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a short diary of some part of my life.

Posts tagged Woo Audio

Why?

Like everything else, a journey may end at some point. I just didn’t expect this would end so soon. I was an advocate Head-Fi reader – not a frequent poster. I have gradually but surely, walking away from Head-Fi. It has become a place where I buy and sell my headphone gear. There are only very few respected Head-Fi members whose comments/replies are worth reading. To make it even worse, most if not all of them are Head-Case members (they provides better users’ impressions due to their vast knowledge about audio electronics in general and anti-hype approach). Head-Fi user interface has also become dreadful (did I mention that Head-Case interface is MUCH better than Head-Fi’s?). A prominent Head-Fi member have summed up the problems, he too decided to leave.

Head-Fi’s Major Issues

There are many other major (disturbing) issues that prompted me to say good-bye. Issues like their over-protective approach over their site sponsors, post deleted without any notice (I have seen this myself, several times. I refreshed the page after 5 minutes and some posts were gone), users’ idiocies (of defending their purchases, users’ incompetencies… make the forum very uninformative, unfriendly, and useless. There is another issue (another issue and another issue?) about sponsors trying to make easy money. Head-Fi is going to be a much worse place for those who cheer good sound if the admins decide not to do anything about those issues. Many have left, many have not posted useful posts for some time.

Head-Fi DGAF about Regular Folks

Even after issues after issues are exposed, Head-Fi still do not give a crap about us regular folks who spend countless hours on honest jobs. If I were to run a forum, read by millions of unique visitors per month like Head-Fi, I would make sure that the vendors are always kept in check, especially after vendors are caught lying or making very questionable products at extraorbitant price. They could have made the forum much safer for users with a bit more effort but they don’t.

It’s not fair to leave without saying anything, so here is a few bits of my story:
During my time searching for the right headphone, amps, and sources, I have learnt a lot. This headphone journey led me to speakers system which I think sounds superior to any headphone systems on the planet. I’m grateful for my experiences on Head-Fi. Without it, I would not know how to start looking for the right system. For those who have the funds, the space, and the time to set up a speaker system, but you are still using headphones, I urge you to try a good speaker system. It will blow you away!

I figured, it will be fair to list what headphones and amps that I have owned and tried. So, you’ll know how far I have gone. Here are the lists:

Headphones:

  • JH Audio JH16 Pro
  • Sennheiser HD650
  • Sennheiser HD800
  • Grado RS2i
  • Grado HF2
  • Audeze LCD-2 Rev.1
  • Beyerdynamic T1
  • HiFiMan HE-5
  • HiFiMan HE-6
  • Shure SE535
  • Grado HP2
  • Sennheiser HD600

Amps:

I think I have had a few more amps but I can’t remember the names.

Which headphone and headphone amp are the best and the worst?

From the owned lists above, I consider Audeze’s LCD-2 and AMB B22 as the best headphone and the best amp. The worst are Sennheiser HD800 and Audio-gd Phoenix. Although I did not own them all at the same time, I can definately tell you that HD800 and Phoenix are my least favorite headphone and headphone amp.

I dislike HD800 due to its’ artificial-like sound signature. Anything that comes out from HD800 do not sound right to me. Audio-gd Phoenix sounds too smooth, is not as transparent as other top-tier amps, and has its’ own sound signature. My only requirement for a good amp is complete transparency. Its’ sound signature masks almost everything and changes my source’s sound signature. A reference amp must be transparent to the source, otherwise, you are better off settled with a tube amp like I once did with a Woo Audio 6 SE. AMB B22 and HeadAmp GS-X are much better amps than Audio-gd Phoenix, they are much more dynamic and transparent. I can easily do DBT on what source is used with AMB B22 and HeadAmp GS-X but with Audio-gd Phoenix, the differences between sources are very subtle. Even with ACSS, the Phoenix sounds soft and dull compared to AMB B22. I’m beginning to think, Audio-gd is not good at designing headphone amps. I have also briefly auditioned their Compass and C-2C and found them to be mediocre at best. A small headphone amp like AMB M^3 and HeadAmp Gilmore Lite are also much better alternatives than the big honking space heater Phoenix. Audez’e LCD-2 should pair well with any top tier amps like the GS-X. It is a very transparent headphone, I think it’s a better headphone than HiFiMan HE-6 which is quite piecing on the ears. I sold the LCD-2 because I simply wanted a retro headphone and I was also disappointed with LCD-2 build quality. It’s gone now and I don’t miss it at all.

Portable Amp (w/ DAC)

There are a few things that I want to talk about portable amps. If you really need portability and you are using a notebook computer, look no further, get a CEntrance DACport. It has a superb DAC and a superb Class A amp for its size. Don’t bother buying portable DAC/amp from various unproven manufacturers, they are all inferior. Most general DAC/amp combo use battery and they need to be recharged. This is not the case with DACport, DACport only needs a USB cable to connect it to your laptop or your iPad because it does not have a battery. It draws its power from your computer’s USB port. You don’t even need to install any driver. It’s that easy. Oh yes, you can use a DACport with an iPad. If you are using a portable music player, don’t bother buying a portable amp. It adds bulk and weight. You may also end up spending too much money on LODs, interconnects… Look at this set-up: Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo. Honestly, I think it looks rather stupid. If I have to use a portable music player like an iPod, I greatly prefer to use my old trusty iPod Mini (that’s right, iPod Mini) without an external amp or DAC. Sometimes, audiophiles may turn into audiphools. They are willing to sacrifice everything for one thing called sound quality. I bet CEntrance DACport offers much better SQ than that bulky set. That bulky set is NOT a portable setup. Instead of wasting your hard-earned money for silly things like LODs for an external amp or DAC, get yourself a nice pair of headphone. You will be much more satisfied in the long run.

Do I keep any headphone and headphone amp?

Now, I’m settled with Schiit Asgard (3/16 /11 – oops, got a Lyr now, purely for the tubes) and Grado RS1i. I consider both of them to be the best in their price ranges. Surprisingly, I find Asgard superior to Audio-gd Phoenix (yep, a $250 made in USA amp Vs. $1200 made in China amp). Grado RS1i is a very fun pair of headphone. It excels with rocks. Guitar strings sound superb. It’s just magical with rock genre. The RS1i fits better on my head, LCD-2? not as good and very heavy. You may question why I decided to scale back a bit. Well, the reasons are:

  1. I no longer listen to headphone that much. I listen to headphone ± 1 hour a day.
  2. I don’t feel comfortable wearing headphone for hours.
  3. My fear of hearing impaired.
  4. Speakers are superior in every way. Headphone cannot resolve the same level of resolution and imaging as a good pair of speakers.
  5. I could have splashed a chunk more for a GS-1 which had always been my number one preference for a single ended solid state amp. It’s been well known that GS-1 and GS-X are the most transparent headphone amps in the market. My reason is simple, sometimes, good enough is good enough. Asgard Lyr is good enough. 😀

Now, I’m obviously a headphone lover, but the truth is, as much as I love headphones, they will always be secondary to speakers in my life, because speakers are just that much more dimensional, natural, and convenient to listen to; there’s nothing on your noggin that could fall off, or prevent you from hearing important audio cues like phones, doorbell, neighbor screaming for help, and it’s much easier to share music with others.

Schiit Asgard Lyr and Grado RS1i are my last headphone system. I will likely not going to add a headphone, unless it is broken. That Schiit amp will likely outlast me, so there you go, a long-lasting headphones system. And this is where I stopped: A Happy Ending (Hi-Fi) ~ [I also explained a bit about how you should spend your money, where to spend it on, and various issues about audiophile in general]

Head-Fi users’ impressions and reviews…
I think it will be wise for those of you who are reading reviews to make sure that the reviewer has considerable knowledge about various amps in the market. A review like this is pointless IMHO… The reviewer did not compare his gear with top-tier amps and DACs or even worse, the reviewer has little to no experience with top-tier amps and DACs. I imagine the reviewer will be completely floored with an AMB M^3 or a HeadAmp Gilmore Lite .

From those many reasons above: Head-Fi is no longer a useful place and headphones are inferior to speakers, I decided to leave Head-Fi world. It’s been a fun experience. Thank you Head-Fi!

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Update (3/19/2011): ~ read links on the top of this page: https://ravenda.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/nuforce-udac2/
Looks like Head-Fi has become extremely hostile towards NwAvguy, links to his blog have been deleted. Let’s wait and see what will be deleted next… This is not the first time I have seen this happened on Head-Fi. I just didn’t expect them to be super protective of their sponsors. I have all the print screens and PDFs of the deleted posts if anyone wants to read them. No wonder there are more and more bad guys roaming free on Head-Fi. 😦 I guess, a farewell to Head-Fi is a good thing after all…

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I sold my Woo Audio 6 and bought myself an early Christmas present, a Woo Audio 6 SE (Special Edition).

It features a separate power supply unit which uses 5AR4 or 5U4G rectifier tube and an amplifier unit which uses 6DE7 or 6EW7 dual triodes power/drive tubes. The amplifier unit has two chokes per channel and utilizes direct interstage coupling design, there is no coupling capacitor in the signal path.

My first impression was OMG… this thing screams power, a lot more powerful than my old Woo Audio 6. I’m still trying to get used to the sound of the amp, the amp is surprisingly neutral and smooth. I guess it’s true about solid state being too analytical which is not my taste at all. I have also tried many different kind of musics and I have to say, WA6-SE makes them to sound as good as they possibly can. One thing I really like about the WA6SE is it allows me to enjoy low volume listening with full impact and detail – something I haven’t been able to achieve with other amps I’ve tried.

I have 11 sets of power/drive tubes and 8 sets of rectifier tubes. Fat bottles 6EW7 power/drive tubes seem to have wider soundstage but they also have less impact if compared to 6DE7s which are somewhat more musical. As for the rectifier, I have the excellent Emission Labs 5U4G Mesh, this is one beautiful tube, especially when it’s on. I notice the sonic signature changes to the better side. The changes are minor, bass is a little deeper and controlled, everything seem to be well balanced. I don’t recommend those who own WA6SE or any OPT tube amps to buy more expensive rectifiers unless they want to because of the tubes looks, the changes are minor to warrant the price differences. There are two beautiful rectifier tubes, the Sophia Electric Princess 274B Mesh and the EML 5U4G/274B Mesh. The SP 274B Mesh is just as beautiful as the EML Mesh tube, it’s not a true mesh plate though.

Although the amp has performed flawlessly since day one, I’d like to change a couple of things; the rectification needs to work perfectly, sometimes the rectifier tube emits flash, I’m very concern about it as I don’t want the PSU unit to shorten the life of the rectifier tube. I have a few of very expensive rectifier tubes and I’m very worried if the recent “bad batch” of the Sophia Electric Princess 274B mesh is not really a bad batch but is caused by the design of the PSU unit. I want to use 6FD7 tubes as they are my favorite tubes, I was told I must not use them but Woo Audio does not specify a reason for it. There is a fix posted on head-fi.org for it. The fix is simple, you just have to swap two 470uF/100V capacitors in the amp unit with two 470uF/200V capacitors (I choose Panasonic TS-ED for this application). I will work on it once I have time to play with my soldering iron. I will also swap the bypass caps (220uF/16V) with Black Gate N-series 470uF/16V. Hopefully new caps will improve the SQ. In the future, I may add additional power filter caps to filter out hum that I can hear with my Sennheiser IE8 (IEM – In Ears Monitor). I want the amp to be silent with any phones plugged into it.

So, there you go, a superb headphone tube amplifier that does not cost arms and legs.
Thanks Jack and Wu family, for making this beautiful amp.

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NuForce

Read this article: http://nwavguy.blogspot.com/2011/02/nuforce-udac-2-drama.html

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Ray Samuels Audio

Ray Samuels Audio is a well known manufacturer of Headphone Amplifier and Pre-Amplifier. I almost bought RSA Raptor before I decided to get a Woo Audio 6. Raptor is an OTL design tube amp. From its aesthetics form, it looks good. But what matters the most is the sound it produces, its reliability and the design of the amp itself. I don’t want to buy something that I know may have a possibility to fail. I don’t want to buy a bad design either.

Here are some interesting discussion threads:

What irks me is that RSA gets protection from ****-Fi,org moderators from getting hard questions (RSA is one of their “members of the trade”), his bad designs are also the main reason why I didn’t purchase one of his amps. I almost did, until I found a better forum (Head-Case) where I can get honest answers. Lesson learnt, do more research before you are about to buy something and be sure who to trust when you read reviews; take them as grain of salt.

(08/28/09) :

Now, there are more and more people who start to find out what is actually inside a RSA Predator Amp/DAC; it turned out their customer service isn’t any better than the products themselves ~ http://www.****-fi.org/forums/.

In that thread, one member’s trying to find out what chips are used inside the Predator (http://www.****-fi.org). The member claimed that the DAC chip that Ray is using is a simple cheap mediocre USB DAC that can be installed without any programming or anything complicated. It’s a no surprise for me as Ray seems to be incapable of designing a good (portable/home) Amp or DAC and he never talked about techie stuff at all. A head-case.org member claimed that Ray ignored him after he’s no longer a member of ****-Fi.org: http://www.head-case.org/, one example how bad their customer service can be when you are not/no longer a member of ****-Fi.org.

Consumers will always find out something like this, we are not as dumb as some manufacturers think. Perhaps audio amplifier manufacturers like RSA should re-consider what they are doing; making dangerous/bad designs, stealing other manufacturer’s customers (Pico) from the manufacturer’s pre-order list (HeadAmp Pico pre-order list), and not using marketing as their main weapon to dodge potential customers from lurking to other products (the Shadowsafety issue) – a good design will speak for itself. I usually avoid buying a product from a manufacturer who speaks a lot of marketing BS when the manufacturer is trying to sell the product.

Unfortunately, this is also the trend on basically every single internet forum, not just audio forums. There are only a couple of forums that I know of which the majority of its members have good understandings of what they are making or buying. In my opinion, most consumers do not know what they are buying. That’s why we often find those who swear by the name of (let’s say) Bose. Brand names play a big part of audio marketing. On ****-fi, the case is simply driven by long-standing members or those who have lots of post counts but they don’t necessarily have the knowledge of what they are buying or reviewing. I read their reviews but I take them as grain of salt just like any other reviews that I read. I can’t believe how some manufacturers can get that much exposé with inferior products. Consumers can be really blinded by the hypes of a product, be a smart buyer!

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(12/13/2009) :

Warren Audio

Looks like, there are more and more bad audio companies on ****-Fi.org.

The company (Fidelity Audio) recently changed their name to Warren Audio.

They have had some very bad cases:

Another Rick Warren / Warren Audio BS on their cable designs patent pending status: http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/504503/is-it-really-worth-upgrading-sennheiser-hd-580-600-650-cables/135#post_6969649

I can’t understand he is still one of ****-Fi.org sponsors. This guy should be banned for life. BTW, his cables look plain and ugly, that practically gives customers no reason why one should buy his cables.

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(4/13/2010) :

Empirical Audio

Steve Nugent (SN: audioengr), who runs Empirical Audio has very low credibility in pro audio world: http://recforums.prosoundweb.com/
Just recently, he’s trying to use his marketing BS to indirectly sell his products: ****-Fi.org, here is the screen capture of what he wrote in case if the post gets deleted: post.

It turned out that there is another Steve’s stupidity, this one clearly shows that he has no understanding about the subject that was being discussed. Wavelength Audio/Gordon Rankin, a very well respected audio designer made corrections to Steve’s claims. Here is the link to it: ****-Fi.org, here is the screen capture of what he wrote in case the post gets deleted: 1 & 2.

I find it amusing when someone who claims he has the skills and know-how of how to design a superb product, making that kind of posts. Now, I’m starting to doubt that he even holds those patents during his time at Intel by himself, it could be… who knows…

In my opinion, it’s better for you (audio manufacturers) to be honest and straightforward if you do not have the expertise on the subject matter, that way you won’t get questioned of your credibilities when what you claimed are false. You would look stupid too. Audio world has too much BS, be careful of what you are buying!

I will compile a list of ‘bad’ audio manufacturers soon.

[update] Here is another example: http://www.head-fi.org/t/668878/jitter-correlation-to-audibility/30#post_9544233

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(8/6/2010) :

Nagys Audio

Nagys Audio is finally BANNED at AudioCircle.

They basically killed themselves. Read the link above.

or read/download PDF version here:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/bw2cbm2d3ybn6qd/Nagys%20Audio%20Banned.pdf

They are also banned at diyAudio.com: http://www.diyaudio.com/forums/members/nagysaudio.html

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(1/24/2011) :

CryoParts / Locus Design Group

I’ve been considering to put Lee Weiland‘s company on my bad audio company list. Finally, I did it. This is not because they sell poor products but rather super duper overpriced products that you can get much cheaper elsewhere. I’m not going to explain anything, I will let you be the judge for the following pictures below:

CryoParts RCA ($57) Vs. Valab RCA ($24)

Perhaps they come from the same factory. I’m pretty sure they do come from the same manufacturer. There are many overpriced products that Lee is selling. The other example is the new SonicWeld Diverter Vs. Wavelength WaveLink HS. Wavelink HS is designed by the renowned Gordon Rankin and Diverter is designed and manufactured by Josh Heiner of SonicWeld. There are many arguments why SonicWeld chose to design a bling-bling chassis, I personally could not find a single reason why you need that kind of chassis for a solid state product. Anyway, here is another example of CryoParts overpriced product: http://www.cryo-parts.com/index.php/cryoparts-damping-feet. The guy seems to have no idea about what to cryo and what not to cryo, he throws everything he can to be cryo-treated.

Here is a major issue: 99.999% silver cable turning green. The cable manufacturer was promising purity at 99.33% and Lee Weiland was marketing it at 99.999% pure silver.

http://www.head-fi.org/t/551156/some-whiplash-twag-v1-cables-turning-green-split-from-jh13-appreciation-thread/195

I don’t read the whole thread but if my suspicion is correct, the cable manufacturer is located somewhere in China. Chinese manufacturers are notoriously known for faking specs, shipping incorrect item (far from specs), or not shipping the correct goods at all.

Maybe Cryo-parts did not know about those issues but they should have lab-tested it before even trying to market it as 99.999whatever% pure silver. The fact that the manufacturer themselves was promising purity at less than what Cryo-parts was marketing it at is just ridiculously wrong.

Anyone who’s shameless enough to sell cables at those prices is shameless enough to lie about its specs. I’m sure some TWag buyers are motivated purely by aesthetics, but it fails even that.

You can add this as one of the many reasons why America is going down. There are very few innovations and so many scammers. It will take a very long time until America can be the country of innovators again. These trends are going to continue as long as there are buyers.

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(1/24/2011) :

Reference Audio Mods

Read these link:
http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1122758
http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/566728/warning-about-kyle-of-reference-audio-mods/30

The guy has been acting like he knows everything about audio mods. It turned out that he doesn’t understand a thing about electronics. I really don’t understand about this audio mods business. Why would you pay for twice the price of your gear when you clearly can buy a much better product at the same price?? If you are not satisfied with your gear, then sell it. If you want to get a better sound, get the better product. Most of these modders seem to be scammers in hiding. I bet Doug Jesse of ASI-tek also has history of scamming people. ASI-tek was ‘RAM’s friend.

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(9/22/2011) :

Cavalli Audio

Read this link:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/rrlrlqzpsg4gmxw/Cavalli%20Audio%20Liquid%20Lightning.pdf

There are plenty of examples, google them. Basically they are selling inferior (badly designed) products at extraorbitant price.

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Finally…

I just got the Pico today. After 6 weeks of waiting (estimate wait time on HeadAmp website : 2 weeks), I finally got it and I’m using it with a smile on my face.

Now I know all the hypes about this Pico, it’s less than small… It’s TINY. Smaller than my iPod Classic, virtually the same size as my smallest cellphone, Samsung SGH-D600. Surprisingly!!! It drives the supposed-to-hard-to-drive Sennheiser HD650 with no hesitation. It’s certainly better than using the line out jack from my MacBook.

Now, about the DAC. It brings some more details that were missing from using my MacBook line out jack. Whether it’s worth the price, I’m not sure. To be honest. I’m a bit disappointed reading a thread about WooAudio 6 is actually more suited and tuned for low impedance phones. I had to crank the volume know all the way up to the max to enjoy the HD650 if using line out jack from my MacBook. By using this Pico, I can use it as a pre-amp to feed the WA6, now it has sufficient volume level. I’m very curious to try out the HeadAmp GS-1 after using this Pico. Tube Amp looks better than Solid State Amp, but ultimately I want something that does the job, not something good-looking. I guess I just have to live with what I have now and enjoy them. Let’s see what happen in a few weeks. My pocket is the limit. 😦

Oh and, to give you an idea how small Pico really is… Tiny, aye? 🙂

HeadAmp Pico size

If you think that’s the tiniest amp around, HeadAmp is about to release a tinier model, named Pico Slim. Check this out : Head-Fi.org – Pico Slim

I’ve been using the Sennheiser HD650 for almost everything, from enjoying music to watching movies. I actually think, the HD650 is a lot better when used for watching movies. The soundstage is incredibly big without any noticeable artificial airiness which is about perfect. I’m using it with the WooAudio 6 headphone amplifier. It’s one of the better tubes amp in the market and I’m strongly considering the WooAudio 2, an OTL tube amp with many analog inputs and a set of pre-amp output. I can live with one input, I don’t think I will ever buy a second source.

Btw, my Pico has not arrived yet, a big bummer…