Collecting music, music listening, playing with amps, modding headphones.
MrSpeakers Alpha Prime
T50RP Mayflower V1 w/Boompro
Koss Porta Pro (Kramer mod, Yaxi pads)
Koss Porta Pro X (Kramer mod, Yaxi pads)
The following is not merely an article for praising gear. It is a record of my journey through this headphone hobby. I maintain it as a reminder of my experiences and as a body of the knowledge learned from such experiences.
I usually prefer closed or semi-open headphones, I may update these impressions periodically as I listen to the headphones more.
♦♦♦Koss Porta Pro [Unexpected gem]- Most recent aquisition in 2019, after having obtained the KPH30i and KSC75. I liked these so much after using them for a short period (and modding them) that I also bought a Porta Pro X from Massdrop to have a spare set.
Zeos of Z Reviews recently said of the KPH30i: "This is the best thing Koss makes"
I disagree with Z on this and will state the PortaPro is actually the best thing Koss makes.
I love the midrange on the Porta Pro. In fact, the ZMF Eikon and Ether C Flow 1.1 are the only headphones to have a better-executed midrange to my ears...and yes that is compared to EVERY other headphone on this list.
It doesn't stop there; the bass has great heft and extends just enough to satisfy my basshead tendencies. The treble is not great, however and its pretty dark and what is there is faint and possibly grainy at times. This is where the mods come in.
My version of the Kramer mod drills 9 holes in the grille, using an 1/8" drill bit. 1 Hole in center and 4 holes in-between the open spaces in the mid-section and 4 more holes between the open spaces in the outer-edge. Next, get some yaxi pads.
The Kramer mod improves clarity and opens up the sound slightly, while the Yaxi pads put the driver further away from your ear without altering the sound signature. To my ear, the sound is improved to near perfection with these mods and the soundstage/imaging is superb. PortaPro might well be my endgame in a sea of more expensive planars.
▲Pros- Time-tested, convenient design. Sounds great out of the box. Massdrop version is quite stylish.
▲Cons- Stock pads suck. Modding with Kramer and Yaxi pads is highly recommended, but worthwhile.
♦♦♦Koss KPH30i [THE default headset]- Had my eyes on these for a while now, but waited for Z Reviews' approval to make the leap.
Take the KSC75, give it a (good) headband, better pads, a (decent) microphone, widen the soundstage, give it sub-bass and relax/darken the sound a bit..enter KPH30i. These are the most versatile and useful headphones ever, at only the cost of a V-Moda Boompro. They are the best headphone to use from a phone, portably.
What do they sound most like? Eikon comes to mind, just they are a lot darker sound than Eikon. After extensively comparing to Porta Pro..yes, I can see some preferring the Porta Pro for its less-darkened sound. KPH30i and Porta Pro are different enough to complement each other, imo.
▲Pros- Bass extension, decent soundstage, non-fatiguing. Sounds great for most genres.
▲Cons- Dual-exit cable is VERY thin and prone to kink. Warmth in bass and overall dark sound can mask detail at times, slight glare or odd brightness in upper-midrange, could be more forward in mids.
This headphone is easily the king of T50 mods and new top-pick for sound of all the headphones in my collection as of May 2019.
The sound is as follows: Imagine a wide, spacious soundstage with all the essential parts of the music leaping out at you. It has an incredible amount of bass, but is balanced with a surprising amount of clarity and cleanliness to the sound. This headphone absolutely floored me with how good it makes well-recorded tracks sound.
This headphone can handle higher volume (without breakup/distortion/sibilance) than any headphone I have ever used...its like the Mad Dog Pro on steroids.
The Argon MK3 is also the easiest to drive T50 mod I've used..requiring slightly less power than Alpha Prime.
■Argon vs Alpha Prime: The Prime's bass has finally met its match, with the Argon being more consistent and powerful. Argon is nearly as transparent, but it edges out the Primes midrange tone and with smoother treble. Argon is the new champion.
■Argon vs Mayflower V1: Much more obviously detailed and brighter sound tilt than Argons. However, Argon is a more refined sound with a MUCH larger soundstage. Argons greatest trait is its clarity, it is much easier to enjoy while being very close in detail retrieval and neutrality.
■Argon vs ZMF Eikon: The Argons slight bump in perceived detail and smoother upper-midrange win out here. Argon has better bass extention as well, by a hair. Otherwise, these phones are not too different. Eikon is no slouch, as its preferrable if you want the cleanest bass, vocals and a less darkened sound overall.
■Argon vs ZMF Ori: Argon and Ori share one trait in bass impact, it is tremendous. The Argon is much tighter through the bass and lower mids and is overall closer to neutral. Upper mids were a bit abrasive on Ori at times and upper-treble seemed a bit muted. Argon is far more refined in the mids and treble.
The biggest surprise of the Argon is its ability to have a somewhat forward vocal range amid the impressive soundstage and bass. I don't know how a headphone with such warmth can have this level of clarity. Argon has the exact type of sound I look for in a headphone, they sound tuned 'just for me'.
▲Pros- Zero complaints in sound quality; Surprisingly transparent, full-range bass and killer bass quality, midrange has great tone (very pleasing, euphoric?), treble quality and detail is among the best(very forgiving without sacrificing detail). Big and well-proportioned soundstage, excellent seperation, good imaging, most comfortable headphone to date (ZMF Protein pads + deerskin head-strap). Amazing value...slays many headphones several times the cost.
▲Cons- Wait time if ordered new, 11 weeks for me..but its worth the wait. Isolation and soundleak are subpar for a 'closed' headphone.
♦♦♦Alpha Prime - [For music/Detailed/Transparent/Neutral sound] When I feel like taking a song apart or combing through every detail, the Alpha Prime is my go-to headphone.
The Ether C Flow 1.1 is the closest competitor to the Prime, imo. AP have a slight boost in bass and recessed midrange in comparison and probably 90% of the resolution of ECF 1.1, but AP's dynamics are superior and transparency is pretty close.
NOTE: These headphones are very particular in their responsiveness to burn-in and they definitely sound 'off' when you are coming from other headphones. They lack a mid-bass emphasis that most other headphones have to some degree.
Having tried every single other closed MrSpeakers headphone, I feel the Alpha Prime is a true standout in the lineup.
Compared to the Ori and MFV1 they have the coldest and least accurate midrange tonality (think texture more than warmth) but the way they present music as a whole cannot be denied..you get every little detail.
My original set of alpha primes had the most prominent sub-bass I have ever heard in a headphone without EQ. Initially, my second set had a definite drop in sub-bass level..difference in tuning? After 50+ hours of burn in and frequent listening and comparing to my other headphones, they have improved drastically to the point of making me a true believer in burn-in.
The Ori takes the crown for bass and sub-bass after a recent comparison, particularly in impact and presence. However, I found that while the Ori's bass is ever present and involving, the Prime's bass is chameleon-like; super -transparent and well integrated into any recording.
The mid-bass sounds perfectly balanced to my ears; its just low enough in level to keep rhythm and bass guitars ringing clear, but without affecting the superb quality of percussion instruments.
The entire midrange is smooth and neither forward or recessed, though at times they seem to recess vocals a bit on some songs (this is the only flaw I can detect on the Prime).
Treble is probably the most impressively executed of the frequencies and is one of the first things most will notice when listening to the Prime. It can get a bit much on poorly recorded music, but sibilance is almost never a problem.
There is a lot of ''air frequency'' present that I have yet to hear in any other headphone. This 'air' is what I believe helps tease out the soundstage to appear wider than it actually is, in conjunction with the slightly recessed midrange. This leaves plenty of room for well-recorded tracks to breathe.
The Prime has exceptional imaging and incredible soundstage. The soundstage is the one thing that sets it apart from any other headphone I have ever heard; it has a unique spherical quality that surrounds you with music and the performing instruments. Everything has its own space with superb separation. The stage width is not super wide, but I find it is always adequate.
The Prime also has the best imaging I've ever heard in any closed headphone (and anything on this list), it is VERY specific with well recorded tracks.
These are my primary can for metal music and they have among the best detail delivery of anything on this list. The Primes have the unique ability to let you analyze music and enjoy the heck out of it all the same, and that is why they are the endgame headphone for me, no doubt. I sold them once before, but am taking ownership of a new set...they are quite special.
If the Mad Dog Pro and Alpha Dog had a baby this would be it. They are also slightly easier to drive than any other T50 I have tried, modded or stock.
One funny story regarding isolation: My girlfriend once was listening to music right next to me with the Primes. It was being powered by the Schiit Fulla 1 and she had the volume knob turned VERY loud..like 70%-80% volume...louder than I would ever listen. Regardless, I had to get within 6 inches of the ear cups to hear the sound leak. The Prime has superb isolation..at least as good as the Aeon.
Alpha Prime Summary-
▲Pros- Transparent to well-recorded music, sub-bass, soundstage, imaging, excellent detail retrieval, isolation, relatively neutral.
▲Cons- Mids are slightly recessed at times, reveals recording flaws (a good thing if you're an analytical type, like myself)
♦♦♦T50RP MK3 Mayflower-V1- [For gaming/neutral sound/midrange clarity]
Their sound consists of hammer-like bass that strikes a nice balance of precision and impact. The midrange is upfront and clear as a bell, treble is neutral with a touch of excitement. The overall presentation is an in-your-face style. Their only fault is a lack of bass extension, but most of my listening does not utilize that spectrum of sound. Next to Alpha Prime, these are my favorite headphone for metal music.
This headphone is fairly light for a planar and very comfortable. It has superb tonal accuracy as well; no annoying peaks or oddities, just superb neutrality..everything just sounds right! Like an HD600 with a touch more speed and cleaner bass. They are so..forward in their presentation, but in a way that I truly enjoy.
The Mayflower mod does darken the headphone a bit, relative to the stock mk3. As a consequence the impression of detail is not nearly as impressive as something like the TH900 or Alpha Prime, but detail-wise they still beat most other headphones due to their decent speed in rendering music.
They are a potential endgame headphone for some people, but you need to feed it power...POWER. You need at least a Magni 2 Uber to power it, nothing less (particularly for quietly mastered tracks). For what they can do at their price, they render cost = performance as irrelevant.
If you own the stock MK3, you NEED to mod them. So much potential to be found.
NOTE: I further modified these Mayflower V1 with 3M Micropore Gentle Paper Tape, all eight baffle bass-ports are sealed with it. The paper tape is slightly breathable and does not have the effect of muddying the bass that using solid material (like duct tape) normally does. This mod stabilizes the bass; extension is satisfyingly low, upper-bass is not overdone. I highly recommended this mod, rankings below reflect this.
Mayflower V1 Summary-
▲Pros: superb combination of clarity and speed, excellent mid-range, easy-to-modify bass, treble is super accurate, works great with V-moda boompro
▲Cons: Almost sibilant in upper treble, soundstage is relatively small, but its ability to image is exceptional.
♦♦♦ZMF Eikon - Despite the fact that these are not a neutral headphone, they fall well within the boundaries of what a neutral headphone is supposed to do. The Eikon is what I would like to call ''Warm-Reference''. Its quite a good all-rounder headphone.
The sound is well extended on both ends with notable technicalities; good soundstage, excellent imaging and air, surprising speed, and visceral dynamics. It reminds me a lot of the HD600 but more forward in a few specific areas, namely in sub-bass and upper-mids.
There is a characteristic ZMF warmth or slight thickness to the overall sound that keeps sibilance and brightness under control for the most part, but without removing all of the zest and excitement from the signature. No other headphone possesses the same quality of bass, vocals and air.
They are not the ultimate transparent headphone; they are not neutral enough for that. They are a quality, relaxing sounding and adequately detailed headphone that are easy to power and isolate superbly. They are far more versatile than the ZMF Planars, from which the Eikon is an obvious upgrade path.
▲Pros- Excellent dynamics and frequency response, wide soundstage, quick and resolving with minimal sibilance. Bass response is especially clean..maybe the cleanest I have ever heard.
▲Cons- Not the most transparent, revealing upper-mids can incite glare from poorly recorded tracks.
♦♦♦Koss KSC75 - [Portable solution]- These are as good as everyone says. They lack sub-bass but excel everywhere else after the Kramer mod is performed. Highlights are wide soundstage, airy detailed treble, robust bass, great instrument seperation. They do not possess the clarity of a good planar but they have surprising speed and snap for a dynamic driver. They are easy to drive/store/wear and are super cheap + comfort beats all other headphones. Overall sound is Neutral with a very slight mid-bass boost. They remind me most of the NAD HP50, but with less sub-bass. Not even considering the $15 cost, they are a very enjoyable listen. In fact, they get nearly as much head-time as my Alpha Primes. Everyone should own a set of the KSC75, imo. Certainly worthy of ''daily driver'' status.
♦♦♦Tin T2 - [Isolating portable solution] - I will be blunt; these T2 are Alpha Prime, but in portable form. Simply cover the tip-side bass port with 3M Micropore Gentle Paper Tape and these become end-game bass cannons. Best sub-bass I have yet heard in any type of headphone (even argon). This mod can rarely make some music sound too warm/full, but if you want outstanding rumble for cheap..these are it.
In Stock/non-modded form they are likely the most neutral thing I've heard. Resembling the Mayflower V1 but with better bass extension and calmer highs.
♦♦♦ZMF Aeolus - Initially, I was unimpressed with the Aeolus..it is a stark departure from the kind of sound I prefer. This one is a bit polarizing; its a bit on the lean side for my preferences, but it still has some good merits. The bass extends well and is overall great in all aspects. Midrange is a bit too intense for my liking, I prefer a bit more body here as well. Treble is the highlight of this headphone (and the imaging), probably the best treble performance I have heard in a headphone.
In the end, I still prefer the Eikon in the ZMF lineup, my preference for closed headphones plays a big part in this.
Sound rankings, this will be only for T50RP mods from now on. (this is for personal reference, your results may vary based on amp and music preference):
Argon: Protein pads, AP: Alpha pads, MFV1: 1540 pads, Ori: Ori pads
Argon > AP > MFV1 > Ori
Distortion(linearity at high volume, best to worst):
Argon > Ori > AP > MFV1
Transparency (you hear the music more than the headphone, best to worst):
AP > Argon > MFV1 > Ori
Isolation and sound leak (best to worst): AP > Ori > MFV1 > Argon
Sub-bass quality: AP > Argon > Ori > MFV1
Sub-bass amount: Ori > Argon > AP > MFV1
Mid-bass quality: AP > Argon > MFV1 > Ori
Mid-bass amount: Ori > Argon > MFV1 > AP
Bass quality overall: AP = Argon > MFV1 > Ori
MFV1 > Argon > Ori > AP
Upper-Mid / Lower-Treble presence:
AP > MFV1 > Argon > Ori
MFV1 > AP > Argon > Ori
Treble pain (fatigue; most to least):
MFV1 > AP > Ori > Argon
Argon > Ori > AP > MFV1
AP > Argon > MFV1 > Ori
Argon > AP > Ori > MFV1
MFV1 > AP > Argon > Ori
AP = MFV1 > Argon > Ori
Argon > Ori > MFV1 > AP
NOTE: Even though I rank Argon higher than Alpha Prime, a '10' score is reserved for a 'perfect' headphone, which may or may not exist. Argon is freaking close, though.
-Rank of current headphones sound quality, according to my preference (0-10):
Argon MK3 - 9.5
Alpha Prime - 9
ZMF Eikon - 8.5
Mayflower V1 - 8
Tin T2 - 7 (8 with Bass mod)
-Koss gets its own list, most to least favorite:
1. Porta Pro - These are my favorite portable headphone..and one of my favorites, period. Kramer-mod the grilles and add yaxi pads to make them shine. Best midrange presentation...even better than most headphones I've heard. Warm, good extension on both ends and very clean. They are like an MDR-V6 without the discomfort or the sibilant treble.
2. KPH30i - They are a bit too dark, but are right on the heels of the porta pro and need no modding to sound their best.
3. KSC75 - Competent performer, but a bit on the lean side in comparison.
Used to own and description of each:
♦Aiwa Shellz - Purchased in 2001, my first actual headphone(of the ones I can remember). I had a version of these with the ordinary vertical headband (a'la Koss KPH7). They blew my mind. I was on a musical pursuit ever since. I used them for countless hours until channel failure. It was a sad day when they died; being in high school and usually broke kept me from replacing them. They remind me a LOT of the KSC75 I currently own and adore..maybe they're a spiritual predecessor of sorts?
♦MDR-G57 Street - Still own them, actually, but only use them to test for amp hiss and other testing. They're fairly good, basically a warmer/less detailed KSC75.
♦MDR-V150 - Cheap fun, used them until they broke. Taped them back together until they broke again. Then I used epoxy to no success. I did not want to let them go. Poor things :[
♦RP-HTX7 - Best $30 I ever spent on a headphone. If I was poor, they would be my daily driver. I sold them to a co-worker and now he's become an audio junkie as well :)
♦ATH-M30 - Pleasant and warm but muffled and uncomfortable..just average.
♦MDR-V6 - My audio 'gateway drug', these changed my life. These turned my audio world from a hobby to an obsession. They have always been special to me and still are. Euphonic and sharp. After the pads fell apart I sold them :[
♦ATH-M50x - Great first impression, bass for days. Then after a while the narrow stage, boring/flat midrange and comfort really got to me. HAD to sell them.
Actually had my girlfriend listen to them back when I first got them. She immediately said: ''Oh my god, you can hear everything!''
So, yes, they are impressively detailed, but in an uncomfortable way (to my ears).
♦Shure SRH840 - Think M50x but with no glaring negatives in sound, though they may be a touch bright for some people. Comfort is just average, but better pads than M50X at least. Neutral. Moved onto better things eventually.
♦Nad HP50 - Best bass on this list (except the V6 and the planars). WHY do these have to have such small pads and weird build?! The sound is...damn good. If NAD/PSB could make another version of this headphone with bigger/comfortable pads and a more 'stock headphone' build quality, I would be all over it. You can always hope and dream :[
♦HD598 - Amazing overall quality, but I like bass. Wanted to keep these so bad :[
♦HD600 - Owned these longer than any other headphone, LOVED them (especially with tube amps). They can bring out emotions (much like the V6). The only open-back headphone I truly liked. Unfortunately, after I moved on to planar headphones, they were done. Long live HD600.
♦Mad Dog Pro - I am biased a bit towards MrSpeakers headphones. These are fun. You want to turn them up loud, I mean LOUD (few other headphones are blessed with this trait). They never hurt and are comfortable like none other. I upgraded them to Alpha Dogs. Personally, I feel they provide the best bang for buck in the MrSpeakers lineup.
♦Alpha Dog - Neutral with sub-bass. Great all around traits. Among the most neutral, but maybe too neutral for me. I'm pretty sure a powerful hybrid tube amp would work quite well with them. Upgraded them to Alpha Primes.
♦Fostex TH900 MK2 - Had a great time with these phones. They are super-detailed (among the most detailed I've heard yet). They have an unmatched combination of high-speed, superb bass response and articulate treble. High resolution is a good description.
They are somewhat bright, however. My occasional upgrade-itis kicked in recently and I could not give up my Ori for its easygoing nature or my Mayflower-V1 due to its superb tonality.
♦MrSpeakers Aeon Closed- The most neutral and arguably most technically proficient closed headphone here. Not as satisfying as Alpha Prime, but far cleaner sounding. The Aeon is beauty, Prime is a beast.
These are the most comfortable headphones I've ever worn, also the most isolating on this list. They make perfect sense as a portable headphone in the MrSpeakers line. I also found them very attractive and with excellent build quality.
Ignoring the differences in impedance and sensitivity, they handle power much like the Eikon. Easily driven from any source, but able to soak up power when provided.
The AFC has the flattest/most well-extended bass in any hp I've heard to date. It defies the ''more is better'' approach to bass. This type of bass representation is not for everyone, but I found it to adapt well in this region to everything I listen to.
The very lowest sub-bass on the AFC (less than 50hz) is quite audible, in fact more so than any other hp I've heard. However, everything within and above that area is very flat and clean, lacking the usual FR wiggles that most closed hp tend to have. At first, you will think they are bass-light but with the right music you get a good sense of rumble out of them.
Upper-bass lacks any bloat but bass impact is decent. Because of the sheer flat quality of the bass they are allowed to be midrange-forward.
Midrange itself is very neutral/accurate and well textured, not much to praise or complain about here. The mids are very forward, like the EFC. The tuning filters work very well to keep this range under control when attenuation is needed.
Treble is quite neutral and high quality to my ears. At times its a bit too revealing, but again, the tuning filters are what is called for if the music needs taming.
The soundstage is fairly well-represented. After having some time comparing with the Prime and EFC 1.1, the soundstage advantages of the AFC are less obvious. It never feels lacking in space, but still sounds quite forward. I could wish for a bit more width, but separation is fantastic. Imaging and speed is basically top-tier as well.
The AFC comes with the same tuning kit as the Aeon Flow Open. I find the kit to benefit the Closed far more than the Open version. The one-notch white filter (the newer stock tuning) sounds just right..keeps the highs under control while reducing clarity very slightly. I never used one-notch white on the AFO..adds too much warmth.
Sometimes no filter is a great option, but the upper-treble can get very bothersome without it (this entirely depends on genre/recording quality).
♦ZMF Ori Bocote - Warmest headphones I have heard yet, with excellent soundstage and sub-bass. Their overall sound is only surpassed by the Alpha Prime for my preferences. Aeon Open is a more neutral alternative to to the Ori but lacks its soundstage.
♦MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Open- Not too different from the closed; warmer bass and midrange and slightly less bright highs. Less impressive soundstage, but are a very impressive melding of warmth and detail. Black foam filter preferred.
♦Audio Technica M60X - Not much to express here, this is an easy one. They sound like the M50X, but actually have soundstage, great imaging and are less muddy in the bass.
However, they still have an overbearing warmth in the lower-mids and some glare in the upper mids..traits from the M50X that could not escape this new model. This makes them very genre-dependent; EDM, Hip-Hop and well-recorded tracks are a must. I definitely do not recommend these for most rock and metal (even my KSC75 is better for that), M60X do not possess the speed for such music.
I have found a simple solution to mitigate the upper-mid glare/resonance:
Turn on the ''105db hearing-protection switch'' on top of the left earcup and feed them power with a beefy amp; they become much harder to drive, but you will be rewarded with non-fatiguing, excellent sound.
Highlights are sub-bass (for a $200 small-ish closed-hp, its incredibly emphasized), isolation, super-easy to power, classy looks, excellent assortment of cables.
They are more comfortable than the M50X because they only sit on your ear and do not choke it to death like the M50X does with its awful pads.
Overall, yes they have flaws, but they are still an excellent mobile headphone.
♦Ether C Flow 1.1 - I had tried a used set of these 2 years ago, felt a bit lukewarm about them. They had a well extended sound but had strange issues with sound leak and sound presentation. I borderline hated them. Just got these newer 1.1 version and am far more impressed.
Evaluated them without 1.1 filters, they came stock that way.
I would like to think of them as Alpha Prime XL. They have a very similar sound signature, however there is a slightly leaner but still-well-extended bass.
Like the AP, these use V-Planar drivers and will need burn-in time for that bass to loosen up a bit. The AP took many hours of burn-in and listening for the bass to fill in. Even currently, I have zero problems with the low-end these produce.
The midrange presentation is impressive and texture is on full display. Every ounce of harmonic content is clearly visible, not only due to the expansive soundstage, but the incredible speed and detail. Guitars are unexpectedly full sounding and satisfying. With the notable absence of upper-mid sibilance and lack of distortion, these have the best midrange representation I have heard yet.
Treble is super-airy and extremely well-extended, these hp do not sound closed at all, not one bit. Imaging is among the best I've heard.
These are about as efficient as the Aeon (both models) and more efficient than any T50 Planar. They still need decent amplification, but you're likely not going to need to spend big bucks to get the most out of them.
Isolation from outside sounds and sound leak is managed very well, not quite on par with AFC and Alpha Prime, but still perfectly acceptable for a closed back.
ECF is a clear step above the Aeon Flow Open and Closed, imo. Better soundstage presentation than AFO and (maybe?) better bass representation than the AFC. I really cannot pick out any flaws with the EFC 1.1 here, maybe a lack of dynamic punch if nitpicking.
These are a true closed-back reference, some may want more mid-bass out of them but you will forget that quickly, the overall presentation and resolution is A+.
Headphones I have heard:
-Sennheiser Momentum V1- Energetic sound, small pads :[.
-AQ Nighthawk- Veiled, but competent sound, lacks impact.
-Audeze LCD-X- Wow, its heavy. Prefer Alpha Prime sound.
-DT1990- Excellent quality sound, pads too small for me and a bit bright.
-M1060C- Meh, was expecting more in the sound department. There is a mid or low-treble haze that ruins the sound. Great overall bass and high treble, but severely lacks air.
Headphone Amp Inventory:
●Soekris dac1101 - This is one of the lowest cost R2R 'ladder' dacs available. I decided to replace the Fulla 2 with it as my main desk dac, feeding my ifi iCan SE. The dac1101 is fairly compact for a dac of this caliber, no bigger in size than your average paperback novel. It looks very sleek and I LOVE the red lights on the front of the unit.
The biggest praise I can give this unit is its flexibility. You can skip using drivers entirely, thanks to switchable USB modes. Mode 1 is driverless and fixed at 96khz output (it can downsample to 44.1khz, etc.). Mode 2 allows full file compatibility of the unit, but requires drivers from the Soekris website. On my Win.10 laptop, the drivers work as intended, thankfully.
To use as dac only, it is best to engage the fixed line-out function. Firstly, switch the output selection to Line-out. There is a button on the rear of the unit for Filter selection..hold this button down until the volume light flashes. Once in fixed mode, the line output defaults to 0db volume and cannot be adjusted until you either A: switch to headphone mode or B: disengage fixed mode, which reverts the lineout back to variable.
It features a nice amp section with no gain settings and a digital volume control with 90 steps of adjustment (-80db to +10db). This allows for a huge scale of volume from quiet to loud, making it not only IEM friendly, but also powerful enough to handle an inefficient planar quite well. It has more power than any usb powered amp I have used..easily.
The selectable filters provide no detectable change in sound to my ear. The dac itself sounds nice and clean, but I have no way to test it against my Fulla 2 directly. Sound improvement isn't my goal with this unit as much as flexibility and future-proofing if I ever upgrade my files to lossless. My music collection is mostly 275-320k MP3.
●Fulla 2 - This was my new workhorse DAC in 2018 after my Modi 2 Uber stopped being recognized by Windows 10. When used as DAC only, it has 2 main benefits: Line-level output (no double amping) and no drivers are required. The Fulla 2 is great for simplicity's sake; it auto switches from Headphone to DAC when you plug in/unplug your headphones.
Actual Line-out DAC-only performance is excellent; it is certainly as clean and transparent as my former Modi2U DAC, it certainly beats using my Origen+'s pre-out because you avoid double-amping your signal.
Early Fulla 2's had some issues like crooked volume knobs and grounding issues. My unit has no build or sound issues, schiit has allegedly improved their QC since the rocky product launch.
I tested the amp section briefly with my AFO. The volume knob has a nice wide swath of adjustment (7 to 5 o'clock). The volume change is extremely gradual from zero volume and gets loud at around 12 o'clock. I can take it to 3 o'clock easily with my Alpha Prime (Prime is much harder to drive than AFO). The amp section is equivalent to my Micca Origen+ on Low Gain and is only slightly more powerful than my Fulla 1, but it is nice and clean.
●Ifi iCan SE - 4 watts, class A, compact, low power usage, superb gain implementation settings, hardware e.q. switches...just amazing. This is my primary desk amp for good reason.
It has 3 gain settings: low (0db), medium (+12db) and high (+24db).
In particular, the high gain setting (+24db) turns it into a monster which is great ONLY if you need to power inefficient planar magnetic headphones (specifically on quietly mastered tracks that need extra volume).
●Micca Origen+ - Convenient all-in-one that does nothing wrong. If you need an entry level amp/dac combo, this is the one. It can run off the same micro usb cable as most phones do and its portability is a huge positive. The volume knob is also amazing; it feels perfect in operation, but also has a large and easily visible indicator, something that most other amps lack..
On high gain it will power anything to listenable levels, though the Magni 2 Uber and Ifi amp win out very slightly in the power department with inefficient headphones. It is no slouch in the power department, but when you need to listen to something that is quietly mastered, the wall-powered likes of the M2U and iCan SE have it beat. Overall, the actual product is flawless, but it does have driver issues with windows 10.
Despite the strange driver issue, it can be remedied by restarting your PC and holding Shift until the special boot menu appears, then you reboot in mode ''(7) Unsigned Driver Mode''. I had to do this when the recent Win10 update (6/13/2018) rendered my Modi2U unreadable by any of my laptop's USB ports. It took multiple attempts of uninstalling the VIA Device driver from the Devices Menu and attempting to install the Origen+ 1.2.5 drivers, but it does work, and even remains installed after restarting the PC and DAC itself..fingers crossed for now.
The Origen+ functions excellent as a DAC only, just be sure to max the volume knob (the DAC output is pre-out only) and use the low gain -10db setting for the best linearity.
●Fulla 1 - Powerful little Dac/Amp. I still own it, but don't currently use. It puts decent power into any headphone I have tried including Fostex Planars, T50 MK3 included. The Origen+ on high gain beats it slightly in the volume department, when using inefficient headphones, but the fulla 1 has no driver issues like the Origen+ does.
●E10K - My first ever amp/dac upgrade. Great cheap and convenient solution, but there are better.
●E11K - Powerful, I used it for a while with my E10K as DAC. I eventually moved onto my current DAC/AMP combo (Origen+).
●Magni 2 Uber - My first 'real' desktop amp. It does the job, providing equal drive to headphones as the iCan SE. I get similar performance in Low gain and High gain as I do with the Ifi in low (0db) and medium (+12db) mode. If you don't need the ludicrous +24db mode to power your headphones, the M2U is a GREAT choice.
●Valhalla 2 - HD600 partner in crime, sold for Lyr 2 after moving onto Planar headphones.
●Lyr 2 - It was intended to be my endgame amplifier, got it with LISST 'tubes'. I sold it for the Ifi iCan SE. This is only due to the iCan being smaller in size for more desk space and it doesn't run as hot as the Lyr 2.
●Modi 2 Uber: This was my desktop DAC for 3 years, it worked great, no complaints at all. I used it until the 06/13/2018 Windows 10 update rendered it unreadable by my laptop. I tried every possible thing: Multiple restarts, reinstall drivers both new and old, disabled usb power management, plugged it into a powered usb hub. Has never worked right ever since the Win.10 update :( Seems like a hardware issue, good riddance.
Other Audio Equipment:
Vizio 28'' sound bar
Music that is engaging and exciting...most genres. Acoustic, Metal, Industrial, and EDM are my favorites. Whatever sounds good to me.
Xbox One, Xbox 360, Roku 3, Roku Stick
I'm just a guy that loves music; headphones are my passion and escape.