Tube Served Three Ways


#1

Goffy title aside I finally got me hands on three different tube amps, an by different I mean in how they operate.

So up for review/comparison is a Modded APPJ pa1502a an stock G1217 Project Ember II and a stock Schiit Valhalla 2

My Ember II has a CNC Chassis 1940 Vintage Sylvania 6sn7 JAN CHS VT231 Bottom Getter Flash Clear Top - $455 as tested if bought New

  • Ember II Assembled - $390
  • 6sn7 Adapter - $26
  • 1940 Vintage Sylvania 6sn7 JAN CHS VT231 Bottom Getter Flash Clear Top - $39

[Though it’s the longest established and can be gotten second hand for closer to $350 often with upgraded Tubes or you can opt to assemble it your self and save a little there too]

My Modded Set has a set of Russian 6n6c Power Tubes with a 1940s Sylvania 12SN7GT Driver - Cost as tested is $394

  • Appj pa1502a Base Unit - $199
  • Pair of 6n6c Power Tubes - $20
  • Pangea AC 14 Power $30
  • 1940 Vintage Sylvania 12sn7GT JAN CHS VT289 Bottom Getter Flash Clear Top - $10
  • Audio Note Kasai + Auricap XO Re-cap an installation - $125

and the Valhalla 2 is 100% Stock! - $350

As some one whose spent a lot of time tube rolling and modding/tinkering I was really curious to see how a stock amp like the Valhalla 2 compared to my rolled in wonders.

Overall I felt my Modded APPJ pa1502a was the most resolving, audibly it had the highest degree of fidelity or exactness in reproducing sound when specifically paired with dynamic headphones. The mods we did were;

  • Replaced existing Output Caps with AuriCap XOs & Audio Note Kaisei’s
  • Introduced bypass caps into the Circuit Path

All in all it’s the result of about 7 months of research and I’m very impressed with the results! At the end of it all I feel if your able to DIY your likely going to get the highest degree of fidelity for your system with the least monetary cost. But there’s extensive knowledge and experience required as any mistakes invoke additional cost. I also had to do some digging to figure out who to have install the mods, as I’m not cleanest solderer. So again time and money can quickly add up when putting together a custom piece. I suppose I lucked out!

But in a sense I feel it’s a bit unfair to compare an amp Modded specifically for my exact system, still I wanted to include it to get some perspective on how a more DIY Focused option compares to available retail products. An I’m happy to say there was in fact a retail amp that followed closely behind my own Modded SET! So much so I kinda wish I’d purchased said amp before venturing into my own little experiment.

I did my listening with a ZMF Auteur in Cocobolo with their Silver Michanikos cable as well as with my HD 800 using a Audio Envy Tone Kraft Copper.

Each of these I felt was a headphone that had a more natural mid range presentation with even bass response, the HD 800 is brighter up top and very technical with strong staging and the Auteur was a bit more intimate with a more correct timbre and more even tonal response.

An I personally enjoy each with a drier sounding tube amp, so the three amps featured all share that slightly drier presentation in comparison to something like a Schiit Vali 1 or a Cavili Liquid Glass with a thicker sounding Tube.

An again overall I felt my Modded APPJ pa1502a had the most resolve and audible fidelity how ever on high gain an at over 80% rotation I also noticed it was nosier than the other two amps. Thankfully only about 10% of my music requires me to push the amp to this upper limit, and even then I’ve got around 3-4 dBs of headroom.

But I’ll go over 4 aspects of sound quality in comparing the remaining two units;

  • Detail
  • Dynamics
  • Staging
  • Tonality/Timbre/Envelope

An as you guys know each of these aspects are often linked together, as tonal imbalances can often lead to perceived changes or in-inaccuracies in regard to staging as well as mask over some detail.

Overall I felt these aspects of the Valhalla 2’s presentation were better than that of the Ember II;

  • Black background
    • With less audible noise, hum or hiss present during silent or quite passages
  • Clear Micro and Macro Dynamics
    • Gradual changes of individual instruments and musicians were easily identified
    • As were more sudden and intense changes to the intensity of the composition as a whole
  • Vivid Presentation of Transients
  • Tatuer Bass
    • With a cleaner more balanced envelope - so no emphasis on attack, decay sustain nor release

Overall I felt the Ember II presentation was stronger in these aspects;

  • Staging
    • More precise location of movement of sounds within the audible space
    • Resolved more of the “sound of the room”
      • Such as amibent noise like wall reflections, echo’s and things like foot steps
  • More Even Tonal presentation
    • Overall neither forward nor withdrawn throughout the frequency response

In comparison I felt the Valhalla 2 did the following different from the Ember II

  • Slightly Forward Mid-Range
    • While tonally not as balanced I did feel the Timbre was more natural
      • With a more even presentation of each part of the envelope
    • Slight forwardness helps define space for more intimate headphones but ultimately skews precision in staging for more open or spacious sounding headphones

In comparison I felt the Ember II differed from the Valhalla 2 in these aspects;

  • Some What Polarizing Presentation
    • Slight emphasis on attack and decay over sustain and release on in the mid range an upward
    • With contrasting emphasis in the lows
      • In a sense this some what polarizing presentation is more “tonally” correct but…
  • Slight emphasis on Amibent Noise
    • Part of why I feel it’s staging is slightly more accurate

An finally I felt the Ember II did noticeably worse in these aspects in comparison;

  • Noisier
    • More audible hum and hiss during quite passages
  • Looser low end presentation
  • Some what skewd timbre
    • Again odd presentation creates a nice tonal balance but skews the overall balance in how the envelope is presented which makes the timbre kinda off

An lastly I felt the Valhalla 2 had this single fault;

  • Slight Glare or Hardness
    • A rougher top end texture alongside an unpleasant upper mid glare

So it was quite fatiguing with really bright or energetic cans like those from Audio Technica or even the Filter-less Campfire Audio Cascade.

Otherwise and overall I felt the Valhalla 2 in stock form was the better amplifier for these more grounded and natural sounding dynamic headphones. Plus it’s $100 less offers an audible cleaner output and proves it self more resolving. An while it’s slight tonal faults I feel can be remedied with some tube swaps I feel your likely better off just saving that money for a better amp in the future. As again I feel upgrading the tubes on the Valhalla 2 to correct it’s tone could get costly and ultimately money spent on new tubes could just be money spent towards a better amp.

An yes I also felt the Valhalla 2 did give my little Modded Amp a real run for it’s money!!! Thankfully, I have purchased an upgrade to my system so my experiment isn’t holding me back at this time, though I wonder how much sooner I might have gotten said upgrade if I’d just gotten the Valhalla 2 in the first place…

An I again choose to limit this review to just dynamics as I felt the Hybrid Ember II had a clear advantage driving my Hifiman HE 560 and PreFazor LCD 2. An I’ve found that typically at this price points Hybrid Units seem to do better with harder to drive Planar Magnetics. Though exceptions may exist and I may explore them in the future.

Finally though sound quality aside the Ember II biggest strength is it’s versatility.

As a single tube swap can make small changes to;

  • Audible Noise/Gain
  • Tonal Balance
  • Timbre or Presentation of the Envelope

You can also change how the circuit operates and these changes bring a slight adjustment to;

  • Audible Noise/ Gain
  • Timbre

It’s also far more powerful then either amp so it’s got much more headroom on tap.

To this day I still feel the Ember II is an excellent choice for very power hungry Legacy Planars like the two I own, and I feel the circuit mods help to balance out the sound of these as well. Helping each to be a little more natural, while still be exceptionally “fast” sounding overall. In fact many of the weakness of the Ember II with my dynamics are in fact strengths with my planars as they have a some what contrasted presentation over my HD 800.

So for those of you that own large collections of headphones that have very differing sound presentations and amping requirements the Ember II will likely remain an excellent choice given how easily you can adjust it’s operation to compliment a variety of gear and sound signatures.

Other wise for those of you with single headphones such as the;

  • HD 600
  • AKG K702
  • HD 800
  • ZMF Atticus/Eikon/Auteur

An are looking for a nice tube amp the Schiit Valhalla 2 get’s an immediate unconditional recommendation from me!


#2

Sounds like some awesome tubes


#3

I’ve got a pair of Raytheon 2C51 Driver Tubes but I don’t feel they pair as well with the HD 800 and ZMF Eikon [for my taste’s]

Though my Modded ATH ES10 does sound nicer with the Raytheons


#4

well let’s go, are you live blogging this thing or what?


#5

Not live, going to start posting my findings tomorrow! letting every one “warm up” now


#6

I’m trying to find an friendly and inoffensive way to say that I think buying a $450 6sn7 tube is stupid, especially for an amp that costs much less than the tube.

But I can’t.

To lessen the offensive nature of that statement, please imagine it was read to you by Morgan Freeman. Nothing he says ever sounds bad.

I’m being sincere.

Not trying to offend.

Morgan Freeman.


#7

One possibility could be “I could never spend that much on one 6sn7 tube”. Seems to me this allows whoever chooses to do whatever they like and hear from another person how that might be for them. When I say words like stupid I would be implying that how they do it might be “stupid” . Worse than that they may choose to not want to post or be a part of this forum anymore. Which is why many people have joined this forum.

I believe our mission here is to feel safe posting what we want. Knowing I can feel safe to be on whatever level I am, in order to learn.

Almost 60 years ago I did not have a clue about the music listening world. What guys like you and other people on this and other forums have advanced my knowledge to what it is today.

I must admit that it not as much as I’d like, but as long as I remain teachable, I will always learn more.
Just my 2 cents for what it is worth.

All this to say this is how I find an friendly and inoffensive way to say something.

punkrocker


#8

You could ask me why I would even consider spending $450 on a tube, then I’d tell you the Tube was like $39 the entire amp with the included tube was $455, you could also look up the price for everything your self with a quick google search, though maybe you didn’t have time to do either of those options :confused: but try to make less assumptions


#9

Gentleman, do we need to hug it out? or do I need to commence the Care Bear Stare!!!

image


#10

Nah no hugs needed, I should have taken the time to clarify the price I paid for each from the on set!


#11

Yep, that’s my bad then. The way I read what you posted made me think otherwise.

No hugs needed.


#12

Were both at fault here! I could have spent more time clarifying what the cost of everything was! So I’m happy that you read it as such as your likely not alone

Non the less I’m wrapping up my thoughts on each now with my HD 800, so far I’ll say the Valhalla 2 is impressive!


#13

I wasn’t really impressed by the Ember. Not disappointed, mind you, just not wowed. The Horizon was really good. Takes a good tube pairing to get it there though. If my friend ever sells it, I’d buy it.


#14

Yea the Ember isn’t impressing me as much as it once did… my issue is when I bought it I owned both Planar Magnetics and dynamics. With Dynamics it’s… not as impressive

With both the Auteur and HD 800 I notice it’s a bit aggressive [kinda punchy] and kinda diffuse on the low end, in comparison to the Valhalla 2. I will say I feel it stages slightly better so a more coherent sense of direction/space that and it’s… a bit more even tonally…

But the Valhalla 2 has it beat in micro dynamics and a cleaner slightly more powerful bass plus it’s quieter
overall in terms of hum/noise

So I imagine the tonal issues I have with the Valhalla 2 could be remedy with a Tube Swap, as the tube I’m using in the Ember II has/is my preference tonally. So in a sense, even in stock form, the Valhalla 2 is ever so slightly more detailed and quieter! Two very BIG wins for it

But my issue is again for BOTH planar Magnetics and dynamics it’s hard to beat the versatility of a Hybrid Tube. I clearly need to compare the Ember II to some other Hybrid Designs!

An both fail to out class the Modded SET I have… but I figured as much as the SET was built around what my system specifically, non the less I’ll have a more coherent post here tomorrow


#15

Have you tried the Lyr 3?


#16

Yup, liked it but haven’t gotten time with it in my own system

Despite having met a few of the Schiit Team in person, including some marketing people, they don’t send me anything for review these days lol so I may get around to here next year once I’ve maybe got a larger audience!


#17

Video Review is up, working on the written post now!


#19

I think I figured it out!

Review Contents

Goofy title aside I finally got me hands on three different tube amps, an by different I mean in how they operate.

So up for review/comparison is a Modded APPJ pa1502a an stock G1217 Project Ember II and a stock Schiit Valhalla 2

My Ember II has a CNC Chassis 1940 Vintage Sylvania 6sn7 JAN CHS VT231 Bottom Getter Flash Clear Top - $455 as tested if bought New

  • Ember II Assembled - $390
  • 6sn7 Adapter - $26
  • 1940 Vintage Sylvania 6sn7 JAN CHS VT231 Bottom Getter Flash Clear Top - $39

[Though it’s the longest established and can be gotten second hand for closer to $350 often with upgraded Tubes or you can opt to assemble it your self and save a little there too]

My Modded Set has a set of Russian 6n6c Power Tubes with a 1940s Sylvania 12SN7GT Driver - Cost as tested is $394

  • Appj pa1502a Base Unit - $199
  • Pair of 6n6c Power Tubes - $20
  • Pangea AC 14 Power $30
  • 1940 Vintage Sylvania 12sn7GT JAN CHS VT289 Bottom Getter Flash Clear Top - $10
  • Audio Note Kasai + Auricap XO Re-cap an installation - $125

and the Valhalla 2 is 100% Stock! - $350

As some one whose spent a lot of time tube rolling and modding/tinkering I was really curious to see how a stock amp like the Valhalla 2 compared to my rolled in wonders.

https://youtu.be/GA5W1KCVGYI

Overall I felt my Modded APPJ pa1502a was the most resolving, audibly it had the highest degree of fidelity or exactness in reproducing sound when specifically paired with dynamic headphones. The mods we did were;

  • Replaced existing Output Caps with AuriCap XOs & Audio Note Kaisei’s
  • Introduced bypass caps into the Circuit Path

All in all it’s the result of about 7 months of research and I’m very impressed with the results! At the end of it all I feel if your able to DIY your likely going to get the highest degree of fidelity for your system with the least monetary cost. But there’s extensive knowledge and experience required as any mistakes invoke additional cost. I also had to do some digging to figure out who to have install the mods, as I’m not cleanest solderer. So again time and money can quickly add up when putting together a custom piece. I suppose I lucked out!

But in a sense I feel it’s a bit unfair to compare an amp Modded specifically for my exact system, still I wanted to include it to get some perspective on how a more DIY Focused option compares to available retail products. An I’m happy to say there was in fact a retail amp that followed closely behind my own Modded SET! So much so I kinda wish I’d purchased said amp before venturing into my own little experiment.

I did my listening with a ZMF Auteur in Cocobolo with their Silver Michanikos cable as well as with my HD 800 using a Audio Envy Tone Kraft Copper.

Each of these I felt was a headphone that had a more natural mid range presentation with even bass response, the HD 800 is brighter up top and very technical with strong staging and the Auteur was a bit more intimate with a more correct timbre and more even tonal response.

An I personally enjoy each with a drier sounding tube amp, so the three amps featured all share that slightly drier presentation in comparison to something like a Schiit Vali 1 or a Cavili Liquid Glass with a thicker sounding Tube.

An again overall I felt my Modded APPJ pa1502a had the most resolve and audible fidelity how ever on high gain an at over 80% rotation I also noticed it was nosier than the other two amps. Thankfully only about 10% of my music requires me to push the amp to this upper limit, and even then I’ve got around 3-4 dBs of headroom.

But I’ll go over 4 aspects of sound quality in comparing the remaining two units;

  • Detail
  • Dynamics
  • Staging
  • Tonality/Timbre/Envelope

An as you guys know each of these aspects are often linked together, as tonal imbalances can often lead to perceived changes or in-inaccuracies in regard to staging as well as mask over some detail.

Overall I felt these aspects of the Valhalla 2’s presentation were better than that of the Ember II;

  • Black background
    • With less audible noise, hum or hiss present during silent or quite passages
  • Clear Micro and Macro Dynamics
    • Gradual changes of individual instruments and musicians were easily identified
    • As were more sudden and intense changes to the intensity of the composition as a whole
  • Vivid Presentation of Transients
  • Tatuer Bass
    • With a cleaner more balanced envelope - so no emphasis on attack, decay sustain nor release

Overall I felt the Ember II presentation was stronger in these aspects;

  • Staging
    • More precise location of movement of sounds within the audible space
    • Resolved more of the “sound of the room”
      • Such as amibent noise like wall reflections, echo’s and things like foot steps
  • More Even Tonal presentation
    • Overall neither forward nor withdrawn throughout the frequency response

In comparison I felt the Valhalla 2 did the following different from the Ember II

  • Slightly Forward Mid-Range
    • While tonally not as balanced I did feel the Timbre was more natural
      • With a more even presentation of each part of the envelope
    • Slight forwardness helps define space for more intimate headphones but ultimately skews precision in staging for more open or spacious sounding headphones

In comparison I felt the Ember II differed from the Valhalla 2 in these aspects;

  • Some What Polarizing Presentation
    • Slight emphasis on attack and decay over sustain and release on in the mid range an upward
    • With contrasting emphasis in the lows
      • In a sense this some what polarizing presentation is more “tonally” correct but…
  • Slight emphasis on Amibent Noise
    • Part of why I feel it’s staging is slightly more accurate

An finally I felt the Ember II did noticeably worse in these aspects in comparison;

  • Noisier
    • More audible hum and hiss during quite passages
  • Looser low end presentation
  • Some what skewd timbre
    • Again odd presentation creates a nice tonal balance but skews the overall balance in how the envelope is presented which makes the timbre kinda off

An lastly I felt the Valhalla 2 had this single fault;

  • Slight Glare or Hardness
    • A rougher top end texture alongside an unpleasant upper mid glare

So it was quite fatiguing with really bright or energetic cans like those from Audio Technica or even the Filter-less Campfire Audio Cascade.

Otherwise and overall I felt the Valhalla 2 in stock form was the better amplifier for these more grounded and natural sounding dynamic headphones. Plus it’s $100 less offers an audible cleaner output and proves it self more resolving. An while it’s slight tonal faults I feel can be remedied with some tube swaps I feel your likely better off just saving that money for a better amp in the future. As again I feel upgrading the tubes on the Valhalla 2 to correct it’s tone could get costly and ultimately money spent on new tubes could just be money spent towards a better amp.

An yes I also felt the Valhalla 2 did give my little Modded Amp a real run for it’s money!!! Thankfully, I have purchased an upgrade to my system so my experiment isn’t holding me back at this time, though I wonder how much sooner I might have gotten said upgrade if I’d just gotten the Valhalla 2 in the first place…

An I again choose to limit this review to just dynamics as I felt the Hybrid Ember II had a clear advantage driving my Hifiman HE 560 and PreFazor LCD 2. An I’ve found that typically at this price points Hybrid Units seem to do better with harder to drive Planar Magnetics. Though exceptions may exist and I may explore them in the future.

Finally though sound quality aside the Ember II biggest strength is it’s versatility.

As a single tube swap can make small changes to;

  • Audible Noise/Gain
  • Tonal Balance
  • Timbre or Presentation of the Envelope

You can also change how the circuit operates and these changes bring a slight adjustment to;

  • Audible Noise/ Gain
  • Timbre

It’s also far more powerful then either amp so it’s got much more headroom on tap.

To this day I still feel the Ember II is an excellent choice for very power hungry Legacy Planars like the two I own, and I feel the circuit mods help to balance out the sound of these as well. Helping each to be a little more natural, while still be exceptionally “fast” sounding overall. In fact many of the weakness of the Ember II with my dynamics are in fact strengths with my planars as they have a some what contrasted presentation over my HD 800.

So for those of you that own large collections of headphones that have very differing sound presentations and amping requirements the Ember II will likely remain an excellent choice given how easily you can adjust it’s operation to compliment a variety of gear and sound signatures.

Other wise for those of you with single headphones such as the;

  • HD 600
  • AKG K702
  • HD 800
  • ZMF Atticus/Eikon/Auteur

An are looking for a nice tube amp the Schiit Valhalla 2 get’s an immediate unconditional recommendation from me!