Reviews by hottyson


Headphoneus Supremus
High end sound for $30 IEM budget king
Pros: Good sound for cheap, comfortable fit, great cable
Cons: Missing ear tips upon arrival, hassle to return $30 IEM
Who am I? I have over fifty full sized headphones and over fifty headphone amplifiers in my collection. My favorite headphones are ZMF Aeolus paired with my Ray Samuels Emmeline II The Raptor tube amp. However, I have recently begun reviving my IEM collection due to the overwhelming abundance of budget IEMs that have flooded the market.

My favorite budget IEMs to date have been the CCA CRA and the Moondrop Chu. Each having been purchased right around $20. I have been blown away at the sound quality they have provided for just $20. Will the Kiwi Ears Cadenza dethrone them as the best budget IEMs? Let's find out.


Kiwi Ears Cadenza arrived the same day in typical Amazon fashion. What truly lured me in was that the Kiwi Ears Cadenza were on sale for $29.99. So, I figured, why not give them a shot? Extremely excited to hear what these could do, I opened up the package which revealed a tidy blue box that stated, "Live the music." That sounds like my kind of life.


Proceeding to slide the inner box through I was met with the company labeled black box. Nice touch. A feeling reminiscent of Christmas morning overwhelmed me as I was anxious to open the final box to reveal the shiny gems that awaited.


There they were. Shiny marbled purple wonders. I hoped they would sound as beautiful as they looked.


The cables were fantastic. Connectors were snug into the sockets. I was very happy with this factory detachable cable. Win!


Suddenly, a very disappointing realization. My heart sank as I could see that there was a hodgepodge selection of silicone ear tips. Somehow, mine was missing ear tips, leaving many incomplete pairs.


Was I going to invest wasted time having to deal with returning these? What a major hassle for $29.99 IEMs.


Anyhow, with severe disappointment in my heart I proceeded to connect the Kiwi Ears Cadenza to a SanDisk Clip portable audio player. I was met with a full, fun presentation. Also, full bass! The Moondrop Chu had always lacked full bass. I was content in the past having the lack of bass when everything else more than made up for it. Instantly I was aware that this was no ordinary budget IEM. I was onto something worth much more than it costs. This made me feel a little better.


Next, I proceeded to one of my computer setups to listen with a headphone amplifier. The amplifier that happened to be hooked up at the time is my Schiit Jotunheim 2. I knew that this meant that a slight hiss would likely be introduced into quiet passages of the music as the Jotunheim 2 is not an IEM friendly amplifier. However, listening beyond audible hiss the overall all around reliable performer and upfront presentation that this amplifier provides would reveal much. Plus, later I would go over to my office system to hear how Kiwi Ears Cadenza sound on higher end gear.

songs from a garden.jpg

Firing up the album Songs From A Secret Garden, I was immediately drawn to the emotional reproduction of the violin. Blissful! Some instruments are extremely difficult to reproduce as resonant properties of the instruments are often lost. When the violin wept, so did my heart. In my best Jedi Knight hand gesture I waved to my Kiwi Ears Cadenza and said aloud, "These are the violins emotional resonances you have been listening for."


At this point I have already become convinced that the Kiwi Ears Cadenza are the budget IEM kings. They have defeated both my Moondrop Chu and my CCA CRA. I don’t need to listen any further. However, I did promise to give them a listen on higher end gear. So, off to the office system we go.


Here we have a Questyle CMA Twelve DAC/Amplifier. The amplifier section in the Twelve is amazing. It has consistently brought out the most performance out of every single headphone I own compared to any other amplifier, of course with the exception of my tube amplifiers.

With the Twelve there was no hiss from Kiwi Ears Cadenza as they were dead silent during quiet passages. I plugged in all three IEMs for a final comparison and it has solidified my conviction that the Kiwi Ears Cadenza is the absolute budget IEM king. Technical performance was improved slightly over the other two. The overall tonality is outstanding. Reproduced clarity is good. The reproduction of hard to reproduce instruments such as violin, french horn, trombone is excellent. In fact, I will no longer be recommending my usual go to full-size headphone/DAC/amplifier setups to those on extreme budgets. This Kiwi Ears Cadenza connected to ones phone or laptop would fit the bill just fine at a fraction of the cost.


Update April 15, 2023
Is Amazon selling USED Kiwi Ears Cadenza IEMs as new?

Since the original Kiwi Ears Cadenza I had ordered was missing so many ear tips, I checked on my Amazon account which avenues were available to remedy my issue. I chose the option to contact the manufacture. When I clicked on that option, it directed my web browser to the Linsoul website. A Linsoul pop-up window requested me to input my issue and informed me that someone would get back to me. Well, no one contacted me. So I issued a replacement from

My replacement Kiwi Ears Cadenza arrived the following day. Upon first inspection I noticed that this new Kiwi Ears Cadenza package box was different from my first Kiwi Ears Cadenza package box. The first box had a sticker placed over the UPC barcode. This new UPC barcode was free of stickers. The only sticker this replacement Kiwi Ears Cadenza box contained was on the cellophane wrapper that I had pealed off. This lead me to believe that my original order from Amazon had probably been a used product that had been sold to me as new! Great! I have been mixing someone else's earwax in with my earwax this entire time.



Lesson - Amazon sucks donkey donuts.

If you purchase Kiwi Ears Cadenza from Amazon, return them if the UPC barcode is covered by a sticker as there is a possibility that it has already been used. I didn't sign up for this Amazon earwax sharing service.
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I completly agree. You can enjoy an amazing sound for very little money!
I used to think IEMs are rubbish, but I couldn't be more wrong.
Aside from the Cadenza, I also enjoy the QKZ HBB Khan a lot. Grab a pair if you ever get a chance. Amazing bass, done in a different way to Cadenza's
Looking forward to receiving these, ordered today. Coming from having over ears for a long time, splurging on WH-1000 XM4 earbuds and then losing them, I'm dialing the spending back a bit. But I need an upgrade, I can't listen to music at the moment as all I have are 10$ sony earbuds and it's better to only use those for discord calls than try playing music through them.
Yah hangm4n, I too have a few Sony and Panasonic cheap buds that I have loved for many years. They were great for mobile use because I never worried about losing/breaking such inexpensive gear. Now I can amazing sound everywhere I go for $30! My how times have changed in budget mobile audio gear!


Headphoneus Supremus
BURSON AUDIO - Burson V6 Classic Op-amp
Pros: Can breath new life into an outdated headphone amplifier
Able to produce warm relaxed presentation
Cons: Produces warm relaxed presentation via recessed highs
Less sparkle on the high end compared to Burson V6 Vivid
Burson Audio V6 Classic op amps invite the promise of a fresh take on the modern op amp front. The Burson Audio V6 Classic is Burson Audio’s alternative to the Burson Audio V6 Vivid op amp for those of you seeking a change of flavor, or perhaps for those of you seeking to update an older or poor performing op amp.



To start with, we are going to liven up this experiment by utilizing a Ray Samuels HR-2 solid state headphone amplifier. The HR-2 is an $875 ultra-detailed amplifier which has been in production for approximately two decades and is still manufactured and sold today. However the stock op amp, an AD797, is twenty years old. The AD797 op amp was one of the finest available op amps at the time that this amplifier was introduced back in 2003. But much can change over twenty years. While able to reproduce extreme detail and clarity with the stock AD797 op amp, presentation can sound a bit lacking compared to many modern headphone amplifiers that contain newer op amps. Many headphone enthusiasts are able to remedy this by simply swapping out their old op amps with modern offerings.


Reflecting back upon the year 2003, I recall a prominent intense focus of many on a quest for improved detail and clarity from their audio gear. Today, audio enthusiasts along with modern headphone gear, have evolved to expect vast spectrums of heightened characteristics from what has grown into today's vast array of enormous selection of radically evolved audio products. When listening to newer headphone amplifiers side by side to the Ray Samuels HR-2 containing the original stock AD797 op amp, one can readily hear the greater extreme detail that the more expensive HR-2 is able to reproduce. However, the HR-2 presents this detailed sound with comparatively less dynamics, and dimension, leaving much to be desired. In it’s old stock form, this headphone amplifier lacks excitement, yielding a very lackluster unentertaining presentation.



In spirit akin to Dr. Frankenstein, will a pair of cutting edge Burson Audio V6 Classic op amps bring the dead back to life? Can the Burson Audio V6 Classic op amp transform this dated amplifier to relevant modern standards? To find out, we need only swap in the new Burson Audio V6 Classic op amps to observe improvements. By simply removing the top cover of the amplifier (held by four screws), I easily pulled out the old pair of AD797 op amps from the 8-pin sockets and then replaced them in the correct orientation with a brand new pair of Burson Audio V6 Classic op amps. Repeating this installation process multiple times, I was able to note various listening comparisons going back and forth between the old op amps and the new Burson Audio V6 Classic op amps.


Did it work? To begin with, music definitely took on new characteristics. The Burson Audio V6 Classic op amps brought on psychedelics, intimacy, and coziness to name a few of the newly realized improvements. The sound stage became seamless and enveloping. The imaging grew from zero to ultra intense imaging. Rich dynamics improved drastically. Overall, the Burson Audio V6 Classic op amps had made this old amplifier sound like a much modern expensive amplifier. At one point, crazy good imaging fooled my brain into thinking someone was in my hallway. I took off my headphones revealing that what I had heard was from the Adelle track I had been playing. This had most definitely been an improvement.


I continued to complete more comparisons with my modern amplifiers to the newly installed Burson Audio V6 Classic op amps. This upgrade sometimes did yield a narrower sound stage compared to many modern amplifiers, but the imaging abilities of the Burson Audio V6 Classic performed marvelously. Within an imagined matrix of the perceived sonic environment of each recording, an image would fill coordinates in perceived space unconstrained. Where many of my modern amplifiers restricted this to a horizontal plane of perception of left to right, the Burson Audio V6 Classic upgrade formed entirely audible holograms seemingly existing in distinct perceived space containing virtual performers and instruments. With the Burson Audio V6 Classic, violins and orchestra could also project up above the stage to accompany a singer instead of remaining an afterthought placed behind them as backup. The chorus could fill airiness with echoes instead of dull stationary reverberations remaining next to the singer on the stage. Like a fog, sound rolled onto the foot of the stage. Sound also rose up above filling caverns of reflected micro reverberations opening up perceived virtual spaces. A much larger accompaniment projected deeper emotion from the music. It had become much easier to connect with the music or get momentarily transported away with envelopment. Sometimes, I was inadvertently, effortlessly carried away with Burson Audio V6 Classic.

Additionally, the Burson Audio V6 Classic recreated realistic reproduction of prerecorded environments. With a couple of amplifiers, my brain is cognizant that I am listening to a recording and cannot be fooled by their overly forward presentation. The Burson Audio V6 Classic’s enveloping presentation will persuade me to lose myself within the realism. It’s envelope of realism is off the charts. Individual piano strings resonate around me. Instrumentation seemed to be fuller. Even low frequencies typically from bass and tuba appear to fill the environment.

Finally, I would like to make one more distinction about listening at lower volumes with Burson Audio V6 Classic. I often find that I enjoy listening at lower than average volumes. With some amplifiers, I find that I have to raise the volume level to compensate for the loss of clarity. I am pleased that with Burson Audio V6 Classic, my amplifier was able to return to lower volumes while maintaining buttery smooth performance, retaining dynamic punch, pop and clarity. In the long run, listening at these lower volumes could prove safer for the health of my hearing.

Where could the Burson Audio V6 Classic improve? Some very high end amplifiers exhibit more refined highs compared to what I was hearing from Burson Audio V6 Classics. As a personal preference, I have developed an appreciation for clear refined high frequency reproduction. I have friends that prefer recessed treble for a darker or smoother relaxed presentation such as the well known characteristic some find appealing in the Sennheiser HD650 headphone. This might be good for someone looking for a non fatiguing listening session or perhaps someone that likes to listen at higher volumes without the toll of shrieking treble. Some seek this characteristic in order to listen over longer listening periods or perhaps to remove shouty-ness from their system. Conversely, some would describe this as losing its sparkle. I am of the latter group. A minority that happen to dislike the HD650 headphone on all solid state amplifiers because I do not enjoy overly dark or mellow presentations. It is a personal taste that one determines individually. In this case, with the Burson Audio V6 Classic, I do hear this recessed treble characteristic. So, I prefer the Burson Audio V6 Vivid over the Burson Audio V6 Classic. The Burson Audio V6 Vivid being more brilliant and sparkly. Which my brain translates to liveliness.


As you can see, the Burson Audio V6 Classic succeeded in reviving my classic headphone amplifier. I am, however, going to have to give the nod to the Burson Audio V6 Vivid over the Burson Audio V6 Classic as my preferred op amp. You however may prefer the Classic, as we all have different ears and each have our own unique personal preferences.
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Headphoneus Supremus
Questyle CMA Twelve offers amazing performance along with tempting value
Pros: High performing amplifier
High performing DAC
Combined into one tidy chassis
Cons: Combined into one tidy chassis
No analog input
Questyle CMA Twelve
The Questyle CMA Twelve is a $1,500 combined DAC and headphone amplifier in one chassis that is at the top of the price range that I would normally purchase. So, being absolutely curious about what I might be missing, I joined the list for the Questyle CMA Twelve tour through Audio46. Audio46 kindly and most generously provided the demonstration Questyle CMA Twelve unit for a one week audition in my home. What I experienced using this DAC/headphone amplifier has unexpectedly turned out to be quite a shocking revelation to my ears resulting in a turn of events that has led me down a very unexpected path of enjoyment.

Questioning Value
For me, value is inseparable from gear evaluation. For decades I have lived as a devout disciple to the philosophy of the point of diminishing returns. Among my fellow disciples, are traditions of reassurance that too little improvement in sound quality is gained by spending over some predetermined amount of money. For me, this spending cap amount began decades ago at $150, then increased to $300, and then again to $800. Last year, my cap limit had raised all the way up to $1,200. The value of the Questyle CMA Twelve amplifier section is approximately this amount when one considers that it contains a DAC that might be valued somewhere in the neighborhood of $400. Consequently, I was dying to find out if this $1,500 DAC/amplifier would be a waste of time or worthy upgrade.

Amplifier Section
I decided that I would compare the amplifier section of the Questyle CMA Twelve to seventeen of my favorite and popular solid state amplifiers of my collection. I was particularly interested to see how the Questyle CMA Twelve would compare against my very favorite of the bunch, the Rebel Audio RebelAmp $500. The RebelAmp is a giant killer when paired with certain headphones of my collection. In some combinations able to outperform costlier amplifiers such as my ultra-dynamic Headamp Gilmore Lite Mk2 $800 and my ultra-detailed Ray Samuels Emmeline HR-2 $875.

For connection to the RebelAmp for the demo, WBC Mogami Amphenol interconnects from the DAC section of the Questyle CMA Twelve fed RCA input on the RebelAmp. A front panel switch on the Questyle CMA Twelve facilitated easily switchable A/B amplification comparisons. From the get go, the amplification section of the Questyle CMA Twelve demonstrated extreme competence with a variety of headphones. Having fallen in love with my RebelAmp over the past few months, I initially preferred its’ organic warmth over the sharp amp section of the Questyle CMA Twelve. The RebelAmp presented a sweeter, warmer, bloomy smooth intimate sound that I had grown to love and have become accustomed to hearing. Conversely, the amplification section of the Questyle CMA Twelve manufactured precision within a detail oriented presentation that was a sharp contrast to the organic round full sound of the RebelAmp. It became apparent that the Questyle CMA Twelve had very good technical qualities. This included evenly distributed and precise imaging across the sound stage in conjunction with a high degree of instrumental separation that might likely benefit studio production work. I however preferred the RebelAmp’s relaxed smooth blend of instruments that formed a comforting, intimate, and enveloping realistic ambiance that I could easily lose myself within the music. Unfortunately, my excitement over the prospect of uncovering further proof of the RebelAmp’s greatness was short lived. Instead, the amplifier section of this $1,500 high-end Questyle CMA Twelve crushed each one of my preconceived notions one by one. As listening commenced, and more time passed, my ear began to hear and appreciate so much more from the Questyle CMA Twelve than I could have anticipated.

The Questyle CMA Twelve brain burn-in grew within my being. Meaning, my ears and brain began to hear characteristics that I had been initially unaware of. Since my brain had become accustomed to the magic of the RebelAmp and formed a bias towards many of it’s particularly formidable characteristics, brain burn-in was a prerequisite to making comparisons between headphone amplifiers. An appreciation for the heightened precision of the Questyle CMA Twelve manifested each time one of my biases for the RebelAmp melted away. I continued to listen to a variety of tracks switching A/B between the amplifiers. I could now distinctly detect multiple characteristics of the Questyle CMA Twelve that exceeded the RebelAmp’s. For one, the perceived image of instruments upon the soundstage was so precise that each time I returned to the amplification of the RebelAmp I could not help but feel that instrumental separation had manifested into a sort of defocused blur. Not blurred to a large enough degree to detracted from my enjoyment. However, enough unfocus that I began to find myself leaning towards a preference for the precision provided by the Questyle CMA Twelve. Enough to suggest that in a blind A/B test, that most would probably choose the Questyle CMA Twelve over the RebelAmp. So, the answer to my quest was a resolving “No.” My precious RebelAmp, that I prize above all other solid state amplifiers of my collection, could NOT outperform the Questyle CMA Twelve in terms of sound quality save for the ability to create a warmer intimate up-close presentation. What quantifiable ratings can I assign to the amplifier performance of the Questyle CMA Twelve? With my top performing planar headphones, the amplifier selection of the Questyle CMA Twelve is favorable with over ninety percent of my music. This would safely allow me to also place it at the best amplifier of the bunch. So, congratulations are in order. Questyle, I hereby award your CMA Twelve amplifier first place.

Just as I wrapped up this listening comparison with my favorite headphones, the UPS man knocked on my door and delivered a pair of HifiMan HE6se V2 $600. So, I threw the HE6se V2 on the rigs. I began the entire listening session over again, comparing all of the amplifiers to the Questyle CMA Twelve using my new favorites the HE6se. The Hifiman HE6se V2 blew me away and is likely to replace the Monolith M1570 as one of my two favorite headphones. But, that is another story for another day.

Some of you will likely ask me how certain amps in the comparison stacked up against the Questyle CMA Twelve. So I will provide a brief summary.

Amplifiers that came close or possibly sometimes excelled with Audeze LCD-X (2020), HifiMan Ananda, and HifiMan HE6se V2 headphones:

1st place - Questyle CMA Twelve
2nd place - Rebel Audio RebelAmp
3rd place - Schiit Jotunheim 2
4th place - Schiit Jotunheim 1 (Discontinued, readily available used)

Amplifiers that came close or possibly sometimes excelled with Monoprice Monolith M1570:

1st place - Questyle CMA Twelve
2nd place - Rebel Audio RebelAmp
3rd place - Ray Samuels Emmeline XP-7
4th place - Singxer SA-1

Notes On Runner Ups
Questyle CMA Twelve has turned out to be quite an excellent piece of gear and a spectacular value. It is worth noting that the Schiit Jotunheim also had the Multibit DAC card installed so I figured I may as well let you know that for those of you that want to save lots of money, that are looking for an alternative to the Questyle CMA Twelve that the Schiit Jotunheim 2 at $600 with the Multibit DAC card is a very good budget alternative that does not achieve the performance of the Questyle CMA Twelve, but does not disappoint at it’s price point. The only thing that bothers me is that the Schiit Jotunheim 2 does put out heat from the top from it’s vent holes compared to the Questyle CMA Twelve that is barely warm. One plus side of the Schiit Jotunheim 2 is that it does take up a smaller footprint.

I could not help but notice the similarities of the front jacks and switches of the Questyle CMA Twelve to my $540 Singxer SA-1 and I get the feeling that someone out there just might be wondering if they sound the same. Hooking them both up to an A/B switch, I was met with very similar qualities. Both provide very technical and detailed presentations. However, on A/B comparison, the Questyle CMA Twelve is superior. The Singxer SA-1 is sort of a baby Questyle CMA Twelve. If you already own the Singxer SA-1, you may not want to upgrade if you are already content. An upgrade to the Questyle CMA Twelve would gain you clarity and precision but similar characteristics are found in the Singxer SA-1 at perhaps sixty percent of the amplification performance at perhaps fifty percent of the price.

Will I Upgrade?
Previously, I would never have considered the Questyle CMA Twelve. I entered into this trial fully expecting to inform the headphone community not to purchase the Questyle CMA Twelve. Instead, I am now wondering if I should liquidate all of my headphone amplifiers and upgrade to the Questyle CMA Twelve. How very unexpected this all has turned out for me.

DAC Section
I am in the camp that believes that cheap budget DACs are good enough, again due to the point of diminishing returns, which is of a magnitude greater when considering DACs compared to amplifiers. So, even though I think many would be willing to spend the money for the improved sound of the Questyle CMA Twelve DAC section, I could easily stay content enough with a thinner sound of $100 DACs. The lessened quality sound is easily distinguishable to my ears yet it does not detract from my enjoyment of music when the A/B switch has been removed from the equation. The one exception being my $200 Schiit Multibit DAC card in my Schiit Jotunheim 2 all in one headphone/DAC amplifier. It only sounds better on some tracks on the rare occasion that I am in the mood for colored multibit sound. But this is not enough to make any real difference. Perhaps I might not appreciate a substantial improvement until I have upgraded to a very colorful DAC such as the very popular and highly acclaimed Schiit Bifrost 2.

However, for the rest of you that would like me to make a statement on how the Questyle CMA Twelve DAC performs against my mostly $100 DAC collection. Yes, the superiority of the Questyle CMA Twelve DAC is most clearly evident through an A/B comparison. Thinner $100 sound versus full bodied purer sound from the Questyle CMA Twelve. I think the majority of listeners would likely agree that the Questyle CMA Twelve is a superior DAC. It does propose quite a modest price for the upgrade over $100 DACs if one values the DAC section of the Questyle CMA Twelve somewhere around $400 of the Questyle CMA Twelve’s $1,500 msrp. In terms of value, the CMA Twelve is quite tempting. Plus, the DAC is already built into the unit for combined convenience if one is looking for a tidy setup. The DAC value is a conundrum of personal choice that one has to decide for themselves.

The Final Verdict
Clearly, I have been thrown a curveball. The Questyle CMA Twelve has caught me off guard with amazing performance along with tempting value. In quantifiable terms, I enjoy the Questyle CMA Twelve eighty percent of the time over the RebelAmp as a headphone amplifier. I enjoy the Questyle CMA Twelve nearly one-hundred percent of the time over my large collection of headphone amplifiers and $100 DACS. I can wholeheartedly recommend the Questyle CMA Twelve. It is a very good value. Particularly to those of you that are currently looking for an upgrade from entry level gear or someone looking to purchase their first headphone gear setup.
Btw the 400i is much more 'bang for the buck' at half the price if you dont need the extra options😉
@Darren Cotter @Reactcore

Just for the record, on behalf of Questyle, I truly apologize for the lack of customer service in the past. I'm new to the Questyle team, and recently we have been undergoing some huge changes, and putting a lot more resources into taking care of our customers. I, and the entire Questyle team, will do our best to be much more responsive in the future. That—coupled with the new products we have coming out recently—will hopefully win back your trust in Questyle again. :relieved:
Three month follow up:
The limiting factor for my listening with the Questyle CMA Twelve has been the internal DAC. Being stuck with the internal DAC when using this all in one unit, I have let myself fall victim. Once I upgraded to a Schiit Bifrost 2 DAC the RebelAmp started beating out the Questyle. Only the Focal Elegia and the ZMF Aeolus sound better on the Questyle from my headphones. I am pulling out my hair that I am not able to play the Bifrost 2 through the Questyle CMA Twelve’s capable amplifier section. I was wrong to state in my writeup that a DAC upgrade would not change my opinion of an amp. The Schiit Bifrost 2 DAC upgrade was much more of an upgrade than I had anticipated and I can’t even enjoy it through the Questyle CMA Twelve that lacks any analog input.
In short, the RebelAmp has surpassed the Questyle CMA Twelve with most headphones due to the limited DAC and no way to input analog.


Headphoneus Supremus
BURSON AUDIO - Burson V6 Vivid Op-amp
Pros: Roll the opamp in your headphone amplifier for a new upgraded sound
Use Buson extender to lay it on it's side for a tidy fit
Cons: Have to open amplifier
Some are not comfortable opening electronics
BURSON AUDIO - Burson V6 Vivid Op-amp

“A beginning is a very delicate time. Know then, that it is the year 2021. The known Head-fi Universe is ruled by the Padishah Emperor Jude, Head-fi’s father. In this time, the most precious subforum in Head-fi is the headphone amplifier subforum. The op-amp extends life. The op-amp expands consciousness. The op-amp is vital to audio perfection. The Burson Audio Guild and its navigators, who the op-amp has mutated over four-thousand years, use the orange or red op-amp, which gives them the ability to finesse audio. That is, reproduce music in any part of the Universe without soldering. Oh yes, I forget to tell you. The op-amp exists on only one planet in the entire Universe. A desolate, dry planet with vast deserts. Hidden away within the audio gear of these deserts are a people known as headphone enthusiasts, who have long held a prophecy, that a man would come, an audiophile, who would lead them to improved audio. The planet is Burson. Also known as Burson Audio.” - Frank Herbert, Dune

Burson Audio has gained notoriety for producing high-end audio gear, including my favorite pieces of the headphone audio chain, headphone amplifiers. Here we find implementation of the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp which has been optimized through an evolution of 6 multiple generations, hence the V6 designation. Burson uses the V6 Vivid in their own Burson amplifiers but they can also be easily used in other amplifiers that have removable op-amps. John Burson offered to send me one of his latest iterations of these op-amps for my Little Dot headphone amplifiers in exchange for honest feedback. Which makes this point perfect for the segway to me, with my ”About Hottyson” paragraph.

About Hottyson
Hottyson has been an audio gear hoarder, er… headphone enthusiast I mean, for over two decades. He has a growing suspicion of reviewers that include the disclaimer, “Opinions expressed are solely my own and not been compensated ...bla ...bla ...bla” He does NOT have a monetized YouTube channel and hasn’t a care in the world about numbers of views or subscribers. Instead, Hottyson’s enjoyment stems from his interaction with audio gear and opportunities sharing it with others. His collection of headphones stems from $7 earbuds to $1,200 headphones. His true passion lies in collecting headphone amplifiers and constructing audio cables. Hottyson finds it odd writing paragraphs in the third person about himself. He wonders if this ”About Hottyson” paragraph is long enough and if he should end it with this sentence. He almost did.


Chapter 1 Grado flourish on tubes
The Head-fi $400 secret recipe from ten years ago:

  • Little Dot I+ headphone amplifier ($140)
  • LT1364 opamp ($15)
  • Sylvania Gold Brand GB-408A (gold pins) tubes (±$50/pair)
  • Grado SR225 headphones ($200)

Little Dot I+ has been a $140 wonder bringing tubes to the masses at entry level prices. It’s design is over a decade old but has gone through slight revisions that mostly replaced pin jumpers for switches. In its early days, with only a few inexpensive upgrades, the Little Dot I+ was THE budget amplifier for Grado headphones that shined particularly well with rock music, characteristically described in the forums as close-in-your-face headbanging. Eventually, at some point MassDrop offered the Little Dot I+ for $103, and the Grado SR225 revised to newer generations making $150 commonplace on the closeout/used market, making it possible to put together this secret recipe at a $100 savings for a pretty decent complete budget setup coming in at only $300.


I fired up the secret recipe, which is my Little Dot I+ / Sylvania Gold Brand GB-408A / LT1364 and plugged in my trusty old Grado SR225. Transported back a full decade, here was that all too familiar sound that brought sweet rock music to my ears. Once again, I was right up front row, center stage rocking out right in front of the musicians. Directly next to the secret recipe was an exact duplicate setup of the secret recipe with the same magical tubes but with one minor change. The LT1364 op-amp had been swapped out in favor of my newly acquired Burson V6 Vivid op-amp. So, here we had in front of me two setups ready to battle it out. In one corner, the reigning rock champion, our tried and true secret recipe. Versus our new challenger, a twin with only the Burson op-amp upgrade.

Not knowing what to expect, I placed the headphones on my ears and the battle commenced. Right off the bat, the Burson upgrade displayed more refined highs compared to the untamed highs of the LT1364. The harshness of the highs common with the LT1364 was also reduced by the Burson upgrade. As a soundstage lover, I proceeded to compare it next. The Burson upgrade presented a smoother, more wide open soundstage. The Burson also presented more realistic cohesion of instruments and also with voices. Going back to the LT1364, conversely, the instruments seemed disjointed. Comparing further, I found that the overall sound of the Burson was more pleasing. The Burson was full sounding, displaying more substance. More of a weighty and satisfying presentation.

Round one had ended. Burson had won by knockout. What did I learn from this battle? First of all, it brought my $140 amplifier performing closer to one of my $400 amplifiers. To verify this, I brought out one of my $400 solid state amplifiers. This headphone amplifier was a Schiit Jotunheim 2. Listening back and forth I tried to pick the better of the two with my Grado SR225. The Burson upgraded amp won again beating this $400 amplifier. What did it do better? The Grado SR225 can be harsh sounding. And I mean harsh like an Army boot camp drill sergeant yelling directly into your ear harshness. This is where tube magic comes to the rescue and magically turns our drill sergeant into a sparkly unicorn. Combining the Burson op-amp with tubes accomplished this magic. We took an old system and basically used the Burson op-amp to bring it into the realm of modern amplification. Value/performance-wise, we doubled the value of the amplifier. How could I test this? I thought, why not bring out one of my favorite headphone amplifiers, the Singxer SA-1 $500 and then compare it to the Burson upgrade setup, in terms of reproduction of detail. When comparing them side by side, the Burson upgrade setup had the benefit of the magical wet tube sound that I enjoy, but yes. Yes, the detail was there in spades with both setups and the Burson upgrade setup could almost keep up in terms of detail. So, I had reached my conclusion. The Burson upgrade setup might best a $400 amplifier with Grado SR225 but perhaps not a $500 amplifier.



That is great and wonderful hottyson, but now you are talking to yourself. What about a modern Grado? Okay, fine. Even though the Little Dot I+ came out more than a decade before the Grado Hemp, I shall provide some listening observations. Overall, the Grado Hemp is the most bang for buck modern production Grado headphone. The Grado Hemp will scale with high end amplifiers and thereby more easily benefit from improved amplification. So, I listened again with the Schiit Jotunheim 2 and the Singxer SA-1 versus Burson upgraded Little Dot I+. The Jotunheim 2 with Grado Hemp was an unbridled wild steed revealing hyper texture through instruments. The Singxer SA-1 with Grado Hemp was more polite and precise. The Little Dot I+ with Grado Hemp had harsh mids. The Burson upgraded Little Dot I+ tamed the harsh mids and produced a fuller sound. This means that I learned that the old setup did not mesh well with the new Grado Hemp like it did with the old Grado SR225. However, the new Burson op-amp was able to play well with the Grado Hemp.

Continuing with song after song, and just having lots of fun going from system to system with Grado Hemp, I was able to narrow down what the overall benefits of the Burson op-amp upgrade were in terms of tonality. Switching back and forth through these amplifiers with the Grado Hemp I heard refined highs instead of crushed highs. Mid range presented smooth vocals and intelligent cohesion in the center of the soundstage. Bass became full, warm, and enveloping. It was a more defined bass with an increase in sub bass presence. Can I provide a tier list? Yes, but this is only the tier list with the Grado Hemp as headphones react very differently when paired with different amplifiers. With Grado Hemp, this was my preference of amplification;

  1. Burson upgraded Little Dot I+
  2. Schiit Jotunheim 2
  3. LT1364 upgraded Little Dot I+
  4. Singxer SA-1

As you can see, I did not enjoy the Singxer SA-1 with Grado Hemp. While the Singxer SA-1 is one of my favorite solid state amplifiers, and #1 at most technical reproduction of music, I did not enjoy it’s pairing with the Grado Hemp. After the hours of Grado listening, my ears needed a break from the listening fatigue that Grado can build up after time. So I reached for my best headphones of my collection and some VERY warm tubes, the Western Electric 408A. That is where we shall visit in Chapter 2.

Will combining Burson V6 Vivid op-amp with warm tubes bring about the apocalypses or audio nirvana?
Will the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp upgrade play nice with my best headphone?
Does the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp upgrade make a Little Dot I+ sing with a high end planar?

Chapter 2 Hybrid Burson tube amp with my best headphone

Welcome back!

In Chapter 1, we established that the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp was able to bring my Little Dot I+ into the era of modern amplification in a big way by turning my $103 amplifier into $400 sound just by adding in a Burson V6 Vivid op-amp. It made sense that I had started this write up with Grado headphones because in the past the Little Dot I+ was notorious for successful pairing with Grados. However, with the unexpected success of the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp upgrade, it would be a logical progression to take my Little Dot I+ to the next level with some other headphones. With it’s new new life and breath via a Burson V6 Vivid op-amp, I am going to pair it with a modern planar headphone. What will happen? Let's find out!

I have a spending limit on my headphones and amplifiers. Nothing can be priced over $1,200. I have acquired about fifty headphones under this price. What I have found from my collection is that the best sounding headphone to me is a Monoprice M1570 planar headphone. Yes, it sounds even better than any of my more expensive popular planar headphones from Audeze, Focal, Hifiman and the like.

So I plug my Monoprice M1570 into the Little Dot I+ that still had the LT1364 op-amp. The first thing I noticed was that a tube change was needed. The tubes that were chosen for Grado did not mesh with the M1570 headphones. So I rolled some tubes and op-amps. I settled with Western Electric 408A tubes with an OPA2107 op-amp. What I got in return was instant warmth, mellow, dark, dull, non fatiguing sound. I could describe the sound as being reminiscent of similar characteristics to my Focal Elegia or Sennheiser Massdrop 6XX which have a laid back non fatiguing sound that many appreciate for loud or long term listening. This was sounding pretty amazing and now we were ready to get down to business.

I grabbed another Little Dot I+ amplifier to set up the side-by-side comparison. In this Little Dot I+ I placed another pair of identical Western Electric 408A tubes, but of course put in the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp. With the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp and WE408A the warmth mellow dark from the tube was there, but the dull had transformed to clarity. The clarity arrived in terms of mid vocal presentation. A very laid back non fatiguing sound. I was experiencing a very full, round tubey vocal sensation that solid state amps can never create along with the clarity that a $400 or higher amp would bring. This was a great combination.

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I continued listening for a while comparing the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp vs the amp with the OPA2107. As I began to move away from rock tracks to modern electric and synthetic instrumentation like Dua Lipa and The Weeknd, I was hearing the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp setup exceeding with very accurate solid-state three dimensional reproduction in terms of sound stage and imaging. Even though I was hearing very enjoyable tubey goodness from both setups, what I was witnessing was a great combination of tube and Burson V6 Vivid op-amp that placed this combination up to par with the OPA2107. Did this combination beat the $28 OPA2107? No, it was a draw. This is a complication of explaining favorable tube sound on a forum. I might like one setup more than another, then the person right next to me might prefer the opposite. But, let it be said that both setups were wet and tubey and I enjoyed both of them. Ultimately, I am going to call this one a draw.


So, I knew I needed to bring in the big guns in order to compete with the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp setup. The Singxer SA-1 is an amazing amp that pairs extremely well with the M1570. This pairing exceeds the Schiit Jotunheim in both sound stage and imaging with a very airy and open presentation. So now I wanted to test if this was a more level playing field. Burson V6 Vivid op-amp and WE408A versus the much higher priced $540 Singxer SA-1.
Having already spent countless hours with the Monoprice M1570 headphone and Singxer SA-1 amplifier, I have developed a strong familiarity with the resulting sound. The Singxer SA-1 brought three dimensional accuracy and powerful dynamic control. I was hoping to witness some magical feat of victory from this inexpensive Burson setup to beat my Singxer champion. But perhaps this was asking too much of a $103 amplifier upgraded with an $85 Burson V6 Vivid op-amp.


I plugged the Monoprice M1570 into the amplifiers. What I was hearing from the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp and WE408A setup was a sacrifice of some three dimensional accuracy and powerful dynamic control compared to the Singxer. BUT, and that is a lot of BUT, once again I was greeted with the best of both worlds. I can speculate that what was happening was that the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp was creating the foundation of decent clarity and accuracy for the tubes to build their magic tubey goodness upon. The Western Electric 408A tubes accentuated the three dimensional portrayal that one would normally get from a solid state amp. The additional micro-reverberation from the tubes made the three dimensional experience over the top to a degree that I have never before experienced on Little Dot I+ amplifiers. For me as a personal preference, this is a good thing. The depth and width of the soundstage reverberated the horizon and the heightened stage rose up into the sky like bottle rockets. In terms of tube sound, this little cheap amplifier was punching way above its weight in terms of fun. Plugging back into the Singxer SA-1 brought me back to my room aware of the headphones and the exact placements of instruments and vocals. However, I was here for fun. The urge to go back to the tubes was too great for my willpower to fight.


What did I learn from all of this? The Burson V6 Vivid op-amp had brought a level of enjoyment and fun that surpassed my $540 Singxer SA-1. If you love wet tubey sound with over the top micro-reverberation, then the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp is a winner when paired with your favorite tubes.

Also, prior to this, the OPA2107 was one of my favorite op-amps for the Little Dot I+. I think the Burson has ruined me. I don’t know if I can ever go back to the OPA2107 when the Burson can extract so much performance out of my tubes!

Are we done? Where do we go from here? Well, I am satisfied with my findings of the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp. It is a winner with my favorite headphone, the Monoprice M1570. However, I am certain that some would want me to share my findings with a more popular expensive planar headphone. For the third and final installation of this tri-audio-thon, I shall bring in the $1,200 Audeze LCD-X headphone!

Chapter 3 Hybrid Burson tube amp begs for a higher-end planar

Why not try high end planar headphones on this amp. After all, it is a hybrid amp, which means tubey goodness of tubes and the flexibility of solid state amp circuitry able to drive pretty much all dynamic and planar headphones. This last installment will be short and sweet as we drive the Audeze LCD-X (2020) with our Burson V6 Vivid op-amp upgraded Little Dot I+.

I continue my listening by firing up some Post Malone and The Weeknd to get these Audeze moving some bass like they were built to do. Some might call the Audeze LCD-X bass heavy. I would rather state that they are capable of turning out the lowest frequencies. However, the truth of the matter is that they are easy to drive well, so even a $103 Little Dot I+ should be capable of producing the lowest lows. So this begs me to try this amplifier with the Audeze LCD-X. As expected, bass lovers rejoice! The bass is there in spades. After rolling my tubes a few times, I end up pairing the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp with a pair of Mullard 6AK5W.

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This time I want to battle with a modern amplifier that is used by many. I also want the amplifier to be a hybrid amplifier. This leaves me with just one choice; the $500 Schiit Lyr 3. They are both hybrid tube amps, meaning they have solid state and tubes. However, as stated earlier, the Little Dot I+ uses op-amps. So, with the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp in place, which one sounds better? Now, you might expect me to say that this Little Dot I+ cannot compete with the $500 Schiit Lyr 3. However, with the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp upgrade it kept pace right alongside the Schiit Lyr 3. Despite the price differences, I cannot say that either one was better than the other but each did certain things better.

First of all, the sound stage because I am a lover of good sound stage. The Schiit Lyr 3 projected a large rounded smoothed out sound stage in Schiit like fashion. This is somewhat part of the Schiit house sound, and is also predominant in the Jotunheim 1 and Jotunheim 2. So the Lyr 3 combines Schiit house sound with added benefits of tubey goodness. Win win for Schiit Lyr 3 in this respect.
Schiit lyr vs.jpeg

What does the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp bring to the Little Dot I+ better than the Lyr 3? With the Burson V6 Vivid, I was hearing an underlying refined articulate detail usually only brought out in amps like my $900 RSA HR-2 or my $540 Singxer SA-1. Clear like crystal. Guitar strings rang. Grit in vocals were textured with air and rasp in such fine detail. I was hearing ultra detail, and with tubes to boot! This was an addicting winning combination. And yet, the soundstage grew to a wide airy presentation that I did enjoy. The Burson V6 Vivid / Little Dot I+ combination made Audeze LCD-X seem like they were much higher end headphones than what I had paid for.

If you have made it to our ending, thank you for reading about my adventure with the Burson V6 Vivid op-amp! I had a blast doing this. Thank you John Burson for providing me with a Burson V6 Vivid op-amp.