Grado RA-1: impressive impressions!
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grinch

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this week i received my grado ra-1 from fellow head-fier chriscu1 (hope you can rebuild your collection soon) and really got to test it out. the first time i ever saw/heard this little block of wood was at the new york stop of the headphone world tour and i was impressed. i had heard so many posts about how simple the circuitry was and even seen the pictures proving so, but as i was walking around plugging my er-4s into every amp i laid my eyes on, i was pleasantly suprised at the time. that's about all i really remember, but when it came up for a decently-under-retail price, i snatched it up.

of course, the second i received the package i ripped it open and looked at it. it's just pretty. the construction is unique to say the least and simple in all the best ways. little thumb screws hold the plate that covers the battery compartment and there is a small but able switch on the pack and a small but easy-moving knob on the front for volume. a tiny led completes the deal.

i was at work when i first got the package, and couldn't help but hooking it up to my crappy soundcard in my workstation (which usually is connected to my mg head). i just threw on the hd580's (as they work well with the mg head, the only damn phone that seems to) and gave it a test. i knew that this wasn't the optimal phone to test it out with, but i keep my grados at home so this was what i had to work with.

testing with the hd580
one word comes to mind: smooth. that's the first thing that popped into my head as i recalled reading a post by kelly saying that he was "amazed by how smooth it sounded with the hd600 although the highs and lows weren't quite there as there probably wasn't enough power to drive them properly" (paraphrased). this pretty much fulfills my feelings on the matter. the hd580 sounded so smooth, i was in love with it. i can understand how people could use this amp to drive their hd600s and live happily with doing so.

testing on home rig
despite what some head-fiers think, the rega planet 2000 is one madman of a source. i love it. one day i a/b'd my new sony ns500v against it and it was night and day. of course, the planet costs approximately four times as much, but still.. it just sounds great. it had dynamics and great air and separation of instruments, in my opinion. i haven't heard that many sources though, so don't go running out and buying one just because i say so.

i ran my rega planet 2000 into the ra-1 with my dimarzio m-path 1m interconnects (thanks headroom!). i ran through a few cds and plugged in the rs-1. i figure if i'm going to test this amp, might as well test its matching wood counterpart. suffice to say, i was impressed. it sounded gorgeous and led me all night to believe that less is more. the amp didn't color anything, just gave the rs-1's some volume. the grado punch was there, just waiting to satisfy me with each slam of the drum. i was listening to tom waits's latest "ass-scratching"
(read this month's stereophile to get that one..) blood money and the rawness of his voice was all there. the pump of the saxophones, the glory of the pianos, everything. i was astounded at how glorious a sound i could get from such a modest little amp. tom waits HAD to record that album fully analogue, because i just felt it all night long. everything was there like i was in the damn studio. i loved it. for songs like "lullabye" and "coney island baby" i could almost feel the four-packs-a-day-for-the-last-century rawness of waits' growling in my ears. it was quite amazing to say the least, from such a small and inexpensive (when compared to the rest of my collection/obsession) amp.

next i threw on a cd i hadn't really spent any time on yet, which i found out to be a damned atrocity. i bought it from mapleshade a few months ago after reading a thread talking about how great their recordings are: the j street jumpers - is you or is you ain't my baby? . man was i impressed by this label the second i put this album on. i pressed play and instantly though wait, something doesn't sound right.. is this digital? upon flipping open the book, i find that this album was mixed/recorded live with two mics into a fully analog mixer with minimum cabling. it even went through the detail to describe the interconnects they used when doing the a/d conversion! i was amazed. you would never believe how great an eight (or nine, can't remember) piece swing band sounds when recorded how they're meant to sound: in a room with a couple mics in an audience-like configuration. i dunno about you guys, but i always imagine someday seeing a swing band and the setup being exactly like that dance scene with big bad voodoo daddy in the movie swingers. a stage and me sitting at the bar with a martini and a smug look.

anyway, enough about the recording. the thing sounds damn analogue and it sounds good; that ladies voice is quite provocative. i listened to this whole album playing through my new ra-1 and was nothing short of amazed. i love every minute of it, even when i started switching headphones..

my hd600 with clou red sounded just as the hd580 did (of course) with extreme smoothness and some diminished highs and lows. this wasn't necessarily a really bad thing, it sounded damn good. if i didn't know any better, i wouldn't thought this to be really great in my former days..

the biggest shocker of the night was when i plugged my k501's into this wooden block of ingenius. i was amazed to find that it actually sounded good! damned decent even! i couldn't imagine anything short of a nuclear reactor running some torroidal power supplies to get that bastard k501 off its ass, but low and behold the dual 9v batteries did it! i was pretty amazed, but getting such a kick out of the rs-1's at the time that i didn't spend more than a few minutes with this configuration going. the k501 is great and all, nice sound stage and mids/highs but i don't care when you bass-haters say.. they're light in the bass. sometimes they just get a bit boring to me. especially when i know they sound a lot better from the sugden headmaster..

brought back down to the ground
which comes to my last and final point. after a night of joy with the ra-1, i unclipped it and ran my m-paths back into my old faithful: the sugden headmaster. this amp has astounded me for months with its ability to just sound great with any of my headphones. i love it. i don't plan on ever selling it, it's just that wonderful. the bad news was, i tried out my rs-1 through them and realized that the sugden is just that much better. it powers the rs-1 better and the sound was more dynamic and had better separation and air. just amazing. this kinda took the wind out of the ra-1's sails.. but boy was it a fun few hours before that.
no doubt, i love the ra-1 and i am definitely keeping it and i'm all for batteries and its neutrality but.. nothing i have owned so far drive the rs-1's as well as my sugden headmaster. it just has the power and goes with it. the hd600's prove to fall to the same phobia, less smooth and faster response, along with my highs and lows back again.

in the end, the ra-1 gets my thumbs up. even at the retail price of $350, it's an awesome starter amp. it being bested by the sugden is only rational, considering the fact it costs three times as much. i haven't owned anything that bests it yet for that price range.. but my meta42s are on the way so we shall see what we shall see! also, i didn't a/b my porta corda with the ra-1 because i couldn't have used the same interconnects and although my kimber mini-to-rca 1ft interconnect sounds great, i don't think it's worthy of competing with my dimarzio m-paths.

although, i find myself here at work listening to some mp3 cds (self-encoded, always) and hating my damned self for not bringing in the ra-1 for some smooth lovin' with the hd580's.. oh well, there's always tomorrow. wait. screw that! there's always tonight!
 
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kelly

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grinch
That quote belongs to Nick, not Kelly.

Kelly said something along the lines of, "This is an overpriced CMOY in an overpriced wooden box. It has a smooth, dark sound and rolled off treble. No wonder fans of bright harsh Grado SR- series headphones like it. Luckily the Grado SR- phones are low impedance and don't take much to drive, because there's definitely not enough power here for the Sennheisers. They sound thin, veiled and constrained with this amp. For the cost of this amp, you could do a lot better almost anywhere else." Ok, maybe I didn't say that, but that's what I'd have said.

 
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Hirsch

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Quote:

Originally posted by kelly
grinch
That quote belongs to Nick, not Kelly.

Kelly said something along the lines of, "This is an overpriced CMOY in an overpriced wooden box. It has a smooth, dark sound and rolled off treble. No wonder fans of bright harsh Grado SR- series headphones like it. Luckily the Grado SR- phones are low impedance and don't take much to drive, because there's definitely not enough power here for the Sennheisers. They sound thin, veiled and constrained with this amp. For the cost of this amp, you could do a lot better almost anywhere else." Ok, maybe I didn't say that, but that's what I'd have said.


You'd have been dead wrong, if you'd said it. Luckily, you didn't.
 
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kelly

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Quote:

Originally posted by Hirsch
You'd have been dead wrong, if you'd said it. Luckily, you didn't.


Hirsch
I know you believe that if you match just the right crappy headphone with just the right crappy amp that the voodoo god of synergy will appear and fill your heart with joy. But, I know that you know that I believe differently and that the god doesn't seem to appear for those of us with little faith. In either case, I'd rather we agree to disagree rather than calling each other "wrong." The RA-1 has enough fans that I think our lurking audience is getting a balanced enough impression even if I state my negative views openly.
 
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Tuberoller

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If it is not already obvious to nearly everyone by now that we all have different listening preferences then nobody's paying attention.I also love the RA1 and liked the Headmaster a lot,though I feel it is overpriced.I think the Rega CDPs are way,way,way overrated but sell every one I get due to name recognition alone.I thought the Sony DVP-NS500V was a superior player in all formats to the Rega Planet and Jupiter.I also think that the Grado amp does a fine job of driving most headphones.I see that nearly everyone comments on the nuetrality of the Grado.this is the reason I use it to baseline test headphones,sources,and to audition music.It is the most nuetral amp I have yet heard.I think my Max is better sounding but the Grado does not take a beating at the hands of any amp that I have compared it to.I am using an RA1 and one of the Wheatfield HA2 to power my headphone display at the store.I don't think I could do much better for the price.BTW,I will be auditioning a RKV this week.
 
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grinch

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Quote:

Originally posted by kelly
grinch
That quote belongs to Nick, not Kelly.


actually, kelly said this:

Quote:

Beagle
Have you heard the HD600 on other amps beside the RA-1? The RA-1 sounded really smooth for the HD600, which surprised me (in a good way) but it really sounded restrained compared to other amps and the bass was really where it was hurt the most. If your opinion is only based on the HD600/RA-1 combo, you may find it changing if you get to hear the HD600 on other amps.


as quoted from your fourth post on this thread here: http://www.head-fi.org/forums/showth...ight=grado+ra1


there, i knew my memory wasn't getting THAT bad.. i have to agree that the ra-1 is about as neutral as they come. it's a great amp for its price range and i am glad to have heard hirsch and tuberoller's opinions on it (although me and tuberoller seem to disagree on the rega planet, but he does seem to be biased against anything rega.. or just hates it all).
 
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Hirsch

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Quote:

Originally posted by kelly

Hirsch
I know you believe that if you match just the right crappy headphone with just the right crappy amp that the voodoo god of synergy will appear and fill your heart with joy. But, I know that you know that I believe differently and that the god doesn't seem to appear for those of us with little faith. In either case, I'd rather we agree to disagree rather than calling each other "wrong." The RA-1 has enough fans that I think our lurking audience is getting a balanced enough impression even if I state my negative views openly.


Kelly,

My apologies for not being more specific. I did not mean to refer to your opinion of the sound of RA-1 as wrong. It's yours, and I respect that we may have different sonic values. No problem. Disliking the sound of the amp is personal opinion, and I value yours highly even if we disagree at times.

However, the RA-1 has plenty of power for Sennheisers, whether you like the resulting sound or not, and your comment that "there's definitely not enough power here for the Sennheisers" is wrong. I consider that fact, rather than opinion. Sennheisers may have high impedance, but they also have high efficiency. Grados are lower impedance, but are also less efficient, so power requirements balance out. Someone could easily be mislead by your comment and not try the combo out, thinking that it wouldn't work because of power limitations. They would miss the chance to form their own opinion of the sound, which would be more meaningful for them than either of ours.
 
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kelly

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Hirsch

I am new to this whole thing so I'm trying here but... I've been told that low impedance headphones require a good amount of current and that high impedance headphones require a good amount of voltage. If this is true, in an inexpensive amp, it does not seem far fetched to me that an amplifier designed for the low impedance Grado SR- headphones may not sound as good as one designed for the high impedance headphones such as the HD600.

Of course, I can only guess that this is the reason why the HD600 sounds thin and restrained to me on the RA-1 but my opinion remains regrardless of the cause of the problem. "Underpowered" is very much an adjective that I'd use to descibe my subjective opinion of how the amp sounds with that headphone. To me, it's similar to the way an HD600 sounds out of a portable cd player's headphone jack, only not as harsh.
 
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thomas

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Kelly- Its all relative


2 volts RMS into sennheisers is enough to make anyone's ears bleed...

2 volts into grados is enough for apheared...

Basically, any amp has enough voltage swing, its all about current when it comes to power... Grado RA-1 is a very powerful amp, more than enough to power any headphone. Nevertheless, i still think its a crappy amp...
 
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I've always preferred the Sennheiser sound over the Grado's, that is, until I got the Grado RA-1 together with the RS1. I think that the RS1/RA1 is a great combo and the RA1 is a really very good sounding amp for the price. I was all set to get the Sugden HM but did some research then heard that obtaining one wasn't all that easy at this time. So, I am really glad (for now) that I went with the RS1/RA1 combo. Now, pairing the Senn HD600 with this amp, IMHO, did not really bring the best out of the Senns. Like everyone else, I find that it lacks the bass punch/tight sound that the Grado has. It just doesn't sound too musical and balanced even if the midrange is excellent. The highs are satisfactory for me anyway though not quite as detailed as it can be. So my take on this is, the HD600s works with the RA1 but the sound will come out as described above and better sound can be had by pairing it with amps that are a better match for the Senns. The RA1 is still a pretty good amp depending on what headphone you use with it and isperfect with Grado headponoes, of course.
 
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Nick Dangerous

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RA-1 + Senn 600 = Unbelievably smooth but spineless.

The RA-1 doesn't have the capability to deliver "electric slam". Not with the HD-600 anyway.
 
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Here's what I heard at the LA Headroom tour stop.

On the ultra expensive Holmes-Powell amp, the HD600 was clearly superior to the RS-1. Then, on another rack, I heard wooden Grados (can't remember if they were the rs-1 or rs-2).

The Grados sounded MUCH better on the Grado amp than on the Holmes-Powell!

I'm inclined to agree with Kelly that synergy effects, while very real, tend to get exaggerated, but this was one case where the voodoo gods were powerful!
 
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Beagle

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ahemm...

nice review grinch! Too bad some people had to jump in and **** all over your thread and it's subject.

For the money, the RA-1 is a very clean sounding neutral amp that makes Grado phones really sing. Which is what it was designed to do. Others would want it to also do cartwheels and take out the garbage.
 
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DarkAngel

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RA1 sounds good for a $350 amp driving Senn 600, but the real synergy is with Grado phones. I prefer the RA1 vs MOHR when using Grado 325 headphones, however when using Senn 600 the MOHR easily beats the RA1. (which it should at 3x the price)

Another reason for above impression is Senn 600 works much better with reference crossfeed vs Grado 325
 
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grinch

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Quote:

Originally posted by Beagle
ahemm...

nice review grinch! Too bad some people had to jump in and **** all over your thread and it's subject.


thanks, at least one person liked my first review.
 
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