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Found 5 results

  1. Woo Audio WA7 Fireflies

    For those not familiar with Woo Audio’s offerings, the USA-based company has been making high performance loudspeaker and headphone amplifiers for several years out of New York. Owner Jack Woo has successfully piloted the company and built a substantial reputation for quality-made tube stage amplifiers. While the full product rundown includes loudspeaker implementations, most of Woo’s foothold in the marketplace comes directly from its large, perfectly incremental headphone amplifier product line. From their entry level single-ended OTL WA3 amp ($599) to the behemoth WA234 monoblocks ($15,900) Jack and the team have a little bit of something for everyone interested in analog listening. Keeping up with the times requires a bit more than just creating price touch points across a scale. The newest version of the WA7 Fireflies firmly addresses these changes in technology while also tapping into that elusive harmony which happens when the digital and analog realms collide. The two-part package starts at a cool $999 for the WA7 with a solid-state power supply by itself, with the WA7 tube power block costing an additional $749. Bundled together however, you will be able to save a little bit of scratch as the full tube package purchased at the same time will cost a mere $1,599.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK] Both the solid state brick and matching tube cube attach themselves to the back of the main WA7 unit via a DC input port located on the back panel. A further inspection of this rear faceplate reveals why this new product is the interception of new and old. One of the first Woo products with an internal digital section, the new WA7 also receives USB input up to 24/384kHz. A pair of single ended RCAs can be found in close proximity to the digital port, and cleverly doubles as both an analog input and as an analog output for the USB connection. A three-way switch allows you to toggle between the USB/RCA inputs and analog outs. There is a two level low/high gain switch as well as a power toggle, however, if you purchase the WA7 the mirrored round knob on the front of the power supply also acts as an on/off switch when pressed in, but lacks a function for its rotational capabilities. When activated, the WA7 presents itself with a very satisfying glow from the four tubes that sit on top of the cubes. The main amplification of this desktop digital combo is pure tube class-A topology (with no semiconductors in the amplification path) and comes stock with a pair of matched Sovtek 6C45 glass for the main amp and RCA 5963 NOS for the tube power supply. Woo also sells additional tube upgrades direct from their site, and the amplifier is of course susceptible to all matter of tube rolling options that add an additional layer of customization to the hobby. The Sovtek 6C45 triode assumes both driver and power tube responsibilities. Perhaps one of the most eye-catching features of this combination amp/DAC is the solid block of glass that sits atop both boxes that allows the tubes to remain delightfully visible while providing a protective shell of sorts against random collisions for the tubes. The fully transparent block is striking and adds to the overall design in a very interesting way. It is important to note that the block does indeed rest on the unit and is not secured to the surface in any manner. It didn’t prove to be an issue during use, as general care is very much recommended whenever hot external tubes are employed in the design of an amplifier. The glass blocks did manage to do a significant job in dispersing the heat generated from the tubes. The lower section warms up a little as expected, but the top of the glass remains relatively cool to the touch. The WA7 comes together with an appearance that resembles a perfect cube, which proves to be a very pleasant design element to its overall cosmetic appeal. Its art-ish sensibilities do a great job of bringing something more visually to the desktop, without overdoing it. Like all things Woo, it is quite heavy for the size and feels durable against the elements of time. Even the little rubber feet on the bottom of each unit feel secure, while still responsive enough to absorb vibrations in proper form. There are two single ended headphone connections located on the lower right corner of the main amplifier unit. While the ¼” output may act like your typical full size audiophile headphone jack, the 3.5mm does not. Woo provided some more light on the subject: “The 3.5mm is designed for extremely sensitive IEMs, specifically made to deliver an ultra-low noise floor for these type of earphones. The 1/4” output is for all other headphones (8-600 Ohms).” In execution the 3.5mm did complement a pair of JH Audio Layla IEMs very well by allowing for a more even volume sweep with a reduced chance for low-level channel imbalance. The jump from no volume to ear bleeding can be frighteningly thin when it comes to sensitive IEMs plugged into full size amplifiers. The extra layer of security here was a welcome one in this scenario. So what makes this new version of the WA7 different than the previous iteration? According to Woo there have been several updates, including a new “high-resolution audiophile-grade DAC, improvements to the voltage regulator and the DAC is now powered by a linear PSU for better performance. There is also a new OP amp output stage, improved analog circuit, Teflon tube sockets, high-retention USB connector (orange color) and enhanced tube glow.” Specifics on the new choice of silicon boiled down to the SABRE ESS 9018M for digital signal management. “We tested many DAC chips, USB controllers and circuit designs. The ESS 9018M with XMOS controller sounded most musical. The new DAC supports Hi-Res up to 24/384kHz and is iOS/Android compatible with appropriate adapter, previously it was 32/192kHz.” The digital section indeed feels very 9018. While the chipset can vary quite a bit upon implementation, there is a mild consistency to the sound, if it is done correctly. Some high priced standalone DACs have been known to push the 9018 series even further, but its commonality in portable amp/DAC combinations as of late raises its frequency in the wild to near “everyday” values which help push the new benchmark for performance even higher than it was just a few years ago. The same holds true with the WA7, it is well executed and clean. No significant missteps in the transfer and no driver needed for connecting to my Macbook Air. Utilizing Audirvana Plus it was easy to select the DAC as the preferred audio device from the preferences menu. The digital connection showed up as “xCORE-AUDIO Hi-Res 2” and played succinctly without any further issue. The USB input comes off detailed and accurate with the tube section of amplifier rounding out the sound in an agreeable fashion. Comparisons to the more premium priced Auralic VEGA ($3,499) from the unbalanced inputs highlighted the organic and natural presentation the VEGA is known for, but put up a good fight in terms information retrieval and firmness. Overall the digital section feels accurate and on point for any 9018 in this price range. Given the output capabilities (which are surprisingly rare with these type of all-in-one units) additional value is piled on top of an already solid digital conversion story. The house sound of Woo has always managed to avoid a Goldilocks scenario with regards to “how much” tuby-ness it seeks to employ. The bed it chooses to lie in always supplies the right amount of warmth without leaving the mids too loose or allowing the low end to get destroyed in a grand wave of slushy softness. The “sweet” sound is there with the WA7, but it’s not in your face waving its hand wildly for attention. The subtlety of it all drives your music with a pleasant demeanor, one that can often counter-balance the directness of the room-less headphone listening experience. Listening to the 24/96 version of Jason Mraz’s Everything is Sound provided a very open representation of the fairly dynamic and varied track. The vocals to the introductory verse sounded robust and textured with a pleasing timbre. As the first signs of the backing band appear in the track, it was easy to pick out the left and right stereo location of the keyboard (right), organ (left), guitar and sax as they jumped around in the sound field. As the bass enters the scene the overall appeal leans to a more smooth presentation that is very easy to listen to. It is equal parts relaxed inspiration and dynamic stability that provide much of the allure to the analog-inspired sonic portrait of the WA7. Vocals arrive in a balanced contribution to the picture, falling neither back nor too far forward against the rest of the spectrum. Bass response is clear and never overcooked and the treble doesn’t take on any additional screech or sibilance during the amplification process. The extension upward feels natural and airy. Cymbals don’t sizzle or crackle at loud intersections but rather communicate a more buttery aggregation of high-end sonics during energetic passages. From end to end the 9018 provides a nice platform that complements the traditional Woo prowess of amplifier construction. In/out rights from the analog RCAs maximize the feature set while keeping real estate to a minimum. The external design of the WA7 looks like a thousand bucks, which is convenient considering the going rate for the solid state option falls closely in line with the sentiment. Its easy to say that any design elements that deviate from the norm cause the populace to pick sides, but in the case of this Woo unit most will likely agree that its break from the masses is one for the better. Talk piece combined with audiophile analog traits make the all-in-one unit a fine complement to any upscale desktop or the top shelf of your audio gear rack. If you are a fan of Woo gear already then trust this newest addition to the family puts a fine digital foundation behind the house sound of the company. It appears that a lot of thought has gone into implementing the proper combination of in/outs/features for Woo’s resurging everything-in-a-box. Certainly one of the highlights is the forward thinking dual headphone output, carefully prepared for the headphone that is most likely to utilize the jack size. The overall size of the WA7 is big enough to be taken seriously, but not so much that seriously takes up space. Tonality from the device is a reasonable extension of company’s origins but picks up the latest updates to stay current with market trends. Its packed with enough power to drive all the latest headphones to sufficient levels without a hint of strain, but yet is also capable of delivering music that is free of hard edges while remaining significantly true to the original source material. The WA7 Fireflies is a tight package on many fronts. Image Gallery [ATTACH=CONFIG]24906[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]24913[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]24910[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]24907[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]24911[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]24912[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]24909[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]24908[/ATTACH] Product Information: Product - Woo Audio WA7 Fireflies Price - $1,599 Product Page - Link Associated Equipment: Source: MacBook Air DAC: Auralic VEGA Amplifier: Questyle CMA 800R Headphones: Audeze LCD-4, HiFiMAN HE-560, JH Audio Layla (Custom), Beyerdynamic AK T5p Playback Software: Audirvana Plus Cables: Zu Mission RCA Mk.II-B About The Author Brian Hunter I’m a recovering musician turned audio reviewer. I currently manage and write reviews for Audio-Head.com and freelance with several other publications. I love tech and the tools of music, especially the ones involved in reproduction. After I finished my undergrad degree in business I went to the local community college and got one in photography, which was way more fun. I like it when people have unbridled enthusiasm for something and I have the utmost respect for individuals who try to create, even more for those who are good at it.
  2. Rocky Mountain Audiofest 2011 Show Notes

    Rocky Mountain Audiofest 2011 was the funnest show I've been to in recent memory even though I missed covering a few floors as time ran out Sunday afternoon. I'm not sure if attendance was up, down, or the same as previous years but I had a great time talking to everyone who made the show. I did much more talking than listening to music at RMAF 2011. The C.A.P.S. v2.0 seminar was really fun as was the Windows seminar in the AudioQuest suite. There were a few new products at RMAF this year and a few old products with Series 2 type upgrades. Most impressive were the new products from Peachtree Audio, Stax, Woo Audio, and the never budget friendly Burmester Audio Systems. If this Rolls Royce of music servers fits one's budget at $50,000 then why not pick one up? Life is too short and your money won't do you any good when your dead. (To be read sarcastically with a smirk on one's face). [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK] <b>Teaser</b> <p>Philip O'Hanlon of <a href="http://onahighernote.com/">On A Higher Note</a><a href="http://onahighernote.com/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> had the most interesting teaser of the show. Philip demonstrated the <a href="http://www.chapteraudio.co.uk/products/notepad/notepad/">Chapter Audio Notepad AirPlay 250</a><a href="http://www.chapteraudio.co.uk/products/notepad/notepad/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> during an after hours session on Saturday. The AirPlay 250 arrived a bit late to make it into the main playback system but I was able to hear it and play with it in a secondary system connected to Vivid V1s loudspeakers. The Chapter Audio Notepad AirPlay 250 supports streaming audio via WiFi up to an <u>unconfirmed</u> 24/96 and via Ethernet up to 24/192. This little integrated puts out 250 watts into 4 ohms and had no trouble powering the Vivid loudspeakers. The AirPlay 250 should ship in December for $2,500. Please excuse the iPhone 4 photo taken under harsh lighting conditions.</p> <center><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/medium/IMG_1645.jpg"></img></center> <b>Peachtree Grand Series</b> <p><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000460-250.jpg" style="padding: 5pt 10pt 7pt 5pt;" align="left">In the months leading up to RMAF I'd heard quite a bit about the new Grand Pre and Grand Integrated components from <a href="http://signalpathint.com/">Peachtree Audio</a><a href="http://signalpathint.com/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a>. Every one at Peachtree was very happy with how the products turned out sonically and visually. I went into the show with high expectations from the new Grand Series of components. After the first few notes were played from a MacBook Pro (USB) through the Grand Integrated and <a href="http://www.sonusfaber.com/en/collection/cremona/'>http://www.sonusfaber.com/en/collection/cremona/">Sonus Faber Elipsa</a><a href="http://www.sonusfaber.com/en/collection/cremona/'>http://www.sonusfaber.com/en/collection/cremona/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> loudspeakers I was hooked. Peachtree has upped its game tremendously with the Grand Series. Sonically the Grand Integrated ($4,299) was one of the best at the show. The Grand Pre ($2,999) was connected to a <a href="http://www.simaudio.com"> Simaudio </a><a href="http://www.simaudio.com"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> amp and <a href="http://www.bowers-wilkins.com/Speakers/Home_Audio/800_Series_Diamond/802-Diamond.html">B&W 802 Diamond</a><a href="http://www.bowers-wilkins.com/Speakers/Home_Audio/800_Series_Diamond/802-Diamond.html"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> loudspeakers. This system was pretty good but I preferred the Integrated combined with Elipsa speakers. I can't wait to hear what the Grand Pre is truly capable of in my own system.</p> <center><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/medium/P1000459.jpg"></img></center> <center><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/medium/P1000467.jpg"></img></center> <center><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/medium/P1000463.jpg"></img></center> <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000469.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Peachtree"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000469.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000468.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Peachtree"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000468.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000465.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Peachtree"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000465.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000462.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Peachtree"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000462.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000461.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Peachtree"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000461.jpg"></a></center> <b> Wavelength Audio</b> <p>Gordon Rankin's <a href="http://www.usbdacs.com/">Wavelength Audio</a><a href="http://www.usbdacs.com/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> room was truly a computer audiophile's dream. He had all the latest technology, new products, and great sonics. Leave it to Gordon to use the new Thunderbolt Pegasus R4 external drive array from <a href="http://www.promise.com/storage/raid_series.aspx?m=192&region=en-global&rsn1=40&rsn3=47">Promise</a><a href="http://www.promise.com/storage/raid_series.aspx?m=192&region=en-global&rsn1=40&rsn3=47"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> connected to his MacBook Air. In addition to showing a new USB headphone amp Wavelength Audio also displayed the Nuetron 24/192 USB Analog to Digital and Digital to Analog converter. As usual Gordon had very lush sound using his tube amps and DACs throughout the system.</p> <center><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/medium/P1000522.jpg"></img></center> <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000528.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Wavelength-Audio"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000528.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000527.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Wavelength-Audio"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000527.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000526.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Wavelength-Audio"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000526.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000525.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Wavelength-Audio"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000525.jpg"></a></center> <b>Ayre Acoustics</b> <p>Transferring a vinyl collection to digital files is about to get easier with the <a href="http://www.ayre.com/">Ayre Acoustics</a><a href="http://www.ayre.com/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> QA-9. This Analog to Digital converter has XLR analog inputs and USB digital output. RCA to XLR adapters will be provided. The price will be somewhere between $2,750 and $5,000.</p> <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000515.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Ayre-Acoustics"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000515.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000514.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Ayre-Acoustics"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000514.jpg"></a></center> <b>Meitner Audio / EMM Labs</b> <p><a href="http://www.meitner.com">Meitner Audio</a><a href="http://www.meitner.com"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> and <a href="http://www.emmlabs.com/">EMM Labs</a><a href="http://www.emmlabs.com/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a>were on hand to show one of my new favorite DACs the MA-1. Also on display was the EMM PRE2 preamp that will be arriving here at Computer Audiophile in one or two weeks. I have pretty high expectations for the preamp based on what I heard with the MA-1 DAC.</p> <center><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/medium/P1000480.jpg"></a></center> <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000477.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Meitner-Audio-EMM-Labs"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000477.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000478.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Meitner-Audio-EMM-Labs"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000478.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000479.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Meitner-Audio-EMM-Labs"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000479.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000481.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Meitner-Audio-EMM-Labs"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000481.jpg"></a></center> <b>Simple Design - Sonore</b> Simple Design's <a href="http://sonore.us/">Sonore music servers</a><a href="http://sonore.us/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> are gathering a nice following in the CA forums and elsewhere including manufacturers like <a href="http://www.mbl-northamerica.com/"> Mbl </a><a href="http://www.mbl-northamerica.com/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> and <a href="http://www.music-culture.us/">Music Culture Technology</a><a href="http://www.music-culture.us/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a>. The Music Culture Technology room this year featured the new Signature Series Sonore DAC and the Signature Series Sonore Music Server with I<sup>2</sup>S output and Signature upgraded power supply. Simple Design servers we featured in other rooms but as I said earlier I missed covering a few floors as I ran out of time. <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000482.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Simple-Design"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000482.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000483.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Simple-Design"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000483.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000484.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Simple-Design"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000484.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000485.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Simple-Design"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000485.jpg"></a></center> <b>Head-Mania</b> <p>I've always been a huge fan of <a href="http://www.stax.co.jp/index-E.html">Stax electrostatic headphones</a><a href="http://www.stax.co.jp/index-E.html"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a>. The 007 phones were my favorite headphones until I heard the new Stax 009 at this year's show. The 009 headphones connected to the <a href="http://www.headamp.com/electrostat_amps/bhse/index.htm">Headamp Blue Hawaii SE</a><a href="http://www.headamp.com/electrostat_amps/bhse/index.htm"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> were simply luscious.</p> <center><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/medium/P1000533.jpg"></img></center> My favorite product of the entire show goes to <a href="http://www.wooaudio.com/">Woo Audio</a><a href="http://www.wooaudio.com/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> and its 234 Mono-block headphone amp ($10,000 estimated) connected to a pair of <a href="http://www.sennheiserusa.com/dynamic-stereo-headphones-high-sound-quality_500319">Sennheiser HD800 headphones</a><a href="http://www.sennheiserusa.com/dynamic-stereo-headphones-high-sound-quality_500319"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a>. This is a statement product if I've ever seen one. After listening to these mono-bocks I couldn't get the awesome sound out of my head for the rest of the show. I still remember the sound even as I type this show report. I certainly can't afford to spend $10,000 on a headphone amp so I'll be listening to the Woo Audio 234 at CanJam / RMAF for years to come. Also introduced by Woo Audio was its WDS-1 DAC ($1,099 estimated). The DAC has USB, S/PDIF, AES, and coaxial inputs. I was told the USB input is asynchronous but I've not been able to verify the input mode or the supported sample rates. <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000535.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Woo-Audio"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000535.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000538.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Woo-Audio"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000538.jpg"></a></center> <center>Woo Audio WDS-1 DAC ($1,099 estimated)</center> <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000539.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Woo-Audio"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000539.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000540.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Woo-Audio"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000540.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000543.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Woo-Audio"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000543.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000544.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Woo-Audio"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000544.jpg"></a></center> <center>Woo Audio 234 Mono-block headphone amp ($10,000 estimated)</center> <b>Burmester - The Rolls Royce of Audio</b> <p><a href="http://www.burmester.de/en/audiosysteme/index.php">Burmester</a><a href="http://www.burmester.de/en/audiosysteme/index.php"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> had its new Reference Music Server 111 ($50,000) on hand at RMAF. This thing is absolutely crazy in a good sense. I can't really say how it sounds as the environment was less than good and I was unfamiliar with every piece of equipment in the system. Features and aesthetics on the other hand were out of this world. The chassis and shiny front plate looked like they could have been pulled from the trunk of a Rolls Royce Phantom. The iPad application that controls playback and volume etc… was designed by the same people who designed the Remote app for Apple. Scrolling through the cover flow interface on the Burmester app was very nice. I didn't see a single slow-down or interruption in scrolling as is so often seen in other apps. One interesting note is that Burmester is the only company in the world allowed to ship an iPad 2 in the box with the Reference Music Server without putting the iPad in Apple packaging. This may be the only packaging that Apple can beat. Simply put, Burmester builds incredible components. Over the top? Yes. Outstanding? Yes. If you have the money, why not?</p> <center><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/medium/P1000547.jpg"></img></center> <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000548.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Burmester-Audio"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000548.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000549.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Burmester-Audio"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000549.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000550.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Burmester-Audio"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000550.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000551.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Burmester-Audio"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000551.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000552.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Burmester-Audio"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000552.jpg"></a></center> <b>Miscellaneous Items</b> <p>The Laufer Teknik <a href="http://www.thememoryplayer.net/">Memory Player</a><a href="http://www.thememoryplayer.net/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> and <a href="http://behold.eu/page.php?en310000">Behold Gentle</a><a href="http://behold.eu/page.php?en310000"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> products. Notice the interesting USB implementation inside the product. What looks like a standard USB cable connects from the case to the internal board.</p> <center><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/medium/P1000499.jpg"></img></center> <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000487.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Laufer-Teknik"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000487.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000490.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Laufer-Teknik"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000490.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000491.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Laufer-Teknik"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000491.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000492.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Laufer-Teknik"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000492.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000493.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Laufer-Teknik"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000493.jpg"></a></center> <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000495.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Laufer-Teknik"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000495.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000496.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Laufer-Teknik"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000496.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000497.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Laufer-Teknik"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000497.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000500.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Laufer-Teknik"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000500.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000501.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-Laufer-Teknik"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000501.jpg"></a></center> <a href="http://www.dcsltd.co.uk/"><i>dCS</i></a><a href="http://www.dcsltd.co.uk/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> was happy to play my 24/96 version of Dark Side Of The Moon via an Amarra playlist. <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000517.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-dcs"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000517.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000518.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-dcs"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000518.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000519.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-dcs"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000519.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000520.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-dcs"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/thumb/P1000520.jpg"></a></center> <a href="http://tad-labs.com/en/">TAD Labs</a><a href="http://tad-labs.com/en/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> used the C2000 preamp with built-in asynchronous USB DAC. I have the unit and am currently working on a review. <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000529.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-TAD"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000529.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000530.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-TAD"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000530.jpg"></a></center> <p><a href="http://www.dagostinoinc.com/">Dan D'Agostino</a><a href="http://www.dagostinoinc.com/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> had his new preamp on static display. The dial moved so elegantly and smooth. This thing is like a fine watch. Note the input labeled Server on the close-up image of the preamp. Nice touch Dan :~)</p> <center><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/medium/P1000557.jpg"></img></center> <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000559.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-DAN-DAgostino"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000559.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000560.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-DAN-DAgostino"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000560.jpg"></a></center> <p>The <a href="http://www.taelektroakustik.de/index.php?id=45&L=1&P=2&webgruppe=10&sorting=2048">T+A MP 1260 R</a><a href="http://www.taelektroakustik.de/index.php?id=45&L=1&P=2&webgruppe=10&sorting=2048"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> player accepts a few different digital inputs including my USB stick holding Dark Side Of The Moon at 24/96.</p> <center><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/medium/P1000565.jpg"></img></center> <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000566.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-T+A"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000566.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000568.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-T+A"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000568.jpg"></a></center> <a href="http://www.wadia.com/">Wadia</a><a href="http://www.wadia.com/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> / <a href="http://www.sonusfaber.com/">Sonus Faber</a><a href="http://www.sonusfaber.com/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000474.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-misc"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000474.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000476.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-misc"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000476.jpg"></a></center> <a href="http://jeffrowlandgroup.com/">Jeff Rowland</a><a href="http://jeffrowlandgroup.com/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000510.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-misc"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000510.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000511.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-misc"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000511.jpg"></a></center> <a href="http://bryston.com/">Bryston</a><a href="http://bryston.com/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> / <a href="http://www.pmc-speakers.com/">PMC</a><a href="http://www.pmc-speakers.com/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000506.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-misc"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000506.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000509.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-misc"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000509.jpg"></a></center> <a href="http://www.german-physiks.com/">German Physiks</a><a href="http://www.german-physiks.com/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> <center>Click To Enlarge</center> <center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000502.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-misc"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000502.jpg"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/large/P1000503.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="RMAF-2011-AUDIO-SHOW-misc"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/small/P1000503.jpg"></a></center> <p><a href="http://www.vtl.com/">VTL</a><a href="http://www.vtl.com/"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a> Siegfried Series 2 Amps with TAD Reference 1 loudspeakers</p> <center><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/1020/medium/P1000531.jpg"></img></center>
  3. RMAF 2012 CanJam

    The first day of RMAF 2012 I spent the majority of my time in the expansive CanJam area. It's always fun to see and hear elaborate headphone systems capable of great sound. I'm also looking for a new pair of headphones thus my interest in this area was even greater than previous years. I spent a considerable amount of time at the Moon Audio booth listening to the Fostex TH-900 Premium Reference Headphones. I like that these phones are closed-back allowing me to listen in areas where the noise from an open-back headphone might be annoying to those around me. Paired with the Bryston stack of BDP-1, BDA-1, and BHA-1 the Fostex TH-900 were very impressive. Maybe a tad bass heavy but that's not a final judgment as I really should listen in a quieter environment. The build quality of the TH-900 headphones is stellar. I've yet to see the beauty of these phones reproduced in any photos. I did my best in the photos below. Another headphone I'm seriously considering is the open-back planar Audeze LCD3. I spent time with the LCD3 at the Schiit Audio booth. The electronics were a Mjolnir headphone amp and Gungnir DAC. I think the LCD3 sounded pretty good but any conclusions made while auditioning an open-back headphone in a loud ballroom would be foolish. As usual I stopped to see Jack Woo at the Woo Audio booth. Jack always has a unique product or two that I photograph as if I'd seen the Loch Ness Monster. This year I was very impressed with the Woo Audio WA7 headphone amp and asynchronous USB DAC. The WA7's can't miss feature is a glass block that rests on top of the amp/DAC. However, this bock is not only for aesthetics, it also serves as a tube guard. Much like the Fostex TH-900 headphones the Woo Audio WA7 looks much better in person. The WA7 looks like a jewel that will fit in nicely on any home or office desk. It was a pleasure talking to several CA readers in the CanJam area as well. Notably the reader from my home state of Minnesota who inherited a friend's Klipsch speakers upon his passing. What could be more powerful than listening to great music and remembering great times with an old friend? Moon Audio Bryston - BDP-1, BDA-1, and BHA-1 Fostex - TH-900 [ [ Schitt Audio - Mjolnir, Gungnir Audeze - LCD3 [ [ Woo Audio - WA7, WES [ [ [ [ [ Head Amp - Blue Hawaii SE [ [ Cavalli Audio - Liquid Fire Fosgate - Signature Tube Headphone Amplifier Fostex - HP-A8C [ [
  4. There seems to be no end in sight for the significant gains portable audio has seen in the past few years in terms of both sound quality and feature sets. The last big hurdle seems to tackle the elusive integration of tubes. A few desktop units from Woo Audio and others have trickled out into the market but a more portable solution hasn’t really gained significant steam in the public consciousness. Portland-based ALO has introduced several variations on this theme with their original Continental and subsequent Pan Am models, but has since halted production to focus on their new portable flagship called the Continental Dual Mono ($1,495). The feature set is a hefty one, and appears to be an impressive collection based on learnings and observations from the company’s time in the field. [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK] At first glance, the most obvious (and perhaps surprising) changes to the ins and outs is the inclusion of a 2.5mm balanced connection and the exclusion of the traditional 4-pin RSA port included previous generations. ALO’s amplifiers have always looked to complement the current lineup of portable players, so it may come as no surprise that the substitution has been initiated to correspond the current rise of Astell and Kern players. AK not only provides the source output, but also sells a two pairs of headphones for the receiving end of the chain; additional headphones may require an adapter. Other versatile niceties include a fixed 2Vrms analog output (3.5mm) for direct access to the included DAC section and both SE and balanced ins and outs on the front and back panels. The whole presentation is laid out extremely well and doesn’t skimp on the options. The previously mentioned DAC section can be tapped via a micro USB connection, charging capabilities are exclusive to the included 12.6V wall wart. ALO founder Ken Ball and his team pay careful attention to the current audiophile trends so it is no surprise that the CDM includes both DSD compatibility and an output impedance of less than 1 ohm on both the SE and the balanced headphone output. The front panel also includes 4 colored indicator lights to let you know what file resolution you are hearing as well as a 2-way gain switch for variable headphone output. As is the case with most amplifiers that feature both SE and balanced output, the balanced connection had more gain that its SE counterpart. As far as the SE headphone output is concerned, the total volume from the high gain stage might be a little light for loud listeners with extremely hard to drive headphones like the HiFiMAN HE-6. There was no issue driving my reference pair of Audeze LCD-3s or the HE-560s, but it was possible to drive the volume pot to its near maximum with quiet tracks (with the HE-560s). This gain appeared to be on par with the SE output from the AK240, but didn’t provide much additional muscle beyond that. This point is a small one, if even a null one when it comes to the overall appeal of the amplifier. Perhaps a subtle hint from the name, the intent of the Dual Mono seems very much wrapped up in the balanced connections and this becomes even more apparent in use. In broad strokes, the balanced connections are where the Continental really shines. In-ear monitors can be tricky to amplify in concert with full size headphones. They usually require separate amps to pull the best out of their corresponding partners. From the SE output the noise floor on low gain was relatively inaudible through sensitive IEMs (like the JH Audio Layla) and the volume sweep from low to high was extremely manageable. With the increased gain of the balanced output the 2.5mm connection of the Layla’s produced a very slight buzz. None of the amplifier’s outputs were plagued by any micro phonics or the dreaded “ting ting” sound (like a small pebble being throw against a glass jar) that can occasionally creep into tube amplification on this scale. The unit did warm up slightly during use, but kept surprisingly cool considering the encased tube design at play. There have been a few portable pieces that have entered the market that threw off incredibly high amounts of heat (most of which did not employed tubes) so considering the circumstances the outgoing temperature of the CDM seems very well done. Ken partnered with Vinnie Rossi of Vinnie Rossi Audio for the battery implementation and design. Power supply design is imperative to keeping amplification dynamic and clean, Vinnie elaborated on its application with the CDM: “The Continental uses a battery pack containing three of the Panasonic NCR18650 cells (same as used in the Tesla Model S) connected in series for a 11.1V nominal battery pack. These are known as the finest 18650 Li-ion cells on the market. The battery pack (and tubes) are user-changeable. What makes the CDM's implementation special is that we are not using a step-up transformers or DC-DC converters for the tube stages. We feed the clean power from the battery pack directly to the tubes' B+ (anode) and achieve remarkably low noise floor and microphonics for a tube-based amplifier. As far as I know, CDM is the only portable tube amp/dac that is all linear-voltage regulated. Therefore, we were able to meet our goals of getting a good taste of ALO's reference amplifier The Studio Six, in a portable package and at a much lower price point.” While some audio items don’t vary much with playback exposure, the CDM sample I received did change slightly with a burn in period. The mids opened up and leveled out and the overall presentation picked up quite a bit from the initial plug in after a few days of use. Once a balanced playing field was achieved, it became easy to visualize suitable applications for the new flagship. Partnering with an AK device became an interesting proposal. The AK240 ($2,499) isn’t the cheapest player on the market, but it comes packed with a real pretty sound. Through the player’s 2.5mm balanced output via ALO’s SXC 24 cable, the Dual Mono added just a hint of tube to the mix. The stock tubes that come with the amp are a pair of new, old stock Phillips military 6111s. The resulting sound is delightfully linear and refined from this glass. The mids round out just a hair and the bass stays tight and doesn’t get even slightly mushy. It’s a very interesting and appealing approach for those who are adverse to intense tuby-ness. For those who love an even fatter sound, tube rolling is an option. Ken has experimented quite a bit with different combinations and a significant range of alternatives is available directly from ALO’s site. According to Ken, the stock tubes lean on the light side of “Tube-ness” scale while many others take a deeper dive. To my ears the stock tubes hit the sweet spot perfectly. The CDM is even auto biasing to make the rolling process more user accessible. You can see Ken explain the process in more detail here: While the CDM’s single ended side is both transparent and linear, I found myself drawn to the balanced connection’s texture and range. If you are willing to put down the funds to get this amplifier, I highly suggest you invest just a little more in your headphones and take advantage of the balanced output. The dual mono configuration really shines in this implementation. Even IEMs appeared to take advantage of the situation. The JH Audio universal fit Laylas sounded exceptional when listening to the 24bit/192kHz version of Cat Steven’s Where Do The Children Play?. Vibrant and dynamic, the Continental did an amazing job of creating an organic sound while maintaining a clean window to see through. The Laylas do a top-tier job of creating an out-of-head experience for the restrictive in-ear driver technology. Through the CDM the organ sounds from the track sounded even more precise and natural, a very healthy acoustic combination. While the amplifier allows for SE and balanced crossover headphone to source, full size headphones appear to see a slight benefit from keeping with the same type of connection, and between the two a fully balanced setup end-to-end again appeared as a preference. An A/B between the AK240 source produced no frequency anomalies, although some tinkering can most likely be achieved with tube rolling. The CDM masked no detail. While still a great performer for the price, the $500 AK Jr, doesn’t quite have the resolving power of its bigger brother. Through its SE line out connection, the amplifier section of the Continental remained true to the source with no artificial sweeteners or preservatives, just a mild injection of the previously mentioned well-placed hint of tube. Compared to the AK Jr’s headphone output the advantage of CDM is even easier to pin point. Expanded soundstage, a more delicate dimensionality - the entire presentation feels enhanced with increased levels of energy and dynamics. The digital section of the unit is driven by a Wolfson 8741 chipset married to a latest-gen CMedia 6632A USB interface. The connection requires a driver install for DSD usage to a MAC, but all other Apple interactions are driver-free. This includes connectivity for lighting-based iDevices. Both an iPhone 6 Plus and iPad Air worked perfectly out of the gate via a lighting to USB camera adaptor with no additional fuss. From ALO’s site: “We selected this chip after extensive examination of all available reference DAC chips. The WM8741 has exceptional signal to noise ratio and extended dynamic range. It also provides low noise, low distortion and superior linearity. The Wolfson provides high-resolution DSD and PCM playback and offers musically compelling digital filters. WM8741’s minimal phase digital filter is more natural sounding because it has no ‘pre-ringing’ of its impulse response. Just as a piano doesn’t produce sound before a key is pressed, the minimal phase filter doesn’t ‘pre-ring’ its impulse response.” At the market matures around audio DAC chipsets, it seems manufacturers are looking beyond the ESS SABRE 9018 for more natural presentation and easy implementation/programing. The multi-platform compatibility here is a nice touch. The size and heft (not to mention the use of tubes) would probably prevent a consumer from strapping the CDM to an iPod and putting it in a pocket, but its Walkman tapedeck shape is wildly appropriate for any desktop solution. It is portable and can be easily moved, but I wouldn’t recommend just throwing it around like you would a phone due to the tubes. Comparing the digital section to Auralic VEGA ($3.5k) produced interesting results. The much higher price of the VEGA isn’t quite a fair cost comparison, but those extra dollars do an excellent job of manifesting themselves as natural, lived-in musical reproduction. The comparison here revealed much of the same. The VEGA was whimsical with a softer edge but made the already solid digital/analog pairing even more believable. The 8741 gets high marks for resolving power and musicality on its own. The overall feeling of the chipset seems to be in line, if not a step forward from most digital sections in amp/dac combinations that have made it to market in recent years. There were absolutely no aberrations in frequency response that could be pinned on the Wolfson and the level of detail was very impressive. Bonus points to ALO for including a line out to tap into a full stereo or another headphone amp, a feature that seems grossly overlooked in the portable sector. At $1,495 the Continental Dual Mono is the most expensive portable amp/dac combo I have ever reviewed. But with portable players beginning to hit the $3.5 mark the move seemed almost inevitable. It adds just the right amount of fun to the mix without ever being overbearing or colored. It is feature rich in all the right places and leaves very little else on the table. The included stock tubes feel right on the money but allow for tube rollers to fine tune the device to their heart’s content. If the CDM falls in your price range suit up, grab yourself a pair of respectable headphones and lose yourself in the music. The best is only going to continue to get better. Image Gallery [ATTACH=CONFIG]19905[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19914[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19903[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19910[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19904[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19911[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19907[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19912[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19906[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19913[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19908[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19909[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]19916[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19917[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19918[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19915[/ATTACH] Product Information: Product - ALO Audio Continental Dual Mono DAC / Amp Price - $1,495 Product Page - Link Associated Equipment: Source: MacBook Air, Astell and Kern Jr., AK240, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air DAC: Auralic VEGA Headphones: Audeze LCD-3, HiFiMAN HE-560, JH Audio Layla (Universal), JH16 (Custom), Beyerdynamic AK T5p Playback Software: Audirvana Plus, iTunes Cables: AudioQuest Victoria, Zu Mission RCA Mk.II-B, ALO SXC 24 2.5mm to 2.5mm balanced Where To Buy: Addicted To Audio (Australia) About The Author Brian Hunter I’m a recovering musician turned audio reviewer. I currently manage and write reviews for Audio-Head.com and freelance with several other publications. I love tech and the tools of music, especially the ones involved in reproduction. After I finished my undergrad degree in business I went to the local community college and got one in photography, which was way more fun. I like it when people have unbridled enthusiasm for something and I have the utmost respect for individuals who try to create, even more for those who are good at it.
  5. The Oppo HA-1 is a harvester of many tricks, so many in fact that it is almost unfair to label it strictly a headphone amplifier as the acronym in the name suggests. It really stretches the boundaries of inputs, outputs and digital conversion all within a reasonable amount of desktop real estate. As with all things Oppo, attention to detail appears to be a top priority, even down to the packaging. In a market where the focus on sound quality can allow manufacturers to slip by with off-the-shelf interfaces and external design, the Oppo ship is watertight. In rare form for most HiFi equipment, the head amp includes a fully interactive graphical interface, complete with pretty icons for source selection. Connectivity is king with the HA-1. Nearly every single base is covered. In the rear you can find super DSD-friendly USB, single ended ins and outs, balanced XLR ins and outs, and one of each type of available digital input (including optical, coaxial and AES/EBU). To top it all off Oppo included both an in and out trigger and Bluetooth connectivity with aptX. An external remote is included, but in case you don’t want another one lying around the house, Oppo even has a remote app for your perusing pleasure that connects via Bluetooth. [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK] The front panel has a standard ¼ inch headphone jack, 4 pin balanced XLR for headphone and USB input for iDevices. It’s practically a new gold standard for headphone amps that has yet to see an equal. In truth, Oppo could have likely gotten away without the head amp section and charged the same, if it weren’t for its highly regarded BDP-105 Blu-Ray player whose feature set and price overlap with the HA-1. If we were to look at the HA-1 through a lens of personal audio the only thing that is missing is a dedicated 3.5mm headphone jack for IEMs, like the one found on the new WA7d by Woo audio. While running the amp through the paces the ¼ inch jack did display just a very slight hum through the ultra sensitive JH Audio JH16s (the 16s do come in lower than the recommended impedance of 32-600 ohms for the amp). The upswing is that volume control was delightfully distributed, even for IEMs (allowing for a nice gradual increase that peaked around 11 o’clock) and the hum wasn’t really audible at all while music was playing. All in all the HA-1 still gets the check box approval for IEMs. Simply tapping into the USB Apple connection on the front panel with the JH16s noticeably cleaned up the sound when compared to the plugging directly into an "old" 6th gen iPod Nano’s headphone output. The rated output impedance for the class A amplifier is an impressive 0.5 Ohm and 0.7 Ohm for both the balanced and SE connections respectively. The 4.3 inch display screen features color, but is not touch sensitive. The menu is easily navigated via push-capable source selector knob. Simply rotating the knob brings up the previously mentioned "pretty" icons indicating the source, of which there is an applause-worthy eight in total. Pushing deeper into the menu allows you to pick from three pre selected home screen display setups, two of which animate while music is played through the device. The "VU meter" option pays a little homage to the McIntosh look, while the "Spectrum" home screen makes for a pretty fun, visual frequency representation. Like the BDP-105, the 13 lbs. HA-1 is very heavy for its size. Fit and finish is simply outstanding and puts many higher priced audio products to shame. The connectors in the back feel very secure against the back panel and do not wiggle or feel loose when applying cabling. The box itself has a nice shape to it and even though it is a bit deep, most users should be able to find enough space for it on a standard sized desktop. Some of that extra weight no doubt is a contribution from the toroidal power supply. From the Oppo website: "A toroidal power transformer offers superior power efficiency and much lower exterior magnetic fields over traditional laminated steel core transformers. The HA-1's toroidal linear power supply provides a very clean and robust power source to the audio components." Even though it may be inconsequential to some audiophiles, its worth mentioning that the power cable that comes with amp is one of the beefiest I’ve ever seen packaged with a piece of audio equipment, a fine testament to Oppo’s value proposition. The volume control knob offers up a fair resistance when turned and feels solid to the touch. While the on board screen suggests a digital volume control with another pretty animated graphic, Jason Liao from Oppo cleared the air with regards to the potentiometer. "The volume control in the HA-1 is purely analog. One of the design goals of the HA-1 is to keep the signal in analog domain once it leaves the DAC. Since the HA-1 is a fully balanced design, we use a 6-gang precision potentiometer part for the volume control. Each left and right channel is controlled by 2 gangs of the potentiometer. We use the fifth gang for sampling the position of the knob so we can display the approximate volume level on the LCD screen. The potentiometer has a motor-driven mechanism so it can be remotely controlled via IR remote or Bluetooth app. A nice feature of the motorized volume knob is that when you change the amplifier’s setting from NORMAL gain to HIGH gain, the HA-1 will mute the audio, turn the volume knob to reduce it to a safe level, and then un-mute. This can greatly reduce the surprise when someone changes to HIGH gain and gets a loud sound." Among the many inputs of the HA-1 lies another interesting add on for a head amp, Bluetooth. The tech requires the addition of included external antenna, but the small piece barely peeks out from behind the amp and extends the range to an admirable distance. The application is threefold. Pair with a computer or smartphone as a source, pair with a Bluetooth-capable headphone as an output and pair with a phone/tablet as a remote control. The HA-1’s Bluetooth is 2.1 +EDR and supports both the SBC and buzz worthy aptX audio transmission formats. Switching between the über resolution of the USB connection and Bluetooth revealed an unsurprising slight loss of dimensionality, but was still surprisingly adequate for a quick connection from a mobile source in a pinch. The coinciding "HA-1 Control" app for smartphones provided a pretty seamless extension onto the OS. Volume control, input selection, mute and up/down track selection all worked without a hitch, but the BT connection did suffer a small quirk. Bluetooth connectivity is powered off when the head amp is powered down so you can turn off the HA-1 from a phone, but not on. The app makes you aware of this by closing down completely after tapping the orange power button from within the software. You need to manually turn on the amp before restarting the application. Overall the user experience with the app is straightforward and practical. The volume control physically rotates the knob on the unit and even displays the current dB level remotely. The main silicone pushing conversion duty is the popular ESS SABRE 9018. The digital section of the HA-1 operates like a 9018 with proper implantation, which is to say it sounds pretty darn spectacular. The overall effect is pleasantly transparent, especially considering the going price for the amplifier. Plenty of top end air, excellent extension on both ends and a fine, crisp resolution mark just some excellent highlights of the "ESS patented 32-bit Hyperstream™ DAC architecture and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator" ES9018 implementation in the Oppo. The included asynchronous USB connectivity is now becoming a bit of a standard feature for almost any up-to-date DAC, but DSD compliance isn’t quite there yet. The HA-1 does allow for playback of DSD64, DSD128 and even DSD256 if you happen to cross paths with a file that requires it. There is perhaps a slight edge to the sonic retrieval, favoring detail over organic delivery, which became more apparent when comparing to the higher priced Auralic VEGA. For nearly 3Xs the price and sans head amp, the VEGA was able to add a subtle layer of naturalness to the equation, but the much of same coveted ES9018 house sound could be found in the HA-1. As the Oppo DAC was put through the paces, it was increasingly impressive how well it scaled up to the occasion. Dedicated amplifiers like the Questyle CMA 800R and Auralic Taurus really swung out under the influence of both the SE and balanced output feeds. The soundstage from the DSD version of Norah Jones Turn Me On makes for a fairly impressive headphone demo. The organ sound through the HA-1’s balanced outputs was so spicy it almost felt like you could reach out and wave your fingers though the fluttering sonic tapestry it painted. The front and center vocals appear with plenty of virtual air and space to separate them from the rest of the well-placed instruments. The tonal sum here still nods in the direction of BDP-105’s composure but is housed in a much smaller suitcase. Most of the critical listening of the headphone amplifier section of the HA-1 was done through the 4 pin balanced headphone output on the low gain setting. The headphone sample used included both Oppo’s matching PM-1 planar magnetic headphone and the Audeze LCD-3 as a reference. Balanced output from end-to-end was definitely top of mind when the HA-1 was designed. "The internal analog audio signal path of the HA-1 is fully balanced. For digital audio, the signal runs in balanced mode all the way from the DAC to the output jacks. Balanced analog input is kept intact, and single-ended input is converted to balanced at the input buffer. All single-ended outputs are derived from the balanced signal as well. The balanced design provides better common-mode noise rejection and improves signal quality. The balanced headphone output provides twice the voltage and four times the power of the single-ended output, enabling the HA-1 to drive the most power hungry headphones. It also provides better channel separation by eliminating the common ground return path." There is a timbre richness to overarching sonic texture that accompanies the amplification stage. Samples cut from the balanced line outs confirms it existence, but also reaffirms that its impact is only slight. While this sonic affluence may be polarizing for some, those with a taste for texture will find the signature right at home. The response remains strongly linear, focused and very easy to listen to. Dynamic response, low-end impact/extension hit hard and fast like a well-oiled solid-state amp should. Oppo makes it easy to see why the HA-1 is so much more than just a simple headphone amplifier (although it can be easily isolated and utilized via the SE and balanced inputs). With both single ended and balanced outputs in addition to a wide cross section of source capabilities it is a virtual Swiss army knife of head amps. Perhaps one of the overlooked extensions of this metaphor sits quietly under the volume knob. The USB iDevice connection really brought out the best from iPods with a deliberate and discernible improvement. Jam packed with features, the HA-1 holds a nearly endless supply of applications to improve your desktop listening. Summary From a straightforward up-to-date techs-and-specs position the Oppo is currently unchallenged at its price point. It is a features-driven product with spectacular results. It is so much more than a headphone amplifier in the same fashion that an Oppo player is so much more than just a Blu Ray transport. Innovation, durability, flexibility and enough connectivity specs to make your head spin give this little contender both its charm and its value. Its on hand compatibility paired with a sleek digital side makes it one of the most complimentary components for desktop listening in the sub $2000 range. [ATTACH=CONFIG]13412[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]13413[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]13410[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]13411[/ATTACH] Product Information: Product - Oppo HA-1 Headphone Amp & DAC Price - $1,199 Product Page - Link Associated Equipment: Source: MacBook Air DAC: Auralic Vega Headphones: Audeze LCD-3, Audeze LCD-XC, JHAudio JH16, Oppo PM-1 Amplifier: The Calyx Integrated Loudspeakers: Zu Soul MkII Headphone Amplifier: Auralic Taurus MkII, Questyle CMA 800R Playback Software: Audirvana Plus, Decibel Cables: Zu Mission RCA Mk.II-B, Wywires Silver About The Author Brian Hunter I’m a recovering musician turned audio reviewer. I currently manage and write reviews for Audio-Head.com and freelance with several other publications. I love tech and the tools of music, especially the ones involved in reproduction. After I finished my undergrad degree in business I went to the local community college and got one in photography, which was way more fun. I like it when people have unbridled enthusiasm for something and I have the utmost respect for individuals who try to create, even more for those who are good at it.
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