The Massdrop x Alex Cavalli tube hybrid is my first headphone amplifier, but just by a bit. My brand new Magni 3 arrived a week or two later. Since I use different sources with each amp and can't easily switch sources without moving furniture, this review won't compare the two amps. I will say that the Schitt really delivers the "doing it to me in my ear holes" sound that I crave.
After listening casually to the CTH for a couple of weeks, I got serious about testing. My source is an Onkyo C7030 CD player, and my headphones are 32 ohm Beyerdynamic DT-880 Premiums. Sweet cans that I've had for over a year, but I'm practically wetting my pants with anticipation waiting for the delivery of my Massdrop x Focal Elex phones. No external DAC required for this rig - the Onkyo's DAC is perfectly capable of performance signal processing.
For the first test of the CTH, I listened to three harpsichord suites by Handel, recorded in 1991 by Anthony Newman. I felt that the sound was a bit veiled and slightly distant. This impression was quickly overturned when I bypassed the amp and listened to three more suites from the same disc directly from the Onkyo's headphone output. Without the amp, the harpsichord seemed less distinct, less present, less lively. The second test on the next night (detailed below) supported the amp's ability to clearly define and enhance the sound.
Test two left me with mixed feelings. Tests like these are necessarily highly subjective, and we as listeners are preconditioned to believe that quality equipment will produce vastly improved sound. In short, I was prejudiced to hear amazing results from the CTH. That said, I fell into the trap and fell in love with this amplifier. It's definitely a winner. Going forward, I will undoubtedly have a tough time enjoying headphone listening without an amp.
This test consisted of the following selections, played one after the other through the Onkyo's headphone output, then again through the CTH.
"Weird Al" Yankovic: Craigslist
J.S. Bach: Sonata in C, BWV 1033 for flute and continuo, performed by Maxence Larrieu, Rafael Puyana, and Wieland Kuijken in 1967.
EMF: Unbelievable - House mix
C.M. von Weber: Overture to "Der Freischütz" with Antal Dorati and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, recorded in 1959
Led Zeppelin: Rock and Roll
Actually not much to say about Craigslist. Al to me sounds great pretty much all the time under most conditions.
The flute sonata was a different story. While the flute sounded good both times, Kuijken's viola da gamba was the star with the CTH. Rather than being muddy and melting vaguely into the harpsichord's left hand, with the amp it came forward and was a clear and unique equal in the ensemble. Also of note was the stopped harpsichord's upper register - it was pleasingly bright and clear, with a nice pop.
EMF was the highlight of the program. This was the mind-altering listening experience I have been seeking. The keyboards, percussion, and bass were outstanding. Normally I pay little attention to vocals, but this time they were so clear and natural that they totally grabbed my attention. The best part, though, was the left-right channel oscillation effects that left my head gently and happily spinning.
Dorati's Weber recording suffers from more than the average level of ambient noise. Random rattles and shuffles appear to emanate from the orchestra - loud page turns and other non-scored sounds, possibly horn slides being removed to empty condensation, random tapping of shoes, music stands being moved, etc. The noise is audible with most rigs, but obviously with a performance amp like the CTH, it became extra clear and somewhat of a distraction. Other than that, the significant difference from the first to the second audition was the woodwinds, particularly the oboes. They came forward and participated with more charm and life.
Led Zeppelin's best benefit from the CTH was John Paul Jones's bass playing - the amp really cleaned up the bass line, making it more articulate and musical.
A word on cables - I had ordered an Audioquest RCA-RCA cable to connect the CD player to the amp. When the amp arrived and I hooked things up, I was dismayed to discover an intermittent fault in the cable's left channel. I initially thought I had done something wrong with the tube and removed and reinserted it several times, but no, it was definitely the cable. I had to send back the AQ and swap it for a gimme cable I had lying around. The cheap one works fine, but I would like to upgrade at some point. I do have an AQ that connects my Magni to my FiiO X3 2nd gen, and it is awesome.
A word on burn-in/run-in - I was mildly surprised and amused that this unit ships with burn-in instructions, and that the designer himself goes into detail on the drop page. I'm personally convinced that audio equipment does not magically improve by being used a certain way over a certain period of time. The ONLY things that change are the listener's ears and mind and how they process the sound.
Listening to music -really listening - often requires serious effort. The more one practices, the more the skill becomes second nature. I have found that the CTH eases the burden, making the listening effort easier and the payoff even more rewarding.