GoVibe Mini Box Amplifier Review (Revised Edition – 2012)
In the hobby of audio, finding the best sound for every circumstance is something that we strive for. It is all well and dandy having the best headphones but some need certain amplifiers to drive them and some just get better with one. Because of this and amplifier is the perfect companion for your pair of headphones but what is important is how to find the right one for what you need. What you need is one that will pair nicely with your source and your headphone and also for when you are going to be using it.
So from looking at the Mini Box Amplifier (MBA) we can see that it is made for pretty specific circumstances. How have I come to a conclusion just by looking at it? Well amplifiers will differ in sizes quite a lot with some being really rather big and others being tiny. Well the size will determine if it is portable or made for desktop use and the small size of this means that is made for portable use. If it is made for portable use that also means that it is not made for driving big headphones with high impedance but just made for making easy to drive headphones sound better. So what we have here from GoVibe is a headphone amplifier that is made to be extremely portable as well as making your headphones sound better and all of this comes at a cheap price. At roughly £40 this is really in the cheaper section of amplifiers and this makes it a very competitive product, because if it really shines at this price then it could kill a lot of giants.
I will also add that for writing this review I have put this in lots of different combinations such as connecting it simply with a iPhone and iPod Nano by mini to mini and attempting to use a LOD with it, a Cowon J3 by mini to mini and then I also used it with my iMac and connected it to my Audioengine D1 DAC. For headphones I was doing a lot of listening to the Denon AH-D2000, Fischer Audio FA-004 and Sennheiser HD580. I also gave it a go with a huge range of IEMs that I will not try to list all of them but if you check out my round up thread you will get a jist.
The packaging which is simple and purposeful - Specifications are on the back
Now seeing as you are buying an amplifier they do not have to give you any accessories (other than a charger if it does not use batteries) so I see anything that you get as a bonus. So I will say first off that you do get a USB charger and it is a simple case of plugging it in to your computers USB socket and the plugging it in to the MBA were you get a little red LED light up to show that it is charging and then it will go out when you are fully charged which is a nifty feature.
The charger cable
Now these do not come with a load of accessories but they do come with one, which actually turns out to be very handy. It is a mini-to-mini cable that is a great length and will lead you to be able to get started instantly with the amplifier and not mean that you have to go out and get one after. You will also not need a LOD with it so that will be you done for a cable unless you want to upgrade to expensive silver or copper cable. Now the mini interconnect is actually noticeably very good quality and I do not know what material it uses but sounds fantastic compared to the Monster cable I was using before to connect amplifiers. In fact this cable and the crossroads ED1 LOD which Jaben sent with the hippo cricri are both of fantastic quality and may be getting a thread shortly because I am that impressed.
The mini-to-mini interconnect!
Design and Features:
You may be aware that this is a revamped version of this amplifier in which the design has changed a fair bit. In its latest reincarnation I think it looks just great. It is all chrome/mirror and has a real nice shine to it. However this colour does come with its problems and that is that not only does it like to get fingerprints on it but also that it shows up scratches just horribly. It is also not bombarded with too much writing on it and it just simply says GoVibe Mini Box Amplifier on the face of it and labels all of the switches. However if the scratches and fingerprints have already worried you then do not worry as this amplifier comes in to flavors and you can always pick one up in black. The actual shape is also quite nice as it takes on a long and thin form factor, which is actually rather ergonomic, and so is the round shape of it. Another great feature of this is the clip it has on the back of it, which basically allows it to connect to your MP3 player and clip on to, were ever such as your belt or shirt. This would actually really play handy with IEMs with short cables such as the Shure SE530 or the TDK BA200 as you could have the IEM going straight into the MBA and then being used as a shirt clip and then the extension cable connecting the MBA to your player. Another great option that I have thought about that you could do with it is to use it with a very small player like a iPod Nano and then Velcro them together (MBA face down) with 3m Dual Lock and then you will be gaining a clip on the back of your player which would be cool.
The clip on the back!
So what features do you get with this and in all honesty there is not much. What you simply get is a input for were you will connect it to the place were the music is coming from such as a computer or MP3 player, a output, were you connect your headphones with it and lastly a 5V DC charger input so you can charge it. Now you are probably thinking that I am missing something pretty large and that is a type of volume control such as a wheel or buttons and sadly this dos not have one. I will also add that when you have an input connected and a headphone connected you get a blue LED which just lets you know you have a full conection. Now from what I have just said we will move onto our next section.
The source input and 5V charge input
The LED lights and the headphone input
So what will I recommend you to pair this with? Now as this is a portable amplifier you will want this to go well with whatever MP3 player is. Well I will start by saying that your MP3 player, whatever it is, will have an amplifier in it. Now what is normally the case is it is not a very good one and that’s why after market ones are so popular. Now the normal idea is to bypass the one that is in the MP3 player and just use the external one as amping and amp is not ever really recommended for some reason even though it does hardly ever sound worse, it is just normally more positive an experience to bypass the stock amp. To bypass the amp (you can not will all MP3 players) you must use a LOD or line out dock and to not amp the external amp you can just use a mini to mini. So why I have I told you all of this, well to simply put it, you cannot really use a LOD with this. Now this is because when you use a LOD you use the amplifiers volume control as the devices one will not function such as on an iDevice you lose the volume bar. Now as the MBA does not have its own volume control and you will be losing the one on your device it automatically it automatically plays at full volume and I tried it once it really does blow your ears off, not healthy at all and was something I will not try again. So does this rule out any MP3 player? Not at all but it just means getting a iPod or SanDisk will not benefit you any more because you can use a LOD with it than for example a Cowon which a LOD can not be used with an because the Cowon has a better stock amp, I had the best experience with it!
With the Rock IT R-50 and Cowon J3
Now the next thing I would like to say is that you will have to use it with a MP3 player and unfortunately not a smartphone. This is because the radio transmission inside the phone will disturb the insides of the amplifier and create heavy amounts of distortion, which make it unusable, which is a shame because I wanted to use it with my iPhone. Now you can do one thing that will combat that and this is to connect them with a long mini to mini and keep them in separate pockets for example.
Size and Portability:
Now I have not tried a loaf the real small amplifiers out there but this has now dethroned the awesome hippo cricri as the smallest amplifier in my collection. It is not called the Mini Box for no reason, as it really is tiny to think how much is packed in it. Its dimensions measure in at 2 and half inches in length, an inch across and a ¼ inch in depth. If you happen to have a hippo cricri well then cut it down the middle and also half the depth. The cricri was ultra portable and this is even more so. You can fit it in your pocket, Velcro it to your source or even clip it to your shirt or belt. The only really concern I can see is losing it because it is so small! Another category that comes into portability is of course can it hold a charge and is it quick to charge. Well the specifications say that it should hold charge for about 25 hours and then be fully charged in less than or equal to 2 hours, which are pretty bold. Well they are pretty spot on as this can be used for a week with a lot of daily use and not run out of charge and then I plug it in and is back to full charge in under two hours which is just extraordinary. You will never have to worry about it running pout of charge. Top marks here.
Yes it is very small
With its amplifier buddies the hippo cricri and Epiphany Acoustics EPH-O2
I do not have a lot of headphones that are hard to drive, in fact I only have on real power monster and two others that enjoy and amplifier. My Sennheiser HD580 has 300 ohms of impedance and does need a powerful amplifier in which on a daily basis my Epiphany Acoustics EHP-O2 does the job. The other two I mentioned are the Denon AH-D2000 and the Sony MDR-EX1000 that statistically do not need amplifier but they do benefit hugely from one. For coming to the following conclusion I used the MBA with all three of them but mainly the verdict is down to how they handle the HD580! Now when I plugged the MBA into my iMac, no DAC, and then to the HD580 I will not lie when I said I had little expectation. No when a amplifier is not efficient enough you notice it and not just in volume but also in extension on both ends and how empty the sound is. Well what more can I say than that the MBA managed the HD580 and the sound was full well extended with great tight and punchy bass response which was a surprise to how much the bass lacked with a not to powerful amplifier like the hippo cricri. I am not going to say if you want a good desktop amplifier then this is the way to go because its lack of features would not make it suitable but if you are on a budget for an amplifier that can drive your new big headphone then this will cut it. I am majorly impressed with its driving capabilities.
Now I am switching to the other end of the scale and will be testing how efficient it drives very sensitive IEMs to see how little hiss we get. This is a rather big factor as if your planning on pairing this with a lot of BA IEMs, it is likely they will be very sensitive and therefore prone to hiss so we do not want this to become a problem and this is also one of the reasons I loved the hippo cricri. The best way I find to record this is to turn the volume down so the music is just hearable and I mean JUST and this is when any hiss becomes present. I used the Rock It R-50 for this test and it uses a dual BA driver, which is the Knowles TWFK and is very sensitive. So what we get is the tiniest amount and I mean tiny but there is some existent, which I will struggle to say about the EHP-O2. However it will not cause you any troubles when the volume is turned to a listenable volume, because it is almost unnoticeable, so that is great.
The amplifier is well built and I can see no problems occurring. The main reason for this is the lack of switches/buttons will prevent anything breaking off and the also because the whole thing is constructed out of metal. The whole build of it is flawless with no gaps or looseness anywhere and there are just two screws on the back keeping the two ends on. The clip on the back is also metal and well attached by a screw. To test it I did apply a little bit of pressure on it by pulling it back and it felt very firm. I think it would take a real lot to come off. The build as nothing wrong with it at all.
One thing I will like to add is that to get the full circuit you really have to push the jacks in. I found this out the hard way as they sit in firmly at a bout half way and you get a sound like you are under water. You then push it in fully and you get the desired affect.
Here we are at the end of a lot of talk about other things to the bit that we all care about. How does this little piece of equipment actually sound? Well the first thing that I will like to say is that you can tell a noticeable difference. I actually got my Dad to do some blind testing in which I said which sounded better and the MBA did come through as the better sounding every time and this is why. I have found that although amplifiers do have different effects on each individual headphone, they do have an overall sound to them that will be seen most of the time and that is what I will be talking about as I can not write what they done to 30 different headphones because we would be here for ever just to say that it done s few things slightly different on a few of them. To be honest I found this to have a pretty similar effect most of the time. When you start listening the first thing you notice is how much the sound has become much fuller and complete. The second thing is the depth of the music and how much more texture there is which is great. Obviously with some headphones they already have great depth and it is consequently not to big a deal but with some earphones like the Vsonic GR07 which were very good but just lacked a bit of depth this was just great. Now the next thing is also to do with soundstage as it does widen the soundstage, when I say this do not think you can plug your IEMs into this and get a open headphone like soundstage but it will get noticeably wider none the less. Now another thing that I like to talk about with amplifiers is the transparency of it as some can really make a headphone revealing with so many beautiful detail added. Well I did not think this was the case here and what we get instead was a element of smoothness added while giving the same amount of details which was actually really pleasant especially with the Fischer Audio DBA-02 and the Rock IT R-50 which are extremely transparent but could be seen to be a bit edgy because of this. The next thing is probably the best part in my eyes and that is the bass. What it adds is a bit of tightness and some punchy impact. These to things are noticeable on too different types of situations. If we are using a headphone with perhaps elevated mid-bass that is on the boomier and loose side of things then I really noticed how much more tightly it had become. The other side is if your listening to perhaps a headphone like the Fischer Audio FA-004, which has, little mid-bass and impact but a tight response then you will notice that the impact is more present with better punch. In the treble I did not really notice a difference, perhaps so headphones got a bit more sparkle but nothing extreme.
Now I have noticed all of this with no lie but with whatever headphones you end up deciding to pair with this if you were to buy one that you will get all of these exact effects. This is what I found on average with my collection. Also take it all with a pinch of salt as this is a £40 amplifier and not a new pair of drivers for your headphone so each effect is not drastic at all but more subtle but noticeable enough to write about. I just exaggerate it a bit so that you get the point.
It is not on a similar level by quite a way compared to my Objective 2 which is a lot more refined, detailed and natural but the more fun and engaging, slightly warm sound of the MBA can be just as enjoyable. DO not expect this to compete with your desktop amplifier as this is at the end of the day, a lot smaller and a lot more portable and it is what it is and that still does have a hearable increase in sound quality.
In terms of sound, build and portability for £40 this is likely to impress a lot and I can say that this is great in these categories, which are also the most important in my eyes. However with a lot of amplifiers in this category you will have to look past two faults with this. I am not saying that these should stop you buying these but if they affect you then you will not be able to get one sadly. The first of these faults is that if you plan to use this with your smartphones then you will not really be able to because of the interference being overwhelming which is really sad. The other is the lack of volume control and therefore stopping you use a LOD. However this is not as big a problem as it may seem as it still sounded noticeable better with my iPod Nano and Cowon J3. So this gains a huge recommendation to you if your planning to use this with a portable MP3 player but sadly not if you want to use with your smartphone.
This can be purchased from Jaben in store or with Jaben online were they come as part of a lot of bundles such as a great one with 25 pairs of hippo foam tips (which I will be trying soon) for just £55 which is great to think you get so many foam tips as well as this great piece of equipment, that deal can be found here:
Edited by Swimsonny - 9/5/12 at 12:00pm