PS Audio GCHA mini-review; some initial impressions
Nov 17, 2008 at 6:26 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 22

Lornecherry

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A GCHA just showed up via UPS at my door. Bought used on A'gon for $500. Unfortunately, I just sold my Grado G1000s and am awaiting the arrival of Sen 650s, so these initial thoughts are through my iPod's portables stalwarts, the Sen Px 100s. Hence, take my impressions with a grain of rolled-off salt.

Plugged it into the Trends USB UD-10.1 ----> Paradisea ---->Kimber Hero --->GCHA to the el'cheapo Sen px100 portables and I am rather impressed. Definitely solid state in presentation, with a Bryston-like signature (tight, clean, low-end slamm and neutral everywhere else.). The Paradisea DAC is known for its soft tuuuubiness, so I can't assign all the signature to the GCHA, and won't even attempt to do a proper review till the Sens arrive.

So far I like what I hear and it's nice to have a totally different presentation then that of my detailed clinically-correct Stax and SinglePower sound signatures.

First impressions are:

1) This thing is huge. (It's about 16" long) You'll need some serious desk space for the PS Audio monstrosity. (Can't wait to take a photo of the GCHA dwarfing a P-51 (whenever that ships), for a "David vs. Goliath shoot-out that I plan to do)

2) Plug and Play, no tubes to worry about; it's meant to be left on all the time. Even after being manhandled buy the UPS offensive-end package goons, I unpacked it, plugged it in and there was no fuss with drivers or any other unfriendly Windows time-eaters. Just music.

3) Has both analog and USB inputs (I had no idea it had USB before I decided to purchase, and have not tested that functionality and won't till the Sens arrive).

4) Through the portable phones there is absolutely no fatigue at all. To me this is very important, as I'm often on the computer 5 hours at a time and any brightness or harshness is intolerable.

Much, much, much better then the Grado RA-1 that was driving my computer system previously (that amp really only works well with Grados).

So why aren't there more of these on head-fier's desks? I strongly suspect that the $1000 entry fee scares away a lot of potential suitors who are obsessed with review-itess, an incurable manifestation that prevents opening of the wallet without the head-nodding of at least a dozen flowery reviews that use more adjectives then nouns when describing holy words such as soundstage, midrange bloom and separation. (My wife constantly expands her soundstage everytime I buy something; and I like to eat, so midrange bloom is never an issue with me).

As for the $1000, that's Darkvoice 337se territory... but @ $500 used, it's at least a worthy challenger and perhaps the dark horse that shows up in 1st at the finish line.

More to come when Sens arrive and I can put the GCHA through its paces with my high end DAC and sources.

Com'on Paul pick a better name for this amp - if this experience turns out to be anything like that I enjoyed with your indispensable Power Plants, more of the head-fi faithful will surely bite. - Lorne
 
Nov 23, 2008 at 4:30 PM Post #4 of 22

wae5

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From the 6 Moons review:

6moons audio reviews: PS Audio GCHA

"Another sonic issue I had with the GCHA was in the realm of dynamics. It was quite reserved in that it never really expanded into the bombastic fury of fortissimos or the hushed intensity of pianissimos I'm used to. The dynamics were contained within a shrunk window that encompassed mezzo piano to mezzo forte, essentially medium soft to medium loud. The amp was a bit polite and reserved in this regard. This works very well with rock recordings where monotonous forte is the name of the game but with more complex orchestral recordings, dynamic nuance becomes very important to capture the essence and emotional impact of the performance. Wagner should bring the roof down. Beethoven should have me crying one minute and praising the heavens above in ecstasy the next minute. Even the Pixies should be able to play with my emotions with their contrasting dynamic shifts. The GCHA had a hard time capturing these dynamic impacts."

Do you find this to be true?
 
Dec 12, 2008 at 6:43 AM Post #5 of 22

Lornecherry

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...it's currently playing through a reasonably cheap DAC (Paradisea and Trends UD converter hooked up to a PC with Foobar), so I don't want to review fully until I have my 2nd STAX setup for the computer and another iTransport and Chord DAC. Then I have "known" (to my ears anyway) and higher quality processing in the chain and can compare it to my other amps (Single Power, Dared, RA-1 and P-51).
 
Dec 12, 2008 at 6:45 AM Post #6 of 22

Lornecherry

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...and I take 6moons with a grain of salt ... they have too many commercial tie-ins to have the transparency we need in reviews.
 
Dec 24, 2008 at 9:12 PM Post #7 of 22

Artmon

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Three Ceraballs under my PS AUDIO GCHA work wonderful.
Even the places take an effect.
I placed two at the back and one in front (under the transformer)
 
Jan 7, 2009 at 6:16 AM Post #8 of 22

Lornecherry

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I've now 'upgraded' the PS Audio GCHA chain substantially by adding in my Chord DAC 64 and a modded Wadia iTransport, (Level 1 mods from Doug at ASi Technologies) along with some of my better cables and cords (Stealth and Black Sand). The results are very promising, and as I wait for the modded Wadia to break-in, the high end should loosen up a touch. Most apparent from Doug's upgrade to the Wadia, is a cleaner and tighter bottom end. (Be careful using that phrase when conversing with your non-audiophile friends!)

The very tight mid-bass also extends significantly deeper then my current Stax setup. Slam is a suitable word, and it's ever so difficult to achieve with typical headphone amp setups. DVD-A rips are especially pleasing on the Wadia/PS Audio/Sen 650 combo; the frequency spectrum is well-controlled with gobs of pre-clipping headroom, and no fatigue whatsoever, even at volumes that would make an audiologist shudder.

Subtle swaps to cables and cords are now more detectable, indicating that the resolving power of the system has improved substantially over my previous computer-based system, which was no slouch.

Orgelwereke von Back and Lindenkriche Berlin are cathedral pipe organ classical cuts that I'm listening to as I type this...these tracks go extremely low, below the frequency roll-off range of any headphone system, but the PS Audio GCHA/Dac 64 combo is one of the few systems that can handle what is within the Sen 650's response range, without getting mushy and kicked-in like a soccer ball left out in the rain. The Sens almost rattle when the organist mashes one of those pedals at around 16-30 Hz.

Once the modded Wadia is fully broken in, I'll A/B vs. the SinglePower Supra and try substituting a lower cost DAC (either MHDT Paradisea or Havana) ... but for now, the jitter control (via re-clock on the Chord) has dealt with one of the major complaints of the Wadia (high jitter), and placebo effect aside, this source with its diminutive iPod Nano, is now in the same league as my higher end Sony SACD player. Is this the major league of a DCS, Meridian or Meitner system? No, but let's say it is indeed a call-up from the minors, with future star potential. And the Chord Dac 64 as the coach certainly helps. It is amazing that a $130 iPod Nano can do this as a 'transport' (admittedly, with another $5,000 linked to it in the chain).

At this level of resolving power, it's essential to rip the music to lossless (I'm using no compression at all -- raw WAV files that eat disk space on the lowly Nano faster than my four kids inhale a half-dozen fresh bagels on a Sunday morning) Well-mastered DVD-A's are indeed impressive. Dire Straits Brother in Arms is now finally getting the same play time as the Eagles definitive DVD-A Hotel California. HDtracks high-rez downloads also have a nice home now.

Let me characterize the sound of this combo further, as it is very different from the Stax sound that I'm know to pray to on a daily basis. What the Stax SRM-T1/Single Power preamp, and the vast compliment of tubes within the chain I have downstairs, serves up in mid-range bloom, the GCHA and Wadia deliver in mid-bass fullness.

Switching from the classic Jazz and audiophile vocals that the Stax excels at turning into liquid nirvana, to classic rock tracks, where unfortunately, the Stax is simply too polite, the GCHA handles my MFSL rip of "Another Brick in the Wall" authoritatively, with mid-bass meat as the main course and no weakness when things get busy at the bottom. Speaking to the downside, I do admit that the top end is rolled off just at touch (the Chord's one weakness) and sound-stage, although as wide as that of the Stax/SinglePower, isn't as deep: some of the musicians are lined up in a long row ...I'd like some more depth that may come with further tweaking and break-in.

The quality of the original recording also makes a huge difference, with poorly recorded or improperly mic placement very apparent. Supertramp's MFSL CD Crime of the Century is so-so in the SQ department, especially when compared to its vinyl counterpart, the MFSL CD sounding grainy, etched and irritating on most headphone systems that I've auditioned it on. Yet on this 'rock' setup, the organ/electric piano and guitar rifts are non-fatiguing and closer to the loudspeaker and vinyl that this classic deserves.

This review system is a very definitive rock setup and remains work-in-progress, as I search for a slightly more refined upper-treble and a deeper sound stage. But that's nit-picking; I could certainly listen to this as my reference 'computer' audio system. And it's leagues above any other iPod based system I've ever heard.

A battery pack for the Wadia is my next step, and perhaps a word-clock in front of a more reasonably priced NOS DAC so the Chord can return to its rightful place downstairs. And I've yet to upgrade past the stock cord on the Sen 650's. (It never ends, although I do find myself explaining a make-believe end to my wife whenever she comments on the steady stream of UPS packages that I try to sneak by her: "it's just for review ...I'm sending it back once I'm done" ... and they do apologize for your wallet on the website, dear". Well, I never really say the part about your wallet, as my bedside system's cord won't reach to the couch).

The irony of all this is that the Sen 650's arch-nemesis, the Grado RA-1, are the usual preference with rock. Unfortunately, my previous movers are probably enjoying those very nice Grados now, as they disappeared in my move two years ago. Perhaps this rock renaissance is the excuse I need to buy another pair, having never found the GS-1000s to be my cup of hot chocolate on a cold January day.

I can conclude that there is a strong synergy between the CGHA, the little Wadia that can (with a mod or two) and the Sen 650s ... drawing you into the "damn your hearing, let's crank it for a minute", ballads and rifts of great classic rock that are so elusive on any headphone system. And that Sennheiser veil? Gone, once you feed in the power.

This is about the place for a disclaimer or two. Doug did ask me to write a bit about his mods for the Wadia -- but for the record, I'm very skeptical of mods -- having had both very good, (Sony XA777SE), and bad (Sony SCD-1), previous mod experiences. I'll have a full review of the Doug's work later, after the break in and "honeymoon" are over ... review components are like wine, they need to age and settle in your pallet before they are either savored or rejected for a fresh bottle. To that, I have a stock iTransport that will get the full A/B comparison treatment (something I shudder at because of the placebo effect), but for now, I can really hear a much more pleasing snap at the bottom, and that alone, is a deal-maker for Doug's reasonable asking price and quality work.

As the later version of Hotel California, with its involving conga drums and the I-wish-I-was-a-rock-star guitar solo, plays through the little Wadia and PS Audio headphone amp, I ask myself is this as good as the DVD-A surround track on my big Kefs and Rel sub-woofer downstairs? Nah. Nope. Nada ... I'm missing something way down that only the Rel can give, and no headphones can. But this is an iPod through a headphone amp, bought used for $500 ... and I am impressed. Perhaps the term "iFi" has merit - Lorne
 
Jan 7, 2009 at 6:38 AM Post #9 of 22

Lornecherry

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....reserved for further review notes after full break-in and final tweaking.
 
Jan 7, 2009 at 10:35 AM Post #11 of 22

panda

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what kind of mods would improve the wadia as a transport? it would be interesting to read a stock itransport vs modded one using the same dac and associated gear.

in the future i would love to transfer my music collection to a server so that a computer doesnt have to be used to choose songs and the ipod/transport would seem like a good option if it can be worthwhile in quality as a transport to feed the dac of my choice. i would prefer the naim hd kit which is specifically made for that use but that is way over my budget.
 
Jan 7, 2009 at 12:08 PM Post #12 of 22

dmashta

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Thanks for the interesting review. Looking forward to your followup with keen interest as I have the GCHA and you don't see much of them around here. Although at this point, it's less a review of the GCHA than the entire Wadia/Chord chain.

I must admit, I never seem to grasp the benefit of the ipod/iTransport as source. Isn't the interface restrictive? Besides, why go through the extra step of syncing your music to the ipod when you can connect your computer directly to the dac? Am I missing something?
 
Jan 7, 2009 at 10:52 PM Post #13 of 22

Lornecherry

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panda ... I will be reviewing exactly what you wanted to hear ... the modded Wadia vs. stock iTransport, as I now have both units. I however do want the modded unit to fully broken-in (another 2 weeks or so before I comment though) before I get down to the serious stuff, as level matching, placebo effect, honeymoon effect, etc., make this type of review the most difficult to do in a meaningful way.

dmashta ...you are correct ...I wandered a bit in this thread that initially started out as GCHA review. To be honest, the amp has responded so well to changes in the chain before it that I'd be leaving out 80% of the equation, if I didn't comment on the journey, as opposed the car I used to get there. (so much so, that this continually synergistic search made me want to keep the SEN 650's ...even though I'm an incurable Staxaholic).

This is a hobby where the synergy of the whole is more important than individual components, where the value/SQ equation is ever-so elusive and often having no qualitative connection to what theoretically should sound best when you connect it to something else. I used to ebelish long equations and examples when trying to explain the concept of synergy in business/marekting until a student brought to my attention that synergy is simply 1+1 = 3.

And the Borg where right (your components will be assimilated into the collective ... resistance is futile).

As to the iTransport vs. computer, I agree partly with your comments, and I do indeed struggle with the concept of why not just use my computer as a transport ... but I must say that during the testing, I actually prefered the iTransport running next to the computer ...and in areas where I don't have computer and don't want my family messing with my notebook, the Wadia is certainly much less bulky than all but the smallest netbooks or small Macs, where it also competes favorably in price. The SQ is also far better then any mid-fi "on board" sound card can provide through a noisy PC (I do intend to test the Wadia against the high-end Lynx card). But again, it's the rest of the chain that matters (jitter reduction, DAC and amp) the Wadia or a computer are just the source.

But now I realize that's not the point either. The $379 for the iTransport, or $160 for Trends UD-10 USB converter, or what-have-you, are somewhat minuscule when compared to what the real centerpiece, (the DAC), costs, if we are talking the league of the Chord or any other DAC in $2K+ range, or a mid-priced DAC + jitter reduction from Empirical Audio or similar.

So, in sum, this is a quest into the higher end of computer audio; and to see if the Wadia lives up to its name. As opposed to the form factor of the iTransport iteslf, it's the technology that what's interesting, not so much how it's currently packaged. True digital-out from an iPod, like in the Wadia, has a yet untapped application for both high-end in-car audio and a true portable micro-dac-amp combo.

And who would have thought that I'd ever be able to afford the Wadia logo on my desktop. - Lorne
 
Mar 8, 2009 at 4:07 AM Post #15 of 22

taam

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I have the GCHA as well. It is hooked atm in my office via USB from my computer. I feed it FLAC rips and it performs great. But... this is my first headphone amp so i only have a 10 year old avr to compare it too. The headphones i am using are Grado SR-325i. I listen to it about 3-4 hours a day 4+ days a week. I also have it plugged into a PS audio Quintet power strip. I love the way it sounds and dont plan on trying anything else. :famous last words:

taam
 

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