Bottlehead
Dec 5, 2019 at 3:12 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 7

Tom-s

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Bottlehead


https://bottlehead.com/smf/index.php


logo1.png



If one could their own headphone amplifier that has benefitted from years of tweaking and ongoing improvements for a relatively low price? Who could say nee to that?


The Bottlehead company is a US based company that makes high quality Do It Yourself tube amplifier kits for everyone to build.


This is a small review from my 6 years of experience with their kits. If i can build these, everyone can!

Too much to read?! Links for video’s are below.


Introduction:

As many on here, I gradually rolled into headphone listening because of the price/performance ratio, overall performance and convenience. Soon i found myself looking for the best bang for buck headphone amp, that I, being a student, could afford for my desktop.

During this search, I noticed a few things:

1. DIY could be cheaper compared to a off-the-shelf product. There’s the price part.
Yes, perfect. But i’m non technical and never build a DIY amp before? This is where the DIY kits came into play.

2. In the world of high-end audio, tubes are found. There’s the performance part.
I was thrown of my feet by this. That some ancient technology I never heard off, ruled especially in the higher-end spectrum of amps.

3. I discussed this with a friend that plays the violin at a high level. Especially on how sound could differ between amps and why. So she gave me a few violin bows to listen to. Everytime I liked the old wooden bows better than the very fancy modern carbon fibre ones. He told me this was because of the harmonics created by the wooden bows. She uses the carbon bow to teach her pupils, because it’s more exact on each note. On the other hand, she performs using the wooden ones, as these have a “tone” the carbon ones don’t posess. If this non-scientific experiment would in any way translate to amps, all the talk about higher order harmonics could make sense to me. So, this experiment, in a weird way, convinced me to try tube amps (even though I never had heard one before).


Taking this all into consideration, the ultimate price/performance package as suggested by many this very forum, is the Bottlehead Crack. So that’s what I ordered in 2013, a Bottlehead Crack with Speedball upgrade. It had a absurd amount of very positive reviews and experience on the internet (at least, compared to other DIY amps). After gaining confidence via the support forum it became my first DIY amp and still is my most used amp to date.

I had to buy myself a soldering iron and teach myself how to use it, before I could even start the build. The manual, the support forum and youtube video’s helped a lot.

It was followed by many off-the-shelf solid state and tube amps, DIY tube amps and more Bottlehead kits.


A word on what makes these kits so special to me:

What, IMO, makes these kits stand apart from any other piece of audio equipement I own or have owned is not the sound quality. Good sound quality can be bought (usually at a far higher price).

These kits can teach you, how your equipement works, what influences the sound and in the end, how to do it yourself. This is the essence of these kits.

They can be anyones gateway drug into building your own high-end audio equipement. Life is not about the destionation, it’s about the journey, and the journey is what Bottlehead kits are all about!


A word on sound:

I won’t spend many words on this. Some say the Bottlehead kits have a sort of “house sound” and from my experience this is the case.

From my experience with other tube amps, Bottlehead amps have the good part of tube sound without the bad. They have a good frequency extension both ways and do sound detailed with a good amount of air. Relaxed yet detailed sounding, that’s how I’d describe them.


A word on price/performance:

My experience with other amps is limited. I’ve borrowed and owned a few similarly and higher priced (Schiit) amps to compare to my Bottlehead Crack and S3X. In my experience with these easily accessible solid state and some tube amps is that they tend to sound lean or flat compared to a similarly or lower priced Bottlehead kit. Most other products seem to come and go. The Bottlehead products are a constant in my arsenal.


You can build a similar amp DIY and it’ll be cheaper. BUT! From my experience, not by that much *(and might end up costing a lot more than anticipated). You need to add up the cost of all parts (don’t forget shipping), the wood and metal work that needs to be done before you can even start your build. Don’t forget tools, but then again, you’ll re-use these.


A word on the Manual:

This is the most important thing with these Bottlehead kits and it’s what makes them “easy” DIY kits for me. Their manuals are among the best manuals I’ve ever found with a DIY kit. It makes the kit accessible to be built by everyone. The PDF format manual is very thorough and I would recommend these kits to almost all ages (that can safely handle a soldering iron) and especially for those wanting to build their first DIY quality audio kit. The manual takes you trough the whole process step by step. It contains everything you need from start to finish. Aside from the actual build, it will guide a complete novice kit builder with everything you need to know about safety when building such a kit. They also include soldering lessons for both point-to-point and PC-board wiring/soldering.

There’s also enough advice on the best way to complete the woodwork and how to get a good-looking finish on the transformer bell and top plate.

When you’ve completed your kit there’s another five pages on the most common mistakes and how to troubleshoot your kit. I’ve found these tips also come in very handy for troubleshooting non-Bottlehead gear.


A word on the Bottlehead Forum:

The Bottlehead forum is the place to be when you’re not confident about a part of your build, when you get freaky voltages, or other troubleshooting errors with your build. Apart from that it’s also the place to be if you’re thinking of eXperimenting a bit with upgrades. On this forum every question, whatever it is, is taken seriously and answered so that you’ll be able to continue your kit building journey and enjoy your product the most. This support forum is the part that got me confident enough to buy Crack (now 5-6 years ago). Be sure to have a look on it! Older topics are full of tips and tricks that might spare you some headaches with your future kit.

The Bottlehead youtube channel with Tech Tips for your builds! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbC3oem8P8u8hD_JCo4MNxg


Ordering the kits:

You can order a Bottlehead kit online through their website only.

When ordering a Bottlehead kit you have to be kind of patient. Once your order is made, the kit is assembled. Most of the time this means the transformers for your kit are build already, but the small parts sometimes need to be ordered. The average time for a kit from order to shipping is about 4 weeks in my experience. It took my kits about 6 weeks to get across the Atlantic. So this time can be spent reading the manual, debating what components would be worth upgrading (they leave ample room for this) and ordering parts to implement them (and re-reading / memorizing the manual..).

The kits arrive neatly and thoroughly packed, with a good amount of bubble wrap and styrofoam to protect the hefty precious parts inside.

When there’s a problem with your kit (from shipping) or a part went missing / broke during construction. You can just email Bottlehead for the replacement part.


But… Can I build one?

With confidence, I can say, YES! This is the absolute beauty of Bottlehead products. They are so well thought out, with a manual so detailed, everyone can build one.

Not convinced? Have a look at their website and start reading on their forum.


Life’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey, and the journey is what Bottlehead kits are all about!


*Disclosure: I have no affiliation with the Bottlehead Company. I’m just a happy Headfier with good experiences to share.


Links:

Bottlehead: https://bottlehead.com/

The forum: https://forum.bottlehead.com/index.php

A review of various products here on head-fi: https://www.head-fi.org/threads/bot...ck-sex-mainline.683012/page-131#post-15398582

https://www.head-fi.org/threads/bot...-comparison-thread-crack-sex-mainline.683012/

A comprehensive build guide for Crack. Gives a good idea of what it takes to build a kit. https://www.headphonesty.com/2019/0...ck-headphone-amplifier-a-comprehensive-guide/

Videos:

Here’s a link to Tyll’s youtube vid about the Crack, with a word on his build.


Here's Loquah's review on the Mainline


Here’s a video on Vimeo that where DocB says it all:

 
Last edited:
Dec 5, 2019 at 8:13 PM Post #2 of 7

adydula

Headphoneus Supremus
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Bottlehead makes the best kits out there!!

For those of you that remember Dynaco, Heathkit, Eico, etc...Bottlehead is the real deal.....nostalgic for sure...build and learn....

The simple design on a SET Crack amp is just superb.....

Highly Recommended!

Alex
 
Mar 14, 2021 at 5:44 AM Post #6 of 7

Tom-s

100+ Head-Fier
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For those on the fence. Recently a few more great video's on Bottlehead kits surfaced from Mark on Hifi.

That goosebump moment when you power on your own build amplifier:
A S.E.X. review:
Comparing a Mcintosh to a Stereomour amplifier:
An audiophile chat with Doc Bottlehead:
Edit: forgot about this great Crack review from Rob Stivers:
 
Last edited:
Mar 20, 2021 at 6:10 PM Post #7 of 7

gimmeheadroom

Headphoneus Supremus
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We need a European distributor :frowning2:
 

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