Massdrop x Eddie Current ZDT Jr. (Official Thread)

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by Hands, Nov 15, 2017.

  1. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    So, I picked up a Magni 3 and have had it playing music for the last 24 hours or so (seemed to stabilize within an hour, honestly). I was curious about how it sounded based on the comparison provided by @a44100Hz, as I can't comment on something I haven't heard myself. And I've heard so many good things about it, so what if it was a truly better amp? But, frankly, I also needed a better SS amp for headphone measurements.

    I'll preface this by saying the Magni 3 is a fantastic amp, and not just for the price. But I also have to say I find a lot to disagree with in @a44100Hz's comparison of the two amps. I don't know if the stock tubes just don't have enough hours on them, both long-term burn-in and warm-up (yes, these Russian tubes take a lot of time to burn-in, as I easily ran mine through 100+ hours before I listened for review, and a good hour to sound their best for warm-up after burn-in), if something isn't quite right with that loaner unit (though I hate to be that guy that says, "If someone doesn't like it, the unit must be bad."), just a misfire and misunderstanding of terminology, vastly different music choices that highlight different aspects of the amps, or totally different hearing, but the fact is I can't agree with most of those findings.

    In fact, the two amps sound rather similar to me if painting broad strokes. The Magni 3 is very balanced, cohesive, and smooth in the mids and treble. Just awesome for a SS amp. More tube-like in tone there. But it's a little full sounding in the lower end. It's a slightly warm and bassy sounding amp. Thankfully, I like this. It has good extension and a good sense of oomph in the lowest octave.

    Now, even when running the stock tubes on the ZDT Jr, the ZDT Jr flat out has better resolution, liveliness, and less dynamic compression in the mids and treble. For example, panning drums across the stage sound clear, full, and detailed on the Magni 3. You can even hear the reverb in the room, even. But it all sounds somewhat muted relative to the ZDT Jr, as is common when comparing even the best SS amps against a good tube + OPT coupled amp. The ZDT Jr in comparison has the same level of detail, greater air around instruments (the sort you can "feel" rather than hear, a very important distinction), is snappier and livelier sounding, and actually gives you a glimpse of drums in a 3D space rather than on a 2D plane, the ability to better visualize and almost touch them. That's the sort of resolution and a tangible nature you just don't get on the Magni 3 when compared to the ZDT Jr.

    Or, for example, those sparkly, shimmery, whooshy noises in the beginning of "Lost Yourself To Dance," which I'm not really sure how best to describe or what to call them, swim and play around your head on the ZDT Jr. It can almost trick you into thinking something is floating around you. The Magni 3, in comparison, is more just about hearing those things. I hate saying stuff like this, really, but the ZDT Jr. brings out the ability to tangibly feel elements in music, whereas the Magni 3 doesn't go further than letting you hear it all.

    As another example, you can feel the low-pitched pulse of air when someone presses down on piano keys and the pedals below on the ZDT Jr. On Magni 3, you guessed it...it's audible and clear, but it's not tangible. It is relatively muted in comparison. This is the sort of magic you get from a good tube + OPT coupled amp versus solid status (or less tube amps of any kind).

    The Magni 3 has a slightly more laid-back stage when volume levels are matched. At first, this gives a greater sense of staging depth, but when you peel the layers back, it follows that while the ZDT Jr. is a wee bit more forward, its more 3D nature can only come from a finer gradient of layers from front to back. And, yeah, the Magni 3 is a hair wider sounding, but I would argue both amps trend more towards sounding a bit forward and intimate than they do spacious. You have to pay big bucks to bring this trait out on an amp without sacrificing other areas. Both of these are budget amps, respectively, and need to be looked at as such sometimes.

    I also think claims of poor bass quality from several reviewers are over-exaggerated. When comparing the intro to "Lose Yourself To Dance" or the bass drum on the live version of "Hotel California," the Magni 3 is only marginally better sounding in overall bass quality. I guess you could say neither amp is stellar in this regard, but I would argue both amps are more than serviceable in this area even despite their slightly warm, slightly bloomy nature on the low end. They're actually kind of similar in this area. It's tough getting that lush, full, bloomy sound without also sacrificing bass quality (again, big bucks required to have it all). The only time I've really heard the ZDT Jr sound anywhere near poor in the lower regions was when using tubes without enough burn-in and warm-up. Depending on those factors, I've heard the amp sound anywhere from ultra lean to ultra bloated in the low-end until it sort of finds its way.

    If i will give one nod to the Magni 3, it does have marginally better extension and oomph in that lowest octave. But you really have to listen closely to hear it, and both amps make the HD650 sound dynamic and full. For most music, those lowest octaves are underutilized. And, remember, too many amps make the HD650 sound lean.

    I really don't mind the stock tubes on the ZDT Jr. They are rather lively and somewhat aggressive, but they need a lot of patience and time to settle down and open up, so to speak. I honestly don't know how much time they've been given to do so on the tour, but it's easy to wave my hand, brush it off, and make that as the excuse for what people hear, I know. Yes, vintage tubes like the GE 5654W alone bring about noticeable improvements to the ZDT Jr, making it sound a bit more lush and better extended without increasing bloom, further improving staging abilities, better resolution, and so on. But the amp inherently keeps those special traits that come from a well-designed tube/OPT coupled amp regardless of what glass you stick in it.

    This is also not to say that someone can't prefer the Magni 3's sort of sound. Some people just dig that. I know myself and many others are set on a good tube + OPT coupled amp. Some just won't get along with that sort of sound. Some can't get on with it unless dealing with mega-buck amps or very particular implementations. Same reason I don't always get on well with solid state amps or oversampling DACs.

    At the end of the day, though, I can only offer my honest thoughts, just as @a44100Hz does the same. Just as we might not have heard the same things, I'm sure we won't reach 100% consensus either as more people hear the amp. I'm sure we'll get opinions that don't match either of ours. That's just how it goes, and why it's important for everyone to sample a variety of gear to figure out what they like best.
     
  2. Dr. Higgs

    Dr. Higgs Boson - Member

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    I heard the loaner ZDT Jr. at a mini meet at my place a few weeks ago, and my takeaways were very close to @a44100Hz .

    Compared to the other amps we had on hand (Torpedo 3, ZDT, Jotunheim) it sounded like the least cohesive of the bunch, and the only pairing I enjoyed with it was the 660S (out of TH-X00 Ebony, D7200, Stock 650, & Modded 650). I could see it as a decent companion for an HD600 rig, but my current preference is not to buy gear that only pairs well with one or two headphones unless it's truly TOTL (e.g. purpose built HD800 or Utopia rig).

    The bass was flat out bad IMO (lacking any sense of grip or control) compared to everything else on hand w/ stock and modded 650s out of my Yggdrasil. I'm not even particularly happy with the bass on my T3 with my current tube/cap combo, but I thought even that was a step up.

    It just sounded way too dark, colored, and tubey for my taste, especially when paired with a Modi Multibit (which I feel most people here would instinctively try to pair it with for a desktop rig).

    For the first few tracks I was struck with the feeling that it was pretty resolving, but I ultimately walked away with the impression that the reverb and sense of space was being added rather than resolved from the source material.

    The ZDT (not Jr.) was easily the best amp I heard that day, and I felt like the Jr. really did a disservice to the name in comparison.

    The only caveat I can give was that I wasn't sure which tubes we were using, but @thegunner100 can probably speak to that point.

    Edit: also, most of my impressions were based on the "low" impedance output. The "high" impedance output just exaggerated my bass/coloration complaints with it to the extent that I don't understand what the purpose is.
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2017
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  3. Abhishek Chowdhary

    Abhishek Chowdhary Friend

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    How does an amp add sense of space unless in the recording? From my experience with M3 and Jot, they can hardly do headstage and layering.
    Better recordings on a potent amp should indeed sound spacious (not necessarily airy but black spaciousness/ambiance). Very few amps can pull it off. The ones that do are very rewarding with good recordings and can effortlessly show dynamic compression as well.
     
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  4. SteelCannon

    SteelCannon Friend

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    I don't know if I would describe it exactly the same way as @Dr. Higgs but I also noticed a deceptive sense of space and warm texture being added that after longer listening appears to stem from distortion, similar to a phone camera effect that stretches out the middle of the photo. It is kinda like a warm fuzzy fisheye effect. It was pleasant at first but then I notice it was there on every song.
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2017
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  5. bazelio

    bazelio Friend

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    Phase shift, frequency response non-linearities, possibly certain distortion products. Just thinking aloud. Intuitively do you think something like high frequency heating allows nuances in the recording to better reveal themselves, or might it create a particular sound effect (noting that it's not a factor in the ZDT Jr)?
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2017
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  6. Abhishek Chowdhary

    Abhishek Chowdhary Friend

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    I think I should just shut up unless I listen to it myself. Just too many variables to speculate.
     
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  7. ButtUglyJeff

    ButtUglyJeff Stunningly beautiful IRL

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    Metrum Amethyst --> ZDT Jr. --> ZMF Atticus & HD650 (stock)

    Well I'm reluctant, as usual, to share my impressions. I get this way whenever what I hear doesn't line up with everybody else. But we, as a group, need to be as honest about gear as possible (wether its brutal or awesome). I can't wax poetic, so notes it is...

    Don't take what I say as gospel, form an opinion based on the group. I'll explain my perspective at the end, and give you all plenty of ammunition to write off what I say as poppycock...

    • The ZDT Jr. (with stock tubes I presume) presents itself as a very Mid-centric amplifier showing stronger tendencies in treble then it does bass. It has a slightly dry overall tone, which some people might consider "lifeless" to some degree. This isn't a bad thing. Some people will like this lots, I just like things a bit wetter. Could a tube swap change things? Maybe, or maybe not enough. This amp is quite good with detail retrieval in mids and treble, but not as good in bass detail. Again tubes may help...

    • I really liked the ZDT Jr with my Atticus. It tamed the mid bass bloat nicely without making the headphone sound bass light. Vocals remained lovely. And treble kept its "sweetness" without drying out.

    But its with the HD650 that I was disappointed. I was really hoping the ZDT Jr to act like a "baby ZDS". And what I mean by that is I wanted this amp to add energy to the slightly (very slightly) relaxed HD650, while breathing a little more life in both ends of the frequency graphs (more treble and bass within the ability of the HD650). I look for that in all amps I try. Treble was a touch lifeless. Mids were great as usual. And bass was quite underwhelming; I have to agree with @a44100Hz in this regard. One of my go to tracks is Paul Simon's "The Boy in a Bubble", I love the tuba in this song, and it sadly took its place in the rear. Over all, staging could be considered "distant", almost a "next room" feel to it...

    Staging/placement was quite nice. Good balance between "left to right" and "front to back". Micro detail is good, in areas where frequency response is best (vocals, strings, piano, other mid crap). Though, I'm a bit angry at myself for not listening to more complex orchestral pieces to test how this amp handles demanding instrument separation.

    • I'm picking up a slight amount of treble roughness/scratchiness/coarseness, which wasn't super bothersome. I heard it with higher pitched female vocals, tenor sax, xylophone and piano. (This was with the HD650 not the Atticus) But it does make me wonder if this could be bothersome to the face tweeter crowd (HD800). Luckily @JoshMorr is next with the loaner, and he'll shed more light on that query.

    • The low and high impedance headphone jacks are the real deal. With both headphones, I saw benefit with the high impedance jack over the lower. The low impedance jack was quite lifeless with both my high impedance cans, which means the circuit was doing its job. I guess I disagree with @Dr. Higgs a bit here. What I heard might have been a touch "wetter" but not over colored by any means.

    • I got kind of addicted to the power switch. Nothing more satisfying the a healthy "THUNK!!!" when you throw the switch. And I liked the responsiveness of the volume pot, very smooth and allows for very small volume adjustments. It also was very desk friendly and stacked nicely on my Amethyst (I wish I took a picture).

    Now lets rag on ButtUglyJeff, we wouldn't want him to get too high on himself here.

    I'm a tube noob. I have no idea how much tube rolling would help or hurt things. I've said before that too many people obsess on this part of the hobby, and its given me a bit of a phobia. You future owners need to band together and agree with a few good tubes and don't let people waste piles of money. I tend to feel that people exaggerate differences in tube rolling, and chase dragons when you can't change the inherent nature of an amp.

    I was expecting a warmer/syrup like experience, and I got nothing like that at all. I have no idea where I got that idea. I'm aware this is a new incarnation of the NBM, and that amp was never considered "oooey gooey". That might have effected my perspective.

    In many regards I think I was being "4 figure critical" of an amp that is selling for $399, that's bananas cheap. What I mean by that, is I know I was being critical of this amp, like it was $1000 or more. I looks super cool, and doesn't feel cheap in any way. The expensive illusion is real...

    My HD650 is bone stock, and pads have some wear. I can already hear @Hands say "why the hell haven't you torn that bitch open an mod it till the cows come home? Its the only way to live..."

    ...I get that perspective. But I come from a perspective that an amp that doesn't play nice with a stock HD650 won't play well with a "super-modded" one. I say get the amp right, then tweak the transduce to "season the steak"

    edit - spelling and BS grammar
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2018
  8. ButtUglyJeff

    ButtUglyJeff Stunningly beautiful IRL

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    Is that really the first post in a month? Aren't there 2 loaner amps floating around? Where are the flood of impressions?
     
  9. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    The stock tubes can suck. They need a lot of burn-in, a statement I usually roll my eyes at, and vary wildly from phat and bass heavy to thin and brittle depending on that, how long they've been left on each session, blah blah. It's utter tube nonsense. Decent gains, and greater sonic stabilization, to be had with NOS tubes, even just replacing the front pair for $5-15. Russian tubes are OK once you get a lot of hours on them and leave them on for about 30 mins to an hour each time you listen, but they do have their own kind of eccentricities. I can't speak for the condition of these tubes in any way, so maybe I'm totally wrong.

    In other words, I've heard all the things you did depending on how the stock tubes felt that day. It's a very moody amp. I remember hearing the same stuff on the NBM too, and even different Russian tubes included as backups sounded different. And it makes me feel like a crazy person admitting that sort of stuff. So I just left mine on for several hours a day for a long time until it would act reasonably on a semi-consistent basis. (Then I got different tubes for my own pleasure.)

    Could also be that my HD650 is highly modded in a particular fashion that plays well with the amp. Synergy is important in that regard. Then you have variations on how HD650s sound based on when they were made, blah blah.

    We hear what we hear, and it doesn't always line up with others for a billion reasons. Nature of the hobby.
     
  10. Ice-man

    Ice-man Friend

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    Seems that the loaners are moving rather slowly.
     
  11. ButtUglyJeff

    ButtUglyJeff Stunningly beautiful IRL

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    I get the whole tubes need time thing. I was at least smart enough to let the amp properly warm up (half hour to an hour) first. Well except when I first set it up. Also my Amethyst was cold too, at least at first. So many variables...

    Also I should say, if you hate the Jotenheim's staging, you'll love the ZDT Jr in that respect...
     
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  12. neogeosnk

    neogeosnk Friend

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    Is there a tube set that is being recommended for the amp that fixes the bass issue? GE 5654W was mentioned. Not a basshead but prefer some controlled slam in my amps.
     
  13. ButtUglyJeff

    ButtUglyJeff Stunningly beautiful IRL

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    Also I know this might be a big ask, but I'm super curious how this amp pairs with the Focal Clear.

    It might be tough to get loaners to line up.
     
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  14. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    @Hands did you connect this amp to your Focal Clear demo pair you had temporarily?
     
  15. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Yeah, I listened to the Clear from all my amps. With the tubes I used it was a decent pairing, but didn't change my overall thoughts of the Clear.
     
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  16. songmic

    songmic Gear cycler East Asia edition

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    I just wanna point out that the ZDT Jr./PMx2 is a surprisingly good combo. My initial impression of ZDT Jr. with orthos hasn't been entirely positive as stated in my review, but the PMx2 is a lot more sensitive than the HFMs (HEK V2, Code-X) I used. It's not the last word in transparency or resolution, nor does it have the tightest or hardest-hitting bass, but oh man, its treble presentation is really something to die for.

    No, I'm not talking about bright sparkly treble for you trebleheads out there. It is open and airy sounding with just the right amount of sparkle, without the slightest hint of being offensive or sibilant in any way. It is, in a word, the antithesis of HD800.

    Also, one of my gripes with the PMx2 was its relative lack of soundstage width and depth compared to some of the more technically competent headphones such as HD800/HEK V2/Code-X/Code-6. The ZDT Jr. really helps in this regard. With the PMx2, the soundstage still isn't as expansive as the others, but it's not overly diffuse, more focused, and most importantly, has an excellent depth.

    I know it's heresy, but for the PMx2, I actually prefer the ZDT Jr. to the far more expensive Liquid Glass. The LG is undoubtedly an ideal pairing with the Code-X, but the ZDT Jr. provides a far superior tonal balance with the PMx2 (perhaps one of the best I've ever heard), while the LG/PMx2 sounded a bit too laid-back. I don't know, I haven't experimented with that many tubes with the LG and my opinion may change depending on the tubes used. As for the ZDT Jr. I never rolled any aftermarket tubes and am using the stock ones only. I have a feeling that the Liquid Crimson may in fact be a better match for the PMx2 than the LG.

    So there you go, not all orthos are bad with the ZDT Jr. Bottom line, if you are a PMx2 owner, the ZDT Jr. is definitely worth an audition. It just sounds so right.
     
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  17. captkirk

    captkirk Khan's BFF

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    ZDTj #2 Impressions

    Chain: Mac Mini > Audirvana+ > [Gungnir Multibit (gen.5), Eitr/Modi Multibit] > ZDTj > [HD6XX-K, Atticus]

    Initially I started my listening with the 6XX and then once I had a general feel for the amp, moved to the Atticus. While both paired well, I found myself picking up the 6XX more often. Most of my impressions will relate to my experience using the Senn.

    The ZDTj sounds well balanced, with good emphasis on mid and treble performance, and bass being slightly less emphasized. Nothing objectionable in tonality, save if you place moderate importance on bass extension/presentation/clarity. I did find it a bit “distant” on some tracks, with hits being a little muffled, and texture a tad smeared (1). That said, I wasn’t overly put-off by its bass. I’d take it as it is, given the rest of the amps capabilities. Where this little guy comes alive is from the mids and up, with a focus on resolution and detail, dynamics and stage.

    The ZDTj resolution is impressive given its price. Details are distinct and clear, with gobs of air and dimension to the soundstage. Switching between the Modi Multibit and Gungnir Multibit, I could hear a marked improvement in stage, layering, extension, air, and slam. I wouldn’t say that the ZDTj sounds closed-in, but moving up-DAC seemed to open it up. Dynamics are also done well, with subtle volume changes with good contrast, good loud to soft macros (2) and little perceived compression. Slam was decent, though I’d want it to hit harder. Vocals are also quite good, with good presence (balanced, neither forward or laid-back) and sweet (3).

    What I especially liked was it’s sense of immersion. The ZDTj’s headstage is fairly neutral, with a sound decently wide with good depth and height. I definitely got the sense of a 3D space, which like the BW that I mostly compared it to, sounds genuine (4). Other amps in this price range I’ve tried just haven't been able to give me this sense of space, usually coming away sounding relatively flat, or artificially wide. The main attractant of this stage is the depth and the layering the ZDTj is pulling out; good with the Modi Multibit, and just bonkers with the Gungnir Multibit. These characteristics certainly live up to the EC nameplate.

    Overall the ZDTj is an impressive amp, and honestly gives my BW some serious competition. I mean serious. It’s tone and micro-dynamics are on par, and the amount of detail and air is strikingly good, with the ZDTj perhaps edging it out...maybe. It’s so close; and given it’s a third the price is just silly. But it does miss on bass and overall the BW is more open, has a wider, taller, and deeper stage. There’s more loud to soft contrast from the BW. It’s bigger, badder, faster and stronger. And it will drive everything. While my two headphones of choice are dynamics, I briefly tried Hand’s Aeon Closed loaner and it just sounded off.

    So strait up I’d say that I liked the amp. It was pleasing to listen to, paired well with both my headphones, scaled amazingly well given it’s modest price, and provided a soundstage beyond what I’ve experienced with sub $500 amps. That said, it didn’t behave without fault; and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, if I could only have one amp, it wouldn’t be my ideal solution.

    Some observations:

    • If you own a Senn dynamic or ZMF dynamic, and you want a musical and highly resolving amp for sub. $1000, buy the ZDTj and NOS tubes.
    • With how this amps scales, I’d suggest throwing as much DAC or source you can at it.
    • Look elsewhere if you need/want Mjolnir 2 slam, or run low impedance cans*.
    * The impedance options are nice, but the low impedance output just seemed flaccid, wasn't impressed. Be that as it may, my experience here was limited given my headphones, so YMMV.

    Listening references:

    1. Daft Punk’s Instant Crush and The Midnight’s Cystalline. Instant Crush has three solid drum hits mid track, that usually have some heft and slam, but presented a bit muffled; lacking definition and somewhat removed. Crystalline has that classic 80’s synthesized drum beat that just comes off a bit soft compared to the BW.
    2. M83’s Starwave (from Oblivion film), Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber, and Mumford and Son’s The Cave. Both Starwave and Adagio have a steady increase of volume, rising from soft to loud with smooth transitions, then fall, either quick or slow, with just as much quality. The Cave presents a dynamic and quick swing from soft to loud; excellent contrast.
    3. Katie Meluea’s I Will Be There and Julien Baker’s Rejoice. Both these singer’s have a tone and projection-of-voice that comes through splendidly with the ZDTj. Melua track provides a sweet sustained note, nuanced and captivating. Baker’s tone is saturated with a melancholy that the ZDTj recreates convincingly.
    4. The entire Cowboy Junkies Trinity Sessions album. Found this a while ago, and as a test of stage and imaging, there a few albums I’ve found thus far that can rival it. This acoustic recording centers a single mic in an old church, the band arranged around it. The sound of the venue and the interplay of the building, vocals and instruments are stunning. The ZDTj recreates this space incredibly well. Not as open as the BW, but not flat or narrow as I heard with my Magni3 and Jot.
     
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  18. JoshMorr

    JoshMorr Friend

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    Shout out to SBAF for including me on the ZDT Jr loaner and Massdrop for twisting arms and sticking with the idea that the Night Blues Mini amp should be more readily available to general population and putting those poor amp smugglers out of a job. I'm a big Eddie Current fan having owned a few of their amps, and wanted to see what this amp sounded like, even if it was mostly just "Eddie Current" in branding. I've been reading here about the Night Blues mini since someone dropped on in Marvs lap, but with just a small handful circulating around the US, never had the opportunity to hear what the hype was about. Even though I've come to enjoy top end gear popping in and out of my system, I do try and keep grounded and have always had a huge appreciation for good value products. I listen to KSC75, PortaPro, and CAL all the time, and truly believe that most gear has positive traits (but I've been proven wrong before - looking at you PS Audio Sprout and MicroZOTL).

    Mandatory feel/ fit / packaging comment: This thing is pretty compact and small all things considered - looks perfect for desktop use or for those with space concerns. Being deeper than it is wide takes up necessary free space and managed to squeeze it in my rack no problem. Amp runs fairly cool - its often thought that tube amps double as space heaters. ZDT Jr doesn't fall in that category. Not sure if this packaging is final but everything feels looks good. This is the first tube amp that I've gotten where the tubes are already installed. I do not think its a problem, just new to me. The boring big plastic knob is almost a EC trademark at this point and my affection for it has grown.

    Headphones used in test: HD660s, HD650 (modded), HD600, LCD4
    Source: Jriver -> RME PCI card w. coax out -> to Gungnir Multibit or Soekris DAC1541

    Started off with HD660s because it happened to have a 1/4" terminated cable on it. First thought was HOLY SHIT THIS SOUNDS LIKE A EDDIE CURRENT, how much does this cost? Big sound that I've associated with their other amps - the exotic stage that is the EC house sound. Stage or image was a bit weird upon further listening, certain tracks sounded a bit disjointed or unnatural, but it wasn't a major flaw and something I got used to pretty quickly. Maybe combo of HD660 / 650 3 blob image and how ZDT separates images, I dunno. 660 is a good match overall, tonally sounds how I would expect it to. Like a few others, I was expecting a warm and laid back smeared detail amp. NOPE. Also surprised about how much power this thing has - listening at 9:30 or so on low output. Didnt notice any channel imbalance at this level. Very pleasant listen - very engaging - easy to lose track of time. I don't get this same feeling with many amps, usually flaws point themselves out and distract me. Two quick downsides - one amp can get bogged down on some busier passages, and second - ZDT has rolled low end, bass sounds somewhat distant. This is true for all the OTLS I've tried, and while a tiny but better on this OTC, its only a bit better. Probably biggest difference I heard with this amp as OTC vs most OTLs is bump up in clarity and detail.

    Moved to HD800 - this continues to be my favorite headphone and my reference for detail. Still listening at roughly 9:30 position, plenty of headroom. This was my favorite headphone pairing with ZDT JR, even if the ZDT had less detail than other amps I was used to (as it should for the price point). The 800 had tighter bass than HD660/650/600 have, and while it didn't completely fix the looser bottom end of ZDT, it pushed it in the right direction. I agree with CuteJeff's opinion that the bass detail isn't great, but what it lacks there it certainly makes up for it in the mids / treble. Bass just never get to the point of slam or punch. Some slight roll off up top too, cymbals don't shimmer like the best that Ive tried. Detail certainly scaled up with this can - I always love hearing Thelonious Monk talking to himself in the background of songs. HD800 also seemed to sound better than 660 with the weird image I was trying to describe above, things sounded a bit more cohesive, but not 100% right. To wrap things up, I did most of my listening with HD800 and found this to be a very engaging and very very nice pair, even with my nit picking above and gripes only come up because I'm an ass who has spent a lot more to get slightly better.

    Quickly tried with a LCD4 that an associate loaned me. While I do like this headphone quite a bit - it required more juice than I was asking the poor little ZDT to output. It got loud enough, just sounded flat and a bit lifeless like it typically does when a planar isn't receiving enough current. Still had good image and stage, but bass dropped off considerably, dynamics were flattened out, headphone wasn't as snappy. Wasn't expecting a lot, but figured it was worth a shot with the hard to drive LCD4s.

    Since HD800 was better than 660s decided to try with HD650/HD600. HD650 seemed to exaggerate loose bass, hd600 was a slight tilt in the right direction. The more I listen to these two classic cans, the more I find hd600 fits my preferences with tube amps. Would hesitate to recommend either of these cans with the amp - but if I was trying to match a can to the amp (transducers first kids), I would say the leaner hd600 gets the nod.

    GE Jan 5654 vs stock tubes. @Gaspasser was a hero and express mailed some tubes to compare to the stock ones provided. I felt the 5654 was a step in the right direction in most areas. I didn't do a ton of a/b-ing back and forth, but I could tell immediately bass was more extended and more detailed than with the stock tubes. This might have helped with the stage issue mentioned above, but honestly I was so lost in music I wasn't going back and forth a hundred times. I switched the GE's in pretty early and the above impressions are all with the GE's installed. These tubes make everything 20% betterer, not 50-80% like Dragon Inspire IHA1 that has mandatory needs and have to spend a small fortune to get good tubes. Tube rolling nervosa shouldn't play a huge part of owning this amp, get the cheapish GEs, forget and enjoy.

    Soekris dac swap in - Got this back from a quick loan to some other associates on my last day with the ZDT, so 80% of listening was through Gungnir Multibit. I keep saying this and sound like a record with a fixed inner groove, but the cleaner bass of the 1541 helped out the low end on ZDT Jr. I'm beginning to think that while the ZDT itself isn't overly warm, that tighter leaner gear is a good pairing here. I found myself losing another night revisiting favorites rather than trying to discern transients, plankton or blackground.

    Conclusion - I like this amp a lot. For whatever massdrop is selling this for its a great value. Does it have supreme bass? Nope. Is it a end all be all resolution monster? Not quite. Does it sound as good or better than most other tube amps I've heard under or around the $1000 price range? Yup. Talking with a few other associates the "Psalm-like" analogy I could come up with was if Bottlehead Crack + SB had a baby with Valhalla2, but that baby was evil and ate its parents after child birth. Best traits of crack are tone, best traits of Valh2 are neutral detail. ZDT Jr retained genes where parents gave it a flat butt, but ZDT Jr would be my recommendation as a upgrade to either. I also liked this MUCH MUCH more than the Feiks audio $1200 loaner I got a few months ago. I think this amp is a really solid value and a good taste of what a real tube amp sounds like for those who aren't familiar. Nice work to Massdrop, EC and their comrads in the motherland.
     
    klyrish, Bkido, sheldaze and 27 others like this.
  19. Arun Kumar

    Arun Kumar Friend

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    @JoshMorr Nice write up. I am guess the review was done with the GE tubes and stock was just used as a reference.
     
  20. JoshMorr

    JoshMorr Friend

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    I used the stock tubes for a few hours, then stuck in the GE's. Impressions with each can are with GE's
     

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