We had an impromptu BHSE/007/LL/009 mini shootout at yesterday's 2012 UK meet, which was the first time I'd seen or heard the latter 2 components:
... In short, the LL was brought over and we swapped between the LL and BHSE, using the 007 and Holly Cole on the Audio Note as the common factors.
... The BHSE was clearly better with this combination. It was particularly good at pinpointing each component of the "headstage" such that Holly and the surrounding instruments each stood out in a lifelike, lively, yet un-fatiguing manner. In comparison, the LL presented the same "picture" in a more smeared manner, where the images blurred into each other, in a flatter, smoother, and ultimately more boring way. All other sound considerations (e.g. which had deeper bass) seemed irrelevant in this particular situation.
... I'm very wary of A/B comparisons. Sometimes you can't see the wood for the trees. I think this particular situation was so clear cut because the BHSE combo captured a reasonable flavour of what I can recreate at home in the dark: having Holly actually standing next to me singing into my ear. And when that happens, any lesser representation is simply not good enough!
... Then we tried the 009 with the LL. This was a much better match than had been the case with the 007. However, that image smearing was still present, albeit much less obviously. This produced a good sound. However, putting the 009 to the BHSE was better still.
... My take: The BHSE + 007 pin points each component in a remarkable headstage. The 009 then gives each pin point extra texture, timbre (and probably a few more descriptions beginning with "t"). Very impressive, although I was hoping for a bigger soundstage from the 009, based on other reports.
- Look, this was just a meet impression. YMMV
- I think TMWNN could well be ordering the BHSE soon
- I'm completely happy with my BHSE+007. One day, I may audition the 009 more thoroughly, but I'm in no hurry
- The LL+007 is not a good combination, but LL+009 is just fine
- The LL costs less than the BHSE and is less fuss . It looks smarter in real life than in the pictures and it seems very well built. And the value of having a good local dealer should not be underestimated. So it's got a lot going for it, but it just lost out in this particular comparison
PS, both units had been switched on for 5+ hours by this point
Dave ("David1961") and I were both at the event. In fact Dave took his BHSE and his 009s driven by an iPod.
Back home we had, about two months ago, listened to my LL and Dave's BHSE with my 007s and 009s and Dave's 009s.
We posted the results, which were effectively that we could hear no differences between the amplifiers but that the 009s were "brighter" with perhaps more detail and the 007s were "darker" with perhaps less detail. There was a preference for the 009s. We got nowhere close to some of the conclusions voiced by The Attorney.
We thought there might have been one specific amplifier difference but we chose not to say anything about that.
Furthermore, one amplifier was connected balanced and one unbalanced; and one went through a mains conditioner and the other did not. We did not reveal which was which - nor will we - and we have decided not to run further tests because we think it is futile.
More recently we just listened to the BHSE at Dave's house with the 009s and 007s. Whether, through the passage of time, there were material objective differences in the amplifier is impossible to say: the BHSE might be better "run in"; it had been on for longer; and we biassed the tubes from their original (unbalanced) settings.
Although the 007 and 009 differences were still there, we did not conclude that there was a clear preference for the 009s. I probably prefer the 009s but could easily live with either. Dave, who listens at a lower volume, prefers the 009s on some recordings and the 007s on others - and finds he has to adjust volume more frequently on the 009s than the 007s otherwise the "brightness" is irritating.
But all this headphone amplifier stuff needs context. For what it's worth, my indicative conclusion, in the context of loudspeaker and headphone listening, is that the influencing factors, on a scale of 0 to 10, which determine listener enjoyment, are:
Personal mood: 10
Room and comfort: 8 (loudspeakers) 6 (headphones)
Type of loudspeakers or headphones (generally): 6
Differences in electrostatic loudspeakers/headphones: 3
Digital players including MP3/CD/HiRes: 5
Good digital players excluding MP3: 2
Amplifiers: 1 - 2
Equipment looks and construction: 0 - 4 or more (depending on user)
So whilst the BHSE and the LL are valid competitors, I couldn't get too excited on sound quality grounds over having one or the other. Dave's preference is that he likes the looks and build quality and the ability to swap valves of the BHSE. My preference is that I like the looks and build quality and non-valve "non-swapping" basis of the LL.
Someone should organise a double blind test for the LL and the BHSE for those who really believe there is a "clear difference".