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Bottlehead Amplifier Discussion / Comparison Thread: Crack, SEX & Mainline

Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by loquah, Sep 24, 2013.
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  1. dannybgoode

    Exactly. 4 years to develop the Utopia. 4 years of spending money, not making it, then all the tooling etc as well as the costs you mention and sales volumes aren't going to be massively high.

    You either need to be a 'boutique' brand like Bottlehead (hope you're not offended by the description Doc!) with a quality product in a niche or a massive brand with deep pockets.

    Either way a major new product carries significant risk.
  2. bigfatpaulie
    I'm not sure if you are talking about the recent meet or not here.  I'm just going at jump out on a limb and assume you are, so totally ignore me if this is not the case and I'll be over here with my foot in my mouth :)
    At the meet you were listening to a Carbon - not a vanilla KGSS.  So keep that in mind; the Carbon is a very top tier estat amp where as a KGSS is not quite of the same pedigree.  I would also like to say that I may have overly down played how I feel about the Utopia's.  I don't really have buyers remorse persai, I just feel that the Utopia's really only have one downside and that downside happens to be a very important aspect of a headphone to me.  I am very much drawn towards the large sense of spatiality of HD800's presentation which nearly every other headphone by contrast is very much lacking, the 009's and Utopia's included.  If the Utopia's offered this, they would be by far and wide my preferred choice. 
    But they don't.
    What they do offer is nearly everything the 009's offer in terms of resolution and transparency but with a more natural, rich tone and a very firm bottom end.  For reference, I am using DAVE->Utopia's vs DAVE->DIY T2->009 so there is a consistent source and headphones are being fed as pretty much as clear a signal as possible.  The 009's still offer a unique fluttery/enthral quality that the Utopia's lack.  That quality, however, is akin the HD800's soundstage - something that is a unique characteristic that some may or may not be grabbed by.  It isn't essential for "great sound" and isn't something measured by someone like Tyll.  Anyway, in the comparison I have a very hard time putting the 009's ahead of the Utopia's as far as detail retrieval.  The Utopia's are truly, in my eyes, the answer to the 009's that non-estat guys have been waiting for.  I would not be surprised if Focal used the 009's as their reference 'to beat' when designing the Utopia's.
    I will also add that my daily 'go to' is still the DAVE->HD800SDR's and the trusty HD800's absolutely hold their own against the Utopia's (and to the 009's) as far as their detail retrieval goes - in most cases.  Where the 800's fall behind is on "background" noises (I don't know the right term here) - if something is placed farther away on the stage - is can get muddied and I think this may be a result of the large soundstage that the 800's project.  For example, if someone is playing guitar front and centre stage, everything is there on the HD800, the decay of the vibration of the string, the reverb in the guitar cavity, the fingernails hitting it and so on.  If that guitarist walks away to the far back/side of the stage, even with their own mic and the details roll off.  There is something odd going on there with the 800's but they can't resolve side to side as well as dead centre.  
    The second time they lose the battle is on larger complex passages - here both the Utopia's and 009 quickly pull ahead in their ability to resolve.  Take any well recored orchestra or choir and you can't pick out individual...  Anything...  on the 800's.  Here, the Utopia's and 009's muscle shows in full force.  The 009's, if I had to chose, would still likely have the edge over the Utopia's here but with other sacrifices that I would not be willing to take.  There is still one headphone out there would easily best best both for resolution, however.
    I also want to add that comparing a Mainline to a Carbon really isn't a fair fight.  Both are DIY products but a Carbon - in raw parts cost - is several, several, several times more costly and is far more complex in its design.  Keep in mind that the BOM for a Carbon will come from places like Mouser and the like.  Bottlehead likely sources parts from similar places to create their BOM.  Once that's done they add markup to the whole package (which they should for all their R&D, management and so on).  My point is the 'efficiency' of money being used to build your own Carbon is higher than buying a Bottlehead kit - you've cut another layer out of the chain.  Just the same that buying a kit and building it is a more 'efficient' use of money than buying a pre-made amp.
    I think I have always been very clear that I am a HUGE fan of the Mainline, but given enough money, it does not represent the apex of the headphone amp food chain.  In my long winded way, what I am trying to say is that I suspect that your Mainline had more to do with the lost details than the HD800's themselves.  At least, that is my suspicion. 
  3. NightFlight
    Its not, and to play the red tailed advocate - a company has a right to charge whatever they like. Perceived value is tied to price.
  4. NightFlight
    Well Paulie, yes I was referring to you. And you have the right to flip-flop (over/understate) on anything you own of course.  I mean the price can tend to make one squirm a bit right?  Also, sorry to drag you out into this.
    Your breakdown above is interesting. Thanks for the clarification. I don't know if dressing down the mainline (which you aren't) is the right direction. Its a fabulous amp, but as you say - perhaps not to be mistaken with an apex product.  Though I'm sure it has taken that spot on the mantle for some.  We could also be comparing apples and bananas. 
    What bugs me is trying to nail down what I was hearing on 009/Carbon/Yggy chain. I mean the 009 was not lacking that ethereal quality I've come to love from the HD800 - which I did not expect to hear.  I didn't expect it there because I've not heard it from other headphones.  I really hate that I liked it as much as I did. The detail! I need more time with it. :)
    Did you get a chance to hear the Andromedas on an AK? They'll raise your eyebrows too. Somethings up there though, I noticed something odd about them, but this is the wrong thread for that tangent.
  5. Armaegis
    For me, the convenience factor of being able to buy an entire kit from one place is a huge draw. I get disproportionately annoyed when I have to source from multiple vendors, especially when they all have to come across the border. Perhaps bigfatpaulie has better luck than I do, but I always get dinged at the border and it's a huge hassle and stressor for me.
  6. NightFlight
    USPS, under $100 declared value will slip under the radar and deliver directly every time.
  7. Armaegis
    I wish, but it doesn't work.
    Even with USPS, it technically needs to be under $65 (might be 60?) CAD and marked as gift... but that's not guarantee. Winnipeg is also a training port for customs inspectors, so we get all the super picky people here. I've spoken with reps from both FedEx and UPS who say that Winnipeg is the worst city in Canada to bring anything into.
    A few months ago I bought some used stuff together, a rather random assortment of a router, speakers and a headphone. The inspector basically looked at the package and said "this looks too nice, the stuff must be new" and flagged it down. My parcel was literally held hostage because they arbitrarily decided it must be new because they were in good condition. Several messages back and forth to say they were used items obtained for cheap fell on deaf ears, and there was nothing I could do about it even with the shipping agents trying to work with me to resolve it against customs.
  8. bigfatpaulie
    Well...  I wasn't really referring to customs at all...  I mean technically both anything from Mouser or Bottlehead would be subject to the same taxes - in Ontario it is 13%.  If I bought $1200 of stuff from Mouser or Bottlehead, I should be paying the same $156 in taxes in the end.  It may be in one hit from BH or several smaller hits from smaller shipments but technically, if I was ordering a total value of $1200, it shouldn't matter how many parcels in comes in.  Further to your point, Canada Post doesn't worry about anything less than $60 so if you ordered small chunks of parts you could avoid taxes altogether where as with a kit you can't.  Finally, you can source a lot of parts locally.  For sure buying a BH kit is EASIER than sourcing parts your self: that is absolutely part of the appeal of a kit.
    But none of that was part of the point I was trying to make.  I was just saying that a Carbon in a more expensive amp if you look at raw parts alone: forget taxes/shipping/duty.
    I did not hear the Andromeda's.  I actually got to hear very little at the meet, I was too busy chatting people's ear off :)  The only thing I spent more than a minute listening too was the HE60's.
  9. skeptic
    Haven't dropped in around these parts for a long time.  Hope you all have been well!
    The recent comments about output impedance sparked a dim memory that PJ once weighed in briefly on the topic of the mainline's nominal vs. actual output impedance.  On low, he suggested the real world value is actually closer to 5 ohms.  See: http://bottlehead.com/smf/index.php?topic=6473.0
  10. Doc B.
    Remember that we want a speaker load that is several times the amp's output impedance for low distortion performance. So a 5 ohm output impedance wants to see maybe a 15 to 50 ohm load. 
    skeptic likes this.
  11. Allanmarcus
    I cross posted over on the mainline thread, but this thread seems way more active.

    Anyone compare a mainline to a Schiit MJOLNIR 2?
  12. NightFlight
    No but you got me thinking about tube rolling again. :wink:
  13. deserat
    Oh my. I had to send my Mainline off for repair to complete it ( turns out there was a short ). Got it back today and it's plugged into my work rig. ( Bimby source ). WOW!!!!!!!!!! Can't wait to get this home and plug it into the Gumby. I've a feeling the HDVA600 will be going up for sale very soon. My first thought was that it was too polite, but turns out it's the kinda politeness that hides great richness... like a person of such refinement that by shaking your hand makes you feel glad to be alive.

    Update that night:

    So I've been home now for a couple of hours and bouncing between genre's on the Mainline and HDVA600. Honestly it's a tough call as to which amp I'd call better at this point. They are tuned differently, though not much. The HDVA is brighter but has more bass extension. The Mainline feels slightly more natural in the highs and hits harder in the mid bass. The HDVA has slightly larger sound stage and images better. I'd also give a slight edge to the HDVA in the dynamics department. Though on a number of tracks ( Danny Elfman's Saranada Schizophrana - Piano's for instance ) it very difficult to tell the two amps apart.

    Granted the Mainline has about 8 hours of play time on it, and the HDVA several hundred, so if capacitor burn-in (100 - 400 ) hours and tube burn-in ( 20 - 30 hours ) holds any truth, this isn't exactly fair. I'm writing it down now for two reasons. I'd like to see if the flavor of the amp changes over the next week and I figure you might as well. Surprisingly at this point the Mainline sounds VERY solid state. I am hoping for a bit more of that tubular tubeiness. But hey if it doesn't deliver... I've a Crackatowa waiting to be built next.

    I don't really see any point in filling this thread up with my impressions so I'll just keep updating this post.

    2 Days later. ( about 20 hours on the Amp now )

    The tube has opened up a bit. At least I'm guessing that is the cause of the change given the time frame. Bass, now extends down below the HDVA and with more impact ( Using Bjork - Black Lake for musical test ). Using Audiophile System Test disk and level matched to 66 db with white noise, 10 hz is audible 20 hz is clearly audible on the Mainline. HDVA wasn't audible at 10 hz, was barely at 20 hz and became clear at 30hz. It's hard to call resolution. Sound stage has opened up at bit wider than the HDVA, but the HDVA is still feels more precise. There is just a little bit of tube air and liquidity coming through now. On one of my favorite test tracks Tools 10,000 Day (Wings, Part 2) the Mainline feels less congested, rendered the rain and the thunder with more detail and layers Maynards harmonies more clearly, the cymbal hits are sublime. Though on Tools Reflection the positioning of the drums during the opening is much easier to discern on the HDVA. On the Elfman Track I mentioned earlier, the mainline is now clearly more airy.

    I'll be taking the Mainline into the office next week so I can put more hours on it than I can at home. Does anybody have thoughts on burn-in on for the stock dayton caps?

    Quick Note after at about 70 hours of burn in

    Everything that isn't listening to my HD800's through the Mainline sounds bad. Birds chirping in the trees, bubbling brookes, the waves rolling in on the beach.... all pale in comparison. Ok that's a little over the top, but you get the point. This is the best thing I have heard next to the HE-1 system. Imaging has tighted up. bass rumbles the side of my head, percussion... oh the drums I never loved drums so much, so much attack, so much decay. The only thing I'm not loving is the intimacy of the soundstage, alot of folk don't like the HD800 expansiveness, but it is one of the things I love, the mainline brings it in a bit more than I like.

    Also the Ether C is a no go with this amp. Super bright and anemic bass. HD600 is pushed to it's absolute best then left exhausted, because the amp demands something better.

    A few weeks and a couple of hundred hours

    I flipped the amp over and re-biased the tube. The sound quality had been dropping, most noticeable in the bass and imaging. The A side had dropped to 127 and the B side risen to 152. Everything is back to normal, or better now.

    I spent some time going between the music I mentioned earlier. the 10hz frequency is more audible than memory tells me it was before. Bass is still superior to the HDVA in both extension and control, which kinda boggles me, given that solid state is supposed to have quite the edge in that department. Tool 10,000 days is better than I've ever heard it, I can now hear that the bass guitar is a mic in front of an amplifier, the rain drops are very clear, there are dynamics in the thunder that simply can't be heard from the HDVA. The drums at the begining of Reflection are better positioned and more dynamic, in fact the whole of the Lateralus Album is open and rendered with ease. None of the congested mids for which it is known. Of particular note is the cymbal strikes, which I always thought poorly recorded, the whole life every cymbal strike rendered in exceptional detail, the attack is harder the shimmer clearer and the shine longer than the HDVA by a very noticeable amount . Piano's from Saranada Schizophrana is more open with better timbre.

    I can't say the there is a night and day difference while listening most of the time. In general the Mainline feels more airy, more holographic and more resolved and controlled in the highs and bass. Drum strikes are noticeably more powerful. I say all of this as though it is night and day, it is not. I'm sitting in a room I've made as quiet as possible listening to Redbook or better recordings and looking for differences.

    Does any of this matter in general listening? I think it does, but then the Mainline is infused my sweat and tears, with my little successes and failures, and the stories I've told to friends about building it. It is very difficult to be objective in that light. In fact I'm 100% sure my mainline sounds better than your mainline - even if you are an engineer and upgraded the crap out of it.


    I've an EH Goldpin awaiting installation, and two 10uf Mundorf Supremes on their way... but I'm going to enjoy this as it is for another week or two.
    Last edited: May 3, 2017
    rated1975 likes this.
  14. Loquah
    Nice description, deserat! I use the Mainline with a Gumby and it's a brilliant combo!
  15. deserat
    Does anybody have thoughts on burn-in time for the stock dayton caps in the Mainline? Not trying to start a flame-war, there does seem to be consensus around film caps requiring burning and different types having different burn-in times. I'm just trying get a sense as to when I should consider the mainline relatively stabilized. 
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