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Close to pulling the trigger on a Little Dot Mk II. Anything you'd recommend instead?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

I'm looking for a tube amp to complement my Schiit Modi 2U/Magni 2U. I thought about going with Schiit for the tube amp as well, but from what I read, even the Schiit tube amps are pretty honest and don't color the sound very much so I wouldn't hear much difference from my Magni 2U. The point is to get the unique sound signature of a tube amp.

 

From everything I've read, the Mk II offers great sound, HUGE amount of options for tube rolling, and is right around the price point I'm looking for. Is there anything else I haven't looked at that you'd recommend instead of the Mk II? What other options would be worth looking at?

 

Thanks!

post #2 of 10
The Project Ember from Garage1217 is well worth looking into.
post #3 of 10
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ericr View Post

The Project Ember from Garage1217 is well worth looking into.

 

Forgive the ignorance of this question, but what will be the difference in sound with the single preamp tube of the G1217 as compared to the Little Dot with 2 power tubes and 2 preamp tubes?

post #4 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by sloowhand View Post
 

 

Forgive the ignorance of this question, but what will be the difference in sound with the single preamp tube of the G1217 as compared to the Little Dot with 2 power tubes and 2 preamp tubes?

 

On the technical side, the Project Ember is a hybrid with a tube preamp stage and a solid state output stage (that one tube has two channels in it, ie, some OTL amps also have just one driver and one preamp tube, or one preamp tube), while the MkII is an output transformerless tube amp. The Ember will have less damping factor issues on low impedance headphone amps but the MkII will deliver more voltage into high impedance headphones. Now, given that high impedance cans (with the exception of really old headphones like the 600ohm K240) have high enough efficiency, a hybrid or SS amp can get 300ohm headphones like the HD600 much louder despite the lower output at that impedance range vs what an OTL amp can get out of a low impedance, lower sensitivity headphone like the HE400i or K702 given its lower output at 32ohms.

As for the actual sound, that depends. If the Ember is designed to be less of an amp and more as a warmifying colorifier, then it should be similar to the MkII, without the variable effects of how badly it will distort in either direction when driving a low impedance load. Or you can check the threads for it and see which tube will color the sound to what you like. Apart from the advantage of less risk with low impedance headphones, you only really need to switch out the preamp tube, and it uses only one of those, so that can be a lot cheaper for tube rolling.

post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ProtegeManiac View Post
 

 

On the technical side, the Project Ember is a hybrid with a tube preamp stage and a solid state output stage (that one tube has two channels in it, ie, some OTL amps also have just one driver and one preamp tube, or one preamp tube), while the MkII is an output transformerless tube amp. The Ember will have less damping factor issues on low impedance headphone amps but the MkII will deliver more voltage into high impedance headphones. Now, given that high impedance cans (with the exception of really old headphones like the 600ohm K240) have high enough efficiency, a hybrid or SS amp can get 300ohm headphones like the HD600 much louder despite the lower output at that impedance range vs what an OTL amp can get out of a low impedance, lower sensitivity headphone like the HE400i or K702 given its lower output at 32ohms.

As for the actual sound, that depends. If the Ember is designed to be less of an amp and more as a warmifying colorifier, then it should be similar to the MkII, without the variable effects of how badly it will distort in either direction when driving a low impedance load. Or you can check the threads for it and see which tube will color the sound to what you like. Apart from the advantage of less risk with low impedance headphones, you only really need to switch out the preamp tube, and it uses only one of those, so that can be a lot cheaper for tube rolling.

 

So based on all of this, I'm guessing that the G1217 would be the better way to go since I will be driving K172 Pros (62 Ohms/105 dB) and Meze 99 Classics (32Ohms/103 dB), both of which are pretty easy to drive.

 

The Mk II appealed to me because it was an all tube design. I already have a Schiit Magni 2U which is kind of the opposite of "tube-y", very clear and true. An all tube design, I thought, would be what I was looking for as a counterpoint to that. Most of what I had read about hybrids is that they generally sound a lot more like fully solid state amps than fully tube amps. Would this not be the case with the Ember?

post #6 of 10

Have you considered the DarkVoice 336SE?

It's all tube, not a hybrid. I haven't tried it myself, but it gets pretty good reviews. It's supposed to have a pretty deep/dark sound and be tube-y (because that's a word that I want to see in the dictionary :D).

 

Good luck!

post #7 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by sloowhand View Post

 

So based on all of this, I'm guessing that the G1217 would be the better way to go since I will be driving K172 Pros (62 Ohms/105 dB) and Meze 99 Classics (32Ohms/103 dB), both of which are pretty easy to drive.

 

Not that I think the G1217 can't pull that off but you need to hold off a bit on the "easy to drive" label on the K712. Note that there are two figures used for that - sensitivity and efficiency - and while both can be used they aren't the exact same thing. In many cases manufacturers use them interchangeably, using one label and using the other figure which is numerically higher. You don't get to see the full specs on the websites for example.

 

Here's an example from Audiobot 9000 using the Asgard on the HD600 (97.5dB) and K712 (92.9dB). Equations are logarithmic and not linear, but if the K712 is supposedly rated at 105dB and that was comparable to the 97dB used by Sennheiser on the HD600 product page, and with the K712 getting a heck of a lot more power, the discrepancy in output should be more than 1dB. At first I'd think they just messed up the numbers, but then I remember seeing the K701 having 101dB on the AKG website (but in other sites it's listed at 93dB, closer to what audiobot9000 has in the database).

 

Asgard puts 380mW into HD600, gets max SPL of 123dB

https://www.audiobot9000.com/match/sennheiser/hd-600/with/schiit/asgard-2

 

Asgard puts roughly a litle under 1000mW, gets max SPL of 122dB

https://www.audiobot9000.com/match/akg/k-712-pro/with/schiit/asgard-2

 

Basically, I'm saying Harman might have someone here reading the AKG threads and swapped out the figures at some point, which did lead to some threads having people quoting the 100dB+ figure and people thinking they should basically work like Grados. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Again, this has more to do with clarification rather than the particular amp in question (the G1217). 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by sloowhand View Post

 

The Mk II appealed to me because it was an all tube design. I already have a Schiit Magni 2U which is kind of the opposite of "tube-y", very clear and true. An all tube design, I thought, would be what I was looking for as a counterpoint to that. Most of what I had read about hybrids is that they generally sound a lot more like fully solid state amps than fully tube amps. Would this not be the case with the Ember?

 

As much as there is a stereotype of what "tube" sound is, that kind of sound isn't necessarily just what tubes are limited to, and conversely, neither are solid state amps. This kind of sound is more associated with certain circuit types, like triodes (vs ultralinear) and for headphone amps, output transformerless amps. Make a proper single ended push pull amp with nothing in the circuit to distort and color the sound, and it can drive even a low impedance AKG properly. Heck, even the Valhalla doesn't warm up the sound as much as other OTL amps, it just in a way rounds out the sharpest bits of the treble, but if the peak is there on the headphone response or on the recording, it won't obliterate it.

 

On the upside, amps that have a gentle blunting effect than total warmification won't be applying that excessively to parts that don't need blunting. Case in point: my HD600 with worn out pads*on the Little Dot MkII made Norah Jones sound like she needed to snort spicy chicken soup to clear her sinuses. It's like the HD600 went to Veiledsoundistan or Soundedarkabia, was put on videos, got shamed, probably lashed, developed Stockholm Syndrome, and then came back totally covered up because that's what a headphone should be like to the ears of the true believer in warm sound.

 

Similarly, hybrids aren't necessarily always closer to solid state. Maybe some distortion (or lack thereof) characteristics are more similar, in that the output stage would have more power at 32ohms than at 300ohms (the opposite of an OTL amplifier) and if the output impedance was low then it won't drastically have more distortion on a K702 vs an HD600, but the circuit can still be tuned to have a certain sound if the engineer wanted it that way.

 

At the same time it might not necessarily be what the engineer wanted, but what the user can do with it considering tube rolling is far easier to do than op-amp rolling (something that AFAIK you can't just do on discrete components either). So while some might roll tubes to prevent the blocked sinus tendency of the LD MkII and bring it a bit closer to the Valhalla, you can probably get a hybrid amp to get closer to the blocked sinus effect if you get the right tube. You'll need to read up on what the amp generally sounds like and what tube rollers got out of each replacement tube type. Just note that it isn't just the general tube type that can affect the sound but also the brand of the tube. Some differences in specs can have different effects on each circuit, but generally if we're talking preamp tubes, it will mostly be consistent that whatever tube is known to be warmer or brighter will generally remain so on whatever amp they're used on.

 

And again the advantage in this scenario is that the Ember will require only one tube, making it easier to track changes if you have to go through several to figure out the sound you like, rather than have to try preamp and driver tubes (and a pair of each too, so when you buy tubes, you have to match the measurements on each pair).

 

 

*note that I wore out the new pads and used it on a Meier amp without the sound getting like that

post #8 of 10
Also, with the Ember you can switch between 3 output impedance settings: .1 Ohms, 35 Ohms and 120 Ohms. For me the .1 setting is great with multi-driver BA iems, 35 Ohms with HE-560 and 120 with full size dynamic headphones such as thel T1 or HD800.

FYI, here is the power ratings for the Ember at the different impedance settings:

Ember.png
post #9 of 10
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ProtegeManiac View Post
 

 

Not that I think the G1217 can't pull that off but you need to hold off a bit on the "easy to drive" label on the K712. Note that there are two figures used for that - sensitivity and efficiency - and while both can be used they aren't the exact same thing. In many cases manufacturers use them interchangeably, using one label and using the other figure which is numerically higher. You don't get to see the full specs on the websites for example.

 

Here's an example from Audiobot 9000 using the Asgard on the HD600 (97.5dB) and K712 (92.9dB). Equations are logarithmic and not linear, but if the K712 is supposedly rated at 105dB and that was comparable to the 97dB used by Sennheiser on the HD600 product page, and with the K712 getting a heck of a lot more power, the discrepancy in output should be more than 1dB. At first I'd think they just messed up the numbers, but then I remember seeing the K701 having 101dB on the AKG website (but in other sites it's listed at 93dB, closer to what audiobot9000 has in the database).

 

Asgard puts 380mW into HD600, gets max SPL of 123dB

https://www.audiobot9000.com/match/sennheiser/hd-600/with/schiit/asgard-2

 

Asgard puts roughly a litle under 1000mW, gets max SPL of 122dB

https://www.audiobot9000.com/match/akg/k-712-pro/with/schiit/asgard-2

 

Basically, I'm saying Harman might have someone here reading the AKG threads and swapped out the figures at some point, which did lead to some threads having people quoting the 100dB+ figure and people thinking they should basically work like Grados. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Again, this has more to do with clarification rather than the particular amp in question (the G1217). 

 

 

As much as there is a stereotype of what "tube" sound is, that kind of sound isn't necessarily just what tubes are limited to, and conversely, neither are solid state amps. This kind of sound is more associated with certain circuit types, like triodes (vs ultralinear) and for headphone amps, output transformerless amps. Make a proper single ended push pull amp with nothing in the circuit to distort and color the sound, and it can drive even a low impedance AKG properly. Heck, even the Valhalla doesn't warm up the sound as much as other OTL amps, it just in a way rounds out the sharpest bits of the treble, but if the peak is there on the headphone response or on the recording, it won't obliterate it.

 

On the upside, amps that have a gentle blunting effect than total warmification won't be applying that excessively to parts that don't need blunting. Case in point: my HD600 with worn out pads*on the Little Dot MkII made Norah Jones sound like she needed to snort spicy chicken soup to clear her sinuses. It's like the HD600 went to Veiledsoundistan or Soundedarkabia, was put on videos, got shamed, probably lashed, developed Stockholm Syndrome, and then came back totally covered up because that's what a headphone should be like to the ears of the true believer in warm sound.

 

Similarly, hybrids aren't necessarily always closer to solid state. Maybe some distortion (or lack thereof) characteristics are more similar, in that the output stage would have more power at 32ohms than at 300ohms (the opposite of an OTL amplifier) and if the output impedance was low then it won't drastically have more distortion on a K702 vs an HD600, but the circuit can still be tuned to have a certain sound if the engineer wanted it that way.

 

At the same time it might not necessarily be what the engineer wanted, but what the user can do with it considering tube rolling is far easier to do than op-amp rolling (something that AFAIK you can't just do on discrete components either). So while some might roll tubes to prevent the blocked sinus tendency of the LD MkII and bring it a bit closer to the Valhalla, you can probably get a hybrid amp to get closer to the blocked sinus effect if you get the right tube. You'll need to read up on what the amp generally sounds like and what tube rollers got out of each replacement tube type. Just note that it isn't just the general tube type that can affect the sound but also the brand of the tube. Some differences in specs can have different effects on each circuit, but generally if we're talking preamp tubes, it will mostly be consistent that whatever tube is known to be warmer or brighter will generally remain so on whatever amp they're used on.

 

And again the advantage in this scenario is that the Ember will require only one tube, making it easier to track changes if you have to go through several to figure out the sound you like, rather than have to try preamp and driver tubes (and a pair of each too, so when you buy tubes, you have to match the measurements on each pair).

 

 

*note that I wore out the new pads and used it on a Meier amp without the sound getting like that

 

This single post was probably the best, most succinct explanation I've read yet on the subject of SS/hybrid/tubes. Thank you very much for taking the time to post it.

 

And the bottom line seems to be, if I am understanding everything correctly, the biggest difference between SS and anything with tubes is that the tube just allows for modification of the sound whereas a solid state is whatever the engineer decided it was going to be. You could make a fully tube amp sound like any solid state if you were able to find the right tube to create that sound. The tube, whether a single tube like the Ember or four like the LDMkII, just gives you flexibility in customizing the sound to your liking by rolling tubes. Am I understanding that correctly.

 

All of this said, which of the two amps would you say is the best for my collection of headphones (if a recommendation can be made): AKG 712 Pro, Meze 99 Classics, and MEE Pinnacle P1 IEMs? Or is there something else you would suggest?

post #10 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by sloowhand View Post

 

And the bottom line seems to be, if I am understanding everything correctly, the biggest difference between SS and anything with tubes is that the tube just allows for modification of the sound whereas a solid state is whatever the engineer decided it was going to be. You could make a fully tube amp sound like any solid state if you were able to find the right tube to create that sound. The tube, whether a single tube like the Ember or four like the LDMkII, just gives you flexibility in customizing the sound to your liking by rolling tubes. Am I understanding that correctly.

 

Actually you can make some solid state amps sound different from what it sounds like with default parts, but you can't just do that with discrete components since many of them aren't interchangeable. Op-Amps are, but unless it's an SMT socket, it would require desoldering and resoldering unlike the usual tube mount (note that they can also be soldered on) which just requires you to "roll" the tube around to slowly pull it off the socket.

 

And in any case it won't be a total "whatever you like" in the same sense as using EQ, but you can shift the overall balance of the sound. What you have to watch out for is the noise levels, whether microphonic (ie due to vibrations) or due to high gain (or a crappy tube).

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