Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Headphone Amps (full-size) › Onkyo A-5VL - A game changer
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Onkyo A-5VL - A game changer

post #1 of 61
Thread Starter 

I want to spend a few words about the device I bought today after thorough testing (3 hours in a silent room in the shop) against three obvious DAC/headamp combos between 500 and 700$. First let me say that before I entered the store, I didn't even know this device existed.  I went in to return the Asus Essence One which I received a day earlier to test, and compare it to two main competitors. But I ended up walking out of the shop with this thing.

 

700

 

 

Its the Onkyo A-5VL, a fully digital integrated speaker amplifier with dedicated DAC (dual 24/192 burr browns) inside, excellent headphone output with loads of power and above all, fantastic sound quality and value.

 

Not only is it built really well, feels and looks expensive, has great fit and finish, weighs a ton (23 lb),  sounds excellent, has dual high quality dac chips inside, dual power supply, one for each channel,  it also has an excellent headphone output with lower output impedance than usually in integrated amps and receivers, because its fully digital. 

 

It runs the Beyerdyanmic DT880 600 Ohm version with absolute ease and with loads of headroom to spare, and MUCH better than any of the other devices I will be mentioning, they're not even in the same league.  50% at volume knob is too loud for me to handle, but sound remains clean and undistorted way above that, and loudness just gets higher exponentially. Proof for how much power headroom there is that on bass heavy songs, turned up as loud as I can handle, bass still feels as solid as a rock, with no hint of distortion, and even if I turn louder for a few seconds, sounds is still crystal clear, which proves the power. That can not be said for any of the headphone amp or amp/dac combos I compared with it. None of them can even match the volume that Onkyo produces at 30% of max. But its not just about volume, the dynamics, speed and the sheer weight and fullness of the sound is on a different league.  This amp has serious amount of power.  It also works well with low impedance headphones, like the Ultrasone Hfi-2400, it doesn't bloat the bass as I'd expect, it just sounds perfectly clean and transparent, which again proves its low output impedance. For example, NAD 356Bee did bloat the bass on the HFi2400, but sounded equally good on higher impedance DT880's.

 

I've compared it directly to three dedicated headphone products that are all in same, or slightly above Onkyo's price range. Cambridge Audio DACmagic Plus, Asus Xonar Essence One and Teac UD-H01. All DAC's with head amps inside that apparently can power 600 ohm headphones (yes, they can, just like the iphone can power HD800's).   

 

Anyway, after 3 hours of listening, switching between the three, I concluded that Onkyo beat them all as a head amp + DAC, with the DT880's. I can't tell how it will be with all other headphones, but assuming it runs the low impedance Ultrasones extremelly well, I'd say it should be excellent with all headphones, plus its a speaker amp as well. That's why I refused to buy any of the other three and returned the Essence One a day after I took it for a 8 day test period. You see, I was disappointed by E1's ability to run DT880's to satisfying volume levels, and it clearly lacked a lot of juice, which is obvious in comparison to Onkyo. I chose it over the other three, because as a package (a DAC and headphone amp), there's just no competition. We've talking toys against real equipment here, literally.

 

Sound wise,  Onkyo has a slightly larger soundstage with better imaging, especially compared to CA and Teac, Asus is pretty close. It sounds very big, as if the source of the sounds that I hear is very large.  It has much more power than the three, and therefore more control of the headphones, resulting in cleaner, tighter and faster sound (that is especially apparent in comparison to CA Dac Magic, which manages to sound bright, thin and slow at the same time).

I don't wanna spend too much describing how it sounds, I'll just say its transparent, very detailed, clean and tight, neutral with slight warmth in the mids. Great thing is also that treble and bass knobs work for headphones as well, allowing me to tune the 100 hz and 10khz regions by  +- 14 db. This feature works great, much better than eq in foobar2000.

 

So, to conclude, its excellent value for money, its a cheap product (550-600$) that looks, feels and sounds expensive, and does so many things so well.  Absolute no brainer for someone needing a dac/head amp.  Most importantly, I've proven to myself (and hopefully many others will feel the same after trying this amp) that a dedicated head amp is not the only way to power high impedance headphones, in fact, most standalone head amps up to the price of Onkyo are a joke in comparison and did not do nearly as good in terms of powering the DT880's, in fact, a lot of amps downright failed at it. Also, all other integrated amps I've tried (NAD's, Denon's, Marantz) sounded better than any of the dedicated headphone outputs on the above mentioned DAC's.   So much for now,   I'll write a full review soon.
 


Edited by derbigpr - 8/8/12 at 11:56am
post #2 of 61

Nice write up of your first impressions!  I have a quick question for you.  Do you know if the headphone stage is a separate op amp (or similar independent device) or is run off the mains though a resister? 
 

post #3 of 61
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by hodgjy View Post

Nice write up of your first impressions!  I have a quick question for you.  Do you know if the headphone stage is a separate op amp (or similar independent device) or is run off the mains though a resister? 
 

 

I dont know honestly, because this amps is completely digital, and unique in design. Not many amps like this on market.  I don't even know any specifications of this amp apart from which DAC's it has. I bought it purely based on the listening tests. But it works better for headphones than other integrated amps I tried in the price range, and it has lower output impedance so it should in theory work better for all low impedance cans as well.  Also, its the only integrated amp I ever messed with where bass / treble tone controls work for headphones as well, usually they just work for speakers.

 

There are also 2 modes for headphones, there's a "direct" mode, which passes trough the signal that is received from digital input directly to headphone output, something like bitperfect mode, and then there's a normal mode where input is dealt with by the DAC and then it goes to headphone out.  Not much difference in sound between two modes, if any.


Edited by derbigpr - 8/8/12 at 3:29pm
post #4 of 61

"Dual power supplies" - you sure that's dual mono (ie, "one for each channel), or they have one for the digital (DAC) and another for the analog (amp)?

 

Either way I'm considering this over a a T-amp for my computer system - at least the headphone out is good. I'll just have to try and rebuild the workstation table first (damn termites) and see if I can squeeze this behemoth in there.

post #5 of 61
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ProtegeManiac View Post

"Dual power supplies" - you sure that's dual mono (ie, "one for each channel), or they have one for the digital (DAC) and another for the analog (amp)?

 

Either way I'm considering this over a a T-amp for my computer system - at least the headphone out is good. I'll just have to try and rebuild the workstation table first (damn termites) and see if I can squeeze this behemoth in there.

 

 

I'm not really sure, as I said I never bother reading the specs, but the guy in store said that each channel is powered separately and has its own DAC.  This is really a great amp, not just for a computer system. I listened to it briefly trough the Kef Q900 speakers, which are huge and very lazy to power, and they worked great. And headphone output is at least as good as any dedicated headphone amp I've ever heard, and I've heard the likes of Lehmann BCL or Musical Fidelity M1, which costs several times more than this entire unit. Talk about overpriced.

post #6 of 61
Thread Starter 

Here are the specs for those who are interested:

http://www.eu.onkyo.com/downloads/1/1/7/0/0/ONKYO_A-5VL_datasheet_EN.pdf

 

Burr Brown PCM1796 DAC's are pretty high up there in Texas Instrument line up right?

post #7 of 61

Great review! I'm considering one for my living room. I read somewhere that it consumes 40 W in idle, which might not be a lot, but mine would have to be turned on allways, so consumption is an issue for me. Do you know if the number is correct? Does your get noticeably hot on the chassis?
 

post #8 of 61
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by KennyStarr View Post

Great review! I'm considering one for my living room. I read somewhere that it consumes 40 W in idle, which might not be a lot, but mine would have to be turned on allways, so consumption is an issue for me. Do you know if the number is correct? Does your get noticeably hot on the chassis?
 

 

 

It should say somewhere in the specs at the link I posted above, not sure myself. It does get pretty warm/hot after a while.

post #9 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by derbigpr View Post

 

 

I'm not really sure, as I said I never bother reading the specs, but the guy in store said that each channel is powered separately and has its own DAC.  This is really a great amp, not just for a computer system. I listened to it briefly trough the Kef Q900 speakers, which are huge and very lazy to power, and they worked great. And headphone output is at least as good as any dedicated headphone amp I've ever heard, and I've heard the likes of Lehmann BCL or Musical Fidelity M1, which costs several times more than this entire unit. Talk about overpriced.

 

Oh yeah, that's possible - one PSU for each channel including the digital section. This will make that receiver a classic - pair this with media server that boots up quickly and outputs SPDIF plus it'll power both speakers and headphones. Just decided to just save up for this and some really nice 2-way monitors as opposed to the original plan for a Tang Band single-driver stand/deskmounts and a Topping TP-30/NuForce Icon 2.

post #10 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by derbigpr View Post

 

I dont know honestly, because this amps is completely digital, and unique in design. Not many amps like this on market.  I don't even know any specifications of this amp apart from which DAC's it has. I bought it purely based on the listening tests. But it works better for headphones than other integrated amps I tried in the price range, and it has lower output impedance so it should in theory work better for all low impedance cans as well.  Also, its the only integrated amp I ever messed with where bass / treble tone controls work for headphones as well, usually they just work for speakers.

 

There are also 2 modes for headphones, there's a "direct" mode, which passes trough the signal that is received from digital input directly to headphone output, something like bitperfect mode, and then there's a normal mode where input is dealt with by the DAC and then it goes to headphone out.  Not much difference in sound between two modes, if any.

 

 

What do you mean when you say this amp is completely digital? Is it a Class D amplifier?

 

By the looks of it, it's just an integrated amp with a DAC inside. A lot of (relatively) big brands like Marantz/Yamaha/Denon/Pioneer have similar integrated amps on the market. They talk about the "Vector Linear Shaping Circuitry", which from the description, is some sort of dual DAC chip summing design. I'm not too sure myself.

 

I'm not a big fan of Onkyo personally. I know a lot of people have had problems with their cheaper HT stuff. But this looks like a pretty solid product. I'd like to know if it really does have it's own headphone output, or just uses resistor drops. I'd also like to see if the power ratings are honest.
 

post #11 of 61

Looks pretty nice actually, I will keep it on the radar but I am really digging the design!

post #12 of 61
Very nice write up and looks like a solid product indeed. It's on Amazon now for $350.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002C73WR2/ref=olp_product_details?ie=UTF8&me=&seller=

Cheers!


Sent From My iPad From Ultrasone Planet Using Tapatalk HD
post #13 of 61

@derbigpr: Appreciate your impressions.  Funny how folks have different experiences with this amp;.

 

Several on Amazon complained about it noisy transformers, What Hifi gave it an average review stating there are better sounding amps out there for this price range and one even had these comments on its sound quality.

 

It was too harsh for my taste. Highs were shrill, and caused listening fatigue after extended listening. Mids sounded compressed and lacked detail. I know not everyone is a fan of "warm" sound, but this was far on the other end of the spectrum.

 

Then again, that is why we all need to listen and form our own opinions.  Are you liking this better than your Asus LD combo?  And are you using it more with speakers or the headphones you are thinking of giving up?


Edited by bixby - 8/15/12 at 12:44pm
post #14 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by HeatFan12 View Post

It's on Amazon now for $350.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002C73WR2/ref=olp_product_details?ie=UTF8&me=&seller=

A picture of the inside:

 

700

post #15 of 61
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by bixby View Post

@derbigpr: Appreciate your impressions.  Funny how folks have different experiences with this amp;.

 

Several on Amazon complained about it noisy transformers, What Hifi gave it an average reviews stating their are better sounding amps out there for this price range and one even had these comments on its sound quality.

 

It was too harsh for my taste. Highs were shrill, and caused listening fatigue after extended listening. Mids sounded compressed and lacked detail. I know not everyone is a fan of "warm" sound, but this was far on the other end of the spectrum.

 

Then again, that is why we all need to listen and form our own opinions.  Are you liking this better than your Asus LD combo?  And are you using it more with speakers or the headphones you are thinking of giving up?

 

I don't take everything from whathifi seriously because some of their scores are completely different to my experience ... and as you might notice, british products always get highest grades, and some of the grades for certain excellent products are weird to say the least. For example, they gave the HD598's 3 stars.

 

I don't hear any harshness you speak of, and I auditioned it with some bright speakers such as the new Kef Qx00 floorstanders. About mids, I do agree, at least when using headphones. Vocals, certain brass and string instruments simply do not have that fluidity, smoothness and fullness that I would like, especially when paired with headphones that have recessed mids on their own, like the DT880's. But they are warm, or a bit darker sounding. Everything else, I would say its pretty neutral. However, as I said already in my first post, its the first amplifier of any sort that I had or have tried that actually can run DT880's to satisfying volume levels. LD Mk5 can't, and its hissing at over 70% of volume,  Bellari HA540 can't, and its also hissing. Asus Xonar Essence One could not even get them to average listening volume level, the same as Cambridge Audio Dacmagic Plus or Teac UD-H01, although the Teac sounded very nice.  ST can get them loud, but soundstage is tiny, everything is congested and the sound is too bright.

 

As of now, I'm using the Onkyo as both a speaker and headphone amp.  Currently I don't have speakers, but I have PSB B6's and Kef Q100's on order for auditioning, so one of them will probably be paired with the Onkyo until the end of this week.

 

But, for the money, its a great product. Lets not forget, its costs as much as a average low-mid end headphone amplifier, or a separate DAC.  And its got a headphone output that is at least as good as any <300$ headphone amp in terms of sound quality, and way beyond them in terms of power. Its got a dual 24/192 Burr Brown PCM1796 DAC's, which is the second from the top in Burr Browns line up, and again at least as good as in any standalone DAC that you can get for <300$.  And then at the end of it all, there's a speaker amp with 2x40 W @ 8 ohm of power, it can work as a  Iphone dock, as a Phono pre-amp, it's got a remote control, etc.  And all that for, at the moment, 350$. If we were to cut each aspect of it into a separate piece, and then analyze it, none of those aspects would be spectacular, but as all put together and for that money, you really can't expect anything more.


Edited by derbigpr - 8/15/12 at 1:05pm
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Headphone Amps (full-size)
Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Headphone Amps (full-size) › Onkyo A-5VL - A game changer