Shortest Way 51 Amp Impressions (Only)

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by Koth Ganesh, Sep 28, 2019.

  1. Koth Ganesh

    Koth Ganesh Friend

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    Heeding the suggestions of @MisterRogers and @Hands, this thread should be used for impressions only on the production version of the Shortest Way 51(SW 51) amplifier made by @Zampotech.

    I ordered the SW 51+ version of the amplifier ("Shortest Way+" Model with improved transformers and potentiometers ALPS RK27). The tubes are the stock 6Z51P tubes. When I received it on Thursday, I initially started listening to the amp in the following chain:

    Macbook Air playing Tidal Hi-Fi-> Eitr -> Gungnir MB A1 (balanced) -> Jensen Iso-max (4:1) -> SW 51+. My only genre is rock music. The HP used was the Focal Utopia through the high impedance out.

    Right away, I was struck with how clear the sound was. For me, tone was spot on and the overwhelming thought was that this did not sound like a tube amp at all. It was quick and tight sounding. Bass was a touch on the leaner side; to me this is more mid-centric (you should really listen to Steve Winwood). The top end was slightly rolled off, giving the mids more presence I suppose. The resolution is very good with all details that I am used to in my tracks coming through. Stage is on the smaller side (Utopia does not help here). Most definitely 3-D sounding with vocals seeming to come from above my head. I noted @Hands rolling different tubes and just reading his impressions, I think I will be sticking with the stock tubes for now anyway.

    On Saturday, I switched to my A-team of equipment:

    Mac Mini (playing Tidal Hi-Fi) -> Convert 2 -> Jensen Iso-max (1:1) -> SW 51+ with Utopia and the Elex as the HPs. My a-ha moment. The 4:1 trafo had me jacking up the volume pot to 12 o'clock. Now, I'm between 9-10 (it gets loud at/after 10 for me). Also a shameless plug for the Convert 2. If you have 2 grand plus to spend on a DAC, look no further.

    Incrementally, the SW 51+ sounds more SS than tube (which is fine in my books). If I want tube warmth and a bit(or lot) of bloom, I have the BH Crack and a SET amp. The low-end has more heft and the quality is good, tight bass with fast decay. if anything, the mids are a bit more fleshed out but if the concern that they are too forward, they are not. The treble has improved a hair more with the high hats more prominent. Needless to say, resolution is incrementally better; however stage is about the same. Tonality is spot-on for me. Guitars are crunchy, the sound of the slide guitar played by George Harrison is just fluid and effortless.

    Finally, in terms of HP preferences with this amp, I use dynamic HPs mostly (Focal open backs, HD 600,650 modded) with occasional forays into planars (Verum 1, HE 6). I preferred the Focals out of the high impedance output, more than the HD 600 which is my favorite actually.

    In conclusion, the SW 51+ is a tube amp with more SS qualities, clean tight sound, spot on tonality, good resolution (with smaller stage) and keeping you immersed in the music. Nice to hear very good music being reproduced at a great price point.

    I want to thank and congratulate @Zampotech for his efforts and @Hands for writing about in the first place that perked my interest. Finally, if the mods want to merge this write up with the original thread, please feel free to do so.

    Add:

    Tracks/albums I listened to:

    Beatles - Abbey Road (new release), Let It Be (naked)
    Pink Floyd - DSOTM, Wish you were Here, Wall
    Wishbone Ash - Blue Horizon
    Deep Purple - Machine Head, In Rock, Perfect Strangers
    Dire Straits - Money for Nothing, Love over Gold
    Eric Clapton - Just Another Night (Live)
    George Harrison - Let it Roll
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2019
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  2. gixxerwimp

    gixxerwimp Professional tricycle rider

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    I'm finding the bass to be quite full sounding, and the mids not particularly pronounced. But I've been listening mostly to NBM (ZDT Jr) with Clears lately, with it's loose and rolled off bass and forward tendency.

    I guess the 6x diff in impedance of the Clear vs. 3-4x of Utopia results in too much bass boost for me from the high Z output. The overall FR of the SW51's low Z output is just right for me with Clears. Haven't listened to HD650 yet.

    Stage: MCTH > NBM > SW51. But good center image and layering.

    Fully agree.

    From what @Hands said in his OP, the Mullards(RCA) looked good so I have some incoming, as well as a couple of other random compatible pairs the eBay seller had: CGE(Toshiba), Westinghouse(Matsushita).
     
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  3. Ksaurav402

    Ksaurav402 Friend

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    I feel one of the strength of ZDT jr is the holographic soundstaging
    @gixxerwimp , since you have both the amp could you tell if both amp have similar soundstaging and layering. If it could produce similar performance with tight bass then we have a winner at this price point.
     
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  4. bilboda

    bilboda Friend

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    I am finding this to sound quite lovely with the Verum one and it's sub 8 ohm impedance. The Verite also plays well. I will compare to phonitor e and LNBM (ZDT Jr in another life) but going from memory, the LNMB will not be able to compete and may hit the trading blocks
     
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  5. gixxerwimp

    gixxerwimp Professional tricycle rider

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    The tubes I ordered came in early and I had a brief hour or so to give the Mullard RCAs a quick listen. Could be new toy syndrome and all that, but everything good about the amp seems enhanced. Stage, imaging, dynamics, bass depth/punch. Treble is more clear and less rolled off.

    Leaving town for almost two weeks, so more toobrolling impressions will have
    to wait. Almost want to bring BF2 and SW51+ with me... LOL

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/2-MULLARD-...H-PLATE-TUBES-GT-BRITAIN-TESTED-/264415925549

    PS. Are all British toobs Mullards? They're stamped Made in Britain. Noob question, sorry.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2019
  6. MisterRogers

    MisterRogers Friend

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    No (Ediswan, etc), nor are all Mullards British made (EL 84, etc.). Yours is though. Nice tube.
     
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  7. FatCat

    FatCat Rando

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    I wont be getting the SW51+ for probably another few weeks, but I just picked up some Amprex Zeniths to roll. I have little experience with tubes and tube rolling but I hope my impressions can still be somewhat valuable.
     
  8. bilboda

    bilboda Friend

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    The stock tubes aree no slouches, listening to Planets by Isao Tomita with Verite and I have no complaints.. I do have a mismtched Amperex pair that are both nos to try but that's it. I'll let others post about any tube differences before I commit to more than $7 to a new matched pair (ebay bucks can be useful)
     
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  9. obsiCO

    obsiCO Thai Fish Experiment Gone Wrong

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    I've been living with SW51+ for almost a week. So far my impression on this amp has been very positive! Frankly, I came in just wishing to support a fellow SBAF member on their cool project and expecting only a minor upgrade (if not sidegrade) sonically to my current setup. Turns out that's not the case for me -- SW51+ is the best amp I've ever owned for HD650K.

    Here are my early impressions:
    • Clarity is superb and is the first thing that struck me about the amp. So clean, clear, and crisp unlike anything I've heard before at this price point. (Again, might just be my lack of experience here.) The sound seems to pop out from utter darkness.
    • Surprising dynamic swings. Jotunheim is a very capable amp in terms of macrodynamic but it has never flat out spooked me like how SW51+ can. Not sure why. Definitely sounds well-extended on both ends.
    • Just as @Koth Ganesh said above, SW51+ sounds more like a solid-state amp with, if I may add, no SS bullshit. Fast, exciting, lively -- zero SS/hybrid glare.
    • I would say it's neutral-sounding with a hint of sweetness, though low-end is just a little tiny bit lean. Not as lean as MCTH or Jot. With HD650K, it's the closest to Andro+ZX2 combo in terms of tonality to my ears.
    • Great resolution and excellent micro detail. Coupled with its great clarity, it has never been this easy for me to dig into the finer details in the music.
    • I feel like Modi Multibit is holding it back. Time to save up for Beefroast Episode 2 :(
    Minor nitpicks:
    • Does not play well with Verum 1, or maybe any planar in general, although that's to be expected. Made Verum 1 sound dull. Clips like mad, too.
    • Stage is on a smaller side compared to MCTH, Jot, and even ZX300. Good depth and great layering to make up for it, however.
    • Lightning fast decay, though not as fast as Jot. Wish it was a touch longer for my tastes.

    To sum it up, SW51+ is the most "normal" amp I've owned. Jot may drive me crazy with its harshness after some time; MCTH may annoy me at times with splashy treble, grayness, and lack of extension on both ends. SW51+, however, keeps me engaged in the music with zero annoyance. I know this amp is something special when I keep listening and listening for hours every day well into the night. This may be but a gateway to what a good tube amp can do but I don't feel like I'm missing out much at all. Great work @Zampotech !
     
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  10. bilboda

    bilboda Friend

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    Listening to the Verum One now.

    Having listened to rock and roll loud for most on my life I had turned up the SW51+ to a customary loudness level and found distortion and unpleasantness from just about any music.
    Have been listening for days at a lower volume level and in in may ways I am hearing it for the first time.

    Granted my chain is likely better than it's ever been but I have found that reducing the volume to a listenable level gives me wide, articulate, clear and sweet sounding music from any genre.
    Even Marilyn Manson, Incubus, Metallica, and Korn from Spawn The Album.
    The guitar distortion is all there but the speaker distortion is not. Soundstage is marvelous and wide Not sure how much depth is in these studio tracks but instruments are distinct and well spaced and located. Bass impact may be light, I really don't know these songs, but it is articulate.
    This is not my usual music, never got much out of it. Sounds quite nice now.
    Gonna have to re-evaluate how I listen to music.

    I have some notes from a playlist but I need to spend some more time listening and comparing to phonitor e and LNMB.
     
  11. famish99

    famish99 Friend

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    Now that the new toy syndrome has worn off a bit, it feels like a good time to post some informal impressions. I largely agree with what @Koth Ganesh and @gixxerwimp have said, but here's my take on it.

    I tried to review this as much as I could off of my modded 6xx, but I ultimately enjoyed the synergy the amp had with the Clear significantly more (out of the high-Z output surprisingly) despite usually preferring the 6xx over the Clear on my Af. This may be because 6xx felt a bit more rolled off at the extremes than usual, but the bass extension with the Clear was fantastic. Tonality/FR is fairly neutral with the Clear on low-Z, but high-Z gives it a nice bass boost for the kind of music I usually listen to.

    Colorwise, the amp sounds a bit lean on the stock tube, but with the Amperex (Holland) EF184, the amp had a much fuller sound and tighter bass (I spent about half of my listening time on the stock tubes). From @Hands's initial impressions I was concerned about the macrodynamics since I love slam, but it didn't end up being an issue at all. It's certainly less slam than a Jot and the Af, but not as big of a downgrade as say going from a Gungnir Multibit to a Modi 3. Microdynamics are definitely up there with some of the best I've heard which makes guitars and other string instruments really come to life. It's also quite impressive how well the SW51 handles complex material; it's never sounded congested. Plankton is pretty good about the level of a Liquid Platinum.

    Can't thank @Zampotech enough, the SW51 sounds amazing and is nice and "small", which gives me a great work setup!
     
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  12. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Can someone post pictures? It would seem that this amp is ideal for something between Drop ZDT Jr. and DNA/EC big boy tube amps.
     
  13. bilboda

    bilboda Friend

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    candidates_edited.jpg
     
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  14. gixxerwimp

    gixxerwimp Professional tricycle rider

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    This. I can see how some would enjoy the mid
    bass lift from the high* Z output.

    *edit

    Same for me with RCA Mullard.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2019 at 11:36 AM
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  15. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    Measurements after hours:
    DSC_0257_small.jpg

    Damn fine listening!

    Interesting facts:
    Sennheiser HD800 from Germany, modified in Seattle USA
    SW51+ from Moscow Russia
    bifrost-2 from California USA
    Goldpoint from California USA
    HeSy headphone stand from Czech Republic
    Prism Sound dScope from UK (England in particular)
    Mark Ryan Crazy Mary Mourvedre wine from eastern Washington USA
    Music by musicians from every corner of the earth
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2019 at 10:18 PM
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  16. Ash1412

    Ash1412 Friend

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    Does the Shortest Way have feet so I can stack them on my Bifrost 2? If not where do I get that cool looking mat on top of yours
     
  17. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    Shortest Way 51 has feet, but I prefer to use a vibration damping mat when stacking components. That cool looking mat is a Belkin 8 x 9 inch mouse pad:
    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00006HTZ0/
    This extra special audiophile damping mat is a over-the-top $5.00 US. :D
     
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  18. joch

    joch Friend

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    Any tasting notes?
     
  19. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    Red Mountain grapes from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard. Like the sw51+ delivers powerful flavor; dark fruit, pepper, herbs with tannins worthy of aging and yet approachable now. Bouquet invites one to enjoy before sipping and finish so well balanced as to desire lingering on the palate. Top flight representation of Mourvedre.
     
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  20. Ulises

    Ulises Friend

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    Thanks to all for your impressions. I've been listening for over a week and wanted to share my enthusiasm for the Shortest Way.

    Overall: Excellent value, solidly built; an addictive amp that lends itself to intimate, prolonged listening sessions. Not as assertive as Jotunheim or as referency as Gilmour Lite Mk2, but has quickly become my go-to for dynamic headphones. As others have mentioned, it does wonders for the HD650. I also prefer it on most occasions for Aeolus and TH-X00. This project represents, imho, a compelling new model of small-batch product development that is far more fun and less fraught than more expansive crowd-sourcing. In other words, bravo @Zampotech

    Setup notes: I have the + version. I'm using Brazil-made NOS Philips Miniwatts puchased from the venerable Vacuum Tube Supply shop here in Denver. Listening was done in my home office setup, using Roon and an Onkyo 7030 through a Bifrost 2 with the headphones mentioned above.

    Build: Amp is hefty and pleasing to look at and operate. I love the solid thwack of the power switch and the feel of the volume knob. Minor quibble: wish the leds lighting the tubes were amber to match the power indicator, but no big thing at any distance. To me, runs very quiet for a tube amp.

    Some listening impressions and things I've noticed:

    -As others have said, the level of slam is surprising for a tube amp. I've been listening a lot to the Brittany Howard album Jamie. On "He Loves Me" there's a huge drum sound. Switching back and forth between the SW and Jotunheim, there isn't much loss of heft and the SW feels more tactile and visceral to me.

    -To me, this amp's greatest quality is in its ability to invite deeper/ closer listening to subtle qualities of what you're listening to. In direct comparison to the Jotunheim across a range of music, I notice that the Jot seems to pick which parts of the song to showcase, sometimes at the expense of others. For example, in the Express Rising song "Memorabilia" there is a soft, acoustic strum in the song that almost recedes to nothing on the Jot but emerges on an even playing field on the SW. While the prominent parts of this song (and others) aren't as big, I often prefer the SW presentation: it draws you in and invites you to discover nuance vs. dictating what you should pay attention to.

    -This quality often comes to mind with vocals—they recede further in the mix versus automatically becoming the most prominent part of it. Somewhat paradoxically, I find with singer/songwriter-type material such as the Julia Jacklin album "Crushing," the performances are more human and affecting because of this.

    - But it's not just about making vocals more human. While I enjoy the fireworks of listening to electronic music with Jot and LCD 2.2s, switching back to the SW with something like the Aeolus takes you out of the machine and ups the tactile feel of even cold and artificial-sounding music.

    -In thinking about it, the combination of these elements explains why I enjoy jazz so much on this amp....you can better perceive the work of the players to turn chaos into order. This morning's listen to Lee Morgan's "Search For New Land," has been epic.

    Thanks for your creation, @Zampotech and those on the forum like @Hands who brought this project to fruition.

    BvP8N5g - Imgur.jpg
     

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