Higher End Solid-State Amp Upgrade

Hi everyone,

I’m looking for a new, powerful, and relatively high-end solid-state amp to add to my collection.

I’m considering getting the HE6-SE at some stage otherwise the headphones I do have don’t require that much power. I really just want headroom and the versatility of having a powerful amp.

I have put together a shortlist but of course, I am open to any and all suggestions you may have.

I currently have a Topping A90 which I think is quite good but I’m always looking to try something different.

My budget is around $3000 AUD but flexible in either direction.

Shortlist:

  • Violetric V281
  • SPL Phonitor E
  • iFi Pro iCAN
  • Head Amp GSX-mini
  • Bryston BHA-1
  • Flux Lab Acoustics FA-10
  • Cayin iHA-6
  • Soundaware P1

At this point, I’m leaning quite heavily towards the Bryston BHA-1 based on what I have been reading. The BHA-1 has pretty much overwhelmingly positive reviews and favourable comparisons to some of the other amps on my list.

I would love to hear any advice, impressions, or suggestions you guys might have. Thanks!

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Hello,
Here are some candidates that might be interesting.
Questyle cma 400 or the Tweleve, Dentafrips Ares 2, Singxer Sda 2 C.If they were purely musically based, they have a lot of reserves, maybe even some Teac.
If it should be really super clean and analytical the Rme Adi 2 Fs.
Since you live in Australia you might not have anything wrong with what is right in front of the door of Burson Audio, especially if you have the potential to tune your op amp.
The Matrix Audio ipro mini S3 would also be a good choice for analytical applications.
Otherwise have a look at Shenzen Audio, they have some actions where you can get a bargain.

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To be honest if your main goal is an he6, I really would seriously veer you towards a used power amp, as imo that tends to provide the most satisfactory experience with the he6 imo. There are plenty of good power amps in the range you are looking in that will generally provide a better experience than even the powerhouse headphone amps I have tried in the price range imo. There are plenty of great versatile powerful headphone amps, but the he6 will throw a wrench in most of them tbh

If you had to have a headphone amp imo, for what headphones you have out of what is mentioned personally I would pick the v281, as that can control the treble on the clear and he6se while keeping it detailed and add a bit of smoothness without going overboard (with the right dac that is, the soekris 1541 and presumably the 2541 is a great match with this amp. It also gives some nice width and punch to the clear which is fun. The main downside to that combo is timbre, which is good but not great imo, can be a bit dry.

I wouldn’t recommend the phonitor as imo it has detail but doesn’t sound natural and can be spatially lacking (and timbre is meh)

The pro ican is very versatile and fun, but can be sloppy at times and might end up being a bit too fun for the clear, but the features are nice

The gsx mini is a great pick with the clear if you wanted something more analytical bright but still organic, this pairs very well with a holo spring 2 or holo cyan, would be pretty sweet as that would add more spaciousness and keep resolution high while taming brightness a tad to make it more neutral but still fun. But the he6 is pretty lackluster on here

The bha-1 is nice but a bit dated, it’s got a pretty nice tuning and technicalities are good but personally didn’t blow me away, it did sound good with the bda-3 or bda-2, pretty reasonable combo for sure. Didn’t do well with the he6 either though imo

The fa-10 is a pretty nice amp for the he6 but it isn’t as high tier as the rest of the amps mentioned, personally if you were interested in the flux I would wait for their higher end amp to come out, was ok with the clears but it was lacking a bit of resolution, refinement, and control imo

The iha-6 is a bit lower tier than the flux, pretty nice but personally I would go higher here

The soundaware p1 I have not heard myself, but from a fair amount of people I know they have not been very impressed with it

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Hey mate, thanks for your suggestions. I own a Burson Fun amp which is decent but not as good as the Topping A90 I’m currently using. I have looked at their new stuff, but not sold on it totally. Definitely on my list though. The Questyle units have also interested me for quite a while, definitely added to the shortlist. Thanks!

Hi M0N, thank you for your excellent suggestions and insight as always! The three that I’m most interested in right so far would be the V281, BHA-1, and GSX mini. I might be able to pickup a BHA-1 second-hand for $1000 less than I can get the V281 for. Is it worth going for the V281 over the BHA-1 or is that used deal better?

Also, I see you mostly seem to recommend NOS DACs? Which would you say is the best out of Denafrips, Holo and Soekris? are there any OS DACs you would recommend as well? I currently have the RME ADI-2 FS and I’m quite satisfied with it. I’ve never heard an R2R/NOS DAC before, what would the benefits be? Thanks!

Hmmmm the bha would probably be a better value, but it will perform significantly worse with the he6 than will the violectric, but for your other headphones it should be a closer race (although personally with the right dac I think the violectric edges out the bryston in technical performance). If you could also score a bryston dac to match that would be sweet. Generally the violectric is going to have the wider stage and presentation, the bryston might have the more organic timbre, they are most likely both similarly detailed, the vio is going to have more grip and control, and also be more dynamic, the bryston might be a bit more forgiving at times, the vio does smooth out the treble a bit though which might make the bryston seem a bit more extended but that will depend on dac pairing

So tbh I just recommend what pairs well regardless of the tech used, there are other options but it really depends. The denafrips have a very full bodied and meaty sound to them, more forward fun and energetic with a smaller stage but more depth, the holo have a neutral slightly warmer smooth sound to them and are pretty spacious and deep, the soekris (can’t speak for the new line) are more neutral bright, slightly analytical and fast, good depth as well.

I think there are a fair amount of os dacs I like, you could get a bda-3 or bda-2 to match if you got the bryston amp and that’s a nice dac that’s neutral smooth and pretty organic. If you could find a used berkeley alpha series 2 dac that’s great for something neutral clean but realistic focused with good control, or a sonnet morpheus might be oversampling and if it is it’s a very quick and detailed dac that’s really revealing without being fatiguing or overly clean. The rockna wavelight is a softer neutral but very organic sounding dac that’s pretty sweet. Also a lampizator amber 3 is great for something wide, warmer, organic and meaty sounding. The xi audio sagra dac is pretty sweet for something clean but lots of control and weight. The wyred4sound dacs are on the warmer more fun side of things as well.

I could keep rattling off dacs I like (and continue to go up in price lol) but in the end it’s going to really come down to synergy here, as what amp you pick is going to really narrow down what dac works the best with it, and then it will come down to budget

You would be moreso moving up to a higher tier of dac with some of the previously recommend dac pairings, so an overall performance bump compared to your adi 2 and it really depends on a specific dac, I don’t want to generalize things. If I had to for r2r I would say the benefits are speed, spatial recreation, and organicness of presentation. For nos it would be natural presentation, a more effortless sound, and perhaps a bit more relaxed. But again it really depends on a specific dac, you can’t tell how it sounds just based off the tech or method used inside the dac

Edit: to further comment on why I think it’s going to be worthwhile to move higher than the adi 2, personally I’m not too big of a fan of the adi 2 if it consider it’s sonic performance for the price. It’s pretty detailed and has a very balanced sound, but imo it doesn’t really hold up well to other options in and above it’s price range, mainly because I think it kind of lacks on spatial recreation, timbre, and proper dynamics. To me I would price it around 500 in terms of sound quality only, what you are paying that extra money for on the rme are all the features for the most part, but if you aren’t an eq fiend and aren’t using it as an all in one, imo I don’t think it ends up being worthwhile

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Hey, well I ended up buying the BHA-1 used for about 1400 less than a new one, so I guess that’s done. Yeah, I’m not too sure if I’m going down the road of the HE-6 any time soon, I’d like to demo it first definitely. I’m going to be picking up a TH-900 soon though, probably around Black Friday or whenever it goes on sale again at the dealer, it’s currently back at full price. Probably gonna sell my ZMF Atticus as well and the Topping A90 after a quick comparison with the BHA-1. I guess I will look into a Violetric/Niimbus amp in the future if/when I get that itch. haha

So if I was to sell my ADI-2 and get another DAC to pair with the Bryston, what would you recommend as a good pairing? I don’t think I could swing the bda-3, that costs 5k here… none for sale on the used market either that I can see. I guess I would have a budget of around 2-3k AUD for the DAC.

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:+1:

Oh sweet, those are great cans

There is a pretty big difference between niimbus/new violetric (590/380) vs old violectric (281/280), so something to keep in mind

No bda-2 I would guess used either? Darn

Generally it would come down to what is available in the used market imo, but I have no idea how to navigate or find the australian used market lol. I guess if you could find any of the dacs I mentioned above used that would be a good place to start. If you had to have sub 1k usd options, I might say that a bifrost 2 is great for neutral warmer more spacious and slightly forgiving, and that ares ii would be a decent pick but you might want to go higher than those (perhaps you could find a yggdrasil analog 2 for a good price?).

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How would this pair with the mz3? Just looking at options that aren’t too huge for desktop use.

Wavelight is a pretty solid match for sure although might be a tad softer on bass grip, but should still be really nice, neutral fun that’s technical and engaging, somewhat forgiving actually. An aqua la voce s3 is also really a good match, pretty great organic but very capable dac, good tonal weight, lots of depth and speed. If you wanted something warmer and relaxed but not overly so, the playback designs mpd-3 (although you want to grab a nice ddc with this one, or find a merlot dac) is a pretty solid choice for it’s size, along with a t+a dac 8 dsd

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Nice. I appreciate the feedback.

The wavelight pushes $4-5k. Crazy how close its getting to tt2 prices.

The holo spring 2 looked interesting too.

I’ll check out the others you mentioned as well and do some research.

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I’d personally much rather have a wavelight than a tt2

It’s a great dac, but I wouldn’t suggest one for the mz3, it’s single ended output is poor considering it’s price imo, so you wouldn’t really be able to take advantage of what the dac could really offer (you would only be using 1/2 the dac running single ended for the way the spring is designed anyways)

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Ok that makes sense.

I changed the mz3 tubes out and it added some more weight in the bass. Maybe a little more slam. Definitely seems more dynamic and increased the stage.

I’m leaning towards the wavelight if I decide to upgrade. Just because the size is a little smaller than some others.

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Nice, what do you have in there now? I think in mine I had settled on black glass ken rad vt-231, and some mullard 12at7

Would be very nice imo, pretty substantial upgrade for sure

Pair of French Mazda military 12AT7WA. And 6SN7s RCA VT231 military grey glass.

Picked them up from audiotubes.com. Brent was really helpful.

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Another cool thing about the wavelight is the led screen. It’ll match the mz3 lol.

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That’s true, never thought of that, both are the dot matrix type

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@Mon, any advice on a high-end SS amp to compliment a BF2 > Pendant chain running a Rad-0? I’ll also likely have one of either an Empyrean or a Z1R on hand in the near future.

I’ve had my eyes on things like the BHA-1, the Questyle CMA 12 Master, the GS-X Mini and the Violectric V281, but unsure what the best avenue is here.

Hmmmmmm, what sort of signature are you looking for? I most likely wouldn’t lean for the bha-1 since it doesn’t pair all that well with the bifrost and I also think it might tilt into the too warm and rich with an emperyan or z1r. The cma 12 master is a solid amp although you would be paying for a dac that imo would be outperformed by the bifrost by getting it. The gsx mini could give you a more analytical and clean signature with great control and more forward detail, so something more different from the pendant, and it would pair well with those two headphones. I do like the v281 but I don’t think it pairs well with the bifrost.

I would also consider looking into an xi audio broadway or a pass labs hpa-1 (pass can be found used around 2k) if you can find one

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I’ll have to keep an eye out for Pass Labs HPA-1 deals and do some reading on the Broadway.

Noted on the comments on pairings. Would your answer change if I were to also look at other DACs to go with it? I like the BF2, but I’ve also been considering an upgrade or a second complimentary DAC there. I really love the BF2/Pendant combo on the Rads, but I’d be interested in something with more soundstage and good slam/bass impact. Given the Rad-0 is on the warmer side of neutral, and both the Empyrean and Z1R are said to be warm, I’d imagine I’d be looking for a more neutral sounding amp as to not skew too warm with my pairings. I have a Mjolnir 2 I plan to sell as while the slam is amazing, it does sound quite veiled compared to the Pendant to my ears.

Re: the CMA, given the lack of analogue inputs, do you think the amp/DAC combo it provides is a worthy alt to a BF2/Pendant combo? It would kind of be on it’s own rails as I can’t plug a DAC into it.

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