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Massdrop CTH + SDAC DAC/Amp
Massdrop CTH + SDAC DAC/Amp
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Very happy with this item after 1 day of extensive listening. Sounds 100x better than my Schiit Vali 2 with Electro-Harmonix 6922 tube rolled in. I hated the sound of the Schiit from day 1 regardless of tube and headphone. And the Schiit would distort massively at louder volumes when driving AKG K701. The CTH has a much more musical sound. The high end is more open and spacious, vocals have a wonderful subtle vibrance as opposed to the grating texture with the Schiit. There is plenty of power to drive the K701. The difference between the Vali 2 and this amp with K701s is analogous to the difference between driving the average phones with a smartphone vs. a typical external amp. The low bass has a nice round punch to it and is well defined. I listened with Hifiman HE-400i, K701, and Grado SR225e and liked it a lot on all. If I had to pick nits, I'd say there is a slight boost to the upper treble that makes it a little bit overbearing with slightly top-heavy headphones such as the HE-400i (but a great match with the K701), and what sounds like a midbass boost that notably colors the sound and somewhat clouds it in the mid-bass frequencies only. It would be endgame for me for single-ended applications if not for these slight imperfections. But a beautiful sound that makes it a pleasure listening to quality modern recordings as well as music from decades past with vintage mastering hallmarks. Lots of power compared to the Vali 2, regardless of specs. I found the DAC to be quite nice. Since the DAC has analog outputs and the headphone amp has analog inputs, it is possible to feed the amp via other DACs to compare, as well as feed other amps with the DAC in this unit. Normally I prefer my ESS9018 based DACs over most others, but in this case the built-in DAC was a slightly better match given the treble boost of the amplifier. I heard no negative traits in the DAC and found it pleasing if not amazing. Usually I am happy with an audio product with no nagging negatives, and thrilled with one that blows me away with sonic wonder. I'd put the amplifier section in the middle between the two, and the DAC in the no-nagging-negatives camp. The DAC section is night and day better than the awful (in my opinion) Schiit Modi Multibit, and comparable in perceived audio quality to my Dragonfly Red. The build quality seems quite nice as far as the case and feel of the controls. All in all extremely pleased.
nice job. and i agree wholeheartedly about the Schiit.
if you love music but you have a crap laptop on a crap budget, then the Schiit is manna from heaven.
but if you love music and have a superior level of headset (Focal/AKG/Senn/Grado/hifiman/oppo/etc..) the Schiit just won't cut it at any level.
this amp is a gem and will take you up to nosebleed territory before you find a better one.
After a few more days of extensive listening...
I am still loving the amplifier. A beautiful, sweet, spacious, natural, musical, open sound with very nice bottom end punch and plenty of power.
I will say that the DAC is good but nothing special. Believe it or not, my favorite DAC under several hundred dollars is the $79 Hifime SABRE 9018 USB dongle DAC. I think it is not only a fantastic bargain but also a well-kept secret that is great sound period and punches way above its weight. The sound is more open, wide and holographic, and the bass is more vibrant and alive compared to the Grace.
Not knocking the built-in Grace DAC, it is fine and compares well to the Dragonfly, but I find myself always preferring the Hifime 9018 DAC after having listened to the amp with both.
I do think it is worth the additional $70 to have the Grace DAC built into the amp as a convenience, and it is a nice sounding DAC, just not outstanding like the Hifime.
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