HeadAmp Gilmore Lite Mk2

Rating:
5/5,
  1. DarKu
    GilmoreLite mk2-Superlative design and performance
    Written by DarKu
    Published Mar 17, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Excellent acoustic transparency, easy extraction of micro-details
    - Linear and untainted frequency response
    - Pure and honest audio performance
    - Crazy speed and impact
    - Plenty of power for easy (IEMs) and harder (planar-magnetics) tasks
    - Lack of harmonic distortion, black as the night background
    - Great sound fluidity
    - Extraordinary price related to impeccable performance
    - A jewel like amp, built to high standards
    Cons - It laughs at most of the single ended headphone amplifiers
    Hi everybody,

    Before I start with my actual review I would like to tell you a short story.
    A little bit over 11 years ago when I decided to invest in this wonderful hobby, headphone manufacturers but especially headphone amplifier manufacturers could be counted by fingers on a hand.

    In top 3 of those manufacturers there is an American company that I mentioned many times in my reviews, and that is HeadAmp Electronics.
    My first contact with this company was the moment when I wanted to have the smallest most performing DAC and headphone amplifier, both cramped into a case smaller that a pack of cigarettes and that device became HeadAmp Pico.

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    Thanks to that device I gave up on my desktop DAC that I was using and to my desktop headphone amplifier, only because with my Grado RS-1i that I was using at that time, the tiny Pico sounded (much) better than those two bigger boxes put together.
    There were many times when I would just lift it off the table and just stare at it for minutes in a row, design is simply perfect, it was far beyond what I had seen before!

    A couple of years later I decided that I want the best portable headphone amp on the market, I didn’t want it to be only very powerful, capable of driving big and inefficient headphones, but I wanted it also to have a very transparent and revealing nature as possible. So a few months later I became the happy owner of the famous Pico Power.
    I still use it today; it’s actually my reference to which I compare any other portable headphone amplifiers that goes through my hands.

    No wonder because until this day it has the best measurements ever recorded in the category of portable or desktop headphone amplifiers.
    Here it is in a family photo with his younger brother Pico and his bigger brother Gilmore Lite Mk2.

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    During these years, I have begun to have a tremendous respect for this brand, but also a great deal of confidence in what they do, unfortunately rarely encountered in these lands.
    As far as I know, they produce among the best balanced headphone amplifier on the market today: GS-X Mk2 and also the best electrostatic headphone amp available on the market: Blue Hawaii Special Edition (BHSE for short).
    Unfortunately, I cannot afford the GS-X Mk2 balanced amplifier, maybe one day I will test it too, who knows?

    Today I will test a newly released desktop headphone amplifier, much more accessible than the balanced version and that is the HeadAmp Gilmore Lite Mk2.

    Design and specifications

    Like the other amplifiers developed by HeadAmp, the quality of the construction is impeccable.
    The amp has a small footprint and uses an external regulated power supply to stay away from noise; however there might be a possibility in the future for manufacturer to provide a higher performance dedicated power supply in a matching case.
    The best part is that this amplifier is based on the same circuitry found in the legendary GS-X Mk2 (3000 USD). At the input ultra low noise JFETs are used, and at output bipolar transistors that always work in class A!
    As you can see it’s a circuit composed entirely of discrete components, there are no op-amps and no capacitors in the signal path (the four ones from the pictures below are filtering the power supply).

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    An ALPS Blue volume potentiometer of a superior quality was used, often seen in more expensive audio gear.
    The amplifier doesn’t offer a gain switch, but sincerely there is no need for one due to a very black background.
    The ample power of 1.5 W and low noise levels make it perfect for both the most sensitive IEMs and for power hungry planar-magnetic headphones.
    Two RCA analog inputs are provided, an active preamp out on RCA and a 1/4” (6.5mm) headphone output.
    It looks very simple and modest but we already know that initial appearance can be deceiving.

    Let’s get to the most interesting part.

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    Unleashing the Beast

    Although compact and lightweight, the sound produced by this amplifier is big and bold, very airy and deep, contrary to its size.
    How can you describe an audio component that doesn’t have a character, which does not interfere almost at all with the sound, which virtually disappears in front of the listener?

    Ladies and Gentleman I think I’m witnessing the purest sound ever coming out of the Sennheiser HD660S, and I’m not just talking about single ended amplifiers, I’m talking about all amplifiers that passed through these hands.
    It is very hard to describe an audio component that practically disappears and does not interfere with the audio signal. Purity and transparency are second names of this device.
    Listening more and more I realize that I am actually listening to my audio source, my Matrix X-Sabre Pro DAC fed with lossless files and nothing else.

    Let’s start from the beginning step by step.

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    Transparency and resolution

    Listening to Elvis Presley – Fever always puts a smile on my face and on Gilmore Lite Mk2 I was stuck in my chair for three minutes paying attention to the air that moved so easily and to those micro-details that sounded so clear and alive.
    Transparency is just mind blowing; the capable resolution is also superior.

    The very clean performance without any acoustic interventions jumps too much at me, but please do not associate it with a clinical sound, because that’s not the case at all.

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    Fluidity and acoustic tonality

    Often in my favorite songs I’m not looking for the ultimate resolution but for a soft bonding of the notes, that fluidity that gives sound a smooth and tireless presentation that floats lightly to my eardrums.

    Take for example the Dave Brubeck quartetTake Five that sounded not only super resolving but also super liquid.
    The technical and full of subtlety presentation has been greatly helped by a good fluidity that binds the notes in a natural and tireless way.
    I think it is due to the class A witchcraft which many praise to the skies, otherwise I do not explain the phenomenon.

    Continuing with Pink Martini – Simpatique and Radiohead – OKNOTOK gave me the same feeling: a sound that easily breathes and a fluency that brings a touch of naturalness and unsurpassed reality.
    The micro-details were so apparent that I’ve heard how the mouths of the artists opened before they sang anything, the purity of the voices being unaltered in any way.

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    From left to right: Leatherman Wave, Nitecore MH20GT, Gilmore Lite Mk2, Audeze LCD-4

    Impact, speed, execution and withdrawal of notes

    Thanks to a good transparency and to a sound that easily breathes, each note is no longer impeded by anything in their way to the listener, so the impact of the notes becomes tremendous, hitting hard and heavy.

    The Sennheiser HD6XX series, like my HD660S, are not known to have a reference attack or impact, but this amplifier has completely changed my mind about these headphones.
    Finally, I hear a serious impact that easily rivals the planar-magnetics performance.
    The flashing speed of the notes directly influences the withdrawal of the notes that is as quick as its rise.

    Listening to Infected Mushroom – Spitfire I was astonished, immediately after the first minute my ears began waving because of the stunning deep bass, impact and the speed it was capable of.
    Without exaggerating, the impact of the little Gilmore Lite Mk2 exceeded any expectations, it surpassed the performance of my own balanced amplifier, I will do a comparison of the two at the end of the article.

    Good timing and fast transients have always been part of the company’s DNA, and this little amplifier is demonstrating it again.

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    Harmonic distortion and background noise level

    Besides inefficient headphones, I also used a pair of FiiO F9 PRO in-ears that are extremely efficient but also very demanding when it comes to the output quality of an amplifier.
    I’m glad to report that there is no background noise, the background is blacker than the night, and I can easily listen even to balanced armature based IEMs. Just take care of the volume pot as it grows exponentially from 10:00 o’clock upwards.

    When I was just unboxing it, I was nervous a bit that it would not be a good match with the ESS 9038 chipset present in my Matrix X-Sabre Pro DAC, but once I pushed play all my fears were gone. The lack of grain on higher notes holds under a strict control the performance of the treble; having the necessary glitter and the total lack of disturbing brightness.

    Linear Frequency Response

    From the lowest sub-bass to the highest treble no ups can be heard, no downs, no dips or irregularities. Frequency response is linear, unaltered and untouched.

    Due to this fact, there is no fierce competition between the notes, all of them will have their moment of glory, neither one will go unnoticed.

    Holography, Depth and width of the soundstage

    Lack of grain especially on treble as well as a higher level of transparency which the amplifier is capable of lead to a deeper performance in which I can walk imaginary more easily than ever.
    Soundstage width is medium to large, but not huge as in the case of balanced amplifiers, or tube based designs. Still, Sennheiser HD660S as well as Audeze LCD-4 sounded wider with much improved depth than usual.

    I started my day listening to some Therion – Deggial, an album in which my attention was caught by notes that surrounded my whole body. Vibration of voices heard on multiple tones made me feel goose bumps and I hummed my favorite songs for the rest of the day.

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    Amplification

    If this amplifier managed to drive with authority a pair of LCD-4 then I can say it can drive any other pair of headphones.
    HD660S for sure doesn’t need more than this, I can add here the rest of dynamic headphones on the planet, it will be a child’s play for it.

    The absolute level of control over the diaphragm is very apparent, especially when I analyze under a magnifying glass a faster and more demanding song.
    I’ve heard an absolute control on the LCD-4 as well, but from about 90% volume and up, the amplifier started clipping and losing control.
    For such headphones as LCD-4 or HE-6 I still suggest a balanced amplifier with a bigger power reserve, a GS-X Mk2 would be the perfect choice for this task.

    I did not hear any hiss on IEM type earphones, I find it very universal. As for what headphones can be used with it, the answer is quite simple: any headphones.

    [​IMG]

    David VS Goliath

    I made a single comparison but an important one that was a little painful in my case.

    You see, my reference headphone amp that I am using almost the second year is the Audio-GD Master 9: a monster machine literally and figuratively.
    It weights 16 kg and it occupies about 1/3 of the work space on my desk, it offers plenty of power for any headphone set, offering single ended as well as balanced outputs – a real tool that helped me testing various headphones but also helped quietly listening to the music.
    I considered it very transparent, agile, very sincere in terms of frequency response and also very powerful having just a slight coloration on mids.

    I connected the little Gilmore Lite Mk2 to X-Sabre Pro and started comparing both amps on the same LCD-4 and HD660S.

    And that my friends was the moment when my jaw hit the floor…

    The differences were not huge but Gilmore Lite Mk2 sounded even faster, executing a more impressive attack, hitting harder my eardrums. Bass notes caught a new contour and I felt it pulsating, how layers and sub-layers of bass floated towards me, a feeling that was not so apparent on Master 9. I went to bed thinking I was too tired and that I started dreaming.

    The next day armed with more mood and leisure I resumed the comparative test.

    This time around I felt that sound becomes deeper and breathes easier on the little amp, again an effect less apparent on Master 9.
    More than ever I felt disappointed by the transparency and micro-details extraction that was lacking on my personal amplifier, little David offered a more sincere and unaltered sound.
    Instead Gilmore Lite Mk2 lost without the right to appeal when a higher volume was needed, Master-9 offered almost infinite power for any set of headphones and had a better control over the headphone drivers at higher volume.

    When I reconnected LCD-4 to the balanced output of the Master-9, audio performance plunged upward dethroning both previous performances on almost any aspect, well…except for that intoxicating transparency and micro-detail extraction that is still superior on Gilmore Lite Mk2.

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    Gilmore Lite Mk2 VS Audio-GD Master 9

    Conclusions

    Even I strongly believed that a high-end amplifier with a top audio performance is impossible to achieve at less than $1000.

    Nevertheless HeadAmp with its Gilmore Lite Mk2 proved the opposite.

    Really a great achievement with the Mk2 that offers a sincere and balanced sound across the board.
    We are talking about a truly high-end sound that does not kill your wallet and that can dance with any dynamic headphones. It will dance with majority of planar-magnetics as well, but not so well with inefficient ones.

    The amp receives my vote of confidence if you are interested in a single ended amplifier which does not want to add any coloration to your audio performance in any way and disappears as an audio component from the acoustic chain.

    There is no point in mentioning the design and the quality of the construction taken to the extreme.
    Impressive what was accomplished by a team of just two people, good job my friends!

    [​IMG]

    Pros:
    • Excellent acoustic transparency, easy extraction of micro-details
    • Linear and untainted frequency response
    • Pure and honest audio performance
    • Crazy speed and impact
    • Plenty of power for easy (IEMs) and harder (planar-magnetics) tasks
    • Lack of harmonic distortion, black as the night background
    • Great sound fluidity
    • Extraordinary price related to impeccable performance
    • A jewel like amp, built to high standards
    Cons:
    • It laughs at most of the single ended headphone amplifiers
    Equipment used for review:

    HeadAmp Gilmore Lite Mk2, Pico, Pico Power, iFi iPurifier2, Matrix X-Sabre Pro, Audio-GD Master 9, Sennheiser HD660S, Audeze LCD-4, FiiO F9 PRO

    Original review posted HERE
      jurumal, Adu, volly and 2 others like this.
  2. MacedonianHero
    THE HEADAMP GILMORE LITE Mk2 Headphone Amplifier
    Written by MacedonianHero
    Published Feb 5, 2018
    5.0/5,
    THE HEADAMP GILMORE LITE MK2: A VENERABLE CLASSIC RETURNS!


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    I’ve been a huge fan of HeadAmp’s products. Simply put, they make some of the best headphone amplifiers around. I find their products to be incredibly transparent and revealing through their upmost attention to maintaining a high degree of transparency. I’ve owned many of their products through the years, from the (now discontinued) GS-1, Pico, GS-X and their current flagship dynamic headphone amplifier the GS-X Mk2 ($2999 – $3199) has sat in my audio system for several years now. Throw in their world famous Blue Hawaii Special Edition electrostatic headphone amplifier ($6799USD), HeadAmp truly has some of the very best options for powering your favourite headphones. For those of you on a budget and don’t want to spend several thousands of dollars, the newly updated Gilmore Lite Mk2 is just what you’ve been looking for! Based on many similar design elements that Dr. Kevin Gilmore has used previously in the GS-1 and GS-X MK2, the Gilmore Lite Mk2 brings you a much more affordable, but still incredibly powerful and transparent product to drive pretty much anything you can throw at it!

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    A lot of attention to detail went into this iteration of the Gilmore Lite, everything from the silky smooth volume control to the beautiful gold lettering on the black background really looks great! The transparency that you’d expect from a Kevin Gilmore design is all there, and with the Mk2 version you get an impressive 1.5 W of power to drive almost anything you can throw at it. If you’re looking at driving power hungry orthodynamic headphones like the Audeze LCD-4, JPS Labs Abyss-Phi or Hifiman Susvara, I would suggest you seriously consider looking at HeadAmp’s balanced GS-X Mk2. With more than 5W on tap, you should literally have all of your bases covered. Otherwise, the Gilmore Lite Mk2 could drive every other headphone that I threw at it without breaking a sweat. The small size will fit into even the smallest of spaces; so if your desktop real estate is limited, you shouldn’t have any issues with the Gilmore Lite Mk2.

    The full specifications for the Gilmore Lite Mk2 are:

    Electrical

    Type Low noise JFET input; Pure Class A bipolar transistor output
    Frequency Response 10Hz-90KHz +/-0.2dB
    THD+N <0.006%
    Total Drive Power Max 1.5W
    Gain 7.5X (16.5dB)
    Input Impedance 50K ohm
    Output Impedance <1 ohm
    Line Voltage 100V, 115/120V, 230/240V
    Power Consumption 10W


    Mechanical

    Volume Control Alps Blue Potentiometer
    Inputs 2 sets RCA jacks
    Outputs 1 6.5mm headphone jack, 1 set RCA active-preamplifier jacks
    Dimensions – Amplifier 5.75in [146mm] W x 6.75in [171mm] D x 2in [51mm] H
    Shipping Weight 4lb [1.8Kg]
    My prime sources to feed the Gilmore Lite Mk2 were the Chord Hugo 2 (via RCA) and Chord DAVE (also via RCA). I threw all of the headphones and in-ear monitors I had on hand, but quickly settled on a few that particularly mated well with this amplifier: the Sennheiser HD800S, Hifiman HE1000 V2 full sized open-backed headphones and Audeze LCDi4 in-ear headphone.

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    After approximately 75 hours of burn-in with various sources and headphones, I settled on the Sennheiser HD800S headphones and the Chord Electronics DAVE. My source was my 2016 iMac and Audirvana. “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky has been a classical music favourite of mine since I was introduced to it in high school by an overly zealous music teacher looking to expand our musical horizons. This particular DSD version by Pierre Hétu and The Orchestre Mondial des Jeunesses Musicales is a fantastic rendering of this epic work. Now I am very familiar with this work and the HD800S + Chord DAVE / GS-X Mk2 combination, but I was very curious to see how the Gilmore Lite Mk2 would fare in comparison. Costing 6 times more, the GS-X Mk2 is one of the very the best solid state amplifiers that I’ve heard and is my gold standard for testing both headphones and upstream gear due to its extreme level of transparency. Well, I am extremely happy to report that the Gilmore Lite Mk2 continues in the same tradition! The level of clarity really struck me right from the offset. Sound staging and detail retrieval were simply magnificent. Sure, the GS-X Mk2 is able to extract just about everything thing there is on this recording, the Gilmore Lite Mk2 offers a very similar approach. I’ve used the phrase “wire with gain” when it comes to Gilmore designed amplifiers and this new small wonder continues in that tradition. The bass notes hit and then decay with near perfect timing; never lingering more than called for. If you’re looking for a warmer sounding amplifier with a romantic bloom, I’d suggest you look elsewhere and possible a tube based setup. However, if fidelity is what you’re after and you’re on a budget, I can’t think of a better solution.

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    Along with the excellent detail retrieval of the string instruments and outstanding tonality, the Gilmore Lite Mk2 offers an almost holographic experience when it comes to sound staging. This little amplifier sounds B-I-G and deep. I was floored on the level of performance from this amplifier and throw in the very affordable price point, the value proposition was simply a no-brainer for me. I never once felt that the Sennheiser HD800S headphones were held back with this amplifier. If you really want to hear what these headphones are about, the Gilmore Lite Mk2 will let you hear just that. It won’t introduce its own colouration or character into the mix, but instead let you open a window into your music!

    [​IMG][​IMG]Quiet Nights” is one of my favourite albums by Diana Krall. This recording offers Diana’s unique take on many bossa nova classics from years gone by and really stands out for me for its great music and sound quality. As soon as I plugged in my LCDi4 in-ear headphones by Audeze, again I was almost immediately welcomed with the holographic sound staging that the Gilmore Lite Mk2 portrayed. These have to be the biggest sounding in-ear headphones I’ve heard and as soon as I plugged them into this amplifier, they really hit their stride. When listening to Diana’s rendition of “The Boy from Ipanena” it transported me to the recording studio and the instrumental separation and imaging really took these world class in-ear headphones to another level! In fact, I was so impressed with this level of transparency that I was very much reminded of the Gilmore Lite’s bigger (and significantly more expensive) brother, the GS-X Mk2. While there is an almost 6X price difference between these two impressive amplifiers, the performance differences were certainly not as vast. But if you’re looking for the last word on amplification, the GS-X Mk2 is definitely one of the very best out there, but for a fraction of that cost, you can get yourself a truly world class experience with these IEMs! Diana’s vocals were upfront and incredibly clear. The smallest nuances and vibrato within her singing were all laid bare with this magnificent combination! The Gilmore Lite Mk2 is one nimble amplifier that was able to mine the recording for even the smallest details and bests many amplifiers I’ve experienced costing over $1000. It is simply that good! I never once felt that I wasn’t getting all that I could from the LCDi4 with this amplifier.

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    [​IMG][​IMG]Finally, I wanted to throw a pair of orthodynamic headphones at the Gilmore Lite Mk2. I find orthodynamic headphones benefit quite a bit from a good amount of power behind them in order to fully hit their stride. The Audeze LCD-4 and Abyss Phi headphones seemed a bit too demanding for the 1.5W of the Gilmore Lite Mk2, but the more efficient Hifiman HE1000 V2 headphones seemed to fit the bill almost perfectly! Arcade Fire’s Grammy award winning album “The Suburbs” was my selection with these headphones. With a lot of different instrumentation (from drums, to guitars and fiddles), Arcade Fire’s music really has a lot going on and without a proper setup, this recording can come off as a bit smeared together. My source was the Chord Hugo 2 using RCA outputs to feed the Gilmore Lite Mk2 amplifier. Well, the words “crystal clear” popped into my head right from the title track: “The Suburbs”. Everything from the tonality of the piano to the vocals and percussion were perfectly rendered with the upmost in transparency. For more complex works like “Empty Room”, this combination hit all the right notes and I felt that the Gilmore Lite Mk2 was certainly able to keep up with this very demanding and revealing $4000 pair of headphones; certainly high praise for a $499 amplifier! The dead flat frequency response of the GS-X Mk2 was all there; as was a holographic soundstage. Now if you’re looking for the absolute best in these characteristics, then the GS-X Mk2 would be at the top of my list to procure. But if you’re on a tighter budget and want to hear what your headphones are truly all about, you need to try the Gilmore Lite Mk2!

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    I loved my time with this incredibly transparent and neutral amplifier. Those looking for a tube-like sound with warm over-tones, should look elsewhere. But if you’re in the market for a revealing amplifier that will just “add gain” to your source and drive pretty much any in-ear monitor or full sized headphones (except for maybe the most power hungry like the Hifiman Susvara or the other 2 mentioned in this review), I wholeheartedly recommend you check out HeadAmp’s return of a classic – The Gilmore Lite Mk2! You will not be disappointed as the price-to-performance ratio is among the very best I’ve come across. While small, this unit sounds quite big and offers incredible detail retrieval, imaging and overall clarity. It is like a microscope into your favourite recordings and will have you re-listening to some of your standards just to hear what you’ve previously missed. I am really glad that HeadAmp has brought back this venerable classic; it’s definitely one of my favourite amplifiers in the sub $1000 market space!
      jurumal, luckybaer, XERO1 and 16 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Satir
      n/a
      Satir, Feb 6, 2018
    3. Zachik
      Absolutely great amp! I am the proud owner of the Gilmore Lite Mk2 S/N: 001 :wink:
      Zachik, Feb 6, 2018
      hikaru12, MacedonianHero and purk like this.
    4. Liu Junyuan
      Have you tried this with the Utopia?
      Liu Junyuan, Mar 21, 2018
      Dvdlucena likes this.