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REVIEW: Audio-GD C-2C Headphone Amplifier

post #1 of 65
Thread Starter 
REVIEW: Audio-GD C-2C Headphone Amplifier

IN THE BEGINNING…


I requested and was sent a review sample of the C-2C headphone amplifier by the manufacturer, Audio-GD. The amplifier was well packaged for its trip from China, but still managed to show up with some damage to the top plate of the case. Fortunately for me, this was just cosmetic, so the review could proceed, but it’s a shame, since the C-2C is a handsome amplifier:





It is also well made, and fairly large – 10” W x 11.25” D x 3.5” H. It has balanced and unbalanced inputs, but I no longer own a component with balanced outputs, having sold my Moon phono stage in favor of a Cary tubed model. So all listening was via the RCA inputs. The C-2C does not have a balanced headphone out, although Audio-GD is apparently working on a balanced amp for those interested.

I auditioned the C-2C mostly with my Denon CD player, but also played some records through it, and used an iMod iPod. Headphones used were the 600 ohm Beyer DT880 and the 40 ohm Kenwood K1000 mostly, but I also briefly used the JVX DX1000 and the Beyer DT990. I broke the C-2C in for over 120 hours before doing the serious review listening.


THE SOUND OF MUSIC…

Y’know, it’s a VERY good time to be into headphone audio. There are just a LOT of great, affordable headphone amps out there. And the C-2C is no exception – it delivers incredibly good sound for the money ($399 in the USA when ordered from Pacific Valve and Electric).

The most impressive element of the C-2C’s sound, for me, was its combination of a very smooth, lush sound, with a high level of transparency and detail. The C-2C isn’t the kind of SS amp that makes people go running for tubes. And while I wouldn’t say it sounds like a tube amp, it is certainly the kind of amp that someone who likes tube amps could live with. What is impressive is that it does this without any obvious coloration or trickery. The amp still sounds quite extended on top, is nicely detailed and nuanced, and has great bass control and authority, but nonetheless exhibits a pervasive smoothness that makes listening to it a pleasure.

This degree of smoothness in a SS amp is something that I think really separates good SS designs from not so good ones. Fortunately, more and more SS amps I have tried do seem to get this right. There really isn’t an excuse to make a “zippy” sounding SS amp anymore, and the C-2C is living proof of that.

Take for example the song “Empire” by Dar Williams. If there are any annoying sibilants audible when using the C-2C, then your headphones are way too bright. They aren’t on the recording, and you get no false emphasis on them. On the other hand, the vocals from the Jayhawks on “The Eyes of Sarah Jane” do contain some sharp sibilants, and the C-2C does not mute or gloss over them, as it shouldn’t. There is also some distortion on that track from overmodulation that is part of the recording, and the C-2C is transparent enough that this is audible (pity they didn’t record it better, such great music).

Soundstaging is also very good with the C-2C. The soundstage is solid, well fleshed out, and believable. This, when combined with its frequency-domain performance, make for a very engaging listen. You get all the music, beautifully presented both in the spatial and frequency dimensions. It does not achieve the really holographic soundstage that I get with my DV337 or Singlepower amps, and the depth is not as good with the C-2C as it is with those amps, but for an amp in this price class, it’s very good.

Bass: deep, tight, and punchy, but never overbearing. There is just a little missing in terms of absolute extension, but nothing that will be bothersome with 95%+ of music out there. Treble: as mentioned, smooth, but nuanced and detailed. Here again, there may be just a little missing on the very top, and perhaps just a little less “air” in the treble than one gets with more expensive amps. But I’d rather have this that grainy, hyped, aggressive, chalky treble – all problems that are blissfully absent from the C-2C. Midrange: basically transparent and fairly lush. It does not rival similarly priced tube amps in this regard, however. I prefer the midrange presentation of the Ming-Da MC84-07C, but it’s just a slight preference, and we’re talking about different flavors of ice cream here, not where one is right and the other is wrong.


OTHER ARMS…

In terms of competition, I really do not have on hand a SS amp that competes with the C-2C. In fact, at the moment I don’t have any other SS headphone amps around at all (other than portables). From memory, I would say that the C-2C offers a comparable level of performance to the Purity Audio KICAS, although its sonic flavoring would be perhaps somewhere in between the KICAS and the Caliente. The C-2C looks nicer and has the extra input as an additional feature; I also prefer amps that don’t use external power supplies, if only from an ease-of-use perspective.

Similarly, in comparison to the Head-Direct EF1, the C-2C was actually smoother than the EF1 with some tubes like the RCA, but with a Mullard CV4003, I slightly prefer the EF1, although here again, both amps have some subtle strengths and weaknesses, and both amps are truly excellent in their performance for the money. As mentioned, it’s a great time to be a head-phile!

Would I buy the C-2C versus a similarly priced tube amp? That’s a tough one. There are still some things in the midrange that I believe only a good tube amp can do. But in the case of the C-2C, the level of transparency is higher than it is with an amp like the Darkvoice 336. You have to step up to something like the Darkvoice 337 to get the same level of transparency and overall frequency-domain performance like you get in the C-2C. And as noted above in the EF1 comparison, the advantage tube amps have is that you can use tube-rolling to tailor your sound somewhat. But I am pretty confident most people would not want to mess with the C-2C’s sound – it’s very well balanced.

AFTER ALL…

Bottom line – I was VERY impressed with the C-2C. Much more than I expected to be. Audio-gd has created a very fine headphone amplifier in the C-2C. It exists in a very hotly contested segment of the home headphone amp – the $400 and under segment – but it definitely provides a level of performance that 3-4 years ago wasn’t available in an amp at this price point. I enthusiastically recommend the C-2C – it’s a terrific amp.
post #2 of 65
thanks for the review...
post #3 of 65
As usual, a very helpful and detailed review. Thanks Skylab.
post #4 of 65
Thanks Skylab for the review.. it was in my next buy list and all the more confirmed by this review..
post #5 of 65
Thanks for the review
post #6 of 65
Beautifully written review Skylab,....

...only, people are now going to tell you that you should have given it more burn-in.
post #7 of 65
You should throw in the Jade for comparison sakes as well since it's also in the same price range.

But thanks for the review. Very nicely written.
post #8 of 65
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Drosera View Post
Beautifully written review Skylab,....

...only, people are now going to tell you that you should have given it more burn-in.
Ha! Probably. But it had 220 hours total break in on it - that ought to be enough, IMO, but if it gets even better with age, so be it

Quote:
Originally Posted by moonboy403 View Post
You should throw in the Jade for comparison sakes as well since it's also in the same price range.

But thanks for the review. Very nicely written.
Thanks! The Jade again is very competitive with the C-2C, but each with a little different flavor.
post #9 of 65
Good, honest review. I've had my unit for a little over a month and mirror all of skylabs comments. It's just a great sounding amp, with no perceivable flaws.
post #10 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skylab View Post

Thanks! The Jade again is very competitive with the C-2C, but each with a little different flavor.
These are the two I am kicking around for my downstairs setup. I know a lot of people say tubes are best for HD650s, but I just think I am more of a SS kind of guy.
post #11 of 65
I agree with Skylab's comments. I'm very happy with my C2C. No complaints at all.
post #12 of 65
Thanks for the great review as usual. I was pretty interested to see how it would stack up against the Purity Audio amps and the Jade.
post #13 of 65
Love the review, Skylab. Thanks for taking the bullet, as always
post #14 of 65
It's between the C2C and the Jade for me so any direct comparisons would be most welcome.
post #15 of 65
A very detail writeup. Thanks for this review Skylab.
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