Ampsandsound Kenzie OG Rev 2 Headamp Review
I have made it no secret that I am a huge tube fan. I have also made no secret of my love of ampsandsound amplifiers. The reason is that Justin Weber is one of the few designers of his generation that gets what tube amps are all about and almost more importantly, knows what music is supposed to sound like. What tubes are all about is musicality, and in this context, musicality means dynamic, open, natural-sounding, clear, resolute, linear, organic sound without the added hard edge produced by solid-state amplification. (I have stressed this often, but what tubes are not about is rolled off highs, anemic bass, and supposed pleasantness of high THD as is the misconception of modern non-audiophile engineers.) So it was with no little excitement that I greeted the news that I would be given the opportunity to review the newest revision of the amp that started it all (as far as headphone amps anyway) the ampsandsound Kenzie OG Rev 2.
ampsandsound Kenzie OG Rev 2
Serendipity comes into play with the selection of the 1626 output tube, a WWII-era tube that was used as a transmitter tube in radar installations. Despite being a little shy on pure output, the 1626 offers layers of texture and drive, and paired with a massive choke and robust output transformers provides ultra-quiet operation (the review unit was fitted with a pair of RCA CRC-1626/VT-137 tubes).
The Kenzie OG Rev 2 offers Cathode Bias/automatic bias allowing for easy tube changes without adjustment. There are two single-ended 1/4" TRS outputs; "Low Z" (32 Ohm compatible with 32 Ohm – 100 Ohm headphones) and "High Z" (300 Ohm for headphones above 200 Ohm). Input is handled by a pair of single-ended RCA connectors.
Like all of ampsandsound's amazing products, the Kenzie is handmade in Southern California with USA-sourced parts and custom hand-wound output transformers. Justin had me open the chassis to see how much care is taken in the manufacturing, each unit hand-assembled by a single craftsman.
A tad smaller than the original Kenzie, the Kenzie OG Rev 2 has a beautiful Wood Chassis (dimensions: 10.75" Wide x 8.75" Deep).
with the ampsandsound Kenzie OG Rev 2
For source, I used the Audio-gd R2R-1 DAC connected via Cardas Iridium single-ended cables and a Cardas Clear USB cable. Power was supplied by a Core Power Technologies A/V Equi=Core 1000 using a Core Power Cables Valiant Gold Power Cord connected to the mains and Cardas Iridium Power Cords connected to the DAC and amp.
My initial listening tests of the Kenzie OG Rev 2 were performed using the Focal Clear Mg dynamic headphones for the review of said headphones. My first impressions were extreme silence and massive power (I never turned the volume over 1/4 attenuation). The Kenzie transformed a headphone that was a bit enthusiastic and muddled on the bottom end and hard on the top end into a truly musical contender, with a large soundstage and tactile detail.
To begin serious listening I chose my trusty standby the Dan Clark Audio ETHER2 planar magnetic headphones and cued up Christian McBride & Inside Straight's Live at the Village Vanguard (24-bit/96kHz – Qobuz) on Qobuz. Set amidst the audience in a large club, the vibes were crisp and clear up front slightly off stage center to the right with the piano rich and full to the left of stage, while the upright bass tight and commanding was set back center stage and the drums behind the vibes with snap and impact. The saxophone came across smooth and meaty with just enough brass to sound real standing between the bass and piano. The recording captured the sound of the Village Vanguard with the applause both in front and behind you. Even turning the volume up to live performance levels the sound was musical and magical with a tonal balance so natural that it didn't even come to mind.
Switching to my HiFiMan HE6se Orthodynamic headphones I selected "Non Mi Lasciare" (16-bit/44.1kHz) by Dario BaldanBembo for a picture of the Kenzie's handling of vocal and subsonic bass. Even these massively power-hungry headphones required less than half volume to achieve operatic levels of sound. The bass was deep and resonant while still well-controlled and full of tonality. Dario's dynamic vocal was velvety and textured yet intimate in a large auditorium, while the piano had weight with clear natural harmonics.
While my next test is not recommended given the extreme power of the Kenzie, but I had to see how far that noise floor goes, so I broke out my beloved Noble Katana CIEMs. While there was a baseline tube hum, it was well below what I get with most solid-state desktop amps. Even with the volume all the way down I could hear "Crime Of The Century" (Supertramp Crime Of The Century – 24-bit/96kHz) once the track started, moving to what I think of as the first notch gave me maximum acceptable volume. The Steinway had incredible detail and dynamics in a vast soundstage with solid pervasive abyssal sound from the bass guitar, and snap and impact from the percussion while the strings could be envisioned as individual instruments and the saxophone was smooth and plush.
Next on the docket was my reference dynamic headphones the Spirit Torino Twin Pulse Isobaric Open Circumaural headphone and female vocal in the form of Judy Garland singing "Over The Rainbow" (Miss Show Business – 24-bit/96kHz). Despite being a mono recording the performance was dynamic and emotional with phenomenal musicality and none of the tininess associated with older recordings.
Picking up my primary reference headphone the Dan Clark Audio ETHER C Flow 1.1 planar magnetic, I listened to several tracks before settling on "Make It With You" by Bread (On The Waters – 24-bit/192kHz). All I had to do to put myself into the studio was close my eyes. Again I experience a huge soundstage, linear tonality, deep powerful bass, open and expansive strings, dynamic realistic vocals, and above all musicality.
on the ampsandsound Kenzie OG Rev 2
As with the original Kenzie, the OG Rev 2 is for the audiophile who wants to wring the full potential out of their headphones and simply listen to the best-sounding music available. Listening to music on the Kenzie was so involving that it was difficult to concentrate on the job at hand and pick out the different characteristics of the sound, and even more difficult to stop and change headphones.
Lastly, being the entry-level product for ampsandsound the Kenzie is a fantastic value. If you have a budget of around $3000 this is the amplifier to buy, if you are a music lover this is the amplifier to buy, if you are a solid-state fan and don't get what tubes are all about, this is the amplifier to listen to, it will change your mind, just be ready to cough up $2500 because you will not be satisfied with solid-state afterwards. Thanks, Justin for once again reaffirming my love of tube amps and justifying my love for ampsandsound!
32 Ohm Power: 350 mWatts RMS @ 1khz
300 Ohm Power: 440 mWatts RMS @ 1kHz