 to drive the Qinpu V-5 speakers that Head-Direct sent me. This worked well enough. Those speakers sound good for their size, but a 4.5” cube speaker will only produce so much bass, and a small amp like this will only play speakers so loud. FWIW if you use the Q-2 as a speaker amp only, the headphone out can be used to connect it to a powered subwoofer. I did not have any other suitable speakers to try the Q-2 with as a speaker amp, so I can really only verify that it seems to work fine in this regard.

Compared to the Head-Direct EF1, there is no doubt the EF1 is the much superior amp. But at $400, it should be! I also prefer the 12AU7 over the 5670/2C51, but not by all that much. But the EF1 is just a better all around amp. If one can afford it, then that would be the way to go.

But for the money, the Q-2 offers the significant benefits that one gets from amping headphones, and gives a small measure of tube goodness, for a VERY small asking price. For those on a strict budget, the Q-2 gets an incredibly enthusiastic recommendation.


A-3 Amplifier

So the next question is – what if you doubled the price? Then what do you get?

Well, in the case of Qinpu, you get the A-3 instead of the Q-2. And this means you get the same feature set – tube/ss hybrid headphone/speaker amp. However, what you also get is:

>Much nicer looking product
>One 6N3/5670/2C51 per channel, instead of one for both channels like the Q-2
>Better overall build quality
>And yes, better sound!

So how much better? Well – noticeably. You get a much smoother and basically grain-free treble. You get deeper, more powerful, and tighter bass. And you get even a slightly more luscious midrange. The soundstage is also better – a little deeper (but not much wider).

Listening to Fiona Apple’s “O Sailor” was highly enjoyable via the A-3. Her voice was nuanced and full, the piano sounded like a piano should, and the very powerful bass in the song was rendered full measure. Goth-metal like Tristania’s “World of Glass” was as it should be – rocking!

The A-3 easily let me hear both the overall sonic difference between the Kenwood K1000 and the JVC RX900, but it also clearly showed the ways in which the K1000 is the more nuanced, refined headphone – details that were harder to discern over the Q-2. Soundstage differences between these two headphones were very clear. But both headphones were very enjoyable via the A-3.

While I was impressed with the Q-2 for its performance considering it’s cheaper than most portable amps I know, the A-3 got my respect as being a good sounding amp, period. The A-3 competes nicely with amps in its price class. It is even fairly close to the Head-Direct EF1, although I do think the EF1 is the nice headphone amp. The A-3 on the other hand has speaker-drive capabilities to its credit. I did try the A-3 driving both the V-5, and my B&W DM600’s. It drove the B&W’s to satisfying levels in my office, and has enough power to drive speakers in a nearfield situation no problem, but not to ear-splitting levels in a huge family room, of course.

The A-3 also sounds competitive with the Darkvoice 336SE, although I do slightly prefer the 336SE as well, and it is the exact same price as the A-3 (although again it has no speaker-drive feature).

I should once again clarify that all these comments refer to the sound of the A-3 using NOS tubes – in this case, JAN-GE 5670’s. But since you can buy this exact tube for $5 each or less (saw some NOS/NIB for $3 each on EBay just today), I don’t see that as any sort of limitation. It’s actually amazing how much of an improvement you get for your $10 by using these tubes versus the Chinese 6N3s that are supplied.

So here again, the A-3 is a pretty impressive amp. It looks nice, sounds good, and is reasonably priced. It’s pretty small, and so can be used almost anywhere. I was pretty impressed. I’m not going to run out and list my SP amps for sale, but on the other hand, if I had to live the rest of my life with only the A-3, I could do so and be happy. I’m listening to it now as I write this, and really digging it. Definitely recommended.


V-5 Speakers

I spent some time listening to the V-5 speakers since Head-Direct included them, this is a product category I don’t really understand – call it the “microspeaker” – an incredibly small full range driver in a very small box. I guess the idea is they are better than your run of the mill plastic “PC speakers, and surely the V-5 are that. They’re cute. They’re small. But they SOUND small. They do make sound, but quite frankly, I couldn’t realistically recommend spending $170 on them. There are just SO many better ways to spend $170. For $250, you can get something like the PSB Alpha, which sounds much, much better than the V-5 does. The PSB Alpha sounds like a real speaker.

It isn’t that the V-5 sound BAD – they certainly do not. But they are very limited in terms of their capabilities. They are not full range either in terms of treble and certainly not in terms of bass, and they have very limited dynamics. The V-5 sounds like an attempt to make a tiny (and I mean tiny – 4.5” cubed) little box sound something like a real speaker. Unfortunately, it fails. You look at the V-5 and say – “my, how cute it is that this tiny little thing is making sound”. But as for really enjoying it – I guess I just couldn’t. Compared to my $300/pair B&W DM600’s that I use in the office, the V-5 was so hopelessly outclassed it wasn’t even a good comparison.

I tried using these with my Sunfire True Subwoofer Jr (which was $900 when I bought it!) to add some bass – but that didn’t really help things – I had a total mis-match – incredible bass, and very ho-hum mids and treble. I also really couldn’t get what I consider to be a soundstage from the V-5’s.
post #2 of 139
I was looking forward to this. Thanks for the review. I like it when companies pay attention to the transformer cover. I really don't like the "ugly black box sticking out of the amp" approach.
post #3 of 139
Thread Starter 
Review is now complete.
post #4 of 139
Great review skylab. I may have to try them out since I've got so many 2C51s lying around! Did you roll any tubes with them besides the sylvania and GE?
post #5 of 139
Thread Starter 
Thanks! I did try a Western Electric 396A in the Q-2 - the tube cost more than the amp! Sounded good, though.
post #6 of 139
Nice review.

But you recommend getting a Darkvoice 336 instead of the A-3? Could you elaborate on this a little?
post #7 of 139
Thread Starter 
Actually I would recommend getting an A-3 if you have low impedance hwadphones like Grados or Denons. The Darkvoice is a better choice for higher impedance headphones, and in that application, and with good tubes, it sounds a little better IMO.
post #8 of 139
I wonder how the A-3 would do driving a Stax SRD-7 pro transformer box (low impedance), as i am using a 12 watt/ch Nuforce Icon and think it does a decent job - but I would like some tubey goodness with the stats in my backup rig. Was saving for an Almarro A205A Mk2 when the HD800 took my money instead.
post #9 of 139
Thread Starter 
I bet that would actually work very well Larry! The A-3 really sounds nice.
post #10 of 139
Thanks for the short and nice review. Can you describe in what ways the EF1 is the better amp?
post #11 of 139
Thread Starter 
The EF1 is the better amp for sure. The Q-2 is great for the money, but both the Qinpu A-3 and the Head-direct EF1 are much better amps. I prefer the EF1 overall.
post #12 of 139

thanks for another Great review! I had read in a review by you somewhere that you felt the Denon d2000 and the EF-1 had particularly good symmetry. did you feel the A-3/D2000 share this symmetry as well? or does the EF-1 just blow it out?
post #13 of 139
Thread Starter 
I no longer had the Denon D5000 (never owned a 2000) when I did this review, but the Qinpu A-3 can handle low impedance cans (like my Kenwood K1000's) with no problems. It actually sounded great with the Kenwood (although i still prefer the EF1).
post #14 of 139
thanks Skylab > Im a newbie here and your reviews help ppl such as myself on the right path to sonic bliss. Keep up the good work!
post #15 of 139
I got to try a pair of those Qinpu speakers when I bought my Jade. I didn't think they were worth more than $20, and to ship them back to Fang, it cost me $20!
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