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  1. #1
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    Headphone Evaluation

    I made the decision to sell off most of my two-channel stereo system and simplify my life with state-of-the-art headphone equipment. While I am firm in my commitment to do so, I can’t say that I completed the act without some trepidation. I enjoyed a truly exquisite audio system fine-tuned over 30 years. I reached the summit of audiophile excellence with an MSB Select front end, MSB M500 monoblock amplifiers, Magico M3 speakers, and Magico QSUB 15 woofers all integrated with flagship Transparent Audio cables in a heavily treated, dedicated listening room tuned by Jim Smith. What was I thinking?

    Instead of explaining my reasons for this decision, I will concentrate on evaluating how close a reference headphone system can come to matching the audio performance of a standard speaker configuration. Going into this evaluation, I will predict that some combination of phones and amplifiers will come close enough for me and for others with limited space or a desire to simplify their audio experience.

    Mission: Add to the body of knowledge on how state of the art headphone systems compare to the reference floor standing speaker system I assembled before this endeavor. I retired earlier this year and now have the time to pursue this hobby with abandon. I hope that audiophiles with the same passion for audio that I have but with less discretionary time to research all the alternatives available will benefit from my work. While I have a technical degree (Physics) and worked in technology companies for my entire career, I am not an audio engineer and don’t proclaim to be one. My impressions are those of a consumer addicted to audio that permits the listener to suspend disbelief and experience the music as if the performers were in the room

    Core Equipment: I am retaining my Shunyata Everest 8000 power conditioner, Shunyata power cords, Transparent Audio Opus Gen 5 balanced interconnects (DAC to Amp), Aurender W20SE file server, the MSB Select II DAC with clock and power supply upgrades. Most headphone reviews I have found (and I have listened to soooo many) utilize a laptop for a file source without power conditioning of any type, with low level interconnects and with DACs far less capable than the MSB. All listening impressions these reviewers had and attributed to the headphones are suspect because of the limited capabilities of their sources and support equipment. This is the primary reason I chose to undertake this evaluation.

    Amplifiers: I will have a range of well-known amps to test including solid state, hybrid (tube and solid state) and pure solid-state designs. Current units on order (lead times are very long these days) include: Stax SRM T8000 hybrid electrostatic amp, Pathos InPol hybrid amplifier, Woo Audio WA33 Elite headphone amp, MSB Solid State Headphone Amp and a McIntosh MHA200 tube headphone amp. I will burn in each amp (powered operation not in standby) for at least one week before evaluation.

    Headphones: Audeze LCD4z planar magnetic, Stax SR 009S electrostatic, ZMF Verite closed back dynamic, Abyss 1266 Phi Planar Magnetic, Focal Utopia open back dynamic, Sennheiser HD 820 closed back dynamic. Wherever possible I will use upgraded headphone cables by Moon Audio (Black or Silver Dragon). The Stax cable will be factory supplied.

    EQ. Many pure headphone enthusiasts love to measure headphone frequency response and adjust it with software EQ. I will use no such enhancements in this process. I am a Subjectivist at heart. Regardless of that fact, my ears cannot discern and correct for “a slight mid-range dip at 2500 Hz” (taken from a reviewer’s YouTube commentary). The unadulterated sound characteristics perceived by my brain will be reported. Adjustments like this probably help improve headphone performance but my Subjectivist brain wants to evaluate the fruit of the designer’s labor without enhancement.

    Reviewed Characteristics. I will subjectively evaluate the key characteristics of the sound that are important to me. These include:

    • Vocal realism
    • Sound stage breadth, airiness and depth
    • Sound stage imaging
    • Bass definition and weight
    • Treble smoothness, definition and weight
    • Presentation of microdynamics (percussion instruments such as piano, drums and cymbals)

    I will assign a numerical grade (1-10) for each characteristic along with a brief explanation of the rationale for each grade assigned. Initially the grades will be relative to my reference audio system but as the number of tests increases, they will evolve into being comparative to other headphone / amp combinations. When the evaluation is complete, grades will be solely relative to competing products.

    Test Tracks: My evaluation tracks are almost exclusively Chesky and Mapleshade recordings mastered either at 16/44 or 24/96 using omnidirectional microphones. Some of Chesky’s work in the 1990’s hasn’t been matched by any recording label to this day. I dislike almost every recording I’ve ever heard that uses multi track / mixing (and God forbid Autotune) techniques as they sound flat and unconvincing as a surrogate for live entertainment (sorry for the slight rant here).

    Value: I do not intend to make any Price / Performance judgements in this evaluation. The prices for the equipment that I am testing are easily available. I leave it to the reader to determine if the performance observed is worth the price of entry. I will say that the cost to approach the state of the art in Headphone systems is an order of magnitude less expensive than doing the same in an equally sophisticated standard two channel audio system.

    Feedback: I would like to ask, as a courtesy to me and the readers of this thread, that you refrain from challenging any of my observations in thread posts. They are admittedly my biased opinions offered at face value with no assertion that differing opinions are invalid. I am not an audio professional or a golden ear listener and do not claim any level of expertise beyond the state of being an informed consumer of audio equipment. I will gladly answer any questions about the gear or the test setup but will universally ignore any controversy over my conclusions. If you are overwhelmed by the need to Flame me, please do so by PMail to spare subscribers to the thread from the experience. It would not upset me if there were absolutely no responses to my posts. This is a labor of love and a journey of education for me personally. If I help someone along the way, this is pure upside.


    I will make my first post (Audeze LCD 4z and Pathos InPol Hybrid amp) next week.

    Cincy
    Aurender W20SE File Server
    MSB Select II DAC
    Block Audio Line Stage and PreAmp (inbound)
    MSB Headphone Amplifier
    Woo Audio WA33 Elite Headphone Amp
    Transparent Opus Gen5 XLR interconnects
    Shunyata Everest power conditioner and power cords
    Multiple Headphones

  2. #2
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Can't wait for your impressions. My own experience is the amp in conjunction with the headphones will tell all. Evan though I have a nice 2 channel system, there are days when my headphones blow me away with the detail. I discovered that I gravitate towards one system over the other; for reasons I'm not sure why. I do however lean towards my 2 channel system. BTW, I stream tidal exclusively.

    I'm sure you'll enjoy the task.

    Gary

  3. #3
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Looking forward to your impressions. Thanks for sharing.
    Morgan

    SPEAKERS KEF Blade 2 w/IsoAcoustics Gaia II | SUBWOOFERS Four DIY Speaker Hardware 12" passive subs driven by Dayton SA1000 amp | AMPLIFICATION Pass Labs X350.8, Cary SLP-05 w/Ultimate Upgrade | DIGITAL Marantz SA-10, Sonore opticalModule and opticalRendu, NUC8i7BEH Roon Core | VINYL EAT C-Sharp, Hana SL, EAT E-Glo S w/LPS, Bob's Devices Sky 20 SUT | POWER AudioQuest Niagara 5000, two dedicated circuits | WIRES AudioQuest William Tell, Earth, Leopard, Tornado | RESONANCE/ISOLATION Nordost Sort Kones, various Herbie's Audio Lab

  4. #4
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Like you, I am retired. I've spent the last few years spending (and wasting) money looking for my end game audio system.
    I have one bit of advice. Don't let sound quality influence you over things like ease of use, convenience, etc. I find myself listening to my Naim Mu-So more than my 500 level Naim system. I replaced a Violectric V281 headphone amp with an entry level Naim Uniti Atom HE because the HE is an absolute joy to use and I can listen to it for hours without ever skipping tracks.
    Bud<br>

    NAIM: NAC 552 Preamp w/555PS Power supply, Naim ND555 Streamer/DAC, NAP 300 DR Amplifier, AtomHE Headphone Amp, Superlumina Speaker Cables, Power Cables
    HARBETH: 30.2 40th Anniversary Speakers
    FOCAL:: Utopia Headphones
    ANSUZ: C2 Power Cable, A2 Power Distributor, D2 Ethernet Cables, D2 PowerSwitch, D2 Interconnect
    NORDOST: Heimdall 2 Ethernet Cables
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    DANACABLE:: Headphone cables

  5. #5
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Hey Eric, I can't wait to read your impressions and the results of your journey! Enjoy the journey!

    You have picked out some extremely great equipment to run through your experiments. I have tried some of the gear (or close variations of) that you have listed. For example I own Audeze LCD-3's and Abyss Diana Phi's. They are both the next step down from what you have listed, but certainly great in their own right. Both are amazing but the Abyss are on a different level. I have never listened to the Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC's although a very good friend owns them. They have a slightly larger version of the Phi driver then my Diana's (66mm to 63mm), for size consideration. The AB-1266's are a strange looker by many accounts but I have been assured that they are very comfortable.

    Abyss offers a tremendous amount of video's, etc., on their website. Certainly worth of view. I particularly like one that they review and compare their general feelings about various amplifiers they have tried. I believe they gave the Eleven Audio really high ratings and the Woo WA33 Elite their absolute top rating. I really like my Woo WA22 2nd Gen. The best headphone amp I have ever heard! I also enjoyed the video where Abyss took a pair of the AB-1266's and set them out in their paved parking lot. They ran them over with a Jeep. They were not damaged at all other then a few scratches on the one side from the black top . Very impressive. It may or may not be important to you but I like to know where various pieces are made. Audeze is from the LA area, Dave Clark Audio is from San Diego, Abyss is from Buffalo NY. Woo is from Brooklyn, McIntosh is from my home town, Binghamton NY.

    I owned Sennheiser HD800S headphones; the open back version of the ones you listed. I was happy with their comfort but was not as impressed with their sound performance. They where good, but all others that I have seriously compared I preferred.

    Over all my favorite comfort headphones have been the Abyss, Dave Clark Audio, and the Sennheiser. The worse have been my Audeze, the McIntosh, while in the middle I would say the Focal I have owned. There have been many others but I do not remember particular models in this regards.

    I also like the Moon cables. I currently have a couple Black Dragons and one Blue Dragon. I have owned a Silver Dragon, but did not hear any real difference from the Black Dragons.

    If I might add a couple items for your possible comparison. If you decided on electrostatic I might suggest the Headamp Blue Hawaii amplifier. This is an amp I have thought about often , but since electrostatic would not work in my situation (I need portable capability also)... Also, if you do go this route, I would suggest putting the Dave Clark Audio Voce and the Audeze CRBN on your list to give a go.
    Hattor AMRG Trans w/Active Tube Stage | NAD C 298 | McIntosh MP100, R778 | Rega RP8, Ania Pro, NEO PSU | Technics SL-1500C | Audio Technica VM740ML | T+A DAC 8 DSD | Woo WA22 2nd Gen | Astell&Kern SE200 | Abyss Diana Phi | KEF LS50 Meta | Rythmik L-12 (x2) | Oppo BDP105 | Magnum Dynalab FT-101A, ST-2

  6. #6
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Randy,

    Good input. I will add equipment as time and funds permit.

    Eric
    Aurender W20SE File Server
    MSB Select II DAC
    Block Audio Line Stage and PreAmp (inbound)
    MSB Headphone Amplifier
    Woo Audio WA33 Elite Headphone Amp
    Transparent Opus Gen5 XLR interconnects
    Shunyata Everest power conditioner and power cords
    Multiple Headphones

  7. #7
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Eric,

    This is an exciting project. Certainly looking forward to your perspectives.
    _______________

    Mike

  8. #8
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    I'm ready to start the fun. The Pathos amp has been burning in this week. I have two sets of planar magnetic headphones up for comparison / contrast: The Audeze LCD 4Z and a very interesting European entry, the Meze Empyrean. The critical listening begins tomorrow. Before that I would like to describe the "standard" sound that I am attempting to replace. My two channel set up had characteristics that I found intoxicating. The mid range was thick, lush yet still defined. In my room the setup presented a wall to wall soundstage that placed each image with clarity and precision. It was deep and airy and caused me to feel like I truly was in the theatre with the performers ten feet in front of me. The central image was at the front wall and filled it from floor to ceiling. This was a characteristic of my room. I had heard the Magico M3's at the Magico factory in their listening room and the speakers gave the illusion of a giant soundstage in all dimensions. I preferred the more intimate scale they threw in my room. Percussive instruments such as marimbas, bones, drums, cymbals and yes piano had lightning fast attacks and well defined texture. While I am not a bass monster, the QSUBs could shake your rib cage. Because I don't play headbanger music, I discovered their capability through my organ music on well recorded pieces. You could feel the lowest bass even if it was too low to really hear it well.

    A few words on the Audeze and Meze headphones. Both have outstanding build quality but the Meze takes it one step higher even though they are at a lower price point. Machined aluminum earpiece frames, aluminum transit case, extra pads. Kind of overwhelming but as you know, only the sound counts. Let the games begin.

    Cincy
    Aurender W20SE File Server
    MSB Select II DAC
    Block Audio Line Stage and PreAmp (inbound)
    MSB Headphone Amplifier
    Woo Audio WA33 Elite Headphone Amp
    Transparent Opus Gen5 XLR interconnects
    Shunyata Everest power conditioner and power cords
    Multiple Headphones

  9. #9
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Before I post my first impressions, I will address the elephant in the room. Headphones will never sound like a reference level two channel audio system in a treated room. They are different to be sure. Can they both be immensely satisfying? To me the answer is yes. One or two minutes with Sara K singing "Tecalote Eyes" like she was sitting in my lap singing in my ear was enough of a headphone experience to seduce me. On to my impressions.

    I auditioned Meze Empyrean and Audeze LCD 4z headphones plugged into a Pathos InPol amp via four pin balanced connectors using the stock cables, the Aurender W20SE file server, MSB Select II front end, Transparent Opus 5 balanced interconnects all conditioned with a Shunyata Everest tower . I played a variety of my demo tracks, mostly Mapleshade and Chesky examples. Here are my impressions.

    Bass - The Audeze gets the nod here for tighter presentation. The Meze bass was pleasing but just a tad softer than the Audeze

    Vocals - Tie here. Both sounded natural, dense and textured. The Meze was a tad warmer which I found pleasant.

    Soundstage - I was disappointed with both headphones here. Perhaps it is a limitation of Planar Magnetics. While images were neatly and precisely placed left/right, the sounds I knew were more forward were not presented that way by either brand. There was not enough air in the overall sound picture to satisfy me here either. I'm hoping electrostatic can do better.

    Percussion instruments - The Meze's were more detailed and presented a faster attack than the Audeze's. Neither set did a very good job of presenting the metallic shimmer of cymbals however.

    Other - I don't know how much the Pathos amp contributed to any strengths / weaknesses. Amps definitely do affect all the characteristics I evaluated. That discussion will have to wait until I get my Woo WA33 in a few weeks. Also, although I tried hard, there may be some bias in my impressions just because Meze did such a phenomenal job with their design and materials. There are no shortcomings at all. They look and feel spectacular. I intend to sell those headphones that finish at the bottom of the pile in my evaluation. I can say today, the Meze's will not be part of those transactions regardless of where they rank. They are a lust worthy piece of industrial design and within their limits, satisfying on the ears. I ordered their upgrade cable just to see if it improved their performance.

    Cincy
    Aurender W20SE File Server
    MSB Select II DAC
    Block Audio Line Stage and PreAmp (inbound)
    MSB Headphone Amplifier
    Woo Audio WA33 Elite Headphone Amp
    Transparent Opus Gen5 XLR interconnects
    Shunyata Everest power conditioner and power cords
    Multiple Headphones

  10. #10
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    I cannot wait to hear your impressions of the Woo WA33 with the Abyss headphones. It should be pure headphone bliss.

    I know that a few friends from our audio club were completely blown away by the Woo WA22 and the Abyss headphones that I own. They could not believe the differences with the Abyss compared to the Audeze. These guys were all owners of Audeze I might add.

    Good review and comparison by the way!
    Hattor AMRG Trans w/Active Tube Stage | NAD C 298 | McIntosh MP100, R778 | Rega RP8, Ania Pro, NEO PSU | Technics SL-1500C | Audio Technica VM740ML | T+A DAC 8 DSD | Woo WA22 2nd Gen | Astell&Kern SE200 | Abyss Diana Phi | KEF LS50 Meta | Rythmik L-12 (x2) | Oppo BDP105 | Magnum Dynalab FT-101A, ST-2

  11. #11

    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Definitely interested in following this. Are you considering the Smyth Realiser? I read good things about its capability to emulate an existing listening room and even provide "out of head" headphone imaging (although mostly I read about multi-channel emulation, not so much 2-channel).

  12. #12
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Cincy-

    This is quite an ambitious project. I am sure many folks here appreciate your efforts and the resources you are laying out to make it happen.

    Thank you!

    BTW, great review and extremely thoughtful project outline.
    AKA J2Ordan
    McIntosh C1100/MC75's/MC275(lows)/MR85/MCD205.
    Legacy Focus SE/VPI Classic1/Denon103R/Bryston BDP/BDA3's.
    DH Labs, Mostly DIY.

  13. #13
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    This week's homework. Woo Audio WA33 Elite with Meze Empyrean headphones vs Stax SR 009S matched with Stax T8000 electrostatic amp. There will be a few firsts for me. I never owned a full tube amplifier. The first revelation is that they can be heavier than solid state amps. The Woo is a beast of a load. I've also never listened to a full electrostatic headphone so that experience will be interesting. Impressions will be posted by Monday.

    Eric
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    Aurender W20SE File Server
    MSB Select II DAC
    Block Audio Line Stage and PreAmp (inbound)
    MSB Headphone Amplifier
    Woo Audio WA33 Elite Headphone Amp
    Transparent Opus Gen5 XLR interconnects
    Shunyata Everest power conditioner and power cords
    Multiple Headphones

  14. #14
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    I spent a couple of hours with the Stax amp and headphones this afternoon. My two channel systems have always favored detail over all else. From the first note with the Stax electrostats, the sound felt familiar and comfortable like an old flannel shirt on a crisp fall morning in New England. My previous set up using the Pathos InPol amp with planar magnetic phones was pleasant but left me with a twinge of fear that my audio experience going forward would be diminished from what I have come to love. No such problem. Today was my first exposure to electrostatic headphones. Using the Stax T8000, their flagship amp (but still a "journeyman" compared to the best on the market), I found the things I value most in sound reproduction fully on display. Natural voices, detailed percussive sound and rich, saturated mid frequency sounds in saxophone, string instruments and organ music. The separation between instruments and voices was sharp and surrounded by an abundance of air, just the way I like it. The soundstage is still an enigma. With floor speakers, in a well treated room, you are in the audience watching the performance in front of you. With headphones you are "in" the performance. In some cases, the instruments that were panned far right or left actually seemed slightly behind me. This bothered me initially but I am growing to accept and enjoy it. Headphones don't have the soundstage depth a good two channel system can create. Given the advantages that come with headphones, this is a condition I can accept as long as my other audiophile hot buttons are pressed. There was no shortage of head bobbing and toe tapping going on when I was involved with the headphone music. It's not better or worse than speakers, just different.

    Today's experience left we wondering just what will happen when I hook up the MSB headphone amp (sometime soon I hope - they supposedly have stock so it may be in the mail now). MSB used the Stax SR-009S as their benchmark so I'm sure I'm in for some fire works. With the hardware I currently have (still not burned in enough) I was fully satisfied. Tomorrow we see what a full blown tube amp (Woo WA33) can do in comparison. Our first exposure was not good as the amp when turned on has a soft but audible (transformer?) hum. We'll see whether that is noticeable in the music presentation.

    Eric
    Aurender W20SE File Server
    MSB Select II DAC
    Block Audio Line Stage and PreAmp (inbound)
    MSB Headphone Amplifier
    Woo Audio WA33 Elite Headphone Amp
    Transparent Opus Gen5 XLR interconnects
    Shunyata Everest power conditioner and power cords
    Multiple Headphones

  15. #15
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Quote Originally Posted by Cincy2 View Post
    I spent a couple of hours with the Stax amp and headphones this afternoon. My two channel systems have always favored detail over all else. From the first note with the Stax electrostats, the sound felt familiar and comfortable like an old flannel shirt on a crisp fall morning in New England. My previous set up using the Pathos InPol amp with planar magnetic phones was pleasant but left me with a twinge of fear that my audio experience going forward would be diminished from what I have come to love. No such problem. Today was my first exposure to electrostatic headphones. Using the Stax T8000, their flagship amp (but still a "journeyman" compared to the best on the market), I found the things I value most in sound reproduction fully on display. Natural voices, detailed percussive sound and rich, saturated mid frequency sounds in saxophone, string instruments and organ music. The separation between instruments and voices was sharp and surrounded by an abundance of air, just the way I like it. The soundstage is still an enigma. With floor speakers, in a well treated room, you are in the audience watching the performance in front of you. With headphones you are "in" the performance. In some cases, the instruments that were panned far right or left actually seemed slightly behind me. This bothered me initially but I am growing to accept and enjoy it. Headphones don't have the soundstage depth a good two channel system can create. Given the advantages that come with headphones, this is a condition I can accept as long as my other audiophile hot buttons are pressed. There was no shortage of head bobbing and toe tapping going on when I was involved with the headphone music. It's not better or worse than speakers, just different.

    Today's experience left we wondering just what will happen when I hook up the MSB headphone amp (sometime soon I hope - they supposedly have stock so it may be in the mail now). MSB used the Stax SR-009S as their benchmark so I'm sure I'm in for some fire works. With the hardware I currently have (still not burned in enough) I was fully satisfied. Tomorrow we see what a full blown tube amp (Woo WA33) can do in comparison. Our first exposure was not good as the amp when turned on has a soft but audible (transformer?) hum. We'll see whether that is noticeable in the music presentation.

    Eric
    the MSB Select headphone amp, when mated to the Select dac, is dead ass quiet. the interface is simple and foolproof as you can imagine. your cables will be your limitation.

    not heard the Woo WA33 myself. did have a Woo WA6SE (with dynamic headphones) and a BHSE with 009's back 10 years ago; the MSB amp is 'quiet' in another realm from those.

  16. #16
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    The Woo definitely gets better with break-in, but I still preferred the STAX amp better and the BHSE even better. I want to try the MSB but that quite an investment since it only works with their DAC.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cincy2 View Post
    I spent a couple of hours with the Stax amp and headphones this afternoon. My two channel systems have always favored detail over all else. From the first note with the Stax electrostats, the sound felt familiar and comfortable like an old flannel shirt on a crisp fall morning in New England. My previous set up using the Pathos InPol amp with planar magnetic phones was pleasant but left me with a twinge of fear that my audio experience going forward would be diminished from what I have come to love. No such problem. Todaampy was my first exposure to electrostatic headphones. Using the Stax T8000, their flagship amp (but still a "journeyman" compared to the best on the market), I found the things I value most in sound reproduction fully on display. Natural voices, detailed percussive sound and rich, saturated mid frequency sounds in saxophone, string instruments and organ music. The separation between instruments and voices was sharp and surrounded by an abundance of air, just the way I like it. The soundstage is still an enigma. With floor speakers, in a well treated room, you are in the audience watching the performance in front of you. With headphones you are "in" the performance. In some cases, the instruments that were panned far right or left actually seemed slightly behind me. This bothered me initially but I am growing to accept and enjoy it. Headphones don't have the soundstage depth a good two channel system can create. Given the advantages that come with headphones, this is a condition I can accept as long as my other audiophile hot buttons are pressed. There was no shortage of head bobbing and toe tapping going on when I was involved with the headphone music. It's not better or worse than speakers, just different.

    Today's experience left we wondering just what will happen when I hook up the MSB headphone amp (sometime soon I hope - they supposedly have stock so it may be in the mail now). MSB used the Stax SR-009S as their benchmark so I'm sure I'm in for some fire works. With the hardware I currently have (still not burned in enough) I was fully satisfied. Tomorrow we see what a full blown tube amp (Woo WA33) can do in comparison. Our first exposure was not good as the amp when turned on has a soft but audible (transformer?) hum. We'll see whether that is noticeable in the music presentation.

    Eric
    Jock

    If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don't have integrity, nothing else matters.

    ---------

    House: Naim ND555/2PS, Naim 552, Naim 500, Studer A80/Doshi V3, Magico M2s, 2 Magico Q-Sub 15s, Lumina IC/SC, Shunyata Everest and Omega PCs.

    Workshop: Naim ND555/2 PS, VAC Master Pre, VAC Sig 200iQ, Border Patrol pre/power, Avant Garde Duo Mezzo XD, 2 Magico Q-Sub 15s, Shunyata IC/SC, Shunyata Typhon QR/Triton V3/Sigma PCs.

  17. #17
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    I really like my Woo. I have tried several good headphone amps and could appreciate what most brought to the table, especially the Bryston and the SimAudio. However the better Woo's are on another level!

    I have never tried an electrostatic and can not give an opinion between the two camps of headphone types, but I can say that both Woo and Abyss have taken my headphone appreciation to another level.

    I believe I have read that the Woo's do have a small hum while warming up and definitely quite down when a little breaking in has occurred. I personally did not notice any noise. I have also read that Woo is very reactive to tube rolling. I have a few different alternatives to roll in and there are subtle differences, some might say it is huge I would not.
    Hattor AMRG Trans w/Active Tube Stage | NAD C 298 | McIntosh MP100, R778 | Rega RP8, Ania Pro, NEO PSU | Technics SL-1500C | Audio Technica VM740ML | T+A DAC 8 DSD | Woo WA22 2nd Gen | Astell&Kern SE200 | Abyss Diana Phi | KEF LS50 Meta | Rythmik L-12 (x2) | Oppo BDP105 | Magnum Dynalab FT-101A, ST-2

  18. #18
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Before I report on my Woo WA33 experience, I have to apologize for all the disparaging remarks I've made about tube amplifiers over the past 35 years. When I've heard them at shows or in a dealer's room, I was unimpressed. I never had one in MY room with my front end and my music. That changed today as did my opinion of the genre. I am blown away by what I heard. All the detail, sound stage, air, and naturalness of my solid state amps was there. But there was more. Instead of the high resolution black and white picture I got from the Trax set up, I saw technicolor. Meaty, sweating, juicy sound lacking nothing I love in an audio presentation. Cymbals had more sheen, voices more chestiness saxophone more spit. Every track on Chesky's old demonstration disk was better in tangible ways than with my electrostatic set up. The Trax and Pathos amps are going on Audiogon tomorrow. I can see myself with two amplifiers as an end game: The MSB for solid state authenticity and detail and the WA33 for emotional connection.

    I have to comment about Woo's technical support. Mike Liang from Woo emailed me when the amp shipped with helpful links to set up and user feature videos. This was very helpful. He also said that the Woo requires 200 hours of burn in to reach it's potential. Good grief, I'm in love 2 hours into it. The only problem I had with the amp - a low level hum, vanished after ten minutes. It never showed up in the headphones so there is no issue. The Shunyata power cord only has about five hours on it. It will improve in another 15-20 also. One more thing. It will take a while to get used to the glowing tubes. I'm afraid they will pop and I'll have withdrawal symptoms.

    I used my Meze Empyrean headphones with their upgraded silver plated cable. The headphones seem to be a perfect match. Lots of mid range purity and of course, comfort on the head. I have three dynamic headphones in the queue to test as soon as they arrive: The Focal Utopia (open back) , ZMF Verite (Closed back) and the recently released Dan Clark Audio Stealth (also closed back). For Planar's, I have an Abyss 1266 due in a few more months.

    I'm not even halfway into this experiment and I'm ready to declare success. Well done Woo!

    Eric
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Quote Originally Posted by Cincy2 View Post
    Before I report on my Woo WA33 experience, I have to apologize for all the disparaging remarks I've made about tube amplifiers over the past 35 years ... I am blown away by what I heard. All the detail, sound stage, air, and naturalness of my solid state amps was there. But there was more. Instead of the high resolution black and white picture I got from the Trax set up, I saw technicolor. Meaty, sweating, juicy sound lacking nothing I love in an audio presentation. Cymbals had more sheen, voices more chestiness saxophone more spit...
    apology accepted ... not too late the give tubes a go in the two channel system

    seriously though, i am following your progress here with great interest -- thanks for sharing your results and impressions.
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    I am really enjoying your posts on your journey. They are great!... I am fairly certain that in my WA22 manual it said something about 20-30 minutes for the amp to warm up and settle in.

    Besides that the amp is not close to being broken in I also assume you are using stock tubes. There are so many amazing tubes that bring out even more in these amps.

    Again, thank you for sharing your journey! I can't wait until you get the Abyss to listen to with the Woo .
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Quote Originally Posted by Randy Myers View Post
    I also assume you are using stock tubes. There are so many amazing tubes that bring out even more in these amps.

    Again, thank you for sharing your journey! I can't wait until you get the Abyss to listen to with the Woo .
    Randy,

    Yes. Stock tubes. Where would a Tube Newby find out what aftermarket tubes would enhance a WA33?

    Thx
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  22. #22

    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Serge

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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Yea, I found good suggestions in the Head-Fi forum. They also have a dedicated WA-22 thread. That is how well regarded Woo is. I have three sets of driver tubes, three rectifiers and two sets of power tubes. Not sure what the 33 needs but sure will get suggestion in that thread. Woo also sells New old stock (NOS) tubes, but they very much charge really premium prices.
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Quote Originally Posted by TheOctopus View Post
    Wow. No shortage of opinions. Thanks for the link.

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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    The big MSB headphone amp shipped and will arrive on the 31st. I have two sets of headphones to evaluate with it: Stax SR 009S and a Dan Clark Audio Voce. Next post this time next week.

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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Nice... I am curious on how the Dan Clark Audio's hold up compared to the Stax ....

    Of course I am waiting to see how the Abyss with the Woo compares ... but I know that is a little ways off .

    I like how you have added the Woo to your signature... awesome.... all that JPS wiring used in the Woo is from Abyss (I actually should say that Abyss is from JPS)... I assume you already know that .

    I wonder if the elite is about the same thing as the JPS Labs Edition sold by Abyss?

    "This JPS Labs Edition, sold exclusively by ABYSS, features internal Alumiloy® wiring by JPS Labs, noted for their unique ability to provide life-like clarity and full range coherent sound from the lowest lows to beyond audibility [JPS Labs, the parent company of ABYSS Headphones, designs and manufactures cables for everything ABYSS].

    Also part of this JPS Edition are a full upgrade compliment of tubes including KR Audio power tubes, a quad set of 2A3HP and a 274BHP tube rectifier. These High Performance (HP) KR tubes were co-developed by JPS Labs and KR Audio specifically for ABYSS headphones, providing hard hitting powerful bass with excellent control while maintaining all the subtle details and life-like qualities to music that only tubes can provide.

    Abyss Headphones considers the WA-33 JPS Labs Edition to be finest tube headphone amplifier money can buy to mate with their AB-1266 Phi TC headphone, or any other high performance headphones that appreciates high dynamic power and grace."
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  27. #27
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Randy,

    The Elite upgrades were all internal components. I was conflicted between the Abyss version and the Woo Elite. Ultimately chose the Elite because I intend to use multiple brands of headphones and didn't want one fine tuned for a particular brand.

    Elite Edition Adds:
    Ultra high-bandwidth, low-loss output transformers custom-made with Single Crystal Copper wires and Ni Alloy metal
    Single Crystal copper hook-up and signal wires are used throughout.
    [JPS wiring] JPS Alumiloy® hook-up and signal wires are used throughout.
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  28. #28
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Yea, comparing between the two it appears as if they are both aiming in very similar directions... upgrading quality of parts and using higher end JPS wiring. Between the two I bet there is virtually no differences. I believe that either would show their benefits on virtually any high end headphones, especially the Abyss .

    Congratulations on such an amazing machine and I am not surprised that you have concluded that the Woo is a keeper .
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  29. #29
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Burning in the MSB Headphone amp starting tonight. I will evaluate it with Dan Clark Audio Voce's and the Stax SR-009S

    Eric
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Nice! Have fun with it... I am curious how the Dan Clark hold up to the Stax.
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    I spent an hour with the MSB Headphone amp and the Stax / DCA electrostatic headphones today. I have less than a day of burn-in on the MSB but I just couldn't wait any longer. Bottom line up front. Just freaking amazing. Blackest of black background, articulation to die for, meaty minds just like the M500 monos. I did not feel short changed on the bass at all. Very tight and with body (for a headphone admittedly). The most natural voices I've heard on any headphone amp combination. The soundstage is broad and spacious. Each voice / instrument is precisely placed. Lower volume level voices or instruments in the background stand out with delicate detail. I've heard nothing as intoxicating from audio save for the Magico / MSB two channel system my headphones are replacing. The shimmering metallic clash of cymbals that the Magico's gave me is not present with this setup. But it is darn close. The DAC and amp are creating it, but I don't think the headphones are up to the task yet. Technology marches on so maybe someday soon.

    The Stax headphone amp is for sale. I didn't expect it to reach the levels of an amp costing almost 7 times as much as it did but the MSB made the difference much greater than that. The only limitation to the Stax / MSB set up is a limit of physics (for now). You just can't place that central image in front of you like on a well set up two channel system. Not an issue for me since I have every other characteristic of reproduced music that I cherish

    I did most of the listening with the Stax SR 009s's. Sadly after switching back and forth several times between DCA Voce and 009 I stopped because I could not bear to take the Stax phones off. I NEEDED them. Not that the Voce's were bad, just not as much of all the characteristics I stated above. I'll keep them for my wife when we listen together. The 009's were a much more comfortable fit and the it's cable was longer making it the ergonomic choice also.

    The build quality of the MSB amp is what you can expect from MSB. It's a tank. Beautiful modern design with blast proof construction.

    My objective in switching to headphones was to simplify the set up and keep the majority of the audible pleasure. Mission accomplished. I want to hear the Abyss phones with the WA33. I expect an equally satisfying experience. Different but satisfying. That's what audio is all about.
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  32. #32
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    That is awesome. I have been using headphones infrequently lately while settling my speaker setup and move to a smaller more confined room. I think I am there and have plans on using headphones a bit more moving forward. The clarity and fullness of the music is simply intoxicating. I am obviously at a step lower level but am thrilled. I can only imagine the MSB/Woo WA33 over my WA22... and the cans you are using versus my Abyss slightly lower model and Focal lower model. Congratz! It sounds like you are enjoying your journey.
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  33. #33

    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Cincy,
    This is a great thread. Thank you for all your efforts in testing and documenting the results.

  34. #34
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Congratulations Eric! I’m glad you are discovering great personal audio gear as you transition from a world class 2 channel stereo system. I hope this change fulfills your musical desires.
    _______________

    Mike

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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Congrats Eric; you are describing my same experience with the MSB Headphone amp and 009S's. pretty awesome and an end game destination. with the Select II dac it transcends the reproduction chain and any sense of gear or media and becomes a semi 'zen' kinda thing. the whole adding up to greater than the parts.

    something different than my 2-channel speaker listening. when i want to focus inward and close down. shuts the world out.

    i expect the Abyss + Woo will add a bit of noise, physicality and space, but not be quite as transparent, pure or ethereal. different perspectives + tubes and heat to mess with and fret over.

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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Curious if you will try the blue hawaii or Wooaudio WES with the Stax sr009? Hopefully next week I am trying the new Meze Elite, Stax oo7mks and re -trying the Diana Phi. Sonics wise phi were lovely, but that headband is just creating scalp hot spots. Today I will try with a oem headpad Abyss recommended. Not sure why Abyss did not want a more cushioned headband at this price point??? I wholeheartedly agree Wooaudio's Mike Liang is a prince of a guy and great resource. So far the Wooaudio amps I have auditioned are stone quiet and what are heard were their basic stock tubes.
    Nick



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  37. #37
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    I have never had an issue with the Diana headband... For me it fits really well. I did buy this little headband pad that I think Sony originally made for their high end headphones for when someone desired a little more padding on top. It was only about $40 if I recall, and it did work. I do not have it on right now because for the most part the Abyss band is fine. I might put it back on to try again.

    The Blue Hawaii amplifier is one I have always wanted (I think Mike might be carrying them now ). I would need electrostatic cans though... if Abyss ever make a pair .... or maybe even Focal. I mean Dan Clark Audio and Audeze recently introduced them, so others might follow... The Dan Clark would be one I would not mind trying.
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Quick update. I've got quite a few hours on the MSB and Woo amplifiers. I've been using the Stax 009's with the MSB amp and switching between DCA Stealth and Meze Empyrean phones with the Woo WA33. Between electrostatic and planar magnetics at this point, with my biases, the Stax / MSB combo is the clear winner. There is so much more delicate detail and air in the presentation than with the planars. Not that they are bad. Just not as revelatory. My Abyss 1266's ship next Friday. I have to hear them with the Woo. Stax just released another high end version of the 009. Have to hear that too. If I stopped today, the MSB/Stax set-up would be getting all the use in my music room. My only nit is one that all headphones have - No forward projecting soundstage. Someone will figure out how to fix that eventually with some type of processing, hopefully in the amplifier in the analogue domain so it doesn't screw up the digits. Hats off to MSB and Stax. They nailed it.

    Eric
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Awesome Eric, and following your discovery journey has been fun! To even be discussing the Woo a long side of the MSB shows the quality, of course of both products, but the Woo in the same breath with something multiple times more expensive is impressive. I very much enjoy my WA22.

    I really am interested in your thoughts on the Abyss. I really like my Diana Phi and I am sure the 1266 are in another level. From your description of the MSB/Stax I would be surprised if they equaled them but I feel positive that they will close that gap .
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    certainly if you have time the Audeze CRBN electrostatic should be evaluated and Mike will probably have them.
    Nick



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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Mike definitely is ordering them. The Dan Clark Audio Voce are certainly worth evaluating also. Not sure if either will compete with the Stax but I was very impressed with other Dan Clark's (Mr. Speakers) that I have owned.

    If Abyss ever came out with electrostatics I just might have to try a Blue Hawaii amp ...
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  42. #42
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Quote Originally Posted by Randy Myers View Post
    Mike definitely is ordering them. The Dan Clark Audio Voce are certainly worth evaluating also. Not sure if either will compete with the Stax but I was very impressed with other Dan Clark's (Mr. Speakers) that I have owned.

    If Abyss ever came out with electrostatics I just might have to try a Blue Hawaii amp ...
    So many new headphones are coming out. The New Dan Clark Stealth ( closed back) $4k. Maze Audio Elite $4k

    Things are getting rather pricey in the headphone world.
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Are you ordering the new top of the line Stax headphone?
    Jock

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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Quote Originally Posted by the professor View Post
    Are you ordering the new top of the line Stax headphone?
    The new Stax flagship:

    The OMEGA LEGACY IS HERE WITH THE SR-X9000 (PRE-ORDER NOW)



    – STAX Headphones
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    --------------------------------------------
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    previous post said Voce were beat out by Stax I think that cage match already was fought.
    Nick



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  46. #46
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Quote Originally Posted by veindoc View Post
    previous post said Voce were beat out by Stax I think that cage match already was fought.
    Sorry, missed/forgot that ... this adventure has been going for a while now ...

    Yes, the headphone world is getting pretty crazy... if anyone would have told me I would have $12k+ in my headphone setup a couple of years ago I would have told them they were nuts (not including DAC, sources, etc )
    Hattor AMRG Trans w/Active Tube Stage | NAD C 298 | McIntosh MP100, R778 | Rega RP8, Ania Pro, NEO PSU | Technics SL-1500C | Audio Technica VM740ML | T+A DAC 8 DSD | Woo WA22 2nd Gen | Astell&Kern SE200 | Abyss Diana Phi | KEF LS50 Meta | Rythmik L-12 (x2) | Oppo BDP105 | Magnum Dynalab FT-101A, ST-2

  47. #47
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2014
    Location
    Tampa FL
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Quote Originally Posted by the professor View Post
    Are you ordering the new top of the line Stax headphone?
    Yes. Placed an order through Mike.

    Eric
    Aurender W20SE File Server
    MSB Select II DAC
    Block Audio Line Stage and PreAmp (inbound)
    MSB Headphone Amplifier
    Woo Audio WA33 Elite Headphone Amp
    Transparent Opus Gen5 XLR interconnects
    Shunyata Everest power conditioner and power cords
    Multiple Headphones

  48. #48
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2014
    Location
    Tampa FL
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    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    As I was switching balanced cable inputs from the MSB amp to the Woo WA33 it struck me there was a better way to do this. The method is simple but it requires me to violate a long term belief I've held....great DACs sound best when they feed the amplifier direct. The WA33 has a pre-amp mode. There are balanced outputs that can feed the MSB amp. Changing from Headphone to Preamp mode is a simple switch selection. I'm curious how using the WA will affect the sound of the MSB amp. On paper it sounds attractive because you would have a all tube preamp feeding a solid state amplifier. It would also clean up a problem I have with some of my files. They were mastered at low gain levels and in order to listen effectively I have to jack the Select II gain over 100. This is not recommended from what I understand. Do any of you guys with Select II's have experience mating them with PreAmps?

    Thx
    Eric
    Aurender W20SE File Server
    MSB Select II DAC
    Block Audio Line Stage and PreAmp (inbound)
    MSB Headphone Amplifier
    Woo Audio WA33 Elite Headphone Amp
    Transparent Opus Gen5 XLR interconnects
    Shunyata Everest power conditioner and power cords
    Multiple Headphones

  49. #49
    Audioshark
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    Sarasota, FL
    Posts
    27,835

    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Quote Originally Posted by Cincy2 View Post
    As I was switching balanced cable inputs from the MSB amp to the Woo WA33 it struck me there was a better way to do this. The method is simple but it requires me to violate a long term belief I've held....great DACs sound best when they feed the amplifier direct. The WA33 has a pre-amp mode. There are balanced outputs that can feed the MSB amp. Changing from Headphone to Preamp mode is a simple switch selection. I'm curious how using the WA will affect the sound of the MSB amp. On paper it sounds attractive because you would have a all tube preamp feeding a solid state amplifier. It would also clean up a problem I have with some of my files. They were mastered at low gain levels and in order to listen effectively I have to jack the Select II gain over 100. This is not recommended from what I understand. Do any of you guys with Select II's have experience mating them with PreAmps?

    Thx
    Eric
    Two channel preamps? Yes. We use a two channel preamp exclusively with the MSB since we have more than once source.

    Our favorites are Block Audio, Boulder 2110, Soulution 725.
    My Systems: http://www.audioshark.org/showthread...481#post158481

    "We can hear everything we measure, but we can't measure everything we hear. Let your ears be your guide."

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  50. #50
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    Join Date
    Jul 2014
    Location
    Tampa FL
    Posts
    244

    Re: Headphone Evaluation

    Mike,

    Do any of these preamps have headphone outputs? That's the beauty of the Woo. It provides a pass through mode to act as a preamp but also has headphone outputs. I'm going to give it a trial and see what happens.

    Eric
    Aurender W20SE File Server
    MSB Select II DAC
    Block Audio Line Stage and PreAmp (inbound)
    MSB Headphone Amplifier
    Woo Audio WA33 Elite Headphone Amp
    Transparent Opus Gen5 XLR interconnects
    Shunyata Everest power conditioner and power cords
    Multiple Headphones

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Headphone Evaluation

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