AAW Black Amp impressions thread

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by Erroneous, Feb 2, 2021.

  1. Erroneous

    Erroneous Friend

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    I'm terrible at describing what I'm hearing, but I was doing a comparison of Black Amp, Jot 2 and BHA-1 the other day and here are some of the notes I took. Fair warning, I don't know how to listen critically. I'm purely into headphones for enjoyment.

    "Black Amp
    Neutral to maybe a touch leaner than neutral (or at least not as beefy as BHA-1), spacious, liquid, great instrument separation, effortless,
    Soundstage much better than Jot2,
    Better than BHA-1 but BHA-1 is closer to Black Amp,
    Unfazed by complex passages
    Sounds more like a tube amp than a solid state. Better than normal-people tube amps in clarity and resolution."

    If I were in the market for an expensive solid state, I'd probably pick this one up because it's really good! But I'm really more into tubes and the price on this is almost an EC big boy tube amp so I'd buy one of those instead. Plus I tend to buy used because I'm a cheap bastard and the Black Amp doesn't exist on the used market.
     
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  2. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    "The Black AMP is a current mode amplification process. Instead of the typical artificial ‘zero’ impedance output of feedback based amplifiers, the Black Amp output is high impedance..."

    from: https://austinaudioworks.com/amp-specifications/

    Wondering if someone could parse that sentence for me. Does the graph indicate what the OI will be at a certain load (e.g. Focal Utopia @ 80ohms nominal)?
     
  3. bilboda

    bilboda Florida boomer

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    I believe it is covered in this description. i.e it don't matter

    "Output drive to headphones is very special – moving coil or planar – all headphones are pure electro-mechanical transducers. They don’t store energy as do speakers – they are about ampere-turns and magnet fields. This means they work on current flow rather than voltage potential. The current sourcing and sinking output of the Black Amp drives all headphones as they should be, in their natural current mode. Current mode gain and output allows us to design while avoiding feedback. This eliminates the dynamic music ‘muddling’ sonic signature found in all other amplifiers. The Black Amp gets the right gain, the right drive, and the right sound."

    and chart

    [​IMG]
     
  4. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    That chart is volts output related to HP impedance. What I am unclear about is how this is related to the above claim (sentence I quoted) around OI of the amp itself. The claim seems to be an explicit admission of "high impedance" though it does not say how high, and possibly and implicit assertion that "it does not matter", but that does not make any sense to me - of course it matters right?
     
  5. bilboda

    bilboda Florida boomer

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    yes the chart shows volts but it is a current amplifier which typically don't have a problem with impedances, I dug around a bit to find a comment from the bakoon current based amplifier:
    Designer Akira Nagai on the HPA-21: "Speaker and headphone drivers produce sound by emitting vibration caused by electrical current flowing through a magnetic voice coil. Here the drive force of the voice coil F can be represented by this formula: F = I x B (force = current x magnetic field). As we see, the driving force is generated by current, not voltage. However, when driven by a voltage source with an impedance of Z, we use Ohm’s Law and substitute the above formula with this: I = E/Z (current = voltage/impedance) and F = E/Z x B. "When driven by a voltage source, now impedance affects the driving force. The value of Z is comprised of voice coil reactance, capacitance, DC resistance and contact resistance all of which exhibit non-linear behavior to cause distortion errors in the driving force.
     
  6. bilboda

    bilboda Florida boomer

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    Going thru the playlist now with HE6SE, so far excellent, maybe superior...working though...
    black amp.jpg

    Oh My! :)
     
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    Last edited: Feb 8, 2021
  7. bilboda

    bilboda Florida boomer

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    Everything balanced.

    Stomy Monday, Allman Brothers at the Fillmore:
    Vocals are clearer. I have never really heard this song sound poor but there is a cleanliness to this playback that while not totally unique is agreeable.

    Andra Day Cheers to the Fall
    Again, clear vocals. I have heard this with an unpleasant edge and hardness, not today, just a clear diva performance full of expression.
    edit:
    Jot2 Maybe smoother, smoothed over? As she hits her stride, the voice has and odd effect, chirpy , squelched? As if the vocal is superimposed on itself 1 millisec later, definitely 2 tones. In the crescendo, the chorus hits both ears like 2 pancakes, a bit more musical and bearable on the Black Amp
    Cassandra Wilson Solomon Sang
    Lots of similar tones and resonances that can muddy up some vocal passages but again not today. Everything is harmonious with clear vocals again. Her music has very subtle contributions from the band and her voice can be very nuanced but nothing is muddied. Clarity is more obvious here, none of the muffling that I have heard before.
    edit:
    Jot2 Really hard to tell them apart, again a hint of smoothness from the jot2 but both do very well, I'm gonna head over to Pat Metheny and the switch phones and amps.
    Clifford Jordan Quartet Blues in Advance
    A live jazz club recording, saxophone filling in for the vocals, none of the hard edges that I have heard before with this phone but plenty of bite, Again clarity for whispering cymbals, acoustic bass clean resonant, and full, no bloat, piano very clear with great timbre, all natural sounding.

    Hilary Hahn Violin concerto #1
    Lot's of delicate low volume playing in the intro
    Sweet violin that sounds like... a violin, ethereal here and much later when played with more force tempo and energy makes me think of a shade of bluegrass in the tone, orchestra is always well spaced out and well resolved, there is height and width and some depth, so far no fatigue and yep I am rediscovering the music
    jump ahead to:

    Kendra Shank Photograph
    If I hadn't already figured out what I was hearing it became apparent here.
    The song starts off with a string of chimes tinkling during a light intro. What I heard were more chimes, as if there were 24 being lightly strummed instead of the 8 I was hearing before. I also discovered them throughout the song. I had heard them in later spots before but never this often or clear, so resolution is apparent.
    edit:
    Jot 2, jot has all the bells and whistles, err chimes in this song as well, hard to tell these 2 apart at times.

    Die Walkure Act 3

    Male very clear and much more pleasant than before, still dynamic and powerful but much more expressive. brass doesn't bite and string close out lushly, not a word I would have used previously

    Pat Metheny - Kin - On Day One
    I consider a very busy passage in the last several minutes of the song as a kind of torture test for clarity resolution. Originally captivated while listening to Verite open with ZDS, I tried it on Jot2, singe ended was a mess, wall of sound, balanced was clear, the smearing was gone but the ZDS was just flat out better in tone and timbre. Black Amp and HE6SE pass the test, clear and much cleaner than the Jot2 with Verite. I'll revisit this when the Verite are hooked up.
    edit:
    Jot2 Cymbals on the Black Amp are much nicer, smoother, perhaps this is why in the busy part, the Black Amp sounds more musical, chorus better placed and just a better presentation of the passage.

    So far, halfway thru my playlist, I think the HE6SE has never sounded this good.
    Bass guitar is resonant with good tone and decay and goes as low as needed with no drop off, excellent separation on all instruments, cymbals , chimes, strings, orchestral, classic rock, opera, jazz, vocals have all been upgraded, very easy to follow a single instrument or just sit back and feel like your hearing it all. It's always going to be headphones but that sax is front center left near the piano, percussion is wide and articulate, guitar center, gentle and subtle on full display, loud, complex and busy, easily distinguished with resonances and decay from all instruments realized.
    In all, I would say it's like having a new headphone, so much more delicacy and resolution.

    Well, one more , Eagles - Try and Love Again
    The guitars here can verge on painful , the acoustic in the center is fine but left and right are bright electric leads, runs and strums. There are times with different gear the I could only wonder why did they do it this way. It sure does help when this is cleaned up. No getting past the brightness but hey sound much less glaring and much more like music and even build to a nice crescendo. These are bright on any headphone but the HE6SE can be unbearable with some amps.

    That's all for now...wait, I here Free Bird........., nah, I'll just listen

    Next up, Verite and HD800s and the Zana Deux S.
     
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    Last edited: Feb 8, 2021
  8. bilboda

    bilboda Florida boomer

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    The Black Amp loaner is a nice surprise. My first exposure to current based amps.
    It is very light and relatively compact. Light smooth aluminum with an exceptionally smooth finish, think high end auto finish, In a conversation with Barry he stated all amps will have the same quality finish and carnauba wax. Due to the lightness and smooth glossy surface, I was thinking it was high quality plastic, but no, definitely aluminum.

    Barry sent a well use 1 1/2 year old earlier version, lot's of swirls, it is well used, so don't agonize over this when you receive this amp, the difference is there is no led pot but essentially the same amplifier with a gain knob in the rear. This knob has a temporary label showing good spots for various hp impedancess. Also dual 3 pin xlr, single 4 pin xlr and rca inputs. This is a balanced amp. Read more on the website. The 4 pin input will suit an upcoming dac, he also has a speaker amp in the works, same concept as this HP amp.

    On the front are 4 pin xlr and rca outputs, a source switch, and volume knob. The power light is also the power switch.

    It drove the 5 headphones I used very well. While the HE6SE showed great clarity and tone, the headphone has problems with the upper midrange. The glaring guitars on the Try And Love Again track are best tamed by my Adcom speaker amp.

    Verite with ZDS and BA
    This is the first problem I have encountered. I can barely tell them apart. I can detect the difference between the Jot 2 and either of these amps easily enough and the Jot2 is no slouch. It is showing it's colors in this mini shoot out and showing up very well. Track after track, a hint of difference here and there. Pleased with both, I gave up and moved on to:

    HD800s with ZDS and BA
    Apples and apples, maybe the same tree in the same orchard
    Had to resort to quick switching during song play to find the differences.
    Lovely timbre on both. Found the BA is slightly more resolving in micro dynamics, string sections had more individual strings.
    North Country-Ola Gjello - piano, cello, flugelhorn, just a tad clearer with the BA, the flugelhorn got a bit hard when played with more force on the ZDS.

    Had a thought. If I lost the ZDS but still had the BA, I'd be grateful that I still had a quality amplifier, but if I lost the BA and still had the ZDS, I might want to get another BA, upcoming is Grado and Verum which may further prove the versatility of the amp. The Jot2 will be used although the ZDS will also be considered if not entirely compatible with these 2 phones.

    Grado RS2, I couldn't muster the will to do more than one song after many hours with Verite and HD800s. Safe to say they all played well with the phones, even if the phones didn't play so well with the amps, BA, ZDS and Jot2.

    Verum one, balanced. Now that's nice, lowered the gain on the BA, black background
    Horn never got hard at any volume level. The cello did get a little lost in the mix at times. The headphones clearly don't resolve as well as the Verite or HD800s but very nice timbre on the BA and the Jot2, macrodynamics very good with both amps,.
    Summary, I'm making a list and the naughty or going to have to go. The HE6SE have been rescued by the Adcom, listening to it now. The Jot2 may grow legs as well as the Grado, Elegia's too, don't need closed as much as I thought.

    The Black Amp is much like a ss ZDS, both excel with resolution, timbre, tone.
    Barry mentioned he is writing a book for earning from your own skill set after retirement.
    Being naturally lazy, if he wrote a book about electro physics and audio for dummies, I'd buy it. I want one.
    Who's next?
     
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  9. loadexfa

    loadexfa Friend

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    Dammit, if the amp is that good I may need to increase my solid state budget. :eek:
     
  10. dematted

    dematted Friend

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    Is this an amp that will benefit a lot from using a XLR rather than SE headphone cable? Want to make sure I give this its best shot when the loaner is over here.
     
  11. bilboda

    bilboda Florida boomer

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    I only tried balanced in and balanced out so I can't say. I'll leave that to the pro reviewers.
     
  12. k4rstar

    k4rstar Britney fan club president

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    good impressions @bilboda

    I wanted to mention it looks the price of the amplifier has been updated to $1,500 US. I will update the original post to reflect this

    the Black Amp is fully balanced and has four channels of discrete amplification for L+, L-, R+, R-
    Barry feels you still get excellent sonics using single-ended inputs and/or outputs but the amplifier will perform its best when using balanced connections via XLR

    if I remember my conversation with Barry correctly he has employed discrete differential converters on both the input and the output. in most similar amplifiers this is accomplished with opamp ICs.

    I hope he can register on the forum soon to provide a more complete answer.
     
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  13. BarryT

    BarryT MOT: Austin Audio Works

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    Hello, I am Barry Thornton, the Black AMP is my work, I think of it as piece of art, if you go to my website under Musings I discus this thought there in depth.

    austinaudiowork.com/musing

    I would like to offer some thoughts on the SE/BA issue.

    This is a balanced amplifier, that is there are four amplifiers inside, one for Left+, Left -, Right + and Right - signals. Each amplifier is autonomous, that is stand along in operation full amplifier. There are balanced and unbalanced input and output mode available.

    In the balanced mode the balanced inputs (front switch position #3) are routed to the four amplifiers and then appear on the 4-pin XLR on the front panel. There is also a 1/4 inch TRS (Tip, Ring, and Sleeve) connector on the front that outputs the Left + and Right + signals and a common ground for "SE" signals. Both connector are active all the time, you can plug an XLR and the TRS in at the same time an operate two sets of headphones.

    When used the unbalanced (SE) mode the two SE inputs on the back are selected to provide signals and a selected by the front panel switch as inputs #1 an #2 respectively. When used this way the unbalance input signals for each channel are picked off and sent to an unity gain signal inverter creating the minus or "-" signal for each side. It creates a mirrored L- for L+ signal and R- for for the R+ signal offering out-of-phase signals to create balanced outputs and are run through the four amplifiers as noted in the above paragraph.

    Let me explain the 4-pin XLR on the back of the unit. This is another balanced input. In all the products I build (Black SWAN phono preamp and the soon to here BlackDAC) there is also a 4-pin XLR outputs. These allow using one cable to connect the balanced signal from one unit to the other. This is for cable reduction, one signal cable instead of two, one pair of 4-pin XLRs instead of two pairs of 3-pin XLRs. The products I build are intended to encompass desk-top audio application and there is typically not much room in back of such installations. I offer a short dual balanced cable with 4-pin right angle XLRs to cut down the room needed in an already cramped environment.

    I would like to point out that both DAC chips and phono cartridges offer balanced signal outputs, I carry this through the signal flow for better performance.

    Before you get to excited about the balanced phono let me point out the odds are VERY high that your turntable is also wired and connected for balanced operation - please see Musings on my website. My BlackSwan phono preamp is wired to take what you think are SE phono input RCA an run them as balanced.

    There is no electronic rule saying that balanced signals must be run in XLRs. We use XLR traditionally because in professional back stage and field use a Cannon XLR can be run over by a fork lift an not be damaged (the show must go on).

    In my BlackDAC the balanced output of the Left and Right sides of the current mode DAC chip itself typically offers four outputs, most folk turn these into a unbalanced signal with a diff-amp to cut cost. I carry the two separate balanced signals throughout the unit to the output.

    I think I have bent your ear in this posting quite long enough. Ask anything that you like an I will get back in detail. I believe that there is a question about current drive and current gain, that can be a bit technical, I will deal with that in my next Musing on the website so I can add pictures rather than take up a lot of space in the forum.

    I thank you very much for your courtesy and patience, in the end this is all about producing good musical illusions, that is the art I practice and wish to offer.
     
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  14. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    Hello Barry. Were you showing off your wares at RMAF 2017? If so I think I stopped by for a bit and listened to some unfamiliar HP's through it. In any case the Black Amp looks familiar and I look forward to hearing it on this tour.

    What is the output impedance of this amp, and how is "current mode" topology related (if it is at all)?
     
  15. BarryT

    BarryT MOT: Austin Audio Works

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    "The Black AMP is a current mode amplification process. Instead of the typical artificial ‘zero’ impedance output of feedback based amplifiers, the Black Amp output is high impedance..."

    Let me parse that statement sense I wrote it. Sorry so much i said in so little a space, shrinking lots of thoughts into a small space is a process.

    Barry Thornton here, I designed the amp and wrote this so I am the buck starts and stops with me.

    I just tried to write it out and, well, too much time to write and for you to read so I am going to do a video tomorrow and see if I can get it up by Monday on youtube, will also post it on my web.

    Thank you, this helps me codify my knowledge to create stories that explain the essence of the subject matter you want to absorb, this is cool.
     
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    Last edited: Feb 19, 2021
  16. BarryT

    BarryT MOT: Austin Audio Works

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    thank you, I am just learning how this site works.

    I design and build audio stuff, I am not social media savvy, don't even own a smart phone.

    But I do have a string with tin-can at one end, 1G technology.
     
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    Last edited: Feb 19, 2021
  17. BarryT

    BarryT MOT: Austin Audio Works

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  18. BarryT

    BarryT MOT: Austin Audio Works

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    Yes, that was me. I am working on a video to explain all this, committed to putting it up by Monday.
     
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  19. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    I had my uncle with me who lived in Denver. I recall he was glued to one of your amps and I think an Audeze, maybe and LCD4, for a while. He died a few months ago at a relatively young age unexpectedly from a heart attack. In any case memories.

    I use the Focals, Utopia (80 ohm) but also Stellia (32 ohm) so I have to pay attention to OI of the amps I use.
     
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  20. BarryT

    BarryT MOT: Austin Audio Works

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    Get on the Black AMP loaner list, it may surprise you very much.
     
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