Quicksilver Audio Headphone Amplifier

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by snatex, Feb 25, 2021.

  1. snatex

    snatex Facebook Friend

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    A few members asked me to post impressions of my new amplifier. I am not the most seasoned reviewer but I will do my best to convey something useful and interesting.

    I don't have a ton of experience with tube amps. I have always stuck with solid state in my 2 channel (Linn) and headphone rigs until very recently. A couple of years ago I started getting into this headphone hobby and have gone through the following progressions in my chain:

    HP: HD600, HD58X, Amiron Home, DT1990, Elex, Quad Era-1, LCD2, Arya, Verite, LCD4, Ananda, Aeolus
    Source/DAC: Meridian Explorer2, SOtM sMS-200, Mac Mini, V850, Qutest, A18, Codex, Bitfrost2, Linn Sekrit
    Amps: V280, H16, Lyr3, Quicksilver Audio

    I also had ZMF Pendant for a day but there were issues with it so I could not get a great feel for its capabilities. I had the MacMini/Qutest/V280/LCD4 chain for the longest period of time. If you have any questions about any of the gear above feel free to ask.

    When I decided to sell my LCD4 and switch to the Aeolus as my primary driver I figured it would be a good time to explore tube amplification. I had heard that tubes had great synergies with the ZMF line. One amp that intrigued me was the Decware Zen Triode OTL. I took advantage of the Black Friday Sale and ordered one. The only hitch is that they have about a 6 month backlog of orders. I figured I would get another tube amp in the meantime and sell one after comparing them. I first picked up a used ZMF Pendant but one tube socket was loose and the amp was noisy so I gave it back. Then I ordered a used HA2SE that got damaged during shipping. I bought a new Lyr3 and thought it was ok but decided to send it back before the trial period expired. Finally, after reading a bunch of positive feedback I decided to order the Quicksilver Audio Headphone Amp. I had considered it earlier but was not crazy about the aesthetics. As more positive comments poured in, I decided that it was good enough looking to try.

    Quicksilver manufactures these amps in Stockton, CA and have been in business since 1981. Mike Sanders, the owner and founder, personally tests each product to ensure it is performing optimally before it leaves the factory. Quicksilver Audio’s transformers are custom built to his specifications. The amps come with a 3 year parts and labor warranty.

    The Quicksilver Headphone Amp is a transformer coupled single ended class A triode using (2) 12AX7 and (2)
    6BQ5 tubes. It has one single ended input and one single ended output. It retails for $998. I ordered it directly from Mike and received it within one week of ordering it. The amp and tubes were packaged nicely. Aesthetically it looks much better in person than it does in photos. It seems like it is build very well.

    I have spent a few weeks breaking it in and getting acclimated to how it sounds. Even though the Pendant I tried had some issues, I immediately noticed an energy or feeling that I didn't get from my V280. The V280 is a great, powerful amp but can sometimes be little tame in the treble. It also has images well but gives a somewhat distant presentation. There is a something very organic and live sounding that tube amps seem to be able to impart. I felt the Lyr3 only gave a small taste of that special sauce. This is probably due to the fact that it is a hybrid amp. The Quicksilver immediately impressed me with its sense of space, power, and that magical sound that instruments and voices can make.

    Power - I typically have the volume pot between 10-11 if it was a clock. The Aeolus are fairly easy to drive but it seems like this amp has enough power for just about anything out there. Additionally, the speed and power of the music is great. I am not missing the outstanding bass response on the V280.

    Soundstage - The different parts of the band have nice spacing and there is a nice height and width to the soundstage. It definitely has bigger soundstage than the Lyr3 or the V280. The Aeolus is not a soundstage monster so I feel like the Quicksilver is maximizing its abilities. I felt the Arya had an abnormally large soundstage that at first was impressive but ultimately sounded like a parlor trick. It didn't sound realistic.

    Sound - The Quicksilver/ZMF Aeolus combo is leaps and bounds better in timbre than anything else I have owned. Guitar plucks give goosebumps. Vocals are pure and are not too far or close in the mix. You can feel the weight and textures on the piano and drum strikes. There is some sort of subtle reverb in everything that gives an energy and live feeling to the music that makes it more fun and interesting. Ultimately, it is incredibly balanced and puts a smile on my face when I listen to music.

    Outlook - I've been so impressed by the Quicksilver that I considered cancelling my Decware order but ultimately decided to let it ride. I will give both a shot when the Decware arrives. Im curious to see how an OTL and a SET amp differ.

    Let me know if there is anything I didn't cover that you want answered.
     
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    Last edited: Feb 26, 2021
  2. YtseJammer

    YtseJammer Almost "Made"

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    Thanks for the great review ;)
     
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  3. Darkstar1

    Darkstar1 Acquaintance

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    Thanks for the Review. I had been looking at possibly getting this unit just to give me a tube amp beyond the Vali. I run the V281 with the Vioelectric DAC and am very happy but I still like to play with gear.

    Any more compare and contrast with the V280 would be very much appreciated.
     
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  4. Pharmaboy

    Pharmaboy Friend

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    Outstanding!

    If you look you'll find some positive comments about this amp, but few take the time to drill into the details as you did here.
     
  5. snatex

    snatex Facebook Friend

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    I think the strengths of the V280 are:

    1) its ability to drive even the most power hungry headphones to their maximum ability
    2) build quality and premium feel of volume pot
    3) black background, great imaging and extremely dynamic and detailed bass response
    4) smooth quality that is rare in SS that can help tame treble or other harshness issues in chain

    The Quicksilver adds some tube flavor and energy to the music that works very well with the ZMF Aeolus and makes it a bit more fun and interesting while still keeping everything balanced.
     
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  6. Pharmaboy

    Pharmaboy Friend

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    I have the V281 and couldn't agree more with your characterizations of the V280 (which is basically a V281 sans preamp section and w/a somewhat different P.S.). I get spectacular results with high impedance headphones on it (VO, VC, Aeolus, Eikon, HD650).

    Though the Violectric amp is top-of-the-hill for SS (I have multiple other SS amps to compare it to here), there is still upside with a good tube amp. I own a nice little OTL that sounds way better than the price tag would suggest, especially after tube rolling (Woo WA3); and for a time last year, I had the big, transformer-coupled WA22. Tubes definitely bring something different to headphones.

    I really want to have both SS & tube amps. That's the only way I can make sense of the differences & not feel like I'm missing things...
     
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  7. ckhirnigs

    ckhirnigs Rando

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    I’m sure I’m not the only one that would like to see a comparison between the Quicksilver and the venerable SW51+. The only thing that has kept me from getting the Quicksilver is the fact that I still have an SW51+ on order. Both of these amps seem to offer great value for the price. I’m not sure if the SW51+ can be topped in this category though.
     
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  8. Darkstar1

    Darkstar1 Acquaintance

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    No you are not. I want to put an order in for SW51 but I keep on wondering if I should go big and be done with it. Knowing myself that is where this is headed anyway. I am sure its a killer amp but will I just say yes love it great value but I want more.

    These are fun "problems" to have.
     
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  9. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    You are talking about the model CSP3 right? The Zen Triode OTL preamp?

    When comparing, one huge thing to be aware of when comparing is that the OTLs will have higher output impedance. The means a bass boost for dynamic headphones which have an impedance peak in the bass where the driver's resonant frequency lies. The lower the nominal impedance of the headphone, the greater the effect. With your varied headphone collection, you will be very different results from the OTL.

    Anyway, looking forward to the comparison. There has been a request to use SBAF funds on a Zen amp. I may opt for the transformer coupled SE84UFO2 version and use a speaker tap to headphone adapter.

    Quick note with respect to #2. It's the hefty volume knob, not the pot. Unless I am mistaken, it looks like a run of the mill Alps. High mass and size of the pot imparts most of the feel of a pot, unless it's a switcher. Seriously, we can put an awesome big knob on cheapass pots found on JDS Atom, and it will feel wonderful - that is if the tupperware chassis doesn't flip over.
     
  10. ckhirnigs

    ckhirnigs Rando

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    I guess my question is whether the Quicksilver qualifies as "going big." Right now, all I know is people who own it seem to like it, and it is more expensive than the SW51. The jury is out on whether it is actually better. The good thing about this place is that there are many members that have used the really high-end stuff, so they have a better perspective than someone like me who has never even owned a tube amp before.
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2021
  11. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    There is always bigger. Going big is relative.

    Lower distortion driver tubes, true triodes instead of pentodes strapped as triodes, directly heated triodes, exotic unobtanium tubes like vintage PX4, and of course output transformers and coupling caps (or interstage transformers). Even the DNA Stellaris does not use the best Audio Note output transformers despite most of the cost of the amp going to them.
     
  12. snatex

    snatex Facebook Friend

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    Yes

    The headphones I listed above have been my progression. I only have the Aeolus now.

    I will definitely post my thoughts when it arrives. Hoping it comes soon.

    I have the V280 with the smaller knob. It has the ALPS RK27 high-grade volume control. It is a stepped attenuator and feels great.
     
  13. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    What's important is that it feels great.

    However, the RK27s aren't steppers, are rather inexpensive, and quite common (The bargain-basment $199 Magnius has a 4-gang version of this pot). Contrary to common belief and fancy name "blue velvet" they are not high-grade pots. I'd consider Penny-Giles and TKD as high grade pots.
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2021
  14. snatex

    snatex Facebook Friend

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    I'm not an expert on the terminology. I thought if it "clicks" into place on each turn it is stepped. Is that not right? Maybe mine has an upgraded pot and I didn't know it?
     
  15. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    There are chinese knock-offs that built steppers into the RK27 clone package. :) They actually are not bad, except the taper may not be log / audio.
     
  16. Darkstar1

    Darkstar1 Acquaintance

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    No I would not call the quicksilver going big personally. I always liked the brand based on positive reviews on their 2 channel gear. It was always said to be good bang for the buck but I never got to hear any of it. Quicksilver is made in the USA so its very possible that the 5W51 plays in the same league for less. I just almost want to jump to the Mid to high tube stuff. I have tended to only like 2 channel tube gear when the price starts higher. Before that I tend to like good SS better.
     
  17. roughroad

    roughroad formerly mephisto56, Rando

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    Caveat: I have personally never listened to a HP system with a DNA amp. The following characteristic used below is taken from reading a fair number of DNA amplifier reviews on SBAF.

    @snatex, on the Quicksilver HPA, would you descibe it as being incisive in its attacks vs. the slightly rounded attacks of the DNA amps?
     
  18. dBel84

    dBel84 Friend

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    I am a huge fan of push-pull EL84 ( EDIT - this amp is SE ... ) , Ignore ----- curious if this amp runs the tubes in ultralinear, triode strapped or just normal plate loaded with feedback . I SHOULD have DONE some reading BEFORE POSTING :D

    and digging to do ..dB


    A neat looking circuit on Tube Cad

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2021
  19. snatex

    snatex Facebook Friend

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    I have not listened to a DNA amp either so that is tough for me to answer.
     
  20. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    Great review @snatex and I see that you roll with Forza's cables. How are they working out for you?

    ---

    Also, can anyone explain to me how to like a post these days? Thanks!
     
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