Braggin' in Brass: Comparing the Eddie Current Studio, 445, and Master9. [picture porn too!]

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by jacq, Feb 13, 2017.

  1. jacq

    jacq Top 3 poster - friend

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    [​IMG]
    Macbook air connected to a Singxer SU-1 with all the other amps.

    Introduction and Background

    *
    The title Braggin' in Brass is a Duke Ellington song that maybe you should check out. ;).

    As a disclaimer, I’d like to say that I’m not exactly the most technical person out there but I thank you for the people who value my time and my opinion upon such gear as it has made this review possible. I love trying out new things and scaling the summit is always something that gets me excited for what future upgrades can bring in the future. The studio was indeed a blind buy for me and I figured it would be a “good” investment as it would be somewhat easy to let it go if I decide to sell it back, while sating my desire to try out top level gear. Thank you @MisterRogers for selling it, it literally has changed my headphone life.

    For the setup, I felt a bit overwhelmed setting it up and congestion on my Eustachian tubes due to allergies, didn’t really help. @Untouchable dropped off his 445/dave/utopia/lcd4 around Thursday and I didn’t set everything up until Saturday/Sunday when I finally felt like myself again. Sadly, the tubes used on the Studio are pretty shit(afaik), due to the fact that one of the RCA black quads I had bought had died on me a couple days it arrived. I am still waiting for the replacement for that tube but I figured that it would be a good time for me to get this review out of the way as I am not as busy as I will be in the following months.

    The source used was my Macbook Air 2012 via the application VOX for FLAC rips along with Spotify on occasion. With the Yggdrasil, I have a Singxer SU-1 and the Dave was used via USB out. I mostly used the Yggdrasil as it is the more familiar source, and I believe it is the less colored out of the two. I feel a bit bottlenecked with using the Yggdrasil’s SE out though with comparisons made with the 445 that only has RCA, I think it is suitable for this review. The HD800 used has the SDR and cork mod installed to it while the LCD-4 is the latest revision. The HD650 has all the mods as per recommendations from @JoshMorr while using stock ¼” cable for all tests. The SR007 is a MK1 purchased a month ago in Japan with everything kept as stock. The 445 used EML 45 mesh tubes while the Studio used cheapo Sovtek 2a3 tubes.

    Regarding the way this review is structured, I will compare the two DACs followed by the three amps with the Utopia which I felt was the most suited candidate whenever a summit-fi can is concerned. In addition to this, comparisons with the HD800 are made whenever soundstage is discussed as I feel like the Utopia and the HD800 have similar enough tone with the Utopia being fuller in body and more bass. The rest of the headphones like the LCD-4 and HD650 are adjuncts to the review, with a final remark regarding the Master9+SRD7+STAX that I own.

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    Focal Utopia connected to an Eddie Current Studio and Chord Dave.

    Chain:
    * Macbook Air (using VOX) – Dave(XLR) – Studio – Utopia
    * Macbook Air (using VOX) – Singxer SU-1(USB to AES) – Yggdrasil(RCA) – Studio– Utopia


    Comparing the Yggdrasil and the Dave through the Studio, I find the Dave has better detail retrieval in where the Yggdrasil can probably be regarded as muddy. The low end region on bass is cleaner on the Yggdrasil, with the Dave having a boost on the midbass punch. Both demonstrate good body with the Utopia but the Dave has cleaner midrange and subtler texture control on the Dave. The Dave has obvious coloration, mostly in the bass though it can be very fun to listen to. I think the Dave is a good match for the Studio while squeezing out the last 5% in your setup. Perhaps the MSB DAC is even better, but if value is ever concerned, the Yggdrasil is definitely there when pitted against the Dave.

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    Both Eddie Current amplifiers, the Studio and the 445.

    Source Chain:
    Macbook Air (using VOX) – Singxer SU-1(USB to AES) – Yggdrasil(RCA) – Master9/445/Studio – Utopia

    Master9
    The master9 is the least resolving out of the three amplifiers I have right now, though it comes with reasonable pricing, and can be revealing of sources. The sound is thicker, perhaps a bit congested when directly compared to the two amplifiers. There is apparent detail smear on the upper registers, while being overall smooth which makes it a good candidate for the HD800. The midrange is more drawn out compared to the studio, flat and panned out rather than it having texture than the two Eddie Current amps possess. The bass hits deep, full and clean which I think Audio-GD is known for. Due to the panning, the soundstage is much narrower than the other two.

    Eddie Current 445
    The 445 is an interesting amplifier. It is thin though it is proof that sound can still be textured, despite of this difference. It can be bass light with treble being accentuated with every note, that can cause fatigue with source dependent headphones. Texturing is articulated very well with instruments in the midrange being very dynamic, bringing delicateness and liveliness whenever music calls for it. Acoustic genres shine with the 445, in this configuration though it is interesting to know what other tubes can bring to the table as well. Soundstage to me was slightly wider than the other two headphones but again, can be tube dependant. My biggest complaint would be the lack of power though it drove the HD800 and HD650 with no issues. Perhaps I ask too much with the LCD4 though at the price tag, it’s a bit of a letdown to need to buy another amplifier just for it.

    Eddie Current Studio
    What the 445 can do well, I think the studio can do better. It has the best balance among the three with incredible texture, low level detail and very organic timbre. Despite of how shit the tubes I have are, I still think it wins over the two amplifiers. It is very dynamic that it way better texture and detail retrieval than the 445. It is very dynamic that it is so easy to be lost in the music and do nothing else for hours on end with each song sounding as articulate as it possibly can. It is very dynamic, that I’m running out of superlatives.

    The obvious disadvantage of the Studio would be the cost of the 2a3 tubes and the very long wait time. I have no plans of rolling tubes though I intend to get two very good sets and call it a day. This is the best amplifier I’ve heard so far though the journey is a long and treacherous one(for my wallet).

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    Entire lineup with two DACs and three amps with the HD800.

    Misc additions:
    [​IMG]
    HD650
    Out of the three, I think I prefer the 445 for this headphone due to the thinness being shaped a bit more with the HD650. I found the HD650 sound thick which balanced quite nicely with the 445. The Master9, still provided the 650 with deeper bass extension but it is not as resolving. This probably boils down to personal preference, but my biggest complaint is probably lack of air compared to the HD800/Utopia.

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    LCD4
    It needs more power out of the 445, I’m at 3 o’clock and it’s not that loud… The headphone is a bit veiled with the studio when directly switching from a Utopia, mostly because of the lack of detail. Its bestselling point is the bass, hard hitting and very good in quality. I like the master9 the most with the 4, as it brings out the right amount of bass with the 4 probably due to the power output.

    [​IMG]
    HD800/Utopia
    These two headphones are good with all three amplifiers I’ve compared though I would probably choose the Utopia over the HD800 if I really had to choose. The Utopia provides good scaling that the HD800 is capable of with actual body and bass. I also find the Utopia more detailed than the HD800, as it should with it being the more expensive headphone.

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    SR007mk1 vs L700
    I found this comparison a bit unfair as I think the SRD-7 is not drawing out the full potential of either of these cans. A more serious review will probably come out once I complete the KGSSHV though I wanted to give some thoughts. The L700 is brighter, it has more forward midrange and treble, while sr007 is the more detailed, headphone. The SR007 is darker but I think this may be due to the amp not giving it enough power. Regarding bass, the L700 is harder hitting on the midrange but the SR007 gives you deeper, fuller bass. I find both headphones having the signature liquid midrange that STAX offers with the L700 being euphoric sounding L700 than the SR007.

    [​IMG]

    Conclusion

    In close, I’d like to say that this is indeed a difficult review for me to write. I do not possess the technical prowess that most of the older members have here but I am happy to be able to complete this review as a homage to the creators of incredible pieces of gear obtainable today. I mostly found myself splitting hairs with these comparisons and these differences can be seen in 1-5% increments, but it conjures confidence in what can be done for perhaps a cheaper price tag in the future.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, to those who helped me with obtaining, curating and the refining content in this review. I think you all know who you are.

    P.S. special thanks to @Stapsy for being my photography mentor. May our beer photography preferences be in line with each other from here on end. :D

    Additional pictures here: http://imgur.com/a/UmufP
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2017
  2. Untouchable

    Untouchable Rando

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    Thank you for taking the time to write the review. Great read.
     
  3. MisterRogers

    MisterRogers Ethernet Nervosa

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    Excellent writeup @jacq!
     
  4. JoshMorr

    JoshMorr Friend

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    Great photos and great write up on the studio and how it works with different headphones!
     
  5. phaeton

    phaeton Acquaintance

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    nice reading, tnks for having taken the time to write it :)
     
  6. Daveheart

    Daveheart Friend

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    I love the title. I never got to play that one myself, but I used to play a lot of the swing charts from that era and always enjoyed playing the crazier Duke Ellington charts.

    I really enjoy your approach and formatting. Also, this makes me wish I wasn't so lazy about taking good pictures.
     
  7. jacq

    jacq Top 3 poster - friend

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    Yeah I have to be in a certain state for me to take pictures, I like experimenting with composition which helps but yeah I was exhausted when everything was done.
     
  8. msommers

    msommers High on Epipens

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    Great write up, what a collection of goodies!! It'll be the only way for me to experience all that gear: vicariously.
     
  9. Thenewerguy009

    Thenewerguy009 Friend

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    In your last picture, it looks like your table is buckling from all the weight.
     
  10. jacq

    jacq Top 3 poster - friend

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    Heh nah, the table is designed that way.

    [​IMG]
     
  11. FallingObjects

    FallingObjects Pay It Forward

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    Beautiful pictures of some lovely gear. Wish that I had more time to trial stuff out in this hobby, every time I finally convince myself that a GOV2 + Vali 2 is good enough for my Elears, I find a thread like this and my upgradtitis finds another window to crawl in through..
     
  12. ColtMrFire

    ColtMrFire Writes better fan fics than you

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    [​IMG]

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    Besides the OP, I've never really seen a comprehensive review of this amp. There are smatterings of thoughts on the old changstar forum, but some pages are not accessible, so if there's more there I'll never know... the head-fi thread is practically worthless for anyone looking for a deep dive (as usual). The few superlatives I was able to find was enough for me to snag this when it came up for sale. I had heard a couple Eddie Current amps over the years (Black Widow, Aficionado), and the house sound was extremely compelling... enough for the seed of owning one to germinate in the back of my mind.

    That day finally came recently (thanks @Mr.Sneis), and I was happy to swap out my BHA-1 and Yggdrasil (as awesome as they are) to afford the sale. Gungnir Multibit A2 was an acceptable "compromise" for a DAC to use with the 445... and until I got the 445, I don't feel I've ever taken full advantage of the schiit multibit DACs and what they are capable of. Not with the BHA-1, not with the Starlett. With the 445, yes. I can hear it now.

    In fact, the 445 quite handily destroys any amp I've owned or auditioned.

    California Audio Labs Delta CD Transport > BNC into Gungnir Multibit A2 > JBL Nanopatch (BAL to SE) into 445.

    The fact that Marv uses an uber version of this amp finally makes sense to me. The 445 is one of those amps that makes you realize just how much resolution and plankton you've been leaving on the table with other amps, and I gotta say, sometimes I pinch myself, hardly believing what I'm hearing. The sound this thing pumps out is like (to steal a bit from Marv) getting a full body massage in the back of a stretch limo while drinking champagne. This silly image is the only way I can express the capabilities of the amp in a single sentence. It's the luxury ride of headphone audio. Just an effortless, fast, dynamic, supremely resolving amp with a scary level of control and focus.

    In fact, the amp is so resolving, there were times I kept worrying something was wrong with it... I'd hear certain sounds that I thought might have been the amp malfunctioning, but it would turn out to be random noises in the recording or somebody doing something weird with their instrument. At one point during a song, I spun around thinking someone had entered the room, and laughed realizing it was coming out of the HD800S. I've never heard tape hiss this pronounced. I can quite easily hear how tracks are stitched together by the recording engineers (and good engineering vs bad). The 445 magnifies everything in a recording, but without it feeling forced or in your face. Everything is just put on a silver platter and placed in front of you to freely observe with ease, while never feeling analytical... in fact, the tube euphony is there in spades, with no bloom, warmpoo or syrup... and somehow it still sounds as fast and accurate as a good solid state amp.

    Speed is superlative. The HD800S isn't a very fast headphone. It's faster than the HD6x0 models, but not as fast as something like Verite or Utopia. Still, the 445 makes the HD800S sound like a fast headphone, or faster relative to how I've heard it on other amps. There is a distinct "live/you are there" vividness to the music that again, I haven't heard on anything else with dynamic headphones. Vocals are just jaw dropping in not only their palpable sense of realism but they have a vividness and visceral liveliness that makes each performance feel special (Holy Whitney Houston, Batman!). These kinds of things are hard to put into words. They're the kind of intangibles you seem to gain as you go higher up the ladder with amps. I can only imagine what this speed and vividness would bring to Verite or Utopia.

    Little things like the way a musician is handling an instrument, clothes rustling, the little weird noises the conductor makes when guiding an orchestra, stuff I have not heard on familiar recordings, ever. I can very easily hear some kind of electronic distortion in music I thought was well mastered. The 445 goes all the way under a track and brings forth every single wart, blemish and problem the engineers didn't do their jobs on. You start to hear how badly produced modern pop music is vs. the older stuff from the 70s and 80s... still wholly listenable, and not at all fatiguing, but disappointing. I'm not talking about just brickwalling, but the chaotic soup of nonsense that artists throw in to the point where it just becomes a wall of noise. Where's the signal? This is the first time owning an amp I've become downright annoyed with certain familiar music... and more appreciative of well put together material.

    Pinpoint accuracy is another special trait of the 445. Imaging is spectacular, with sounds coming out of an in inky background.... I've heard this to a certain extent on other amps. But with the 445, the contrast between sound and no-sound is much higher than I've heard on anything else, if that makes any sense. Sounds have a spooky way of just appearing out of nothing that can be startling at times. And the images themselves are solid, stable and have an organic richness that makes music sound so bloody seductive. Just wow. And of course there is all the holographic staging the Eddie Current stuff is famous for, with the soundstage pushed further in front of your face than other amps.

    I'm still not quite 100% sure what plankton is, but based on the oceanic definition, I can extrapolate what it's getting at.... all the little bits of acoustic "debris" that makes a track sound like a living, breathing thing. Or rather, have a "life" of its own, rather than an expression of electronic information. While most good amps have this, I've stepped into a greater expansion of this idea with the 445. This plankton seems to delineate certain tonal qualities in recordings that create more palpable emotions... for instance, I've heard Bernard Hermann's "Psycho" score many times, but this is the only time I actually felt scared listening to it. It's at a point where you really start to hear what musicians were really trying to express with certain music. Especially anything orchestral. You can better hear the agonized, romantic longing in Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony. And I haven't even dove into Solti's version of Wagner's Ring Cycle. I start to see why Mike Moffat tunes his multibit DACs this way... they take full advantage of classical recordings, which he seems to be a huge fan of. The speed, laser like accuracy and grandiosity of the staging of the 445 gives me a greater appreciation of complex, busy orchestral music.... all the little nuances and tonal varieties of the instruments are rendered perfectly, all without the amp losing sight of the whole piece. It is fantastic at balancing both the large and the small to create a more faithful reproduction.

    Tied to this is resolution, which is obviously top tier... the whole complete picture of the music being rendered faithfully. Nothing seems to be lacking. Perhaps The EC Studio gets you further, but this is obvious well mastered 8K OLED material to use a TV analogy. Again, the "live" feeling in the music is a direct result of the amp's superb resolution.

    The frightening scaling abilities of the Sennheisers is on full display here. The HD800S is transformed into something that almost resembles a different headphone. Anyone who ever called the HD800/S analytical would feel like a total moron listening to this combo. The fast, liquid, tonally dense renderings (with the help of Gungnir Multibit) the 445 imparts onto the HD800S is fantastic. Grabbing the modded HD650, I knew I'd hear good sound, but I was not prepared for how that headphone also transformed into something else. Perhaps its final form. While the 445 takes full advantage of the 800S' insane resolution capabilities, the HD650's wonderful tonal balance and midrage seductiveness is taken to new heights. It is hard to worry about other headphones when listening to the Sennheisers now. They continue to embarrass other overpriced new kids on the block and show that they still have plenty of gas left in the tank.

    Slam and bass quantity is one area that leaves something to be desired if those are your priorities. The amp slams when called for, but impact is not upfront. But in a way, it almost makes slamming amps seem artificially boosted. There is something wholly natural about the way it delivers bass and macrodynamics that I haven't quite heard before. In fact, I can almost incrementally measure the amount of bass impact on a per song basis in a way that seemed kind of vague on other amps that just slam all the time on songs that call for it. This more thoughtful/careful approach to bass is another unique quality this amp seems to possess. Anyway, these days, I feel complaining about bass is silly when the Schiit Loki is $150 and seems mostly transparent.

    The amp is on the leaner side of the spectrum, but nothing offensive or deal-breaker-ish, and its other superlative qualities outweighs any minor quibbles. And I do hear the Gungnir Multibit A2 adding some body and warmth. One may get even more of this with the Rockna stuff or vinyl (based on what I've heard). This may be the first amp that forces a Schiit Sol into my life, and I start toying around with LPs. Still, the organic, liquid nature of the Gungnir Multibit A2, with its plentiful tonal varieties is completely taken advantage of by the 445, and leaves almost nothing to be desired musically. Having owned the Yggdrasil A2 for a while, I do feel like there isn't a lot of difference between the DACs on a technical level, and it mostly comes down to synergies/preferences. Gungnir Multibit A2 seems like a noticeable improvement from the original. Still, this is the kind of amp that feels like it totally scales with better sources, so we'll see what DACs might end up feeding it later. The driver tubes I have (used with adapters) apparently give the amp more warmth, but I have some Sovteks on the way, which are supposed to provide even more speed and transparency, and are the ones the amp was designed around. We'll see if anything else takes a hit in the process.

    To say I'm pleased with this amp is a ridiculous understatement. I am blown away. I wrote this review as a way of putting out more comprehensive material on this amp for people who are curious. They don't come up for sale often, and now I know why. On the off chance that one does, if you're lucky enough to be in a position to own one, and you prioritize the things I gushed about in my review, I would say pull the trigger and don't look back.

    EDIT: My comments about bass and impact were a bit premature. Turns out its not a good idea to put the power module on carpet. After placing it on a wooden base, bass and impact noticeably improved, and everything tightened up in general. So turns out this amp slams with the best of them. But bass is still placed deeper in the stage and not upfront. Also, after swapping in the 6C45pi driver tubes (which the amp was designed around), things improved further. I feel the WE5842 tubes were holding the amp back on a technical level, with the new tubes leading to noticeable increases in clarity, speed, and resolution... with the tradeoff being a more neutral and less warm (slightly brighter) presentation. But the amp is still tube-ish sounding and has that organic R2R texture from the Gungnir Multibit. It's going to come down to preference/mood for which tube set you put in. But I will admit, the warmer 5854 tubes are more addicting and fun, and the amp is still the best performing amp I've ever head. If you want more accuracy, speed and resolution (closer to the recording), put in the stock 6C45pi. So in the end you have an incredibly high performing amp that can be altered to suit your listening preferences.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2021

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