Thursday, 10 March 2011

More headphones and revived the EAR

After experiencing the problems with the left channel of my Crack, and getting no assistance from the Bottlehead forum, I decided that I just need to replace all the active components (transistor and diodes) on the left driver channel CCS. The components themselves are quite cheap, but I will end up paying far more for postage. And thus, I will wait until I can piggy back this onto another order. Earlier this week, I took the time to pack and send my HD650 back to the Australian servicing agent, Syntec, for repairs. I specifically mentioned that if the left driver needed to be replaced, that to make sure it was matched to the right. Not sure how things will go, buy you'd think for a $500 plus headphone, they'll take the care to make sure it is repaired correctly and back to factory specifications.

I have been unhappy with the performance of the MiniMax Millet with the Beyer DT880. It is not due to the fidelity of the system. But for me, it lacks the life that the Crack had, the engagement with the music and the vocals. The sound wasn't harsh, it was a little clinical, but for me, it was just a little boring and not engaging. So, in need of a better amp, I decided to dust off my Maple Tree Audio Ear+ all tube headphone amp. This hasn't been used for around 2 years, and has been sitting in various cupboards during that time.

The main reason why I had put the Ear+ inthe stroage cupboard was primarily hum. When I last used it around two years ago, I did not have the time to diagnose and fix the problem. So, with the other amps available to me, I decided to shelf the amp. Bringing it out of the closet, checking the internal workings, I made sure that nothing strange has happened since I last used it. Putting in the basic tubes, Sovtek 12AX7 and RCA for the 12B4A and 12BH7, I fired it up with a pair of cheap headphones, just in case. Low and behold, sound, but only on the left side. After sound jiggling around the tube sockets, I coaxed stereo sound. The fact that I had to do that to get stereo sound, was another reason why it was shelved. This most likely points to a cold solder joint or a faulty tube socket somewhere. I guess I do have to spend some time under the chassis to reflow the joints.

Once confirmed as working okay and stable, I plugged in the DT880. First, the sound was quite soft. The volume control had to be almost 75% up before I get decent levels of output. Perhaps it is due to the higher 600R impedance of the headphones, and that the amp can't deliver enough voltage. Not sure why, maybe it wasn't designed to driver such a high load. But nonetheless, there was music. Further, the hum that I remembered was gone. Perhaps it was a different house, with different equipment plugged in and different wiring [read less dodgy]. Or it mayhave been something else completely. I was just glad that there was no hum. This is something I think I can't live with. When hum can be heard, it is just not acceptable.

Comprade to the Crack on the DT880, the hum levels were lower. But then there is a difference between DC heaters for the Ear+ and AC heaters for the Crack. Maybe all DC heaters are in order.

To listen to this all tube headphone amp after the MMM was a telling story. First, it wasn't as dynamic, or articulate as the MMM. However, it was full of life, it was engaging and it made me want to listen to more music. The balance in low, mids and high was different. There was more emphasis on the mids, but the highs were still very delicate. The bass was present, and quite controlled and to my ears, a nice balance to the overall sound. This is the direction in sound that I am looking for. I think my quest is to find a headphone amp combination that does deliver of all the qualties that I desire. Some from the MMM, some from the Crack, some from the Ear+ and some that I don't know about yet.
Also arriving in the mail recently, was the Audio Technica AD700. A low impedance open back headphones. I got them off eBay for a decent price. The packing appears to be stock from Japan, and it is made in Taiwan. The first thing I noticed was that it was purple! The second thing I noticed was that it was still purple! Yes, this is a purple pair of headphones. Now as someone who appreciates design, I am not sure that purple is the right colour for headphones. However, looking at the overall design and packing, it is a nice overall design package. But still, not sure if it is the right style for the headphone audiophile market.

Some unboxing photos below, no time yet to plug them in yet. I tried them on quickly to see how this '3D wing' would fit and feel. Overall, the pressure on the head is very light, a lot less than either the DT880 or the HD650. They feel like they are almost going to fall off your head. The 3D wings also make it feel like they will slip further down your head. Now, I am sure that there are ways to adjust this, and reading the manual will probably help. But I was in a rush, and will explore this a little more later.

More photos below, I have place the DT880 side by side, and you can compare the difference in size and colour. The Ear amp and MM are also in the background. In terms of fit and finish, it is not at the DT880 level, which itself is better then the HD650. Of all three, I'd say that AD700 is a little rough compared with the other two. Especially when you run your fingers over the top of the grill. You can feel the slight stamping burrs and uneven edges on the AD700. With the other two, it is just smooth metal. Of the two, the DT880 wins easily in my eyes with the build quality. However, to compare a $150 headphone to a $400 pair is not necessarily fair either.

This weekend is a long weekend in Melbourne and I plan to spend some serious time with the two amps and the two headphones. Hopefully provide some meaningful comments about the different setups and gear.

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