The purpose of this review is to compare the Vorzuge VorzAmp Pure II with the Portaphile Micro (OPA627 version). For my needs, they are the current top portable amps on the market. While there are many other choices out there, these two amps were chosen because they met my key criteria:
- Could drive planar headphones well
- Do not hiss with sensitive IEMs
- Have a single-ended design
As this is a comparative review, I will not go into detail about each amp independently. I'm a huge fan of Nathan at ohm-image.net and I think he does a phenomenal job of this. His photos are also stellar. My job here is to give you my opinion on the better amp based on my musical preferences, my current headphones, and my own personal quirks.
I've recently returned to head-fi after a few years away to check out the new gear. After sorting through the recent elite headphones, I've settled on the LCD-X and the SE846 as my latest favorites. They have replaced the JH16Pro, LCD-3, and HD800s in my last head-fi excursion. While I still love my WA7, I wanted to replace the Centrance HiFi-M8. Unfortunately, I never found the sound from the HiFi-M8 to be better than the Corda Quickstep and SR-71A that it replaced. Now that it is easier to get sound out of a iPhone device using an external DAC and IOS7+, it's time for me to get back to finding the best amp for my needs.
To be transparent, there are a few things you should know about me:
- I hate hissing. I hear it at low levels and it prevents me from enjoying my music. My introduction to high-end portable amps was the SR-71 so the bar was set very high a long time ago. This also disqualifies most of the Cypher Labs, ALO, and Centrance amps
- I don't like balanced sound. While I hear the differences between single-ended and balanced amps, I think that balanced amps sound unnatural and the benefits are overstated. Even with Ray Samuel's awesome amps, I still think that the ones that focus on balanced sound (SR-71B, Intruder, Lightning) are not as enjoyable. The best single-ended amps sound amazing and they don't require the purchase of custom cables with strange connectors
- I think changes in DACs are subtle. I am using the DAC in my WA7 for this review because I am intimately familiar with the PCM5102A chip that is in it. I love it more than significantly more expensive DACs. I had a Cypher Labs CLAS DB+ available as well, but I prefer the DAC in the WA7
- I don't care about cables or power cords. I have never been able to tell the difference in double blind testing and I never will
- I stick with 256 kbps AAC. I have never been able to tell the difference in double blind testing and I never will UNTIL they do a better job of mastering the music
If two things perform the same function in my head-fi kit, I will only go with one. There are no ties in my world; there are only winners and losers
- DAC - Woo Audio WA7
- Cable - Ted's Ear Candy RCA-to-Mini
- Audeze LCD-X with Q Audio cable
- Shure SE846 with default cable
- Vorzuge VorzAmp Pure II
- Portaphile Micro
- Omen - The Prodigy
- Ecstatic Drums - Rusted Root
- Hanuman - Rodrigo y Gabriella
- Attaboy - Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan
- Black Skinhead - Kanye West
- Run - AIR
- Run the World - Beyonce
- Can't Hold Us - Macklemore
- Roundtable Rival - Lindsey Sterling
- Dying Day - Brandi Carlile
Both the Portaphile Micro and the Vorzuge Pure II are a step above any other portable amp I have ever owned. They retrieve more micro-details and deliver sound with more confidence and speed. I never felt like the LCD-X was losing its magic at normal listening levels; this is something I've noticed when going amp-less or with last generation portable amps. The SE846 is also more polished with tighter sound and a much bigger sound stage. I can also spend more time listening to the music without any fatigue.
However, these amps have their own personalities:
- The Vorzuge Pure II seems to increase the contrast between the silence in the music and the next beat. This gives the impression that the sound punches through the silence which is an incredibly engaging way to hear music. The bass extension is incredible and the mid-range can be rich and colorful. However, the Pure II is the most unforgiving amp I've ever heard. Music consists of ebbs and flows; some of which inspire you and some of which you could live without. Forgiving amps tend to be neutral - they allow the music to blend in a way that makes it easier to forget specific segments and consider the overall impact. This is what we encounter when we listen to live music - we can ignore the beats that are missed because we are listening to the song instead of the distinct instruments. The Vorzuge Pure II does not do this. Instead, every mistake is exaggerated and will penalize the listener.
- The Portaphile Micro is a more natural sounding amplifier. You can choose to listen to details or you can let them settle in the background. No parts of the spectrum feel special. Instead of popping the music at you, the Portaphile Micro surrounds you with sound so that you can go exploring. This approach seems to increase the soundstage while reducing the angst that comes from misaligned beats.
In the end, I spent more time listening to the Portaphile Micro. The Portaphile Micro let me wander into the music and choose what to focus on. The Vorzuge Pure II robbed me of those choices; it had a perspective on what I should hear and it would emphasize it over everything else.
The build quality of the amps is excellent. However, the Vorzuge has a lot of colored markings that look like they are easy to scratch off. On the other hand, the Portaphile Micro has all its decorations etched into the durable case. In pictures, the Vorzuge looks significantly better than the Portaphile; however, it's a tie when you see them side by side.
The location and usability of all the controls on the amp are much better on the Portaphile Micro. Instead of having a separate on/off switch, the Portaphile Micro has the on/off built into the volume control. Turn the volume all the way off, and you turn off the amp. Not only does this prevent you from turning on the amp for an sensitive IEM when the volume is set too high, it also provides more room on the front of the amp for all the ports. I do appreciate the three gain settings on the Vorzuge Pure II though. The two gain settings on the Portaphile Micro were both too high for much control with the SE846. The lowest of the three gain settings on the Vorzuge Pure II was perfect.
I'm going to be blunt. I like the Mini-USB connector on the Portaphile Micro much more than the Micro-USB connector on the Vorzuge II Pure. I hate Micro-USB. It almost looks reversible but it is not. I often wonder about many Android phones have been broken because someone tried to force the cable in the wrong way. If it isn't reversible like the Lightning connector or USB Type C, then it should be clear which way is the correct way to plug something in. Mini-USB passes that test.
The LED on the Vorzuge Pure II is blinding. I got a custom Vorzuge Pure II with a dimmed LED and it was still far too bright. I listen to music in the dark next to a sleeping partner and a baby. If I wanted a $600 torch, I would get a Vorzuge Pure II. The Portaphile Micro is much more subtle. Can I solve this problem with some black tape? Yes, but then there would be no indication that the amp was on.
The battery life of the Vorzuge Pure II is 10 hours while I could only get 4.5 hours for the Portaphile Micro. For my usage, this did not matter at all. I don't tend to use a portable amp for more than three hours at a time. Interestingly enough, this might be the first time that I've actually had the chance to test battery life on a portable amp since I listened to them in much longer stints than any other portable amp I've ever used.
I liked the Portaphile Micro much more than I liked the Vorzuge Pure II. The pairing with the LCD-X was amazing and it was excellent with the SE846. In terms of technicalities, you can't go wrong with either portable amp. However, I did not jive with the way the Vorzuge VorzAmp Pure II presented my music.
Edited by utdeep - 4/4/15 at 12:27pm