This morning I received my Solo (2007, pre SRG model) back from Graham Slee. It has been upgraded to Solo Ultra-Linear. Since I have been only recently initiated in the dark art of head-fi some background follows:
I was perfectly content with the K701 and Solo combo. However 2 things nagged:
- there was the occasional flatness in the mid-bass regions, especially in some brighter guitar music (Marillion, Pink Floyd)
- here and there I could do with a little less treble, again in the most complex of pasages the AKG's could get a bit "toppy"
In the short time the Solo/K701 has been with me, it has made a head-fi believer out me. Even my wife who has nothing to do with hi-fi, demanded the Solo be returned promptly. Bizarre.
I also became aware, reading here, that the bass issue had been handled in the Solo SRGII. And that I could upgrade my Solo to SRGII. At the same time Graham Slee announced that there would be a Solo Ultra-Linear. The Solo Ultra-Linear is in the pricelist but not yet "launched" on the web site. The first Solo Ultra-Linear are also being passed for reviews to some of the memebers of GS forum.
After mailing back and forth on the above naggins Graham opted to upgrade the Solo to Ultra-Linear. According to Graham, who had been listening to the same music and with the same cans, this would give the extra bass, a valve like sound and less toppy treble.
So here it is.
Below are the technical specs from the manual
And because I am techno noob, the decription of the Solo Ultra-Linear.
Listening to the Solo Ultra-Linear
Music (CD): Marillion - Holidays in Eden, Pink Floy - Delicate sound of thunder and many others?
Visually the only thing changed on the upgraded to Solo Ultra-Linear is the now green led instead of the red one it had before and the stickers underside. Plus an autograph from the bloke who’s making this beautiful amp by hand: Graham and co. Nice touch.
The Graham Slee Solo has been playing 120 hours non-stop for burning in. I gave it extra time since this amp really goes through A LOT of changes during burn in. This has been written here often and it is still true for the Ultra-Linear. I was tempted to write down initial impressions but I think it’s best to refrain form concluding anything from the burn in period.
So how does it sound? I can’t compare it directly to the Solo (2007). I did some A/B with the Solo 2007 and my Marantz CD-52 mkII SE CD player. So I occasionally used the marantz as a reference point.
The most obvious difference I noticed was slightly more oomph from the mid bass regions. There is more heft coming from bass drums in rock music, even when things get complicated or full. The mid bass and bass guitar’s sounds warmer, rounder even than before. I can follow most bass lines al the way through a song.
The deep end of bass is still there, rich detailed and when present, giving things a tremendous scale. Put “dance in the dark” from lady gaga on and there is a disco floor in your head.
The marantz produced more bass than the Solo 2007. The Ultra-Linear’s bass is more present than the marantz by comparison.
Voices have more body, more roundness. For instance: on the marantz the voices sound as flat as a character in a Michael bay film. On the Ultra-Linear they seem to come from real humans with full lungs. The same goes for drums. Body and air around those as well. They benefit of course from the added bass but you can distinguish them more clearly now.
Then the highs. I always found that a strongpoint from the Solo 2007. Nice, detailed, delicate. But on my AKG K701 a bit too upfront. There are changes here as well. The highs have taken a step back, there is less sharpness. Yes even this seems a bit “rounder”. At first I thought detailing had gone missing, but al the detailing is still there, slightly rounder and less up front. This is wonderful when listening to complex passages of marillion. Where I normally would have to turn the volume down because of sharp treble, to hot cymbals, blaring guitars and a bass drum which has gone hiding, I can now sit back relax and enjoy. Cymbals are a joy not a pain. I could listen to the Prodigy without being deafened by synthesizers. Now I could close my eyes and be at a rave. Stomping house beats and nice attack from the synths. It won’t turn your K701 into bass cans. Only when the music asks.
Musically everything is still very good. With up-tempo songs you find yourself tip-tapping to the music. One song of Tori Amos nearly brought me to tears. That has not happened before. This is where this amp really shines. Conveying emotions.
All in all the Ultra-Linear gives the AKG K701 a fuller bass, and a much rounder, a bit warmer presentation. It also takes away some of the glare in the highs. But above all it makes you want to listen and immerse yourself into more music.
p.s. does it sound like a valve? No idea, never listened to a tube amp before.
Edited by Zoldar - 5/14/10 at 8:21am