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Custom Bottlehead Crack, assembled by "hifibuilderguy"

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

Greetings!  I wanted to post some initial impressions of the custom Bottlehead Crack that Shawn Phelps (aka hifibuilderguy) recently completed for me.  After owning many of the TOTL headphones available, I kept finding myself drawn back to the venerable HD600 and HD650 for their combination of comfort and sonic qualities with the music I listen to most often.  I was largely unfamiliar with Bottlehead, but heard the name come up often when describing reasonably priced amps that pair well with the HD650.  

 

While I have deep respect for all the DIYers out there, I am comfortable with the fact that I am not one of them!  I contacted Bottlehead to find out if they had any recommendations regarding someone who could assemble the Crack + Speedball kit for me.  Eileen was a delight and said that my timing was excellent - they had just collaborated with a former employee to offer an assembly service.  The former employee is Shawn Phelps.  

 

I also knew I wanted a custom base for the amp and, again, Eileen was able to direct me to John Rutter.  I believe he is the gentleman that supplies Bottlehead with their standard bases.  I contacted John, shipped him some curly maple I wanted to use, and he began the process on the base.  He was excellent to deal with, answered all my questions quickly and thoroughly, and the finished base truly exceeded my expectations.  I recommend him highly!

 

Shawn and I started exchanging emails regarding the details of the build beyond the standard Crack/Speedball kit.  We settled on the following details of the build:

 

- Mundorf EVO Aluminum/Oil caps, 100uf/350VDC (they barely fit!)

- TKD volume control

- Vampire copper-body RCA jacks

 

He also painted the plate in hammertone copper and blued the transformer bell.  

 

I have to go on record to say that Shawn was INCREDIBLY patient with my questions...and there were many!  Our original email thread stretched longer, and longer...and longer.  

 

The finished result: 

 

*

 

And another:

 

*

 

I wanted to post initial impression of the build process but I also have several days of listening under my belt as well.  I plan to write a more detailed review once everything has a chance to settle in, but here is what I can say now:

 

- the amp is dead quiet.  It might be the quietest tube amplifier with which I have experience.  This really shone through on one of my guilty pleasure albums, "Scratch My Back" by Peter Gabriel.  The entrances of the orchestral instruments are noted not only by incredible texture and color, but also by the slight background noise floor of the studio space.  I haven't noticed the presence of the studio "air" before and I attribute this to the extremely quiet nature of this amp.  

 

- tonal qualities are full, saturated, and filled with color.  I'm a cellist and my day job is managing a violin shop.  Because of my background, I place a great deal of weight on the ability of a recording and playback equipment to produce a reasonable portrayal of instrumental tone.  Listening to Jean-Guihen Queyras' recent recording of J.S. Bach's Suites for Solo Cello, the amp did a great job of suspending disbelief and letting me get close to not only the tone of his cello, but also the intent of his musical ideas.  

 

- the pairing with the HD600 and HD650 does seem excellent.  I'm sticking with these headphones for a while and every indication is that this amp will do a great job powering them.  

 

For reference, I'm using a MacBook Pro into a Schiit Bifrost (uber/gen2) as the source.

 

Although my impressions of the sound of the amp are still developing, my impressions of Shawn Phelps are set - I could not be more impressed with his professionalism, technical ability, and fantastic communication.  I know that Bottlhead has been a favorite with the DIY crowd for decades.  Now I can heartily recommend them for the rest of us!  

 

I've been so pleased I already have my next build set with Shawn - a Bottlehead Stereomour for my desktop setup.

 

Here is the post on the Bottlehead forum explaining Shawn's assembly prices.  http://www.bottlehead.com/smf/index.php/topic,4783.0.html

 

Cheers!


Edited by indydieselnut - 9/28/13 at 12:45pm
post #2 of 8
Nice amp!
The Blumenstein bamboo bases are nice too.
post #3 of 8
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by clowkoy View Post

Nice amp!
The Blumenstein bamboo bases are nice too.

 

Thanks!  I have Blumenstein bases on their way for both the Crack and the future Stereomour.  They might end up living right next to each other and matching can be nice.

post #4 of 8

Nice looking amp!  I have an order pending with Shawn as well for a Crack.

 

What tube are you using there?  It doesn't look stock.

post #5 of 8
Thread Starter 

I can't stress how wonderful it has been to work with Shawn!  My Stereomour he built for me showed up and I'll do a post about it once it's united with its Blumenstein base.  Needless to say, it is a fantastic build.  

 

In the picture I'm using the Chatham 6AS7G and the stock driver tube.  I wanted to have a stock of 6AS7G as well as the 6080 to try.  Honestly, the amp sounds so fantastic right now I'm not planning any tube rolling yet.  

 

Congrats on your amp - I think you're going to love it!  

post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 

Just a quick update on the listening impressions for this amp.  It has since moved into a Blumenstein bamboo base but might move back into the maple...to be determined.  

 

If you've traversed the headphone jungle and found, like me, that you keep coming back to the Sennheiser HD6XX 'phones, this might be the last amp you need to own.  Taking nothing away from the fine amps I've owned from Woo, Lehmann, Mapletree, Headroom, Headamp, ALO, etc...I think this amp just about perfectly suits my listening tastes.  What are my tastes?  I'm looking for a presentation that feels harmonically authentic to live acoustic instruments without any glare or edginess.  That might sound like I desire a tipped up midbass and reticent highs, but I don't think that's accurate.  I spend most of my workday hearing live violin family instruments - sometimes they are played brilliantly and sometimes I'm hearing someone make their first sounds.  Whether its heavenly or awful, it is real.  When those sounds are reproduced by electronic means, any kind of etched quality in the treble or distortion altering the overtone series immediately identifies it as a recording.  The presentation I'm hearing from the combination of the Schiit Asgard (uber/gen2), my modded Crack/Speedball build, and my well-worn HD600 and HD650 brings me very close to suspending disbelief when I'm listening to a naturally recorded acoustic instrument like cello, guitar, or mandolin.

 

That is the presentation that makes me happy...makes me excited to carve out some precious (and scarce!) minutes from my schedule, sit in my ugly recliner, and enjoy some music.  

 

I have no experience with with a stock Crack, or even a stock Crack w/Speedball.  My build has some pricey Mundorf EVO caps, a nice TKD volume pot, and Vampire copper-body jacks.  I haven't really rolled many tubes yet with the Chatham output tube doing nicely.   

 

 

 

Thankfully, this post will take me to forum post count 667.  I've been sitting at 666 for a little too long!  

post #7 of 8

You BH Crack looks terrific.. and your impressions on how it sounds is great.  Like many others, I've babbled on about how this is THE amp for the HD600/650.. and even the HD800.  For the 6x0 series, I'm convinced it's an "end game" level amp.  My Crack (w/ the speedball upgrade).. has a pair of Erse output film caps.. the last PS cap bypassed (with an Auric cap).. and an Alps "Blue Velvet" pot.  I couldn't be happier with it.  I did notice that it took quite some time to fully 'break in,' though... and once it did.. oh my, I just couldn't turn it off.  The Crack's ability balance the things I (stereotypically) like about solid state amps & valve gear is it's most alluring quality.  Also, the soundstage is superb... and the HD 6x0 line does indeed feel 'made' for this amp.

post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 

FlySweep, thanks for the comments!  I completely agree with everything you said and really look forward to the Mundorf Evo caps getting more hours on them.  I'm sure I'll tube roll with other treasures in the collection, but I'm really happy with what I'm getting right now :-)  I hope you enjoy yours for a long time to come!

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