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:
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
Edited by indydieselnut - 9/28/13 at 12:45pm