Donald North Audio Supernaut Review and Impressions

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by purr1n, Dec 19, 2023.

  1. famish99

    famish99 Friend

    Pyrate
    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2017
    Likes Received:
    1,714
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Austin, TX
    Oh good call, I wasn't planning on bringing it, but I'll think about it. We recently set up @Erroneous with some HQPlayer DSD oversampling and it honestly helps a lot in the softness department.
     
    • Like Like x 1
    • Agreed, ditto, +1 Agreed, ditto, +1 x 1
    • List
  2. Mystic

    Mystic Mystique's Spiritual Advisor

    Pyrate Contributor
    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2016
    Likes Received:
    2,764
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    U.S.
    Funny, this is how I sometimes describe my EC Studio B. One of the reasons I like it so much and still have it 4 years later due to my love for both EC and DNA amps.
     
  3. Erroneous

    Erroneous Friend

    Pyrate
    Joined:
    May 15, 2016
    Likes Received:
    2,958
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Texas
    Had the chance to hear the Supernaut (many thanks @Donald North and @ColtMrFire for making that happen!) at a lil TacoFi mini-meet we had a bit ago.

    We had the Supernaut, Stellaris, Pendant, ECP T4 and DSHA-3F all hooked up to the May KTE via an iCon 4 Zen AVC. We had a slew of various Sennheisers from the last 30-40 years and thanks to a gracious loan from @gaspasser we also had a Utopia on hand.


    I didn't get a ton of time with it but my quick and dirty impressions were that I see what Colt was going for with the "combo DNA and EC" remarks. It's definitely got the DNA house sound, it's just a tad more linear than the Stratus V3 and Stellaris I've heard from them.

    I did suspect the stock tubes were holding it back so we rolled in a different rectifier (Elrog) and new driver tubes (vintage metal base Tung Sol 6550s). We didn't touch the input tube at the meet but I did loan Colt some excellent input tubes for him to try later.

    With stock tubes I found the Supernaut a touch nasally and unfocused, but still very enjoyable in isolation. With the Elrog in the rectifier position I felt like the sound cleared up and became more focused. But I still thought the amp was likely capable of more than what we were hearing.

    Once we added the 6550s it really started to level up and become something I could relax into. I'd love to hear it fully tube rolled but we had much to do and not a lot of time to do it in.

    With this amp getting the right tubes should cost far less than Stratus or Stellaris.

    I agree with whoever said absolutely do not own 2 DNA amps. I think you should choose your sound and stick with it. They're not different enough to warrant two different amps.

    I thought the Stellaris outperformed the Supernaut in resolving ability and in getting me emotionally connected to the music. Supernaut stomped all over the Pendant though. Pendant lacks texture compared to the other 2. More upfront, less refined. More closed in.
    Lacks depth of sound stage. I just expected more from a $2k+ amp. Comparison is the thief of joy though, and without two world class headphone amps to directly compare it to, the Pendant likely would have sounded much better.

    Pics or it didn't happen: https://imgur.com/a/TtrEF0W
     
    • Like Like x 25
    • Epic Epic x 1
    • List
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2024
  4. Walderstorn

    Walderstorn Friend

    Pyrate
    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2016
    Likes Received:
    1,905
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Europe
    While reading i was already thinking "this sounds like something someone wouldn't expect for such a hefty price tag" and you ended up confirming it. Ain't going to lie, to reading things like "stock tubes holding it back", "nasally", "unfocused" on something with this price tag really struck me since i won't expect that even from a 1k tube amp. I would expect something excellent but that can be tweaked slightly at this price point.

    Are your impressions aligned with any of the previous reviews/impressions?

    Thanks for sharing @Erroneous
     
  5. Erroneous

    Erroneous Friend

    Pyrate
    Joined:
    May 15, 2016
    Likes Received:
    2,958
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Texas
    To be fair, I've never enjoyed the stock tubes on either DNA amp I've owned. I think Donald is essentially forced to ship it with tubes that are just ok. He has to ship it with tubes he tested it with so he knows everything works before shipping it out (that way the new owner can't say "you shipped me a defective amp!" when it's really a shit tube or a wrong tube they're using and it blows the amp up.)

    And he's not going to ship it with $$$ tubes for several reasons. The price is higher, people are going to roll them anyway so why back them into a corner with expensive tubes they may not want, etc.

    I think it's just a necessary evil to send cheap but ok tubes. I know Marv says you should listen to the amp not the tubes, but I'm trying to make music sound good and tubes do make a difference.

    So in short I don't fault Donald for shipping less than stellar tubes.
     
    • Like Like x 4
    • Agreed, ditto, +1 Agreed, ditto, +1 x 4
    • List
  6. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF's Mr. Bean

    Staff Member Pyrate Gearmaster
    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2018
    Likes Received:
    10,990
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    The Complex
    @Walderstorn For what it's worth, my impressions were done using the stock tubes.

    I personally never felt tube rolling was needed on any DNA amp to make it sound "good." This is a far cry from Woo amps which practically require uber tubes and sound downright awful without them. In my experience with Starlett, tube rolling really only offered maybe incremental gains performance-wise, and really what I was doing was tuning the amp more to my preferences.

    But hey, if some people's experience with the stock tubes aren't great then it is what it is.

    However, saying tubes don't make a difference on DNA amps is also foolish. They do whether you like it or not.

    This all being said, I really don't think it's fair on Donald to say he ships the amps with suboptimal/crappy tubes. What he has to go through to make sure the stock tubes he sends won't blow your amp up and doesn't sound like shit is not for the faint hearted.

    Overall, I'm of the opinion that if you don't like a DNA with stock tubes, a tube roll isn't going to change your mind. But a tube roll can tune the amp to your preferences for sure (and maybe have incremental performance gains, but on DNA the gains I hear are single digit performance increases. Like maybe a few percent).
     
    • Like Like x 10
    • Agreed, ditto, +1 Agreed, ditto, +1 x 1
    • List
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2024
  7. Walderstorn

    Walderstorn Friend

    Pyrate
    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2016
    Likes Received:
    1,905
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Europe
    Thanks for the thoughts @ChaChaRealSmooth.

    Although i'm thankful for @Erroneous impressions I also can't really agree with his opinion, since the only two DNA amps i've tried (my own and a higher model), were listened to with and without stock tubes and, despite the obvious differences (for the better with the non-stock tubes at hand), i very much enjoyed the experience either way.

    Too each their own i guess as i did appreciate the different points of view.
     
    • Agreed, ditto, +1 Agreed, ditto, +1 x 2
    • Like Like x 1
    • List
  8. famish99

    famish99 Friend

    Pyrate
    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2017
    Likes Received:
    1,714
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Austin, TX
    I side more with @Erroneous on the side of the discussion regarding stock vs higher quality tubes. While I understand the need to ship with something, for a technicalities focused listener, a poorly resolving or veiled tube often leaves you wondering "is it the tube or the amp that's bad?" Since the Supernaut runs pentodes, it's not just compromised technicalities but overall character can change because output tube types can be changed and not limited to different brands within a same type.

    Having said that, I did enjoy the character of the Supernaut with the shipped KT66 relative to other DNA offerings as I've often fallen asleep to the Stellaris on late enough listening sessions and the increased energy of the Supernaut kept me engaged late into the night. This came at the cost of reduced sense of space as the decay wasn't that great and less nuances (or inner detail as @EagleWings would say). Rolling the 6550 fixed the sense of space and decay to an extent, but still not enough inner detail to compete with a 2A3 and loses some of that energetic sound in the process. I would be curious if something like an EL34 paired with a 12AU7 or 6SN7 using an adapter would provide a good tradeoff of values here for me to pick it up over a DHT amp that's on the more energetic side.

    All said and done, I would take this over a Stratus for the price mostly for the higher engagement, but a Stratus is really like... $1k more if you include tube rolling costs. Good pentodes are less cheap than they used to be, but still way cheaper than 2A3 and 6n1p replacements... and offer you much more customization to the sound.
     
  9. Erroneous

    Erroneous Friend

    Pyrate
    Joined:
    May 15, 2016
    Likes Received:
    2,958
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Texas
    [​IMG]
    Supernaut second round
    Fully rolled

    With May KTE as source
    Crazy synergy with the Elex. The pentode clarity mixed with the sweetness of the DNA house sound just works so well with this setup. If these are still around for $300 brand new, it's almost silly not to own a pair.

    For the sake of making notes to share, I want to try different headphones on this amp, but Elex just work so well on this chain it's hard to take them off my head.

    It's just SO VERY crisp and clean, with crazy separation and layering. Everything neat and tidy in its own space and you can concentrate on whichever part of the music you want, as the music happens in different areas of the perceived sound field.

    So far only once did it get bothersome in the treble and that was during "Bang A Gong" by T Rex. Guessing you can roll your way out of this since I'm using my preferred input tube and rectifier from Stellaris which has an entirely different tuning.


    New day, new DAC. Now with the Allnic D-5000.

    Elex synergy is no longer magical. It's aight. Didn't last long. Just not uber engaging anymore, the sauce is different.

    Tried HD8XX and it was better but still not magnificent. (My daily driver JAR800 is off getting updated to the latest version so I bought an 8XX to play with while it's gone.)

    Moved to JAR600V2 (BS) and we're back in business. Listening to PJ Harvey - To Bring You My Love (album). It has all the grit and bite that this album requires in order to sound good, while being fully sorted out and layered correctly. Full of driving, churning energy and I'm here for it all.

    (Next day edit to add that the OG JAR650 (SS) is absolutely nutso bonkers amazeballs with this chain. Perfect match and really shows off the amazing capabilities of this headphone.)

    I haven't listened to the Stellaris since I got the Supernaut in for a longer session than the mini-meet we had a couple weeks ago, and I'm super curious how it's going to go when I ship the Supernaut back to Donald and go back to the Stellaris full time. Mainly because my speaker amp is a pentode amp and I absolutely love the energy, tightness and explosiveness of pentodes which is what I'm getting from the Supernaut.

    Stellaris is a 2a3 amp which is a legendary tube but it's definitely a different energy than pentodes. More delicate and intimate than smashing and flexing.

    Curious if it'll feel like coming home going back to my normal amp, or if I'll miss that pentode energy. The Tung Sol metal base 6550 can get splashy in the treble with treble-heavy songs and the 2a3 on the Stellaris just doesn't ever suffer this fate so we'll see what happens. But I've had the Supernaut for a week or so now and have been happy to just enjoy it. I haven't felt a need to return to Stellaris. Granted, the loaner is temporary and Stellaris is forever so there's a timeline associated with hearing this. But if it wasn't deemed worthy, it would already be in the mail back to Donald.

    I will also say that I do have treble sensitivity that some other forum members may not have, so take impressions with a grain of salt.

    One thing I've noticed is that I tend to relax with music at the end of the day. Stellaris, while engaging as shit, lets me relax and enjoy. Supernaut revives the younger me that used to actually go into the mosh pit and have fun. I'm too old for that now, but the spirit of that is alive in the Supernaut amp and I am definitely a fan of the energy it brings. I think the pentode energy mixed with the DNA sweetness is kinda perfect for someone who remembers and enjoys the memory of the pit but doesn't necessarily want to get back in it these days.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2024
  10. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

    Pyrate
    Joined:
    Apr 15, 2020
    Likes Received:
    12,426
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Bay Area, CA
    Home Page:
    (@Erroneous 's image posted for him)

    never mind, he got it sorted :)
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2024

Share This Page