AMP A / B COMPARISONS
Dec 3, 2010 at 4:55 AM Post #47 of 500

milosz

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I have not heard very much variation in the stereo image between these amps.  The exception was the Musical Fidelity Xcan V3.  It had slightly less separation, resulting in less depth and a smaller image; an overall more "intimate" sound.
 
I noticed that my Little Dot MK III has a slight change in overall stereo balance compared against the other amps. The left channel is very slightly lower in level than the right.  You can hear it on an A/B switch comparison, but when listening to the Little Dot alone there was not a noticeable "gee the left channel is too low" thing.
 
I am somewhat biased here because I am so spoiled by the great imaging of my speaker rigs- tri-amped Magneplanar MG 3.6  and a pair of Quad ESL-57's.  Both have incredible imaging abilities, and headphones just don't compare IMHO.  So while I hear "stereo effect" from headphones, to me it does not sound like "imaging" as I head it from speakers.
 
I suppose if I dig through my music collection I can probably find some binaural recordings which would provide an interesting tool to evaluate headphone "imaging."  
 
To put it bluntly, it doesn't seem to me that ANY headphones have much of what I've come to expect in terms of imaging from a music system, so I don't comment on it.  Like I said, I'm spoiled, especially by the Magneplanars- don't get me started because I could go on and on about the kind of image depth and "palpability" these produce.  I am using them with a DEQX which is not only a digital crossover, but has a measure & correct system using some very fancy DSP which corrects not only frequency response to about + /- 0.5 dB  but also corrects phase, group delay and step response to very close tolerances. All of this time-domain magic makes for a very coherent soundfield, an impressive improvement on top of the already excellent coherence of the MG 3.6's.
 
Dec 3, 2010 at 5:18 AM Post #48 of 500

milosz

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MUSIC:
 
All of the tracks I listen to are stored on my server in lossless FLAC format, having been ripped from my CDs using dBA POWERAMP software, and the tracks I use show as "100% accurate" from the Accurate-Rip database, meaning my rips of these tracks match the checksums in the database- this indicates there was zero ripping error.
 
The files are delivered to a Squeezebox 3, then by SPDIF to my Cambridge Audio DACMagic.  From there to the amps under test.
 
Here are my "standard" tracks. For testing, I tend to pick music I like that I think is well recorded and which I think will highlight some aspect of sound- bass, spatial quality, midrange, voice, etc etc.
 
  1. Patricia Barber- some live tracks from Companion and some tracks from Modern Cool (Mobile Fidelity gold hybrid SACD edition)
  2. Baabaa Maal - some tracks from Lam Toro
  3. Yo Yo Ma - tracks from Vivaldi's Cello, and from PORTRAIT
  4. Several Chicago Symphony Orchestra CDs - Beethoven Symphony #9, Varese Ionization.  I have heard these works live in performance by the CSO (I live in Chicago) so it's a good thing to listen to in testing.
  5. Tracks from Felt by International Observer
  6. Tracks from Corey Harris CDs: Fish Ain't Bitin', Downhome Sophisticate, and Greens from the Garden
  7. Music tracks from Stereophile Test CD vols. 1,2 & 3
  8. Tracks from Colma by Buckethead
  9. Tracks from Mezzanine by Massive Attack
  10. Tracks from the Buena Vista Social Club CD
  11. Tracks from Tanto Tempo by Bebel Gilberto
  12. Tracks from A Step Forward in the Wrong Direction by Long Beach Jazz Quartet
 
In addition to these I also just browse around in my collection.  Since in my A/B test, whatever track is playing I am making an immediate comparison between two amps, it's not terribly important to use (for example) exactly the same tracks in A/B Comparison 3 as in A/B Comparison 4, etc.  I am only comparing the two amps to each other in the immediate A/B test, and not comparing a given amp to how I think I remember some other amp sounded on some other occasion.
 
Dec 3, 2010 at 10:07 AM Post #50 of 500

Oddworld

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Ahh Mad Lust! Changed your profile pic. I was wondering where you went.
 
I completely agree, I can't wait for someone to compare the E9 to a better amp.
The OP seems to have a great setup and is methodically and carefully doing A/B Comparisons. I really trust his opinion! I hope in the near future someone could lend their E9 for an A/B
 
Dec 3, 2010 at 10:41 AM Post #51 of 500
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Quote:
Ahh Mad Lust! Changed your profile pic. I was wondering where you went.
 
I completely agree, I can't wait for someone to compare the E9 to a more expensive amp.

Fixed. :wink:
 
Dec 3, 2010 at 11:26 AM Post #52 of 500

Alcia

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Seriously, I love honest A/Bing of any sort of system of the high end with the so called low end. Really, I'm sure more is actually psychoacoustics than we'd like to admit. (says the person who distinctly head differences with tubes in my dad's speaker system. and when he upgraded to a higher end audioquest cable...)
 
Quote:
Ahh Mad Lust! Changed your profile pic. I was wondering where you went.



Yep, wondered that tooooo. Anime fanatic (j/k of course, and hey, mine is a Pokemon, so no room to talk)
 
Dec 4, 2010 at 8:00 AM Post #53 of 500

milosz

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With the exception of the headphone jack on the 1980's Yamaha A700 integrated amp,  ALL of the amps I tested sounded VERY GOOD. What really sets the stage for the sound is the headphone itself, that has a MUCH larger impact on sound quality and "flavor." The better amps allow any given headphone to reach a tad more of it's full potential; and, especially with tube amps there is some "flavor" to the amp itself, though much less than the "flavor" imparted by the choice of headphone.
 
The one thing that REALLY surprised me was how good the headphone jack on the Sugden A25 integrated amp sounded.  It's a good amp, sure, but I figured that since all integrated amp headphone jacks put resistors in series with the 'phones that this would so limit damping factor and other things that I would find it really objectionable. This was simply not true.  While the Beta-22 sounded better than the Sugden headphone jack, it was an audible difference but not a HUGE audible difference. 
 
Of course, there are some differences that don't relate to sound quality but to driving ability:  the Bottlehead Crack could not successfully drive the LCD-2.  And I just ordered a pair of HE-6's, and I expect that while the Beta-22 should drive these just fine, I really wonder if any of my other amps will have enough power to do the job.
 
Of course, I can connect the HE-6 to the SPEAKER outputs of one of my medium-powered speaker amps, like the Sugden A25 integrated or one of my other speaker amps: Monarchy SM70 (class A) - AMC-CVT 2030 a class A mosfet-EL34 hybrid, etc etc.  And I will certainly try this.  I already have a speaker-amp A/B comparison box which I use as a "passive preamp" and amp switch on my Quad ESL-57 speakers.  I have two Alps stereo pots in this box, that allows me to set the gain for each power amp to produce identical loudness and then I use an A/B switch to switch the speakers from one amp to the other.  I used this to select the amp I am using on those speakers- I tried a bunch of  amps against each other.  I found that due to it's more complex impedance load, a speaker has more interaction with various amps and this causes various amps to show more difference in sound than amps show with the simpler impedance curves of headphones.  This is especially true with tube type speaker amps, the output impedance of their output transformer has a moderately strong interaction with speaker impedance curves, and I heard pretty large differences on speakers between a solid state amp and a tube amp.  Some tube amps tended to produce a fairly bloated upper bass. For my ESL-57 speakers I settled on a Forte 4A amp.  But sometimes I switch over to a H-K Citation II, which is one tube amp which didn't go all woolly on the ESL-57's.  Anyway that's a digression.
 
So far my conclusion from this testing is that, yes, there can be fairly dreadful sounding things to drive your headphones with (Yahama A-700 headphone jack)  but all the headphone amps I tried sounded VERY GOOD, with slight differences between them.  To some people, slight differences could be important I guess. 
 
NOTE: The Yama amp I'm talking about is a 1980's A700 amp,  NOT related at all to the current Yamaha A-S700 product.
 
Dec 4, 2010 at 10:02 AM Post #54 of 500

Slaughter

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Nice job with this thread. Your conclusions are about what I expected. Amps mostly seem to differ on the two ends of the frequency spectrum. Some roll off, some extend further, some are a little fuller, some are tighter. But I think that these small differences are what people are after. I love my HD580, but feel it needs just a bit more sparkle in the highs, so I am after an amp that provides that. Now I won't pay Beta money for that sparkle, but I can see some people doing that.
 
When are you starting your DAC A / B thread?
atsmile.gif

 
Dec 6, 2010 at 9:06 AM Post #55 of 500

milosz

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Quote:
Nice job with this thread. Your conclusions are about what I expected. Amps mostly seem to differ on the two ends of the frequency spectrum. Some roll off, some extend further, some are a little fuller, some are tighter. But I think that these small differences are what people are after. I love my HD580, but feel it needs just a bit more sparkle in the highs, so I am after an amp that provides that. Now I won't pay Beta money for that sparkle, but I can see some people doing that.
 
When are you starting your DAC A / B thread?
atsmile.gif

I'll start the D/A thread when I get my Audio Gd NFB-11, one is supposed to be shipped to me any day now.
 
 
Dec 15, 2010 at 2:13 AM Post #57 of 500

milosz

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Quote:
Quote:
I'll start the D/A thread when I get my Audio Gd NFB-11, one is supposed to be shipped to me any day now.
 



Nice! Any thought on how you're going to work it?


The NFB-11 won't be arriving till late January I reckon, so the DAC A/B test is a ways off.
 
Haven't gotten around to working out how to test yet; currently building an A/B test rig for phono preamps, but that's another forum altogether 
biggrin.gif

 
Dec 19, 2010 at 7:04 PM Post #58 of 500

Oddworld

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Someone get this man a Fiio E9 so we can hear some A/B
 
Dec 19, 2010 at 7:18 PM Post #59 of 500

Slaughter

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He's waiting for a real DAC/Amp to arrive.
wink.gif

 
Quote:
Someone get this man a Fiio E9 so we can hear some A/B

 
Quote:
The NFB-11 won't be arriving till late January I reckon, so the DAC A/B test is a ways off.
 
Haven't gotten around to working out how to test yet; currently building an A/B test rig for phono preamps, but that's another forum altogether 
biggrin.gif



 
Dec 21, 2010 at 4:50 AM Post #60 of 500

ukkisavosta

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What an interesting read! Thanks a lot for the trouble and effort.
 
I would also be very interested in seeing how the E9 would fare in an A/B comparison (if just to prove myself that I probably don't need anything better). I also wonder how the Fiio E7 would perform in a DAC comparison (sadly the LOD cable isn't available yet, if I'm correct). I fully understand that it isn't possible to test every single amp & DAC available and cater to everyone's requests, but these are probably the most basic units available, so they might give some perspective.
 
Anyway, it's very interesting to read about the subtle differences (and the apparent minuteness therein) between the various systems. From a headphone newbie's perspective I find it noteworthy that while there are notable differences in the designs of the amps, the sound is not massively different after all.
 

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