Review of the *db systems* DB-9 headphone amp
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arnett

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In case you’ve never heard of this amp, audio advisor is selling it for $235. It is featured in their catalog but not yet shown on their website (so you’ll have to call them for more info). Apparently, AA claims that the db systems amp is the best sounding amp they’ve sold in several years.

I don’t have a digital camera, but here’s a picture scanned and posted by KR from the audio advisor catalog:


Arrival:
I was shocked to find the amp does not have its own cardboard box; instead, it comes packed in a little manila envelope. Pulling it out of its envelope, I was surprised how light the unit was. There must be a lot of air inside the thin aluminum case. The DB-9 measures in at 6.2” wide x 5.2” deep x 2.2” tall. The DB-9 has an unregulated 14v 360mA wall-wort permanently fixed to the back of the unit. db systems does offer a power supply upgrade at $160 (presumably in the same size case as the DB-9 itself) but you’ll have to send the unit back to them for the operation. There isn’t much of a manual to speak of either.

In a word, the DB-9 looks cheap. It has the ugliest volume knob in the history of headphone amps (sort of Radio Shack circa 1978). I made the mistake of popping the two little screws to get a glimpse of the innards. I don’t know circuit boards that well, but this thing looks REALLY simple. I’ve never seen the inside of a RA-1, but this is what I’d imagine it would look like.

Nevertheless, I decided to burn the thing in (approx. 72 hours) and give it a shot. I used the Senn HD580 (300 ohm) and the Senn MX-500 (32 ohm).

Sound:
After 72 hours, the overall tone of the unit is pretty evenhanded. Treble is not over-emphasized. Midrange, however, is slightly cold and sterile compared to the best I’ve heard. Bass is excellent: tight yet punchy. Actually, I’m quite amazed at the impact the amp exhibits in the lower frequencies.
Yet, in terms of tone and detail, DB-9 is not that much better than a decent headphone jack of a home CD player. It certainly doesn’t make the HD580s ‘come alive’ like the better amps I’ve heard.
I feel exactly the same way about the Grado RA-1. But unlike the RA-1, the DB-9 has greater extension at the extremes (particularly in the bass). The DB-9, however, does not seem nearly as smooth as the RA-1.

The major flaw of the DB-9 is a slightly grainy sound and a lack of cohesiveness during loud and complex passages. During an intricate passage, the sound becomes slightly unclear and mushy with the images becoming somewhat blurred (i.e., a slight grainy halo around instruments). I also tested this on the 32 ohm Senn MX-500 and the result was the same (of course, the MX-500 is hardly reference quality so I’ll reserve judgment on how the DB-9 drives lower-impedance cans). I have no idea if this lack of cohesion is an inherent flaw in the amp design or whether the power supply upgrade would solve the problem. I doubt I’ll ever find out. I’ll probably send the unit back to AA.
 
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itza2mer

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I bought this amp used on ebay, and I couldn't be happier. It brings my HD-600 to life, especially the lower Bass. I sprung for the power supply upgrade from DB, and it does improve the focus of the sound.
 
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