Exclusive: LD MKVI Reviewed!!
Oct 27, 2008 at 12:52 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 55

penguindude

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[size=large]For the full official review with pictures, please visit the review article on my website.[/size]


Little Dot MKVI

Just when you thought there can be no more new models to the Mark series from Little Dot, the Chinese company adds yet another member to their MK series headphone amplifiers. This time, however, they have decided to go big, real big, balanced big! The Little Dot MK6 is featured as a fully balanced vacuum tube headphone amplifier.

To get a basic understanding of how balanced amplification works, just imagine the device as a bundle of two individual amps (with individual transformers, individual sources, individual amplification process, and individual outputs). Unlike traditional single-ended amplifiers, a balanced amp provides individual power to each side of your headphones. Comparing to single-ends, balanced setups create much better spatial presence, better separation of notes, and more accurate placement of instrument and percussions. So you ask, why not just skip single-ended and go straight to balanced if the latter is so much better? Unfortunately, due to the requirement for dual parts, the cost doubles that of traditional amplifiers. In many cases, the prices seem to have reached astronomical numbers for the average Joe. Heck, sometimes, they are even too costly for dedicated audiophiles. A Balanced Home Amp from Headroom, for example, costs as much as $3000.

Enters the MK6 – a fully balanced vacuum tube amp – that sells for $700! This review is to discuss whether the MK6 is worth its price tag.

Little Dot MK VI Technical Specifications:

•Fully Balanced Architecture
•SEPP (Single-ended Push Pull) OCL (Output CapacitorLess) in Class-A
•Inputs: 3-pin XLR
•Outputs:
•3-pin XLR pre-amplifier outputs
•4-pin XLR headphone output
•Frequency Response:
•5Hz - 80KHz (-3dB)
10Hz - 30KHz (-1dB)
•THD+N:
•0.02% (2Vrms @ 1000Hz)
0.06% (10Vrms @ 1000Hz)
0.3% (20Vrms @ 1000Hz)
•Power Output: 5W per channel (120 ohms)
•Signal to Noise: 92 dB
•Active 2 fan cooling
•Measurements:
•Metric: 350mm (length) by 290mm (width) by 140mm (height)
•English: 13.8 inches (length) by 11.4 inches (width) by 5.5 inches (height)
•Weight: 9.6 kg or 21 lbs
•Available in either 120VAC or 220VAC
•Available in either Black (default) or Silver


Build (9/10)

Similar to the rest of the MK product line, the MK6 is built like a tank. Coupling the black brushed aluminium body with a beautiful silver knob, the amp appears both professional and classy. Unlike other amps from LD, the power switch of the MK6 is located on the left side of the front panel. The overall design layout, however, is similar to that of the MK3 – silver tube rings in front of covered transformer.

If you are looking at pictures of the amp, you will probably notice the two analog gauges. Unfortunately, if you are hoping the displays are for the volume output on each channel, you will be disappointed. The needles don’t move with the volume as they are an indication of the amp’s DC power current, one for each side.

Other connections include two 3-pin female XLR for INPUT on the back, two 3-pin male XLR for OUTPUT, and one 4-pin female XLR for headphone OUTPUT in the front. The MK6 followed the design of AKG’s K1000 and accepts 4-pin XLR headphone connection. Thank you Little Dot for promoting the compatibility of a much more light-weight and convenient 4-pin configuration as opposed to two 3-pin XLRs.


Heat and Noise (6/10)

The outer chassis of the amp gets very warm during extensive usage, but it definitely won’t burn your hands if you touch it by accident. However, as expected from its larger tubes, the MK6 is a lot hotter than the heat generated by the MK3.

The new factory-installed GlacialTech fans are rather quiet. Only a small mechanical sound from the fans can be heard in a quiet room. Unfortunately, the amp exhibits another noise concern. During the amp’s warm-up, with the exception of the stock fans, the MK6 is virtually silent. However, once it kicks into the operation stage, the amp emits a very high pitch buzz. The familiar frequency is reminiscent of the sound you would hear when you turn on an old fluorescent (tube) light. The sound seems to be coming from the right channel transformer. The pitch is rather loud and obvious due to its frequency; it is audible with my open-ended headphones on (with no music playing) while sitting 6 feet away from the amp.

In the heat and noise category, the MK6 gets a 6 out of 10 due to the high pitch buzz. The noise level from both the fans and the transformer reduces when the amp is moved away from the wall and off of a wooden table to avoid sound resonance.


The Sound (9/10)

I must admit, the buzz from the amp really turned me off. The first question I had in mind before hitting the play button on my computer was: will the sound be so good that I am going to make compromise with the annoying pitch? I was willing to give it a try before packing it back and returning it.


The Connection:

EMU 0404 USB Fully Balanced TRS Output
Neutrik (Gold) TRS – Mogami Cable – Neutrik XLR (Gold)
Little Dot MKVI (Headphone Out)
HD600 Re-cabled w/ Stock HD650 Cable & Neutrik 4-pin XLR (Gold)

As you can see, the connection is fully balanced. It is important to remember that only by having a fully balanced source can you get the most out of a balanced amplifier.

If you have never gone balanced before, the sound of the MK6 will surely impress you. “The pinnacle of stereo” is a good phrase to describe the sound. What you hear on the left channel can be clearly distinguished from that coming from the right. Because of the highly distinctive separation, placements within the well-defined soundstage are highly accurate and are clearly visible to the listener. The portrayal of classical music exceeded my imagination. In Handel’s Hallelujah, without having to close my eyes, I could clearly see where the choir is located and where the strings are sat. In Tchaikovsky’s masterpieces, I could easily identify exactly where the strings, bells, and drums are placed. The LD MK6 portrays an exceptionally accurate soundstage with absolutely no artificial width or depth.

Let’s start the discussion of frequency response with the highs. Treble has one of the most pleasant characters I’ve ever come across. Not only do they embody the crystal delicacy we have come to expect in high-end sound equipment, but the highs come off as extremely natural and infinitely extended. Listening to Maria Callas’s “Carmen,” I could detect the weight of her vocal in one part, letting that weight go in another, and regaining it again throughout parts of the opera. Near the end of her song, the treble extension of the MK6 seemed to have out stretched Callas’s highest note, allowing her finale to be captured in an invincible space that showed no limit. The same can be said for Andrea Bocelli’s vocals – a non-shrilling and tender portrayal. Sarah Brightman’s vocal range met its match. The MK6 was able to entirely capture Brightman’s E6 note at the end of “The Phantom of the Opera,” which clearly indicated that even at such high note, the singer was able to resonate her vocal. This was something not as well defined using the LD MKIII.

The mids played an important role in establishing the special character associated with the high notes. The mids are intimate and affectionate – reminiscent of the liquid quality of the MK3. Whether it is Beyonce’s high-mid tone or Diana Krall’s smoky lower mid tone, the vocals sounded extremely smooth and pleasant. The mids cannot be generalized as “warm” as the amp’s sound signature is very neutral with only a bit towards the warm side. While listening to Louis Armstrong’s “White Christmas” you could definitely envision sitting next to a fireplace in the middle of a snowy winter, an audition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” would send a gloomy chill through your body.

Now the bass: powerful and splendid. In comparison to the LD MK3, the MK6 has a lot more lower ends. Contemporary pop songs never sounded better. The bass in Alicia Keys’ and Natasha Bedingfield’s songs are pronounced but controlled. The lower notes were never sloppy or over-coloring. The abundance of bass only appears when the music calls for it and disappears when unneeded. Snare drums got kick and punch; even the rebounds are detected in some recordings. Boston Acoustics and THX Bass Tests all confirmed that the amp is managed to go deep. The extensions are well stretched. The bass of the MK6 seems to even outreach the lower handling capability of the HD600.

The highlight of the LD MK6 is its clarity. There is very little coloring across the spectrum. The treble, mids, and bass all stay in their own categories, creating a symphony of frequencies instead of a mesh of notes crossing paths. Each pick of Eric Clapton’s guitar was portrayed with accuracy and timbre. Percussions and their placements can clearly be identified. The sound of the MK6 is extremely revealing – you will hear things you have never noticed in your old song tracks. One obvious disadvantage to such revealing sound is that you will definitely notice any imperfections in your music. MP3 files are acceptable, but only if they are well recorded and properly ripped.


---------------------------------------
Score Breakdown:

Soundstage: 8/10
Details: 9/10
Treble: 9/10
Mids: 9/10
Bass: 8/10
---------------------------------------

Conclusion and Comparison (8/10)

Okay, I think I’ve written quite enough. I can now confirm one saying to be true, that the Sennheiser HD600 will shine like there’s no tomorrow when balanced. The key is the headphone’s relative neutrality. Coupling the MK6 and the HD600 is a dream come true. Although the MK6 does exhibit some external noise problem, mainly the annoying high frequency buzz, its sound is too pleasant to be overshadowed. The amp has a huge dynamic range and a very authentic soundstage. Comparing to the LD MK3, the headroom is less three-dimensional, but much more organic with less echoes. The separation of instruments is without doubt much more accurate than the MK3, a quality single-ended system will never beat balanced setups. In frequency response (treble, mid, bass), the MK6 trumps the MK3 in all aspects.

So, the question is: considering the price difference between the two amps, is the MK6 worth the $500 difference (excluding shipping difference)? After listening to both amps for extended periods of time, I can say that for $200, the MK3 is truly a very good amp for the money. Although its sound is beat by the MK6 in almost all categories (as expected), it takes a much more expensive balanced setup to reaffirm just how good the MK3 is. The overall sound signature is almost identical to that of the MK6. It’s just that the latter sounded like two of the former combined. If you do not want to spend too much on headphones audio, I’d suggest sticking with the LD MK3. However, if you are an experienced audiophile and wish to try out how balanced audio sounds, the Little Dot MK6 would be a very good choice. If Little Dot could sort out the component(s) making the buzz and entirely eliminate the noise, the MK6 would be one of the best bargains in the audio market today. For me, let’s just say after going balanced, I do not ever want to go back.
 
Oct 27, 2008 at 1:10 AM Post #2 of 55

Duggeh

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I'm sorry, but having to put a fan on an amp is a huge no. There shouldn't be any noise intrusion from kit. You would think that after 6 revisions Little Dot could manage better.
 
Oct 27, 2008 at 1:50 AM Post #5 of 55

Lil' Knight

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Very nice review
biggrin.gif
I'm getting my LD VI next week.

The second and third batch were fixed the fan problem.
 
Oct 27, 2008 at 2:21 AM Post #7 of 55

cafe zeenuts

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Nice review!

On my MK6 the buzz is only audible when I stick my ear right close to the right hand side of the amp, say about 10cm away!

The 6080 does produce a lot of heat, so the fans must be active at all times to cool the amp! The Tung Sol 5998 which I'm running now produce less heat than the 6080! So if you want to lower your fan speed to futher reduce noise get some 5998s.

Stock tube combo is not bad, but 5998 & brimar 6SL7GT it's just another level of performance!

YMMV!!!
 
Oct 27, 2008 at 2:46 AM Post #9 of 55

vcoheda

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Quote:

Originally Posted by penguindude /img/forum/go_quote.gif
For me, let’s just say after going balanced, I do not ever want to go back.


i agree.

balanced is the only way to go for dynamics.
 
Oct 27, 2008 at 3:35 AM Post #13 of 55

penguindude

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Quote:

Originally Posted by juzmister /img/forum/go_quote.gif
That's interesting...I don't really hear a buzz at all with mine...


No, i can confirm that the buzz is only coming from the transformer as it still exists at the same level when the fans are disconnected. Are you running the 120 or 220v?
 
Oct 27, 2008 at 3:40 AM Post #15 of 55

penguindude

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Quote:

Originally Posted by juzmister /img/forum/go_quote.gif
220v


Perhaps it is the voltage difference as I'm running a 110V version here in Canada. I have already contacted David at LD about it, but he has yet to provide me with an answer.
 

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