a short diary of some part of my life.

Posts from the audio Category

Cavalli Audio

I just added Cavalli Audio, run by Alex Cavalli to my Bad Audio Companies list.

Here is the reason: CLICK HERE

Not a surprise, really. Bad design, bad build, bad soldering job… Priced at 5k USD. Yet, people are still buying his products. Be a smart buyer!



Mini review of two of Burson’s products.



  • Great punch
  • Easy on the ears, more on that below.


  • Subpar built-in DAC.
  • Blurry in complex passages.
  • Raspy bass, not deep or clean.
  • Not a neutral / transparent amp, has its own sound signature, perhaps Burson’s house sound. Easy on the ears.
  • Burson’s stepped attenuator is awful, DACT / Goldpoint stepped attenuators offer much better feel.
  • Not as dynamic as some of the best solid state amps.
  • Narrow soundstage. Closed-in, it’s like the music is right in front of my face.
  • Very expensive for the sound quality you get.
  • Very expensive for the build quality you get. Look at one of HeadAmp’s offerings.


Soloist is very similar to Conductor, except it’s even less dynamic than its bigger brother.

I don’t understand why these two amps get raved reviews. The sound is a huge letdown. I was genuinely interested with one of them and I’m still looking into their new speaker amp.

Recently, I visited a prominent local headphone store. I was looking for a portable closed-back headphone for air travel, to replace my in-ear phones, Sennheiser IE8. I no longer feel comfortable wearing in-ear for hours, let alone, a long flight. The IE8 will fall off my ears if I do not constantly reposition it. I have tried various tips but none of them provides the comfort I want up in the air. While I was there, why not try various new & old gears that I have not tried.

The First Setup

The first was the Bottlehead Crack w/ Astell & Kern as DAC, driving Sennheiser HD650. The sound was very lean. The HD650 lost its greatness; imaging, deep bass, soundstage, all gone. Bottlehead turned HD650 into a very thin sounding headphone. After a few minutes, I switched to another setup. Later on, I found out that the culprit is on Bottlehead Crack. The amp just didn’t sound good.

The Second Setup

The second setup was ALO Pan Am w/ Astell & Kern as DAC, driving Sennheiser HD650. Now, this is what Sennheiser HD650 should sound like. It’s not the best amp for it but the Pan Am was a much better amp than Bottlehead Crack. It brought back HD650’s famous imaging and soundstage. The speed was a bit on the slow side but after the hearing the first setup, my ears needed a spa, a spa that Pan Am provided. There was channel imbalance on low volume but still very tolerable.

After listening with HD650, I switched to Audio Technica ATH-ES700. It sounded really bad (bad in every way) that after a few musics, skipped!

Then, I picked up Audio Technica ATH-ES9. Now, this was better, much better than ATH-ES700. This should be the best portable closed-back headphone to replace my Sennheiser IE8. It sounded great with the Pan Am. Wait, I can’t use the Pan Am on an airplane. So I plugged the ES9 directly into Astell & Kern AK100. Although not as great and inviting as HD650, the sound was well balanced, and easy to listen to.

My Conclusions:

  • The Pan Am is a very decent amp for its size but the price puts me off. It’s expensive for the sound quality you get out of it. If I really need a small amp w/ DAC, I’d just get my DACport. It’s even smaller than the Pan Am. If I want to go a just a bit bigger, I’d get one of Schiit’s single-ended amps and you don’t need to worry about running out of battery power or replace the battery unit after a few years.
  • Sennheiser HD650 is as great as ever, it remains one of my all-time favorites.
  • Bottlehead Crack is a bad-sounding amp. Maybe the unit is defective. I don’t know.
  • Audio Technica ATH-ES700 is a very bad sounding headphone. The sound does not sound right. Maybe it’s defective too (by design).
  • Audio Technica ATH-ES9 is a well balanced portable closed-back headphone for the money. This is the headphone I want to replace my Sennheiser IE8. It provides the comfort and SQ. My only concern is its fragile looking cable.
  • Astell & Kern is a great DAP (digital audio player). The sound is surprisingly quite neutral. The freq is very linear. I suspect it should be good for all kinds of music. The user interface is easier to use and not as flaky as iBasso DX50 that I also auditioned. SQ wise Vs. DX50? Better too.

When you buy a car, what are the parts that you will be looking into seriously? One of them is the engine, right?

I don’t get ALO’s latest offering, The Island. Actually, I don’t get ALO’s lineup. They have never really showed anything inside their products. They have never really explained the engineering marvels. They only throw a couple of chips here and there and that’s it. It’s like they are selling audio jewelries.

To be honest, I am never a fan of ALO. Looking back at their history… cables… Let’s just leave it at that. But I don’t hate them. I was ecstatic when they opened their first brick-mortar store in Portland, Oregon. But I guess old habits die hard. They were still at that point selling audio jewelries. Nothing to see in the store. I’d rather visit and support a local hi-fi dealer that I have known well that they only sell high-performance audio equipments.

Recently, they venture into desktop amp/dac and portable amp/dac. The products look pretty decent to me. And I have heard several, they sound pretty decent too but again, nothing that I would consider buying. The Island is just released today, I’m confused. I really like the design. Huge volume knob on top, someone should have done this a long time ago with portable amp/dac. Making a portable amp knob to look like a miniaturized desktop amp knob is just silly. They put USB input and audio output on each opposite end, those moves make sense. The box shape of the enclosure is a big plus too. But there is little else to see before I even consider buying one.

Maybe it’s just me or a few others, but I would want to see what’s inside and why it cost the same as DACport. CEntrance went a great length to make the DACport the way it is. There are the USB handshake thing that requests 9V, driverless proprietary 24/96 USB input, Class A amp, AKM4396 DAC, and capacitor-free headphone out. The Island has no sign of having any of engineering breakthrough. Yes, it offers balanced in/out and hi-res 24/192 USB DAC, but I don’t need balanced in/out as I don’t want to have a balanced headphone and hi-res 24/192 USB DAC is hardly an engineering marvel as there are now several easy-to-get solutions in the market.

This makes me wonder whether I should buy it or not. Maybe I should. I can always tear it down after purchase. But they could have saved all the troubles by explaining a bit more about the thing. What is it that ALO trying to avoid? …

Photo by adiputraryan

Reviews of Sennheiser HD650 have probably been written thousand times. That speaks a lot about its popularity. It’s one of the most well regarded audiophile headphones and it’s been around since many years ago in the form of HD580. Since the introduction of planar phones, its popularity as one of the best performing is waning. But I feel like it’s not waning at all in term of overall sound quality.

This headphone was my first audiophile headphone and is certainly one of my long time favorites along with my Grado RS1i. They complement each other. Even if compared with the HD800, I still choose HD650. Why?

  • HD800 is astronomically expensive, considering very little performance gains you are getting with HD800.
  • HD800 is not a comfortable-sounding headphone. I prefer listening to RS1i. A lot of people consider Grado uncomfortable but the HD800 is more uncomfortable. I feel more comfortable listening to HD650 for hours.

I don’t know what Sennheiser is thinking about pricing the HD800 that high. Maybe that has something to do with it being assembled in Germany where labors are more expensive than in Ireland where HD650 is made.

Comfort-wise, HD800 is more comfortable than HD650 but it’s not a huge improvement. The look itself will attract people asking about it, especially spouses who will definitely ask what kind of headphone that is. Build quality-wise, HD800 is entirely made of plastic. It feels cheap for a very expensive dynamic headphone.

Since my exposure to speakers, I have significantly reduced my investment in headphone. I don’t feel the need of having a balanced headphone setup or a very high performance headphone setup. The fund for those setups will likely eat my budget for my speakers. It’s not going to be fun as well as I won’t be able to share headphone with my wife. So the priority is to get the best sounding speakers setup. Headphone is not going away, but the priority needs to be set right. I want a headphone that sounds like speakers. I want a headphone amp that is reasonably priced, made in the USA, and high performance. I got the amp and I have reviewed it.

HD650 is the only headphone that I find sound like speakers. It does not have all the speakers superiorities over headphone. What it has, is the the trait of imaging of speakers. No headphone does it as well as HD650. I understand now why people who owned HD800, go back to HD650.

The sound is also surprisingly well balanced for a headphone. It has a few weaknesses but the imaging alone worth considering over other headphones. Since I’m concentrating my budget more on speakers and less on headphone, I consider the price to be also one of the most crucial factors. At US$500, it’s almost a no brainer. You will be hard pressed or in fact next to impossible to find similar headphones at this price. A headphone setup does not have to be super expensive to be enjoyable.