I’ve been doing a lot of reviews on portable amps under the $100 price tag, starting from the JDSLabs which I found to be very good for the price. One of the comments on the JDSLabs article was how the Cmoy-based JDSLabs amp compare to Electric Avenue’s PA2V2. The PA2V2 is one of those old amp that has been around forever, and yet I’ve never really had the chance to audition it. Since none my headphone friends don’t seem to care about the PA2V2, I never really thought to give the PA2V2 a try. But in the process of gathering a bunch of sub $100 portable amps for a shoot-out, I decided to include the PA2V2, an amp that has gained a solid name throughout the years.
Long story short, the amplifier is now here, and listening to how excellent music sounds from the PA2V2 amp, I begin to question myself: “Why do you even bother spending $200 and up for an amp, if such an excellent amplification can be had for merely $60?” Indeed within the little black hammond box that enclose the PA2V2 amp and a rather quirky knobs and layout, is a sound that rivals the musicality of many of the more expensive amplifiers in the market. The overall sound is very clean, the treble sparkly and clear with no harshness, and with a superb PRaT factor — perhaps one of the best PRaT I’ve heard out of the portable amp.
While I don’t doubt the logic behind the PA2V2′s design, as a whole, the enclosure design is a bit outdated. Perhaps this is one of the reason that people are hesitant to bring up the PA2V2 in discussions. But having reviewed almost all the major portable amps out there, I do wonder why a google search doesn’t yield an appreciation thread or some sort in Head-Fi for the PA2V2. It’s also pretty shocking to see one guy recommending the Fiio E5 over the PA2V2, as the two are not even in the same league. I would easily put the PA2V2 at the top of the sub $100 portable amps, as it is simply phenomenal for the price, and it would easily rival a lot of members of the Usual Suspects in pure musicality.
The sound signature of the PA2V2 is quite straightforward from top to bottom frequencies. The presentation is forward and engaging, similar to how the Sennheiser HD25-1 is voiced. The bass may not be the most powerful, but every punch is very tight and the PRaT factor is awesome. The mids are quite linear with not much coloration. The treble is clean and lively. Paired with the Sennheiser HD25-1 headphone, the PA2V2 makes one of the most awesome portable headphone set up for Rock. Whatever energy was in the recording is either translated fully, or even boosted to a certain degree to make the experience even more intense. It’s quite different from the darker sounding Soundmagic A-10 or the warm and mellower sounding JDSLabs Cmoy. In all, it’s a very fun and musical sound signature, and definitely very addictive especially if you’re a Rock fan.
During the time of the review I had so much fun with the PA2V2 that I begin to wonder how it would compare relatively to the newer and more expensive portable amps, and so I compared it to the Ibasso PB-2 amplifier. The Ibasso clearly is more detailed, feels more open, and has a better frequency extension — those are undeniable. So in an A-B test situation, there is probably no chance for the PA2V2 to come up on top of the Ibasso, which carries a pricetag 5x more expensive than the PA2V2. Since the PB-2′s technicalities fall roughly in the middle line in the Usual Suspects review, I can roughly conclude that most of the $300 and up amps would trounce the PA2V2 in terms of technicalities. That means, higher detail level, bigger soundstage, and a more linear, more extended frequency response curve than what you’d get with a budget amp like the PA2V2.
During day to day listening, however, I wonder if that difference in technicalities will be significant enough to justify the pricetag (and to think that the PB2 is not the most expensive portable amp out there). I know that I’ve enjoyed simple amplifiers like the JDSLabs Cmoy just as much as I’ve enjoyed listening to a Zana Deux or a Beta22, and likewise I’ve enjoyed music just as much during the course of this review, with a simple PA2V2 + Sennheiser HD25-1, or PA2V2 + Audio Technica M-50 as I do with the set up I use for the Usual Suspects review.
I’ve heard many good things about Gary, the man behind Electric Avenues. Perhaps all of the customers who’ve bought the PA2V2 from him mentions one thing in common, that Gary is a very warm and friendly guy that will take time to answer any questions you may have about the amplifier. I’ve also experienced the same thing during my communication with Gary in getting this review together, and I think he truly lives to his reputation. However, I am more impressed at the business approach that Gary takes with Electric Avenues and the PA2V2 amplifier. Where all the other amplifier manufacturers race to introduce new models every year, Gary seems to be content with only offering the PA2V2 amplifier, along with the AmpliRider, an amplifier designed for motorcyclist. For sure it is a decision that I respect very much, as the PA2V2 happens to be a very musical and mature amplifier that plays music very well. This amplifier has gone through many revisions during the years, a far contrast than many of the products that is rushed into the market these days. The build is rock solid, and little things like the Bourns analog potentiometer and the decision to use rechargeable AA batteries makes the amp very enjoyable to use. I think a thinner built PA2V2 would be welcome. I also had fun using the PA2V2 with my JH16Pro, though there is channel imbalance when the potentiometer is set on very low volumes, it was gone at my regular listening volume and I thoroughly enjoyed the pairing with the JH16.
Browsing around the Electric Avenues’ website Archives, I can see myself being a proud owner of a PA2V2 amp, along with thousands of other owners that have bought the PA2V2 before me. This amp definitely deserves its cult status. If you’ve been wanting to get a portable amp but has been discouraged at the prices, I’d highly recommend getting the PA2V2 for a start. If you’ve been collecting many of the higher end amps, it would also be interesting to see how the PA2V2 compares to those higher end amps. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed at its performance.
You can learn more about the PA2V2 amplifier at the Electric Avenues website: www.electric-avenues.com.