***There are lots of hyperlinks in this review, please feel free to explore further.
- Philips Fidelio L1 - 28 ohms, Innerfidelity Wall of Fame, ~$180 new
- Sennheiser HD650 - 300 ohms, THE reference headphone, ~$500 new
- MediaMonkey Music Player - FLAC
- Peace of Mind - Black Sabbath
- Get Lucky - Daft Punk
- Yellow Brick Road - Eminem
- Zero - Hawthorn Heights
- Angel - Massive Attack
- Supermassive Black Hole - Muse
- Brain Damage - Pink Floyd
- Smooth Operator - Sade
- Bullet with Butterfly Wings - Smashing Pumpkins
Buddy and I attempted ABX testing. Both of us were barely able to manage 50% using some of his techno tracks. Strangely sitting listening to my test tracks I could tell a huge difference. Enough said.
Bravo V2 & grubDAC:
- Bravo V2 Tube Hybrid amp
- Amperex Bugle Boy Tube
- CrossTalk Mod
- IRF630 to IRL510
- LM317 to LM317A
- Pop Reduction Mod
- Output Caps to 2200uF Nichicon Caps
- Info on Tubes/Mods can be found here.
- grubDAC built with stock parts wired directly into RCA input on board
- Bravo V2 - $75 (can be had for ~$50 shipped)
- grubDAC - $38.18
- Bravo Mod Parts - $35
- Amperex Bugle Boy - $15
- Total Cost: ~$160
We are all familiar with the bravo. It is generally referred to as the cheapest entry into the tube world. That said its a good little amp. Please see my thread regarding modding for information regarding that aspect. Generally the Bravo is somewhat cheaply made, however it has a very small footprint, works well out of the box, and has lots of headroom as long as you are comfortable tripling its price. Honestly for new components even at ~$160 there is very little out there that can touch it. Of course this price assumes you have all the tools/skills/desire to work on it.
The easy to drive and clean nature of the L1's give great clarity. The tube does a great job smoothing out the mids and highs, with the extended roll off due to the modifications. In every way that the Schiit can make some mids and highs clean and painful, this combination is smooth and easy to listen too. The bass is there, the snare doesn't startle, and the hi's are there without intruding on the music.
This is the way these headphones are supposed to sound. I spent some time listening to my buddys HD650's on his LD MKIVSE. While that outshines the little Bravo by quite a bit, the bravo still has that tube sound element that makes the mids punchy but smooth as well as smoothing out the treble. Some of that is attributed to the modified IRL510's. This little beauty makes the Senns shine. Everything is both hard and smooth - Massive Attack is great, with the lows hitting hard, but his voice rising above the rolling guitar. Listening to the Senn's on this amp makes me even more impatient for my DV336SE to get here.
Schiit Modi + Magni:
- Schiit Magni Amp - $99
- Schiit Modi DAC - $99 + $15 shipping
- Monoprice RCA + USB Cable - $12
- Total Cost: $225
This is generally considered *THE* entry level amp/dac combo. Form factor is about 1.5 the size of the bravo, however in every way that the bravo looks cheap/home built - these things are dead sexy. For those of you that want an office setup that customers or others will see, this would be a good way to go. I bought mine used for a steal making them a comparable option fiscally to the bravo/grub combo. Buying at the "new" price would make me hesitate as these are at least $70 more expensive.
In generally the L1's are much clearer than the Senns. They also have good bass, not quite as much sub bass, but its more than enough. The important difference here is that the Schiit stack does not create such an acute feeling of clarity, and hi-boost here as it does on the Senns. All in all it makes for a very enjoyable experience listening. The rock music doesn't hit quite as hard, nor does it have as much sound stage. This combo provides a very high quality experience, between the build quality and materials used in these two products you would think they retail for quite a bit more then they do. However with the stack the smashing pumpkins vocals can be a touch rough, and high strung.
First let me say this. The Schiit stack has no more issue driving the Senns then the Bravo does. In fact it has even more headroom. Everything is brighter and clearer than the bravo. Get lucky sounds much perkier, the highs are accentuated. Unfortunately when I got to Yellow Brick Road I had to take the headphones off. The clarity and brightness of the ultra accentuated mids and highs makes the snap of the snare, and Em's voice almost like nails on chalkboard. It can be almost painful at times, which is a shame, because its one of my favorite songs and it plays so beautifully on the Bravo. Interesting enough this same phenomenon brought Angel by MA to its absolute pinnacle. The bass is so tight and perfect, the guitar rolls so smoothly, and never gets uncomfortable. The effect on his voice when he sings also shimmers - with the exception of Eminem everything else I have listened to including other Rap sounds very tight and focused. On Bullet with Butterfly Wings - especially the chorus the depth of the HD650s overtakes the clarity of the Schiit stack makes it sounds beautifully smooth.
- If you prefer style, clinical sound, and the thought of circuits makes your brain hurt buy the Schiit stack and love it.
- If you prefer fuller less clinical sound, like penny pinching, and the thought of circuits makes you hard, buy the Bravo and the grub and get soldering.
- If both routes seem appealing find a used deal on a magni, build a grub dac for it, live free and prosper.
GrubDAC vs Modi:
Straight truth - I spent about 90 minutes swapping back and forth between DAC's using the same amp (first the Magni, then the Bravo) and I cant tell the difference. Granted I have spent a good chunk of my life around motorsports and other loud nonsense, so my hearing may not be perfect, but I was honestly not able to identify ANY sonic difference between the two. So assuming you can build it buy yourself the $40 grub, and if you prefer the more clinical sound of the Magni you can hide it inside the case with just a little DIY. So then I disassembled my Modi to take a closer look at what an extra $60 buys you. First major difference is that they use a different USB bridge chip and as such have a flash memory chip as well - I imagine it helps with the pairing process allowing them to work on PC/MAC/Linux. More importantly they use the AKM AK4396 DAC vs the grub's Wolfson WM8524. Looking at the spec sheet they are very close with the AK4396 winning most of the major categories by less then 5% on paper, which transfers into basically irrelevance in terms of sound. Furthermore the Wolfson chip costs about 1/4 the price of the AKM, and of course the cost of the very nice case. So all in all while I could not discover a sonic difference between the two, you are certainly getting your moneys worth of hardware in both cases.
I have only had the HD650's for a short while, and they are almost always plugged into the Bravo. For gaming I always use the Schiit stack w/ my AD700's. Honestly the Fidelio's are some of the best quality headphones I have ever felt (they hold their own against the HE-400's and put the Senns to shame IMHO). However at the end of the day I will probably sell them, just as I will sell my bravo/grub as soon as my DarkVoice 336SE comes in. Hindsight being 20/20 I am glad I own both, the Bravo has provided hours of fun with my soldering iron.