SonicAdventure Reality Headphone Amplifier Review
post-188474
Thread Starter
Post #1 of 61

kelly

Herr Babelfish der Übersetzer, he wore a whipped-cream-covered tutu for this title.
Joined
Jan 1, 2002
Messages
5,435
Reaction score
11
Joined
Jan 1, 2002
Posts
5,435
Likes
11
Disclaimer: As always, this is purely a subjective review. The contents herein reflect my opinion alone and do not represent opinions of HeadFi, its sponsors, its moderators, nor SonicAdventure. Moreover, the opinions were reached by subjective means only without the aid of any measurements. As with any review, please add a grain of salt and assume every statement to mean, “in my system”, “to my ears” and “in my opinion.”

SonicAdvenutre Reality Headphone Amplifier

Associated equipment:
Sony S7000 cd/dvd player (used as a transport)
ART DI/O DAC with Bolder modifications and Bolder PSU
Sennheiser HD600 headphone with Cardas HD600 cable
Etymotic ER-4 headphone with FixUp ER-4S cable
Grado HP-1 headphone
Ven Haus designed power cables
Monster interconnects

Amplifiers available for direct AB comparison:
AudioValve RKV Mk II
Sugden Headmaster
Corda Blue (Corda HA-1 with modifcations by KurtW)

I've recently had the pleasure of spending some time with the newest hybrid dynamic headphone amplifier on the market, the SonicAdventure Reality. Before I go on with the review, you should note that this amplifier is currently being circulated in the United States and you'll probably be seeing comments from other users very soon.



As you can tell from this photo, SonicAdventure's first amplifier is truly a class product when it comes to build quality. Some people on the forums and chatrooms have referred to this amp as the "Tube Max" in reference to its resemblence to HeadRoom's flagship headphone amplifier, the HeadRoom Max--something I think any manufacturer would consider high praise. The reference is actually a bit misleading because, of course, the amplifier is actually by newcomer Hong Kong manufacturer SonicAdventure and the case is actually not the same enclosure as the Max.

A more careful look will notice the sides of this amplifier are heatfins--I'm not sure how valuable heatfins actually are on an amplifier like this, but the enclosure does get rather warm and anything to displace some of that warmth is probably worthwhile. More than that, I just think they look cool. The enclosure seems to be the standard metal alloy case with somewhat expensive thick faceplates and laser etching on the front panel--all nicely done, with faceplates matching the quality and thickness of those on the Max. My only real complaint with the enclosure is that bottom plate that screws onto the amplifier doesn't have a rounded edge and is rough to the touch. That's not something you'd probably notice if you had it set up for normal listening. I can assure you the amp is heavy enough that you're probably going to want to park it in one spot.

I don't actually know the details of all the ingredients in this one so my descriptions here are purely from actual use. I never even had a chance to pop the hood. The jacks, both RCA and headphone, are sturdy and seem to be of good quality, though likely not the same expensive ones you find on HeadRoom amps. The jacks on this amplifier are not the locking Neutriks, though that is what I saw pictured on their early prototype. The pot has a thick, sturdy feel to it and seems to be of good quality but I'm not sure which pot it actually is.

The back panel is home to a pre-out and two source inputs. Again, this is a bit like the standard issue Max. The source switch to this amplifier, however, is thankfully located on the front panel. A power switch is also located on the front panel and a glowing LED can be seen in the middle. Remember, I'm a sucker for this stuff but the really cool thing is that during warm up the LED is red but after a few seconds the LED switches to blue. I've seen this before in expensive speaker amplifiers but this is the only headphone amp I've seen do this. Maybe it's just me but I thought it was cool.

If you'd like to see more pics of the amp, visit the company's website at http://www.sonicadventure.biz/. Most of what I've said here may be obvious from the photos. What is perhaps not so obvious is the cost of the amplifier. Would you believe me if I told you that you were looking at an amplifier that costs only $370US plus shipping new?

At this price, surely the amplifier becomes a powerful alternative to the ASL MG Head. Other options at this price? Not many, as far as I'm concerned. The Corda HA-1 is a nice solid state. Other than that, my options would quickly turn to DIY amps. So for commercial "entry level" home based dynamic headphone amps we now have a solid state, a tube and a hybrid. The world is now complete.

Besides getting a hefty case for such a paltry sum, the other thing you may not be used to getting at that price is the frequency spectrum. Oh sure, the Corda gives you all but the deepest bass response and the MG Head gives you a very nice cross section of the midrange. But the entire frequency spectrum? Comparisons to the Max come to mind once again. The SonicAdventure gives you the whole thing--from the sharpest highs to the deepest lows and without any noticable tonal shifts. It's very nice to find a balanced sound in such a modest amp.

I can't help but wonder if this is partially owed to its hybrid design--tube input with MOSFET output. The other headphone amplifier with a design of this type is the Melos SHA-1, another real overachiever that has, unfortunately, been long discontinued. Perhaps not so surprising then, is that I found this amp's personality to be more similar to my memories of the Melos than to any other amp I've heard.

The combination of very smooth textures, a low noise floor and the ability to drive a variety of headphones have made the Melos a popularly resurrected headphone amp with people who can manage to get hold of one. This combination of headlining traits is the same one found in the SonicAdventure Reality.

Of course, the Melos had a bit more going on and while I didn't have the Melos here for AB comparison, I'd have to give the nod to my memory of the Melos in overall preference. Where the Melos was completely clean and articulate, the Reality has a bit of a smear between string instruments. It's really as if the amplifier has a soft focus filter, an effect that's both little bit frustating when you're looking for details but extremely relaxing when you're not.

In stock form, this may cause those who have a priority shift toward the analytical to think about another amplifier. However, at least for those of us with a pair of Sennheiser HD600 or Grado HP-1 at, this is great amp to kick back and relax with.

For comparisons sake, I had the Sugden Headmaster, AudioValve RKV II and Corda Blue all on hand. Not really a fair fight since the SonicAdventure costs so much less than any of the other amps. Each of the more expensive amps beat the Reality in absolute low level detail and articulation. However, when it came to bass authority, the Sonic completely stomped both the Corda and the Sugden.

It was in comparison to the RKV, though, where I had trouble finding as much favor with the amp. As some of you already know, the RKV has become my favorite headphone amp and as such, it's honestly been hard to even want to listen to any other amps when I had it in the room. But again, the RKV is twice the price. The Sonic actually beats the RKV in high frequency extension, the achilles heal of the RKV. It matches the RKV in output across the rest of the spectrum, including the bass.

The bass quality, however, is quite different with the SonicAdventure. Both amps are taught and responsive but the Sonic is the dryer of the two making the amp seem more typical of a solid state than the smooth continuous sound you may generalize tube amps as having. Still, for some people having a smooth, "tube-like" midrange with a quick, authoritative "solidstate-like" bass, this hybrid may be just what you're looking for. I had to admit, as much as I loved the little ASL MG Head, it's rolled off bass is what prevented me from truly enjoying it.

The other amps also present also had a bit of a larger headstage. It's difficult to talk about headstage because we each intepret it so differently but there seems to be enough common-ground that it's worth mentioning. The SonicAdventure is tight and focussed, again reminding me more of the Melos and HeadRoom Max than the wide open MG Head and RKV.

When I first inquired about the amplifier, Katsudon warned me that it seemed to do better with some headphones than others. I tried to ignore what he said in hopes that my own expectations wouldn't be biased by his opinions, but I wondered which headphones would work best when I got it. To my surprise, all three of the headphones I had on hand--Grado HP-1, Sennheiser HD600/Cardas and Etymotic ER-4S/FixUp--performed equally well. Since all three are at very different impedances, I'm left to suspect the amp would pair easily with most headphones. I suspect the difference between Katsudon's impression and mine is simply a matter of us auditioning the amp at different stages.

The bottom line is for such a low price, this is a killer budget amp. I know my impressions are based only on the stock amplifier, too. I look forward to reading what other people think of it after they've had a chance to do some tuberolling and poke around inside. I'm betting with not too much work, the amp would find itself easily gaining ground on its more expensive competition. As it is, the amp is a solid alternative to the MG Head which in my book is a pretty nice place to be.
 
     Share This Post       
post-188476
Post #2 of 61

elnero

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Jul 24, 2002
Messages
6,072
Reaction score
482
Location
Prince Edward Island, Canada
Joined
Jul 24, 2002
Location
Prince Edward Island, Canada
Posts
6,072
Likes
482
Kelly,

Again, thank you for the well articulated and informative review.

Phil
 
     Share This Post       
post-188475
Post #3 of 61

kelly

Herr Babelfish der Übersetzer, he wore a whipped-cream-covered tutu for this title.
Joined
Jan 1, 2002
Messages
5,435
Reaction score
11
Joined
Jan 1, 2002
Posts
5,435
Likes
11
Is there a reason why the thread of the amplifier review I just posted this morning has been closed? If this was an accident, please reopen the thread. I'd like to gather responses while the review is still fresh.
 
     Share This Post       
post-188473
Post #4 of 61

grinch

Cognac....icky.Scotch....icky.Vodka....
Joined
Jan 1, 2002
Messages
3,077
Reaction score
11
Joined
Jan 1, 2002
Posts
3,077
Likes
11
i wish to post some comments on the afformentioned review, but since it's been closed: great job as always, kelly.


[edit]: i think it's awesome to have some good competition for the mg head, an amp which i have always felt has pretty poor build quality. it sounds like a really well-built amp and its ability to drive multiple headphones (unlike the head) is really great to hear. i hope this amp gets more popular.
 
     Share This Post       
post-188472
Post #5 of 61

BDA_ABAT

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
Sep 22, 2001
Messages
1,089
Reaction score
12
Joined
Sep 22, 2001
Posts
1,089
Likes
12
Ditto Grinch....

After reading the review, the second thought I had was: "Paging Hirsch!".

Nice job Kelly and the folks from SonicAdventure.

Bruce
 
     Share This Post       
post-188471
Post #6 of 61
Joined
Jun 20, 2001
Messages
10,888
Reaction score
4,695
Nice review, kelly! I'm not sure why it was locked, by the way. I read it over twice to see if there was a reason, but saw none. There was also no explanation in the moderators' forum, so I assumed it was a mistake and unlocked it.
 
     Share This Post       
post-188523
Post #7 of 61

bootman

King o'Ping
Joined
Jun 22, 2001
Messages
3,308
Reaction score
10
Joined
Jun 22, 2001
Posts
3,308
Likes
10
Quote:

Originally posted by kelly
Is there a reason why the thread of the amplifier review I just posted this morning has been closed? If this was an accident, please reopen the thread. I'd like to gather responses while the review is still fresh.


Conspiracy theory?


Anyway, thanks for the review.
This design sparked my interest when I first read about it.
I always thought that a hybrid would have the most potential to be the budget "killer" amp.
Can you find out what tube(s) they used?

After finally getting their web page to load, I see that they use 2 6H23-EB tubes.
 
     Share This Post       
post-188525
Post #8 of 61
Joined
Jun 20, 2001
Messages
10,888
Reaction score
4,695
Quote:

Originally posted by bootman
Conspiracy theory?
....


There was a moderator on the grassy knoll.

Actually, one of our new moderators (rhymes with Zersh
) said he might have inadvertently locked it when he was trying to find a way to move it to the featured full reviews area.
 
     Share This Post       
post-188587
Post #9 of 61

BDA_ABAT

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
Sep 22, 2001
Messages
1,089
Reaction score
12
Joined
Sep 22, 2001
Posts
1,089
Likes
12
FYI: Details from the SonicFidelity site...

Quote:

Quality components: ALPS blue pot volume control, Solen caps, two 6H23-EB tubes and 2 separate headphone jack; Tube rolling to get the warmer sound for individual taste; No single channel hums as found in some low priced headphone amplifier; Pre Out: 1 RCA (L&R); Frequency response... 8Hz 110kHz(-3dB); 8Hz 60Khz(-1dB); THD <0.05%(Vrms:1V;1kHz); Power protection circular: main light turns blue when the headphone amp is in ready to use; Analogue inputs: 2 RCA (L&R); 110v power input (220v version available upon request); Dimensions(WXDXH): 200X80X300mm; Net weight: 4.5KG


Looks VERY intriguing...

Bruce
 
     Share This Post       
post-188601
Post #10 of 61

ServinginEcuador

Founder of the Head-Fi Pay-to-Post Program.
Joined
Sep 1, 2002
Messages
8,384
Reaction score
14
Joined
Sep 1, 2002
Posts
8,384
Likes
14
Quote:

Originally posted by bootman
After finally getting their web page to load, I see that they use 2 6H23-EB tubes.


Anyone know of a website that sells these tubes?? I just looked at a few, and can't find anything other than 6H30s. (Edit: not to mention what are some good 6H23 tubes?)

After looking at the build quality, reading the review here, and reading that this thing comes with an Alps Blue pot and Solen caps, I may cancel my order for the MG Head!!! (Now I just need to sell all the EL84 and 5751 tubes I preordered before even ordering the MG Head!!)

Now if we can only find someone to buy one of these things and roll in a few different tubes and see how much it affects the sound......
And then A/B it against an MG Head with good tubes and see if it holds it's own!!


Lord Bless,

doug p.
 
     Share This Post       
post-188612
Post #11 of 61

shivohum

Keeper of the Quotes
Joined
Jun 21, 2001
Messages
903
Reaction score
11
Joined
Jun 21, 2001
Posts
903
Likes
11
Thanks for the review, Kelly. I was wondering: could you list some of the pieces you used to compare the gear? I'm especially interested in what you used to gauge bass performance. Are there any specific spots in the music to which you pay more attention?
 
     Share This Post       
post-188649
Post #12 of 61

kelly

Herr Babelfish der Übersetzer, he wore a whipped-cream-covered tutu for this title.
Joined
Jan 1, 2002
Messages
5,435
Reaction score
11
Joined
Jan 1, 2002
Posts
5,435
Likes
11
shivolhum
I don't usually list music tracks for a number of reasons that are better debated elsewhere. Email me and I'll point you at some of the stuff I generally use as reference, though you should be warned that some of it is a bit obscure.

The bass differences I alluded to in this review weren't all that subtle. I don't think you'd have trouble picking them out even without specific reference material.
 
     Share This Post       
post-188721
Post #13 of 61

bootman

King o'Ping
Joined
Jun 22, 2001
Messages
3,308
Reaction score
10
Joined
Jun 22, 2001
Posts
3,308
Likes
10
Quote:

Originally posted by ServinginEcuador
Anyone know of a website that sells these tubes?? I just looked at a few, and can't find anything other than 6H30s. (Edit: not to mention what are some good 6H23 tubes?)



I found a place here.

They appear to be a Russian version of the venerable 6922.
So maybe some NOS 6922s might work?

My only experience with tubes was my short stint with the X-cans.
They also used 6922s.


Kelly, did you get in on that demo deal?
Are you going to keep it?
 
     Share This Post       
post-188753
Post #14 of 61

ServinginEcuador

Founder of the Head-Fi Pay-to-Post Program.
Joined
Sep 1, 2002
Messages
8,384
Reaction score
14
Joined
Sep 1, 2002
Posts
8,384
Likes
14
Quote:

Originally posted by bootman
I found a place here.

They appear to be a Russian version of the venerable 6922.
So maybe some NOS 6922s might work?

My only experience with tubes was my short stint with the X-cans.
They also used 6922s.


Thanks for the leg work!! As usual I followed my routine
1. Open mouth
2. Insert foot
In this case I first posted the question, THEN went and checked www.dogpile.com for a search on the tubes. I found out that Nick Dangerous's X-Cans tuberolling guide was there and provided lots of info.

The tubes are known and sold as the follwing, depending upon manufacturer: E88CC, 6922 and 6DJ8.


Lord Bless and Thanks,

doug p.
 
     Share This Post       
post-189107
Post #15 of 61

steinie

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Dec 13, 2001
Messages
103
Reaction score
0
Joined
Dec 13, 2001
Posts
103
Likes
0
Thanx Kelly!!


Looks like a promising low cost amp.......
 
     Share This Post       

Users Who Are Viewing This Thread (Users: 0, Guests: 1)

Top