My new Corda Headamp-1 – a short review
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JaZZ

Headphoneus Supremus
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Joined
May 9, 2002
Location
Zürich, Switzerland
Posts
9,665
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1,632
Age
70
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»; Michael Brecker: «Now you see it...»; Frank Martin: «Symphonie»; and others...
 
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