This little powerhouse is almost unheard of here on headfi, which is a shame. Reviews online are practically nil*, and to the best of my knowledge ALO Audio is the only distributor in North America.
edit: Headfonia posted a review a couple weeks ago: http://www.headfonia.com/ortofon-hd-q7/
Product details can be found here: link
Specs from the above linkWarning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Ortofon HD-Q7 Headphone Amp
Beautifully built HD-Q7 made in Japan looks as good as it sounds. Ultra modern and sleek design that will complement any desk office or home set up. Quality is the key word here, with a solid metal chassis and a thick aluminium facia the HD-Q7 is both stylish and solid. The 45mm rotary volume knob is made from a solid billet of aluminium and endows the HD-Q7 with a supreme quality feel.
Sonically, the HD-Q7 features a frequency response of 10-200,000Hz and by using an external power supply keeps noise to a minimum. With both 6.5mm and 3.5mm headphone outputs, connection is simple, and both may be used simultaneously.
Hd-Q7 Key Features:
- Hd-Q7 is ergonomically designed for easy volume control by a large dial
- The dial is milled of a solid 45mm diameter aluminum rod
- Its chassis is made of 1.6m thick hard and heavy steel plate to prevent moving around when earphone cables plugged in and out.
- Hd-Q7 employs a power TR that has a wider frequency range of 10Hz to 200k Hz
- capable of reproducing unparalleled high fidelity sound in any kind of music.
- power output of 2 x 400mW
- Hd-Q7 uses an Ortofon designed AC/AC adapter as power supply source is apart from amplifier
- leakage flux will not influence amplifier which results in a very high S/N ratio in the headphone or earphone
- Allows input from CD player, or ipod / iPhone.
- Includes a cable with 3.5mm plugs for music player use.
I love the elegant design and form factor of this amp. While there's nothing wrong with the hammond case + faceplate motif which dominates many small amp designs, the unique shape and casing of the HD-Q7 is a breath of fresh air and gives it an air of style and distinction. At first glance you might not even recognize it as an amp (perhaps an asset if you're trying to keep your audio hobby discrete; just tell people it's a volume knob). It also measures in at a tiny 3.5" (9cm) square, and 2" (5cm) high including the knob, taking up less space on your desk than your coffee mug/beer. Despite its size, it weighs in at a solid 15 oz (425g), so it's not going to move around on you when you plug your cables in/out. See the next post for size comparisons.
The "face"plate is 1/8" thick with a smooth brushed texture which isn't a fingerprint magnet. It is a single piece which curves from the top and across the front. The knob is formed from a solid piece of aluminum; smooth to the touch and light to turn. There is absolutely no static or scratching when turning the pot. I got permission to open up the unit and I even went out and bought the security bits required (they use security torx screws), but I found that the screws were either glued in or secured so tightly that they were stripping before they'd budge, so I stopped before I did any damage. Upon examining a bit further, I'm actually not entirely certain how I would disassemble the amp. Given the configuration of the volume knob and headphone jacks, I suspect that some of the components may actually be connected to the faceplate, with the chassis mounted separately.
Power is indicated by a soft red LED, which is a welcome change from the ultrabright blues which seem to dominate electronics nowadays. The literature says that an Ortofon designed AC adapter is provided. Unfortunately, that one was not compatible with North American outlets. I received a separate adapter supplied from ALOaudio (Jameco brand). My review will be based upon using this aftermarket power supply. However, I am informed that future units will come with an Ortofon supplied AC adapter designed for 110V.
Inputs are your standard RCA plugs (gold plated) and 1/8" aux input, with a simple switch to select between them. From my testing, I assume the RCA is meant for a line input, and the aux takes an amplified output (such as from a headphone jack on a portable player). I will explain this more in depth later on. Outputs are 1/4" and 1/8" headphone jacks, which operate simultaneously. There is no noticeable power drop when playing through two headphones at the same time, although there is a brief blip when you plug/unplug one. Volume difference comes primarily from the first third of the rotation.
back inputs, w/AKG K240 Sextett MP
One really nice thing about the headphone jacks is that they are held in place via o-rings to the faceplate. Most chassis mounted jacks (ie: not mounted to the case) tend to float and simply poke through the case, which sometimes worries me a bit because they tend to move a bit when you plug/unplug headphones and I wonder if that repeated stress could eventually cause breakage. The o-rings hold the jacks quite securely and make things feel smoother overall. A very nice touch that you wouldn't even notice unless you were trying to take the whole thing apart.
There is only the slightest pop when you turn on the amp, and even then only with the most sensitive cans. As a solid state, the amp remains cool and doesn't warm up even after extended periods. It does suffer a bit from your typical RFI interference though, so keep it away from cell phones.
In terms of overall sound, the HD-Q7 comes across as bright and articulate. Frequency response of the amp feels perhaps very slightly U-shaped. There is a very precise clarity to the upper end, though it avoids the pitfalls of sounding cold like other bright solid state amps. Treble is clean, sharp rather than smooth, giving strings and cymbals a bit of a bite to them. The mids by comparison are more relaxed, almost recessed next to the highs. Vocals and instruments present themselves cleanly. Mid bass is rich and full. Deep bass is neutral, solid, and smooth compared to the treble, and extends quite deep before rolling off starting at 40Hz.
One characteristic of note is that this amp is merciless when it comes to lossy encodings. Maybe it's the strong treble, or the surgeon like precision, but either way it'll make you want to go back and re-rip all your cds to lossless if you haven't already.
As a bright amp, you will want to pair it with some dark/warm cans. Pairing it with bright cans just makes everything brighter and leans into the shrill side of things. Pairing with darker cans tightens up the bass end and adds some more authority across the mids and highs. Beyond that, I felt the HD-Q7 tends to enhance the natural sound characteristic of the headphone (for better or worse).
Soundstage is ok (just good, not excellent), but the separation of musical layers is impeccable. You can start picking out instruments in orchestral music, listen to the bass pluck over the vocals in a smoky jazz club, or even envision the mix tracks on an electronica piece.
From my testing, the HD-Q7 only picks up the barest of machine noise when cranked all the way up, and is otherwise silent. My testing with iems was severely limited, but listening with some highly sensitive/low resistance cans, I could detect no hiss.
I would estimate the gain to be approximately 3 dB. This is from comparing directly with the Kicas Caliente which has a rated gain of 6 dB. The Ortofon is less than that when feeding into it's RCA inputs, so I'm guessing three (which in terms of sound levels is approximately double). As a low gain amp, this makes it idea for sensitive headphones and iems, and it puts out plenty of power for those current hungry cans. It's certainly capable of pushing the 300-600 ohm heavies to moderate levels, but you'll probably want to use the aux mini input to achieve higher volume (see next section).
A Tale of Two Inputs
As I mentioned earlier, the HD-Q7 has two inputs: one RCA and one mini. From the best that I can tell, the RCA is meant for line inputs. Overall detailing of sound seems best when you feed a lineout into it, with particularly strong highs. Running an amplified signal in results in heavy attenuation and signal distortion. If you want the cleanest possible sound, this is the option to use. Even very sensitive iems are almost silent running off the RCA in.
On the other hand, the mini input responds very readily to amplified outputs. I was able to feed a maximum signal from both my Fuze and my iBasso D10 and cranked it all the way on the HD-Q7 without any distortion. You'll want to be careful testing this for yourself though, and try not to blow your headphones when you do. I thought the mids were perhaps just slightly more detailed on the mini input vs the RCA. The mini input is slightly noisier than the RCA input, but you'll have to crank it all the way up before you'd ever notice. If you want to drive some headphones loud and found the RCA input insufficient, then this definitely works. I was able to even get admirable performance out of my vintage Fostex T40 and AKG K340 which are notoriously hard to drive and demand current like no tomorrow.
The Players (in approximate alphabetical order)
- AKG K240 Sextett & AKG K240M -
Pushed the detailing up and tightened up the top; didn't do much for the low end. Impressive considering these are 600 ohm cans. I still prefer these with my Bottlehead Crack OTL tube amp.
- AKG K340 -
This electrostat/dynamic hybrid is beastly hard to drive. Using my G&W T2.6f amp which puts out 2000 mW of power brings it to "not quite loud" levels. That said, the HD-Q7 was able to push it to loud levels using the aux mini input. The high end was awesome and crystal clear, characteristic of the K340. The low end could have used more juice, which is no surprise. It gave it enough power to not be flabby, but not quite enough to retrieve good detail.
- Alessandro MS1i -
An excellent pairing here. Your usual grado sound becomes even more articulate and refined. Low end fills out just a bit.
- Audio Technica ATH-M50 -
The M50 doesn't really benefit from an amp, and this is no exception.
- Beyerdynamic DT48e (circa 1980's) -
I had both tears of joy and tears of shame with this combo. The midrange detail and clarity was beyond reproach. Putting on some vocal jazz, I swear I could almost see the singer's breath riding off the soundwaves of the string bass behind her. I could not ask for more... except a better source. With the DT48e + HD-Q7, my source files and DAC are now very clearly the bottleneck in my system.
- Beyerdynamic T50p -
This is an odd can, at times bright, at times dark. With the Ortofon, the extremes seemed mellowed out a bit on both ends. I'm still not entirely sure what to make of it.
- Denon D5000 (Lawton Audio MarkL mod) -
I must admit I wasn't a huge fan of the D5000 before. Even with the mods it felt a bit too muddled to me. The HD-Q7 brought back some of that midrange detail and livened it up, making it more enjoyable for me.
- Fostex T50RP (Thunderpants mod) -
This was a bad matchup. The orthodynamic drivers just demanded more current than the HD-Q7 could deliver, resulting in muddy sound and anemic bass.
edit: this was likely due to a bad TP mod, so take the above with some salt considering that the Yamaha orthos were just fine and are only marginally harder to drive (Fostex 50 ohm, 98 db/mW -vs- Yamaha 45 ohm, 100 db/mW)
- Grado HF-2 (Headphile Vixen mod) -
This was a weird headphone for me. I though the HF-2 was a great phone, and really disliked the Vixen mod which to me sounded like music through a wet paper bag. The mods added texture, but obscured the clarity. Paired with the HD-Q7 however, and suddenly that damp mushy veil was lifted and it brought the Vixen back into glory. All the wonderful HF-2 sound, with the added richness of a wooden housing.
- M-Audio Studiophile Q40 -
The Q40 loves amps and this was no different. The lovely low end rumble of the Q40 positively growled and the highs which I considered a weak point of the Q40 were brought up considerably.
- Nuforce NE-6 -
No hiss that I could detect unless I just cranked the volume all the way up with no music playing (or digital silence). I'm not an iem guy, but these sounded solid. Better sound, cleaner detailing, compared vs the iBasso D10.
- Ortofon O-One -
Ugh, terrible terrible terrible. The O-One is a bright and sharp can. Pairing with the HD-Q7 made it piercingly so.
- Phiaton MS 400 -
One of my favourite cans just got better. A typically dark resonant can, the midrange is the MS 400's strength, and the clarity just improved along with a tightening and extension of the low range. I felt like I lost of bit of detail in the high end though.
- Pioneer HDJ-2000 -
I consider the HDJ-2000 an improvement over the M50, Shure 840 and M-Audio Q40. It has a tighter and punchier bass, clean midrange, and articulate highs. Pairing with the HD-Q7 just brought everything up a notch.
- Sennheiser HD 580 (w/600 grill, 650 cable) -
Great midrange, soundstage got airier. Bottom end still a little lacking.
- Yamaha YH-1 (orthodynamic) -
This did a remarkable job, rendering the almost speaker-like YH-1s even more spacious and refined. I don't know why this one worked out so much better than the Fostex.
Quick summary of headphone matching:
awesome: Grado HF2 (Vixen), Alessandro MS1, M-Audio Q40, Phiaton MS400, Yamaha YH-1, Beyer DT48e
good: AKG K240 Sextett, Denon D5000, Pioneer HDJ-2000, Beyerdynamic T50p, ATH-M50, Nuforce NE-6, Sennheiser HD580
nice effort: AKG K340
ugh: Ortofon O-One, Fostex T50RP (Thunderpants)
w/Fostex T50RP ("Thunderpants" mod)
w/Sennheiser HD580 (600 grill/650 cable)
w/Beyerdynamic DT48e (circa 1980's) and Sansa Fuze
- iBasso D10 -
For most of my testing, I used the D10's lineout to feed into the HD-Q7's RCA line input. Comparing their respective headphone outputs is tricky since you can roll opamps with the D10. Moving from my darkest combination of opamps/buffers to the brightest, on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being brightest and unlistenable), I would rate the HD-Q7 as a 7.5 in comparison. In terms of power, the Ortofon is clearly superior. This is readily apparent with orthos and the K340 hybrid. The low ends are much cleaner and defined.
- K.I.C.A.S. Caliente -
A tough competitor for the HD-Q7 within the same price bracket, though perhaps I'm biased for a Canadian amp maker. The Kicas Caliente has a warm and mildly resonant sound signature which fits very well with my personal tastes. For detailing and clarity, I give the edge to the HD-Q7. For overall presentation and "fun factor", the Kicas wins takes the cake. They are about the same weight and provide similar output power, although the Ortofon is a fraction of the size and looks a heck of a lot better sitting on my desk. There Kicas also only has a single input and output, whereas the Ortofon has two of each.
edit: Purity Audio has dropped their price from the original $400 down to $250, making this choice a no brainer for the KICAS unless you are seriously cramped for the desk space
- Hot Audio DacDestroyer -
This is a budget dac/headphone amp from little known HotAudio which I feel is actually a comparable product to the widely popular Nuforce uDac, with the DacDestroyer having a slightly warmer tone. In terms of amps, there is no contest that the Ortofon is superior in all respects vs the DacDestroyer headphone out. As a source, I much preferred the warmer DacDestroyer over the iBasso feeding into the Ortofon.
- Bottlehead Crack -
The Crack amp is an OTL tube amp which doesn't play well with low impedance cans (flabby sound, difficult volume control). It has a warm tubey sound with rich mids and midbass. The HD-Q7 is quite the opposite, with a precise and articulate mid and midhigh range and decidedly solid state sound. It handles low impedance cans with ease, operates within optimal volume parameters, and in my experience puts out more power at those levels for better bass handling. This is really an apples to oranges comparison, as the two amps serve different headphone demographics.
- G&W T2.6f -
A tube hybrid in near the same price bracket. The G&W is a tube amp with a decidedly bright signature for tubes. If the Ortofon rates a 7.5 on my D10 scale of brightness, the G&W is a 6. Overall, the G&W is a very powerful amp whose strength lies in a smooth midrange. It is not quite as articulate in the highs and lows as the HD-Q7, but it has more than twice the power for much better control over the lows and lowmids which is apparent when driving the 600 ohm heavies or orthos. However, it also clocks in at 20x the size and weight (literally), so it's a bit of an offset matchup. Not quite a David vs Goliath matchup, though the comparison is apt.
back: Bottlehead Crack
front (clockwise from bottom left): Kicas Caliente, Ortofon HD-Q7, HotAudio DacDestroyer, iBasso D10
not pictured: G&W T2.6f (which is larger than the Bottlehead Crack)
A bright amp which pairs well with darker headphones and sources. Low gain, ideal for iems and low impedance cans. Crisp and articulate sound, crystal clear highs and clean defined lows, average mids. Tiny size, solid weight, beautiful design that is miles ahead of most desktop amps in its size/price category. Several input options and dual headphone jacks round out the package.
Is the HD-Q7 a hands down winner in it's price bracket? Honestly, no. I feel that it performs very well in it's price range, but if you're going solely by sonic performance then you have a lot of stiff competition and should choose an amp who's character best suits you. Where the HD-Q7 earns distinction is in it's size and design. It's no bigger than your fist and has a sleek modern aesthetic, whereas most of the competitors are larger and take up considerably more desk space, and look very chunky in comparison. If amps were muscle cars, consider this the roadster of desktop amps.
Edited by Armaegis - 12/27/10 at 7:13pm