A few words about myself and this review
My name is Sven, I am 29 years old and from Germany. My favourite hobby is the PC and everything technical around it. There are always things that catch up my attention and this time it was my audio setup. When I have no knowledge about a specific topic my journey starts with reading a lot - especially reviews. These reviews brought me to many different nice products in the past so I find them important and helpful for others. Well, it is time to give a bit back to the community since also many reviews on this forum were helpful for me.
Even though that I lack much experience with HiFi equipment in general, I will try my best to provide a helpful opinion on this amp. Just ask if you have any questions or want me to test something.
Why I decided on this amp
So far I used my soundcard which offers an integrated headphone amp and in my opinion everything sounded great. Of course I also know that this simple amp can not be able to drive my headphones with its true potential. I found a few other users with this card which switched to a real amp and said the sound became better so I also decided to get one.
After reading several reviews, professional tests, opinions and comments I thought I found my amp with the LAKE PEOPLE G93. I concentrated on this one when searching for more information and than the Meier Audio Corda Swing entered the game because several users mentioned it as a good alternative in this price range. I really have to say that the website from Meier Audio brought up some doubts since it looks very simple and old-fashioned but with all the good recommendations I should not judge about the product by the looks of the website.
I always need some time before I pull the trigger on a purchase so it took some more days before I went to the website to place my order – but what was that: Corda JAZZ?! Suddenly there was a new amp in the list. Besides the name there was only a simple outline drawing but no additional information available. I wrote an e-mail to Jan (the guy behind Meier Audio) and asked for some assistance. Of course he did not provide any technical details or a price in this early stage but piqued my curiosity when describing it a bit. I decided to wait and when one day the technical data and price were listed on the site I placed my order for this one.
Packaging and contents
Delivery was pretty fast and the amp comes in a small parcel. Inside the parcel we find a second smaller parcel which contains the amp. It is wrapped in a plastic bag and secured by two foam pieces at the front and rear. So all in all the amp is very well packed.
Besides the amp you will also find a power cord, a manual and the invoice in the parcel. The manual starts with a longer introduction, covers the power supply, the connections, explains the natural crossfeed filter and ends with some technical data. I am a bit surprised that the manual is only available in English since Meier Audio is located in Germany.
Not much to say from my side so I picked the data from the website:
• Output impedance < 0,1 ohm • Maximum output 15V / 300 mA • Discrete volume control. Typical stepsize 1.4 dB, 31 steps • Gain switch. Maximum gain factors +0 / +16 dB • Crossfeed filter switch: - 1. Stereo / crossfeed OFF - 2. Crossfeed ON • 1 pair of analog inputs • Input impedance 18 kOhm • Gold-plated input jacks. • Silver plated headphone jack (Neutrik) • Silver plated heavy duty switches • 10 Watts toroidal transformer • 110V and 220V mains power switchable • Power uptake 5 Watts • Built-in groundloop breaker • Double regulated voltage lines • Low impedance electrolytic buffer capacitors (Nichicon). Total Buffer capacity 39.000 uF • Bypass capacitors in the power supply • Polystyrol and polypropylen capacitors in the signal path. • Metalfilm resistors in the signal path • OPA209 opamps biased into class-A • A total of 4 BURR-BROWN BUF634 buffer amplifiers at the left, the right, and the ground output channel • Active balanced headphone ground • Signal paths and signal path components at the bottom side of the PCB for maximal shielding • Sturdy anodized aluminium enclosure • Weight: 1.0 kg • Size: 22.2 x 10.6 x 6.0 cm
The amp - a closer look
As you can see I bought the black variant. Due to a little mistake I also had the silver variant here for a day which looks fantastic too. The overall build quality is great. There is noting to complain about. The case is made of massive black anodized aluminum and I can tell for sure it is robust because while taking the photos I accidentally scratched the surface on the top. Well, I thought so but after getting a wet cloth and rubbing the surface the scratch was gone so it was only some abrasion from the other part - phew!
The cover features some laser engraved icons and the logo of Meier Audio.
On the front we have the power switch on the left side. On the lower right of the switch is a power LED. The black variant has a blue LED while the silver variant comes with a red LED. In my opinion the blue LED could have been a bit darker. In daylight there is nothing wrong with it but in the evening with only some ambient light it begs for attention when the amp is placed on the computer desk. Luckily from my point of view it is covered by the headphone cable. Since I also had the silver variant here for one day I can tell that the red LED is more enjoyable. Also in darker ambience it is not flashy. I do not want to say that the blue LED is annoying, it is OK but could have been a bit darker.
Next to the power switch we see the silver plated 6.35 mm stereo headphone jack from Neutrik. A bit off-center we have the gain switch. The gain factors are +0 or +16 dB. I will use the high gain setting since with low gain the maximum volume is too silent and also the sound (especially bass) is clearly distorted (at max. volume). With high gain I can reach much higher volume levels without any distortions.
Now we come to the most important control: the volume knob. Turning it is really fun because it provides a great haptic feedback. In the minimum volume position the little hollow stands at 7 o’clock while at maximum it stands almost at 5 o’clock. This volume control is a bit special because it is not an analog control. An AD-converter is connected to this potentiometer and converts its position into one of 32 volume levels. The step size between these levels is 1.4 dB. I would say you will not notice these steps while normal usage. It feels very analog.
An advantage of using this feature is a clean and unsophisticated sound. An analog control depends a lot on the quality of the potentiometer. Jan’s digital solution provides strongly reduced channel-imbalances and avoids the problem that an analog control could add its own sonic signature. I will come back to the volume control later again.
On the right we find the switch for the natural crossfeed filter. Jan provides a good explanation for this filter on his website so if you want to know more about it in detail I recommend to read it. Of course I will also cover this feature later again.
I guess you already noticed the small openings around the case. They provide some passive ventilation. We also find them underneath the amp. Four rubber feet hold the amp in place. The distance between them is 156 mm and 87 mm (edge to edge). They are fixed by screws so you can also remove or exchange them.
On the back we see the gold plated cinch (RCA) connectors. In the center we have some more ventilation openings but this time there is also a hidden switch to select between a 220 and 110 V power source. You can reach it easily with a screw driver. We will see it in more detail later. And finally on the right is the power connector.
A few words on the cinch connectors. If you are someone from the bigger is better fraction you might experience problems with the distance between the connectors. I have no sliding calliper at home but telling from a ruler the distance between them is 14 mm (center to center). The connectors with the red cables are the possible maximum; there is only a small gap left between them. I only connected them for the photo. I use the smaller ones from Oehlbach which have more than enough space in between.
So, enough said about the things visible to our eyes. Time to have a look at the inner parts. Wall-E, it is your turn...
The amp is held together by eight Allen head screws; four on the front and the back. I want to mention that they were firmly tightened. The Phillips head screw at the back secures the cinch connectors and must be removed too.
When everything is removed you can take away the rear cover and unplug the power connector. A fourth cable for grounding is attached to the cover and fixed by another screw. The power connector also features a standard size slow T 160 mA fuse. It can save your amp when the voltage switch is set to 115 V and you connect it to a 220 V power source. The fuse could also blow if you have a short circuit at the headphone jack. In both cases you can stay at home and do not have to buy a new one because a second fuse as spare part is already included in the plastic tray.
Wall-E spotted the voltage switch for us which I mentioned earlier. You can also see that the PCB is sitting on a rack inside the case. The electronic parts have enough space on the top and reverse side for ventilation.
You can easily remove the PCB by pulling it out at the front side.
Afterwards we are left behind with a pretty simple case.
I can not comment much on the electronic parts since I am no guru in this area. The most apparent parts are the large brown encapsulated toroidal transformer from Thai Lin and the gold-brown low impedance electrolytic buffer capacitors from Nichicon with a total buffer capacity of 39.000 uF. The four upwards standing parts are the BURR-BROWN BUF634 buffer amplifiers for the left, the right and the ground output channel.
At the reverse side we find the OPA209 opamps which are biased into class-A. Jan was also clever enough to place the signal paths and signal path components on this side which provides a good shielding for the audio signal.
The test setup
Unfortunately I do not own a collection of different amps or headphones so the only comparison that I can provide is the difference between the integrated amp of my soundcard and of course my general listening experience.
Since I only listen to music through my PC I have an Auzentech X-Fi Forte soundcard. For my personal pleasure I own a pair of Beyerdynamic DT990 as MANUFAKTUR variant with 600 ohm. As connection between the soundcard and the amp I use a simple Oehlbach i-Connect cable.
As audio player I use foobar2000 without any DSP plug-ins. The soundcard is also not running the original drivers. I use a modified PAX version since it provides a more detailed and warmer sound which I really like. The card is working in entertainment mode. I know that the music creation mode offers a bit-exact playback but I do not use it.
I prefer electronic music but I also listen to the popular songs which we can hear every day in the radio. So I guess I will cover a wide variety of different genres.
My collection consists of MP3 files. A few of them are really old with a bit rate of only 128 kbps while the newer tracks of course have higher bit rates - normally around 256 kbps VBR or better.
Let there be sound!
Okay, without going into details right now, the first thing that I notice by skipping randomly through my collection is that the soundstage seems more open. The sound is wider and the channel separation feels more precise. The overall sound experience is more balanced, natural and cleaner.
If there is a frequency range which benefits from this amp it is definitively the bass. To my own surprise the bass has not become stronger in the way that it is pushing more forward and being more dominant. No, it has become more detailed and faster while with the soundcard it felt a bit muddy. Of course the amp is also able to provide a deeper bass since it offers more electronic power than my soundcard.
The DT990 headphones are known for their bathtub characteristic with more pronounced bass/highs and slightly recessed mids. Even with the amp this characteristic has not changed so it is not like the bass has become more bassy or the highs will hurt your brain. Everything feels balanced in the right way and it is a pleasure to listen to it. With some lower bass parts when only a instrument is playing it feels like you could touch every single sinus wave.
As said at first I skipped from track to track to get many different impressions but stopped here and there to let the music just play since it was a complete new apparentness with some tracks. I have found interesting details which I have never noticed before and some tracks just sounded different in a very positive way.
There are also tracks which do not benefit from this new setup but that is not a problem of the amp nor the headphone - these tracks are just produced with poor quality. It is really interesting that some of my tracks which I enjoyed in the past became a bit strange since you can hear small mistakes here and there. So this powerful setup can bring up some nice details with good quality music but it can also reveal mistakes where the people in the studio did some bad work.
Since I also own some older tracks with a low bit rate I had to give them a test run. Well, with most tracks there is nothing wrong. They sound OK but you will clearly notice that they are a bit lifeless compared to newer tracks with a higher bit rate. Anyway, it is still enjoyable to listen to them.
After the first impressions I started to pick up some tracks for closer inspection. I switched from the amp to the soundcard and the other way around to get a good comparison. I noticed that in some passages where different instruments etc. are playing it was easier to differ between them. It feels more like you would really listen to them. It is not that impression that you listen to a headphone and everything seems to be mixed together into a static sound floor. With the amp it feels more lively and real.
Another positive thing that I noticed is the volume control. With my soundcard the sound started to become a bit distorted at higher volume levels. Of course that is no problem for the Corda JAZZ. It really only adjusts the volume and the overall sound stays smooth and clean. I am not able to listen to it at is maximum volume. That is way too much for me and should serve everyone one here with more than enough power. When I reach my personal limit the sound is still clear and has no overmodulation or whatever.
At maximum volume without music playing you will hear nothing at all. It is deathly silent. There is no noise, humming etc. But there is one thing that you can hear now: when you turn the volume knob you can hear the AD-converter working. Each switch to another volume step is noticeable through a very silent “tick”. For me it becomes only audible at a setting of 12 o’clock and higher. As said it is very silent and you will have a hard time to hear it while music is playing. So that is nothing to worry about.
Of course this setup is also used for games. I am more the first person shooter gamer so I like to be a part of the action around me. This setup helps to dive a little bit deeper into action. Typical shooters like Battlefield become a bit more realistic especially because of the nice soundstage which I mentioned earlier.
Well, I am very happy with the overall sound experience that the amp provides for my ears. I can not compare it to any other stuff so I will be very interested in reviews from other users with a better knowledge and more stuff to test.
The natural crossfeed filter: where is my voodoo doll?
Jan provides some information about this filter on his website. I really had a hard time to tell a difference in most of the songs. So if you think this switch will do something magical with your music; the answer is no. Maybe I am listening to the wrong music but there are only a handful of tracks where I was able to hear a clear difference. Sometimes hardly noticeable, sometimes better to notice. You will have to give it a try. For the tracks with an audible difference I can not tell if it sounded more natural now – it was just different and felt a bit more centered. In several electronic tracks these typical string patterns lose a bit of their hollow effect.
The temperature of the case is around 40°C when the device is working for some time. It also depends a bit on the volume settings. When the device is turned of the music keeps playing for around two to three seconds before the LED and sound turns off. When turned on the amp itself does not generate any noise like a hum from the transformer for example.
A few words on the service. I had some e-mail conversations with Jan and he was very helpful and always replied on the same or the next day.
If you are looking for a compact amp with a great build quality I can highly recommend the Corda JAZZ from Meier Audio. It provides a very clean, balanced and natural sound with a nice sound stage. The provided power will let you reach high volume settings for an unchanged sound experience throughout all frequencies.
Thanks for reading
Edited by Shoggy - 8/1/12 at 3:19pm