REVIEW: A Complete System Approach. Source to Cans and Everything In between.
Jul 29, 2010 at 9:48 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 11

kboe

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Aug 16, 2008
Posts
1,948
Likes
23
 
MODS: (I am not sure where this would be most appropriate to post, so please move it if needed, thanks.)
 
 
 
 
A complete system review.
 
Components under review...
 
iPod and MiniMax CD Player as sources with an ALO iPod dock serving as a transport for the iPod, (note not an iMod), feeding a pair of ALO OCC Triple Pipe RCA Interconnects. (8 inches, yes that short!) These feed a RSA XP-7 with the AD797s installed by Mr. Samuels and burned in for 100 hours before shipping.  My headphone of choice is the Audio-Technica W1000.  In the early stages of the review, my old HeadRoom AirHead and AT ES7s return to give additional points of reference, a starting point, and a pleasant surprise for the budget minded amongst us.
 
Why a complete review?  Well, why not?  No one listens to a single piece of gear one at the time, so why not a review a whole system, as one would hear it in its entirety, all of its complexities combining to form a single musical whole.  I should take this time to explain what I intend to do here.  Starting out with the AirHead and ES7s (simply a starting point), I will slowly add one component at the time, cables, headphones, and amps, until I reach the final complete system review.  This will consist of the iPod - ALO Dock - OCC Triple Pipe RCAs - RSA XP-7 - W1000s, and I’ll include the MiniMax as a reference point for a home based system.  This “complete” system I intend to use as a desktop, and as a transportable system to take home with me on the weekends.  Here we go!
 
First I feel its important to state a few things.  I would like to thank Markl of Lawton Audio and Skylab for the inspiration and the idea to write this review.  I enjoy reading their reviews and think they are a great benefit to the forum as a whole.  And like Markl, I think it would be helpful for you the reader to know my background in this hobby.  Hold on tight, its a mess... seriously, grab a hold of something and squeeze! 
If your not interested in this personal history, simply skip ahead to the review marked in bold.
 
My Amp/Headphone/Source History.
 
My first foray into the headphone world was, like many people nowadays, the ubiquitous iPod.  I got mine in my junior year of High School (2004).  My parents who gifted it to me for Christmas didn’t know it, but they had created a monster.  Stock earbuds, and internet quality downloads were all I could dream about, much less care about.  After all, looking back at it now, those first 2 years were about my exposure to music in all its wondrous forms, not the quality of that music or its reproduction.  Classical, movie soundtracks, some jazz, even rock every now and then, it was all about the music, no thoughts of bettering that experience ever entered my mind, and why would it, I was happy.  I was satisfied that I had music at all.  That all changed one day in my freshman year of college when a friend let me sample the Shure IEM he had just gotten, the SE110s I believe.  I was blown away by everything these little gems did.  The isolation, the bass impact, the clarity of the midrange, everything knocked my socks off.  So for the next few days and weeks I began looking on the web for headphones to better my own experience, and in particular, Shure IEMs.  And where did I end up... HeadRoom of course!  
 
I drooled over the website for days, reading and re-reading everything I could.  I ended up buying a pair of Shure E4Cs on sale for $199.99.  My first “hi” end purchase.  What a blessing, and colossal mistake as I would come to find out.  This was the first real slip on that high, slimy hill that one popular magazine calls, the absolute sound.  I was hooked, and from then on, I just wanted to reach the top. Those E4Cs were amazing, so detailed, so much so that I began to notice the deficiencies in all my recordings.  They just sounded off, grainy and flat.  The culprit were the songs themselves, or at least their recorded resolution.  Out of 7000 songs, only 50 or so were CD quality, the rest were sadly, mp3s, free downloads of horrendous quality.  I guess you get what you pay for, nothing in my case.  I still had 50 or so CDs somewhere in boxes in my closet and bookshelf, so I highlighted all of the mp3s in iTunes and hit delete.  Yup, I deleted about 7000 songs of music that I loved, but couldn’t stand to listen to over the E4Cs.  Even without a dedicated amp, the E4Cs were showing me the flat, dry, harsh, emotionless nature of mp3s.  I had officially become an audio snob.  I had learned that quality was more important than quantity. (Some one in the background starts a hushed chant, One of us... One of us....)  So I started to collect music again in the form of CDs. 
 
About 2 years later, I wanted to try something even better, so I ordered the Shure SE530s.  Oh yeah baby!  These things were awesome.  They were quite different from the E4Cs, but not all around better per say.  The 530s were bass monsters of the first order, they also relaxed and rolled off the highs which I initially welcomed, because it seemed less fatiguing.  However, I soon came to see this as a fault of their voicing.  It simply wasn’t as well integrated as the highs were in the E4Cs.  I swapped between the 530s and E4Cs on a daily basis, my mood and music dictating the choice, E4Cs for classical and jazz, the 530s for soundtracks and poorer quality or harsh, bright recordings.  Again, my only source and amp were my iPod.  
 
When money became available, (remember at this point I’m a junior in college, ramen noodles and all) I received the HeadRoom Micro Stack with the HD650s as a gift from an uncle.  Oh the 650s, how I loved and hated, yup, thats right, I said hated.  These totally under impressed me at first.  The sound I heard was rather boring and grainy, bereft of emotion and musicality.  Well, the HeadFi forums and HeadRooms website, which I was now visiting daily, suggested that these cans needed a replacement cable.  So the Cardas cable was ordered and saved the 650s from the “for sale forums”, at least for a while.  My new system built around the Micro Stack was addicting, alluring, intoxicating and detrimental to my already suffering social life.  However, the music flowed as never before, and I was loving it. 
 

 

 
I began to sample more music, styles that I never would have even considered before, styles that now became less objectionable to my non-sensical taste.  Blues, world music, folk music from foreign lands and in foreign tongues, all became equal enjoyment opportunities to my ears, who now enjoyed a musical education unlike any other.  Soon I would order the Denon AH-D2000s, Grado SR80s, and a Total AirHead, one after the other.  These all served me well for a year.  Music went where I went, and good music to boot.  Then something happened.  
 
I became bored with my system, a rather depressing state of being.  At first I tried HiRez recordings to liven things up, but these simply didn’t do anything to re-spark my interest in my system as it stood.  I was listening to less and less music, and when I did, I found my mind drifting onto other things, never caught up in the moment of the music.   So I thought about it, and decided that my ears had outgrown the little humble HeadRoom rig.  As great as it was, (and it was indeed great) I was ready for the next step.  What I needed was a more resolving, but more importantly, more involving rig.  Not only one that preformed better, but one that sucked me into my music, refusing to give me up to the reality around me, something intoxicating like the experiences I had with my music before I got entwined with thoughts of “hi-end” sound.  I needed music again, not hi-fi sound.
 
Research led me to Audio Line Out.  More specifically, Ken’s new Amphora headphone amp.  This beautiful piece of art not only looked good, it sounded like it looked.  Organic, with a flow and ease about it.  It simply disappeared behind the music, not asserting itself outwardly, but opening the floodgates for the signal as it received it, preserving all those bits and pieces for my greedy ears.  My 650s now sounded like they had a bit of life in them, the D2000s didn’t numb my skull with bass, and my experience with music and it ability to affect me was heightened to new level.  Music was now more important than ever in my life.  
 

 

 
At a recent HeadFi meet in Atlanta, a fellow HeadFi’er “Purk” and I talked about the importance of music in our lives.  It was mentioned that neither one of us was wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but that music was simply important enough for the both of us to invest the large proportions of our income into the hobby that we did.  Whatever we were, music was critical to that essence.  It was a huge part of that being that was fundamentally us.  The Amphora from ALO got that “essence”, it communicated with that inner “me” that music touches.  To “out there” for you, ok, back to the real world.  
 
On a whim, I decided to sell all of my headphones to try out something new.  The Grado RS1i, 325is and ESW9s were next in the stable.  Holy Headphones Batman, these cans did things right, not to mention they sounded tailor made to play off the strengths of the Amphora.  Acoustical music, and particularly CDs from MA recordings creeped me out, in a good way of course.  Their tactile-ness gave music a you-are-there factor I’d not thought possible in digital playback or solid-state amplification.  By the way, all of this was with my iPod playing the role of sole source with a SXC LOD cable from ALO.  Being off the grid gave me musical, let me repeat that, MUSICAL satisfaction like I had never been privileged to before.  But yet again a problem surfaced, seeming to taunt me and forcing me to make a decision that would led me to this review.  
 
You see, I listen to my music at low, low volumes, only cranking it up for rare rock out sessions (something that is happening more and more these days), and I listen in a room that is spooky quiet.  Because of the solitude and silence this room provides me with, background hiss was rearing its ugly head, and I was not happy.  The Amphora was producing a level of background hiss I simply could not accept, or ignore.  I had not noticed this before with the 650s or the D2000s on the Amphora, why I don’t know, but now, with RS1i’s and ESW9s, the hiss was undeniable and unrelenting.  It would have the habit of tearing me out of those other worldly experiences I enjoy so much with my music.  Nothing ruins a good session of Mahler’s 5th like “ssssssssssssssssssssss” in the softer passages of the 4th movement.  I let my friends listen, they heard notta, I even shipped it out to Ken and Vennie at Red Wine Audio for a check up and nothing was wrong with the unit, and even they hard a hard time hearing the hiss.  I guess I’ve got weird ears.  What to do, what to do?  You see the Amphora was my perfect amp.  PERFECT.  There was nothing, nothing I would have changed in its sonic attributes, nothing I would want altered, spotlighted, or diminished.  It was my sonic perfection embodied in a solid slab of Black Walnut.  But the hiss killed those moments of pleasure it gave me by reminding me I was listening to reproduced music.  So after selling it, and all my headphones I started over.  Completely. 
 
I had just read Srajan’s review of the MiniMax CD player and W1000s and decided to bite.  Well, he was right in his view of this combo.  This rig beat everything else I had heard up till then.  Emotion, emotion, emotion.  Thats all I felt listening to this rig.  A connection to the performance and artist that was to die for.  There was a greater sense of tactile-ness or perception of reality than even the Amphora gave me.  I would think this a property of no interconnects or secondary circuit the signal would have to pass through like in a more traditional system.  Its was also dead quiet, no hiss in sight... or ear.  So with my left over money, and after reading some of Markl’s reviews of the RSA HR-2, I decided to purchase the XP-7 with AD797s, a ALO iPod Dock, and some RCAs.  The ALO iPod dock and supper short RCAs are for “transportable” sessions/duties.  When I go home for the weekend, I’ll take my iPod, dock, RCAs, and XP-7.  It also plays double duty as a bedside rig, as being off the grid is a perfect way to “do” bedside, not to mention office duty as it frees me of the extra power cables to shove behind a desk or nightstand.
 

 
So thats where I’m at today.  Now if you stuck around for all of that, you might as well stick around for the rest, so go get a cup of something, coffee, hot tea, booze, I really don’t care, and meet me back here in a few.
 
Just a reminder.  Starting out with the AirHead and ES7s (simply a starting point), I will slowly add one component at the time, cables, headphones, and amps, until I reach the final complete system review.  This will consist of the iPod - ALO Dock - OCC Triple Pipe RCAs - RSA XP-7 - W1000s, and I’ll include the MiniMax as a reference point for a home based system.  Here we go!
 
THE REVIEW, THE BEGINNING... For real this time.
 
The ALO Bamboo iPod Dock. (It got shipped first along with the Triple Pipe cables, so I played with it first)!
 
This little guy is cute, a looker for sure, like most of Kens great products.  It feels solidly built and gets the KISS (keep it simple stupid) ideal down pat.  Basically its an adaptor, in the guise of a solid bamboo block, for the dock connector on the bottom of the iPod, nice and simple.  This is an ideal way to connect an iPod to a system because it bypasses the low quality amp stage of the iPod.  There is an input for a wall walt power supply that charges the iPod, it has no effect on sound quality when inserted and charging, or when removed for transportable applications.  For outputs the dock has a pair of RCA jacks and a mini jack.  So for build quality and aesthetics, A++.  I received the dock before the XP-7 but never the less wanted to play with my new toySo I plugged it into my friend’s HeadRoom AirHead,  which I sold to him, and his ES7s, also sold to him. To connect the Dock to the AirHead I used a simple, Cardas HPI mini-mini cable of 6 inches or so. 
 
Ignore the HeadRoom Little to the left, not part of this review.

 
So how does it sound?  Honestly at first, I panicked.  This dock sounded crazy bad, muddy, indistinct and cloudy.  All of these are terms I would have applied to the dock in the first few hours of burn in, but remember there is a solid silver wire in it, so some time for burn in should be allotted for.  After a few hours, things changed dramatically, and for the better thank God.  Only four hours later I no longer found it offensive to the ear.  Everything was where it should be, soundstage was good, not the best by any stretch, but noticeable and distinct, with clear separation.  That’s quick for burn in.  Is it done at four hours?  Good grief no, but I’ve never heard a component change its sonic attributes so quickly, so thoroughly before.  Before I move on in the review I have to tell you that this combo of gear is musically compelling and involving to a degree unthinkable at this price point.  And by musical I don’t mean a withholding of detail but rather a type of sound that disarms my critical ear, one that pulls me into the music and gives me little choice in the matter.  I can’t speak for your experiences, but I find that gear tends to interact with each other, usually playing up their different strengths, or revealing their deficiencies as a whole.  This combo would belong in the first camp, their strengths coming together to form a complete whole who’s sum is greater than the parts involved.  I put on my playlist of my HiRez stuff, (down-sampled to 16/44 for iPod compatibility) and simply gave into the musical presentation.  
 
Now, I’m no hater of sound-staging, I simply don’t find it vital to my experience with music.  Perhaps this is why I’m drawn to headphones to begin with?  However, the sense of space this combo of source/amp/cans elicit is simply intoxicating and unrelentingly involving.  Giving it a closer listen, I believe what I am hearing is the difference between a soundstage, (layout of the venue and instrumental placement) and a 3D space where instruments and voices have room to breath and take shape, not on one axis, but all of them.  Hard to believe from a combo of gear totaling $400.00, but its true, I was getting this level of performance with a $100.00 amp, $200.00 dock, and a $100.00 pair of headphones.  Now thats value!  
 
I recently attended a HeadFi meet in Atlanta and heard a portable stax/uDAC combo that was better all around to this budget combo, but this was close considering that this is a dynamic system and the stax an electrostatic one.  If a 3D presentation, and emotional impact is your thing, and money is a factor, this combo I highly recommend.  If your looking for more air in your presentation, go for the Stax/uDAC combo.  
 
Versus the headphone output of the iPod, tone is also spot on with the ALO Dock.  Instruments sound more like their real life counterparts than they did straight out of the iPods HP jack.  Instrumental texture is how I refer to this effect, and the ALO Dock does it beautifully.  So what of resolution, considering the true source is an iPod. Well, how about hearing not only the damper pedal of the piano, but the keys swooshing past one another and the fingernails of the artist tapping on the keys, now thats cool.  
 
So for today’s lesson we learned that big budgets aren’t needed for amazing, enthralling, addicting sonics.  Am I overstating the qualities of this system?  Perhaps for some, but how else am I to describe details of subtle sonic shifts, shifts that make or break a systems synergy?  Being satisfied with what one has is simply the purest form of happiness.  This little, budget rig, as you might could call it in this review, gave that to me though. Simply sweet!
 
The ALO OCC Triple Pipe RCAs.
 
Swapping out the Cardas mini-mini (remember it was cheap-ish but well made and great sounding), with the ALO OCC Triple Pipe was a revelation of the first order.  By the way, I used a one piece RCA-mini plug adaptor to fit the AirHeads mini input.  The only other cables I’ve had experience with before this review were the ALO SXC LOD for the iPod, the ALO Bling Bling Dock (solid silver), and a pair of DIY solid silver RCAs from a fellow HeadFi’er, AudioCats.  So in one way or another, besides the humble HPI cable, every other cable I’ve used was silver or silver plated.  So a high end pure copper cable would be a first for me.  How would I react?
 
A brief mention of the AudioCat Cables and the revelation I had with them would be in order.  Compared to the OCC Triple Pipe, there was no comparison.  There was simply more of everything in the musical message.  More, more, more.  The lower midrange and bass was decrepit and thin, washed away it seemed with the silver cable.  Where before I thought I was a “silver” man when it came to cables, the ALO not only reversed this matter, it firmly entrenched me in the copper camp.  So the silver cables died the death of the sale forums.        
 
The first thing to make itself known when I re-donned the ES7s after inserting the ALO cables was a bass and midrange plumpness.  Bass was noticeably not only deeper, but better controlled and more assertive, but it never crossed that line into aggression.  I say this as a person who is not a bass-head, but rather as someone who thinks bass should be well integrated into the musical message, much like an actor on the stage, not the star performer, but a supporting character.  Bass has its role in this “play” for sure, its just not the main actor.  What this ALO cable did was reveal the role of bass in a more apparent and TRANS-parent way within the music.  Its not special effect, its a setting. Listening to the soundtracks for “The Dark Knight” and “Batman Begins”, I realized how important the cable is in passing on the bass as a signal to the amp.  We tend to think of bass as being a trademark of amps and headphones, but not usually of the cables in our systems, at least I never really did.  That’s the lesson I learned here, that a cable is a component of equal importance to any amp or source in any system.  It should be carefully chosen to play up or stabilize the sound of any system it graces. With that said, the OCC Triple Pipe in this system is the perfect cable, marrying amp and source.
 

 
It’s also important to note how spooky, open and relaxed the midrange became.  The all important... all knowing... all possessing... well, you get the idea.  Not to forward or in your face, nor veiled and retracted, but well balanced and well presented.  A affect that once adjusted to, no longer is “plumpness” simply correctness.   We say it all the time, “the mid-rage is where the magic is at”.  But how often do you hear that magic?  Do you hear it in every track of every record?  Before the ALO OCC Triple Pipe, I heard this magic only in my best quality recordings, the “audiophile approved” type that could make it through my gears tendency to paint all cd selections with similar sonic brush.  I could argue that it was a pleasing “sameness” but a lack of honesty none the less, and thus, not a good thing.  But now I enjoy the midrange magic in all my CDs, not just the select few anymore, thank you copper, thank you Ken.  
Decay is also one of those traits I more often attribute to headphones, amps, or CD players, but not usually cables.  So what did the ALO do in this regard, what did I learn?  Again decay became part of the message, something that simply worked within a larger presentation.  It gave legitimacy to the notes played with power and aplomb, and gave the recording venues their own voice, walls being felt or “seen”, not so much heard.  Not only did I hear the decays or attacks of the notes in a more lit up manner, but their reaction to the room they were created and recorded in.  Wicked sweet!  This aids in the sense of realism, a further pulling into the music, and out of this tactile, empirical world   Returning to our play or opera house analogy, its not so much that the spotlight has been turned to the bass as described before, or that the midrange now gets all the attention, or that decay is unnaturally long, its simply all “right”.  Its as if all the lights were turned on in the opera house, showing everything in its proper balance and in its place, our eyes adjusting to see the whole cast, rather than just the main actor.  This is good stuff folks.  Copper huh... who knew!  
 
Eastern Electric MiniMax CD Player.  (Simply a reference)
 
This will simply try and put the ALO dock in greater context with other sources out there.   This was a unit that retailed for $1350.00 when it was released, and then latter for $950.00 when Eastern Electric decided to sell factory direct.  I purchased mine here on the sale forums for a insane price.  It has a tube output, and I will be using JJ E88CCs.  I’ve owned tube amps in the past (Musical Paradise MP-301, BlueBerry Audio Millet) and while I do like the flavor tubes bring to the party,  I don’t like the idea of tubes.  So don’t ask me why I bought a tube output cd player, because I don’t know, I just did okay!  I simply don’t like the idea that tubes can impact a circuits final sound as much as tubes do.  So for my CD Player I chose the tubes with what I heard to be the least coloration or obvious distortion of the signal, no mater how “pleasurable” that distortion may be.
 

 
With that out of the way, lets get down to the business end shall we.  Well, here’s how I feel in a nutshell.  Its better than the ALO Dock.  Any surprise there?  No.  But then again, the MiniMax was 5 times the cost of the iPod dock when new, so it should sound better.  Even if you want to count the iPod for cost, and I guess we should considering its the true source and the dock simply acts as an adaptor for interconnects, then the cost is still double the iPod/dock combo.  So better sound is a no brainer, but in which ways is it better, and is it worth double the cost?  Like I said, its a better sound, more informative, more relaxed and less stressed, more resolved and honest, but, not by a lot.  Sure, things like cymbals and percussion contained more shimmer and impact, but the iPod/Dock combo was trailing close enough.  In fact, for some time before I got the MiniMax, the iPod was my primary source, used through the ALO SXC LOD, and over time I not only grew to love the sound the iPod puts out, but to respect it as a true Mid-Fi source.  As I noticed before, When comparing the MiniMax and iPod though the ALO Amphora, I by far preferred the MiniMax, but that made the iPod as a source no less enjoyable, simply less informative.  Its that simple.  But in a twist, the iPod did something the MiniMax did not, or at least seemed not to do at first.  The iPod/Dock seemed to be more authoritative and powerful in the lower regions.  Not in signal output, but sheer impact of the musical message.  Things simply had a greater heft behind them.  But this turned out to be the dry nature of the iPod, versus the “wet” and liquid nature of the MiniMax.  With the tube output of the MiniMax, the mids are given some sweetness that tends to play it up compared to the bass.  When listening back and forth, I soon realized that the MiniMax was in fact just as “authoritative and powerful”, the tubes in the unit simply smoothing things over a bit to reduce the basses prominence.  
 
So with that, I’ll retire the MiniMax in this review.  It has served it purpose as a reference against the ALO Dock, but this review concerns itself with the ALO Dock as the source, so thats what I’ll stick with for the remainder.
 
The RSA XP-7 Amp.  (Using the internal battery for power only)
 
This thing is smaller than it looks in pictures.  The black aluminum casing is attractive and solidly built.  It a amp that embodies simplicity and function.  The front of the amp is graced with a large knob for volume control and a 1/4 inch headphone jack.  One low-key red LED lets you know the unit is on.  The back panel is populated by a single pair of inputs and a battery/power switch.  When flipped up, the unit will run on internal batteries.  When flipped down, the unit runs off the power supply, which comes in a matching case.  So there really is no off switch proper.  To turn it off, simply remove the batteries and flip the switch up, or unplug it from the wall.  Its designed to be “on” all day, every day.  Using batteries, I get about 35 hours of good runtime, just like Ray’s website claims.  
 

 
It would be harder to find an amp that is better built, the only real contenders coming to mind are Woo amps, or Headroom amps.  Something so well built you not only feel comfortable in its longevity and reliability of use, but also in your ability to use it as a weapon in home defense, or armor plating for you car.
 
Well, that’s all well and good, but unless it delivers sonically, I’m out.  Good thing it does.  So here’s the thing, and I’m sure some of you will dismiss me outright and call me a crazy person, or think I’m plain lying, either way, I’ll tell it like I hear it.  I have not heard an amp I like better.  There I said it.  Taken on a whole, this amp gives me everything I want in a amp, while giving me nothing to complain about.  I’ve heard tube amps such as the Zana Duex, the Woo Audio 2, and Single Power amps.  I’ve also heard some of the best solid state amps, including the Gilmore Reference, ALO Amphora, HeadRoom amps, and others.  While most of them beat the much less costly XP-7 in some areas, such as connectivity, beauty, sonics and reputation, none of them taken as a whole, judged as a whole, give me more than I get from the little Emmeline.  The Amphora had better overall “musicality”, and just plain better sonics, but that hiss just got to me.  The HeadRoom amps are connection kings with all manner of digital or analog inputs, but fall slightly behind in sonics.  And even the Single Power sounded great, intoxicating really, but I HATE tubes.  So the $500.00 miniature RSA gives me the best combo of all these factors that I’ve heard yet.  Folks, simply put, I’m in love, and her name is Emmeline XP-7!
 
The first thing I checked for when I plugged up my new amp was background noise, my experience with the Amphora leaving me scared and paranoid, (I should point out that I am only one of a handful of people reporting this problem, with lower sensitive headphones, I would have kept the Amphora).  So is there hiss, and how bad is it?  Well, at my listening levels, and with my sensitive W1000s, none.  I usually keep the volume knob bellow 9:00 O’clock, and at that level I hear zip, none, nothing but black empty space.  When I move the knob to around 12:00 O’clock, I do begin to hear a hiss, but with music playing my ears would be bleeding at that point, so its of no concern to me.  
 
So how does the XP-7 actually sound?  If we play the one word game, warm, smooth, detailed, transparent, captivating and disarming, all at the same time.  Actually that’s six words, but I hope you got the idea.  When I listen to this amp, I totally relax and give in to the music.  I become enveloped in the emotion of the artist, which is communicated in such a way to make it easier for me to forget I’m listening to a reproduction.  I am sucked into the performance.  Just like with the Amphora, I become totally engrossed.  But unlike the Amphora, when tracks transition, I’m not pulled out of the magic by background noise.
 
My favorite way to experience my music is to cut off the lights, turn up the music, and simply forget where I’m at, literally.  I find it an absolute joy to literally lose myself in the music.  Then, when I open my eyes, its always a surprise to find myself still sitting in my listening chair with headphones on.  I will have taken a journey, traveling with the artist where ever they wish me to go, and then return to my small listening room revitalized in spirit and mind.  This the XP-7 does with as much aplomb as my much beloved, and sadly departed Amphora.  So with the slightly, and I do mean slightly, less articulate sonics than the Amphora, how could I possibly fall more in love with a cheaper amp?  One word. Involvement.  Like I stated before, I’ve heard better amps.  The Single Power and Amphora are two perfect examples.  But they fell short of the XP-7 for me when it came to involvement.  With the Single Power, my mind felt forced to pay attention, not relaxed or obliged to.  It is so hard to do anything else while listening to this amp.  It’s only me and the music, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Now that’s the sweet spot ladies and gentleman.
 
Taken as a whole, this system floats my boat, it rocks my socks off and gets me high as a kite, on music that is!  The benefits are numerous in this rig.  The iPod provides me with 160 gigabytes of music instantly accessed, the ALO Dock gives me the best possible connection to my cables, the ALO Triple Pipe RCAs breath life into the signal, and the Amp, well...  that amp simply gets me, it gets that essence I talked about earlier in my amp history section of the review.  I am aghast every time I flip the amp on,  I am taken back by how so simple a system gets me so close to my absolute experience.  These parts, these individual pieces of gear melt into a synergistic whole, whose sonic worth is greater then the sum of its parts.  
 
My system as of this review.

 
We all chase that final system, that mythic “I’m done” moment.  But do we ever reach it?  For most of us, no.  And why should we, then half the fun in this hobby disappears?  We swap, trade, sell and buy our way into new rigs and new experiences.  But this is what this wallet killing hobby of ours is all about.  The experience of enjoying our music in different, yet subtle and sometimes not so subtle better ways.  Small incremental advances that bring us closer to that hill top of sonic revelation, that teach us something along the way.  When we travel, we simply don’t appear at our destination, there is a journey in the middle, a series of steps that must be taken in between, the beginning of getting that first iPod, and that current “uber” rig.  Remember, “the magics in the midrange”.  It applies here too.  So will this be my end of the journey?  I hope not.  I hope to buy better and better gear, and climb ever higher on this quest to not only find more of that “essence”, but to get a clearer and more distinct picture of it with every step.  This is the step I’m on now.  And its one sweet view from where I stand.
 
Kevin
 
 
 
 
(A few Months Post Review)
 
Well, I’ve already taken that next step.  I’ve sold the CD player, the W1000s, and the OCC cables.  To replace them, the NuForce uDac, DT990s, and Cardas Quadlink interconnects.  This is simply a new direction I am taking my rig.  A music server based on the MacBook Pro, who’s construction you can see in my sig.  If there is enough positive reaction to this review, I may do another system review for the new setup as well.
 
Happy Tunes
 
Jul 30, 2010 at 8:39 PM Post #2 of 11

XLR1

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Jan 3, 2010
Posts
314
Likes
20
Location
Dallas
Great review!  Thanks.  Having heard one, I hate to see u sold the Eastern Electric CD player.  So what do u think of the DT990?  I was fond of my DT880, but I have read the 990 is simlar but with more base.
 
 
Jul 30, 2010 at 9:30 PM Post #3 of 11

kboe

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Aug 16, 2008
Posts
1,948
Likes
23
The DT990s are taking some getting used to, but I think as I adjust to their sound and burn in takes place, I'll fall in love.  As far as the EE is concerned, I plan to get the new MiniMax DAC, so I'll retain the sound I love but just up the quality.  The Nuforce is its place holder till then.
 
Jul 30, 2010 at 9:42 PM Post #4 of 11

5aces

500+ Head-Fier
Joined
Nov 11, 2009
Posts
769
Likes
32
Everyone has a different "hobby profile".

Enthusiasts know that spare time is not to be 'spent' but savoured.

Music,like other hobbies may be enjoyed outdoors but is not dependant on the weather forecast.

Collections always take you out to meets or gatherings to exchange.
 
You have found a musical portal that has inspired writing your thoughts to share with others.
 
Keep listening and now,keep writing!


 
 
Jul 31, 2010 at 8:11 AM Post #5 of 11

kboe

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Aug 16, 2008
Posts
1,948
Likes
23
Thanks 5aces,
 
The more and more I listen to music the more important it becomes to my life.  Do I drool over equipment like the rest of us, you bet!  But I easily spend more time actually listening to music and just like you said, its something to be savored. its "fleeting" characteristics are what make music so special.  I would like to write more as I enjoy the process of turning my emotions into words. 
 
Aug 2, 2010 at 7:47 AM Post #8 of 11

stang

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Jun 28, 2009
Posts
2,969
Likes
20
Great review and you sure have some nice equipment. I hope I can do a review like this of my whole system some time. Maybe after I get my K1000...
 
Sep 6, 2010 at 7:18 PM Post #10 of 11

Ckaz

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Nov 22, 2009
Posts
214
Likes
13
Really great review. Wonderfully written. I'm really a fan of the "full system review" and I would love to read more, maybe from other people as well. Here's hoping it becomes a trend!
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top