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MAD Ear+ Purist HD thread.

Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by lmilhan, May 22, 2007.
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  1. DeadEars
    Congrats on your MAD amp.  For comparison to other similar-tier tube amps, I'd recommend that you go to a local Head-Fi meet.  Bring your amp & cans and set up for others to compare, plus you can plug your headphones into other folks amps for a better comparison than you'll get by asking for opinions.  Opinions are like... um... fingers!  Most people have a bunch of them.  The MAD amp has some limitations and benefits compared to the other amps you mention, but you should listen yourself to see how much the amps' profile works with your musical preferences.  My opinion is that it does a good job of getting into the music without hyper-detail (some Shiit) overt lushness (some Woo) or blandness (many Chinese tube amps) that I've heard at meets.  Depending on the headphone with which it is paired, the MAD can deliver years of great listening pleasure.  Mine has, for me.  But there's a lot of stuff out there that will leave your jaws hanging in astonishment.  All depends on what floats your boat.
    Your Senn HD650's should be a nice match with your soon-to-be-updated MAD amp.  Lloyd is right too with regard to input tubes affecting the presentation.  You should build up an inventory of 12ax7 and 5751 types and their variants.  Check out this thread for some recommendations.  You might want to look into Grados simply because many of them have a truly nice synergy with the MAD amps.  I personally have problems with on-ear cans, so not a big fan of the Grado fit, but the sound can be really nice.  The last meet I went to my neighbor had a set of older Grado HP-1's (?) with the flat earpads and the sound was really excellent.  I spent half the meet listening to that combo with lust in my heart.  OTOH, the MAD quickly runs out of gas with demanding loads (Ortho's), so that will limit what you should plug into them.  I've liked mine with Senn HD-580's and HD-600's, some Beyerdynamics, and even with Audeze LCD-2's (at low listening levels), not so much with Senn HD-800's or any of the HiFiMan cans.  Your ears will be your guide.  Have fun!  Just remember it's all a means to an end (musical enjoyment) not a scorecard for toy ownership.  When you find something you really like... STOP, and enjoy the music, since that's what it's all about.
    Hope this helps!
  2. canali
    many thanks for the imput and suggestions, DeadEars....
    wish there was a local headfi meetup here in Vancouver BC ...
    it would be nice to put a face to the nice, helpful people on here.
    to be frank: i'm glad i'm not an ultra critical headfier seeking that extra 'space' etc
    around the instruments , that more $$ amps and cans can offer.  
    my friend, for example once had a $70k system...and i saw all too well the 'wormhole' he went down
    trying to climb the ladder to audio nirvana, for that extra percentage (now he's sold off everything
    and is going the oppo all in one unit suggesting i go that route too:
    ...but to spending on $$$ headfi, to each their own...depends on values and priorities: i get it.
    but for me i'm happy with midfi.
    at least for now, that is, lol [​IMG] 
  3. DeadEars
    Sounds like you are starting in the right place.  Good luck with your system.
    In high school, I worked at a local stereo shop and sold high-end gear.  I got to hear a lot of really great systems.  It also got me hooked on electrostatic speakers, which can be an expensive mistress -- finding the right complementary amps and front end is non-trivial.  Talk about rabbit holes!  Many thousands of dollars later, I've evolved my musical beliefs to become more pragmatic.  Hence the advice to stop when you find something that really pleases you.
    These days, I like to rebuild vintage tube amps for the fun of it.  I've discovered in the process that there are many different routes to good sound, and many of them present quite opposite perspectives on the music.  Something like writing a novel, I suspect, where you create a world that is completely consistent with itself internally (think Star Wars), yet is quite different from alternatives.  I've played the same concerts with different gear and found them wonderful, but different, offering a really different -- but equally valid -- window into the music.
    So, I've moved away from believing that there is an absolute sound or "truth" other than musical truth that is created when you hear music yourself and you build the illusion of a live performance in your brain.  It seems like there are many ways to create this illusion, and some are better than others for each individual.  Just because something works for one person, doesn't mean it will do the same for someone else.  There's a lot of "voicing" of products as well, where audio designers attempt to deliver musical truth as they see it.  But no "one true" thing that everyone can agree is the best.  It's just too subjective a phenomenon, this process of building illusions in one's head.  There are a lot of routes to musical "bliss" IMHO.
    I do think that the gear designed by engineers, focused largely on measured specifications, often ends up as less musically satisfying than products which have an extended period of listening and iterative refinement as part of their developmental process.  Buying by specs alone (or price alone) is a prescription for dissatisfaction with this hobby.  That's one of the things that make the whole music reproduction process so fascinating.
    The two areas where I think modern gear outperforms older stuff (and where solid state beats much tube gear) are noise floor and bass control.  The MAD amps are fairly quiet, but not state of the art.  Very few tube amps can deliver that sense of music arising out of a black, silent background.  OTOH, live music is usually not happening in a quiet environment.  When the music starts, the noise floor basically doesn't matter.  Do we care?  You might.  Or not.
    Where MAD amps do fall down is in extended treble (can be fixed by some input tube choices) and especially in the low bass.  Not my first choice for EDM or dubstep, etc.  But in the all-important mid-range, where most of the music really happens, MAD amps can be quite special.  They have a harmonic rightness that many (most?) solid state gear fails to deliver.  So that's my $.02 on these guys.  With the right cans, you might not reach Nirvana, but you can see it from there.
    Have fun with your MAD amp.  Musically, it can be a really good one.
  4. canali
    thanks for your extensive imput, DeadEars
  5. JoeDoe
    Any of you MAD Ear owners rockin with a pair of Grado PS1000s?

    I got a sweet deal on a set of the chrome version and I'm wondering whether the MAD can usurp the Woo WA7tp that is my go to with the GH1.
    Any input would be appreciated!
  6. canali
    well got this update from Lloyd, as he'd received myEar + purist amp
    a few days ago and had begun to tweak/update it (is about 8 yrs old)
    ''Hi Joe,
    I have finished with your Ear+ HD refurb. Here is what I did:
    - replaced BG electrolytic/Auricap combination output caps with single 30uF/500V Panasonic polypropylenes (cleaner highs).
    - replaced driver tube metal film plate resistors with Audio Note Tantalum film (adds texture).
    - replaced 4700uF heater voltage filter cap with 10000uF.
    - Added a low impedance phones jack (accommodates a wider range of headphones).
    - re-attached BG filter caps to chassis
    - general wiring cleanup.
    - complete repaint of chassis, new logos, labels.
    - tested your tubes--strong.
    Your CV4004 is a very nice tube. It has more air than the Sovtek 5751and overall, your amp sounds to my ears the best I have heard. It is fully tweaked.
    Total cost, including return shipping is $170 USD. I can ship tomorrow.
    nice to see I don't have to pay for a whole new amp, now!
    Lloyd's a nice guy to deal with...a real gentleman.
  7. whirlwind
    Wonderful...Lloyd is a wonderful stand up guy.....you are going to be in for a real treat....enjoy [​IMG]
  8. kpfeifle
    That sounds great. I'm shipping my amp out to the good Dr. tomorrow for the same type of upgrade. Can't wait!

  9. DeadEars
    You should be very pleased with the results!  The output capacitor switch is a biggie, since all the signal passes through these caps (one of the arguable parts of the circuit design).  I tried a couple of different caps here and settled on some PIO Obbligatos that I think sound quite good.  Using solid caps like the Panasonics is a good idea -- won't have the breakin/breakdown problem of electrrolytics here.  Even the BlackGates were not great in this application.
    I also think the Audio Note Tantalum resistors is a nice touch.  I'll have to try them in my Super-II.  Seems like a good idea.
    I assume the heater cap switch is to make the amp quieter.  That and wiring location can make a real difference in how black your silences are.
    Overall, sounds like a terrific deal for $170!  You did good!  Lloyd rocks!
  10. canali
    some interviews with Lloyd and his background and design ideas/influences:
    Question to members who've experienced the ear+ with numerous headphones: what are your fav 2 or 3 pairings?
    currently i have the senn hd650...and the sony closed mdr 7520...but haven't heard anything else with this unit.
    and admittedly my experimentation with cans is very limited to only these 2 models.....always open to trying new things.
    love to listen to rock, blues, jazz.
    love the clarity of the sony 7520 for sure.
    (my dac is the iFi imicro iDSD)
  11. whirlwind
    For me the two cans that I used the most were the Grado RS1 & The Senn HD650.....also the HD800 was pretty sweet too!
    Mostly blues and older rock is my go to music.
    The electric guitar with the RS1 is  wonderful.
  12. DeadEars
    Thanks for the links!  I used to have one of the Ultra 4 SE amps which I thought was very relaxed & musical.  I love octal tube preamps.  Some of the Manley octal tube preamps/amps are pretty luscious, especially the 300b tube one or the deHavilland Ultra Verve or Mercury preamps.  Lloyd's amp stood right in there too.
    As far as favorite cans with the MAD amps, I think Grado's are usually complementary, and I've really liked both a vintage RS1 and the PS1000.  Personally, I have issues with comfort with Grados, but the sound, especially for Rock & EDM is special.  I'm very familiar with the Sennheiser HD-580 and the HD-600, which I thought were pleasant pairings, but perhaps a bit boring compared to the Grados.  I borrowed a Sennheiser HD-800 for a couple of weeks and liked it, but didn't love it on my MAD amp.  
    My MAD amp is modified Super II+ single chassis, with higher B+ voltage, upgraded power supply, modded resistors & output capacitors, so it's a bit gutsier than average.  I use it during the day while working, listening to jazz, folk, blues, roots, girl-with-piano type of music at low volume levels.  I find it very satisfactory with my Audeze LCD-2's, but certainly not when the volume is raised and the bass goes all mushy.  When rocking out, I'd reach for the Grados.  
    My use case is probably not that common.  I mostly listen to cans during the day for fun and isolation while working.  For critical music listening in the evenings, I don't use headphones.  I prefer my symphonies and chamber music to fill my room with sound.  I have a pretty high-end speaker-based system (Magneplanar 1.7i speakers, Sandersound Magtech amp, Aesthetix Rhea phono + Calypso pre, modded vintage Empire turntable, etc.), mostly listening to vinyl.  That's what floats my boat.
  13. kpfeifle
    So I joined the club! I have always liked Grado's, and after using and selling some of the lower price ones, settled for the two in my sig. I always wondered what the MAD amps sounded like, but was content for many years with my Woo Amp running out of the low impeadence jack. So...looking at the for sale forum a couple of weeks ago and saw a real early Ear +, it had had several owners, looked really beat up but was in good working condition. I waited a bit and was rewarded when the owner lowered the price. I jumped on it, figuring if I liked it, I could send it to Lloyd to get refurbed, and if I did not care for it, I could flip it pretty easy. Paid and received it and spent a week with it. Off to Lloyd it went. The dinged chassis was repainted and all the caps were replaced. Lloyd told me it was now equivalent to an Ear + HD. Powered it up a few days ago, and I have to say my HF2 never sounded this good, in fact, I never even knew it could sound this good! I'm a very happy camper, relistening to a bunch of records and slowly doing some tube rolling while I wait for the new caps to burn in. I'm pretty sure this little amp has met its final owner!

  14. DeadEars
    Another nice pairing with the MAD amp is the Massdrop Fostex TH-X00 headphones.  The Fostex is notorious for having a U-shaped response curve, but being relatively easy to drive.  Turns out that the MAD amp's luscious mid range does a great job of filling out the depressed Fostex midrange.  The overall sound gets a larger taste of the "breath of life" while still delivering the strong bass performance and clean highs that the Fostex TH-X00 cans are known for.  I have about 50 hours on the Fostex headphones now, so they're probably still breaking in.  Initially, they were way too bass-heavy, but that seems to be ameliorated by use/break-in after a couple of days.  A good reason to try things for an extended period, rather than snap impressions at a meet.
    Although the Fostex TH-X00 work well, this is not quite the synergy that I've heard with Grado's => the Fostex cans lack the same bite on guitar and ability to deliver grungy overdriven bass guitar that the Grados do so well.  But I'm pretty impressed by the clarity of the bass line, especially for something like EDM or dubstep.  Neither are flat, but both deliver great music, Highs seem clear and extended to me, and not as peaky as Fostex TH-900's I heard last year (on other people's amps).  Most of my Grado comparisons are based on the 2 Grados I've had most experience with on the MAD amp, especially the RS1 which I had for quite a while, and to a lesser extent the PS1000, which I flipped pretty quickly.  But sound memory is pretty fickle and i did not compare back-to-back, so please take these impressions with a grain of salt.
    Note: For my listening sessions with the Fostex TH-X00, I did resort to a somewhat leaner-sounding input tube (Siemen E83CCs or Telefunken ribbed plates 12AX7's) rather than the overly-thick sounding Gold Lion 12AX7s I had been running. 
    The other headphones I use frequently with my MAD amp are Audeze LCD-2's and Sennheiser HD-600's.  Frankly, the LCD-2's only work at lower listening levels, but in this range they sound more coherent and linear than the TH-X00 cans.  But LCD-2's require more juice than even my modded Super II+ can deliver, so they are a non-starter for rock, EDM, reggae, etc.  I generally use the Audeze's for classical chamber music when I'm at work and the Senn's for all other genres.  I'm finding the Fostex cans more versatile than either.  I'd recommend them for all-purpose use  They deliver much better bass than the LCD's can on this amp, especially when the volume is cranked up.  And they are cleaner, more articulate than the HD-600's.  The Fostex TH-X00 are not bad at all!
    Physically, the Fostex Massdrops are gorgeous mahogany, well- finished.  They are lighter than the LCD-2's -- most things are -- but heavier than the HD-600's or my previous Grado's. After 2 or three hours, I notice some pressure on my cheekbones after wearing the TH-X00's.  Nevertheless, I find the Fostex more comfortable than Grados (I detest the feel of Grado pads on my ears which is why I sold my Grado's), but not as comfy as the Senn's.  My Senn HD-600's are softer on my ears and overall much more better fit around my ear.  I can spend hours longer with these than anything else, but soundwise, I miss the synergy of the Grados/Fostex cans. 
    I'd be interested in hearing from anyone else who has experienced these combinations to see if their impressions coincide or differ from mine?
  15. kpfeifle

    I'm interested that you enjoy this with the Fostex. I have a pair of ZMF vibro mk 2's inbound in probably a couple of weeks and I will be trying them with the MAD and the Woo. I have run my HD600's with the MAD, sounds very good, but its probably a toss up with the WA6SE. With the Grado's, absolutely no contest!!!
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