Been in this hobby for a while I can compare how it was 5-6 years ago and how it is now. I must say, things are changing very fast, some guys are gone, some new were born, but certainly in the last 2-3 years there was an explosion of things coming from Asia, and the US, but what about old & new Europe? The usual suspects as Lehmann, Meier and MF are still around and doing pretty good. We have got SPL Phonitor and Violectric, but also Rudi Stor explore his business pretty nicely and while they are obviously present and been around for a while to, but what about new European makers ?
Tell you the truth, things going pretty fast there to and that's what I would like to share with you.
Source: Unison Research Unico CD player ( 2x NOS ECC82 Mullards )
Headphone amplifiers: Black Pearl amplifier with PSU ( on loan from Ear Stream ), Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear, Lehmann Black Cube Linear amplifier ( on loan, thx to tohenk2 ) and Cary CAD 300B SEI integrated amp
Headphones: AKG K702, AKG K701 ( on loan, thx to rosgr63 ), AKG Q701, Audio Technica L3000 ( on loan, thx to tohenk2 ) and Sony R10 ( on loan, thx to tohenk2 )
Power supply: KEMP Electronics
Cables: Ear Stream Signature interconnects ( on loan from Ear Stream )
Music: E.S.T. “Good Morning Susie Soho”, Lars Danielsson “Tarantella” and “Libera Me”, Shelby Lynne “Just a Little Lovin”, Patricia Barber “Companion”, Chris Minh Doky “Scenes From a Dream”, Arild Andersen “Hyperborean”, Ketil Bjørnstad & David Darling “Epigraphs”, Joona Toivanen Trio “Frost”, Rachmaninov piano concertos 1&2 by Krystian Zimerman with Boston Symphonic Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa, Buddha Bar XI, Buddha Bar IX, Buddha Bar “Ten Years” and some more…
Before I am going in to the details, I would like to say, this is a fantastic performer, not just by its name, which is Black Pearl, but also by its sound.
Black Pearl is a creation of an Electronic Engineer with passion for music, but also, which is most important, a very nice and knowledgeable gentleman from Cracow Poland, Mr. Michal Wyroba. He graduated and got his degree in 2002 and has worked in different positions as Engineer until he decided to start his own business, which happened in 2010. From that moment he is the owner of the company named Ear Stream, which is fully focused on personal audio, developing and building of devices, and Black Pearl is one of his personal designs. His first headphone amplifier was build around 2007, called Moonlight and several years later, in 2010, Black Pearl was born. Actually, it was a little earlier, but only around 2010 it was ready to be called as high endish sounding.
Where I know Mr. Wyroba from, you may ask.
Well I came across a very nice 6moons article http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/earstream/1.html about his top range amp Sonic Pearl and decided to contact him. After some e-mails exchanged I sent him my Audio Technica ES7 for recabling and he also made a very nice cable for my K702 as well. This is totally irrelevant, but I would like to mention that he did a very good job, which looks and feels very pro to me.
Anyway, I got my recabled ES7, custom K702 cable, Black Pearl amplifier and a pair of his interconnects ( Signature line ) as an extra test item very quickly.
At first, when I saw the package, I was a bit confused, because of its size, not big at all. Here you can see some shots of the things I got and now you understand why. Black Pearl is simply very compact, little device, which is very light and totally transportable, even with its PSU, which is bigger than BP, but also much heavier. Both pieces are build very well.
Just a little bit about aesthetics:-)
Amp body made from light metal, but it's very sturdy and you see such enclosures around very often, which doesn’t mean bad, just common.
In front you see headphones output, led and volume pot. Personally, I don’t like that kind of white>yellowish led, I prefer a green/blue one, but also of smaller size. Volume pot is a good size and feels very nice and smooth when used.
On the back it has an ON/OFF switch ( nice ), power IN from PSU and 2 RCA connectors.
External PSU looks standard to me, but I am not an expert. What it does, it does it the way it should, which is enough for me.
Well, after all was plugged in I turned on the amp and connected K702 to it. Something about plugging in / out. You have to hold the amp, while you do that, cos like I wrote, it's very light, 330 gr. only.
O.k. now back to the business.
After the amp is switched on, you don’t hear any hum or noise from PSU and there was a slightly hum when I plugged the headphones in. It was in the beginning only, but after several hours it was gone and never came back and I think it can be the fact that the amp picks up some interference from the surroundings.
Like I said, I never had any issues after the first time at all and I had it for 2 weeks and only when the volume pot gets around 12 o'clock, you start to hear kind of white noise and higher the volume, higher the noise, however…
The real hum was present when I plugged in my Audio Technica ES7 in, but AT's are known for their sensitivity, so, for those who use such headphones, be aware for a possible hum/noise.
My first impression was pretty familiar to me and the reason is Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear amp that I own for a while now, which provides wonderful synergy with K702 to. The only differences I can detect are the fact that BP sounds slightly clearer, less round and have a bit more lower end kick, if I can say so, the longer you listen to Black Pearl, the better you hear the differences between the two. What they both do equally, is get you closer to the music by keeping their basic strength by not adding any color and been transparent, however I feel that BP has better transparency, dynamics and better definition.
AKG 702 - Very precise and clear presentation, great definition and balance, nothing comes across each other. Transparency at high level, I know this for sure, because I am using different recordings that show you that with ease. If the bass is to fat or slightly bloated, it's on the record. If the nasty midrange tsss or harsh top end are present, it's on the record. But if the source, I mean record here, is of high quality, you will get the best sound. The only thing you can do, is to adjust EQ, using warmish player or try to fix this with interconnects, that’s all. Other than that, Black Pearl will give you the most honest and natural presentation. This amp is not meaty or aggressive by any means, but it's not shy or laid back either, great dynamics, it's been build with musicality in mind, but still very focused on transparency, accuracy, detail and balance.
I was using many different recordings, Jazz Trio or Jazz Orchestra mostly, but also some Classical, Ambient and Electronica. As I wrote, high quality recordings are the way to go to get the real picture of this wonderful amplifier.
For example track no. 2 called Do They Jangle from E.S.T. Good Morning Susie Soho CD shows exactly the whole picture all together: detail, separation, depth, image etc. and the holy balance. If you know this record / track you understand what I am talking about. This track is very intense, with great dynamics, speed and complexity and Black Pearl just reproduces it without any problems, of course, all together with AKG K702, but man, do you hear all double bass notes and every single drum slam and cymbal touch? How about the image and precision? No problems either.
Another great CD is from Arild Andersen "Hyperborean", its first 3 tracks are fantastic and can be used as reference for double bass and violin for sure. Above that, 3 of them forming such dramatic piece of music, simply amazing. It started with violin, which represents a screaming and lost soul and hits your brain with her dramatic, almost on the edge passages, creates such somber atmosphere that moves in to the track no.2, where emptiness filled with double bass and some synthesizer only, feels kind of dreamy, finally ends up with track no 3 that brings you in somber atmosphere again, but then feels kind of completed, if you like. The double bass on track no 2 is pure as gold, tight as it can be, but not dry, still emotional, but very strong. I believe this track is picturised on the cover of CD
and if you take a look at it, you will understand this music even more, simply wonderful, is all I can say…
Next CD is from Ketil Bjørnstad `Epigraphs` track no. 2 simply shows the natural presentation of instruments, such as piano and cello. The sound is gentle and feels slow, but that’s the trick, you don’t have to be on a hurry and just sit and enjoy these moments, which I did, especially with that fantastic cello movements. Only through PS1000 it sounds better and I doubt that you can beat that up anyway, however this Black Pearl proves his ability of very natural and realistic reproduction, simply trilling…
Listen to the Rachmaninov 1&2 played by Krystian Zimerman with Boston Symphonic Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa make me so emotional that paying attention to the last detail from the record is not easy, but I was digging tracks and parts of them over and over again to get that anyway and, at the end, I just asked myself, why are you doing this? Because, when you listen to the whole piece, enjoyment and emotional experience are so strong. Yes, I can go and write how strings and piano sounds like, but I just say, I like the way they sound, to me, they sound natural, tuneful and realistic, which is all I need.
Switching to another headphones.
Next were HD800, which were another surprise for me. Not just because BP driving them with ease, no, mostly because they were damn nice sounding to. To be honest, I am not a fan of them, never hate them, but never really liked them. Their, kind of, out of focus image and 3D presentation are not my liking, however to my surprise they were full and smooth sounding, nothing nasty I could find at all. At some point I found their sound to smooth and change the Jazz music to Buddha Bar XI by Ravin and man, HD800 did absolutely lovely with this kind of music, where some tracks show the nasty stuff through K702, but not so through Sennheisers, they cover that with better forgiveness, but most of it, their bass, which is fat/full, kind of midbass that just slightly overwhelmed for my taste, but kicks very good. No problems with voices either, from the same Buddha Bar CD, they were smooth and tsss free. All by all, I was impressed how BP handled them and even I still not like them enough to own, I would consider this amp for them without problems.
Audio Technica L3000 are luxury by their build material and the way they feel in your hands, it's like RR, but after you put on your head, it's different. Not that they are not comfy, but definitely not HD800 level, even K702 feels better with longer sessions and this is mega draw of them, imo. Anyway, I tried them with many differ jazz tracks and they sounded to compressed, without enough instrument separation / space and with to much low end going on. What was wrong here is simply impedance mismatch, sure of it. Black Pearl is to powerful for them and while they don’t sound particularly bad, cos bass detail and impact are great, but it simply kills the rest and after a while, short while, you just done with it and at the moment you switch to K702 things are so different and much better that L3000 are simply NO GO with this little beauty, sorry…
There is also one big issue, they pick up hum/noise as well.
Sony R10, finally I hear how smooth these can be. I can't believe their delicacy, but still keeping enough air and separation, much better than L3000, comfort to, also with bass, while it's still not that good as from K702, but that’s only because they are closed back and also low impedance, which I think cause less controlled bass and some resonance in sound. They also pick up the noise.
All 3 of them are great amps, no doubt about that, but there are differences that will certainly have influence which one you may choose. Also, which headphones are you going to use with it. I must say, all of them driving K702 with very good results.
Black Pearl with PSU – natural, dynamic, but not aggressive signature, top transparency and detail, tight, articulate and deep bass, the whole picture stays in good balance, which allow you to hear all nuances, but still enjoying, not annoyingly analytical behavior
Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear with PSU1 – delicate, laid back and not aggressive, detailed, but slightly rounded with bass, however it's not that it does not have the control of it, no, definition is different, that's all. Balance is good with top notch musicality.
Lehmann - Delicate and not aggressive, detailed, but the bass is more upfront and meatier, which in some passages can be to strong and feels more like midbass, not deep enough. I think this one will be the top of 3, regarding noise, simply the quietest, then again, in my home and system.
Detailed, articulate and tuneful bass. Top transparency, dynamics, clarity and natural presentation.
Black Pearl will produce noise/hum with sensitive headphones, also with headphones that have lower impedance may have an issue to give you fully quiet presentation. Also, I detect that the amp is static, just slightly, but still.
This was present in my home, while at tohenk2 place, the amp was completely noise and hum free, so, this will depends on each system, main power and possible interference I was mention before.
Black Pear is for those who will not compromise, who like crystal clear and detailed presentation without analytical behavior, but will not cover the flaws of the record, also will not add any coloration to it. Will work with AKG K702/K701 and Q701 very well, also the HD800 impressed me enough to recommend this amp for it. R10 was another surprise, especially in tohenk2 system, when I was at his place. This time they were crystal clear with superb bass reproduction.
If you have any further question, don’t hesitate to ask Mr. Wyroba directly firstname.lastname@example.org and you will get the most professional and friendly reply. Of course, you are totally free to post your question up here to.
THX for your time.
Mr. Michal Wyroba
Reviewed Black Pearl include PSU - EUR 449
Ear Stream Signature interconnects ( 1 m ) - EUR 449