This is an amp with some grunt to it. Obviously the actual power specs are down to which tubes you use but the intended 2A3 (from the name of the amp) give out a hearty 3.3 Watts per Channel into 30 ohms while the JJ 300Bs I have go crazy with 6.5 WPC. Thats a lot of power and as much as one would ever need, you can be a proud owner of a HiFiMAN HE-6 or AKG K1000 and you still won’t crave juice. My least efficient cans the ZMF Blackwood did not even get to 12 o clock and I was listening with dynamics and volume, if that helps paint a picture, my HD800s just about get past 9. Sadly such power comes with some caveats and it doesn’t take well to anything that is happy off something a little weaker. Take the Enigmacoustics Dharma for example, while I still don’t see reason for its impedance of 26 ohms being an open backed headphone designed for home use, the hiss will leave you shredding the headphones off your head. The even more sensitive but portable optimised Beyerdynamic T5p is not one I will even get started on… hisssss.
Now what will be my biggest complaint with this amp will be that even with high impedance headphones (300 ohms HD800) and some planar magnetics (Audeze EL-8) you will have some background hum. It is quickly lost into the music and really only heard when the amp is on the lowest volume setting or no music is playing but it is something that constantly plays on my mind. Now Greg told me that a bi-product of DHT tubes is some hum and microphonics and this is what is being experienced here. It is just one of those hard ones, the amp sounds great but doesn’t have the black background of some cheaper solid states like the Simaudio Moon 430HA and Questyle CMA800R.
What I can summarise with this amp though is that it is solely for higher impedance headphones and low sensitivity planars, it is not a versatility monster that you can run your CIEMs with, that would just be plain silly.
As with all good rollable tube amps, the tubes in use will have an effect on sound, more so than just because the power output will be different. Now as the amp does have 2A3 in the name I thought I would describe the sound with a pair. The pair to be precise are some classy Shuguang Treasure ‘Black Bottle’ 2A3-Z vacuum tubes and look pretty stellar nestled into the top of the amp. The amp at large is awesome sounding, and maybe not what you would expect from a company who only work with tubes. It takes on form as a crisp and dynamic amp that is faster than it is mellow and boasts clarity more than it does easy detail. Funnily enough it actually often leaves me reminiscing of the Lampiztor Lite 7, also tube based and also distributed by G-Point Audio. While I know the head honcho of G-Point loves tubes, maybe he doesn’t necessarily dislike neutrality and clarity, because both this and Lampi do that quite well. Sadly I never actually got to combine this up with the Lampi and have instead been using my reference totaldac d1-dube-mk2 as a source instead.
While the amp is impressively wide in it’s staging, it still feels a little bit leaner and not quite as deep as say my Questyle monos. It is though very precise with great air and distinction to instruments placement. Not once in all my hours listening to this amp have I ever felt like the sound was muddled or jumbled, it is so clean.
So the bass is almost the opposite of a tube amps stigma. Instead of warmth we have tightness, instead of wallowing we have speed, and instead of waves of bass we have quick tight punches. It’s the driest tube amp I have ever heard and renders a hard but compact movement of air. Now while I do like my bass like this and it was just spot on with my ZMFs, HD580s and EL-8s, I did find it just a tad too true with my HD800s, which cant do with just a tad more quantity. This is not an HD800 amp though.
The midrange is bold and the upper mids are at the forefront, if anything the amp sometimes comes across as mid centric amp because of just how elegant and beautiful they are. They are engaging and emotive, just as a tube amp should but not because of how warm they are, because that is far from the case but perhaps due to a certain lushness. While forward and centre stage, they don’t feel over done, fatiguing or too in your face. Now it really is a different take to other brands, say Simaudio’s venture I recently reviewed with a creamy and refined midrange that was certainly more relaxed. I think this far into the game you will know which presentation your prefer, personally I found myself reaching to the Tektron out of the two but do think this midrange suits headphones like the Blackwood from ZMF and Sennheiser HD580 (and probably LCD-2/3) much more than it does the HD800. When I left the draft of this review over night, I made a note to chat about the dynamics in the midrange, but in reality a note wasn’t needed, because it is one of the more obvious aspects of this amp. Thats in a good sense. Now while upper mids do seem to have the priority here, they are still very clean with not a taint of grain.
Treble is zippy and has just the right amount of lag on note decay, not providing over emphasis but providing what seems right for the recording. It doesn’t try and take away anything from the headphone like some tube amps I have experienced and more importantly the HD800s still have the 6kHz spike for which they are known, whether you like it or not. I didn’t like it when Moons amp made my HD800s somehow sound soft and even mushy at times. I would reference another headphone if thats what I am after so I want my amp be true to its characteristics.
This is a reference class amp, with great technicalities. That being said, the not quite perfect noise floor is my biggest nitpick.
This amp is very good, in fact at what it does in terms of signature, it does at the top if its game. I have no problem with a being a specific signature, especially when it is a great one being, crisp, tight and detailed with a strong midrange, that suits a lot of headphones. So while this is of course is not for everyone such as you HD800s owners, it will pair just spectacularly with your planars. On top of that the amp looks just amazing and while I did have a little whine about the black plastic knobs, they are signature Tektron and are used across all their products.
I do however have to be a realist and say that this is really only for a few people. The price is one of the main concerns because it moves itself away from the usual flagship head amp area of around £2500-5000 and into a category where you can get some other absurd stuff like Woo’s WA234 mono blocks. Being straight with you, the Questyle CMA800R monos will give you flagship performance at £3000, you just don’t need to spend this much. The other thing is this just won’t become your do it all amp. Pick up the Moon 430HA and it will pair with a huge range of headphones sonically but also let you use your planars like this amp, but then open itself up to CIEMs, closed back cans, even earbuds if you want because of the low noise floor. This is really limited to what you can properly use with it. I bet the Fostex TH900 would sonically synergise just great with this, but I can only imagine the hiss.
So while I won’t go and say this is has any sort of bang for your buck, or the absolute number 1 product on the market, it is something very special and boutique. You will feel unique owning it. You can have fun rolling DHT tubes (in a much more sophisticated way than any other amp out there) and getting a variation of sounds, opening up different headphone synergies. It will impress your mates with its looks and it’s insanely over done power supply and most importantly sonically, you will be very happy! While I may also show concern for the price it is without doubt justified, this amp does not cut corners, uses the most premium components and famous valves and is very much deserving of its price tag. Just an FYI, this takes over a month to build!!! If this even slightly interests you or tickles your fancy, get in touch with Greg and demo the beast.