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Speaker amp comparisons for HE-500

post #1 of 45
Thread Starter 

It is the time you have all been waiting for! Behold the great amp showdown!

 

 

Yes, this is the battle between the Emotiva, the Lepai, and the incumbent, Baby Sophia!

 

Serendipitously, the Emotiva and Lepai arrived on the same day today. Had a brief listen to all three, and here some some initial impressions.

 

Lepai LP-2020A+: $21 at Amazon. Another $12 for wires and banana plugs.

Emotiva a-100 mini-X: $219. Bought it at the current sale price of $169.

Sophia Electric Baby Sophia: $999 new. I bought it for $550 used direct from manufacturer. It was a floor model.

 

Since I had the HE-Adapter and balanced XLR cable for my HE-500 already when I got the Baby Sophia, I didn't need any more cables for the other amps other than $12 for some bulk speaker wires and banana plugs for the Lepai. The other two amps just used cables with banana plugs on both sides that I already had. As mentioned earlier in the thread, the Lepai requires your HE-500 to be balanced since it cannot share a common ground for the channels. This means your stock TRS plug will not work. The Emotiva allows for common ground so you can use the stock cable. Not sure about the Baby Sophia, but since it is a tube amp, it requires parallel resistors to make the impedance close to 8 ohms, and thus the HE-Adapter which in turns forced me to go balanced.

 

Note: I am not using the tuner on the Lepai in any of these tests, though I briefly played with it and it was quite impressive and there was no distortion or clipping. The bass boost is mainly mid-bass.

 

Setup: Woo Audio WA7 DAC -> Amp -> HE-Adapter -> Moon Audio Blue Dragon cable -> HE-500

 

So far I have not have a chance to listen to all three to gauge anything more than initial impressions. I will add more details as listen more. For now these are just some quick comparisons, and what stands out most to me.

 

I used a decibel meter on my phone to get about the same volume on all three amps. I found the Lepai and Emotiva to go to about 9 o'clock and the Baby Sophia to 11 o'clock to get the best listening volume for me. Also the Baby Sophia allows for finer volume control.

 

Orchestral:

I started by listening to a orchestral song with violins and drums. I found surprisingly that the Lepai was warmer than the Emotiva and had more sub-bass and impact. Not as much as the tube Sophia amp, but pretty much right in the middle of the Sophia and Emotiva. Honestly, I found the Lepai to be more enjoyable than the Emotiva for this genre of music since the drums had more impact and was more visceral. The Sophia reigned supreme here. Of course, subjectively, I prefer a warm tubey sound.

Baby Sophia > Lepai > Emotiva - mainly because of the bass impact.

 

Rock:

Next I played a rock song with female vocals. Here I found what my initial impressions deem to be a weakness in the Lepai. I found the midrange, especially vocals to be a touch recessed and slightly unnatural. Nothing bad sounding, but compared to the other amps, I could hear it. Now as far as price to performance goes, the Lepai still wins. The Emotiva was still the weakest in terms of bass and warmness, but to me having a natural midrange outweighed the weaker (but still quite substantial) bass.

Baby Sophia > Emotiva > Lepai

 

Coming next: Electronic and acoustic music

post #2 of 45
Wait you have the WA7 hooked up and we don't get to hear a review of the amp portion of it? I LOVE THE WA7 PLEASE REVIEW IT!!! smily_headphones1.gifsmily_headphones1.gifsmily_headphones1.gif
post #3 of 45
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ethan7000 View Post

Wait you have the WA7 hooked up and we don't get to hear a review of the amp portion of it? I LOVE THE WA7 PLEASE REVIEW IT!!! smily_headphones1.gifsmily_headphones1.gifsmily_headphones1.gif

Unfortunately the WA7 does not output enough power for the HE-500. It lacks the level of impact compared to the speaker amps. Also I find it to be a bit harsh. Not a good pairing. That's why I went into speaker amp world!

post #4 of 45
Thread Starter 

Electronic:

Once again the order of bass impact was the same. This genre of music did bring out another flaw in the Lepai. I found it to also have elevated upper mids and treble. This caused a bit of discomfort as there was some sibilance and harshness. This harshness reminds me of the sound of the HE-500 coming from the underpowered WA7. I'm sure using the tuners built into the Lepai, this problem could be fixed. I suspect the Lepai without tuning has a V-shaped sound. The Emotiva came out as the most neutral. I'm beginning to view the Emotiva as the most neutral of the three. I'm even more impressed now by the vocals and mids on the Emotiva. I can say that it's a smidgen better than the Sophia Baby, and definitely better than the Lepai. As bass is probably the most important range for electronic music, I want to reiterate that while the Emotiva is weaker than the other two amps, it has plenty of bass and impact compared to headphone amps such as the WA7 or O2, and it sounds fine with this genre. The HE-500 does not feel underdriven with any of these amps.

Sophia Baby = Emotiva >> Lepai - The Sophia Baby and Emotiva are on the same level here, while one shines in bass, the other in midrange. The Lepai untuned for the first time sounds kinda bad (note the double >>).

 

After I do acoustic, I'm gonna try to get some frequency response graphs of the HE-500 out of each of these amps to see if the bass levels I'm hearing matches up and whether the Lepai has a V-shaped curve.

post #5 of 45

Much appreciated!

post #6 of 45

Someone finally got a comparison! Thought this wouldn't happen since these amps are so far between. Nice Work. 

post #7 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sonido View Post
 

Electronic:

After I do acoustic, I'm gonna try to get some frequency response graphs of the HE-500 out of each of these amps to see if the bass levels I'm hearing matches up and whether the Lepai has a V-shaped curve.

 

I believe the Lepai is kind of V shaped too, and without any EQ or tone adjustment, mid highs and highs are slightly elevated. I found the Magni to be even more elevated.

 

With tone control or a good software EQ, it does wonders to fix it. The knobs alone won't fix the highs without dropping the mids too however. Tone control has an immediate impact on the noise floor and mids in the standard position. Mix the bass knob with a software EQ cut, and you get a nice sound for less than a few drinks in NYC.

post #8 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sonido View Post

Unfortunately the WA7 does not output enough power for the HE-500. It lacks the level of impact compared to the speaker amps. Also I find it to be a bit harsh. Not a good pairing. That's why I went into speaker amp world!
I haven't heard the 500 on speaker amps, but I have a hard time believing this since I heard the WA7 with 500 and loved it - and why would Woo Audio choose the 500 as their set to showcase WA7 if it's such a bad pairing - just doesn't make sense!
post #9 of 45
Thread Starter 

Acoustic:

For this genre, all three amps preformed quite well. The acoustic song I listened to has some kind of shaker instrument in the background. I found the Lepai to be most revealing when it come to picking up that background instrument, probably because of the raised treble. As for mids, all three amps did very well, perhaps the Emotiva and Baby Sophia being a smidgen above the Lepai if I were to be nitpicky. One thing that I want to mention that set the Baby Sophia apart from the other two is the guitar strums. The Baby Sophia produced the most visceral, realistic strums I've ever heard from headphones in general. Unlike the other two, it was very three dimensional and resonated just the perfect, natural amount. That said the other two amps did fine, and I have no complaints on the guitar strums.

Baby Sophia >> Emotiva >= Lepai - The Emotiva and Lepai are about the same here, but I value the mids a bit more than the revealing nature of the treble mainly because it's probably due to the boosted treble of the Lepai rather than it actually being more revealing (>= meaning slightly better, if even)

 

I realize I haven't addressed soundstage or imaging in any of of my comparisons. I will revisit orchestral music for this now that I got a better idea of each of the amps' signatures.


Edited by Sonido - 10/20/13 at 1:23am
post #10 of 45
Thread Starter 

Orchestral (revisit):

This time I chose a song that has a much wider loudness range. The other songs were all around 75-80 dB. This song ranges from 65-90 dB. Also to get to this range, I had to turn up the volume knob. Now the Sophia Baby is at 2:30, the Emotiva to 11 o'clock, and Lepai to 10:30. Also unlike the first orchestral song used, this one does not have drums and does not have much bass. It's more traditional orchestra. While in general I don't find the HE-500 to have a wide soundstage, I find the imaging to be quite good. In this aspect, all three had great imaging. I found the Emotiva to have the cleanest sound probably because it is the most neutral and least warm amp. For some reason, the Lepai had a higher noise floor and the background was not as black as the other two amps. The Emotiva had the blackest background of the three. Once again the visceral quality of the Sophia Baby could be felt in some of the instruments.

Emotiva >= Baby Sophia > Lepai - Neutrality is probably more desired in a traditional classical/orchestral genre, but I still like warmth :tongue:.


Edited by Sonido - 10/20/13 at 1:23am
post #11 of 45
Thread Starter 

I will try to get some frequency response graphs tomorrow. But I want to add some finishing remarks on these three amps in general.

 

Case for Lepai:

In terms of best value, the Lepai wins. I'd say it gets you 85% of the way to the others in most categories, and it completely trumps any underpowered headphone amp, especially in genres you want bass. Also the tuner is better than software EQ in my opinion.

 

Now the best value award here only applies if you can make your own cables or can get them for relatively cheap. Not really worth it if you have spend over $50 on cables. Cable setup is more picky than Emotiva as it cannot have shared ground or TRS plug, but less picky than Sophia Baby which also requires resistance matching. Cheapest way to cable for Lepai would be to simply cut off the TRS plug of the stock cable and directly connect the 4 wires.

 

Case for Emotiva:

Most neutral. If you care about the least colored sound, I'd choose the Emotiva. Also cabling is easier since you don't need to bypass the TRS plug on the stock cable.

 

http://www.amazon.com/HOSA-Stereo-4-Inch-Phone-Female/dp/B000068O5D
+
2 x http://www.amazon.com/Pyle-Pro-PCBL34-Gauge-Female-Banana/dp/B004HJ5JPQ

 

should work and comes out to be about $20.

 

Case for Baby Sophia:

If you love a warm tubey sound, bass impact, and visceral instruments. However, it is far pricier than the others, especially if you get it new. Also it requires the most in terms of cabling. Since it is a tube speaker amp, it requires resistance matching so you need something like the HE-Adapter. Not certain if it requires balancing, but better safe than sorry, and if you go with the HE-Adapter, you'll need to recable to 4-pin XLR.

 

However, with all that said, the bass impact and level of realism you get off some tracks is truly something else. If I were to do it all over again knowing each of these amps and their sound signatures, I would still choose the Baby Sophia. I'm all for getting the most for your money, and if you're achieving a high percentage of the sound of something else at a fraction of the price, that's great and you should get the cheaper one. While I feel you are getting 85% of the Emotiva with the Lepai, I don't feel the Lepai or Emotiva comes close to the Baby Sophia in reproducing the realism of certain instruments. In my opinion, you would be missing features comparing Lepai/Emotiva with the Baby Sophia, and in that case I'm willing to spend the extra money to get those features.

 

Now I have to decide what to do with the Lepai and Emotiva ;). Returning the Lepai isn't really worth it as it was so cheap. After return shipping, I'll net $15. The Emotiva I got at the sale price of $169. Once the sale ends I could probably even sell it on eBay for more. However, I may keep it for use for my entertainment center. It's a solid amp. Just need some speakers now.

post #12 of 45
Nice!
post #13 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sonido View Post
 

Unfortunately the WA7 does not output enough power for the HE-500. It lacks the level of impact compared to the speaker amps. Also I find it to be a bit harsh. Not a good pairing. That's why I went into speaker amp world!

Good to read that! The resellers did not lie to me when they said the WA6 or WA7 were not powerful enough for the HE-500 then. Specially since the WA7 costs 1k.

post #14 of 45
Thread Starter 
Just want to make it clear as there was still some confusion on whether the bass of the Emotiva was "weak".

Yes the Emotiva had more than enough in impact and punchiness. It has the most neutral bass of the three. The other two amps have a more "fun" bass. A metaphor would be all three are like cars with V8 engines and 0-60 times under 4 seconds. But the Lepai and Baby Sophia are under 3.5 seconds and the Emotiva is closer to 4 seconds. In your everyday driving you wouldn't ever realize the difference unless you went head to head with one of the other cars from a red light. Same here. You wouldn't think the bass could get even more punchy or impactful until you listened next to the other amps. And for reference the WA7 and other underpowered amps would be like a Toyota Camry.
post #15 of 45

Comparisons like this are very helpful. They really do highlight the different segments of buyers. I'm sure many people who bought the WA7 are stunned that a $1,000 amp/dac that should do everything, can't drive the HE-500 with the same power as a $20 Lepai, but that's why these comparisons help so much.

 

The Lepai and Topping amps are for the budget, bang for the buck, value/performance, DIY buyer (like me). With some time invested in playing with the tone knobs and software EQ, you can get 90% of the sound of a $999 amp on the HE-500. 

 

The Emotiva is for the plug and play, semi budget audiophile. I'm sure a little EQ could make some fun bass on it, and at $169 on sale compared to $219, its a steal. 5 Year Warranty, transferable!

 

The Baby Sophia is a money no object, totl buy.

 

Thanks for doing this. I can add that the Magni has enough power to drive the HE-500, but does not have the bass of the Lepai, and highs are slightly more elevated and sibilant.  Could be from the HE-500 needing more power, but the volume knob halfway on the Magni would blow your eardrums out.


Edited by bhazard - 10/19/13 at 1:40pm
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