Throughout the months I have been trying out different amps in an effort to find the perfect suitor for my Grado 325is. Since then, I have been able to better describe each time, what sound I am looking for. The 325is have a bit of a stinging shrill sound that I like from each time an acoustic guitar is strum, that I feel adds to the realism and gives life to the rock music that I listen to. It also brings vocals so close to your ears, that you can hear them breathe in before reciting each lyric. That is what I love about the Grado signature.
I recently tried the iBasso D10 and the Grado RA1, which were both wonderful amps, but ill suited for what I was looking for. The D10 stock, I felt had good bass and wide soundstage, but it definitely diluted some of the detail, and pushed the vocals back, giving it a bit of a concert hall sound, instead of the upfront sound that I like. I tried many different opamp rolling variations with the provided kit as well as kits by HiFlight. With the provided kit I was able to come up with a combination that I liked, but after over 200 hours of burn-in the sound just changed, and I was never able to get it back to that one climactic point.
Then came the RA1 which added more transparent volume, which I expected, but it made those shrilly guitar sounds that I like, silky smooth.
What I want:
I do not want the shrilly guitar sounds to be made silky smooth. I want them untamed, or tamed the slightest, barely noticeable pinch so that they may be heard at a higher volume with less fatigue.
I want vocals upfront and personal with such clarity and detail that I can notice the artist's breathing before or as they recite each lyric. Not slightly pushed back, as the D10 did.
I would like a larger soundstage, a better separation of instruments, but I still want that upfront and personal sound, but I don't want the vocals to be compromised as a result. I would like to feel the dimension of front to back as well. Believe it or not, on some John Mayer tracks I was able to achieve this on the D10 for a short period of time, until the sound of the amp changed. It was very engaging, and I would like to get that feeling again. But again, I don't want that concert hall feeling. I want to be standing right in front of the band, or be playing in the band.
Let me stress this again, the D10, provided a great soundstage and bass, but there was something unrealistic about it. And the vocals were pushed back somewhat, and the realistic shrill sound I like was compromised.
Many people don't like that acoustic guitar shrill sound, but that's what gives it realism. When I play the acoustic guitar myself or hear someone play it right in front of me, I hear that shrill sound with each strum. I'm looking for an amp that "DOES NOT" give me a balanced or neutral sound, because when you hear a live performance, the sound is anything but balanced or neutral.
I want realism. So far the Grado unamped gives me that, on a much smaller scale. There is still plenty of room for improvement. Believe it or not, I thought the bass was perfect on the 325is when there is no amp at all. It's not overbearing and it's not inadequate. But some amps, either give too much bass, or take it away too much but give you more detail.
I'd prefer to spend $350 or less, but perhaps $400 is a possibility. I have an optical out or ministereo on my Mac Pro tower, which will be my primary source. and my iPhone 3GS will be my secondary source via LOD cable. I would prefer to achieve this with a portable amp, but I will go desktop if the sound improvement is that much better. This is primarily for the my Grado 325is and that is the only headphone that should be considered with this amp, although I will mostly likely use it for my Shure SRH840's, as well as possibly the Shure SE530 or the Westone 3's.
So far, I have to honestly say, that I prefer my Grado's unamped coming from my Apple Mac Pro tower compared to the D10 and the RA1.I'm growing tired of all this amp experimenting. I'm frustrated with the stress of having to return or sell amps back. I want that perfect amp, and the price point that I am looking for. Please, if you think you can relate to the sound that I am looking for, then give me your suggestions. I'm tired and of these postings
Oh yes, one more important thing, although I want insane detail, I DO NOT WANT to experience HISS. Please give me your suggestions. I'm desperate!