Graham Slee Novo vs. 4 other solid state amps
Feb 3, 2009 at 8:27 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 23

MTL

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Thanks to Fritz S. from Vienna, who organized a test sample of the Novo by Graham Slee, this nice little amp currently is on its way through Austria, Switzerland and Germany. So I was able to spend some time with it and compare it to the following amps in my possession:

Graham Slee ‚green’ Solo
Heed Canamp
Gilmore Lite (SE with dps)
Lehmann audio black cube linear

The following headphones were used:
Sennheiser HD650 (with Oehlbach cable)
AKG K701
Grado HP2
Beyerdynamic DT880

Fed by the following source and dac:
Pioneer PDR509 | TAGMcLaren DAC20

And I chose the following CDs:
Prokofiev: Cinderella | Russian National Orchestra, Pletnev (DG 1995)
Holst: The Planets | Philharmonia Orchestra, Gardiner (DG 1995)
Bach: Matthäus Passion | Gabrieli Players & Solists, McCreesh (DG Archiv 2003)
Mendelssohn: Violinkonzert op. 64 | Orchestra Révolutionnaire et Romantique, Gardiner (Philips 2003)
Krenek: Sinfonie Nr. 1 op. 7 | Luzerner Sinfonieorchester, Axelrod (Nimbus 2007)
James Taylor: Covers (Hear Music 2008)
Patricia Barber: Mythologies (Blue Note 2006)
Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin: Holon (ECM 2008)
Manu Katché: Neighbourhood (ECM 2005)
Yellowjackets: Blue Hats (WB 1997)

This was no blind test; though sometimes I forgot which amp I had plucked the respective headphone in (the setup being under my desk I compared two amps each at the two analogue outputs of the dac 20). To be honest: I don’t think I could tell the two amps by Graham Slee apart in a blind test but with all the other amps I was usually right if I forgot which amp I was actually using.

Anyway, here are my findings:

Novo vs. Solo
This is quite a close match. You really have to compare these side by side and listen very concentrated to sense the differences that are nevertheless there. And yes, the Solo is the better amp. Only, you begin to wonder if what you get more is worth the extra cash…
So what do you get more? I found that I could listen to the Solo for a longer time in a more relaxed way due to the Solo’s treble being a little less aggressive and the bass showing a little more detail and definition. There is a sense of more air around everything – the stage becomes a little wider, deeper and better defined. Also the Solo plays more dynamic, thus giving a livelier picture that gets your feet more tapping. It’s just that tiny bit more distinguished that makes the difference. Is it worth it? I don’t know. It probably depends on how much you want. For me I’d say: yes – if you do a lot headphone listening, get the Solo. The Novo itself is great though for what it is. If this is entry level, you get quite a lot of amp for the money.
By the way: both amps are a little picky as far as headphones go: I preferred Sennheiser HD650 or Denon AHD 5000 with the Slees which are all in all on the lighter side of neutral. A DT880 can sound just a little too bright.

Novo vs. Heed Canamp
These are quite some different animals and the differences aren’t that subtle. The Heed doesn’t show fewer details than the Novo but everything just seems huger and more overwhelming. The Heed has this wow-factor about it and is warmer sounding altogether (by the way: it also gets much warmer than the Slees, which stay more or less cool. Only the Gilmore Lite gets even warmer than the Heed). The Heed is extremely groovy due to its enormous bass energy. Everything sounds tuneful. Space is wider (even with Grados you get a feeling of stage) and bass shy cans like K501 (and to a lesser degree the K701 as well) really shine with the Heed. The Heed may be a little more obviously euphonic – but the Slees aren’t neutral either in a strict sense. Guess it all comes down to personal preferences. And the Heed retails for £ 50 more…

Novo vs. Gilmore Lite
The Gilmore also sounds darker, dryer and earthier than the Novo. An acoustic piano has more wooden character and a tenor saxophone a little less smooth (you hear the slight hoarseness of the reed), voices lack the nasal character that the Novo sometimes creates. Treble is a little shyer, bass has more slam and impact. Everything is just a little more natural (strings!), relaxed and with more nuances to it. This amp doesn’t show off like the Heed and always seems to be a little closer to the real thing. Instrumental timbres are believable. Stage wise the Gilmore matches the Novo but gives just a little more insight into the mix.

Novo vs. Lehmann black cube linear
It probably isn’t fair to compare the entry level Novo with the almost £ 300 more expensive black cube linear and indeed there is no contest here – the Lehmann wins hands down in every relevant aspect. Still I was surprised myself how much more you can dig into the mix with the Lehmann compared to all the other amps (I crosschecked the bcl against the other candidates). This is by far the most neutral amp of the bunch and it’s also the least picky as far as headphone choices go. It offers a fascinating combination of tonal accuracy (analytic in a positive sense) and fun: it combines the best of all worlds and with no other amp I was so carried away with the music that I found it hard to stop listening to each track. It shows a detailed, highly controlled and punchy bass, offers loads of details without ever getting too bright, shows the stage as it is (the Heed still offers more – but sometimes seems unreal in it) and is amazing when it comes to splitting up blended sounds (like maybe a clarinet playing unison with a cello – the other amps tend to just blend this sound to a ‘new’ sound that you cannot define clearly while the Lehmann shows both sides of the sound without destroying its unity). The timbre of each instrument just seems right and natural. The Gilmore comes closest, but the Lehmann still is clearer, more uncompromising and offers still more insights. An amazing amp that remains my reference as far as solid state amps go.
 
Feb 4, 2009 at 9:37 AM Post #2 of 23

illkemist

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Would you care to compare the Solo to the BCL? I listened to these together a few weeks ago and though that the Solo came out slightly ahead (with a pair of HD650s). What do you think?
 
Feb 4, 2009 at 10:31 PM Post #6 of 23

MTL

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Yes, the Heed with AKG cans is a wonderful match indeed!

As for the Solo vs. the bcl I'd have to check again. It may depend on the headphone used (and the music you listen to)... Senns are the Solo's strength. The Lehmann may sound a little dull in direct comparison (at least at first...) but if I remember my impressions correctly the bcl still is more accurate as far as instrumental timbre goes. Will examine this again and report later.
 
Feb 4, 2009 at 10:42 PM Post #7 of 23

Kees

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Quote:

Originally Posted by MTL /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Yes, the Heed with AKG cans is a wonderful match indeed!

As for the Solo vs. the bcl I'd have to check again. It may depend on the headphone used (and the music you listen to)... Senns are the Solo's strength. The Lehmann may sound a little dull in direct comparison (at least at first...) but if I remember my impressions correctly the bcl still is more accurate as far as instrumental timbre goes. Will examine this again and report later.



The way I remember it the Solo is more forward and dynamic than the BCL, but it depends a lot on the combination with the phones (and personal preference of course) whether that is good or not.
 
Feb 8, 2009 at 8:34 PM Post #8 of 23

applevalleyjoe

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So how did the AKG's do with the Gilmore Lite?
 
Feb 8, 2009 at 8:52 PM Post #9 of 23

mrarroyo

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Guys the Solo used above was the Green Solo, an exercise by Graham to make the Solo sound good w/ a switching PSU. When the Novo came out, Graham realized how good it was and thus has improved the Solo and is now the Solo SRG. This newer unit is according to Graham and others who have compared them side by side a better sounding unit and much better than the Novo.

Just thought a clarification on the Solo was needed.
 
Feb 8, 2009 at 10:52 PM Post #10 of 23

MTL

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Quote:

Originally Posted by applevalleyjoe /img/forum/go_quote.gif
So how did the AKG's do with the Gilmore Lite?


I like the K701 with the Gilmore Lite: due to the Gilmore being more on the 'warm' side it can tame material that might otherwise be a little harsh sounding (like maybe on my 'green' Solo).

@mrarroyo:
Thanks for the clarification. I should emphasize that I still really like the Solo in my set up and wouldn't want to miss it (it's in my office set up together with the Gilmore Lite and the two amps really complement each other very well with the different headphones I use). And indeed I would really like to hear the latest SRG incarnation of the Solo. Still my 'green' Solo is far from being a 'bad' amp - after all we are talking about minor nuances here and personal preferences.
 
Feb 9, 2009 at 12:12 AM Post #11 of 23

Patu

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Thanks for the comparison. Interesting reading, specially the comparison with BCL.
wink.gif
 
Feb 13, 2009 at 1:24 PM Post #12 of 23

MTL

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Quote:

Originally Posted by illkemist /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Would you care to compare the Solo to the BCL? I listened to these together a few weeks ago and though that the Solo came out slightly ahead (with a pair of HD650s). What do you think?


So, I took some more time to compare my Solo directly to the BCL. I still think that the Lehmann is the more accurate of the two as far as instrumental timbre goes. Also I felt the bass was under better control through the BCL (Denon AHD5000). Especially strings tend to sound a little artificial through the Solo - same with acoustic piano: the BCL sounds more natural here.
I have to admit though that a HD650 may sound more exciting through the Solo... exciting does not necessarily make it 'better' though - at least to my ears...
confused_face.gif
 
Feb 13, 2009 at 2:37 PM Post #13 of 23

illkemist

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Quote:

Originally Posted by MTL /img/forum/go_quote.gif
So, I took some more time to compare my Solo directly to the BCL. I still think that the Lehmann is the more accurate of the two as far as instrumental timbre goes. Also I felt the bass was under better control through the BCL (Denon AHD5000). Especially strings tend to sound a little artificial through the Solo - same with acoustic piano: the BCL sounds more natural here.
I have to admit though that a HD650 may sound more exciting through the Solo... exciting does not necessarily make it 'better' though - at least to my ears...
confused_face.gif



Thanks for following up. I can't argue with anything you said there. That was similar to my brief experience with both of these amps.
 
Feb 16, 2009 at 5:20 AM Post #14 of 23

djchaz

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I've been wondering about the Gilmore lite vs. the novo, thanks for the insight.
 

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