Sep 3, 2018251 views

Elex and CTH minor fiasco solutions

Well, it’s a long, multifaceted question.
I’ve found myself in a bit of a unique situation and I’d like some Massdrop wisdom. 
- I bought the Massdrop x Cavalli CTH in anticipation of an Elex drop. I read that they pair well
- Elex drop never happened, but I found an “open box” sold by Blinq via eBay. 
- The Elex arrived with Elear pads (so basically black Elears) and the CTH tube blew almost immediately. 
- Massdrop offered a return because they could not send a tube (which I have not taken) and Blinq gave me a $100 partial refund to find new pads.
- I managed to get ahold of a Gold Lion tube from a friend, which works, but I’m just not thrilled with the sound. It seems lean and harsh. 
- I found replacement pads on MD, thank goodness. 
Considering what I have already dumped into this and could spend to make it “right,” I can’t decide what to do and I have only a couple days to decide before MD closes the return offer. I otherwise think that I will enjoy the Elex, but was hoping for a true “super HD650” sound. What I currently have seems very far from it, but I’m not certain of it’s because of the tube and/or complete lack of burn-in. I did once have yet regrettably sold HD650 and Bottlehead Crack. I liked the combo, but it still felt that I wanted something more vibrant, articulate yet still warm. Hence the Elex purchase. So what do I do? 
1) Wait and see: buy a different tube, burn it in and eat the cost of the tube and possibly the entire amp if I don’t like it? 
2) Return the CTH and get an amp that hopefully works and suits my tastes better at the expense of time and likely more $ for the new amp? FYI I have a Mimby so don’t care for a DAC/amp now. 
2.5) What the hell amp works best with Elex for a warmer tilted sound signature?? 
3) Start Fresh? Fire sale and go with HD6XX and an awesome tube amp (which effectively brings me right back where I started with this whole adventure. Haha)
4) (Enter amazing idea from Massdrop users here).
5) Build a Bottlehead S.E.X. w/ C4S (~$575) which will be like the Crack but awesome with any headphones st the risk of f$cking it up like I did the Crack. 
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I personally enjoy my Elex, I prefer the HE500's sound a bit more with most genres but the Elex are well worth their asking price. Of all my headphones (31 pairs) and counting I can say that nothing sounds like the HD650 on anywhere near a 1:1 hit but if you like that slightly warm side of neutral sound the Elex/HE500 are the most reasonable upgrades I've found. I enjoy the Elex on my Cayin iHA-6 with the SE output being warmer than the XLR output. I also get good mileage out of the Elex and the Lyr (gen 1), the Gustard H10 (discont.) as well as my LG V20.
I would keep the Elex as I've not found it to be very amp picky and go with a Matsushita or Amperex tube for the CTH. The Matsushita may be harder to find but is fairly cheap (60is a pair) while the Amperex run the gamut from not cheap to selling a kidney expensive. I run Phillips(Amperex) MiniWatt SQ's in my Lyr but I can't really recommend them at their current prices, they've almost tripled since I bought mine.
If the new tubes don't improve things send the CTH back to massdrop, they should at the very least cover any fault that may be present if not wholly refund your purchase. The new tubes can be flipped fairly easily online or kept for different gear.
The Elex themselves being an open box item from a 3rd-party on eBay would be highly suspect to be at fault here. The CTH blowing up might be an unfortunate coincidence. But the fact those headphones aren't sounding well with other amps would reek of faulty cans to me. I'd return the CTH for sure (you don't want to be left holding a faulty amp). And see if you can work out a deal with the 3rd party for an exchange (assuming they didn't leave with your money nowhere to be found).
Keep the Elex. I have a CTH with stock tube and enjoy the pairing. I wouldn't exactly call the pairing warm but neutral with a warm tilt would be more apt. Personally, my favorite pairing is with iFi gear. Whether that's the the nano or micro (black label ver.) or the Pro iCAN. The nano while not the most refined, does a great job as a budget setup and just gets out of the way and lets the Elex do their thing. The micro ramps that up with more control on both ends and will push them to ear-splitting levels. The Pro iCAN is the real gem here since the unit is both tube and SS. This allows you to dial in the sound exactly as you want and the unit is also balanced so gobs of power are on tap.
Honestly though, I like the relaxed character of the CTH for the Elex. The headphones themselves have great resolution and aren't power hungry so it really won't take much to bring the best out of them. The CTH powers them just fine and can mellow out the highs a bit (the stock tube does, at least). I'm sure other units could bring out more lows/high or warm them up but I think it would be negligible.
jaydunndiddit
Yeah, I'm keeping them for sure because I know that I can get the sound I want, just not predictably right now. I'm wondering if the Gold Lion tube is throwing off the sound a bit. It's possible that something just isn't right with the CTH altogether because it does sound pretty far off from normal. Very lean, harsh at any appreciable volume level. That and the Schiit Mimby clearly heats up the treble a bit. Massdrop offered a full refund because there is currently no stock of the CTH, but they've not responded to recent emails. I went ahead and picked up an EH 6922 for ~$25 to see if it makes a difference. Sucks to have to drop a bunch of extra $ just to get an amp I've owned for about a week to function... I'll check out the iFi stuff. I've been hearing over and over good things. Something about warm, gooey sounding tubes keeps drawing me back ;)
Manbear
I've had some EH6922's Gold Pins they took a good 20 hours of burn-in (yeah this is the one time you will see me use that word, tubes change). I would rate them as the least warm of my GE's, Matsushitas and MiniWatts. They had very good extension at both ends, reminded me a bit of solid state sound with the tube magic added to the soundstage.
Return the cth while you can. I would suggest to upgrade one thing at the time, if you upgrade more than one thing you won’t be able to know which one to blame for the results (unless you keep the old devices). The Elex should be around the same sound signature of the HD6XX so an amp that pairs well with the Elex seems like your best option.
Sounds like your Schiit is driving a bit hard,, they have some active feedback to step up gain. Try a better cable, it may be overshooting a tad.
From the Schiity manual:
“5 Connect the two RCA jacks, labeled “R” and “L”, to your amplifier, preamplifier, or receiver. You may use long cables—Modi Multibit’s active output stage drives them with ease.”
Otherwise I was going to say that a better tube never hurts.
So after a little more "diagnostic" problem solving, I found out that the Modi Multibit is adding significant gain to the preamplified signal vs a non DAC'd source (iPhone and Max headphone output) and it ends up sounding super fatiguing. Great detail, but I can't turn up the volume without it sounding harsh on either amp. Surprising for a DAC that I thought was supposed to be "warm" with "smooth treble." It's the complete opposite. The Modi does sound pretty decent with the Bottlehead and both headphones, but the Elex is really too low impedance for that amp designed for 300+ Ohms cans - and it cracks like hell when you tap it. Rather than fix it, I'm leaning toward finding a tube amp like La Figaro 339 which should be compatible with Elex and HD58X. Arg, so many potential and very expensive options that I can't try before buying.
Number 2....: Get a new amp that suits your taste, and burn the Elex properly ... ( took 1 week for mine ).
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I just bought a R2R 11 on a whim and I could not be more excited. I hear good things. The purchase process is actually quite easy. Thank you for the suggestions! I also picked up a Bottlehead S.E.X. to take care of my tube craving.
Manbear
Nice, hope you enjoy it! I certainly loved my R2R-11, I still have it in fact and will pair it with a tube amp at some point as a R2R single ended tube stack to complement my new balanced AGD stack.