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Massdrop x THX AAA™ 789 Linear Amplifier - Impressions Thread

Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by XERO1, Mar 1, 2018.
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  1. Sonic Defender Contributor
    Absolutely, my feelings exactly.
  2. ekkstra
    Yeah I've read frequently around that the SU-8 is a solid choice to pair with the 789, especially with the fixes that were made with version 2. Wanted to see if there were any other contenders but this just further justifies keeping it for a good while. The color mismatch will probably won't bother me too much, if anything I'll paint it black!

    Thanks for the input.
  3. Kamurah
    Hello all. I am fairly new here (posting-wse...have been a lurker for a while reading up). I just received my 789 this week (was lucky enough to get in on the Feb drop) and thought I would add my impressions to the thread.

    I don't have a super high-end setup by any means, so take everything I say with a grain of salt or through your own personal preferences / lens.
    So far I have tested the 789 via a Sanskrit 10th (unbalanced of course) and via a RME Babyface Pro (Balanced). For cans I have ATH-M50s and a pair of Massdrop Hifiman HE4xx. Unfortunately so far I have only run the 4xx's single ended as my balanced cable is faulty. I will need to replace it and continue to evaluate.

    Initial impressions:
    I agree with what other posters have put forth already. At first I encountered what I can only describe as a slight bit of disappointment. Perhaps the frenzy / hype / praise train for this amp had me expecting something miraculous. It does not give that to you immediately...at least it didn't to me. I should have shelved my expectation bias before plugging the amp up. To be honest, my first thought was..'meh...it sounds good but not THAT good'. Again, keep in mind I am running it single ended. I thought the power output was 'adequate' but nothing earth-shattering. My standard listening position (dependent on source of course) is about 2 o'clock on medium gain for the HE4xx. Take it to about 1 o'clock same setting for the M50s.

    RME vs. Sanskrit for DAC: I can hear the differences between the two...but I am not sure which I prefer at this point. TBH the Sanskrit probably sounds a little better than the RME. I say this because the RME presents itself as ruler-flat, and somewhat unexciting. The Sanskrit has a bit more of an energetic signature while retaining a very smooth but extended top end. Seriously though each one does a great job and that is an amazing testament to the SMSL...since the RME is 7x the price (but does tons more and is designed for a different application). Keep in mind the Babyface Pro is NOT THE SAME as the ADI-2 DAC. Different topologies completely...so please don't think my impressions with the Babyface would apply to the ADI...that DAC is in an entirely different league.

    Impressions several hours in:
    So like others have said, I think the 789 does some things very well. It is indeed super analytical. Transient response is fast to the point of being noticeable...meaning dynamic music becomes hyper dynamic. Music you previously knew as balanced and smooth may now have some degree of 'pokey-ness' about it. I found myself having to adjust the volume between songs. This was a bit bizarre to me because I was not expecting it. To give an example of how this manifests itself, I was listening to Diana Krall's "Peel Me a Grape"...and the first time she sings the word 'Talk..' it is almost too much. Zero compression going on from the amp circuit. Everything gets revealed and micro details are easily identified. Within the same song I can hear the shirt rustle on the acoustic bass player. Never heard that before and I am familiar with the song.

    I don't feel like any one frequency range is recessed or accentuated. Maybe others are better at listening and can hear this. Everything sounds balanced yet extended to me. No smearing in the lower midrange...which can be a real test because so much frequency info gets bunched up in that area in so many recordings.

    I see why the reviewers like it. Would be a great piece to use to judge the rest of the chain.

    Ok. So why WOULDN'T you want one of these? I think I can answer this by saying I have found myself listening to music to satisfy curiosity instead of for enjoyment. What do I mean? Well....it is SO revealing, I listen to songs just to see if I can pick up on details I may have missed in the past. I spent a few years of my life as a Mastering Engineer, so maybe this is just a holdover from my days focusing on that sort of stuff. But as good as the amp is, I am not sure 'musical' is the term anyone will put at the top of a list of attributes.

    Is it clean? Oh hell yes. Is it accurate? You bet...on a scale that would be hard to top. Does it enhance my enjoyment of music? Hmmm.....not sure yet. Not in a way I am looking for.

    This may not end up being my endgame....I like it...but 'love' is not a word I am willing to use yet. Yet. I will try it balanced out and with maybe a better DAC in the future just to make sure I hear what I think I am hearing.

    Everyone's mileage may vary.....

    Last edited: Jun 21, 2019
  4. mixman
    Then don’t try the RME ADI 2’s headamp, which I find brighter and even more analytical than that of the THX. I think you are shooting for a warmer more euphonic sound.
  5. Kamurah
    You may be right. Any recommendations? I have seen reviews that claim the Klipsch Heritage amp has slightly warm presentation. Maybe something like this....
  6. elira
    Try the Gilmore Lite mk2.
  7. sodesuka
    This amp can only sound as good as your upper chain aka the DAC really and if you have a nigh transparent DAC, it removes all other variables besides the transducers on/in your ears (and quality of the recording I guess) so if you have found your perfect phones (at least soundsig wise, don't even need to be super high end), it can truly be a bliss to listen to.

    I also think that if you find ADI-2 built-in amp 'bright' then you probably want the sounds of harmonic distortion found in a tube amp in your life instead. Nothing wrong with that.
  8. PopZeus
    My guess is the 789 pairs best with a ladder DAC like the Airist RDAC or one of the Audio-gd R2R DACs. Because the amp is so uncolored, it makes some sense to feed it as smooth an analog signal as possible. The RDAC was announced around the time the 789 came out, and the 789 is often compared to Audio-gd's NFB-1 as similar sounding amps. There's a logic to it all.
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2019
  9. whohasaquestion
    I notice some crack, static noise coming out of 789. Granted, it could be my source, iPhone 3.5mm, but when I connect headphone directly to iPhone I don't hear those noise.

    I do keep the iphone volume at full when feeding to 789, and about 60% when feeding headphone directly.

    I realize the source can use an upgrade but is there potentially something wrong with my 789?
  10. jsmiller58
    Obvious debug tests would be first to use a different cable to connect the phone to the 789, then if that doesn't fix it try a different source...

    Just for clarity, how are you connecting the phone to the 789 (cable and port used).
  11. whohasaquestion
    A generic 3.5mm to RCA cable but didn't have problem when used in another system.
  12. Mkoll
    It might be EMI from the phone or somewhere else. Try putting the phone on airplane mode and playing music and/or moving the system far away from other electronics.
  13. CoFire
    1. I'd use a little nail polish or water soluble paint if you are concerned about removing nail polish with acetone later if for some reason you change your mind.

    2. I agree no but I like to use power conditioners for all expensive electronics. Surge protectors are pretty useless imo.

    I use my phone as a source sometimes and never run Max volume as some sources add distortion if you push them to their limits. I throttle back to about 90% or so volume.
  14. bryceu
    I'm quite happy with the SMSL-SU8 and 789 pairing. Compared to the Modi Multibit via RCA to the 789, the SMSL via balanced to the 789 provides more a more dimensional sound. Extra detail in the non-foreground sounds is noticeable, as well as a very black background. The Mimby has slightly more bass texture to me, but in all other areas the SMSL-SU8 does great!
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2019
    ekkstra and hakuzen like this.
  15. sonance
    There seems to be a lot of activity and interest in this amp, but it was produced for a short window on Massdrop/Drop - I'm surprised no one else in the headamp space (other than Monoprice) seems to be looking into making amps using this family of chips in the < $1k range.
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