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Project Ember Review

Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by razrr1275, Aug 7, 2013.
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  1. RAZRr1275
    Hey all,
    This is going to be a review of the Project Ember. I'll start with a general product introduction and then the review itself. The photography takes a variations on a theme approach with versions of an image edited in different fashions. I hope you like it as well as the review.
    Now for a product introduction. The idea of the amp, designed by Jeremy and Frans from Garage1217 is not to compete with anything, but to explore what's possible and that is exactly what they did.  The amplifier can use most breeds of 6 volt and 12 volt tubes, features gain switches, and output resistance jumpers all of which have a substantial effect on sound. The amp is designed to have "split personalities" as Jeremy likes to say and she does with the ability to sound like a warm and "tubey" sounding amplifier with warmer sounding tubes such as the Telefunken and high output resistance settings and an equal ability to sound almost like a solid state amplifier with a colder tube and low output resistance settings and everything in between.  It's predecessor, the Project Sunrise II has been compared by reviewers to the Schiit Lyr and the Ember is a notable improvement over the Sunrise II in that it has more power (enough to power the AKG K1000 and Hifiman HE-6 due to its max of 1.8 watts into 64 ohms), more detail, more customization options, and automatic biasing and voltage selection. In fact, due to the excellent distribution of power through all impedance ranges, the Ember can power 600 ohm headphones (380 mw) and extremely low impedance headphones with equal ease.
    As far as how she sounds, it's not as much of a question of what she sounds like, it's what she can sound like. Imagine a clean signal coming from your dac. The amplifier provides multiple filters so to speak to the sound - the first being the gain level (I'd advise using low),  the second being the tube, and the third being the output resistance. I'll talk about how the tubes alter the sound first. The circuitry of the amplifier is designed so that the opamp stage produces the smallest amount of distortion so that the only thing that distorts the sound is the tube. The effect of this is that tube rolling makes worlds of difference as far as how the amp sounds (I have a fair amount of them to say the least) . To give a brief description, here are some of the possibilities. With a Sylvania Baldwin 12au7 in, the amp sounds fairly exact and precise -- almost like my o2 except for a bit of roundness to the bass (which stays very snappy) and the smallest amount of lushness to the mids. The presentation is fairly neutral with a moderate sized soundstage. Put a Phillips 5814 in however, and it's an entirely different story - the soundstage becomes wider, the mids develop a  more lush sound while also being very airy, a slight treble roll off comes and the  bass develops a more round quality. Then try an RCA 12AU7. The first thing you're hit with are mids as they are very forward and vocals are the highlight of the presentation with a sound that's somewhat thick but extraordinarily fast. The sound is very clean, with somewhat bright treble and a slight bass roll off. Then try an Amperex Bugle Boy 6DJ8 and you're greeted with a wonderfully natural albeit a bit dark presentation with excellent soundstage and imagine. The possibilities are absolutely endless as tubes make a world of difference.
    Tubes, however, are only one option that you have to adjust sound. The output resistance settings also have a large effect as the second layer of the filter over the tube. Keep in mind that the descriptions that follow are based on change to the tube's sound signature - tube rolling will still make a huge difference no matter the output resistance setting. Want a more airy sound with a more round bass presence that is a bit more stereotypical tubey? The high output resistance setting is for you. Want something that's closer to the solid state degree of precision without the airy lushness? The low setting would work best. Want something in between? There's a setting for that too. I tend to use the middle setting for most of my headphones.
    As far as synergy issues go, I'd recommend pairing the Ember with as transparent of a dac as possible so that the tube creates the only audible distortion in the chain as tube rolling makes more of a difference that way. For headphone synergy, pretty much anything works due to the wide array of sounds that the amplifier can produce. There is most certainly a tube and output resistance setting that will make any headphone sing. For example, my Grados prefer something warmer like a Phillips or Mullard tube. The AKG headphones that I have are good with pretty much anything because as I touched on in the K702 review, they pair well with cleaner amplifiers and tubes. With my Fostex and Denon headphones,  I generally prefer something mid forward like the RCA or a Bugle Boy because in the case of the Fostex, the mids are its best feature and I like to showcase them and in the case of the Denons, I find the mids slightly recessed so a mid forward tube evens things out.
    For the price of $350, I could not recommend this amplifier more due to its flexibility, warranty, quality and overall sound quality.
    And for a bonus pic that breaks the theme
    Thanks for reading and happy listening! Please post any questions/impressions that you have and suggestions for the review/photography etc. If you'd like to see more of my reviews and content you can find it on my blog here http://musicandlistening.wordpress.com/
  2. techboy
    How does this compare to Lyr, Little Dot MK IV SE and Lehmann BCL?
  3. RAZRr1275
    I haven't heard any of those so I can't really comment from experience. I know that when the Sunrise II was compared to the lyr the primary difference was that the Sunrise was a bit bassier and the Lyr was a tad more stoundstagey. As far as the other two, I'd suggest reading in the threads to get impressions of them and then asking any questions that you have specific to the Ember and I can help you out there. 
  4. techboy
    Which amps have you compared ember to?
  5. RAZRr1275
    Little Dot I+, O2, Project Sunrise II, FIIO E9, Peachtree Nova
  6. techboy
    How does it compare to o2 and sunrise ii? Is it a huge step up from both? Does it match o2 in speed and transparency?
  7. RAZRr1275
    As far as the O2, it's not a good comparison. They're just two entirely different beasts. Can it be fast? Yes. Can it be pretty transparent? Yes. Is it always? Depends on what tube you have in and what output resistance settings you have. It doesn't really have its own sound signature per se since tube rolling etc plays such a last factor so there isn't really a way to do an adequate comparison. As far as vs the sunrise, it's more detailed and tighter with a bit better imaging and then there's the autobias and auto voltage selection. 
  8. cheaphifi
    If you want transparency with the Ember you by-pass the input capacitors (jumper settings) and put a fast and lean tube like ECC82 Siemens or Telefunken, you'll have details and transparency but imo you should have a great source, the Projects Amp from garage1217 Benefits a lot from great DAC, they're able to retranscribe effortlessly the slightest details and the entire frequency range from the source, even a Project Starlight paired with a mid-range DAC (Audio-Gd NFB-3, Cambridge Audio Dacmagic 100, Schiit Bifrost, etc..) can compete with more expensive combos !
    rocksteady65 and Belly3D like this.
  9. techboy
    With a ECC82 Seimens will an Ember be as fast and transparent as Asgard 2 or at least as fast and transparent as O2?
  10. techboy
    And what do you mean by by-pass input capacitors? What does that mean and how do you do it?
  11. cheaphifi
    Bypassing input capacitors from the signal path reduce a little the smoothness in the sound but extend sligthly the frequency range of the signal (can be very helpfull with some headphones), on the Ember you just have to unscrew the 4 hand-screw, remove the cover and move 2 jumpers to by-pass the Caps, you can also change gain by moving 2 others jumpers.
    You can download the manuals here, all is explained in details : http://www.garage1217.com/graphic_design_009.htm
  12. proid
    I think the answer is no. Why do you want fast and transparent sound from a tube amp? Then just pick the O2 instead for half price and you will even save a lot more of money for tubes rolling.
    rocksteady65 likes this.
  13. cheaphifi
    It's not really the same concept O2 is like a "wire with gain" very neutral, you listen that you fed into the amp, the g1217 amps have the ability to tailor your sound according your tastes (with tube rolling), i'm agree that SS Amp are more transparent (or said more transparent some SS Amp can have a veiled or very warm/cold sound) but is the transparence help to enjoy your music?
  14. techboy
    By transparency I mean a clean sound which is very clear and super crisp. I don't necessarily mean dot neutral.
  15. techboy
    It doesn't matter whether you have heard all the below amps or not, even if you have just read sufficiently as to how they compare, perhaps you could share that with me.

    1. How does Ember/Sunrise II compare with the typical SS amp in the $200-400 range like Matrix M Stage, Lovely Cube Premium, Asgard 1/2, Graham Slee Novo, Lehmann Rhinelander etc. I only mean a comparison in terms of transparency, clearness/cleaness and speed/attack. Not in other respects :) Any approx idea?

    2. How does Ember/Sunrise II compare with other tube/hybrid amps in the $300-500 range like Lyr, Little Dot MK IV SE, Bottlehead Crack, Torpedo etc? Any approx idea?

    3. How does Ember compare with Sunrise II? Have you heard both?

    4. Does Ember have any disadvantages oweing to its non-class A nature?

    5. Which tubes would you recommend for the following:
    Transparent, clear and very fast/quick attack/prat
    forward or slightly forward mids or very forward mids
    thumping bass, even if quantity of bass is neutral, but thumping punchy bass, too much qty not needed

    6. How does Sunrise II/Ember compare with lower versions like Bravo Ocean and Indeed G3? Have you heard all of these?

    Thanks a lot :)
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