Massdrop x THX AAA 789 Amplifier - Official Thread

massdrop

#1

Since the second drop of Massdrop x THX AAA 789 amplifiers began shipping early, and they are now available for instant “in stock” purchase, and there is rapidly building interest in this unit as more people get their hands on them, it’s time to give it its own official thread:

Full details are available on the Massdrop site; and this is the spot for further discussion on this extremely interesting little amplifier.


Massdrop "x" (Audiophile)
#2

I’d love to know where the THX AAA 789 stands compared to the Holo Cyan amp.
Looking foward to some reviews. :grinning:


Massdrop "x" (Audiophile)
#3

Do you mean the Azure?

The Cyan is a DAC that, depending on which converter option you choose, can also have a built-in headphone output. The Azure is a pure headphone amp/pre-amp.


#4

Not the Azure but the amp that’s build into the Cyan. I have the Cyan DAC with PCM module and without amp here right now.

It will be interesting to know how it keeps up against the Holo Azure or the Phonitor as well of course but I would be suprised if it reaches that level or performance. I like surprises though :-).


#5

That makes sense! That’s what I get for posting on too little sleep!

I would say that the THX AAA 789 does a slightly better job than the built-in Cyan headphone amplifier (PCM module). I would also say that it’s a very cost-effective pairing with the Cyan using the DSD module. While neither setup is ideal with the LCD-4, the THX AAA 789 does fair somewhat better with the Abyss AB-1266 Phi CC than the native Cyan amp.

The Massdrop unit exhibits a more neutral delivery, somewhat better control, better stage, a little more low-end slam, and better micro-dynamics vs. Cyan’s built-in amp.

Of course, I could say the same about the Schiit Jotunheim, only there I’d give the nod to the Cyan’s internal amp on stage, but bump the Jotunheim up above either of them for raw slam, and also note that the Schiit amp does a better job driving the LCD-4 and the Abyss than either the built-in or THX AAA 789 amps.

One thing I am finding with the THX AAA 789 is that so far I like it better when it is fed single-ended than when fed balanced. In both cases using the balanced (XLR) OUTPUT. This is not something I can discern instantly in quick A/B comparisons - it’s only becomes apparent with longer listening sessions. But coming off either the RME ADI-2 DAC or the Chord DAVE, I find fatigue sets in faster when feeding the Massdrop unit a balanced input than with the single-ended (tested in a controlled and blind fashion, but not to the standards of a “formal” DBT). It is worth noting that there could be other factors at play here - as such fatigue can have multiple causes; but it is consistent enough that I’ll keep it under consideration for a formal review.

Outside pairings with very high-end gear (both source and headphone) it’s hard to fault the THX AAA 789, and especially so at it’s asking price. It’s clearly more technically competent than the MCTH or LCX, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will prefer it to either.

Broader thoughts to follow and, of course, in a full review sometime in the not too distant future (bit of a backlog to get through first).


#6

My self imposed backlog is growing also, holidays, work and influx of new gear is not helping lol.

Thank you for all your work you put into this @Torq


#7

I just received this in the mail and had a chance to compare it last night to a Gilmore Lite MK2 and a Violectric V280. My initial impressions, feeding it with the Modi Mutibit and using the Focal Clear and MrSpeakers Aeon Closed are as follows, keeping in mind that this is not a full review, which @TORQ is much more capable of delivering.

So, without getting into a full blown review and comparison, I will just say that all three amps are technically very proficient and deliver what is expected of a competent amp, but sound differently, with the Gilmore sounding the closest to the 789, which is the least expensive of the three and as such, probably the best value. The 789 sells for $350, the Gilmore for $500, and the Violectric $1800.

Again, without getting into a detailed comparison, my immediate impression after a quick A/B/C is that compared to the other two amps, I find the Massdrop THX AAA 789 to be rather polite sounding in that it lacks slam and authority, especially when listening to very dynamic tracks like Florence and the Machine’s, Dog Days Are Over or Max Richter’s interpretation of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Summer 3. Although I had level matched the volume of all three amps, with the 789 I always wanted to turn the volume up in order to feel the excitement those pieces convey but it never quite got me there. I should also add, that in comparison, the 789 is somewhat lean sounding and gives the impression of having a tad amount of brittleness or sharper edge on the higher notes and as such, while being polite sounding, can probably get fatiguing compared to the other amps. Although, perhaps it is the thinness of the notes that makes them seem a tad brittle. I am not sure. I should stress here however, that this is only in comparison to the other 2 amps, which others have said exhibit “tube like” characteristics. But I don’t want to go there.

While the 789 is less expensive, I prefer the Gilmore as it is not only more exciting to listen to but more fulfilling, in that it is more full sounding with thicker, rounder notes but it is just as fast, just as detailed and with a stage that is similar in size. The 789 is perhaps a bit more nimble sounding or lighter on its feet but at the expense of weight and punch.

Of the three, I think I prefer the Violectric because while it has more authority, weight and slam than the other two, it also has a creamy quality to it, and while this gives the impression of slowing things down, in the long run it is less fatiguing to listen to. The notes have more body and weight than the other two amps. They are also rounder which makes female vocals sound luscious. And it does this while maintaining a semblance of air and separation between the notes. Ideally, I would prefer a hybrid of the Gilmore and Violectric - the speed and excitement of the Gilmore mixed with the creamy, round and powerful sound of the Violectric.

If I did not have the other amps to compare to, for $350 the Massdrop THX AAA 789 would be a keeper and is I think a fantastic entry level amp but for a bit more money, I prefer the Gilmore Lite MK2.


#8

I should add, please bare in mind that this is the first review (or rather impressions) that I have ever written about any product.


#9

In my super limited listening of the Monoprice THX model, which is designed in cooperation with the same THX designer team, I find this resonates the same as well. It’s extremely clean and lean sounding.


#10

Please see my review of this amp with a slew of headphones at Massdrop:

And I received my first “thumbs up” from Massdrop’s @CEE_TEE :relaxed:


#11

I need to become friends with him so he will send me headphones to review lol…I really want to try the new HE-xx I’ll wait until it drops before buying it…and seeing what others have to say. Such as @Torq.


#12

I expect I can get a set of the HE-XX for a review tour once they’re baked.

I got my hands on them for a few brief moments at RMAF, prior to announcement, but didn’t have a chance to listen to them at all (I literally ran into Christian in a stairwell). They feel a lot more substantially built than even the latest iterations of HiFiMans main line of cans.


#13

Second Thumb’s Up! :smile:


#14

That’s good to hear. I still would have liked to see the other headbands with it. I assume an HE560 headband would fit but not sure. I have a 560 and sundara band spare at home to work with. I was very close to adding myself to that drop but I spent too much lately and decided to wait and see.

A little bit of regret now but the 560 is still used in my rotation and a, quite happy with them.

I may consider getting this THX amp out in the future as well. Still liking my MP version but it does have some hiss with extremely sensitive IEMs, though nothing IEmatch can’t fix.


#15

I kind of regret not committing to this drop…but I am trying to hear items before committing to them…or at least seeing reviews from people I can align with. I do want a pair of these as I intend to give away my HE4xx to a friend soon, and I would like to have a Hifiman in my stable. I think I’m getting close to purging some gear (the collector in me is screaming lol) but we’ll see.

back on track…
@antdroid I also want to pick up this amp at some point… I think @torq has one? If so it will be interesting to compare it with the Monolith THX 788…


#16

Can’t argue with wanting to hear things first!

In that regard I tend to have purchases fall into two categories …

  • Stuff I’m buying to primarily to experiment with, review/compare or test - which I do not worry much about listening to prior to purchasing - especially if it’s mostly for supporting review comparisons. Such items I know won’t be sticking around very long (e.g. I very much doubt I’ll keep the HD58X and HE4XX or the Liquid Spark etc. once I am done with all my ~$500 and under gear reviews/comparisons).

  • Items I am looking at for one of my active listening rigs (I have four for headphones … my main one, my bedside rig, the “day job” rig and my portable setup). These items tend to be more expensive and are rarely purchased without either a) a proper audition (usually a week at home) or b) a no-restocking fee 14-day (or better) return policy - which still amounts to me getting a proper audition.

I do indeed … that’s mine at the top of the thread, in fact.

Starting to think I like it on medium gain the best. Though it’s in fairly tough company, even just with “Massdrop x” branded competition … between the MCTH, the LCX and the EC ZDT Jr. It’s definitely the most neutral and resolving of the four … but the others are all interesting and worthwhile in their own ways with unique takes on presentation.

What I really need now is a 2:4 switcher in a matching chassis … and a balanced SDAC in the same form factor … which would make for another interesting stack …


#17

well if you ever want to get rid of that EC ZDT Jr. I know someone (me) that is looking for one :wink:

In all honesty I fall into the same categories (to a lesser degree) I make a lot of spur of the moment curiosity purchases of things under a certain price point. Then I have my “give it to me” purchases that tend to be more expensive and I will keep for a long time.

Part of the reason I like Massdrop is I sometimes spur of the moment purchase something but then realize it has no place in my stable of gear (SMSL M9DAC/amp) so I cancel it before the drop ends. I think of it as a feature these days, plus if I’m not paying attention I get random “self-gifts” on my doorstep through out the year lol.


#18

Yes indeed…heading toward an infinite ‘thumbs up’ feedback loop. Thanks for creating so many things.


#19

I hear ya. The amount of times I’ve joined a drop only to cancel doesn’t bear thinking about. Though it has saved me a few regrettable purchases on others it has hindered what would have been a good buy. Overthinking something. Me, guilty as charged.:grin:


#20

I jumped on the latest drop of this… I actually meant to cancel it but eh… options are nice, and I can use this as a good jump off for rotating some gear out.

Plus I can do a comparison with the 788…