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Well, just got the amp in. My 1st impressions with my Focal Elegia and iFi nano BL (DAC) are that this thing is clean and clear. I'm putting it lightly but the background is black as night, plenty of power on tap just using SE on low gain, and imaging stands out to me immediately. More stereo separation, better placement of sounds horizontally/vertically, and the bass is tighter. Really, it's just a good, clean, powerful amp.
So far at work, very happy with the unit and can't wait to try out everything balanced and see how it compares to the MCTH at home.
Update 2: Just plugged in some very sensitive IEMs - Campfire Atlas. Background is perfectly black and no hiss. On SE low gain, I have the Atlas at about 1 o'clock and boy are they singing. The bass is wonderfully tight and issues I was experiencing with intermittent sibilance (on notorious tracks) is gone. For that last part, this amp would be a keeper just for that. I don't have my 2.5mm to 4-pin XLR adapters yet but will tomorrow and will update impressions on balanced listening. But so far, this is a killer desktop setup that will power anything with aplomb without breaking a sweat and sound amazing while doing it.
Good news so far. Plug some power hogs (V and I both) into that thing and let us know what you think on its output capabilities.
Well, I didn't have as much time as I wanted to last night but I did get q few more sets in. I tried out the HD 58X, NightOwls, Lyra II, Elex, and Fostex Ebonies. I had maybe 30-45 minutes with each. I also listened to the Elegia and Atlas the longest (several hours) as I had those at work when I first got the amp. Either way, more impressions incoming. I'll list what input and gain used and the DAC used was my humble iFi nano BL through my work laptop with Google Music (I know, how plebeian of me) using the same playlist. Either way, on to the good stuff.
Full playlist used here. I can make a Spotify version if folks want one: https://play.google.com/music/playlist/AMaBXymtC_Bn48ZOhAzAZt929WBtbC5vSIMhdXkFNIzLkbD_eXFyrzYDDkB5GDeo7IVQ0Wz9LvvavZQEKJoHoRNdDP8qPoc1sQ%3D%3DA taste of the songs played (female vocals):
Sleepy Brown - Rayana Jay
SAILBOAT - QUIN
Tell Me (acoustic) - Sabrina Claudio
I Just Want To Love You - Blended Babies
Diary - Alicia Keys
Sweet Time - Raveena
He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat) - Jill Scott
Lavender and Velvet - Alina Baraz
Mad - Ayelle
Truth Hurts - Lizzo
Killing Me Softly - Roberta Flack
Smooth Operator - Sade
Special Affair - The Internet
Cans used & impressions:*Senn HD 58X (SE II or III) - Veil? What veil? These finally have a SQ that I really enjoy. Dynamic, fast, energetic with surprisingly good bass for an open back. A killer surprise. Shockingly did well on bass heavy tracks. Good mids and plenty of sparkle. All good things considering I was about to sell them and now want to keep them.
*AQ NightOwl (SE I or II) - Bass is very tight but loses some quantity. I prefer the change actually. Mids sound more prominent and balanced which is good as they can sound a bit "sucked out" to my ears. Overall, more consistent than previous listens I've had on other setups. I think I can safely say the NO doesn't "scale" quite like the others. They sound very close to what I hear on my other amps. That's not a bad thing per se but somewhat disheartening as I wanted more.
*CA Atlas (SE/I) - Still that same huge wall of sound and ear shattering bass. But much like a broken record, the bass is substantially tighter and lower in quantity (again, no complaints). Still delivers a wall of sound unlike anything else but there is more separation than before. Very easy to hear stereo panning effects and sounds appearing below or right behind your ears. It's an interesting sensation but I really enjoy the presentation with the speed, attack, and dynamics of the Atlas. For a V-shaped IEM they really do sound north of neutral at times.
*CA Lyra II (SE/I) - Very similar to the Atlas. Not as thick. Bass is much more tame in quantity and extension. Mids are more forward and treble spikes in a different spot that gives some air up top. A less aggressive Atlas that's more neutral with some warmth.
*Focal Elex (Balanced II) - This is the first time I found the Elex to be bright out of everything I listened to. Really though, I would say they are neutral-bright. With that said, I actually enjoyed the lighter, airier presentation from the THX amp. Still fast. Still hyper dynamic. Still Focal. Just, taken up a notch or two. One cool thing I noticed is I could hear exactly the point the drivers were just started to exhibit over-excursion. It was neat to hear the drivers holding on for dear life as they tried not to cross that point. Much better control out of this amp as they got EVER so close on some very bass heavy songs at a much higher volume than I normally listen to and they never clipped/popped on me. Out of my other amps, I would never be able to listen to them that loud, with that quality of bass with over-excursion. Another win in my book. Also, any reverb and echo effects came across more prominently than I have ever noticed before. At times it could be too intense as I wasn't used to how it changed the sound of some of my favorite songs. Not really a negative, but something that caught me off guard. I attribute this to the low distortion as more of the sound just makes it to your ears uninhibited.
*Focal Elegia (SE II/Balanced I or II) - Takes the tight bass of the Elegia and makes it even tighter. Ddin't think that was possible but I can physically feel the impact when a snare/bass drum is hit. They still lack the quantity but the extension and quality is so good I honestly don't notice. With this, the reverb/echo effect I experienced on the Elex is here as well, but better. With them being closed, the stage feels more contained and the effect comes off more dampened. It actually makes the Elegia sound huge (for a closed back). Same great imaging and separation just taken up a notch. With the already low distortion of the Elegia it's wild the minute micro/macro details one can pick up even when half paying attention. The amount of detail retrieval when truly listening is remarkable. With enough attention, everything from a track is laid bare in front of you (for better or for worse). I tend to trail off as focusing on songs makes me find their faults and lose overall enjoyment. I guess ignorance can be bliss sometimes.
Balanced, the Elegia is even more dynamic with one reaching for the volume knob on tracks with a lot of range. A really fun and enjoyable experience but one that is incredibly detailed and vivid. This may be my favorite combination so far of taking the already dynamic Elegia and truly turning things up to 11. Once the new toy syndrome is worn off, I dare say this will be my go-to setup for a very long time.
*TR-X00 Ebony - (SE I or II) - Possibly the best presentation I have heard from the Ebony while playing music. This is another can I have been hard on due to cost vs performance. While always fun, the Ebony lacks the refinement of my other cans. Through the THX, they are so much better controlled. Like a broken record, the bass is tight (which the Ebony needs more than any other can here). However, bass quantity is increased. This was a pleasant surprise as I normally felt the Ebony was bass-light for a Fostex. Turns out, they just want gobs of power. Arguably, the most fun cans of the nigh, but with the lowered distortion of the amp and better control of the drivers, the Ebony's actually sounded high-end for once. Mids are forward enough, a ton of sparkle up top without being hot, tizzy, or sibilant. (1st time ever for a Fostex?). The other kicker was the amount of stereo separation and imaging. I've always thought Fostex sucked in this regard but I am backtracking on that statement now. Truthfully, I thought I had a different headphone. These Ebonies have NEVER sounded this good. They sounded quite neutral with a tasteful bass boost. And I don't think I've quite heard the Ebony's presented this way before. It was nice. And the first time I didn't regret the $500+ purchase of them. Note, I do use TH900 sheepskin pads so take that for what it's worth.
Well, so far, lots of great things to say and I am incredibly happy with this purchase. It's to the point now I am using the carry bag and bringing it to work with me daily. It's that good that my other amps sound pretty shitty in comparison. Now, just in need of a better DAC and more balanced cables and I should be set. Mind you, the iFi Pro iCAN is still my favorite amp but at $1,700, it's alarming how many blows this $350 THX trades with a beast like the iCAN. While I still plan to purchase the Pro iCAN and iDSD in the future, the THX has lessened my hurry to do so. I think that in and of itself, is as high as a recommendation one can give for this amp given this hobby.
I'll try to get some more ear time in with my other cans and IEMs and share those impressions here as well.
I'm glad to hear we have another observer of what the Sennheiser HD series can be with the right amp. The amp I put together for my HD 6XX gets them to the same quality of sound as you're describing for the 58X, just with the bass a tad rolled off. It's a glorious thing when you finally get them on an amp that can really drive them.
I love and hate this review. Love the fact it's well-written and quite detailed... hate the fact my one "weak spot" with the Cayin amp is it doesn't do single ended low impedance IEM's or full-sized cans very well (planars are an exception) due to the higher OI of the SE output. It's an end-game SS amp for me with anything that is balanced capable. This being half the price I might be able to justify it for the subset of my headphones that need it. I still have the Gustard H10 so technically I have those covered but the THX technology is intriguing.
I say if the opportunity arises, then do it. I am a huge iFi fanboy, and the Pro iCAN is my end game amp without question. But, for $350, the 789 offers an absurd value to performance proposition that I cannot overlook. I really meant it when I said this amp no longer makes me yearn for the iCAN as I used to. Yes, it's better but how much better is it for an additional $1,300? The 789 blurs that gap substantially which is the highest commendation I can faithfully give. This amp is really something special at this price point without question.
IMO, price has nothing to do with amp performance, the additional money you pay for other brands are for exta bells and whistles, such as preamp function, added DAC etc.
This amp measures so well, that it probably is as good as it gets when it comes to pure headphone amp.
Price is always a factor, no matter the product. While others may not put much weight into it as others, that doesn't negate its mention. The iFi I mentioned is a pure amp like the THX 789 hence my comparison. And while I want one, with the THX my time is better spent going after the Pro iDSD (and an iTube2 as a tube buffer) as it would make more sense in my chain at the moment as I am lacking a high quality DAC in my current chain. I could only imagine that DAC with the THX will only sound sublime. Don't get me wrong, the THX is a great amp especially considering its price but I would still put it beneath the Pro iCAN and others have stated the shortcomings when comparing it to its Benchmark brethren based off the higher-end THX amps. The fact that a $350 amp can even be remotely compared to these two powerhouses says a lot of how far your dollar gets stretched here which I think is a big deal.
low price is a positive for ppl like me. but it's a turn off for rich audiophiles. "it is for deplorables!"
It seemed to me that the lower price of the THX amp relative to the iCan Pro and Benchmark amps was also a positive in Jaydunndiddit’s book.
What Jay___ said about the amp improvement matches up with what I’ve heard from upgraded amps, but it makes me wonder what he was using before. It’s almost like he described my jump from the FiiO E11 and Creative E5 (and stock X7 before upgrading opamps) up to the Cavalli Liquid Carbon.
I've built some solid amps over the years and listened to plenty more that were built by "reputable amp makers" and still found plenty to enjoy in the 789. It is a good amp. Very clean, very fast, very neutral.
That being said, it's still not perfect. If @jaydunndiddit finds enough additional value in the Pro iCan to justify the additional cost, that's awesome too.
Previously, I was big into the hobby side of things and had many different Cmoy and Chipamps. Not including the various AV receivers I've gone through over the years and the cheap Fiio amps that followed. Growing up, I only had speakers so getting into headphones has been relatively new for me by comparison as I feel like loudspeakers as a whole has just become ridiculous with their pricing be value and headphones (especially IEMs) are still babies and just enjoying all the new tech and innovations manufacturers are introducing.
I wish I still had my vintage equipment but it all was sadly lost in a house fire. Circle back to now and I'm pretty much starting over. Luckily, I have a friend who's much deeper into this hobby that sucked me in. Thanks to him, I've been able to borrow and hear a lot of high end equipment. And while I know they're "better," that doesn't really equate to more enjoyment for me. The iCAN was a weird beast is it is a Swiss army knife and has something for everybody and enough power to push anything. Not to mention tube and SS stages. Its just a pure fun listen that I haven't heard from any other amp really. It sounded unique while still being high quality. I returned my buddies and will get one for myself but for the moment, the THX 789 and SMSL SU8 is the perfect little combo for me and does all I need. Sure it's missing a lot of features but sonically, I really can't complain unless I start nitpicking about nonsense.
I know I'll end up with the Pro iCAN and iDSD but in the process of getting my car prepped for a local rally/autocross season so all my coins are going there first with track days to follow.
I really think I just need cheaper hobbies, haha.
It really was a compliment to the THX. The iCAN is just so versatile and is very feature rich. Truthfully, I'd be paying for that feature set and don't feel like investing the money there when there are still so many cans I still need to buy and sample. I know what the iFi sounds like so my coins are better spent getting more ear time with all the headphones and IEMs I can. The THX/SU8 combo is plenty for right now to get me 95% to my happy listening place with all my gear and integrates well with my AVR setup.
A lot of words just to say ultimately, I agree with you. Once I try more stuff and then begin the great selloff, I know I'll end up back with the iCAN. If a device like that can leave such a lasting impression, it's worth the money for that alone. Still, the THX is a beast regardless of cost. I just find it wild what you can get for $350 nowadays. It's just a great value proposition no matter how you look at it.
Any updated impressions after running the ifi nano BL balanced output into the 789?
I just wanted to add, I reread your impressions and review, and I really enjoyed what you wrote. It’s not just that you’re excited and like your new toy, but you were able to put into words what you liked and where others would be hearing a change.
Do you write audio product reviews regularly?
Ha, thanks for the kind words. And not at all. Actually, I very rarely leave reviews for anything. Really don't know why. But, this product was just a pleasant surprise especially as I had just got the CA Solaris too and they were just as hissy and reactive like the Andros. This amp handled them well, especially balanced and presented something my other gear didn't. That, I didn't expect nor the enhanced dynamics for my Focal's or even the lifted "veil" from my Senn's. It was nice to have this level of listening quality without emptying my bank account on it's bigger brothers for honestly negligible gains. A review felt worthy for that alone.
I'll have to revisit the nano BL. Since I picked up the xDSD, I admittedly haven't been using the nano very much.
Selfish reasons but I'd prefer if you don't mention the nano BL... had a slight itch to test full MQA unpacking when I travel and the nano is about the cheapest way to get there. This could lead to another bout of upgraditis in which I end up with a Mytek Brooklyn+ and it would be all your fault! ;)
Well, if I was an audio product manufacturer, I’d loan/give you stuff to review and build up your content portfolio in exchange for describing stuff to the people. Just saying. It’s clear you were having fun, too!
@ElectronicVices, My short demo with the Mytek Brooklyn + was impressive! But, that’s just my opinion, and I certainly haven’t tried everything.
Honestly, for the cost, I think it's a great deal. It works well with IEMs and medium impedance cans. They weren't the best for the 58X but did better than I thought they would but they really don't do justice for anything like the 6XX. I actually thought they did well with the 4XX but ymmv of course. I use it quite a bit as a desktop unit and depending on how you turn it on prior to plugging in a USB cable will determine if it bypasses the battery or runs off USB power. The xDSD is also a good option and supports the same firmware as the nano BL but lacks iEMatch but supports mini toslink, bluetooth and some other features. If you could spend more and need that bluetooth, I would go for the xDSD. Otherwise, save some money and get the nano especially if you plan to use hissy IEMs.
@Evshrug I'd have to respectfully disagree there. Of all portable devices that measure better and offer more power, have had some serious flaws that have made me keep the nano BL in my stable. Mainly, it works very well as a desktop unit due to how its battery charges. Not to mention it does offer full MQA unpacking which I don't know of any other device that offers that in its price range. And while rarely mentioned, it does offer a "balanced" circuit albeit in 3.5mm trrs. Not to mention, it has a USB purifier and iEMatch built in while still being a portable battery powered unit. Even iFi states this unit is a DAC first so with that in mind, the unit does its job and more. Throw in the new GTO filters iFi just released and you have a unit in this price range with great build and accessories with a lot of features no one else offers. Mind you, as long as you want those features (amongst the others I didn't bother to mention) and the nano BL makes a good case. I don't think people understand that iFi is still releasing firmware for this unit or how useful iEMatch is for hissy IEMs. As long as you're not trying to power something like planars or the 6XX, the nano BL is solid and still untouched in my opinion. Unless you know of a sub $200 unit that offers what the nano BL does, I'm curious as to those options as I have tried many amp/DACs that I have returned due to other huge flaws that I couldn't live with. That's just my .02 cents of course but I've had the nano BL over a year now and still used it daily up until I got the xDSD (mostly due to bluetooth convenience when biking and whatnot). Otherwise when I'm at my desk, I still use my nano as the xDSD is a pain in the ass to toggle into desktop mode and I honestly tend to forget all the commands.
You know what... I made a mistake, and I take it all back. I got mixed up on what model I was thinking of.
The good part is I accidentally eeked out another mini-review from you, haha!
Late on this thread but agree. I have the pro-iCAN and 789 and while I like the iCAN better the 789 is exceptional at this price.
Noble K10 and Audeze sine would be the primary road use items, would probably also replace my Dragonfly/O2 combo at the office. No need for bluetooth as I use an ES100 for that. I've also discovered Benchmark Media sells direct on Amazon meaning 5% back while still buying from the manufacturer and getting Prime shipping. No MQA but pretty comparable otherwise. I have need solid pre-amp functionality and the 3x outputs on the DAC3 would be beneficial when I set up a separate stereo rig again (1 pair to amps, 1 pair to subs, 1 pair to headphone amp). @Evshrug Any time with the DAC3 either L or HGC versions?