I've had a few people ask for impressions after posting some pictures of a mini meet I had with a few guys yesterday.
Cans: Fostex TH900, Stax SR-009, Senn. HD800, HifiMan HE-6, HiFiman HE-500
Amps: Cavalli Liquid Glass, Cavalli Liquid Fire, Cavalli Liquid Lightning, HiFiMan EF-5
Sources: PS Perfect Wave DAC mkII, PS Perfect Wave Transport, Cambridge 851C, FiiO E17
Having the whole CA family in one room was really cool and I can guarantee that the new design direction is a great improvement. The LG is heavier than both it's brothers and the etched face plate looks great. A huge thank you to Alex for over half the stuff here including: LG, HD800, PW Pair, HE-6. And while the rest are owned by members, thanks for building such great amps.
To start off I'd like to talk about the Fostex TH900. I owned a D7000 way back in the day (my first high end cans actually) and loved them. After hearing the Fostex I can safely say that they are a large improvement over that fantastic D7000 'fun' sound. The first thing was the bass. It's just as visceral and rumbling, but where the D7000 suffered from sounding bloated with some tracks, the TH900 completely avoids that. You can easily separate bass from the rest of the spectrum. It also fixes the somewhat 'hot' treble the D7000 had, which was a welcome fix though I never had much of an issue with it. They're stunningly gorgeous (photos really don't do them justice as I've heard from many) and that amazing D7000 comfort is there, and dare I say slightly improved. Still the most comfortable headphone I've ever worn without question. The SR-009 being second on that list. Termination is nicer than the D7000 was. It feels substantial and well made. Cable seems a bit less unruly.
As compared to the sound of the other cans my top 3 were the 009, TH900, and HD800 (so they are very good). If I end up buying a closed headphone down the line this will be it. I've never heard another closed can that's the good. Some may not like the amount of bass (may be too much for some) I loved it. The only thing I noticed about the sound (and mind you this is just vs the 009s) is that there was a slight grain to the sound that was just flat out not there on the 009. It was easily ignorable, but when you focused on the sound, you could easily notice it. It's the most fun headphone I've listened to in some time, and it reminded me what fun some Electronic music can be with super rumbly bass.
HE-6 vs HE-500
This one might be a bit controversial to some, but I prefer the HE-500 to the HE-6 (with this system, etc.). I came to the conclusion I liked my LCD 2.2 more than the HE-6 at the Austin meet this year as well. There's something about the treble that just seems off to me no matter what it's running out of. I guess I haven't heard it from some monoblocks, but I'm honestly not sure if I care to. The HE-500 isn't as well extended, but it's much smoother to my ears. Soundstage is similar, but it's really that treble that does them in for me. Bass is phenomenal though less textured than my 009. I've said it before and I'll say it again though, the HE-500 and HE-6 at their new price points are one of the best bargains in headphone audio today.
HD800 vs 009 & LF vs LG
Second verse same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit...better? What I'll start off by saying the HD800 is flat out better on the LG than they are on the LF (with the right tubes). Subtly, but the improvement is there, but the ability to roll like you can with the LG is pretty great. They're the 2 best amps I've heard the HD800 with and I suppose it could come down more to preference. If you like that SS ideal of turning it on and being done, the LF is better, but with the fact you can change your HD800's sound anytime you want to anything you want and my perceived sonic improvements, it's my pick.
The rest of this comparison is really just going to restate a lot of stuff I've said before because even though the LG is better than the LF with the HD800, it's still no LL + 009. Easy to tell how inflated the HD800 soundstage is when comparing the 2. Some instruments sound too distant depending on the mix and it's still not much of a competition. The 009 still bests the HD800 in every way, IMO. Though all things considered the best HD800 rig out there still costs much less than the best 009 rig. Still trying to find my favorite set of tubes with the HD800 on the LG right now and I'll report on that later in the impressions.
Cambridge 851C vs PS Audio Perfect Wave System
I was somewhat surprised by the fact that these sound similar (neutral) as I expected the Cambridge to sound warmer than the detail monster that is the Perfect Wave. This made picking differences harder than say picking the differences from the Ayon CD-1 I heard a few weeks ago. The PS Audio gear is no doubt better adding more air and a wider soundstage as well as more detail throughout (and no subtle grain like the 851C). Feature set is similar, build quality is similar (The Cambridge is a beast case wise, but the PS Audio gear weighs a ton). Aesthetically the PS Audio stack wins. They're super sleek and the less buttons the better for my design preferences. Though the touch screens piss me off a bit with having to tap slightly higher than it seems necessary to on the seek/volume bars. Both displays are easily readable from across the room, and both have unnecessary filter systems. These tests made me come to the conclusion that I was right about the 851C being a fantastic product for the price. It's still the DAC I'd recommend most around 2k. That being said, I'm considering a Perfect Wave DAC mkII as it is a step up from the 851C. Slightly more subtle than I would've liked it to be, but better is better, and the difference is definitely there. Top 2 choices for a new digital front end in my system are an Ayon CD-1SC and a PWD mkII.
LG Tube Rolling
It's really just flat out cool. This section won't really be long as I've still got some more tube rolling to do. The fact that Alex gave me...8 pairs of tubes that are all different and I can hear exactly what they all sound like is just awesome. My favorite look for the amp is of course the Shuguang Treasure 181 bottles, but unfortunately they're not my favorite tube for any of these headphones. So far with the HD800 my top pick is a pair of RCA 6GU7s. They were less harsh and warmer. Not to mention had significantly more impact than the 181s. With the redesign, new features, and tube roll-ability of this amp I honestly think anyone with a decent tube collection should own one. Then again, you might be at risk of losing your job if you've got a collection like some Head-fiers and keep rolling to find your favorites.
Overall it was a really awesome couple of hours (and a good weekend for Dave and I) of listening and comparing. Discovered a few things, and was wowed by a few as well.
Well, back to tube rolling. If I missed anything, let me know and I'll write something about it.
Tube Rolling Update (HD800)
After rolling all the pairs of tubes we had present I've found a favorite. They're an RCA Coin Base 6SN7 tube. I found that they really ramp up the quality of the HD800's mids as well as warming them up a bit in general. They also seemed to tame that spike just a bit and overall they were a pretty easy pick out of the tubes I had here. They're also very quiet tubes. A few of the pairs seem to have a little noise to them (one pair specifically had quite a bit of noise in one tube) but these were dead silent. I said it before even before I found these tubes to be the favorite. This is the best I've ever heard the HD800.
Tube Rolling Update (HE-6)
Unfortunately I didn't get to do as much tube rolling with the HE-6 as I would have liked but the same tubes I loved with the HD800 were my favorite of what I heard with the HE-6. I think it's because I found the HE-6's treble off and that's the same problem with the HD800 sometimes. Though I'm sure there was a better tube in the bunch for the HE-6.
Edited by MorbidToaster - 11/9/12 at 7:13am