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Rega Ear + HD650 (+Oehlbach) + Aureon 5.1 Sky review

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 
Hello world

Only yesterday I received my new Rega Ear as a result of a deal with a fellow head-fier "tigger" (Norm). I had become very curious as to what this cheap little amp was really able to do. Many of you guys around here seem to highly appreciate its quality/price value and so I chose to get my hands on this good deal.
Before I was even perfectly satisfied with my setup, but you all know that there's no escape once the upgraditis bites you
I have been using the HD650 straight out of my Terratec Aureon 5.1 Sky (which has a small internal headphone amp) and was very happy with the results so far. The sound was crystal clear, transparent, detailed, rich, textured and there was plenty of bass which I liked. The internal amp really seemed to do its job pretty well. There wasn't any problem driving the HD650s to ear deafening levels.
As for the comparison of the stock cable and the Oehlbach I can say that the Oehlbach really improved on soundstaging and overall bass performance. The bass became a little more prominent, a little more defined, it just seemed like an overall improvement to the headphone.
But as time goes by, you get used to the amazing sound quality you have and you strive for something better.

First impressions
First of all, let me say that I have been using high quality MP3s (192-320 with best LAME encoding) and OGGs as my sources for a longer period of time. I used those as my point of reference for this review, because I know most of them very well.
I also used some original CDs to see how much detail there really is in these recordings.

Ok then, I'll not get lost in too much detail about sources, audio compression, downsides of MP3s etc. etc. I'll just start right through with my experiences

When I plugged in the Rega yesterday (using a cheap 5€ 3,5mm->cinch connector adapter to feed the Rega from my soundcard and a 220V->110V Voltage converter because the Rega I have is the canadian version) I immediately noticed some changes in sound. It was true it could sound even better. However, I admittedly was a little disappointed at first, because from the reports from some of you, I had expected a dedicated headphone amp to be a major upgrade. I had no idea how a headphone could possibly sound any better, but somehow it did. And slowly I began to realize how exactly the sound had changed.
However, when I heard the Rega for the very first time, I almost felt confirmed in my conviction that I had been basically fine with only my soundcard as an amp. Then again, on the second listen, I noticed how much more detail this little unimposing box was able to tease out of the HD650s. The soundstage now feels much wider, everything seems like it has more space and more air to it. The instrument separation has clearly improved as well, its very much unlike before when you had the feeling you're being presented a mudball of music, when things get a little more complex. Of course it doesn't strike you when you don't know anything better - the sound before was perfectly fine and already very impressive.
Now with the Rega, there's more timbre and more musicality to some instruments which got a little lost in the mix before. Suddenly an electric guitar stands out and really has a different tone to it when before it only seemed like an indefinite noise in the cacaphony (exaggerated comparison).
The detail now is downright amazing. I really get the feeling that I missed out a lot before. There's a lot that simply couldn't shine through but is now clearly "visible" (audible). It is like having a new microscope with a three times better magnification which allows you to see a lot more into depth right now, where many things seemed blurred before.
Another thing I noticed is that the treble stands out a little more every now and then. Still the treble is not very emphasized, clearly the midrange and bass outperform it in sheer volume. The highs are a little rolled-off if you will, but they're clearly so much more extended and articulate if you really listen to them. Before I often had the feeling that the treble, as well as the finest details, got somehow lost in the overall presentation. The missing treble extension was the only thing that kind of bothered me with the sound before. But as it seems, the problem is now cured.

Now that I feel there's a lot more detail, I find myself paying more attention to the midrange and the highs, whereas before I was much more attracted to bass. I love a good amount of bass, sometimes I even love to crank it up a lot (I'm a part-time basshead and the HD650 is very capable of getting the job done for me). But right now I feel my attention is more focused on other parts of the spectrum. Its a different type of listening now which definitely needs some adjustment.
If anything, I feel that the bass has decreased in volume a little bit. But it might just be the effect I just described. It is still as defined and deep as before, the overall bass atriculation hasn't changed all that much. It's the other parts of the spectrum that really seemed to benefit from this upgrade.

Coming to a conclusion I'll have to say that for me the upgrade was definitely worth it. Considering the price and the opportunity (christmas) were right, I think it was a good deal
I'm really impressed with the improvement it made, however I wouldn't say the changes are very drastic. Many people wouldn't bother with the differences I dare to say. And it was more than one person that was impressed with the HD650's sound with the Aureon + HD650 only combo before.
I can safely say that the Aureon is very capable of driving the HD650 and it is surely a very good setup which would be a partial headphone nirvana for most of us. However, the improvement is undeniable, the HD650 now sound clearly better and I can see that some people would value such an improvement very highly. It just makes the HD650s a more musical headphone, it just sounds more versatile and "complete" right now.

So, if you can get a Rega for a good price and you're into maximizing your listening enjoyment, you should seriously consider this combination. And if you're having doubts about sound cards as sources - I can assure you that the sound really stands nothing short of a mid-level CD player. Of course my experience is very limited in terms of high-end equipment. But my experience simply tells me that the my sound card does its job as a source pretty damn well...
another very important point is: I still find the convenience of having a computer with a huge hard disk as storage unbeatable. I really don't like to play disk jockey with CDs
I'm quite happy that nowadays sound cards can sound this good!

Hope I could be helpful with this review and represent my experiences vividly. I'd love to read some feedback, comments, questions, anything

post #2 of 3
Glad you like your upgrade Ben, enjoying the music is what counts.
post #3 of 3
Thanks for taking the time to wright a very informative review . I have just ordered the Rega ear myself . My cans are AKG Q 701. .I know that Rega is a Big Bang for the buck company. as far as entry level audiophile equipment goes.
THIER commitment to music reproduction playback is very evadent if you read All the reviews of THIER turntables and CD players available on the web . They typically seem to stack up well against more expensive audio equipment on a regular bases . It's all subjective though to affordability , features , and most of all pairing of equipment to achieve the voiceing we as individuals want of our equipment . Where we find that moment that takes us to a place that's bliss .
My preference in audio equipment lends itself to tube audio .
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