The first Italian Head-Fi meet. Or: Just how big is an Angstrom?
Sep 15, 2003 at 8:58 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 26

Tomcat

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
Jun 26, 2001
Posts
1,273
Likes
11
The answer is simple, of course: HUGE.

While on vacation in Italy, I, together with my wife, visited Head-Fier Nik on Saturday. It was a pleasure meeting him, and it would have been a most entertaining evening even if we hadn’t compared headphones and amps. I guess it’s true for both of us: it’s easy to be surprised when you meet someone in person you have only known from the internet, through his online persona.


The Angstrom

There is no denying it: this amp is a frontal assault on the state-of-the-art of amplifier technology. There is one box in the signal path, with a pair of Sovtek 6C45’s and a pair of output transformers, and the other box of the amp contains a fully tube regulated power supply, and I mean fully tube regulated, there are no less than 18 tubes in there. Nik has had this amp developed with one specific headphone in mind, of course, the Sony MDR-R10, and it’s probably best to describe its sound in combination with the R10.

The amp sounds BIG. Whoever says that the R10 doesn’t have enough bass extension or punch hasn’t heard it properly amplified. This combination has so much dynamic headroom, punch and slam that it easily surpasses what I have been able to achieve with the EMP/Beyer 770 Pro combo. With the Angstrom, the R10 turns into the ultimate rock headphone, believe it or not. The amp simply controls it.

Another thing the Angstrom/R10 combo excels at is detail and ambience. The soundstage is large, instruments are very well defined, but this resolution isn’t overly analytic. I am easily annoyed by the amount of (as I believe completely artificial) detail a Stax Omega II provides, but with the Angstrom, the sonic picture remains quite enjoyable. Nik’s Linn CD12 (I know, it’s just not fair, is it) has two pairs of RCA outputs, and while we had his Angstrom connected with Shinpy cables, I used a pair of Einstein Elektron interconnects for my Earmax Pro. The EMP has an unmistakable flowing quality about it, a very liquid tube sound. It’s warmer than the Angstrom, has less instrument separation, fuzzier images of instruments and a more homgenous and cohesive presentation. The EMP has no output transformer, but if possible, the Angstrom sounds even more output transfomer-less. There are two OPTs inside it, of course, but obviously, they are of excellent quality. The Angstrom has none of the flaws people associate with SET designs. It has outstanding control and clarity.

Not surprisingly, the EMP doesn’t work too well with the R10. My Audio Technica W100 seemed properly driven by both amps, but obviously, the EMP didn’t provide the necessary current to control the drivers of the R10. There was too little dynamic headroom and slam and power which spoilt, for example, orchestral tuttis to some degree. On the other hand, the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro was unhappy with the Angstrom. Probably because of its low output impedance, it emphasized the 770 Pro’s treble region to an annoying and very unnatural degree. And the Angtsrom’s expensive volume pot (well, what isn’t expensive about this amp, or about Nik’s entire system?) had to be turned up quite a bit, to about two o’clock to produce adequate levels with the 770 Pro which has a nominal impedance of 250 Ohms.

I know: this must be a disappointment for all those who had hoped to drive their brand new Sennheiser HD650s with their brand new Angstroms, but I guess you have to ask the amp’s designer to build a customized version of the amp that provides more voltage swing than current.


The Sony R10

As I said, the R10 wasn’t happy with the EMP. Even with the EMP, though, it was clearly superior to the Beyer 770 Pro. Much more musical and engaging. The W100-R10 comparison, that’s a closer call. At least for me and my tastes. I very much enjoy the sense of fullness, of body, heft and cohesion the W100 provides. In some regard, the W100 sounds like a closed wooden sibling of the open R10 (open? I got your attention there, didn’t I - - more about this later). The R10 seems to have higher resolution, more instrument separation, more detail, but at the same time, it can sound slightly sibilant. The W100 is warmer, rounder, fuller, smoother, many of you would say to a fault, but it’s a sound that makes musical sense to me and that I find very enjoyable. On several recordings we listened to, the W100 seemed more forgiving to me, both headphones driven with the Angstrom amp, of course. The W100 shows you the mouth of the singer, it’s general shape, its general color, but with the R10, you can even identify ceramic inlays if you want to. The W100 emphasizes the liquid and flowing qualities of music, thus playing into the strength of the EMP, while the R10-Angstrom combo offers outstanding control, clarity and resolution.

The R10 an open headphone: am I nuts? I don’t know. In direct comparison with the W100, which is no isolation champion, the R10 leaks like crazy. It leaks like an open headphone, and I believe it might be one after all. The Sony MDR-CD3000 looks like a closed headphone but there is a ring of holes around the entire circumference of the driver’s enclosure. There is no back-pressure loading of the driver whatsoever, and technically the CD3000 is an open headphone because of this. Listening to the R10 on my head and listening to the R10 on the heads of others, I’d say that the R10 might follow the same design principle. One cannot see whether the wooden enclosures really touch the frame of the headphone, whether there is an airtight seal, and I believe it’s possible that the R10 is just as technically open as the CD3000.


The Linn CD12

I’d like to have one. Its sound is smooth, luscious, beautiful and involving. I really enjoyed it. I don’t care much for the Ikemi and its strangely fake soundstage, but the CD12 is very nice. Everyone who is looking for a new CDP ought to give it an audition. Highly recommended. Trust me, the tray mechanism alone is worth the price of admission.


One thing is for sure, Nik has a beautiful headphone system. And considering how much of a music lover he is, he deserves it. I hope to see you again, Nik.
smily_headphones1.gif
 
Sep 15, 2003 at 10:44 PM Post #2 of 26

markl

Hangin' with the monkeys.
Member of the Trade: Lawton Audio
Joined
Jun 22, 2001
Posts
9,130
Likes
42
Man, I wish I could hear that system, too. I'm sure it's amazing. Thanks tomcat for the thorough write-up.
smily_headphones1.gif

Quote:

Not surprisingly, the EMP doesn’t work too well with the R10. My Audio Technica W100 seemed properly driven by both amps, but obviously, the EMP didn’t provide the necessary current to control the drivers of the R10. There was too little dynamic headroom and slam and power which spoilt, for example, orchestral tuttis to some degree.


This doesn't surprise me, either. The R10 really wants lots of juice, that has been my experience with them. I am also not surprised the EMP comes up short with them. I found the EMP couldn't drive the 100 ohm Ety ER4S without clipping at volume levels I desire. That said EMP was great with the HD600s for which it was designed in the first place.
Quote:

The R10 seems to have higher resolution, more instrument separation, more detail, but at the same time, it can sound slightly sibilant.


Wow, if there's one thing I've never heard the R10 be, it's sibilant. Did you hear this across multiple recordings? It's possible that the R10s superior resolution just let you hear a sibilant recording more clearly. Did you only encounter this sibilance with the EMP (which as you note can't properly drive the R10?), or was it there with the Angstrom? At the same time, I am doubtful the Angstrom or the Linn could be source of sibilance, so who knows?
confused.gif


Mark
 
Sep 15, 2003 at 11:08 PM Post #3 of 26

dhwilkin

Headphone audiophiles are practically the stuff of legend.
Joined
Jun 20, 2001
Posts
4,426
Likes
11
Man, I wish I could hear that system! Nice write-up, Tomcat.
 
Sep 16, 2003 at 3:33 PM Post #6 of 26

jpelg

Needs a regular fix of 'Fi
'06 Nat Meet Co-Coordinator
Joined
Jan 19, 2002
Posts
8,675
Likes
26
Location
The Elm City
Wow. Sounds like a great experience.

What could be better? Italy, audio equipment of the highest quality, great music, good company!

Bliss!
 
Sep 18, 2003 at 4:58 AM Post #7 of 26

Sovkiller

Proved that despite its huge size the CD3000 can be shoved down one's throat.
Joined
Jul 31, 2002
Posts
12,885
Likes
22
Nik you gotta move here man.....
evil_smiley.gif
evil_smiley.gif
evil_smiley.gif
BTW we NEED AN R10 Smiley ASAP, what the heck!!!
 
Sep 18, 2003 at 9:56 AM Post #8 of 26

Tomcat

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
Jun 26, 2001
Posts
1,273
Likes
11
Quote:

Originally posted by markl
Wow, if there's one thing I've never heard the R10 be, it's sibilant.
confused.gif


Mark


Mark,

I guess I ought to explain this in more detail, so to speak. Two days before I visted Nik, I attended a concert of the symphonic orchestra of Tuscany ("ORT"). It featured two young competition winners in their twenties, Alan Buribayev, a director from Kazakhstan, and Andrea Bacchetti, a pianist from Italy. They played Beethoven, Arvo Pärt, Prokofiev. It was very nice (I especially enjoyed the string piece by Pärt ("Cantus in memoriam of Benjamin Britten") and a very challenging piece by Luciano Berio Bacchetti played as a solo encore.

Anyway, I sat front row centre, five or six yards from the orchestra. And my sonic impression was the one I always have when I listen to acoustic instruments: The sound is unassuming, unspectacular, homogenous and completely unfatiguing. A life concert isn't sonically exciting in the fashion the typical hifi system tries to be, it's musically exciting. Hopefully. In reality, I find it very diffcult to pinpoint the position of an individual instrument acoustically. I can see its position with high precision, of course, but if I close my eyes, the sounds of the individual intsruments blend, there are no sharp and etched lines separating the instruments. What does separate them is their timbre. Quite often, this is what's called for in a symphonic piece: The orchestra has to play as one. A high degree of harmonic and rhythmic cohesion is very much desirable, and the better symphonic orchestras are able to achieve this, they simply play together, all of them servants to the integral musical idea of the composition. When I listen to unamplified acoustic music, I don't hear the typical sonic hifi-attributes like soundstage or detail, I hear music. Hence, my battle cry: "musicality is accuracy".

And if you asked me which headphone/amp combination provided a little more musical pleasure to me, which was slightly more involving and seemed less fatiguing to me during the two and a half hours we spent listening at Nik's place, I would have to say that it was the W100/EMP combo. I simply prefer a flowing and homogenous presentation of music to a detailed one, and I guess that is the reason that my sibilance threshold is lower than that of most others. I quickly reach the point where detail becomes annoying to me, and what is detail in the sound of a singers voice or in the sound of a violin to most is regarded as somewhat distracting sibilance by me. As I said, many would find the EMP too warm, blurred and not detailed enough, and the same is true for the W100, but I regard this as an asset. With the R10/Angstrom combo it seemed slightly more difficult to me to listen through to the music. Its sound seemed a tad more distracting. In direct comparison to the W100/EMP combo, it was a little colder, had the less generous midrange and a little more emphasis on the frequency extremes. I always had the impression of great clarity and resolution with both the R10 and the Angstrom, but the W100 and the EMP, individually and as a combination, seemed just a little closer to the musical truth. Not the universal musical truth, just the musical truth as I like it.
 
Sep 19, 2003 at 9:10 AM Post #9 of 26

Nik

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Apr 23, 2002
Posts
2,954
Likes
44
Location
Italy (Turin)
The first headfiers’s Italian meeting in my house has been a very nice experience. Tomcat with his wife are very nice persons and I’m really glad to have received them in my place… thank you another time guys! And I hope to meet you another time for a longer time.

Two hours and half are not so much time for a complete test of two different kind of equipment, but you can have just an idea of the most evident “contrast” and planning out of the two system.

I read the Tomcat's post and I‘m agree with the 90% of his impressions, but each one have his own taste and here it’s impossible to do any compare.

Reading what Tomcat said about the R10’s sibilance I’m a bit surprise, I never noticed this, and I never read someone telling this about the R10, I remember the question about the bass response, the coloured sound, but never about sibilance. But I can accept this impression thinking to the Tomcat’s equipment that is in my impression too much soft and not so much definite in details and soundstage.

The thesis about the correspondence with the live concert, for me is not totally right concept, why? Because I think that hi-end gear have not the purpose to simulate the live event, or better, it’s impossible to reproduce the original live experience exactly simply because we are not in the same moment and in the same place, specially thinking to the emotional impression that come from the real presence of human person playing and singing. I’m convinced that the hi-end system have the end to “reproduce” (or better to produce, to create) the same emotional impression you had in that live experience. And to do this you need a very hi level equipment that can to give you a lot of information about the recorded support. And more, certainly you cannot go in every live concert you would like to be, and just for this reason you can listen with your equipment what you’ll never listen live, so you can not compare the two moments, but with your headphone you can have an incredible emotional “live” moment in your house. This is my project for the headphone system assembling.

Another of that 10% I’m not agree with Tomcat is what he said about the space between the instrument and something like this. My research was just in that direction to have a lot of space and air in the headphone and in the amp. (we do not must forget that we are using headphones and not speakers…). I think that the R10 is in this aspect the best cans, and the Angstrom too. More, I have an amp that give to my cans all the power for the best result: especially bass response and soundstage (that are incredible). If I do not look for these qualities, extreme qualities, I do not need to spend a lot of time and money to build a BIG system like R10/Angstrom combo is. Probably Tomcat prefers my precedent EAR HP-4 that was less airy and detailed respect to the Angstrom, but I was not so happy with that amp. And I have continued looking for the highest performance of the system.

I would like ask to Tomcat what he think about a compare of our two systems but listening just one instrument or one voice in the CD, where you do not need any space around because just one element, only one. In the head to head compare of our systems I noticed that timbre of the W100 (more than the amp EAR Max pro) was a bit “nasal” respect to the incredibly correct timbre of the R10/Angstrom, and here I have a better remember of the original live sound of that violin or voice.

I think that Tomcat and me have a two different direction in taste and concept about hi-end reproduction. I like a lot his objective but is not mine… we can to continue living and hearing music and friendly without any problem.

Best!
Nicola
wink.gif
600smile.gif
280smile.gif
 
Sep 19, 2003 at 11:03 AM Post #10 of 26

88Sound

500+ Head-Fier
Joined
Dec 14, 2001
Posts
514
Likes
10
Thanks for the excellent write up Tomcat!

Once upon a time I had a lengthy audition of the R10 coupled with an EMP and came away with the same conclusion....The EMP is not the amp for the R10. At the time of my audition I also had a pair of W100's with me for comparison and they are much better with that amp. It is because of this experience that I feel I have never really heard the R10.

The W100/EMP is a wonderful combo especially for older (hopefully remastered) acoustic jazz. Sounds like I'm at the venue listening as it happened many years ago, really incredible. The forgiving nature of this combination really cuts the hiss, and tames the sibilance that seems to be present in most of these recordings. There are also very well recorded modern recordings that sound great with the W100/EMP, i.e. Christy Barron, Tom Waits, great recordings with vocals in the acoustic vein do very will with this combo.

For most everything else I prefer more detail. Close miked modern Jazz for instance (John Scofield, Dave Holland, Dennis Chambers, Bela Fleck) or pop/rock (Steely Dan, Train). I'm currently listening to most of my CD's with the HP-2/RKV combo which is outstanding. More detail than the EMP/W100 combo which I welcome with this material.

I finally have something in common with Nik. I too am waiting for an Omega II & 717. I have a feeling that the W100/EMP, HP-2/RKV, and Omega II/717 will all have their place. We'll see.
smily_headphones1.gif
 
Sep 21, 2003 at 1:37 PM Post #11 of 26

Tomcat

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
Jun 26, 2001
Posts
1,273
Likes
11
Quote:

Originally posted by Nik
(...) but with your headphone you can have an incredible emotional “live” moment in your house. This is my project for the headphone system assembling.


Nik,

I feel just as you do. I want to be emotionally touched by the reproduced music, I want to be involved by it, I want musical pleasure from listening to a recording. In that regard, our goals and our audiophile philosophies are identical. And in general, we seem to agree about the sonic character of our amps and headphones. 90 percent agreement, as you say. The 10 percent disagreement seems to come from our different interpretation of what we hear, and this, in the end, seems to be a matter of taste. Let's say that you have pizzicato sensibilities while I have legato preferences. If we are happy with our decisions, who is to say we are wrong? Listening to one's system ought to be fun, that's the only guiding principle I accept.

I said that the W100 sounded a bit like a closed version of the open R10. I wouldn't describe the W100's sound as "nasal" as you do, of course (there are other closed headphones that are truly nasal to my ears), but you are right that the W100 relies on the help of resonances to achieve response in the upper bass and lower mids. It's a closed design, and the warmth, body and richness of the fundamentals region is probably achieved through this. Additionally, the closed design, the back pressure loading of the membrane, seems to make the amplifier's task of controlling the drivers a lot easier. To my ears, closed designs frequently have a more cohesive behaviour in dynamic situations. They preserve their homogenousness between fundamentals and overtone ranges even when there are quickly rising signal levels. I don't know whether this is best described as a phenomeneon of phase linearity or of superior amplitude versus time response, but I believe that the tonal warmth of tube amplifiers, for example, is closely related to their liquidity, to their sense of flow and cohesion.

I am aware that I am in the minority. Probably 90 percent of all Head-Fiers (there is this figure again) would prefer the more detailed sonic character of the Angstrom/R10 combo. Many of them would prefer it by a wide margin, I'm sure. But my tastes are different. While the EMP/W100 is warmer, less obviously informative and transparent, the Angstrom/R10 combo seemed a tad too cold to me. In direct comparison, male and female voices had a slightly metallic sheen, not enough body and too much highlighting of plosives and sibilants. To me, the sonic picture seemed slightly hyperreal. The EMP/W100 combo probably errs in the opposite direction, but that's a flaw I find easier to ignore and to listen around in order to enjoy the music.

I ought to stress it again: the Angstrom/R10 combo is outstanding, and what it does good, it does great. It's a matter of taste. Pizzicato or legato. And as long as we enjoy the music we listen to, Nik, who's to say we are wrong.
smily_headphones1.gif
 
Sep 21, 2003 at 1:51 PM Post #12 of 26

Tomcat

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
Jun 26, 2001
Posts
1,273
Likes
11
Quote:

Originally posted by 88Sound
I finally have something in common with Nik. I too am waiting for an Omega II & 717.


88Sound,

This is going to be interesting. I find the Omega II (and electrostatic phones in general) to be annoyingly analytic. I can't stand them. And with the solid state 717 amp, it's even worth than with the hybrid 007t. It will be interesting to learn how you and Nik will perceive things. I shouldn't care one way or the other, since this is about your listening pleasure and no one else's, but somehow, I am hoping both of you will stay in the dynamic camp.
wink.gif
 
Sep 21, 2003 at 2:36 PM Post #13 of 26

88Sound

500+ Head-Fier
Joined
Dec 14, 2001
Posts
514
Likes
10
Quote:

[size=xx-small]Originally posted by Tomcat[/size]
I am hoping both of you will stay in the dynamic camp.


Tomcat,

I'm not planning any moves to another camp, I'm just looking for something to complement my current setups. I love the W100/EMP for what it does well, the HP-2/RKV for what it does well, and I'm hoping the Omega II/717 will provide something unique and different from my other two setups.

When deciding on the Stax equipment I read every opinion I could find here and elsewhere and was familiar with your dislike of the electrostatic sound. I am still of the opinion that there is no one best phone/amp combination for everything I listen to. I chose the solid state amp over the tube amp for a couple of reasons. One I have yet to find someone who has compared both and preferred the tube amp (with the exception of one professional review), and some of these were diehard tube guys. Another person who owned both the 007T and 717 and having to give up one decided to sell the 007T and keep the 717 (not without some regrets). Also knowing me I may end up with a Blue Hawaii at some point anyway and could always sell the 717 somewhere if I don't like it.

I will be quite surprized if the music that I feel works best on the W100/EMP combo sounds better to me on the Omega II/717. The EMP/W100 can take a less than stellar recording and turn it into something very remarkable. The forgiveness the W100/EMP provides however is unwelcome to me with some of the Great Modern Jazz recordings. These recordings are much better to my ear on the HP-2. These great recordings are the ones I am most curious about how the Stax will handle.

I'm anticipating the Stax arrival in a couple of weeks, I'll keep you posted.
biggrin.gif
 
Sep 21, 2003 at 2:46 PM Post #14 of 26

Nik

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Apr 23, 2002
Posts
2,954
Likes
44
Location
Italy (Turin)
nice to see you again… and to speak with you!

I think you know how much in time and money I spent for the actual system that is the best I had for a long years looking for a very natural-detailed-warmth sound. I can to say that I’m arrived to the maxim level today possible in headphones combos (for the experience I have).

I understand your desire and tastes in sound reproduction, but in my mind there is this question: for your typical exigencies of sound are you arrived to the top level? I think in others words that is not so difficult to find a system that reproduce what and how you want to hear (IMO). It is very, a lot more hard to build a system that correspond to my desires, are you agree? So are you sure that (and I think no) that there are not others combos that can give TO YOU what you are looking for? For me I’m sure that at the moment it is very, very hard to find better, but I think that you can have the way open in upgrading to your direction of research.

About the female voices, it’s very hard to admit that the R10/Angstrom reproduce “metallic” or “sibilant”. The female pop and jazz vocal are the music I prefer and I listen more, I could say that I calibrate my taste in headphone and amp choice exactly for that kind of music, and now I’m totally happy, I can tell you it’s very difficult to imagine a better reproduction of the female voices that I love incredibly…

All is relative… if the R10 is “open” or metallic what will be the Omega IIs??? Glass, ice, and other things like this. If the R10 is a rock headphone, how you can call the Grado RS1? About the “open” sensation you had listening the R10, I think depend principally by the Angstrom that has an incredible large dimensions (not only external dimension..), as you said a BIG sound. The R10 is a closed headphone in his construction.

But my conclusion are identical to your conclusion:

“And as long as we enjoy the music we listen to, Nik, who's to say we are wrong”.

Best and happy listening!
Nicola


88Sound,

about the Stax Omega II my plane is that it is necessary to have two systems if you whant to do any comparison, if you have just one, even if the best on the planet, you cannot to be objective in your valuation. Just for this I bought the most (I think) opposite system to the mine: electrostatic headphone and solid state amp...
I'll tell you my impression very soon.

Best!
Nicola
 
Sep 21, 2003 at 6:18 PM Post #15 of 26

Zanth

SHAman who knew of Head-Fi ten years prior to its existence
Joined
Oct 11, 2001
Posts
9,570
Likes
39
I'm very very interested in reading your impressions comparing the electro/ss vs. your super system. Should be a wonderful time listening!
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top