Violectric HPA V281 - Vorsprung durch Balanced

Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by fegefeuer, Feb 12, 2014.
  1. 3083joe
    From my experience, the balanced output makes the most difference and is well worth the extra money tho I'm sure you will enjoy either amp. But if you can swing the v281 go for it. and if you have to wait for the balanced cable at least you have the amp already.
  2. Pharmaboy
    Yes, the balanced connection of the V281 is absolutely worth the additional cost...but only so long as you have 1 or more headphones which permit balanced cables.

    V220 is not basically identical to the V281. Instead, it's basically identical to your V200, but w/addition of preamp outs, different volume pot options, and capability to have the built-in Violectric DAC board. Despite those differences, the V200 & V220 should sound identical, or very close to it.

    The V281 is basically identical to another Violectric option: the V280. It's ~$600 cheaper than the V281 and lacks preamp function, options for remote only; or remote + 128-stepped pot; and capability of having the built-in Violectric DAC board. Again, despite their differences, the V280 & V281 should sound identical, or close to it.

    I have the V281 w/remote + stepped pot. It's a real beast: an endgame amp that sounds amazing and can do nearly anything you want it's has the most flexible I/O controls I've ever encountered.

    Coming from the V200, I would think either the V280 or V281 would be quite an upgrade sonically, if not also operationally--but only if you plan to listen to its balanced output. The SE outputs are really excellent (I use them all the time), but these designs are optimized for balanced output.

    As for aftermarket balanced cables, the cost varies widely, depending on what headphones you have. I've discovered a really solid, good-sounding cable maker for SE &/or balanced cables--a quality 2M balanced cable can be ordered for ~$100 US. And if you happen to have headphones w/mini-XLR input jacks (Audeze or ZMF), ZMFHeadphones now offers an excellent OFC cable that's quite affordable by aftermarket cable standards (believe it's ~$160 for 2M). I have this cable and like its sound.

    I also can recommend an inexpensive but very good-sounding SE cable (hardly the topic of your post!) from Ghent Audio...I use it for my Fidelio X2s.
    tonyxiaoz, SaddleSC and 3083joe like this.
  3. novicez1
    Skip the V220.
  4. zhgutov
    Some time ago I made the direct comparison between V200 and V220, and then between V200 and V281 with LCD-3.
    Both V220 and V281 with SE outputs sound at least (in short) more open than V200. The difference is not subtle.
    But yes, skip the V220, especially because you have the headphones which may be used with balanced output.
    SaddleSC and 3083joe like this.
  5. 3083joe
  6. CoLdAsSauLt
    I sure am. Feel free to share here or pm me.
  7. zhgutov
    Yes. Try to find the cable which has separate four wires right from the jack 3.5.

    They look like this:

    The following cable is probably (you can't be sure) splitted closer to RCA:

    Such thing may harm the crosstalk because of impedance of the common wire.
  8. emptymt
    thx mate,

    I've already bought this one, but the 4m length one:

    so far it performs very well and the amp sounds excellent, even with my fiio x7 ii as DAC!

    interestingly enough i think this combo sounds better than the Gumby that i use to audition the v281 in the shop, but that Gumby is cold and has no warm up time at all, it sounds more shrilling and sharper than the DAC in my X7 II.
    I think this is due to Schiit DACs needs to warm up to sound its best, just like other Schiit DAC users say in other threads.
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2017
  9. zhgutov
    Unfortunately, I can see your link only via proxy, and I cannot load the picture for some reason.
    But when I "google" the name of the cable I can see it may be 3-wire, splitted closer to RCA.
    And you have 4 meters of such cable! Not sure you have the best possible result.
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2017
  10. emptymt
    yeah, i actually tried to look for cables like this online before going out to buy one, i'm not really keen on spending big money on it since it will only be temporary, most of the cables i found looks to be split near the RCA, i also found some that is split from the 3.5mm jack, but the cable quality is questionable and will take longer to arrive, but at that time i only care about the quality rather than where it should split simply because i didn't know that it would affect the sound quality.

    I want to my local electronic store chain called Jb Hi-fi and just buy one that looks well built and has OFC copper for the cable, in the end, I bought one cable made by the company Soniq (a company specializing in audio and home cinema in Australia), i thought i would buy the 2m ones, but the only available length at the time was 4m! it cost about $15 so i just went for it.

    there is no description on where the cable is split but there are some descriptions about the material.

    The set up sounds excellent though and since it is only temporary i think i'll be happy with it. The DAp kinda function like remote control now and i can sit a bit more far away from the amp.
  11. emptymt
    Ok, here I go.

    Set up:
    Fiio X7 II --> Schiit Gumby --> Violectric V281 ---> Norne Audio Arcane (Balance XLR) --> Focal Utopia
    Fiio X7 II --> Schiit Gumby --> Ifi iCan Pro ---> Norne Audio Arcane (Balance XLR) --> Focal Utopia

    Both the v281 and ican pro are connected to the same DAC unit and is volume matched as close as I can by ear. Basically i just need to plug in and out the cable to the amp that I want to hear, to minimize the time to change the set up while retaining auditory memory of the same tracks in the same song part.
    I listen to metal and I chose songs that begins in vocal (clean and harsh), technical fast guitar solos, drum cymbals and blast beats accompanied by guitars, silent phases with guitar openings.
    This is because it is quick to rewind to the beginning of the songs by pressing previous after changing amps.
    This went down for about an hour with other guys auditioning other gears just right next to me.

    Tracks chosen will compare how the 2 amps differ in bass, treble, mids and vocal liquidity, sibillance, etc.

    I'll only elaborate the solid state and tube mode since i don't like the tube+ mode.

    iCan Pro Solid State mode and comparisons in general

    From what I can hear when comparing apples to apples between the v281 and iCan pro in solid state mode, I can hear that the v281 has more natural body in the bass thickness while having stronger dynamics and attacks, the sub-bass rumble is also more apparent, the bass just makes more memorable impression on the songs for me when using the v281, i would say that it has more physicality to it, but i'm not sure it this is the correct word. V281 is also tonally warmer than the iCan and I like that.
    After that i feel that i need to kick up the bass a notch by using the 10 hz xbass, I could hear something happening there with the iCan, it has more rumble down low now and the bass has a very slight increase in the bass thickness, but it still does not have the attacks and dynamics that the v281 does.
    Going to the 20hz xbass, again, i feel some difference going on here, I feel that this increase the thickness even more and the bass feel louder across the board now, but it still does not have the attack, in fact i feel that it is softer in attack now because the bass is thicker and a bit louder now but the punchi-ness stays the same as if it wasn't boosted.
    I also tried the 30hz xbass, I didn't like this one, i feel that it muddies the bass slightly and didn't spend much time on it.

    Moving onto the guitars and vocals, I feel that the iCan is dryer while the v281 is more liquid, guitar solos sounds thinner in the iCan and i could see that this could be a problem for some people, because the v281 has more natural body to its thickness and its liquidity, i feel that the v281 is more musical in this department, both are detailed and fast sounding, resolving every notes and guitar flicks excellently, you can hear when the finger hits the string and those raw guitar distortions very well.
    On the Vocals, I feel that clean vocals both sounds natural on these, maybe a little bit more forward in presentation on the iCan pro, it also has faster decay than the v281 I feel. Even though it is less forward in the v281, I feel that the music is being represented very well, i feel like those guitars and drums are wrapped around the singer, who is slightly behind but the vocal never get buried in the mix, everything has its own place and is not trying outdone each other instead everything is in harmony. the ican is more 2 dimensional i feel, you have the singer in the middle with other instruments on the side having more width than depth.
    Cymbals sounds crisp on both but i feel that the iCan is a little bit brighter than the v281 in presentation, both are smooth and not being offensive at all.

    What's amazing about the iCan is that the xbass function only affects the bass and does not change the mids and treble at all, which is excellent and what we want, from what i hear the mids in the iCan is excellent and has great detail retrieval, so we don't want to mess with that, but if you want to make the overall tonality warmer, you can use the amp in tube or even tube+ mode.

    iCan Pro Tube mode (what changes happen)
    The tube makes the iCan pro warmer in overall tonality and its representation is closer to the v281 now, for my taste, this is the best mode for the iCan along with 10hz xbass as it has better definition on the body, it has a bit more wetness to the guitars and vocals but it is done very tastefully, the detail retrieval and technicalities stay that same as in solid state mode. It still does not has the attack and dynamic of the v281 but it does not get softer either so a win-win for me comparing to the solid state.
    I think that soundstage is reduced very slightly in this mode compared to the solid state, but this could be my imagination.

    Summary (and notes for me)
    The iCan pro gives flexibility to alter it's sound that offers a chance to modify the music due to mastering, etc.
    The V281 gives flexibility in power and pre-amp function.
    Both are powerful units but the v281 even more so, although most of these power is unusable for most headphone.
    Technicalities, Clarity and micro details is probably similar and at the same level, it's hard to give a straight answer to this due to audition environment.
    V281 is more musical than the iCan, even in tube mode although it's still musical.
    V281 soundstage is more spherical than iCan Pro which is more Oval on horizontal axis.
    V281 outclass the iCan Pro very clearly in attacks and dynamics.

    What sways me to buy the v281 instead of the iCan Pro
    1. I listen to music not only for enjoyment but also while i'm working, the iCan has a lot of options to modify the sound, I don't want this to bother me instead of working.
    2. I like the tonality better on the v281, in fact i like the iCan pro in tube mode because it becomes warmer, why not get one that is warmer from the beginning.
    3. V281 has better attacks and dynamics, biggest win over the iCan pro for me, it is more dynamic and more physical across the board, the guitar sounds more daring and bass feel more immediate feeling.
    4. Build quality seems better on the v281, it feels heavy and solid, fitted very well just like German car.
    5. the features being offered in the iCan pro is not very useful to me, I like the Xbass only in 10hz and 20 hz, the 3d soundstage makes music sounds weird for me, at least for metal music.
    6. At the time of purchase the v281 is discounted and is cheaper than the iCan pro, provided that it was a demo unit, but it looks brand new and has same warranty so i went for it.
    7. iCan pro has tube, but it's not replaceable using other tubes, so you can't tube-roll, which is something i'm interested to try but simply can't on this amp.
    8. the pre-amp function in the v281 could be useful for me in the future, when i move out to my own place and wants a good speaker set-up.
    9. v281 has been known to be able to drive IEMs well despite its power, this could be useful because sometimes i got in a review tour, in Australia it's mostly IEMs.
    10. Other reviews online about the iCan pro seems to indicate that it's slightly below amps such as GSX, v281, etc, to which I agree after hearing both.

    hmm i think these could serve as base for a review when i feel like it.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2017
    Morimoriya 62 and EagleWings like this.
  12. Pharmaboy
    RE "hmm i think these could serve as base for a review when i feel like it" -- for real! This is a pretty extensive comparison of these 2 amps.

    I have (& really like) the V281; a pal has (and likes) the iCan Pro. I look forward to comparing these 2 amps...

    PS: the "german car" analogy is dead-on. V281 feels/acts like one of the 1st BMWs I ever rode in: tight, fast, responsive, strongly put together.
  13. 3083joe

    Impressive review.
  14. BLacklWf
    I suppose V281 is two V220s (*correction V200, not V220) slapped together. So, I'd assume V281 SE out is similar to V220 SE out. I like balanced out on V281 MUCH better than SE out on V281 - not even comparable with HD6XX or LCD-2 Classic for my ears - a different in class of its own. YMMV.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2018
  15. PHC1
    May sound a bit strange, may sound a bit hard to believe but here goes.. Perhaps power conditioning is not something that is as popular with the headphone community as it is in 2 channel audio. I have been into 2 channel audio much longer than headphones (almost 30 years now) so to me a good power conditioner is a must for any 2 channel system. So here is an interesting story for the Violectric fans. I have a V281 and a few other amps plugged into a Richard Gray Power Conditioner that I have been using for the past 8-9 years. It has always been "pretty good" at what it does. Certainly there is a noticeable difference when I plug anything in my headphone audio chain straight into the wall vs a power conditioner. It always manifests itself as a smoother, silkier treble, typically better resolution in the bass and micro detail retrieval increases. As the noise floor drops, the blacks become blacker and it is easier to hear deeper into the soundstage. This is a fact with any decent power conditioner. Now, just the other day I started noticing a change in sound quality with my other 3 amps except the V281 at certain times. I could not put my finger on it but I finally figured it out this evening. Whenever I turned my V281 OFF, the sound got worse from the other amp that I was listening to. I was able to duplicate the results by carefully listening to any other amp and just by turning the V281 on or off, the sound was always better with the V281 being ON! What the??? I would understand the opposite, noise from another amp dirtying the AC line but OFF??? Well, turns out the power supply of the V281 has very good filtering and conditioning, so much so, that in this case was actually filtering the AC coming in and out. Don't forget, AC moves both ways... I have to say in all my years being involved with audio, this is a new one for me. I would have never believed it if I did not witness this first hand and was able to duplicate it each and every time. Kudos to Violectric for building such an outstanding power supply that actually affects everything downstream from it in a positive way. Learn something new every day. :)
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2018
    Arniesb and BLacklWf like this.

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