Last November Tim of Perfect Path Technologies was discussed at this link. Tim has developed a silver paste used to coat all electrical contacts in the house to decrease the resistance and micro-arcing that occurs in all electrical contacts. He brought along a licensed electrician and over nine hours they cleaned and coated every contact in the house from the electric meter to my speaker contacts.
Since then, the electric noise level of my system has remained below hearing level and the sound has been glorious. In addition, Tim suggested that the treatment may affect my electric bill as the treatment also decreases resistance at the contacts interfaces. As my house is heated with a geothermal electric system, I've kept records over the past several years of kilowatt usage per month. Yearly total for 2010 was 24041 KWH and for 2011 it was 25457 KWH. Since the silver treatment was done last November, usage has dropped to 19954 KWH with only June's usage being slightly higher than previous year's months. That's a 19% decrease! Now we did get a new refrigerator in October, and last winter was somewhat milder than the previous winter, but the fact that the electric bill was lower in each month is a pretty good sign that the treatment not only does miracles for the audio system but may actually save both cash for you and, possibly rescue a polar bear from starvation, makes the paste a must for every audiophile out there.
Cary Audio HH-1 Headphone Amplifier
Over the past three years though for some unexplainable reason, they have become a hot commodity with audiophiles, so several new super headphones and multiple headphone amplifiers have been produced, most by small companies or headphone devotees made originally for their own listening pleasure, varying in price from less than $100 for some internet specials to over $6000 for some units from Stax and Woo Audio. Until last year when I was introduced to the Smyth Realiser, a unit which has the ability to reproduce up to 7.1 speakers and their soundfield through a two channel headphone, I hated listening through them.
But necessity is not only the mother of invention, but also the finder of new processes. As discussed in last month's article, my system has been without two tube amplifiers which are being updated, so my speaker system has consisted of a Smyth Research Realiser A-8 and Audeze LCD-2 Headphones. The combination does a superb job of recreating my 7.9 speaker system, so good that I miss only the bass impact of multiple subwoofers on the chest.
Thus I've been looking for a headphone amplifier to maximize my pleasure and enable me to recreate my New Hampshire system at my Caribbean house which I'll be wintering at beginning next month. Last month, one of the best solid state units was evaluated, and this month I've been lucky enough to obtain a brand new hybrid tube/MOSFET unit from Cary Audio, their HH-1.
Cary Audio has been around for almost as long as I've been into high-end audio, and I actually owned one of their tube preamps way back when. But like all high enders with "audiophillia nervosa," I stupidly traded it in for a solid state unit which never really satisfied like the Cary. So upon hearing that they had just started selling a new hybrid headphone amplifier I jumped at the chance of a review. The silver (also available in black) aluminum chassis unit arrived a month ago, and was allowed to break in over a two week period while the Burson headphone amplifier was being evaluated. Thus both were here at the same time. The Cary came double boxed with plenty of padding, an IEC cord, instruction book and warranty card.
The $1595, 10 pound, 14.5 x 8.5 x 4 inch unit has a large toroidal transformer, circuit board and two 6922 input tubes with a MOSFET output stage. On the back there's stereo RCA input and output connectors and an IEC plug. The brushed aluminum front has a blue lighted on-off switch, volume control and phono jack for the headphones. Circuit layout is clean and the unit is well constructed. Output power varies with the input impedance of the headphones used from 200 milliwatts Class A for high impedance to 300 milliwatts for low impedance headphones such as my Audeze, with a 20 dB gain. Although it puts out only about 300 milliwatts max into the Audeze's 60 ohm impedance compared to the Burson's 2 watt output, its volume pot only needed to be turned up to 12:00 compared to the Burson's 4:00 for ideal listening, and could put out significantly more volume at maximum. Go figure!
The sound was clean and smooth with classic tube style harmonics compared to the Burson's analytical but slightly cleaner reproduction. By that I don't mean the true classic tube dull reproduction, but that of some of the best modern tube amplifiers. Bass had slightly less impact but sounded more natural on classical recordings. Mid range was lush and the highs, while slightly constricted compared to the Burson, were a relief on some of my more brittle digital recordings such as the Leonard Bernstein symphony set recently released by Columbia, which while great recording did have the classic early digital glaze on many of them. Ambiance recovery was a tad more defined than the Burson's. Interestingly, in comparing the sound with that of my Stax combo, the Cary-Audeze combo sat in the middle between the Stax and the Burson-Audeze combo, having the better traits of both.
I really enjoyed the Cary as it did hit what I consider to be the qualities of sound I prefer and would purchase it right now. Happily for a reviewer, there are several more amps in the pipeline which will hopefully be evaluated over the next several months before one is chosen as my Audeze's final soul mate. Wish Phil Gold and I lived closer together so we could have been able to compare notes and listening sessions, thus allowing the reader to get a better idea of the standings of the various headphone amps. Like their speaker driving brethren, each has its strengths and weaknesses and sound different through each different reproducer.
As each listener has their own levels of importance of the various sound characteristics, and, like with speakers the amplifiers need to be matched with the headphones, one should listen to as many amps as possible with their favorite headphones to get an ideal wedding. Unhappily this is practically impossible as I don't know of any high end emporiums that have any, never mind a selection of headphones and amps.
Luckily, unlike the vast majority of headphone amps, Cary Audio has a large dealer base, many of which have or can obtain an HH-1 unit for your evaluation. Cary does have a direct from the factory buy program if you don't live within 100 miles of one of their authorized dealers. In my case, their web site says I would qualify even though there is a dealer about 75 miles from my house, but that's probably a glitch as I live in a different state. But I always suggest going to a dealer with whom you can build a lasting relationship.
Also Cary warns about going to an unauthorized dealer through the web as the warranty may not be acknowledged. Although the unit is built like the proverbial brick outhouse, power surges, defective tubes, etc., can lead to warranty repairs, and you don't want to save a few bucks on the buy to end up with a boat anchor later on.