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.
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.
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