Apex Arete Review
Holy crap, this is fine sounding amp. Having previously owned the Peak/Volcano, the most immediate difference was that the Arete is warmer sounding amp. This would seem to make sense because unlike on the Peak, we can’t swap tubes on the Arete. The slightly warm balance allows it to work with the widest variety of headphones.
My second thought was why the heck did I get rid of the Peak/Volcano in the first place? (That's another story.) Not surprisingly the Arete maintains the level of clarity and detail retrieval of the Peak, which is unsurpassed (including by the BA which I currently own.) The amp’s ability to dig out micro-dynamics is its strongest suit. While I would consider this amp more in the analytical camp, it’s definitely not sterile sounding because of its ability to present the full harmonic richness of instruments and voice. In other words, that inner detail that I find absent on most other solid-state amps (but on good tube implementations) is there. The kicker is really the amp’s ability clearly extract small details during loud complex passages.
I played a few Steve Albini engineered records, and one thing that I did not expect was that the level of dynamics and slam is on par with the Peak (with the Shuguang tube) which is pretty darn good for solid-state (or at least my pre-conceptions of the limitations of it.) Still, macro dynamics are not quite on the level of the BA, but nothing else I’ve heard is either (I haven’t heard the Pinnacle yet).
Since I had previous owned the Peak/Volcano, I’m kind of at a loss of what more to say, but I’ll throw a few phrases out there: extremely fast, vice-like control of the bass, lots of apparent power, black background, and clear articulation.
I had no problems running the Arete with the HD800 (Anax modded), but the HD800 is one of those headphones that we have to be careful with and know what we are getting into. The Arete does not do the tube thing to take the edge off, but still the modded HD800 is tolerable. The LCD3 (TP modded to the r2 sound) is an excellent combination. I tried the LCD3 stock, but its bass thickness combined with the Arete’s slightly warm signature was not to my taste.
As for the $700 Volcano power supply, it may not be totally necessary to start off with it, depending upon our existing gear. The Volcano (compared to the Astrodyne power brick) removes a good amount of hardness, glare, and grain on certain headphones that are prone to it. The Volcano also adds a little bit more in dynamics, flushes out the lowest bass notes, and offers a more continuous liquid presentation. It makes things sound a little more laid-back if that makes any sense on an amp that is hardly laid back.
The Arete, along with a handful of other amps, qualifies in my book as meeting a minimum standard of what amplifiers should be able to do. I know many people will find my next statement offensive, but if you are going to spend more than $300 on an amp, you may as well jump straight up to the $1100 price point and get a real amp. Everything in between seems so compromised.
DAC: PS Audio PWD
TT: Modified Pro-Ject Xpression 1 w/ Denon DL-110
Headphones: HD800 (Anax modded), LCD3 (TP modded), Audio Technica ATH-W3000ANV
I received the Arete and Volcano as part of a loaner program and this review fulfils my obligations to the program. I requested to be part of the loaner program. I have e-mailed and spoken to Todd Green a few times. I paid full price for a Peak/Volcano. I have never communicated with Pete Millett in my life.
My musical preferences are 80s popular and new-wave, rock, grunge, alternative rock, and classical. Limited jazz and electronic. No romantic-era classical, death-metal, or country.
The Arete has some hiss on sensitive cans like W3000ANV, AD2000, and IEMs. I didn't note this issue with the Peak and W1000X though.
Edited by purrin - 12/3/11 at 12:31pm