Only posted once on here before to review a cable, but have lurked the forums for years and gathered some invaluable info that has not doubt guided me in the right direction and saved me a lot money along the way! So I thought I would do my bit and review the Yaqin MS-20L speaker amp which I have been using to drive my Hifiman HE-6's as its an amp that doesn't get a lot of press which is a shame because for the money you get a heck of a lot of amplifier and sorry in advance for my bad grammar and rambling review, not done many yet!
First thing I will say about the Yaqin is that it is big and very heavy, so for starters it isn't for those looking for a small desktop solution! but if you don't mind a brutish looking amp then its definitely worth looking into further, especially when you consider you can buy it new for about £500 BARGAIN!!
The amp itself is a EL34 based valve amp that puts out a healthy 50w per channel @ 8ohm and uses 8 preamp valves which are the Chinese 6J1 variety but you can replace these with the much higher quality 6AK5's or EF95's which should be done immediately! more on that later though.. I have to use the Hifiman Adapter box to protect the output transformers from the 50ohm load of the HE-6 and even using the adapter box its rare that the volume dial goes past 12 o'clock and I like my music loud, probably unhealthily loud if I'm honest, once a raver always a raver!
I've added a couple of pics of the amp and headphones taken tonight whilst writing this, hope they upload ok.
I use a Musical Paradise MP-D1 valve DAC to feed the Yaqin which is excellent in both value and sound terms and I might review that next as it is a little known gem IMO... My music tastes vary from day to day and I listen to any thing from classic rock to modern dance music and listen to jazz, classical and pretty much anything else that sounds good or sometimes bad!
Now how does the big ass Yaqin drive the HE-6's then you ask! well before I get to that I'll tell you what I've used before, I started with a Darkvoice 332 valve headphone amp which could barely power them if being honest, so bye bye to the Darkvoice, next I tried my Marantz Pearl Lite which is a quality 70w speaker amp that is very well regarded in the Hifi world and although it powered the HE-6 with ease it made them sound a bit flat and a bit lifeless so the search continued. I bought the Yaqin used off evilBay with a selection of quality valves and there the fun began!
The Yaqin is setup up with Shuguang Treasure 'Black Bottle' 6CA7-Z - EL34's in the power stage and either Mullard M8100's or Voshod gold grids in the pre stage and this combination is the best I've found so far after a fair bit of tube rolling.
When I first connected the HE-6's they came to life and started sounding like I imagined they should, Excellent!! The highs which I found a bit sharp and grating on the amps I'd used previously were now smooth but still exciting at the same time and no sign of sibilance unless its already there on the recording of course! as this set up teamed with the HE-6 will show up a bad recording with ease and make a great recording sound sublime! I am sensitive to peaky trebles and on the Yaqin the HE6's are lovely just enough not to sound boring but not going make your ears bleed either, just right for me anyway.
The mids are magical and probably my favourite part of the performance they seem just about right to my ears, lush, transparent & natural sounding with no apparent over lap from the bass. Both female and male voices are life like and natural sounding you really can hear the different notes that artists create and if the voice is centre staged then the voice appears right in front of you every time with good left right separation of the instruments etc. My favourite songs for testing mids are a song called Ruby by Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabete which is acoustic West African lute harp music, with the Yaqin the notes appear to almost hang in the air as they play a chord and on the HE-6's it portrays it in the same way with instruments appearing in front of you and to the sides. No this song on the Marantz Pear Lite was flat and lifeless, with the Yaqin you can shut your eyes and almost imagine they are playing a live performance for you, I love it! I also use an acoustic recording of Winter by Tori Amos to test mids out as her voice in that recording is beautiful and almost haunting. It is a very transparent recording her voice on the Yaqin is straight in front of you and really stands out from the rest of the recording but never over shadows it and visa versa. I'm sure midrange can get better than this but I bet it would cost a lot of £££££ to get there!
The bass which again I found lacking on the 70w Marantz is now deep, textured, fast and above all accurate. While it doesn't quite have the speed and slam of a quality solid state bass it is still fast, powerful and would surprise people who think that valve amps are slow and mushy. The bass doesn't seem to get in the way of the mids either its just nicely in the background when required or pounding and upfront when the music dictates. One of my favourite albums is a Dub Step album by Benga called Diary of an African Warrior, what I like most about it is the recording quality which is top notch and I can only describe the bass lines in it as liquid, I always use it to test my system with bass. On my speakers (Usher s520's) the Yaqin literally bounces the bass round the room in waves that just seamlessly blend into each other and the same can be said on the HE-6's the bass is seductive! From my days of night clubbing I can honestly say that it reminds of that heavy tight almost dark bass sound that just makes you want to dance with a big dumb smile on your face. Of course I think a lot of this is down to the magical mids blending seamlessly with the bass when asked to.
Now to soundstage, it is both deep and wide, best I have heard yet on headphones, except for the HD800's but most importantly it seems accurate and holds position through a song. You can alter the sounstage quite a bit with different pre amp valves, the Mullards are great for vocals and instruments and create a slightly narrower but deeper more 3D soundstage, the voshods create a wider more HiFi soundstage which is great for rock and dance.
Now to the thing I like best about this behemoth of an amp is the fact you can tune it to the style of music you are listening to so easily by changing the pre amp valves, I use the excellent Mullard M8100 EF95's for vocals and instrumental music that require magical mids and use the Voshod gold grids for rock, dance or any other music that suits a more balanced performance, with the Mullards in place the vocals and instruments pop right out and sound so natural and engaging, only downside is that the soundstage narrows slightly but it does become deeper and more 3D. Now with the Voshods in place which are a very balanced almost neutral valve but with a with a stronger faster bass the soundstage widens which suits rock and dance music better. Although the differences aren't huge they are very noticeable and is worth the hassle of swapping the valves over occasionally. Its like having 2 or even 3 systems in one especially when I swap the valves round in my DAC as well that creates even more choices and options.
Now to the negatives and to be honest I haven't found many as of yet. The one thing I will say is that if you like your bass as hard and pounding as possible for house music, electro etc and that is what you listen to mainly then you might want to stick with a solid state amp as they do do bass harder and faster which at the end of the day is what EDM is all about. But if like me you listen to lots of different music and love vocals and mid range in general then the Yaqin is a great and all things considered quite cheap amp to drive them.
To sum up my findings of using the Yaqin to drive the HE-6's I will list its positive and negatives:
1 - Smooth non fatiguing highs that are still exciting and engaging
2 - A transparent and natural sounding mid range that is quite magical with the right recordings
3 - Bass that is both accurate, detailed, layered and has lots of slam when required, certainly not bass light which has been said about the Hifimans in the past.
4 - Plenty of power even when using the hifiman box which sucks up some of the power.
5 - Cheap when compared to some of the ultra pricey tube based headphone amps
6 - Although Chinese it is very well made and very heavy, I've owned it for a year now and it has never missed a beat and it was second hand when I picked it up.
7 - You can tune the sound to your music almost endlessly with different valves. You can take the HE-6 from being lush and mid-centric to a wider more HiFi sound so easily.
8 - Soundstage is excellent (not HD800 excellent but very good)
9 - To my ears they make the Hifiman HE-6 sing and sound alive which is not easy.
10 - Can listen to music on the HE-6 for hours at a time which again is not easy on some amps.
11 - I don't like the term analogue that much because what does it really mean? but If I was to say which of my computer based systems sounded more like a good quality Vinyl system then it would be this one albeit with out all the crackling and popping! the valves certainly remind me of that rich, easy to listen too sound I remember from my vinyl days but with more detail and precision.
1 - Bass not quite got the tight slam you get with a quality solid state amp, although its close enough for me and I do love a bit of dance music.
2 - Can listen to music for hours at a time, a con as I will surely end up deaf as a post!
I've been listening to music through the Yaqin and HE-6 whilst writing this review and to be honest it made it really enjoyable and time flew by, anyway I hope this might help someone out who is in the market for a quality speaker amp to power there beloved HE-6's. I know music is very subjective and a personal thing but it does power them very well and whilst I am not saying its better than this amp or that amp it does do the job very well and is another possible option out there. With my current set up I doubt I will be upgrading for quite sometime! which is a good thing as it has stopped me from bankrupting myself in the pursuit of audio nirvana, AMEN to that! and well done to the Chinese producing a quality sounding amp at a very competitive price, I'll rap it up there before I bore you all to death with my ramblings!