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A comparison of the following opamps: Texas Instruments LME 49720NA, Burson V6 Classic Dual, Burson V6 Vivid Dual, Sonic Imagery Labs 994Enh-Ticha and SparkoS Labs SS3602

  • Opamp rolling with the Gustard H20

    Overview

    The Gustard H20 houses two dual opamps in DIP8 sockets.

    01b Top (cropped, 2x dual).jpg 01a Side (cropped, 2x dual).jpg 01c Bottom (cropped, 2x dual).jpg

    From top to bottom:
    The Gustard H20 came with two LME 49720NA. Burson provided one V6 Classic Dual for review, the rest I bought myself.

    The discrete opamps came with sockets to protect the pins during transport.

    02 Sockets (cropped).jpg

    From left to right: SparkoS Labs, Sonic Imagery Labs, Burson.

    Opamps removed:

    03c Gustard H20 (cropped).jpg


    Test Setup

    The volume was level matched after changing opamps.

    I mostly used FLAC files purchased on HDTracks.com, and Spotify Premium. FLAC files were played with foobar2000 via the WASAPI (event) output.

    Hardware: Microsoft Surface Pro 4 > iFi iDefender > 6 ft AmazonBasics USB A-to-B cable > Schiit Yggdrasil (USB gen 5, Analog 2) > 0.5 m Lavricables Grand 20 Core Silver XLR cables > Gustard H20 > 6 ft DUM cable, 4-pin XLR > MrSpeakers Ether C Flow 1.1


    Texas Instruments LME 49720NA

    01a Top (cropped, dual).jpg

    02c Gustard H20 (cropped).jpg

    Amber Rubarth - Novocaine
    Big sound stage. Good dynamics. Some harshness in the vocals. Slightly grainy. Could be more resolving.

    Alexis Cole - Whippoorwill
    Sounds good, but lacks refinement. Percussion a bit cut off and lacks texture. Bass is good and impactful, but not well resolved. Slightly grainy. Somewhat harsh highs.

    Cécile McLorin Salvant - If A Girl Isn’t Pretty
    Cymbals lack finesse. Some piano glare. Some harshness in the vocals. Good bass impact. Clapping not convincing.

    Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys - Smooth & Groovy
    Pretty good, but not really moving. Dynamics mostly there, but highs a bit harsh, bass slightly woolly, not very resolving.

    Nils Lofgren - Keith Don't Go
    Pretty solid, not unpleasant. Not incisive enough. Guitar missing some texture. Boring. Veiled sound stage, unconvincing clapping. Some harshness in the fastest parts.

    Deftones - Rocket Skates
    Distorted cymbals, harsh vocals and guitars. Drums lack impact in busy sections, but bass is alright, a bit muddy. Fatiguing. Something can't quite keep up.

    Billie Eilish - Bury a Friend
    Not bad, mostly there, but lacks some impact. A bit grainy. Sounds somewhat dampened.


    Burson V6 Classic Dual

    01b Top (cropped, dual).jpg

    01a Side (cropped, dual).jpg

    01c Bottom (cropped, dual).jpg

    02c Gustard H20 1 (cropped).jpg

    02c Gustard H20 2 (cropped).jpg 02c Gustard H20 3 (cropped).jpg


    Compared to LME 49720NA:

    Amber Rubarth - Novocaine
    More resolving, more nuance in the guitar. Instruments more delicate. Vocals still harsh. Attacks a bit soft, especially the finger snapping. Good instrument separation.

    Alexis Cole - Whippoorwill
    Soft attacks very noticeable, but help with texture. Slightly harsh highs, especially the saxophone. Bass a bit tame.

    Cécile McLorin Salvant - If A Girl Isn’t Pretty
    Clapping slightly more convincing. Soft bass attack. Nice cymbals. Piano glare, slightly harsh vocals.

    Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys - Smooth & Groovy
    Soft attacks help reveal the rest of the notes. Vocals and banjo harsh in the highs. Good instrument separation. Some head bopping.

    Nils Lofgren - Keith Don't Go
    More details in the guitar, but suffers from softer attacks. A bit cleaner and more refined.

    Deftones - Rocket Skates
    More bass, drums hit harder, cymbals are cleaner, less harsh vocals, much less harsh guitars. Quite listenable. Least bearable song before, now most enjoyable one.

    Billie Eilish - Bury a Friend
    Cleaner and fuller, quite good. Soft attacks still noticeable. Fun.


    Burson V6 Vivid Dual

    01b Top (cropped, 2x dual).jpg

    01a Side (cropped, 2x dual).jpg

    01c Bottom (cropped, 2x dual).jpg

    02c Gustard H20 1 (cropped).jpg

    02c Gustard H20 3 (cropped).jpg 02c Gustard H20 4 (cropped).jpg


    Compared to V6 Classic:

    Amber Rubarth - Novocaine
    Impressive imaging. A little less resolving. Faster attacks, more exciting dynamics. Some harshness in the vocals. Burson describes these as less textured, which I can now see. Trade-off rather than clear cut improvement.

    Alexis Cole - Whippoorwill
    Faster attacks are nice, but lacks some body afterwards. Great imaging. Clean sound, could be more engaging, but not completely dry. Little treble harshness.

    Cécile McLorin Salvant - If A Girl Isn’t Pretty
    Nice bass attack, great imaging, hardly any piano glare, pleasant cymbals. Mildly engaging. Somewhat convincing clapping.

    Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys - Smooth & Groovy
    Faster attacks help, as does the imaging. Pretty engaging. Not super detailed. Strong attacks followed by lackluster sustain.

    Nils Lofgren - Keith Don't Go
    Finger tapping, unlike the previous opamps. Sustained notes sound meager, but fast attacks bring me joy. Classic sounds fuller, but less engaging. Faster sections rock with the Vivid.

    Deftones - Rocket Skates
    Similar to the Classic, a bit more engaging, but the Classic sounds slightly fuller, more balanced. Some harsh vocals.

    Billie Eilish - Bury a Friend
    Less full than the Classic, but good dynamics. A bit better with the Classic.


    Sonic Imagery Labs 994Enh-Ticha

    01b Top (cropped, 2x dual).jpg

    01a Side (cropped, 2x dual).jpg

    01c Bottom (cropped, 2x dual).jpg

    I used right angle adapters sold by Sonic Imagery Labs, and the included sockets.

    01e RA Adapter (cropped).jpg

    02c Gustard H20 1 (cropped).jpg

    02c Gustard H20 4 (cropped).jpg

    02c Gustard H20 3 (cropped).jpg 02c Gustard H20 2 (cropped).jpg


    Compared to V6 Vivid:

    Amber Rubarth - Novocaine
    Spacious sound stage. Some harsh vocals. Speed of attack somewhere between V6 Classic and Vivid. Fuller than Vivid, imaging almost as good. Engaging. A tasteful, balanced blend of the Classic's and Vivid's strengths.

    Alexis Cole - Whippoorwill
    Attack, sustain and decay of percussion is really nice. Same for the bass. Smooth vocals and guitar. I like what I hear and feel. Most engaging presentation so far. Easy to stop analyzing and just enjoy the music.

    Cécile McLorin Salvant - If A Girl Isn’t Pretty
    The right mix of smooth and engaging. Some piano glare remains. Yummy bass, pleasant cymbals. No urge to move on. Clapping not super convincing, but well placed in the sound stage.

    Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys - Smooth & Groovy
    Clear sound, precise imaging, coherent sound stage, balanced attack, sustain and decay - lovely. Slight harshness in the highs, but worth the experience.

    Nils Lofgren - Keith Don't Go
    Nice balance between fast attacks and a full bodied presentation. Satisfies body and mind. Fixes the Vivid's flaws. Convincing clapping, coherent sound stage. Good stuff.

    Deftones - Rocket Skates
    Rocks instantly. Meaty bass, impactful drums, no harshness in the guitars, coherent sound stage and good instrument separation. Groovy.

    Billie Eilish - Bury a Friend
    Punchy, rich sound. Best presentation yet.


    SparkoS Labs SS3602

    01b Top (cropped, 2x dual).jpg

    01a Side (cropped, 2x dual).jpg

    01c Bottom (cropped, 2x dual).jpg

    02c Gustard H20 1 (cropped).jpg

    02c Gustard H20 2 (cropped).jpg


    Compared to 994Enh-Ticha:

    Amber Rubarth - Novocaine
    Smooth bass, harsh vocals, good dynamics. Bit more sterile than the 994s.

    Alexis Cole - Whippoorwill
    Decay more abrupt than with the 994s, thus a bit less immersive. Good detail in the bass, guitars and vocals. Still engaging, but not as much.

    Cécile McLorin Salvant - If A Girl Isn’t Pretty
    More abrupt decay is a disadvantage, especially with the bass. Highs seem harsher.

    Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys - Smooth & Groovy
    Definitely still groovy, but less smooth. The treble seems a bit much.

    Nils Lofgren - Keith Don't Go
    Incisive and detailed. Maybe overly so.

    Deftones - Rocket Skates
    Similar presentation, but a bit more raw, less clean, somewhat grating. Moved on to the next song, while with the 994s I gladly finished it.

    Billie Eilish - Bury a Friend
    There's something overly brutal about the sound. Better with the 994s.

    Sarah Jarosz - When Doves Cry - Recorded at Spotify Studios NYC
    Sounds mighty fine! With the 994s, the studio comes to life more.


    Conclusion

    The stock opamps are okay, the discrete ones are all better in at least some areas.

    The V6 Classic sounds pretty rich, but the soft attacks make it boring. The V6 Vivid has stunning imaging and exciting attacks, but sustains notes in a lackluster way. Between the two, the Classic arguably sounds objectively better, but the Vivid is more engaging.

    The 994Enh-Ticha is almost as incisive as the V6 Vivid, but matches the V6 Classic's richness, while adding a beautifully three dimensional sound stage. The SS3602 dials up the transients and dynamics, while lacking some of the 994's musicality.

    I definitely prefer the SS3602 over the Burson V6 flavors, which both compromise too much in certain areas. While the 994Enh-Ticha doesn't sparkle as much, its organic musicality is wonderfully seductive and engaging. I decided to go with them for now - but I'll surely invite the SS3602 back, eventually.

    Winner: Sonic Imagery Labs 994Enh-Ticha
    Runner-Up: SparkoS Labs SS3602
jazzk, bunkbail and spacequeen7 like this.

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