Review: META42, Go-Vibe, Corda HA-1, HA-1 MKII, Perreaux SXH1, Gilmore V1 & Max
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Review: Battle of Solid-State Amps: Go-Vibe, META42, Corda HA-1, HA-1 MKII, Perreaux SHX1, Gilmore V1, and Headroom Max w/ Stepped Attenuator.

Preface and Disclaimer
There have been many excellent reviews and impressions of various amps in this forum. However when I try to buy a new product, I often searched and wished for someone to write more of a comparison review to list strengths and weaknesses of each product with respect to each other. Ideally, if you are in a market for a specific product, you would want a product review or comparisons for your target price range or desired features. However for newbies or headfiers with limited exposure to the amp(s) within some features or specific price range, a semi-comprehensive review/comparison of various amps may be not only informative, but also can save them money (or most likely spend more money
). In this review, I will try to summarize and compare various solid-state amps from an entry-level Go-Vibe to Headroom Max, which is just shy of holy grail of solid-state amp Blockhead.

Actually there is a second motivation in writing this review. In my humble opinion, one noticeable phenomenon here at head-fi is that we often exaggerate (no really?
)
the differences between various amps. Yes, there are noticeable differences if you know what to listen for. Yes, I really appreciate reading elaborated/exaggerated differences so that I can understand the differences well. Also such exaggerations help me to determine which product I should be buying, but they can also mislead newbies or misinformed headfiers. Generally you get what you paid for, but $1000 amps do not sound ten times better than $100 amps. For some, these improvements of top-of-line amps provide over basic/economical amps are worthy of price of admission. For most newbies, casual listeners or regular Joes, spending such money is just plain impractical nor recommended. You should decide if the differences/improvements are worthy of extra cost.

Of course we should all realize that describing and rating sound, quality and value of a set of equipment, say power conditioners, power cable, sources (or transport and DAC), interconnects, amp and headphone, is a controversial and highly subjective to each reviewer’s preferences and hearing. Well, this review is based on my personal preferences. Hence forth, to me, to my ears, and in my honest/humble opinion are implied for this entire review. As with all other reviews/impressions/recommendations, you should take this review as few grains of salt. Finally my thanks go to Adam (acs236) for letting me audition his Go-Vibe, HA-1 MKII, Perreaux SXH1, and Earl (sacd_lover) for Gilmore V1.

Introduction
A review is heavily depending on reviewer’s preferences. I, for one, find Sony MDR-CD3000 to be fine and its forwardness (some call it brightness) doesn’t bother me at all. Same thing goes for Sony MDR-V6. I also own Sennheiser HD650 and HD600. Although they sounded veiled when compare to Sony CD3000, I love both of Sennheiser HD650 and HD600 for what they are, slightly recessed (some call it veiled) but they sound quite neutral once you get used to their sonic signatures. I also own Grado RS-2. This is one heck of headphone and the least amp dependant phones I’ve own. It sounds terrific driven directly out of CD player or home theater receiver. It has most direct sound, fast, tight and in your face presentation with touch of warmth that wood body provides. Granted RS-1 sounded much spacious and less dip on upper frequency, but I actually liked RS-2 for its more direct, tight-sounding presentation and most importantly lower price tag.

During recent Ohio mini-meet at sacd_lover’s place, I had a rare opportunity to listen to various tube and solid-state amps without interruption or being rushed. During the mini-meet, I was able to hear Corda HA-1 MKII, Perreaux SXH-1 and Gilmore V1 in addition to my own Corda HA-1 and Headroom Max. Although I think I conducted a fairly comprehensive review during mini-meet, I wanted to perform in home audition of Perreaux SXH-1. Let’s just say I was too occupied by comparing various tube amps, I did not get to perform a thorough study of SXH-1 using higher impedance cans. Adam graciously supplied me not only with Perreaux SXH-1, but Go-Vibe and META42 as well for an extended in-home evaluation for round two of battle of solid-state amps.

Equipment Used in Review:
Source: Sony CDP-X3000 (100V, used a dedicated step down transformer), Sony SCD- C555ES (SACD modded). Sony SCD-XA777ES, Pioneer Elite DVA-45A, Pioneer CLD-D704, Yamaha DP-U50/RX-V2400
Interconnects: MIT #2 Terminator RCAs and Monstercable IC400 series.
Headphones: Two Sony MDR-CD3000s, MDR-V6, Two Sennheiser HD650 with Oehlbach and Bayley audio diamondback cables, One Sennheiser HD650 with stock cable and One Grado RS-2.
Music: Custom Made Test CDs (from lossless sources), CDs and SACDs of various types of music
Solid-State Amps:
oGo-Vibe w/ Opamp
oMETA42
oCorda HA-1 (original version)
oCorda HA-1 MKII (current version)
oPerreaux SHX-1 (v0.5)
oGilmore V1
oHeadroom Max with Stepped Attenuator (current model)


Picture from Ohio mini-meet: Corda HA-1 MKII (upper left), Corda HA-1 (upper middle), Headroom Max (right), Perreaux SXH1 (lower left)


Picture of Gilmore V1


Picture of Corda HA-1 (on the top) and Headroom Max (middle and bottom pictures)


Picture of Go-Vibe (portable amp with black knob, upper the left), META42 (portable amp with silver knob, upper right), Perreaux SHX1 (front and back)

The Amplifiers

Go-Vibe
This is a new breed of amp which offers a descent performance with a minimum cost. Three configurations are possible from ultra portable to home version. Go-Vibe represents middle of Headsave.com’s product. Go-Vibe utilizes same circuitry as Mint-Vibe, but in a more rigid Hammond ABS case. It is rated pwer at 2.2WRMS into 32Ω, 1.1WRMS into 64Ω, and 235mWRMS into 300Ω with 24.9Vp-p voltage swing. http://www.headsave.com/vibe.html

META42
The META42 is a portable amp with all that implies: ability to run on batteries and still sound good in a limited board space. A popular even smaller variant of META42 is a Mint which utilizes similar design. Although newer PiMETA design replaced META42, META42 still represents one of the DIY amps with significantly less cost to built, but able to produce a very good sound. This META42 is maxed out version with upgraded AD845 opamps and was built by Tangent. For more information check out http://tangentsoft.net/

Headroom Max with Stepped Attenuator
According to Headroom (www.headphone.com), this is the one of the world’s best headphone amp. Well I think this amp is not too shabby with impressive internal components, including 2 custom Avel-Lindburgh toroidal mains transformers and Burr-Brown LM627 op-amps. For more information, check http://www.headphone.com/layout.php?...tID=0010016007

Corda HA-1 (Original version)
Corda HA-1 was powered by signalcable power cord using MIT Terminator #2 interconnects. This one is powered by Opamp LM6171 with two 1/8” outputs (0 Ohm and 120 Ohm). It has a large round dial to select from four Crossfeed settings (no crossfeed, low, medium and high).
Maximum output is rated at 12V / 150 mA and uses a 7 Watts toroidal transformer (Talema). Used to be $330 new, but can be bought a used one for around $200. For more details on Corda amps, check out http://www.meier-audio.de/

Corda HA-1 MKII (Current version)
Corda HA-1 MKII was also powered by signalcable power cord using MIT Terminator #2 interconnects. HA-1 MKII is an improved model of original Corda HA-1. MKII is powered by same Opamp LM6171 but has LM637 buffers at the output. It has a single ¼” silverplated Neutrik non-locking outputs jack (0 Ohm). It has a three way toggle switch to select from three crossfeed setting (no crossfeed, low and medium).
Maximum output 12V / 250 mA., 3.2 Watts toroidal transformer (Talema). Price: $440 (was available $300 new from Todd for a limited time), but can be bought around $300 used.

Gilmore V1 Dynamic Headphone Amplifier
The Gilmore was an all discrete design that consists of two separate enclosures, one for power supply unit and another for main amp. It was sold as a kit for $369, fully assemed $499 or $65 for PSU board and amp circuit board. It used to be available from http://www.headamp.com. V1 was retired and currently replaced by newer products (V2/V2SE).
There is an excellent review by fellow Headfi member Kelly at http://www5.head-fi.org/forums/showthread.php?t=20589.

Perreaux Silhouette Series SXH1 Headphone Amplifier (aka Dinky Knob)
The Perreaux SXH1 was also powered by signalcable power cord using MIT Terminator #2 interconnects. Source was Sony CDP-X3000. For more information check the manufacturer’s website http://www.perreaux.com/product.php?idp=48

Ergonomics, Built Qualities and Features:
Rating: 1.Headroom Max, 2.Corda HA-1 0Ω, 3. Corda HA-1MKII, 4.Perreaux SXH1, 5. Go-Vibe 6. META42 7. Gilmore V1

In terms of size and weight, Headroom Max has a most solid case among all amps. Think of Max as Headroom’s Maxed Out Home Reference (MOHR) with a super cool case. Max does come with upgraded custom transformers, but it is near impossible to hear the difference between Max and MOHR. Its stepped attenuator volume pod is super smooth and solid between clicks. All three toggle switches on front moves solidly to each position. When a process (Headroom version of crossfeed), treble decreases noticeably so filter function is added to compensate the lose of treble. This filter function controls treble boast to off (no boast), bright (minimal treble boast) and brighter (more noticeable treble boast). I find this filter function most useful with Senn HD650 to make it more forwarding sound (although rarely use this function). There are two locking ¼” headphone output jacks with silver release button on the top. This particular Max had dual input option where one of two inputs can be selected via a small input toggle select switch on the back (not very useful and difficult to access). There also an output RCA pair so that Max can be used as preamp. All RCA jacks (two inputs and one output) are gold plated. Finally there is a ground select switch to select ground or float to control ground related noise.

The original Corda HA-1 is considerably larger than current HA-1 MKII version as evident from the picture. Volume pods on both Corda are super smooth and HA-1’s crossfeed control knob is half the size of volume pod. When a crossfeed is engaged on Corda series amps, bass is somewhat reduced, but no compensation is available. Since I never really use crossfeed, it is not an issue. Just to note that on HA-1 MKII, a tiny three way radio switch controls the crossfeed function (only off, low and medium; no high setting like original HA-1). HA-1 MKII is only about half as wide as HA-1.

Perreaux SXH-1 has the smallest volume knob I’ve seen on a production headphone amp Hence the nick name, dinky knob. Heck it is only about the ½ the size of Corda HA-1’s crossfeed control knob. It feels light but wonderfully smooth. It has a unique patterned surface so that scratches will be less noticeable on this amp. Case is fairly thin and can be pushed with a medium force to deform momentarily (its semi-flexible and not permanent) at the top center. I wouldn’t recommend trying it hard. On the back, there are two pairs of gold plated RCAs, one input pair and one output pair. One obvious thing is missing from Perreaux SXH1 is operation light (no LED), which gives SXH-1 a very discrete look (almost looks like a black leather covered Bible if not for those two ¼” non-locking silver plated headphone output jacks and a smallish volume knob).

Both Go-Vibe and META42 were wrapped in black plastic cases. Each has a tiny two-way toggle switch to turn it on/off, LED operation light (blue on Go-Vibe and red on META42) and 1/8” silver headphone jack. A mini-stereo 1/8” input jack is also located on the side. Both Go-Vibe and META42 were powered by single 9V batteries. Both volume pods feel solid and smooth (much smoother than Perreaux SXH1).

Finally Gilmore V1 doesn’t look appealing at first. It has a separate power supply enclosed in a same casing as the main circuitry. It has a bright blue LED operation indicator light. Volume pod felt very solid and one locking ¼” headphone jack is located on front. V1 is solidly built, but the case wasn’t as attractive as other amps in this review.

Overall, I would rate a built quality, ergonomics and features as Max, Corda HA-1, Corda HA-1 MKII, Perreaux SXH1, Go-Vibe, META42 and Gilmore V1.

Sounds:
Summary of Overall Sound Impressions:

Blackness Test: For a lower impedance cans: Sony CD3000, V6, and Grado RS-2.
Lower Impedance Cans Blackness Test Rating:
1.Headroom Max, 2. Corda HA-1MKII & Gilmore V1 4. Corda HA-1 120Ω
5.Perreaux SXH1 & Corda HA-1 0Ω. 7.META42, 8. Go-Vibe

First, the blackness test is done by hooking up CD3K to the amp, pause your sources and crank up the volume. Headroom Max is absolutely black (10/10), followed closely by two way ties, Corda HA-1 MK-II and Gilmore V1 (9/10). Perreaux SXH-1 (8/10) wasn’t too far off, but there was a small amount of operational noise and high frequency background hum which slightly gotten louder as volume turned up high. Corda HA-1’s two outputs, 120 Ohm (8/10) and 0 Ohm (7/10), produced a small amount of operational noise and hum. 0 Ohm output made the noise more obvious then 120 Ohm. Using slightly less sensitive low impendence cans like Grado RS-2 or Sony V6, noise was literally gone for all amps. Only at the extreme volume level, such noise was noticeable. Hence Max (10/10), V1 (9/10), HA-1 MKII (9/10), HA-1 120 Ohm (8/10), Perreaux (7/10), HA-1 0 Ohm (7/10). Overall, all amps except for META42 and Go-Vibe sounded black while Perreaux SXH-1 and Corda HA-1 produced faint operational noises and hums which were clearly audible on Sony CD3K . There are noticeable hiss present on both Go-Vibe and META42 that increase as volume is turned up. For Go-Vibe and META42, the background hiss is noticeable even when music was playing at semi-high volume (little distracting). There are noticeable volume miss-matching (right-channel dominant on both Go-Vibe and META42). At a softer volume setting, I was able to play music only through the right-channel on Go-Vibe and noticeably louder on right channel on META42. When the volume is turned up to normal or slightly below normal listening level on both portable amps, volume miss-match is no longer noticeable. On both Go-Vibe and META42, faint music can be heard when the volume is turned down all the way (through the right channel on Go-Vibe and though the left channel on META42). On Grado RS-2 and Sony V6, these noises/hiss were also audible in quiet surrounding, but less noticeable than Sony CD3K.

Blackness Test: For a higher impedance cans: Sennheiser HD-650
High Impedance Cans Blackness Test Rating:
1.Headroom Max, 2. Corda HA-1 0Ω & Corda HA-1 120Ω & Corda HA-1MKII & Gilmore V1
6.Perreaux SXH1 7.META42, 8. Go-Vibe

Using 300 ohm cans, such as Sennheiser HD-650 or HD-600, Max, Corda HA-1, and HA-1 MKII sounded absolutely black. However, there is a faint high frequency hum present on Perreaux SXH1 at extremely high volume, but not in normal listening level. On Go-Vibe and META42, more noticeable background hiss is present at medium to high volume. Overall they all sounded fairly black (super quiet background) for normal listening volume so that you can’t even tell they are on or not unless you check the volume switch.

Overall Sound Evaluation:
Overall Sound Rating:
1.Headroom Max, 2.Gilmore V1 3. Corda HA-1MKII 4. Perreaux SXH1 5. Corda HA-1 0Ω,
6.Corda HA-1 120Ω, 7. Go-Vibe, 8.META42.

Now on amps musical performance. Headroom Max is the most transparent, airy, wide soundstage with most dynamic headphone amp of the bunch. Then again, these are expected spending significant money on a headphone amp. Its bass is the tightest among all amps and also the fastest. Its sheer power can drive any low or high impedance cans with easy. Sound comes out effortlessly and so airy that you think how is this possible? Variable gain switch and stepped attenuator is a delight to use. Left and right channel volume levels are perfectly matched from the lowest setting to the highest setting. However it is not perfect. Nothing in life is! IMHO, Max can sound sterile, too clean and too revealing for some recordings. Some can argue that Max may not be as musical as some other amps in the market. Then again, that is why some of us buy tube amps, right? Overall, I would say this is amp of my choice (price independent), but I feel this amp is somewhat overpriced if you were to pay $1887 retail to get it. Of course, you can get it somewhat cheaper used or through a special discount.

Gilmore V1 brings a true meaning to the phrase beauty is only skin deep. It had a bass nearly equaling Max’s in terms of speed and tightness. If I didn’t know better, I would think that this amp sounds like a $1000 amp. Its treble was extremely smooth and well extended (only Perreaux was smoother). Midrange was pure, clean and almost holographic when playing back some jazz tracks (Diana Krall’s). I was amazed how good this amp is for such little $ in used market. Its soundstage was fair large (Max was a tad bit larger) and transparent. It has a fairly good detail (Max is slightly more revealing) in showing just about everything upstream of this amp. It’s a good thing that I used sacdmod Sony SCD-C555ES, which is one of my favorite sources. Overall, I think this is my favorite amp among all amps in this test (price dependent choice). Simply, you cannot find a better amp for your money for playing both low impedance and high impedance cans.

IMHO, Corda HA-1 represents one of the best bargain production amps in the headphone amp. It has most features except for preamp output. Then again, that why you pay big bucks for Prehead, right? I found 0 Ohm output and 120 Ohm output very useful. It changes overall sonic signature considerably without changing its dynamic and revealing nature. Moving from 0 Ohm to 120 Ohm, you will need to add 5-10% more volume to keep it at same volume level. Using Sony CD3K on 0 Ohm output, it sounds even more forward than Max. Using 120 Ohm, it sounds slightly less forward than Max. It has second largest sound stage using 0 Ohm output (tie with Gilmore V1) and 120 Ohm output sounded slightly smaller in soundstage. Its 0 Ohm output has imaging capability slightly behind Max as third place, but 120 Ohm output isn’t too far behind (two way tie with HA-1 MKII). Its bass is full but can get slightly grainy and bloated when music gets too demanding (say during multiple cannon shots in 1812 Overture). Midrange is pure without any coloration using 0 Ohm, but slightly veiled using 120 Ohm. Treble is well extended, smooth and fast for both 0 Ohm and 120 Ohm. Now for the flaws. There is a noticeable operational hums when you plug in CD3K on 0 Ohm output and less noticeable on 120 Ohm output. Using a very good conditioned power output, this hums nearly disappear. Other headphones did not really pick up this operational noise/hum. LM6171 is a wonderfully revealing op-amp. You gotta love it or hate it. However without buffers, HA-1 has a difficulty keep up with super dynamic tracks of full blown bass. Bass can be noticeably boomy when you demand too much with Sony CD3K. Using Sennheiser HD6x0 phones, these limitations quickly disappears or become less obvious. Using Sony CD3K, there is no problem getting it to play loud on quite classical pieces but it is slightly difficult to keep up at super loud volume using Senn HD6x0. You can do it, but you need to turn the volume knob almost all the way. A variable gain switch would be nice, but then again, that is what Prehead is for (it has a selectable gain switch). Overall, excellent bargain amp for home for mere $200.

Corda HA-1 MKII wowed me after only first three minutes of auditioning. It is everything Original HA-1 wanted to be. HA-1 MKII adds a buffer to each of HA-1’s output so that it is more powerful. The annoying operational noise with CD3K is gone period. It is considerably faster than Original HA-1 and considerably more dynamic and powerful. It can now drive Sennheiser HD6x0 phones to beyond ear ringing volume even playing quieter classical music. Wow, what a little changes in power supply and buffer can do. Actually changes is done quite extensively. It literally achieves 80% of Max’s sound at about 1/5 of Max’s price tag. Bass is rated at third place behind Max and Gilmore V1. Bass is punch and noticeably tighter than Original HA-1. MKII sounds fairly transparent and airy but it is slightly behind Original HA-1’s 0 Ohm output. Soundstage isn’t as wide as HA-1’s 0 Ohm output, but sounded wider than 120 Ohm. I guess those added buffers on MKII slightly loses that direct feeling of 0 Ohm without the buffers. Overall, this is one of my second favorite amps (price dependent) of this review.

Perreaux SXH1 is most intriguing amp of the bunch. First thing you will notice when you A/Bing with other amps is its overall sonic signature. This amp sounded warmer and smoother than any other amps in this test. This is more apparent when you play a violin piece. Compare to Max, HA-1’s 0 Ohm and HA-1 MKII, Perreaux SXH1 sounded as if it were a semi-tube amp; most of details are still there, but the rough edges are somewhat subdued or smoothed out. I guess one way to put it is to say this amp is the most musical amp among reviewed amps. SXH-1’s bass sounds wonderfully full and is tighter than Original HA-1, but not as tight as HA-1 MKII, V1 or Max. Soundstage is slightly narrower than Max, HA-1, and HA-1MKII, but about same size as V1. Imaging was good and precise but can get little confusing when fully loaded with continuous bass due to somewhat slow recovery. For less demanding piece, layering of each instrumentation is precise and clearly separated. Midrange and treble are clear but slightly colored—not in a bad way but in a musical sense. Of course, diehard Perreaux fans can argue that other amps are sterile and cold sounding


Go-Vibe sounded like a trimmed down version of Max. Surprisingly it had a strikingly similar sonic signature, but slightly recessed than Max (say a noticeable roll off in bass and treble). This is a delightful portable amp producing a big full sound in a tiny package (smallest in this review). Actually it more resembled a sonic signature of Corda HA-1 120 Ohm output, fairly detailed but slightly slow and subdued. Still this is amazing for amp costing only $65 new and can be had for less used. One major flaw of this amp is the background hiss that increases with the volume. It has the loudest noise/hiss among all amps tested in this review. Overall, I like Go-Vibe more than META42 by a tiny margin. Can you say best bang for the bucks?

META42 surprised the heck out of me for its big sound in a small package, not to mention its modest selling price at just over $100 when new. Then again, I was told by Adam that this is a souped up version of META42 with AD845 op-amp built by Tangent. It provided near 60-70% of sound of sub $300 amps in this test. Although it sounded wonderful for amp costing less than ¼ of most of amps in this review, it is not without any flaws. META42 sounded slightly veiled and dark as if someone put a wet towel around between my headphone and my ears. This is not necessarily bad thing since this is sort of the same impression I get whenever I switch from Sony CD3K to Senn HD650. All details are still there but they are not as crispy or obvious by other amps. More noticeable details are from midrange. Bass and treble lack the details and speed of other amps. Soundstage is smallest and narrowest among all amps during the test. Imagining of various instruments is quite good although not as consistent as other amps, especially at high volume playing a dynamic track with constant bass. Treble extension is a bit limited and less crispy than other amps and limit is quite noticeable when you play a track with both bass and treble. On a complex loud music (say Green Day), putting on a real high volume will result in congested sound (not transparent) and significantly decrease in bass and noticeable decrease in high. On a quieter music, imaging was excellent. Transient response and recovery speed are fairly good although slowest among all amps in this test. Overall, I was amazed how good META42 sounded considering its selling price.

Dynamic and Bass Test:
Telarc SACD: Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture, Op. 49 Track 1, SACD Hilary Hahn, Felix Mendelssohn, Track 1 and 3 Concerto for violin and orchestra in E minor, Op 64, CD: Alanis Morissette – Uninvited, CD: Sash!-Encore une fois Single, Track 1 Original Edit, CD: Green Day, Basket case. CD: Christina Aguilera-Stripped, Track 2 Can’t hold us down, CD: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, plus more.

Dynamic and Bass Rating: 1.Headroom Max, 2.Gilmore V1, 3.Corda HA-1MKII,
4.Perreaux SXH1 5.Corda HA-1 0Ω, 6.Corda HA-1 120Ω., 7. Go-Vibe, 8.META42
I always start my test or audition with Telarc’s Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture, Op. 49. It is probably single most demanding music I know. During last several minutes, it has multiple cannon shots on top of complex classical master piece. On a less amp or system, each cannon shot will sound boomy, grainy and other instruments will sound congested while amp tries to recover from lack of power/current. Headroom Max handled those difficult cannon shots beautifully with super tight bass. Recovery after each shot was so fast compare to most of other amps, it is not even tryin hard. Whether it is a continuous bass or super tight bass, it handed whatever you can throw at it beautifully. Basket Case a lightening fast hard hitting drum beats with fast cymbals sounded just awesome on Grado RS-2 and Max. Gilmore V1 also handled all those difficult pieces with easy. Its bass was just a tad bit grainier and it took just a tad bit longer to recover from multiple cannon shots. I couldn’t believe how smooth those cannon shots sounded on V1. Corda HA-1 MKII was a nice surprise. It nearly equal V1 in terms of full, yet tight sounding bass and fast recovery speed. It just lacked a touch of bass definition during complex pieces while both continuous and hard hitting bass was present in the music. Perreaux SXH1 was impressive and it did quite well. However its creamy presentation sort of masked out the fullness of bass; its bass sounded slightly boomier and slower than top three amps in this category. Corda HA-1 has a noticeably boomier and gainer bass during demanding portion of music than top four amps. However I’m being overly critical here. Go-Vibe sounded more dynamic, but its bass was a bit rolled off (didn’t go as low as others) during demanding portion of music. META42 sounded pretty descent, which is amazing performance considering how much it costs. However it is noticeably recessed/darker than the others hence it sounds less dynamic among all amps.

Soundstage, Depth, Imaging and Transparency:
SACD/CD Hilary Hahn/Midori, Felix Mendelssohn, Track 1 and 3 Concerto for violin and orchestra in E minor, Op 64, SACD: Hilary Hahn Bach: Violin Concertos, CD: Telarc: Beethoven Symphony No. 9 “Coral”, CD: J.S. Bach – The Art of Fugue Emerson string quartet, CD: Telarc Wendy Carlos – Switched on Bach 2000, CDs: various tracks from Chesky records and Telarc classical.
Soundstage, Depth, Imaging and Transparency Rating:
1.Headroom Max, 2.Gilmore V1, 3.Corda HA-1MKII, 4.Corda HA-1 0Ω, 5.Corda HA-1 120Ω,
6.Perreaux SXH1 7. Go-Vibe, 8.META42

One of the most important criteria for me to spend extra dollars on the amp is its ability create a realistically large sound stage width/distance and ability to separate various instruments. What I want is precise placements of various instruments during complex and demanding music piece. Often a poorly designed/constructed amp may mix and blend all instruments so you cannot tell each instrument apart. Using various SACDs and CDs, Headroom Max was superior in terms of creating wide and precise imaging of each instrument whether the music is a quiet violin passage or full blown orchestra piece. Gilmore V1 and Corda HA-1 MKII was close second and third for combined Soundstage, Depth, Imaging and Transparency Rating. Soundstage was slightly narrower and can be slightly unstable when music gets too dynamic, but they handle most of them with good resolution. Corda HA-1 0 Ohm output had a second largest soundstage among all following Headroom Max and tied with Gilmore V1. Its other 120 Ohm output wasn’t too far off, but tad bit smaller in soundstage. However its background was not as dark as top three amps in this category, which resulted it at fourth place although it had a fairly soundstage. Perreaux SXH1 wasn’t too far off, but its layering of instruments can get challenged and congested during extremely dynamic music piece. On a soft volume setting it nearly equals that of Corda HA-1 MKII’s imaging ability. Finally Go-Vibe and META42 are placed 7th and 8th since they can get congested when music gets too demanding (more noticeable than other amps).

Details, Transient and Naturalness/Realness:
SACD/CD Hilary Hahn/Midori, Felix Mendelssohn, Track 1 and 3 Concerto for violin and orchestra in E minor, Op 64, SACD: Hilary Hahn Bach: Violin Concertos, SACD Hilary Hahn: Brahms Stravinsky, CD: J.S. Bach – The Art of Fugue Emerson string quartet, CD: Ann-Sophie Mutter Recital 2000, CD: Eric Clapton-Unplugged, CD: Green Day – Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), CDs: Harry Connick Jr. “25”, Songs I heard, 30, CDs: Joshua Redman, Wish, Moodswing, CD: Miles Davis: Kind of Blue, SACD: John Coltrane – Blue Train, CDs: Various tracks from Telarc Classical, SACDs/CDs: Diana Krall, Live In Paris, The Look of Love, and When I Look in Your Eyes.

Details, Transient and Naturalness/Realness Rating:
1.Headroom Max, 2.Gilmore V1, 3.Corda HA-1 0Ω, 4. Corda HA-1 120Ω & Corda HA-1MKII,
6.Perreaux SXH1 7. Go-Vibe, 8.META42

I often use violin, guitar, piano, string bass and vocal oriented music to test details, transient and naturalness. These are some of the most challenging instruments to reproduce accurately. Max came top of its class. Its revealing nature is second to none (probably Corda Prehead with L6171 opamps can give Max run for its money
) and add blackest background in amps, you have a formidably realistic setup. For example, you can actually hear a beginning and end of each vocal track/layer is being added to the top of musical tracks, letting you hear artifacts as an increase in recorded background noise from the vocal track from the mixer of Diana Krall’s SACDs/CDs. Corda HA-1 0 Ohm also reveals this, but it does so in slightly subtle manner than the Max due to slightly less black background. Sometimes this, too much revealing nature, can take the pleasure away from enjoying less than a perfect recording. On a various violin tracks of Hillary Hahn and Midori, you can actually sense the orientation of violin and player being changed, i.e., rotating their upper body and/or leaning forward/backward. Corda HA-1MKII and Corda HA-1 120 Ohm is close 4th in this regards of details without adding any colors. Perreaux SXH1 is fairly detailed but its smoothness and added warmth takes a little bit off naturalness/realness. Go-Vibe and META42 are right behind Perreaux, but META42’s veiled presentation places it at the last place of Details, Transient and Naturalness/Realness.

Smoothness and Musicalness:
CD: Diana Krall, Love Scenes, Track 4 I Miss You So, CD: Diana Krall, All For You, Track 2: Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You, CD: Christina Aguilera-Stripped, Track 11 Beautiful. SACD/CD: Norah Jones: Come Away With Me, plus many more

Smoothness and Musicalness Rating: 1.Gilmore V1, 2.Perreaux SXH1, 3.Headroom Max, 4.Corda HA-1MKII, 5.Corda HA-1 0Ω, 6.Corda HA-1 120Ω., 7. Go-Vibe, 8.META42
Although I already own a tube amp for liquid midrange and for ultra smoothness, a musical solid-state amp can also provide smoothness and naturalness to the music. Some say coloring the music, but this is just a matter of preference. Although Gilmore V1 wasn’t the smoothest sounding amp (Perreaux is), it has most natural sound and smooth midrange and treble, hence number 1 rating. Perreaux was the smoothest sounding solid-state amp I’ve ever heard. However something about its colored presentation that lacks the naturalness/realness of Gilmore V1 by a small margin. Max was close third since it provided uncolored in your face presentation. However some may prefer Max’s true to the sound nature if you are using a good quality recording. Corda HA-1 MKII was rated next (call it a mini-Max, although they are not related). I placed Corda HA-1 (0 Ohm and 120 Ohm) next since its bass is slightly grainy when compare to top 4 amps of this category. Go-Vibe is quite good for its price and size, but can’t really match up with bigger home amps of this competition. Finally META42’s veiled/dark sonic signature placed it at last place.


Conclusion:

Picture of some of the equipment used for the review
I’m truly impressed by two little portable amps, Go-Vibe and META42, in the review. No one, I mean no one should dismiss these little hotrods without the proper respect they deserve. Imagine you can get close to 70-80% sound of amps costing several times more. That is a remarkable achievement. Although I didn’t get to hear all the amps I wanted (say Cmoy, PiMETA, PPA and Gilmore lite/V2/V2SE), I’m reasonably happy I had an opportunity to audition amps in this review.

Gilmore V1 amazed me with its ability to drive various cans including low impedance cans like Sony CD3K. Look can be deceiving. This ugly duckling perform nearly as good as Max for fraction of Max’s price. OK, I admit that V1 is not that ugly, but it won’t win the beautiful-looking amp contest. Then again, if it sounds this good, who cares about how it looks right? Now I gotta look for this wonder on for sale forum.

Corda HA-1 MKII was a remarkable improvement over already proven HA-1. This amp literally matched impressive Gilmore V1 for nearly all accounts. Its small foot print may be added bonus for discrete office set up.

Perreaux has amazed me so many ways I don’t know where to begin. From the pictures, I thought it would be significantly bigger. May be its tiny volume knob was misleading me to think that it is much bigger. I’m used to BIG volume knobs. Even my Yamaha soundcard has a volume knob which is about the size of Coke can. Perreaux would looks nothing like an amp if you put a PostIt notepad on top of headphone jacks and volume knob. This stealthy looking amp was so warm and musical, I had to open it up to verify that no tubes are hidden in its signal paths. I can see why so many people love this amp. It was able to drive low impedance cans like Sony CD3K, V6 and Grado RS-2 with authority and provide smooth musical presentation to Sennheiser HD650/HD600. Although its bass wasn’t as tight as Max, V1 or HA-1 MKII, its super smooth warm presentation deserves the recognition and respect. Only problem is its retail price, which has gone up considerably (nearly doubled since second quarter of this year). Good news for the current owners, but bad news for the potential buyers.

Corda Original HA-1 still the one of best value for crossfeed, and its versatile 0 Ohm and 120 Ohm headphone jack. For around $200 used, this is best bang for the bucks. Only drawback may be a little background noise with CD3K if your power is less than perfect.

One noticeable phenomenon here at head-fi is, we often exaggerate (to put it mildly) the difference between various amps. (Including this review) If we were to give a newbie a good source (say Sony SCD-1) and Headroom’s Max and Corda HA-1 MKII, I highly doubt that a newbie can pick up the real difference between two as long as the volume is kept down to a reasonable listening level. You really need to know what to listen for to fully appreciate the differences/improvements of various amps. Often a confused newbie will spend hundreds on an amp based only on a review or two from the forum with an unreasonably high expectation. Of course, we often see he/she immediately goes through buyer’s remorse or big disappointment. Especially if power and source are not up to challenge. One of the biggest challenges for the newbie or new to this head-fi is trying to understand how an amp makes a difference. Most of them can still hear their low impedance cans out of headphone jack of soundcard, home theater or CD/DVD player with ear-ringing volume. For them, it is difficult to understand what to expect and what to buy. As I mentioned earlier, differences are there, but they are subtle. You are not necessarily paying more money to get a louder volume, but for fuller/tighter bass, for wider sound stage, for better imaging, for better transparency, for more details, for more dynamic sound and sometimes for more musicalness/smoothness. These may not be matter much to some, but may be important for the others. You do not need to spend hundreds of dollars to enjoy music. There are amps for everyone for every budget, heck you might be those fortunate people who actually are happy without dedicated amp. Whoever you are out there, I urge you to stop listening to the sound, but listen to the music. Embrace the music, immerse yourself to the music and all equipment (including amp) should be transparent/disappear between you and music. Isn’t that a primary reason we are here at Head-fi, to be one with our passion… the music?


-Mike
 
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Oddball

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Very informative, I like the fact that you compared so many amps over such a wide price range. It was also easy to follow, which is always a plus. Thanks for the great review!
 
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OK, this is my second amp review and this one is also fairly long. I was gonna keep it short but couldn't resist the opportunity to include META42 and Go-Vibe in the review
This review is sort of targetting newbies to illustrate the differences between various solid-state amps in wide price range. Please remember this review is based on my personal preference and my hearing is different from yours. Thanks,

-Mike
 
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Great review!
Finally a review where the Corda HA1 (original and MKII) is compared to some other respectable amps here.
I'm sure you had a lot of fun doing the evaluation
 
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Quote:

Originally Posted by saint.panda
Great review!
Finally a review where the Corda HA1 (original and MKII) is compared to some other respectable amps here.
I'm sure you had a lot of fun doing the evaluation



Yes, but if I had to listen to 1812 Overture one more time, I think I will throw up!
 
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Excellent review. The Perreaux did better than I thought it might then. Too bad I've just sold mine


I reckon this review should go upstairs....
 
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Excellent review.

BTW -- the HA-1 MKII in the picture is slanted because of sacd_lover's massive (and heavy) power cable being used!



Regarding the build quality between the Perreaux and Corda HA-1 MKII... I would give the slight edge to the Perreaux only because the HA-1 MKII has those stick-on rubber feet. However, the thickness of the case on the MKII is beyond impressive, especially considering the price.
 
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Quote:

Originally Posted by acs236
Regarding the build quality between the Perreaux and Corda HA-1 MKII... I would give the slight edge to the Perreaux only because the HA-1 MKII has those stick-on rubber feet. However, the thickness of the case on the MKII is beyond impressive, especially considering the price.


I think Jan once said that the Corda HA1/2 could fall on the floor and nothing would happen. They are built to hold forever. The build quality is truly outstanding.
 
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Looks like someone needs to go buy a Max!


EDIT Whoops, sorry, I was skimming, I see you already have it! It's sure is much nicer to find that you love your amplifer after an indepth review like this instead of finding out you need new gear!
 
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Two thumbs up! Thank you for an excellent feature!
 
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Another great review, Mike. You are really good at this, and this comparison is a terrific contribution for anyone trying to choose a solid state amp.


Quote:

Originally Posted by go_vtec
Yes, but if I had to listen to 1812 Overture one more time, I think I will throw up!


Yeah, serious reviewing can be hard work - not all fun and games.

Thanks again for taking the time and making the effort - much apreciated.
 
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Wow, what a good review. You had to have put in a lot of time and effort on this comparison. I think I speak for everyone by saying THANKS. I will have to get you down here once my new singlepower prototype is done. I will have the Eddie Current hd 300, my new ppx3(you listened to a loaner) and the hybrid amp from doobooloo by then as well. This time though, plan on spending the WHOLE day.
 
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Quote:

Originally Posted by sacd lover
Wow, what a good review. You had to have put in a lot of time and effort on this comparison. I think I speak for everyone by saying THANKS. I will have to get you down here once my new singlepower prototype is done. I will have the Eddie Current hd 300, my new ppx3(you listened to a loaner) and the hybrid amp from doobooloo by then as well. This time though, plan on spending the WHOLE day.



Thanks Earl! You are on
I'll bring the beer this time!
-Mike
 
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Quote:

Originally Posted by go_vtec
Thanks Earl! You are on
I'll bring the beer this time!
-Mike



Root Beer. Or else everything will sound liquid.
 
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