Bakoon Amp-13R Review and Impressions

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by StageOne, Jan 10, 2024.

  1. StageOne

    StageOne Friend

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    I was interested in hearing the Bakoon as the successor, Enleum AMP 23-R, has received positive reviews and I am curious about it's interesting design and possibilities as an AIO amp.

    bakoon13r.jpg

    Review chain:
    Pi2AES > Yggydrasil A2 > Bakoon > Spatial M3 Sapphires OR JAR650/Focal Utoptia
    Amps Compared - Coda No 8, Aegir, DNA Starlett, ECP T4.

    I initially tried the Bakoon with my Freya+ in front as I do with all the other amps, but it sounded really off. In this configuration the Bakoon is connected to the Yggydrasil via SE so they may limit performance.

    Quirks
    The labels for the inputs and outputs are on the bottom of the chassis so if you can't remember which speaker out is + or - you have to flip it over. And they are not color coded like the rca inputs. To turn on the unit you can use the remote button or spin the volume knob quickly clockwise. The volume control knob is free to spin like a modern car stereo knob and does not have a set min/max. To get to a usable volume, I have to spin the knob 3 or so revolutions or click the remote 20 times. Not awful, but it resets when you change inputs or turn the unit off so you have to do it all again. What was a quirk quickly turned into an annoyance by the end of my time with it.

    Listening
    My main interest in the amp was for listening with speakers so that was up first. It started off well but after a few songs I started to notice a few issues. It seems V-Shaped with bloomy bass and thin treble which can get grainy and splashy. Bass quantity is there but quality is not, bass drums are weak, lacking punch or slam. Pianos are similar with the notes sounding soft. Everything seems a bit rounded and there is a loss of textures and details. Busy passages seemed strained and start to smear.

    And this leads into the soundstage which is a high priority for me. It is wide but lacking depth and sounds flat. Instruments are hard to place in space and are more diffuse than my other amps.

    I had planned to compare the Bakoon to my recently acquired Coda No 8, but it's nowhere close. I ended up bringing an Aegir from the basement as a double check. The Bakoon in micro/macro dynamics, detail and plankton is a few steps behind and overall I'd put the listening experience below all other amps I've had in my system, Coda, Aegir, Aegir Monos, Tyrs, Vidar and the Crown CDi1000.

    I was hoping maybe Bakoon focused on the headphone output but sadly it was more of the same. The headstage center image is forward, similar to the Starlett, but the wide stage and diffuse imaging makes it all seem even closer. Headphone listening seems to get fatiguing after a while but I’m not sure why. I’m not as good at picking out a spike in the frequency response as many are here if that's the issue.

    Wrap up
    I wish I could give more thoughts and details but every time I listened to a few songs, I got bored. I never felt engaged with the music whether it was on speakers or headphones. When I'd swap back to my other amps I got lost in the music again. I'm looking forward to some other reviews and I'm kinda hoping my experience is a one off.

    Thanks to SBAF and all those that contributed to make this happen.
     
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  2. roshambo123

    roshambo123 Friend

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    The industrial design on this amp has me scratching my head. Like did they make an ultra thin chassis and then let components poke through the bottom and wrap them in combined heatsinks + feet? Add in the stupidity of labeling on the bottom and the volume knob that takes a 720+ degree spin to get usable....yeah, for $6000 this is not impressive

    image: headphones.com
    [​IMG]
     
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  3. internethandle

    internethandle Almost "Made"

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    The marketing for those bottom protrusions, I think, are that they are deliberately placed resonance control/vibration mitigation feet. Why they put the trafo down there too I don’t know, but I think the marketing there is something to do with “separating”/shielding it from the other components for EMI reasons. Again, marketing, not endorsing those claims - I’ve always thought it was bizarre too.
     
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  4. Inoculator

    Inoculator Friend

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    Just to provide some clarity for folks on these rather esoteric products from Bakoon/Enleum, on the newer version from Enleum they are actually vibration-dampening feet. Originally launched as an optional extra accessory, but now included. Looks like they also wised up on a few of these design quirks as the markings are printed on the back in a more standard fashion, the gain knob does not free spin, it has a power button, etc.

    It was my understanding though that the Bakoon and Enleum still sounded quite similar, so pretty surprised by these first sets of impressions as it runs pretty contrary to what I have found in the year or so I have owned the Enleum. Not really going to chime in beyond that as this thread is about the Bakoon, but maybe at some point we need a Bakoon/Enleum side-by-side comparison.

    In lieu of a full set of impressions on the Enleum (again not trying to get this thread off track or come across as defensive of a product I am invested in), I will just post this quote I found in a review from HifiKnight the other day that is one of the best encapsulations of the Enleum that I have read. It really struck me as I have always had a hard time explaining what the Enleum sounds like to folks but I feel this (while a tad flowery) nails it. "The Enleum’s aesthetic is inherently informative, organic, texturally fruity, quick and just a touch warm. It most certainly isn’t a thick syrupy densely voiced device." For me it is not a tubey-sounding device per se, but it has a quality and realness that leaves me not at all missing tubes if that makes sense.

    I am excited to hear what others think as this continues the tour!
     
  5. YMO

    YMO Chief Fun Officer

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    Guys this doesn’t look like a $5k amp, just say it.
     
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  6. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    it doesn't look like a $6k amp.

    You're more than welcome to join the loaner, listen to it, and then tell us how bad you think it sounds, too.
     
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  7. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    The Enleum and my Bakoon HPA21 do feel like premium products. Their construction is immaculate and feels very solid to me.
     
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  8. wbass

    wbass Friend

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    I've had the Enleum for the last few months and like it quite a bit, particularly with the Susvara and HD58X. FWIW, my listening impressions don't jibe with the first post and do chime with what @Inoculator describes/quotes.

    I hear the Enleum as a touch laid back, but in the way a good tube amp can be. I hear it as nicely subtle and detailed with surprising depth for solid-state. I also find it physically very well made. Compact but substantial, and the isolation feet, whether they affect the sound or not, help with the airflow and keeping the unit cool. I look forward to using it with my Klipsch Forte III, when I eventually get them out of storage, but don't have anything to add about speaker performance currently. Certainly, the dual role is a big part of the appeal/value proposition.

    But, hey, we're talking about the Bakoon here, which I've never seen or heard in person, and maybe they're different. And, naturally, carry on with whatever y'all are hearing or not hearing, liking or not liking. I've come to find that I like plenty of things that don't get repped here, and dislike some things that do.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2024
  9. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Or they may be serious about it. Weird Japanese mystical Shinto vibrations, Human Instrumentation Project, blood runes, SEELE, etc.

    seele.png
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
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    Last edited: Jan 13, 2024
  10. Biodegraded

    Biodegraded Friend

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  11. roshambo123

    roshambo123 Friend

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    It does look like a $5k amp, because it looks like a $1000 amp made by someone you just know is going to price it as a $5k amp.
     
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  12. Pancakes

    Pancakes Friend

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    What surprises me is that head-fi people are into this amp (I've never heard it, it may be the bees knees). Yeah I get it, it has power so Sus. But it's a class A/B amp. First Watt has enough amps that surely one of them would satisfy an individual's sonic preferences and they're all class A and can be had for way less than 6K.

    I don't know, maybe people are enamored with the fact that it's a speaker amp with a volume pot.
     
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  13. roshambo123

    roshambo123 Friend

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    Ragnarok?
     
  14. netforce

    netforce MOT: Headphones.com

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    I can attest that it at least feels more premium in person than it looks through the pics online. The Bakoon 23R was a fun small little amp but also Class AB so it got hot pretty fast. The volume pot was also kinda hilarious, beautiful Urushi lacquer that you will be very familiar with since you always need to crank it with every use. The Enleum is a much more boring of a design but its just one knob and doesn't need the multiple rotations.
     
  15. Tchoupitoulas

    Tchoupitoulas Friend

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    I don't mean to take us too far off topic but I'd really appreciate a thread dedicated to First Watt amps as there are a good many models and, to someone clueless like me, it's hard to know where to begin and what to look for. I know @rhythmdevils has had a First Watt F4, I believe, with a tube pre, for his RD-4 headphones. Do we have other First Watt fans here at SBAF? I don't recall many posts about them.

    Edit: to get us back on topic, the amp looks kind of unstable with those dodgy feet. Does it tip over?
     
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  16. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

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    The Black Widow is a Class A/B amp. It had some other crazy stuff going on, but that was at least the topology. I also believe the McIntosh MHA150 is a class A/B amp.

    You still have to consider it is a low watt (25W) speaker amp and a high powered headphone amp. Besides, the beauty of the First Watt is that it is an inexpensive DIY project, and most of those are driven by noisy SMPS amps. Sure, the 13-R is pricy, but it is also extremely small form factor.

    I will say it it is not a flashy amp or screams like it is super expensive like a McIntosh amp or like a Simaudio box. Very stuffed backside, thin box, and strategically placed feet/heatsinks (although placement seems more random, but I bet it it is not). The Elenum has a more refined look. Very minimalistic and reminds me if Quad was still making amps and preamps, like the Quad 33 preamp. Just saying we can't judge an amp by looks alone.
     
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  17. Pancakes

    Pancakes Friend

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    This is purely builder's choice. The factory amps are all LPS.
     
  18. Pancakes

    Pancakes Friend

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    I only mention the topology because class A is a fetish (I'm guilty) especially in the head-fi sphere.

    Anyway, I've derailed this thread enough.
     
  19. ilikebananafudge_

    ilikebananafudge_ Friend

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    First of all, I really appreciate these loaner tours. It is so cool that we get to try a bunch of interesting gear in our own homes. So thank you to everyone that made this possible!

    [​IMG]


    GEAR USED

    Chain: Qobuz/FLAC --> Roon --> HQPlayer --> Yggdrasil+ OG (NOS) --> Bakoon Amp-13R
    Headphones: Utopia, RAD-0, Verite Closed, Atrium

    I only used the 13R as a headphone amp and I compared it against my daily driver amp, the ECP DSHA-3F Ravenswood (with amorphous transformers).


    BUILD & DESIGN

    I love how small this amp is. It easily fits on my desk and it doesn't get too hot, either. I also like the visual design for the most part. The strange feet are interesting and unique and I like the orange accents. The red volume knob looks and feels somewhat cheap, but otherwise it looks nice.

    I don't like the controls for this amp. Besides changing the volume, most of the functionality is on the remote control, which I don't like. I want buttons that do one thing and I want them to be on the amplifier, but maybe that's just me. The way you change gain for the headphone out is just ridiculous. You have to turn the amp off, push in the volume knob and hold it for 5 seconds, then rotate the volume knob, then push the volume knob in again, wait for the lights to turn off, and then turn the amp on again. I don't know what they were thinking.


    SOUND

    Speaking of changing the gain, I recommend that you try both high and low gain because they're somewhat different. On low gain, my impressions track with @StageOne's. I heard the amp as having a V-shaped signature, in which the mids were recessed and the bass was more emphasized than the treble. I thought the amp in low gain sounded warm and mostly unengaging. But there were certain songs where the extra bass emphasis was fun, especially with the RAD-0s because they extend so well in the sub bass.

    I also concur with @StageOne about the soundstage. I thought it was very wide and very shallow. The center image collapsed into my head and was pushed to either side in a way that I found unpleasant. I don't normally care that much about soundstage, but this bothered me. Between the soundstage and the recessed mids, I did not enjoy the Bakoon in low gain overall.

    This is the first amp where I liked high gain more than low gain. In high gain, the mids were not quite as recessed, the tonal balance was slightly better with less of a bass emphasis, and the soundstage was improved. The center image was more stable and created less of an in-your-head experience, though it still had some of that character. I heard a very slight improvement in detail retrieval, plankton, and macrodynamics in high gain, as well. But I would say that microdynamics and plankton are not quite as good as the DSHA-3F. It's not a huge difference, but I consistently heard a touch more nuance from the 3F than the Bakoon when A/B testing. Additionally, the 3F has better decay and sustain than the Bakoon, which makes the 3F sound more natural and realistic to my ears. As a result, the Bakoon has more emphasis on the initial attack and instruments have less body and heft, which creates more space between instruments in the soundstage.

    While high gain was better than low gain in nearly every way, it did highlight the slightly raspy, splashy treble more. I noticed this especially with cymbals, where they sounded more smeared with more of a hissing character than my 3F. This wasn't a strong effect, however, and it didn't bother me much. For the most part, it was only apparent upon intentional listening during A/B testing.

    Perhaps the most important observation that I made during testing was that I consistently listened to my test tracks longer when I was using the 3F. It sent shivers down my spine more often and I forgot that I was supposed to be evaluating gear more often. This isn't to say that the Bakoon is a bad amplifier. I just like the 3F slightly more, especially for my dynamic headphones. For the RAD-0s, I thought that the Bakoon's slight emphasis on the attack of notes worked better. I've never listened to the Susvara, but I've heard that it tends to be somewhat soft sounding, so I could see how the Bakoon would be a good pairing.


    CONCLUSION

    The Bakoon is a very good headphone amp. but It is also a very expensive headphone amp at $6,000. Relative to the ECP DSHA-3F, I could see people liking the slightly leaner, more separated presentation of the Bakoon better, but that is not my preference. Also, if you are trying to drive something that requires a lot of power like the Susvara, the OG HE-6, or the Modhouse Tungsten, then the Bakoon might be a good pairing. But to my ears, the 3F is a better headphone amplifier for less than half the price. It has better detail retrieval and plankton, and a more natural soundstage. I would recommend the 3F over the Bakoon for most people, especially for dynamic cans.
     
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    Last edited: Jan 19, 2024
  20. JeremiahS

    JeremiahS Almost "Made"

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    Bakoon or Enleum amps are very picky and I think it's a waste of time if you use them to drive dynamics. Like the OOR (but I think it's even more specialized than the Ferrum) it's meant to drive planars and making full use of its current drive mode.
     

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