OK first things first-
I do not consider myself a full blown audiophile, but I knows good sounds when I hears it.
That being said, I am a firm believer that you can get great sound without spending 1000's of dollars and also that I feel that anyone spending 1000's of dollars does so for nuances and minute changes at best.
So with this in mind, I set out to find a good sounding amp for my AKG K702's (which only have had 100 or so hours of burn in, though I'm also skeptical of that concept as well) and something that would be in the neighborhood of 300 dollars. My source is a laptop running iTunes with VBR mp3's.
I bought the Little Dot I+ with the stock 6JI Chinese tubes and a Heed Canamp. I sold the Heed Canamp because for the life of me there was no difference let me say that again- NO DIFFERENCE as far as sound quality went. I A & B'ed in for nearly 2 hours and any differences were so minuscule that I just got fed up and said "this is dumb". So why keep a 300 dollar amp when I have a 130 (after shipping cost) dollar amp that does the same thing?
So right off the bat I will say that the Little Dot I+ basic stock model has enough current to make the K702s sound very good.
Next, I ordered the
So opamps be damned, I decided to try out some new tubes (hey why not?) So after some searching around I found a matched pair of Amperex 6AK5W tubes. I got them because someone on another thread said that they were the second best sounding tubes (to their ears, but also for a pair of Grado's not K702) next to the Sylvania gb-408a, which you can't find anywhere now. This is where things got interesting...
So I will provide a few tracks of varying genres I listened to a few times for purposes of example:
Radiohead - Reckoner (pop rock)
Mass Effect 2 soundtrack - The Normandy Reborn (orchistration)
Boards of Canada - Peacock Tail (electronic)
Blur - The Universal (pop rock)
HP Lovecraft - The Time Machine (classic rock)
First up, the stock 6JI Chinese tubes.
Again, in general I thought the amp sounded great with these stock tubes. However in comparison to the Amperex 6AK5W's, there were clear differences worth mentioning.
Reckoner - After the second verse when the bass comes in, bass sounded...blah, for lack of a better word. A bit distorted and messy.
Normandy Reborn - Huge big sound, strings swirling around my head...just sounded great. The crescendo was rich with powerful impact. Just proves that the K702's are masters of Classical/Orchistrated music.
Peacock Tail - Great soundstage, but I had to turn it down a tad because the snare drum was a bit fatiguing.
The Universal - Hmmm...the stringed instruments sounded wonderful, vocals were up front and clear as a bell, but where's the bass?
The Time Machine - Excellent instrument separation, and you could almost see where the instruments were up on stage.
Next I put in the Amperex tubes.
Right off the bat, I realized what people talk about when they say "warm tube sound". Everything did get a pleasant warmth to it, however I also noticed a very slight hiss in some tracks. I don't know if it's the recording or encoding or both but once the music started it was no longer an issue. Also the low end was kicked up a bit. I'm not a basshead, but I like to know that there is bass in my music.
Reckoner - The bass fixed itself. Sounded mellow and non-distorted. Seems as though the soundstage changed a bit as well, I could hear a tambourine behind my head. Now I'm seeing just what these cans can do as far as soundstage.
Normandy Reborn - Sounded rich and lush like chocolate cake. However the crescendo seemed to had lost a bit of it's toe curling impact from before. Maybe it was just because I knew it was coming this time.
Peacock Tail - that pesky snare drum was now more tolerable at a higher volume level. The vintage synths that BOC uses never sounded so warm and pretty!
The Universal - hey, there's the bass!
The Time Machine - what a fun song. My toes were tapping and my head was bobbing by this point. Very vintage sound and great separation. I experienced that feeling of being right there in the middle of the room with these guys.
So maybe that wasn't so quick and so dirty, but that's my 2 cents. If there was ever a time I knew I was not going to give up these K702's it's now. For me, the opamps did nothing. The tubes made enough of a difference to warrent the 33 bucks I spent on them. So that's around 170 dollars total and I'm more than pleased with this setup and I'm going to be sticking with this for a long time