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REVIEW TRAVAGANS RED WITH BLACK UPGRADE POWER SUPPLY

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
REVIEW TRAVAGANS RED WITH BLACK UPGRADE POWER SUPPLY




Here is a link to the company website :

Travagans Black
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Travagans Red
Travagan’s Red-Travagan's shop

For another review done by HeadphoneAddict: (Thank-you for your superb reviews on this site)with internal pictures:

http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f5/rev...-black-321463/

My original review of the Travagans Red in 2008 with standard power supply:
http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f5/tra...review-285433/

My larger comparison review of many home amps including rank of the Travagans Red with standard power supply:
http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f5/rev...ns-red-266118/

The following comments refer to the tests on the Travagans Red only with the Black power supply replacing the standard supply (which is pretty good stock).

TRAVAGANS BLACK CAPSULE REVIEW

Treble
Silkier treble removes any hint of grain

Midrange
Slight increase to smoothness but texture is improved. Mids sound closer to a more expensive amp.

Bass
Biggest and most noticeable improvement. Improved speed with acoustic bass and tightness.

Imaging
Adds a bit of air and depth but probably only noticeable when directly comparing the Black to the standard power supply.

Dynamics
Another area of improvement. Quite music passages are more quiet with less background noise. Loud passages have more punch and dynamic range. Simple music (such as folk female vocalists and piano) eminent from a more black background.


Capsule conclusion
A not so subtle improvement that brings a budget amp up to a higher level.

a)quiet
b)reduces background hash
c)smoother treble
d)improves bass punch and speed. seems to go a bit deeper

BACKGROUND
I reviewed the Travagans Red in 2008 and have kept it around my system while other budget amps have come and gone. I find great (not good) synergy with the Senn 650 headphones. The Red provides plenty of power. It also provides sparkle to the top end and seems to tighten the bass which can be a bit slow and wooly on the Senn's.

TECHNICAL INFO
Much has been written on this site about the advantages of a robust power supply. Headphones such as the AKG 701/702 are notoriously difficult to drive even with home headphone amps that seem more than adequate with most other full sized headphones. For configurable amps such as the M3 or PPA capable of high drive a more robust power supply provides better dynamic range and drive capabilities.
It also enables one to bias towards Class A that many find a palpable improvement that further quiets the amp. I found the STEPS power supply to put amps like the PPA into a level of the better solid state amps such as the Corda Opera. These esoteric power supplies are one of the most expensive sections of an amplifier to build. Many builders skimp on this important part of amplifier design so be wary of those who do. If I see a puny power supply, it makes me wonder what other sections of the amp they have cut costs. Many quality headphone amp builders offer the consumer a choice. You can buy in to the basic amp, then choose to upgrade the power supply in the future. Rockhopper offered me this option with the M3 and it made a big positive difference. The SIGMA and TRENDS supplies are other options.

Improved power supplies can improve the sound in many ways. They can help filter noise from the hash that exists on most (older) power lines. They can also assist with the slewing ability of an amp. This goes to the ability of an amp to quickly recover from heavy power demands brought on by dynamic, powerful music. Deep fast bass lines can also be improved by sounding more distinct and less slurred.

BUILD QUALITY
Cosmetics match the Red, and the duo still has a small footprint. Both have heat sinking on top and are built like little bricks.

SOUND
The Black does not change the sound character of the Red which is a good thing. However it is in the area of refinement that the Black lifts the amp to the next level. I thought the STEPS power supply really improved the PPA and the Black offers that same level of improvement. Treble is already good but the top end now has reduced grain. There is a noticeable difference is in improved dynamic headroom. Bass is solid with no overhang and improved speed.

HEADPHONE SYNERGY

AKG 701
The 701/702 is a headphone that can fall out of bed quickly when not driven correctly. They can sound like Music Lite with reduced bass. In fact, the bass goes deep on these headphones with fine detail not heard in the bass of other headphones such as the Senn 650. It is in the area of bass impact and fullness that challenges the AKG 701's.

This is just the area of improvement the Black offers. The bass is improved by the way it becomes more prominent in the mix. In direct comparison to other amps, the bass can seem Missing In Action on some passages with the AKG's causing the listener to say “Good Bye”.

Sennheiser 650
Great synergy with this headphone. The bass tightens up and the speed of fast bass passages is really improved

Denon D5000 (modified by me)
Smooths what can be bright treble. Bass impact with these headphones can cause blinking if you do not monitor the level.

COMPARISONS
The modest Red is brought up to a new level in terms of power and refinement. I like tube amps and my Doge 6210 is still offers better sound stage. But the Red and Black have superior detail and drive the AKG 701 with more authority.

The Bada PH-12 is closer in sound character to the Red/Black. The Bada has MOSFET outputs that are known for being smoother than most opamps, but the Travagans has a similar smoothness to the Bada. The Bada is one of the few mid-priced ($500 ish) amps to be able to drive the AKG 701's adequately and I would add the Travagans combo to that list.

CUSTOMER SERVICE
David Lin is the head engineer at Travagans. He has always returned my emails and technical questions personally. To add to the level of quality sound, the quality of packaging Travagans provides is the best I have seen from Taiwan. Products arrive safely and are packaged with very heavy exterior and interior containers. The final interior boxes even have white ribbons around it which portends things to come. It may seem silly in these days of minimalist packaging and cost cutting. But I found this audiophile pampering refreshing. As mentioned above, I become concerned when I see alarming cost containment throughout a product design or implementation. It was nice to see extra attention to the customer experience.

OTHER HEADFI COMMENTS
I find myself mostly in agreement with HEADPHONEADICT's review of both the standard Red and the Red/Black combo linked above.

CONCLUSION
A review an amp by itself only offers a partially open window about the sound. For me, it is all about amp/headphone synergy. I like the idea that your can try an amp like the Red and see if it works well with your headphones in terms of sound character and drive ability. If you like the sound of the Red and want to bring it up to the next level, the Black is a clear upgrade path.

REALITY CHECK
I waited for a while to be sure of my findings on the Black before finalizing this review. This also tempered the “gee whiz” initial response to hearing something new. Is this really that good or is it just different? Many times placing a different component in the chain alters the frequency response a bit and presents a psycho acoustic illusion of being brighter or bassier that is not better, merely altered. After comparing the stock Red to the Red/Black for some time, I am convinced of my findings. The addition of the Black really improves the sound an order of magnitude.

I don't like to generalize, but after seeing the improvement of the STEPS on the PPA amp, the trend of improvements to the sound is consistent.
post #2 of 7
There is another review of the Red here
post #3 of 7
Thank you for the update Tbonner1. I have the Red and the Opera and I use both. The Opera is noticably smoother with larger soundstage, but the Red is more powerful with a good soundstage and more sparkle. Sounds like an upgrade I should consider.

UPDATE EDIT:
I wrote this by memory while out of town. I did some A/B comparisons last night and the Red is much closer to the Opera in smoothness than I remembered. With the Black upgrade power supply, it may be as smooth as the Opera.
post #4 of 7
Thread Starter 
Can you describe how the Opera sounds with the HD800 compared to the Travagans Red?
post #5 of 7
See revision below.
post #6 of 7
Thread Starter 
I believe the Opera attempts to emulate a warm, round tube sound. It does so at the expense of smoothing detail. Sharp definition and detail is a strong point of the Red.

The synergy between the Red and Senn 650's is very good, as is the synergy between the ASL MG HEAD OTL MKIII and Senn's. I agree the Red is clear and sharp which does help add light to the otherwise dark Senn's. This makes me think the Red may have been voiced with the Senn's, as many amps are, along with other full size headphones. The Red still does not sound too bright to me with other headphones, but I can understand why you might think so compared to the Opera.
post #7 of 7
EDIT TO UPDATE 4/15/10

My original post was written from memory while traveling. I did some A/B comparisons last night, so I am revising this post. All comments are IMO.

Smooth - The Opera is smoother than the Red, but not by a lot. The Black Upgrade Power Supply may bring the Red to the same level.

Speed - Both amps are very fast.

Treble - The Red has a stronger treble. I take back my earlier statement that it is too bright. The cymbals had more harmonics with the Red than the Opera. The cymbals are present with the Opera, just not quite as compete. I prefer the Red's treble.

Mids - The mids are fuller with the Opera. You might call them "warm". I prefer the Opera's mids.

Base - The Opera has a stronger base. Both amps have good clear base, it is just stronger with the Opera. I prefer the Opera's base.

Volume - The Red has much more volume/gain than the Opera. The Opera is adequate to drive my HD800 300 Ohm and T1 600 Ohm with low gain using a CD player with 2V output, but the Red has much more volume reserve.

Soundstage - The HD800 had a great soundstage. With the Opera the soundstage is large. The Red has a noticeable soundstage but not quite as wide and noticeably less deep. I prefer the Opera's soundstage.

Op Amps - The Red allows for rolling of Op Amps. I plan to try another set of Op Amps recommended by HeadphoneAddict which are suppose to increase the base and mids without losing treble. The Opera does not provide for rolling of the Op Amps.
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