My new Corda Headamp-1 – a short review
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JaZZ

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The package from Jan Meier, the Dutch Audio Professional residing in Germany, has taken exactly one week to arrive at me – amazing, just to pass one frontier! –, but finally I could pick it up at the post office. Unpacking... a first optical impression: the device is a bit larger than I expected, but besides it looks like on the Photo at Meier Audio's Website. I take my time for connexion... in such moments I don't want to allow the emerging impatience to spoil the pleasure of discovering new sound subtleties.

Bad luck: today of all days both (!) filters of my favourite headphones (Etymotic ER-4S) are plugged at the same time and leave passing only dull and damped sound – something that never has happened to me before. A really strange coincidence! And there's only one reserve filter in the filter changing tool's hollow handle... (Have I lost the other one?!?) Without a credit card, there's no chance to order some filters from ER. What shall I do? So I first dedicate myself to my Sennheiser HD 600. Later on, I finally find a solution concerning the filters... but that's a theme for a separate thread...

My reference source is the line out of my Theta DS Pro basic II, via a 1 kiloohm potentiometer (I know, not exactly the ideal value, but it seems to work very well this way...). Both of my best dynamic headphones reveal the characteristics of the three «amps»: DAC line out, X-Cans (I) and Corda HA-1.

Directly from the DAC, the sound is quite neutral, the bass expanded to low frequences and voluminous, but without exaggeration, the mids are natural and very clean, and the highs are very delicate and smooth, but not rolled-off, with a delicate golden-metallic sheen and a slight transfiguring «digital» smack. Via X-Cans the sound gets more opulent, richer, there are more harmonics, refining the glimmer. Therefore, some of the clarity and conciseness gets lost; in fact the music doesn't seem to be substantially less dynamic, but spationally more in the foreground, somewhat flatter, which by the way isn't disadvantageous for the impression of realism – quite the opposite –, for concerning spatial depth the line-out connection seems to exaggerate somewhat: certain recordings seem to be downright reverberative, while both of the amps seem to find the right measure hereby.

To come to the Corda: it strikes the right note in every respect. Now that it has «burnt in» for about 30 hours (I can't say if there's any change of sound since the beginning, maybe in the bass volume), I come to the following conclusion: the extended bass is dry and accurate – in this matter it barely differs from the other two «amps» –, the mids are natural and smooth, the treble range joins them seamlessly. In direct comparison, cymbals – even if they seem to sound a trace less subtle than via DAC line out, haven't exactly the same (overplayed) metallic coloration – in total sound more natural, like of a piece, faster, more vigorous... with pleasant clarity. The Glimmer of instruments rich of harmonics has no artificial aftertaste, the music has great clarity, without any razzle-dazzle, the spatial reproduction is excellent, but not excessive. Its great strength for me, besides its neutrality, is its quickness, its energy and control. The X-Cans' sound, in comparison, has a bit less clarity (without being obscure in the least), is slightly euphonic, anyhow quite convenient. The DAC-direct connexion in fact sounds clear and glossy, but a bit artificial, too.

Both the Etymotic and the Sennheiser sound at best with the Corda. The differences are not that important as they may seem according to my description. Nevertheless they are decisive in such a manner that I can't bring myself to listen to music with any other amp than the Corda – except for comparison purposes. Especially with my (modified) ER-4S the music reproduction is very close to my ideal – as close as I never dared to dream of. The HD 600 benefits a lot from the Corda's clarity and freshness. Even the X-Cans' richness of harmonics, which does good to it, can't compete with that.

The crossfeed filter... I use it from time to time, with extreme recordings. Maybe I will fully discover it later on. It seems to me quite useful, and its mildness and inconspicuosness is very likable. There's a second output with serial 120 ohms resistors; its effect is a slight bass enhancement with both ER-4S and HD 600. Normally I use the 0 ohm output.

I'm really unsettled how and if an additional amplification can make the sound better as it was originally. Remember: the signal which runs through the amps originates from the DAC, which, with its output impedance of 5 ohms, is capable of driving a headphone without any problems and without additional amplification. But my ears say: with the Corda the music sounds better and more natural than without it... (BTW: even with the X-Cans...)

JaZZ



Music used: Dead can Dance: «Spiritchaser», «Into the Labyrinth»; John Scofield: «Überjam»; The Nits: «Work»; John Harbison: «Concerto for Viola and Orchestra»; Wendy Carlos: «Switched-on Brandenburgs»; Poul Ruders: «Violin Concerto No.1»; Public Image Limited: «Disappointed»; Brecker Brothers: «Out of the Loop»; Frank Martin: «Symphonie»; and others...
 
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Flasken

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Nice review, thanks!!

- personally I love reviews that include the unpackaging :d
 
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BenG

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Quote:

Originally posted by JaZZ
...haven't exactly the same (overplayed) metallic coloration – in total sound more natural, like of a piece, faster, more vigorous... with pleasant clarity. The Glimmer of instruments rich of harmonics has no artificial aftertaste, the music has great clarity, without any razzle-dazzle, the spatial reproduction is excellent, but not excessive. Its great strength for me, besides its neutrality, is its quickness, its energy and control. The X-Cans' sound, in comparison, has a bit less clarity (without being obscure in the least), is slightly euphonic, anyhow quite convenient. The DAC-direct connexion in fact sounds clear and glossy, but a bit artificial, too.
....Even the X-Cans' richness of harmonics, which does good to it, can't compete with that.


One of the thing I've learned in hi-fi-dom is how to pick out when a component trys to sound pretty, pretty meaning exaggerated and less true to the source. I find this type of trait to be more destructive to the musical experience, not the hi-fi experience. This is especially true when you listen to music that has real depth and intelligence. tHe music is what should sound pretty for me, not the components. In this reagard, the Corda amp may not be the ideal, but it is evident to me that it's design makes no steep concession to glamour.

Anyhow, nice review, what cables do you use?
 
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JaZZ

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BenG...

I don't know how you come to the conclusion that my experience with the Corda is that of a euphonic amp. Quite the opposite: I appreciate its neutrality and accuracy, which is accompanied by an enjoyable clarity and transparency – no coloration at all.

My bad luck may be that I have additionally specified the original sound of the source, which in fact isn't designed to drive a headphone. The fact that it works seemingly well this way should not mislead to the opinion that it's the ideal and uncompromising partnership.

Do you really think that a BlockHead would sound exactly the same as the DAC line output? I wouldn't absolutely be satisfied with it if it did so (when I recall its price!)... As described, the DAC line out sound has a somewhat artificial smack – and I'm not ready to put the blame on my handpicked Theta Pro bacic II... first (if any) on the CD format.

Format limitations or not... the «direct sound» is definitely less musical than the one via Corda (or X-Cans). There's no distance between the music and me when I listen to it using the amp instead of connecting the 'phones directly to the DAC, but it is in the latter case.

Finally I don't mind if a headphone amp does change the sound (subtly!) – if the result is more realistic than the source and doesn't suffer from any compromises, that is: audible faults. I'm even fancying tube amps for this reason, although I attribute them to make the sound more realistic than it is... in some cases. I'm really sure that all of the top amps would sound quite different in an equal way as the Corda does in comparison to direct connexion to the source – which BTW in most cases would be possible.

It's the artificial soundstage of headphones that loosens the strict purism – to which I usually feel obliged, too, with loudspeakers. There are no absolute criteria for fidelity. So – to my ears – the only criteria are musicality and credibility. But therewith I don't want to judge the Corda as euphonic in a faking manner – not at all obviously, in each case.

To answer your question concerning my cables: they are all of magnet wires of 0.05 mm diameter, approx. 500 per conductor. Except for the digital cable between CD transport and DAC, where some 2000 isolated 0.028 mm wires per conductor transport the signal – with a length of only 18 cm.

JaZZ
 
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kelly

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Quote:

Originally posted by Flasken
- personally I love reviews that include the unpackaging :d


We're still taling about amps. right?


JaZZ
Nice review. Thanks. You've hit home on what I feel are the Corda's enduring traits--it's clean, flat and neutral presentation. Good to see the amp being well received in Europe, too.
 
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BenG

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Jazz, I said quite the opposite that you claimed I said. THe Corda is not a euphonic amp! i've owned the X-Canv2 and can relate with your comparisons.

Nice job again.

Believe it or not but I think power cables make a difference with this amp. The Corda was the component that made me believe in the mystical powers of power cords.
 
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JaZZ

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BenG...

...sorry for the misunderstanding! It is surely caused by my foreign mother-tongue...

Concerning power cables – I confess – I am very sceptical. If they really play a role, it must be voodoo magic (don't you agree?). But I have experienced a lot of inexplicable phenomena with audio... (e.g. audible differences between CD drives and digital connexions...), so I leave it open, but I'm not sure if I want to attend to it.

JaZZ
 
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JaZZ

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BenG...
Quote:

«The music is what should sound pretty for me, not the components.»


...that's why I love my (modified) Etymotics so much. Just unveiled, uncoloured, unvarnished music up to the last detail, but without exposing the details. The Corda seconds them thereby without getting noticed as an amp.

JaZZ
 
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kelly

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Quote:

Originally posted by JaZZ
BenG...
...that's why I love my (modified) Etymotics so much. Just unveiled, uncoloured, unvarnished music up to the last detail, but without exposing the details. The Corda seconds them thereby without getting noticed as an amp.

JaZZ


In what ways have you modified your Etymotics?
 
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JaZZ

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Kelly...

...you'll find my description in the «headphones» area.

JaZZ
 
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Quote:

Originally posted by JaZZ
Bad luck: today of all days both (!) filters of my favourite headphones (Etymotic ER-4S) are plugged at the same time and leave passing only dull and damped sound – something that never has happened to me before. A really strange coincidence! And there's only one reserve filter in the filter changing tool's hollow handle... (Have I lost the other one?!?) Without a credit card, there's no chance to order some filters from ER. What shall I do? So I first dedicate myself to my Sennheiser HD 600. Later on, I finally find a solution concerning the filters... but that's a theme for a separate thread...


Excuse me for saying so, Jazz, but I wonder if you aren't shooting yourself in the foot with the mods to your Etys. They rarely need a filter change and yet yours are completely clogged after only a few days.

Along with every other owner I've encountered, I share your enthusiasm for the Corda. There's a plethora of prettier, more versatile, and certainly more expensive amps, but few really sound better than the little plain Jane Corda HA-1.
 
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JaZZ

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Spad...

Quote:

«...I wonder if you aren't shooting yourself in the foot with the mods to your Etys. They rarely need a filter change and yet yours are completely clogged after only a few days.»


Anyhow, there's twelve years or more they survived... But you're certainly right: my modification which exposes the filters has provoked an accelerated congestion. Such things belong to the natural learning process... But nothing bad has happened: it has offered me the opportunity to find an adequate substitute for the stock filters – and an interesting experience, too, by the way.

What for do we buy such toys? To have fun with them!

JaZZ
 
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