SuperBAF Cheap Tube Amp Guide ~$1200 or less

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by purr1n, Sep 13, 2016.

  1. k1arg

    k1arg Facebook Friend

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    Indeed. I've had good experience cutting hum with an ATL HiFi DC blocker.
     
  2. TheIceman93

    TheIceman93 El pato-zorro

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    I asked Jason at The Source AV about this. He contacted Cayin about it and they said the design flaw has been corrected and the international packaging improved to avoid the problem going forward. The Source has one to demo in shop if you are interested. He says it pairs nicely with the Eikon. @gbeast has one currently for his earphiles review. I might head down to Source at some point during the week to give it a listen.
     
  3. MattRG

    MattRG Facebook Friend

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    I would be interested to know if there's any hum or noise created from the 220 - 110v step up transformer. Especially after the comments from Cayin about needing power regeneration after the step up process. Either way, the Cayin is a classy looking amp and one I would like to hear more impressions on.
     
  4. TheIceman93

    TheIceman93 El pato-zorro

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    So I had a chance to listen to it for an hour today at Source AV with the Eikon, HD650 and Elear. It has a very pleasant tonality. Detail is good, staging is pretty decent as well, good width, a little less depth but more than a Jot for sure. It is very very powerful. The impedance tuning dial is pretty much useless, all it did was raise the noise floor to annoying levels, keep it on the lowest setting.

    I really liked it actually. Jason is selling them for $800 from now till the end of June (pretty sure) which is $200 less than anywhere else. I am tempted but my only concern is the hum which was noticeably higher than the Ampandsound Kenzie they also had. The hum didn't really bleed into the track but you could pick it up ever so slightly in the quieter parts of a song. It could have been caused by the sorta crap stock 12AU7's or it is transformer hum which would be more problematic. Anyways, I do like it but I do wonder about the quality of the transformers. Based on the Headfi thread, it sound like some units hum more than others. Its luck of the draw I guess. For me though, I think I'm going to save my pennies for the Kenzie or the upcoming Cavalli hybrid which will go for $1300 for the single ended version. Anyways, I enjoyed speaking with Jason. If you haven't been to Source in LA, its pretty much the only place in town (besides the Schittr) where you can properly demo headphones and amps. I really had to avoid listening to the mega flagship stuff.
     
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  5. Jerry

    Jerry Friend

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    Anyone ever compared Laconic NBM vs maxed-out ECP Torpedo 3?

    Budget is rather tight these days. The NBM is a lot cheaper and wondering if it is on the same league as the T3.
     
  6. Melvillian

    Melvillian Friend

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  7. wadi

    wadi Rando

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    I was one of those people who was having hum issue. After some tube rolling i decided that it was the tubes making the hum. Using a pair of ECC802s instead of 12AU7s solved hum and hissing completely with HD650. There is very very slight hiss with HD800 which i really don't care. It might be solved by rerolling to more expensive 12au7s such as Mullard 8136 or Amperex 7316.

    Ha-1a mk2 has a sweet and slightly warm sound signature. It has really great control over drivers. When a sub bass heavy song is playing 650s sound like i am wearing a LCD-2 amplified by a good, powerfull solid state.
     
  8. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    A tricked out T3 is way better in the bass, cleaner, tighter, more articulate. T3 is more dynamic and cleaner with wider stage. The NBM is better in the highs, smoother, better timbre. ZDTj / NBM v2 is a bit cleaner and wtih GE tubes just as resolving, but bass and dynamics still isn't as good at the T3. Hard to say with T3 because there is a lot that you can do to it with or not to do it.
     
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  9. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    I've recently finally jumped into the world of tube amps, enjoying my ride so far for sure. To gain some well needed experience, I acquired Valhalla 2 and Sunrise III (incl. LPS) amplifiers... and used them for several months. Long story short, both are appreciated but the sense of effortlessness and depth experienced with Valhalla 2 just completely steals the game for me compared to the more to-the-ground Sunrise III. I basically still hear something SS-like in Sunrise III's character that makes the headamp lack in sound layering, sense of air and ultimate fluency. (Sunrise III, on the other hand, is considerably better in bass depth and linearity. And it also offers more focused/grounded mids compared to the more spacious/airier presentation of Valhalla 2.)

    Anyway, with Sylvania 6CG7 tubes, i like pretty much everything about Valhalla 2 except for the lack of ultimate bass depth and heft. I mean - it is definitely passable but it could clearly be improved upon. Schiit Modi MB and my love for planar magnetics of course does not help much either.

    My question for you guys: Is there any reasonable way how to step up my game with full tube (non-hybrid) amps without breaking the bank (spending thousands of dollars)? Is second-hand EC S7 (probably near-impossible to find in Europe) the only viable option for achieving better bass with high to medium efficiency orthos while keeping the qualities admired on Valhalla 2 intact?

    Thanks for anything helpful!

    (Ive decided to post here due to my short comparison of Val2 and Sunrise III that could be helpful to someone - feel free to ask if more details are wanted! Apart from that, I am also planning to upgrade to Bifrost or Gungnir MB sometime in the future, once it is clear what path Bifrost MB is destined for in upcoming two years or so. :) )
     
  10. k4rstar

    k4rstar Done his time

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    The hard truth is this is not easy at all. I have been personally looking for a straight upgrade (i.e. an improvement in several areas while not trading off other strengths) from the Valhalla 2 for the better part of a year. After considering (and trying) several side-grades, I ended up spending 10 times the price of the Valhalla 2 ordering an EC Aficionado. Back on Changstar, Marv had half-joked that Schiit had made an EC amp for $350. I guess he wasn't wrong, as I can't really think of anything else that does what the Valhalla 2 does well for under $1000 (perhaps now the ZDT Jr?). The $1000-2000 delta is possibly even more barren, with now out-of-production amps from yesteryear being the greatest value in this space.

    You have already mentioned where this amp ultimately falls short. It lacks dynamics and balls; is slightly lean and tends towards a sandy/grainy character in the presence region and treble regardless of tubes used. For a tube amplifier to handle the type of load an ortho-dynamic headphone presents, you are pretty much looking at hybrid and output transformer coupled designs. Hybrids (generally) despite their low output impedance and high current delivery into difficult loads sacrifice ultimate purity and air to even cheaper SET amps like the Valhalla. OTC amplifiers that do bass well (i.e. higher quality transformers with less low frequency roll-off, distortion and phase shift) cost $$$. Time to start saving. Daily checks on classifieds for used EC, DNA, ECP, Cavalli amps are your best bet in the meantime.
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2018
  11. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    ZDT Jr and Valhalla 2 do different things well. Primarily on the former, you'll be sacrificing on staging and air, but gaining in timbre and thickness. I strongly prefer the ZDT Jr or even the Vali 2 to the Valhalla 2, but I know others will strongly disagree.

    Once you're at a starting point like the Valhalla 2 or ZDT Jr, it really is just best to keep saving until you can afford something like the Aficionado. Though you may find temporary comfort in another budget amp if its particular strengths play more to your tastes.
     
  12. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    Disclaimer for clarification: I have never ever expected to like Valhalla 2 - based on what people were reporting about the amp, I actually developed a rather negative view on it. It was just after an accidental audition that I left the shop amazed how fluid and effortless it sounded compared to anything else Ive heard till the point. It was just so much better subjectively than Vali 2 Ive owned before. And it also beats Sunrise III for me due to very similar reasons, as described before already. Thats why I feel full tube amps are the way to go for me.

    Even though I agree Valhalla 2 has a tendency for sounding slightly lean and slightly sandy (or greyish), Sylvania 6CG7 tubes helped to mitigate this to the point I do not find it to be an issue at all, even when compared to other amps. (Which still surprises me given all the reports that Val2 tube-rolling does not make much sense.) I like the way Valhalla 2 elegantly combines some strong suits of full tube amps (fluidity, layering, airiness) and typical full SS amps (clarity, sense of neutrality) together. That bass depth and heft though... that's the only considerable bottleneck to my ears, especially with LCD2C.

    Anyway, thanks a lot for the reply - Ive read some of your posts in the past and thought I may be on a similar road as you are eventually as far as amps are concerned. And it actually happened! Too bad your reply is more or less as expected - 'Start saving up, dude!'.

    I guess my homework now is to read in detail on the other brands you mentioned, to cherry-pick some particular amp candidates that I could have a continuous look for on second-hand market. And hope for classifieds with sane pricing popping up eventually. If you know about particular amps from those brands that could suit me, please let me know!

    I am actually thinking about getting or at least listening to ZDT Jr., to clarify my preferences further prior potentially moving onto wallet-slaying amps. That being said, I am confused by all the conflicting opinions on SBAF regarding this amp as already stated in the dedicated thread. So lets see, hoping you actually get to listen to both units on the tour for possible clarification.

    I really do not like the idea of spending more on amps than on headphones, I feel headphones are the far most important component. That being said, it seems like no way around this if I want to acquire a do-it-all full tube amp! Oh well, at least I do not need to ask my wife for approval (since I dont have one)...
     
  13. zfisch

    zfisch Rando

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    Does anyone have experience with the Laconic ZD mini? I've only found the NBM. Wondering how they compare.
     
  14. Kattefjaes

    Kattefjaes Mostly Harmless

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    That's daft. There are lots of good synergistic combos where the amp costs a lot more than the headphones.

    For example, the HD650 scales like mad on various high-end amps. The Utopia street price is lower than various TOTL amps. SR-007 and BHSE or Carbon? You guessed it, the transducers cost a lot less.

    If you're ruling out setups where the amp costs more than the transducers, you may well be ignoring most of the really good setups out there. A good amp tends to cost a lot to make, due to an expensive BoM. To achieve mighty grip on drivers, low noise and impressive linearity requires slightly ridiculous performance, which isn't cheap. A $500 pot for your volume control and fancy caps can suddenly push the price up when you're not looking, etc..

    Stalk some high-end amps, see if there are any that really light your fire. Try to hear it at a meet or similar. If you do find one you really can't live without- start saving and/or lurking around used ads. Measure twice and cut once, you'll be fine.

    Just don't buy a load of different TOTL setups before you have an idea where your preferences lie- that's the real trap.

    (Yeah, I know this is the budget tube amp thread. There's just a crazy leap to make once you go beyond the affordable-but-good stuff.)
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2018
  15. Senorx12562

    Senorx12562 Case of the mondays

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    My two best headphones (hd6xx, hd600) cost 1/2 what my amp cost (and it's only a Jotunheim), which in turn cost less than 1/2 what my dac cost (Gungnir Multibit). Backwards? Maybe. Good? Best I've owned, fwiw.
     
  16. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    It may partially be a psychological barrier from my early 'objective' days ('Why spend thousands for something that is just supposed to amplify signal? Just buy O2 and be done with it.'), partially a financial barrier ('Are you sure you wanna spend the majority of your savings for an amp when youve already got one?'), partially a satisfaction/expectation barrier ('Headphones always have been significantly more diverse and interesting to you, why not rather focus on them?') and partially a diminishing returns barrier (''When a 350USD amp is at least 95% where you wanna be, do you really want to keep chasing perfection further, no matter what?').

    If I was located in the US, it would be very simple - I would just attend meets to try or even buy (with return period) multiple TOTL amps to compare. That being said, there are more or less zero opportunities to buy or try praised high end tube headamps around here in Europe. Therefore I am doing what I can - buying budget tube amps (Vali 2, Valhalla 2, Sunrise III, maybe ZDT Jr. in the future) and thoroughly testing them to find out what suits me best - so that I can hopefully move up later on based on advice from experienced SBAF members. (Or maybe not moving up at all if something cheap makes me content in the long term.)

    Yes, I can be very dumb at times. SBAF to the rescue! :)
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2018
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  17. Kattefjaes

    Kattefjaes Mostly Harmless

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    There's nothing wrong with being squeamish about spending lots of money on something you could theoretically live without. High-end audio is expensive, and there's no shame at all in stopping in a good value sweet spot- which will still sound better than what 95% of people ever hear. If you're smart with how you set it up and feed it, it can still sound great.

    I like that you're being sensible and not doing HF-style mid-fi warp spasms. Some of those guys spend more on mid-fi than it'd take to buy something truly awesome.

    We have some people around here with "modest" chains that frankly I could have cheerfully bought at the outset and stopped there. I love @Wilson's Modi Multibit->Valhalla 2->HD650M chain as a plan, for example. He's a smart cookie, kicks back and enjoys the music, relatively free from nervosa. That's a success by any standard.

    (Eitr->Modi Multibit->Vali 2 is off the scale for bang/for buck, too.)

    So yeah, the mental block about relative amp prices might be a little self-limiting, but otherwise, it all sounds quite rational :)
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2018
  18. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    If you like the Valhalla 2 that much more than the Vali 2, and for the reasons you specified, then, yeah, hold out for a good EC amp and pick your tubes wisely. Apex Teton might work too but is crazy expensive.
     
  19. Ice-man

    Ice-man Friend

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    I'd say that I rate them just the opposite (Val2 vs Vali2). Overall I found the Val2 somewhat dry for a tube amp. The Vali2 has that tube "wetness" that delivers that midrange magic that makes me love tube amps. The Val2 didn't respond much to tube rolling if any. Whereas the Vali2 rolls appreciably and cheaply with the one socket.

    And then there's the price. Vali2 FTW. :punk: I do like the bigger chassis on the Val2, which allows for cables to be plugged and unplugged without fear of the amp moving around. Still think about putting my Vali2 in a black lyr 2 chassis, just to pimp it out.
     
  20. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    To further clarify, let me shortly elaborate on the three tube amps from my personal perspective (subjective, IMHO etc. disclaimers apply):

    VALI 2 (stock or EH6922 tubes)
    • Pluses: Single-tube design (convenient for tube rolling or in case of tube failure); zero hiss/hum unless turned extremely loud, natural tonal character from bass to treble (especially with EH6922 tube); more or less equally good sounding on low as well as high gain; unexpectedly good synergy with HE-6
    • Minuses: Single-tube design (potential for slight channel imbalance); cheap pot (channel imbalance on preferred loudness levels with all headphones except for HE6 - yes, I do not listen loud most of the time); smallish soundstage (lack of depth and space between sounds, too in-your-face); somewhat compressed character (still kind of reminding me of SS amps, didnt sound as effortless as I would like); sometimes a little bit unfocused/non-resolving; sometimes very slight edge in treble

    SUNRISE III (stock or Sylvania 6CG7, EH6922, GL ECC81, JJ E88CC, 6N1P and 6N6P tubes)
    • Pluses: Single-tube design (convenient for tube rolling or in case of tube failure); tweakability (LPS, caps bypass, L/M/H gain; gain resistors etc.); very natural tonal character from bass to treble (especially with tubes like 6N6P or Sylvania 6CG7); no issues with hiss/hum/EMI (despite open casing) unless turned extremely loud or unless improperly configured for your headphones; basically what I expected Vali 2 to sound like for very similar price
    • Minuses: Single-tube design (potential for slight channel imbalance); cheap pot (channel imbalance on preferred loudness levels with all headphones - yes, I do not listen loud most of the time); still somewhat compressed character (but less so compared to Vali 2); you may or may not like this amp based on how it is configured at the time you get to hear it (especially important is the gain/impedance setting - significantly impacts fluency, bass impact, cleanness, ...)

    VALHALLA 2 (stock or Sylvania 6CG7 input tubes)
    • Pluses: Perfect pot (no channel imbalance even on lowest pot positions); zero hiss/hum unless turned extremely loud; clear, effortless and fluid character from bass to treble unlike any SS or hybrid amp I heard; very good soundstaging, layering and space between sounds; very good microdetails; sounds neutralish in a good sense with the right tubes
    • Minuses: Not as good-sounding on high gain (lack of focus, somewhat hazy); tendency for sounding somewhat lean, sandy, greyish and unnaturally holographic with stock input tubes; 4-tube design (already had one failure, resulting in one-month-long wait for warranty replacement; necessity for matched tubes); bass noticably worse in linearity, impact and depth compared to hybrid designs like Vali 2 or Sunrise III

    Vali 2 had a potential... it showed me that getting into tube amps may be the right thing to do.
    Sunrise III improved upon Vali 2, it got me to the point where I knew tubes are competent or even better for me than SS.
    Valhalla 2 blown me away... I finally witnessed what the so-called 'SS compression/fuckery' means.

    All those three amps have a large following that is fully justified!
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2018

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