Hey Everybody! Welcome to the most unprofessional and unorganized review/impressions thread in all of Head-Fi. It's Friday night, so I've decided to give this a shot and try to write some sort of review (I'm a freakin party animal, I know, right?) This is my first time doing something like this, and my thoughts are a bit scattered, but I'll do my best to throw them all in here in a way that makes sense.
*Quick disclaimer! These are my own impressions based upon just a few songs I've been listening to a lot lately. I won't/can't use most of the sophisticated vocabulary that most of the people doing reviews here will use; however, I will try my best to try to explain what I'm hearing. I'm sure some of you will disagree with what I say, but again, these are just my own impressions/opinions. My apologies in advance if this becomes a bit unorganized, as I was just jotting down notes on a Word document as I listened to each amp.
I listened to all of these amps through my Ultimate Ears UE11 Pro. I wanted to keep all the listening through the same IEM's, with the same songs, and I tried my best to keep them all at the same listening volumes so I could more accurately tell the difference between each amp.
Some of the music I used to listen (I know, I have weird tastes):
Adel "Right as Rain (live)
Skrillex "Summit" and "Long Drive"
Jason Mraz: "You *****n did it (live), "I wont give up"
Taylor Swift: "Mean"
Seal: "If it's in my mind, it's on my face"
The Script: "We Cry"
On to some juicy stuff.... Pictures! (Pardon the lowish quality pictures from my point and shoot.)
Headstage Arrow 4G
I actually just received the Arrow 4G today as a replacement for my faulty 1G that stopped sending signal to the right side. I was actually pretty excited to receive the Arrow 4G. It's been over a year since I've had a working Arrow 1G (which was my first amp), and I was curious to see how things (both with my preferences and the amp) have changed over time. As for the Arrow, there's 3 different Bass gain settings. On Bass 0, it had the least bass of all the amps. To make it have the same kind of quantity as the rest, I had to turn it to Bass I. The Arrow on Bass II, it seemed somewhat uncontrolled and a bit slow. On bass II, it seemed to make things warmer, while at the same time, it felt like it was trying too hard to do something it just wasn't meant to do. It got to the point where the Bass boost started to interfere with the mids and simply become distracting. It feels like the bass boost was thrown in just for the sake of being there... to my ears, it just doesn't sound/feel like it was implemented with the rest of amp's sound in mind... sort of like "let's just throw it in there just so we can say there's a bass boost." I don't want to just bash on the bass boost of the Arrow, I feel that the Bass I setting is great, but the Bass II setting just seems like it was put there just to be there. If I recall correctly, Robert (HeadStage) kept changing how the bass boost worked, and by the 4G, he was trying to make it sound more "tube-like." I think this may have been a mistake, because if I recall correctly, the 1G already had a very good bass boost where it would increase the bass quantity without sacrificing bass quality. It was able to keep everything tight and controlled, whereas the 4G just seems to boost more low frequencies than it can or should.
When it comes to the mids, I find them to be a bit "distant." The quality of it is there... there isn't anything wrong with them, but I love my mids, and the mids of the Arrow 4G just aren't engaging to me. Personally, I love the Grado sound, because it feels like I'm on stage with the artist, but the Arrow makes me feel like I'm in an empty room with the artist and they're singing half way across the room. The best way I can describe the mids is like watching a dancer who is a robot- technically fantastic- they pull off all the moves with perfect timing, but they're emotionless and just not engaging.
The highs of the Arrow are rather interesting. I found my sweet spot with most music to be at Treble I. Between 0 and I, you can hardly tell the difference, but the tiny bit of extra brightness just gives that little extra illusion of clarity. When I try putting it on Treble III, it becomes just too bright. When I tried listening to the more high pitched artists like Taylor Swift or Avril Levigne... or even listening to Miles Davis, at certain frequencies, it made me cringe. In all honesty, I really liked my 1G, but when I received the 4G, I found that I don't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I don't know what it is about the Arrow, I just feel like it was made to be super neutral, dry, and boring at 0 settings, with a mindset that "well, I'll throw in bass boost and treble boost and let them tune to whatever sound they want," but the problem is that some of the settings just don't work with the rest of the sound signatures and seem out of place. One thing I want to note- my unit has a noticeable "pop" when it powers on if you have your IEM's plugged into them.
I've been using the Predator as my primary amp for quite a while now. From what I've read, it takes 700-1000 hours to fully burn in (jeebus!) and I'm not anywhere near those numbers. If I had to guess, I probably have around 400-500 hours on the amp. When I first received this amp, I initially didn't like it, because of the warmth. I find the UE11 Pro to be warm IEM's already, and as a Grado fan, I just didn't think adding warmth to IEMs that were already warm would make sense. The bass on the RSA Predator's bass also had a sort of warmth and fullness that the Arrow seemed to be trying to achieve, but the difference with the Predator, is that it was actually able to pull it off. The RSA Predator itself is the most warm amp of all four; however, it seemed to bring everything together the best (more on this later.) It made everything sound so full and just the timbre and texture of everything just sounded "right." It didn't try to overextend it's "talents" like the Arrow, it simply just did. It had a warm and large bass presence that was very different from all the other amps, and it just simply works. I wish I had a better way of describing it. I suppose it's just one of those "you had to be there" sort of moments.
When it comes to the vocals of the Predator, I really like them. If I had to describe them, it's like listening to your music live in a small club. When I listen to artists like Jason Mraz, James Morrison, Jack Johnson, or Adel, I feel like I'm sitting in front of them in a small club, and I can almost picture them sitting a little bar stool singing right to me. It just feels very warm and intimate without losing any detail.
The highs I find to be really well extended and non-fatiguing. I can really spend hours and hours listening to this amp, whereas with the Arrow, I feel like I need to cut back on that Treble boost, but then I somehow lose some degree of enjoyment with the Arrow, but I don't get that with the Predator. I feel like with the Predator, it was tuned just right to be exciting without being fatiguing. The Predator is just so full of emotion and "soul." I'm not sure if it's just because they work well with my UE11, or if they're just that good, but there's just something special about this amp, and I can't really pin my finger on it. It's just fun to listen to, with great musicallity (probably not even a real word.) Listening to the Predator reminds me a lot of how I really enjoyed the Denon D7000's, minus the sibilance of the D7000.
One thing I must note- I've tried to listen to my Sennheiser HD650's on the Predator, and recall it sounding sort of funny and just "off" to me. I had a similar experience with my Grado RS1i.
Leckerton Audio UHA-6S
The Leckerton Audio (AD8610 opamps) has a nice bass quality to it. It isn't exactly fast, nor is it slow. The quantity is neither too much or too little. In all honesty, it's fine. Nothing stood out as either great or terrible. It's a bit warm (not as warm as the Predator), but really pleasing to listen to. When it comes to the mids/highs, I find them good, but nothing really stands out to me. The vocals of the UHA-6S are nice. It sounds a lot like you're in a small recording studio room with the artist. Overall, a solid amp. If I could relate the Leckerton Audio UHA-6S to anything, I would compare it to my Westone 4. I find that it neither does anything spectacular, nor does it do anything terrible. It's inoffensive and neutral. A technically good amp that does its job without sounding sort of awkward (trying too hard to be something its not) like the Arrow 4G.
HeadAmp Pico Slim
I found the Pico Slim's bass to be the most "snappy." It seemed to be the best when it came to a sharp attack and decay. After a bass note hit, it didn't seem to drag on/stick around as long as the other amps. I really liked the bass on the Pico Slim. I love the pluck and slap of guitar strings on the Pico. I don't know what it is about it, but it just always seems to catch my attention.
The highs extend well and everything about this amp just sounds realistic and believable. I find the highs of the Pico Slim to sound really similar to the Arrow 4G on Treble I. It's just right- just bright enough without ever becoming sibilant. The vocals on the Pico Slim seem to be a bit farther back from the rest of the frequencies. They're by no means recessed, but I find them to not be as forward as the higher frequencies. I really like the speed and "snappiness" of this amp. I can really see why people like this amp with piano and string instruments. Important note- Be careful when turning on the amp with the IEM's in your ears. There's a pretty loud "pop" when it powers on.
Here's a little rating scale (from best to least) on some things I tried to pay attention to while switching between each amp:
Bass (overall quality/enjoyment from best to least): Predator -> Pico Slim -> UHA-6S -> Arrow
Warmth (Most to Least): Predator -> UHA-6S -> Arrow 4G -> Pico Slim (The slim and Arrow are interchageable depending on what the bass is set to on the Arrow.)
Vocals (best to least): Predator -> Pico Slim -> UHA-6S
Highs (Brightest to less-bright?): Arrow -> Pico Slim -> Predator -> UHA-6S
Build Quality (Best to Least): Predator -> Pico Slim -> Arrow -> UHA-6S
*The Predator is really well built. The face plates and screws are all seamless and just oozes with quality. When you have it in your hand, it just really feels like you have "something." But to be honest, for the price, it better!! The Pico Slim's built quality is also great. Really on par with the Predator. I personally don't like the piano finish as much, as it shows fingerprints and I can see it getting scratched easily, but it does come with a leather protective case. The Arrow is also well built, but the jacks just don't feel as solid. The switches feel good, but the volume controls feels "meh." The UHA-6S isn't bad, but the edges of the faceplates feel a bit unfinished, and the black painted faceplates with white painted text just doesn't seem as nice. Also, the big volume know doesn't seem to have enough resistance and can be turned too easily. There's also visible gaps between the faceplate and shell, but not too bad. I've seen worse.
Use with sensitive IEM's (Best to Least): Pico Slim -> Predator = Arrow -> UHA-6S
*A note about the Predator and Arrow with sensitive IEM's- they both have a noticeable channel imbalance at lower volumes. Even with both amps on 0 gain, they're very close to the borderline of channel imbalance and comfortable listening volumes (for me.)
Form Factor (best to least): Headstage Arrow -> Pico Slim -> Predator -> UHA-6S
*While the Pico is the smallest, I find it to be a bit TOO small, and it kind of ends up dangling a lot from my ipod Touch. The Arrow just matches up perfectly with my iPod Touch. It's thin, light, and easy to carry around. The Predator is small, but thick, and the UHA-6S is thick and heavy. Carrying around the UHA-6S feels alot like carrying a brick around with me everywhere. It's really dancing on the line between portable and merely transportable.
They're all good amps, and I wouldn't mind keeping any of them. To be honest, you really can't go wrong with any of these amps. They all bring a level of enjoyment that is higher than any other amp I've had the pleasure of owning or auditioning at meets, in stores, etc. However, if I were really forced to keep just one, I really think the Predator would be the one. It actually wasn't even until I A/B'd all of these amps that I truly began to appreciate the musicality of the Predator. I'm beginning to see why these only pop up in the FS section once or twice a year.
As for bang for the buck, I would have to say it's the UHA-6S it's a great all around, especially considering it has a DAC. Also worth noting that when even when hooked up to my noisy macbook pro, it's dead silent, and let's not forget that it's the only amp out of the four that features optical out. *thumbs up.* When it comes to sound quality, they're all good. I think it really just comes down to which sound signature you prefer. Everything is just presented a bit different between each amp. It's interesting how each amp can give you a different experience even when listening to the same song through the same headphones, through the same source.
If you've read this all the way to the end, I applaud you. I know things were a bit scattered and unorganized, but I'll get better at it, I promise! =P
Edited by PANGES - 6/30/12 at 10:20am