ampsandsound Ovation review

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by purr1n, Aug 23, 2021.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    I know, I know. We are long overdue for a more formal review (as formal as it gets here) of an ampsandsound amp. I've wanted to get to one for well over two or more years now - since that last mini-meet we had at my place when I was still in California. Time sure goes by fast. I'm sure one day I will be back in California because my aging parents are trying to bribe me to be closer to them.

    PXL_20210823_125600669.jpg

    I've heard ampsandsound amps before (at that prior meet and others), but refrained from commenting much because different ears, different preferences, and different setups. As many others who have been into audio for a length of time and owned fairly stable systems: it's like cooking. Good ingredients help, but ultimately it's how those ingredients are selected and put together. The only way for me to make a proper assessment is to get one of them ampsandsound amps into my house, with my sources, my headphones, and my local power. (Yes, amps do sound very slightly different - better that is - in South Texas - I shit you not).

    The Ovation is a fantastic ingredient. Not only that, it's represents how ampsandsound has evolved. The Ovation maintains the same super polished aesthetics as always. Wood paneling around the top plate, super high quality connectors, hefty volume knob, matte black painted end bells on the transformers. Justin ain't screwing around here with chintzy parts. There appears to be two pieces or iron for the power supply. I don't know if the extra piece is for the filament heaters or if it's a choke. I will let Justin clarify that. The output transformers are custom made. They have a million output taps at the secondary winding. OK, well like six.

    Basically, this lets us tailor the sound somewhat depending upon headphone. The way I do this is by listening and preference, not theory and measurements. Ideally, everything is best via the lowest output impedance tap. Except it ain't because power transfer is better when impedance is matched. What it comes down the ability to choose tone, control, and transients. This goes far far beyond frequency response changes (dynamic headphones) affected by output impedance. (As an aside, I love looking at measurements to see how and why things tick and sound they way they do; but those who use measurements as a litmus test, particularly a single sine wave at a single voltage level - those guys should just die. It's not like this amp is for them anyway.)

    To be continued
     
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    Last edited: Aug 23, 2021
  2. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    Here is what I'm come up with personally for myself.
    OvationOutputs.jpg

    The JAR600 (modded HD600 with lower bass extension) I prefer on the 32-ohm (and sometimes 100-ohm depending upon mood) secondary tap. The Elex (stock pads) with it's lower impedance I prefer on the same tap because the Elex is a bit drier and less rich sounding than the Senns. For the HD650 (slightly too warm) and LCD2 (laid-back), I prefer on the Low Z tap for the best driver control and leanest tone. In general, as we move up to the High Z, we get warmer and more full bodied tone, and rounder transients.

    --

    The Ovation uses 5751 driver tube which is part of the 12A*7 family. The 5751 has less gain, and that's probably a good thing. TBH, I am not a big fan of the 12AX7 tube (there are always exceptions depending upon implementation, and sometimes that gain is needed as a matter or practicality). However, I think the lesser known 5751 is a great choice here. Less gain probably means lower distortion and thus more robust sound. Or maybe because the 5751 with its more rugged construction (with lower gain) results in less of this "weaksauce" sound I hear from the 12AX7 (with the exception of certain unobtainium 12AX7s). In any event, plenty of choice here with anything from the 12A*7 family and plenty of good vintage 5751 for fairly cheap. (If you get them from eBay, price in that 30% of tubes will not be up to spec). Get them while they are still around. Justin made a pragmatic choice here for folks who like to tube roll.
     
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  3. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    How what's particularly interesting is the 1626 output tube. This is real triode, but indirectly heated (I think - I don't look at datasheets all day). Guess what DHT the 1626 reminds me of the most? Nope, not the 300B, but a 45. It's hard to say what piece is contributing to what, as the sound could be from the output transformers. However the Ovation is what I would call neutral, like most other 45 amps. More than that, it's got balls too. A lot of drive and weight to the notes. (I know the 45 has a reputation of being bright for some. I think it's a matter of implementation, transformers, or the 45 relative to the 300B). I'd say the Ovation sounds neutral, very extended up high, with plenty of weight and well defined transients. It's almost the opposite of a stereotypical 300B sound. Tonally, it's very similar to my reference SET amp which runs x2 45s in parallel - to the point where I have decided to use the same DAC to get the best synergy.

    The coolest part: we can get 1626 tubes, for dirty cheap. No seriously, dirt cheap. Again, get them while we can. This is probably another one of those choice's based on pragmatics. Would I have preferred a DHT? Probably, but the fact is, the good vintage ones are all gone. The only choice is to pay up the wazoo for speshal new production tubes which cost one-third the amp.

    I think the main difference with the indirectly heated 1626 is that we have a tighter sound less bloomy sound. There's something to the directly-heated filaments, particularly the ones in the old globe shaped glass. I haven't had time to fully explore but I bet on an analyzer, we would see a wider skirt at the bottom of a tone. However, good luck finding a vintage globe PX4 or 45 with any kind of life left on it.
     
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  4. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    Ok, so now the big question, which some folks have already asked: where does the Ovation lie with respect to DNA and EC?

    The Ovation belongs up there with the best boutique SET brands out there. Just in time too because Craig at EC is more or less retired (don't even know if he will make one more run of amps). However, it's really a different sound (more similar to EC than DNA). As I mentioned, it's not a bloomy or wet sounding amp like the DNA Stellaris or Stratus. The overtones are rich, maybe slightly richer than the EC SJR. However, the transients are tight and attacks have plenty of weight. The microdynamics are somewhere in between the Stratus and SJR, but we are talking small differences here. I do think it falls short in headstage spaciousness a little bit because well, can't beat DHT. To summarize, if the DNA is like soapy suds over Sofia Veraga boobs, the EC like a world class ballerina, then the Ovation is like a 2021 Camaro ZL1. Lots of rhythm and drive. Think of it as the amp equivalent of the Convert 2 DAC, except better because unlike the Convert 2, the Ovation can keep up with retrieval of low level information which a requisite of the immediacy factor - what makes it hard to put the headphones down. (Add: or a cross between an EC SET and a one-off EC Ultralinear owned by @ChaChaRealSmooth)
     
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    Last edited: Aug 23, 2021
  5. dncnexus

    dncnexus Friend

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    How is the noise? I and many others have experienced with many A&S models ranging from the lower tier Pendant to the high end Nautilus a consistent hum/buzz/static coming from the amp out of all the headphone outs. We had tested in multiple locations, on a wide range of headphones from the 600 Series to Focal to ZMF to Audeze to Hifiman, and it was persistent everywhere. Curious to see if yours has this problem too or not.
     
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  6. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    I'll put super sensitive Grados on it and report back since this will be the real test. Will put it on the analyzer too. I didn't have any issues with the HD650 / JHAR600, but these aren't sensitive headphones.
     
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  7. dasman66

    dasman66 Self proclaimed lazy ass - friend

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    Good to see branching out from DNA/EC... options are good

    I fought noise/hum from my Mogwai SE for a long time... I kept at it because I absolutely loved the amp otherwise. I sent my amp in to Justin to get checked out (I purchased it used), and have it upgraded to the newer v2 with the larger choke/improved power supply. While it was there, he also put in the Jupiter Caps that were in the Bigger Ben. When it came back the hum was reduced dramatically, but not gone. The new caps gave me improved resolution/detail.

    Ultimately, it seems like my amp is extremely picky about power source... I put it on a balanced isolation transformer, and hum was almost gone. Tubes took it the rest of the way (rectifer was critical) and is now basically silent (well... its the same noise level as my SW51+, but not as quiet as my 3F).

    ---------edit----------
    I also found more noise on higher z taps. 8ohm is dead silent, 32 matches my SW51+ noise level and 300ohm is ever so slightly greyer than the SW51+
     
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    Last edited: Aug 23, 2021
  8. Empyah

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    Could it be because the power supply is not external? - my Studio Juniors PSU sits a whole meter (one yard or about a twelth of a school bus :p) under the Amp and hums slightly, but nothing of the humming gets transferred further through my headphones (of varrying impedances and efficiencies).
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2021
  9. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    how does this compare to a standard power conditioner (I have this Furman power conditioner)? I have trouble with noise with my super sensitive LCD-X (more sensitive than Grados) and all my amps. Could this help? Sorry for the tangent.
     
  10. dasman66

    dasman66 Self proclaimed lazy ass - friend

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    FWIW, I'm not sure how much conditioning the furman actually does... my impression is that its more like a surge suppressor with a little bit of EMI/Noise filtering added in. I had my amp on what I consider an equivalent product by ZeroSurge... it helped, a little. I then tried a tripplite isolation transformer, which improved it further. Justin suggested the balanced isolation transformer as the best solution and sent me the link to the ebay item as his choice. It ended up being the best of the three from a noise reduction standpoint (YMMV).
     
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  11. Beefy

    Beefy Almost "Made"

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    Mostly tubes, right? I recall your favorite amp is a SOHA. I think you are probably just experiencing tube noise. Irrespective of listening preferences, I'm sure most people would agree tubes are generally noisier devices than transistors.
     
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  12. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    Yes. But another gadget to try to lower noise is tempting. :)
     
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  13. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    That is part of it, but it shouldn't be an issue given how the power transformer is turned 90 degrees from the output transformers. The SJR transformer isn't rotated such. It is on a separate unit, so best to move that as far as possible away from the output transformers.

    It's just the nature of the beast. I pick up static noises from pi2AES on my custom amp, so I needed to move things around a little.

    Another contributor could be the overall gain of the amp.
     
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  14. Beefy

    Beefy Almost "Made"

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    Indeed, there are always more gadgets!

    With respect to the the 12A*7 in the SOHA...... A tube shield helped greatly with noise in my Crack that uses the 12AU7. Some of the little buggers are excellent RFI antennas. At $2 a pop, it's not exactly gadget-topia, but might be worth a shot.
     
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  15. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    So is the Ovation a derivative/relative of the Darling amps? That's the last time I've seen a 1626 output used lately.
     
  16. Cryptowolf

    Cryptowolf Repping Chi Town - Friend

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    Yes, the Kenzie line of amps (Kenzie, Oncore, and Ovation) are relatives of the Darling circuit with different capacitors, transformers, and input transformers.

    I have a Kenzie Ovation. For those who may be interested in tube rolling, the input tube makes much more difference to the sound than the power tubes. It seems that Purr1n may have the next revision of the Ovation. My model has a 12SL7 input tube (that also accepts other octal tubes such as the 12SN or 2C52 tubes). I can use an adapter to run 12AX7 tubes.
     
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  17. ampsandsound

    ampsandsound MOT - Ampsandsound

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    Thanks a Ton listening Marv! - Honestly.
    Ill try to take a stab at answering as many questions as I can before bed... Was working in the ER last night and only got about 3 hours sleep.

    Marv got to hear what will be coming out in about 30 days... a Rev 2 to most of our amps... expanded PS and more importantly a move into 9pin inputs. This is to allow better system matching by way of rolling differing Mu rated tubes into the input 12Au7/12AT7/5751/12AX7.

    Our Kenzie and Ovation are based off the Darling circuit.. Power supply, Choke filtering and significantly different as is the Cathode values. With adapters 12b4s could be used for a different sound and about 2x the power.

    Our amps may straddle a less bloomy sound in large measure due to the very high Pri of the outputs... reduces power significantly which is helpful for paring with headphones and produces the lowest distortion possible for the given circuit. Ive always tried for the lowest Noise floor and distortion possible... 5K vs 3.5k or 2.5K... the lower impedances were never my jam.

    Re noise, all of our amps are very quite in absolute terms but subject to idiosyncratic issues and system matching. Ive never been one for 2 chases systems as I worry about hazards presented by misuse of the connectors. Also the finished amp feels less complete to/ unified to my thinking.

    Re noise... its always been a place of improvement. Our wiring though really good and improved in significant and stable ways year of year. Most of our amps are without feedback or regulators... old school in their implementation. As such appropriate system matching is hugely important. Efficient headphones, Big power tubes on higher impedances will produce more perceived noise. Its a struggle as the all butt the Kenzie/Ovation are hugely powerful for most headphones needs. audio

    Re conditions... furans don't do much filtering unless you get the Elites? I generally recommend the Emotive single duplex unit as it does DC offset and common mode filtering. If wanting to go to the next level.... Im a fan of balanced power conditioners. Corepower does a nice job. Transciendant audio used to have a kit... it outlines a great DIY approach... there are also eBay units that are very reasonable.

    Re the PS... re read a question/statement. The smaller of the 2 transformers is the power transformer... it has an internal shield... the larger transformer next to it isn't for filament but a 8H custom unit.

    The Ovation feels like the thinking persons choice. If you don't need big power, but want the best outputs... its a winner.
    If you want big power or more rolling options there are other great choices.

    Hope that shells some light. Im not sure if anyone is headed to CanJam SoCal or RMAF. I plan to do both but unsure if either will be canceled in the next week.

    BTW, Im super Dyslexic... typing is less than fun. If you guys have questions, always feel free to reach out 949-636-9076.
     
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  18. jnak00

    jnak00 Almost "Made"

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    I didn't know the ampsandsound amps are also speaker amps. Any comments on using the Ovation with speakers?
     
  19. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    I was going to try this, but realized my big JBLs cheat with a 4-ohm woofer, getting as low as 2.8-ohms, so I didn't think this would be representative.

    One thing is that despite the flea power, the very flea power, the amp sounds much more . Rated power and simplistic measures such as SINAD for headphones doesn't seem to matter much once these figures pass "good enough". 1W into typical headphone loads, including planars, will explode most headphones if not cause permanent hearing damage.

    One thing to note is that the volume pot is a stepper which isn't as aggressive ramping up at the start of the rotation. The Grado was set approximately before the 11 o'clock position and the JAR600 just past the 1 o'clock position - with plenty of steam left where most pots level off. I mention this because people get weird thinking an amp is running out of "power" or gain if they have to move the volume knob past 10 or 11.

    Also, no noise or hum on the Grado. I used the low Z output for best grip because of the TTVJ pads which make Grado headphones bassy instead of bright.

    Tip: ZMF Verite Closed (or open) has very good synergy. The Verite can be a bit soft and essygoing with the wrong amp. The Ovation gives it a kick.
     
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    Last edited: Aug 24, 2021
  20. dasman66

    dasman66 Self proclaimed lazy ass - friend

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    Some of them are both headphone and speaker... but pay attention to the power output, you need really efficient speakers for most of their headphone/speaker amp combo's
     
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