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Balancing Act 2a3\45 impressions

Discussion in 'High-end Audio Forum' started by bdh, Feb 13, 2011.
  1. bdh
    Due to some bad experience trying to get a couple of other SinglePower amps fixed and made 'safe', I decided not to try and get my Extreme updated, but instead get a new and better amplifier. Of course deciding on an expensive amplifier that I can't audition can be a slow and difficult decision. Luckily I had the opportunity to demo the Apex Pinnacle for three weeks, which illuminated my mind and ears to what the best is capable of. As described in my review, I felt I had finally achieved near perfection as regards to headphone sound. But you may also have noticed a sub-current throughout the review of me trying many different tubes in order to get the musical satisfaction I got out of the Extreme and wishfully as I get out of my 45 SET amplifiers.
    Due to my love of the sound I get from the 45 tube, I just had to try a 45-based headphone amp before deciding if I wanted to spend that much on the Pinnacle. So I ordered a Balancing Act 2a3\45 from Eddie Current. Apparently it currently is the only 2a3\45 Balancing Act, all the others are 300b\PX4 configurations.
    It came with Sovtek 2a3's, and so I put those in first. They had okay sound, but no music to them. I tried some NOS Globe 45's, but wasn't too impressed either, which made me nervous, as I prefer the NOS Globes to the FJ new stock tubes in my SETs. But I put in a pair of the FJ Mesh 45's. This was the sound I had been looking for! Pure music! I don't think about the sound at all, I just bask in the glorious music. This is what I was hoping for with the Pinnacle.
    Now that the amp was a keeper, I got a pair of Emmission Labs Mesh 2a3, and a pair of Solid Plate 45's. From all that I've read Emmission Labs Solid Plate 45's have almost universally been agreed upon as the best sounding 45's period. When they arrive I try the 2a3's first, and they are light years ahead of the Sovtek's in both sound and music, but I still prefer the FJ 45's to them. So I put in the solid plate 45's and wow! I see why these are considered the best. Clearly the best music I've heard out of headphones, and it closes matches the music of my speakers - minus the external big sound stage of course. While the 2a3's have a bit better sound, the 45's have a lot better music. As I heard someone else say, the 2a3's make you want to analyze the beautiful music, while the 45's make you want to listen to the beautiful music.
    While Craig my disagree, from my memory the Pinnacle did have better sound than this version of the Balancing Act (I can't speak about the PX4 version, as I've never heard it), but this amp definitly makes better music to my ears, and the sound is still the second best I've ever heard.
    The Tung-Sol 'mouse ear' 6sn7 is the best sounding in this amp that I've tried so far.
    The BA 45 does have a bit less bass than other amps (1/2 dB), and the treble is just a tiny bit softer than other amps (a good thing actually, compared to a 'hard' sounding treble), but since I equalize via the Starplugs 38-band EQ in J River Media Center 15, it is no problem to me.
    I'm glad I took the risk and tried this amp.
  2. KingStyles Contributor
    Congrats on the amp and welcome to the BA club. I was wondering what that configuration sounded like. Thanks for the good review.
  3. Rob N Contributor
    Any pics?
  4. jpelg
    Can we assume the modded JVC's are the cans used for the review?
  5. bdh
    I'll see if I can take some pictures in the morning with the sunlight coming in.
    While the modded JVC's are my primary cans, I did try the T1 and HE-5.  But as happens whenever I listen to music with those two, I quickly lose interest and can't wait to get the JVC's back on.  While the BA powered the HE-5 just fine, I doubt it would drive the HE-6, as I have to put it around 80% of full volume with the HE-5's.
    I have a third pair of JVC's that are still stock that I'm thinking of getting re-cabled balanced, then modded, as both my current ones are still single-ended.  I'm also thinking of re-cabling it with Signal cable Silver Reference interconnect wire, as I like those interconnects better than the APS balanced interconnect that I have.
  6. jpelg
    And your source is the modded Benchmark DAC1?
  7. bdh
    Yeah.  Balanced outputs to the BA.  I use the Havana for my speaker setup and only drag it up once in a while for headphone use.  I like the modded Benchmark much better for headphones than the Havana, and like the Havana much better than the Benchmark for the speakers.  I got lucky I guess.
  8. Karo
    Really appreciate such a complete and enthusiastic review !  Have been thinking about your sound vs. music comparison.  That's my dac guy's motto .... "no sound,  just music." .
    Awhile back,  I told Craig about the jukebox we had when I was a kid.  He said they sometimes ran on 45s and were bi-wired.  Sounded good to me.  )
  9. bdh
    Well, I have to write that I've changed my mind.  [​IMG]
    So after a week of enjoying the 45's, I decided to try the Emission Labs 2a3 Mesh again to compare.  And while they had great sound, they were still lifeless, and just a bit thin compared to the 45's.  Knowing how critical synergy is, I decided to try some different input tubes.  After trying several that didn't improve anything, finally a Sylvania 7n7 added all the life and more that the 'mouse ear' 6sn7 -> 45's were giving me.  (Going back to the 45's with this 7n7 didn't do it for me - that synergy thing again.)  Bumping up the mid-bass to lower mids just a small amount, it now has everything the 45's had but also with very noticeably better sound -- clearer, cleaner, a more open sound, a more open and bigger soundstage, more 'PRAT', tighter and more delineated instruments, yet also providing more life and musicality than even the 45's did.  This amp just keeps on amazing me at how good everything sounds with every type of music.
  10. Turko
    thanks bdh for wonderful review...
    Do you think of getting EML 45 globe on Balancing Act...?
  11. bdh
    I've thought about it of course.  But EML tubes are definitely not cheap, and the globes are even more expensive.  I ordered the two pair of solid-plate 45's before I got the BA, in order to try in my speaker amps, and have been trying to decide which type of 45 to get for the BA.  But now that I like the 2a3's better, I think I'll just stick with these.  But of course I'm now wondering about the solid-plate 2a3's.  [​IMG]
    (I only have one of the two pair of 45's now, and I prefer the sound of my speaker system with both pair of NOS globe 45's playing.  But I don't know if that is because I won't like the EML 45's in my speaker setup, or the 'dislike' is being caused by the mis-matched sound between the mids and tweeters due to the difference between the EML's and NOS.  And there is a noticeable difference between the tubes. The EML has a bigger sound-stage, a more forward sound, and a stronger bass and treble.)
  12. Karo
    Blue Moon Award ?!   [​IMG]  When are we gonna see this hybrid amp ??
    Congrats Eddie.   [​IMG]
  13. majkel
    The best tube headphone amplifier amongst those I have heard utilized the 45's mesh plate from EML. Sure there were some others like 2A3 but I liked the 45 mesh plate the most. Input tubes were Siemens & Halske CCa at the time, so various E88CC were possible. I am curious how that amp would work with the 45 solid plate.
  14. Frihed89
    Hi,  The 7N7 you have shouldn't sound much different than the early Sylvania 6SN7GT tall bottles. Another tube you may like based on your remarks is the Raytheon 6SN7GT T plate, although the flat plates aren't that far off.  Try the EMLs with the regular plates ($$$$) as they project more "body".
    Is your amp by any chance sporting a pair of output transformers?  That's not the standard BA, but somewhere else on head-fi I saw a 2A3 custom amp Craig had made that was output transformer coupled with a separate power supply.  Is that what you have?  Or a regular BA set up for 2A3s instead of 300Bs?

  15. bdh
    There are so many different 6sn7 and compatible tubes, and every make and model I've tried sounds different to a small or large extent.  I have several pair of early Sylvania 'chrome top' 6sn7's, but they sound different than the 7n7 by a large amount.  I have several different brands of T post (plate?) 6sn7's and they sound different to a small degree, but I still prefer the 7n7 to all the ones I've tried so far.  I have several different pair of Sylvania 7n7 from different years and even they sound different from each other to a small degree.
    I have a pair of solid-plate EML 2a3's that are due to ship today.
    It's a regular Balancing Act configured for 45/2A3's as far as I know.  Craig built it in January.



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