Dragon Inspire IHA-1

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by MrTeaRex, Sep 20, 2017.

  1. MrTeaRex

    MrTeaRex His head's not fat, he's my brother!

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    [​IMG]

    There is not much information on this amp around here, but a few members have one. I was feeling nostalgic and thought a group project to remember college would be fun. Luckily, @AMW1011 and @porkfriedpork were willing to oblige. It wasn’t exactly like college, since everyone participated and nobody got mad enough to go crying to the professor, but it was close enough.

    The setups of the individuals referenced are as follows:

    @porkfriedpork < HD800 < IHA-1 w/ PSVANE CV181-T & RCA 5U4GB < Gumby
    @AMW1011 < HD800 < IHA-1 w/ Sylvania 6SN7GTB & RCA 5U4GB < misc. DACs
    @MrTeaRex < HD650 < IHA-1 w/ Ken-Rad VT-231 & RCA 5U4GB < Holo Spring

    Additionally, we all have the optional step-up transformers and consider them a necessity with most headphones. Even with the input transformers, @porkfriedpork occasionally wanted the IHA-1 to have more volume on quiet tracks with high dynamic range, but admitted that he listens entirely too loud. @AMW1011 found the extra gain provided by the input transformers was more than enough to push the ZMF Blackwood and HE-1000 to critical listening volumes with quiet tracks. Two of us have tried the preamp functionality and would advise buyers spend the money elsewhere (more tubes). The preamp option was added as an afterthought and its tendency to hum sounds like it.

    One of the interesting aspects of the IHA-1 is that the tone and frequency response can react wildly to tube changes, including rectifiers. This means the following impressions are attempts to generalize the character of the amplifier as a whole. Overall, it is far from bright or harsh and leans more towards dry or neutral than wet or warm. The IHA-1 is not one of the numerous amps in this price bracket typically described as musical or tubey.

    Based on its price range of $1,600 to $2,150 (depending on options), the attributes were organized into three categories: exceeds expectations, meets expectations, and below expectations. I used an ECP T3 with all of the approved Beezar upgrades as a reference, since many members have owned or heard various versions.

    Starting with the good, the IHA-1 exceeds expectations in several areas: clarity, dynamics, imaging, and stage. The IHA-1 is clearer than the T3 and exhibits a blacker background. Macro dynamics and impact are noticeably improved when switching to a 5U4GB rectifier. The stock 5Y3GT was soft to the point of mushy in several instances. I’m typically terrible at assessing stage and imaging on headphones, as it only ranges from bad to worse. That said, even I was able to recognize an improvement over the T3 in depth, width, and positioning. @AMW1011 commented that it has the exploded staging you would expect from a good tube amp, but does not lose the natural layering and body. Depth is pretty good, but width is the strength.

    Since this is not a budget amp, expectations are above average and were met in the following areas: resolution, transparency, mids, and high frequencies. I felt that the T3 and IHA-1 were similarly resolving and transparent. @porkfriedpork noted that the IHA-1 was not as transparent or source dependent as his Cayin iHA-6 and he could not compare DACs as easily with the IHA-1. Neither the T3 or Cayin are as expensive as the IHA-1. However, we each felt that those amps are more resolving than their prices reflect, so the IHA-1 met expectations. Everyone agreed that the mids were balanced and the highs extended sufficiently. @AMW1011 depicted the treble extension as good, but not exceptional, and would expect more if compared to a TOTL tube amplifier.

    We had one area that was a point of contention so I’m placing it here, between the meets and below expectations. I felt that the low frequencies were lean and slightly rolled off. Both @porkfriedpork and @AMW1011 disagreed and characterized the bass as well-extended. @AMW1011 went as far as to describe the extension as nearly endless when tested with the HE-1000. This discrepancy could be partly attributed to the fact that I was using the HD650 versus their HD800s, or that I was using the T3 for comparison. However, he further explained that the bass is not super-layered, which may be in line with what I heard as lean. We (happily) agreed that it does not have the rounded sound gaining in popularity.

    Finally, the areas that were below expectations: transients, attenuator, headphone jacks, and microphonics. The T3 was audibly more responsive in busy passages and I don’t feel the T3 is any better in this regard than a similar solid-state amplifier. @AMW1011 offered that the IHA-1 was quicker than most amps he had heard, but not the fastest, or up to the level of a Ragnarok. @porkfriedpork expressed that the DACT stepped attenuator made volume matching and comparisons more difficult than necessary. I still can’t figure out what would possess a designer to put locking jacks on a consumer headphone amplifier. The IHA-1 is fairly small and the locks could cause the amp to take an unnecessary spill during any mishaps with the headphone cable. I also discovered that the amplifier was more sensitive to microphonic tubes than my other 6SN7-based amps. Neither @porkfriedpork or @AMW1011 have had issues with microphonics, so YMMV.

    In conclusion, we are all more than satisfied with the performance of the amplifier and plan to spend the foreseeable future with it in our possession. If the preamp option is avoided, we feel others will be happy as well. @AMW1011 gave it the highest praise by saying that he stopped caring about amps after spending time with his IHA-1.

    **UPDATE (26-SEP-17): I was recently informed that the preamp outputs are no long an option and are now standard on every unit. As a result, the base price was adjusted up to $1,699 from the original $1,599.

    P.S. I'd also like to plug @aornic and his review site (http://aornic.com/). Many of these discussions occurred after the three of us were tagged as “Chasing the Dragon” in his Discord server.
     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2017
  2. JoshMorr

    JoshMorr Friend

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    Just wanted to mention this amp is made by Dennis Had formerly of Cary Audio as a retirement project. Rumors have it that Dennis put this together without realizing the size of the headphone community, and due to its popularity is also working on a second no frills amp either using 2a3 or similar high end tube. Also, I think it's only available for sale new by Moon Audio and has a month or so lead time while Dennis builds.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2017
  3. Mongstradamous

    Mongstradamous Rando

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    Good read. I especially enjoyed the approach of the author where the opinions of two other owners are considered as well. I'm somewhat indulging the idea of diving into the world of Tube Amplifiers and the IHA1 has piqued my interest.
    This post along with Aornic's impressions have really tempted me now into buying one of these. However the subpar pre amp is something of concern for me.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2017
  4. marcussmj

    marcussmj Rando

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    Interesting stuff. Never thought the IHA-1 was that susceptible to tube change/pairing. Definitely reinforced the idea surrounding it that it is a very revealing amp and also a forewarning to those just about to enter the world of tubes that they might have to drop a copious amount to get the preferred sound signature.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2017
  5. AMW1011

    AMW1011 Friend

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    The sound signature doesn't change "drastically", but more than a lot of tube amps. As always I suggest getting a solid and well documented set of tubes and avoiding the whole tube rolling craziness.
     
  6. porkfriedpork

    porkfriedpork Friend

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    The IHA-1 is great fun for tube rolling, and I think its chameleon nature is a strong part of the appeal of this amp.
    Unlike more pricey tubes like 300B, the inspires 5U4GB and 6SN7 are fairly inexpensive relative to the cost of
    the amp. Unless you're pursuing the holy grail of tubes you can get a great variety of options without breaking the
    bank.
     
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  7. Comzee

    Comzee Acquaintance

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    I'd have to agree with MrTeaRex, I do think iha-1 rolls bass, but low like <50hz
    This comes from the nature of a single 6sn7 per channel, it's simply not very powerful.

    This also attributes to probably one of the biggest aspects in my mind that keeps it from the high end exotics, which is poor dynamics.

    With that said, I think the right tubes really make the amp. I've found my ideal combo to be 6f8g round plates with 596 rectifier. With that combo I get exceptional resolution without harsh or sibilant aspects. This amp can roll many types, 6sn7 is standard, but people use 6bl7, 6bx7, 7n7, 6f8g and a few others for the driver tubes. As far as the rectifiers goes, you can use almost any common type full wave rectifier. 5y3, 5v4, 5u4, 5r4, gz34, 274b or something crazy like my 596.

    I do think the iha-1 destroys the t3 in every way. Yes the t3 does have more decibels in the bass, but it's bloated and undefined in comparison. I did own a fully upgraded t3 with GE 5 star black plates, far and beyond the best tubes for it. The t3 also has a veil to it, or you could call it a background. Kind of like what the hd6xx has in comparison to hd800. It's just not black, it's a cloud of grey background ambiance.

    The iha-1 is exceptional at what it does, high resolution, musicality, tonality customization with tube rolling. Although, it's not an end all be all. It's just a great < $2k tube amp that will pretty much rock any SS amp in specific terms of resolution and musicality.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2018
  8. gbeast

    gbeast Mighty Moral Power Ranger

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    I really want to hear this amp. The last one in its price range I am curious about.
     
  9. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    This looks pretty cool. Transformer output coupled? Using two halves of 6SN7 for two stages?

    Pretty good quality review on TAS. Although this line cracks me up:

    While the IHA-1 is not a true dual-mono design because the right and left channels share the same power supply, the two channels remain separated throughout their signal path.

    I would certainly hope the L and R channel signal paths remain separated!
     
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  10. MrTeaRex

    MrTeaRex His head's not fat, he's my brother!

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    Yep, output transformer coupled. Related to the stages, someone on Head-Fi emailed Dennis a similar question and received the answer below. The gain was low for many purposes, so 1:2.5 step-up input transformers from Lundahl are offered as an option.

    1) <How is the driver gain stage configured (two gain stages by treating each triode section inside of the 6SN7 as its own stage to increase gain, or a single stage with both triode sections paralleled)?>

    First up, both sections of the 6SN7 are run in parallel as one triode gain stage.
     
  11. pedalhead

    pedalhead Friend

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    Good to see some IHA-1 chat on here. I have the opportunity to get one of the earlier models new old stock, but I'm concerned about the lack of attenuation you guys are talking about, particularly as I use EQ with my HD800 that requires negative gain from the source. Do you reckon it's a non-runner in this regard?
     
  12. SineDave

    SineDave Friend

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    @Marvey, SBAF loaner perhaps?
     
  13. Smitty

    Smitty Too good for bad vodka - Friend

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    I've got an early model, and it was a very quiet amp. It's one of the few amps I ever used with over 20% volume for the HD800s, though I do have a very low preferred listening level. That also might have been the tubes, I had some very special old as dirt GTBs, and they might have been a little weak. Unfortunately, they also just died during a move.
     
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  14. porkfriedpork

    porkfriedpork Friend

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    I can't really speak to how any amp responds to your EQ settings and I've never heard an IHA-1 without the Lundahl's which add gain.
    The Lundahl transformers were not available in some early IHA-1 models, so they will be quieter. With the extra gain, the IHA-1 is
    loud enough for me with HD800, which is too loud for anyone else.
     
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  15. doukhobar

    doukhobar Rando

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    Interesting review. As a long time owner of one of Dennis' Firebottle HO amps (the KT88 model compatible with KT66,6L6,6V6, etc) and LP2 preamp, as well as owning the Decware Taboo III for about the same length of time (2-3 years of daily use for both), I am interested in asking some follow up questions l.
    May I ask, does "T3" stand for Taboo III? Sorry, I don't do too much forum stuff. However, I have been considering the purchase of either an IHA or EC BA. I realize their prices are not exactly comparable, and that the BA makes a high qulaity pre-amp section from my reading on 6moons - but has no volume attenuation. Can I ask why you refer to the IHA's pre-amp outputs as "an after thought" specifically? What did you not like about it, and how did you test it as a pre-amp? I was thinking, I could put the IHA in from of my KT88 Firebottle and have a great headphone/preamp + amp set up in one room, and use the LP2 pre-amp in my second room (in front of the Taboo!).
     
  16. appolez

    appolez Acquaintance

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    The T3 referenced is the ECP Torpedo III
     
  17. doukhobar

    doukhobar Rando

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    I also have an HE-6. The HE6 is pretty good with my Taboo III as long as I have the right rectifier. With some rectifiers, the bass is much. With a 5AR4 the bass is tight as a drum, I found. Huge difference there. How did you find the IHA with the HE6? As good as the Taboo III Better, different?
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2017
  18. doukhobar

    doukhobar Rando

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    Oh, that's great to know - thanks for clarifying! Glad it is not the Decware Taboo III, cause someone above says the IHA rocks the T3in every way! Anyone compare Taboo III to IHA? I am also considering a Taboo IV with the UFO transformers. I have an HD800 and HE6. Contemplating ditching the HE6 for an Ether flow.
     
  19. porkfriedpork

    porkfriedpork Friend

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    I have the HE6 and the IHA-1. In my opinion its a very poor pairing. The IHA-1 has
    nowhere near enough power and only a handful of planars are a good match with
    tube amps. HEK is supposed to be good with IHA-1, but I haven't heard it.
     
  20. doukhobar

    doukhobar Rando

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    Thanks! I have the Decware Taboo for the HE6 and also LCD-2 then. How was the IHA-1 with the HD800? I am considering this amp and an Eddie Current amp like the Aficionado or a used Balancing Act. I like that the Af is a spekaer amp, instead of merely a premap.
     

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