Entry Level Tube Hybrid: Bada PH-12

This review started as one of the members of the local forum visited me, asking me to take a listen to his Bada headphone amplifier. I’ve heard of the Bada name before, but have never auditioned their amps before. Arief was the dude’s name, and he came with the Bada PH-12 amp, and listened and compared it to the abundance of desktop amps that I happen to have around, including the Schiit stuff and the Zana.

I had a short listen to the Bada PH-12 with the HD800 and noticed that the sound is extremely clean and grainless (unlike the Zana, for instance). The soundstage was really special. Somehow it had a very circular soundstage similar to what I’m hearing with the Hifiman EF-5, only with less grain than the Hifiman. As a point of reference, some amps have a very wide soundstage but may have little or almost zero depth. The Zana Deux’s soundstage is not too wide, but had excellent depth (the best I’ve heard actually). The Bada doesn’t quite have the same ambiance or micro details that I hear from the Zana, but it gave me soundstage depth that extends to the front and back. “This amp is special”, I thought.

The tonality is a typical mid centric tube sound and is very easy to like. Although detail level is a bit lower than the Schiit Asgard, you never actually feel the amp to be muffled or veiled. The midrange is full and lush, yet at the same time has a good clarity. On a scale of 1 to 10 where one would be thin and dry and 10 extremely thick, the Bada would roughly be on 7. So it’s definitely a full sounding amp, but it doesn’t overdo it. Clarity levels are still very good. The mid-centric sound also gives you a relaxed treble, a full upper to mid bass, though low bass is a little rolled off. But all mid centric amps are like this, and it’s rare to find a tube amp with good low bass.

The Bada PH-12 is actually a hybrid design, with three 6SN7 tubes on the input stage doing the voltage amplification and Toshiba J200/K1529 Mosfets at the output stage. As soon as I heard about the Bada being Hybrid, I immediately tried it with the Hifiman HE-6 and HE-500 headphones and sure enough, the Bada has enough current to drive either of the Hifimans. The Bada was an exceptionally nice pairing with the HE-6 (although I’d still prefer a speaker amp for the HE-6) as the full midrange nicely boosts the mid body of the HE-6, and the mosfets at the output had plenty of power to drive the HE-6 with good dynamics. I think this is probably one of the cheaper headphone amps that has plenty of power to drive the HE-6 which is the hardest headphone to drive nowadays.

Side view with the tube protector removed. Rear view: the switch on the side of the RCA jacks is an impedance selector switch.

K1529 Mosfets mounted on the casing for heat dissipation.

Chinese 6N8P tubes are used as the stock tubes.

I told Arief that I honestly think the Bada PH-12 is overall a nicer sounding amp than the Schiit Valhalla or Lyr tubes that I was reviewing earlier. The Valhalla and the Lyr was more detailed, but when it comes to soundstage presentation and overall tonality, the Bada was simply better. Well, it wasn’t that surprising to me considering that 6SN7 tubes are one of the highest regarded tubes among the Hi-fi crowd.

The Bada is not totally perfect, and some weaknesses on the sound of the Bada includes a relatively slow pace and lack of detail and articulation on the bass. The pace is not extremely slow that it’ll put you to sleep, but you definitely wouldn’t play Linkin Park or Incubus through this amp. On the other hand, the Bada would do very nicely with stuff like Michael Buble, Norah Jones, Diana Krall, old jazz like Bill Evans, Thelonius Monk, or Stan Getz. In all, it’s a great amp for vocal lovers and medium paced music.

The warm and sweet tonality is definitely the Bada’s number one selling point. The circular soundstage and clean grainless sound comes next. The powerful output being third. At times I do miss having more detail level, but the next amp that delivers the same warm and sweet tonality like the Bada is the Graham Slee Solo SRG II, and whilst they are significantly more detailed, they are not as warm and as full as the Bada, nor do you get that circular soundstage. The Bada also has more power output overall as it’s capable of driving the Hifiman HE-500 and HE-6 (the Graham Slees stop at the HE-500).

Compared to the Graham Slee Solo, I would rate the two as follows. The Solo is slightly more linear while still retaining the same warm sound. The Solo is also more detailed than the Bada. The Bada has a better soundstage, and more authority for driving the Hifiman HE-6 and HE-500 orthodynamics. While there is no denying that the Bada is a really nice amp for you looking for a warm and full sound, the Solo has a wider genre compatibility (mainly due to the faster pace — the Solo is 100% solid state but with a warm tube tonality).

END WORDS

It’s a good amp, really. Especially if you’re looking for that traditional warm, lush, fulls sounding tube sound. Though slightly mellow, the bass punch and impact is fairly powerful due to the mosfets in the output stage. Just don’t expect it to play very well with fast music.

AVAILABILITY

This is where it gets tricky. I did a search on the amplifier and found no official retailer of the amp. You can get them in eBay where they sell these for anywhere from $349 to $495. What a big jump in the price, right? Well guess what, the guy who are selling them for $349 are asking for a $140 “economy shipping”. So I suppose this puts the Bada PH-12 as a solid $500 amp. It wouldn’t call it overpriced, but it’s getting quite close to being one.

 

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10 Comments

  • Reply August 17, 2011

    Currawong (Amos)

    I think that is the appeal of the cheap tube amps — they have a nice, mellow sound that goes well with slow music. Their limitations are as you found — everything falls apart once the music gets fast and the detail is lacking.

    • Reply August 17, 2011

      Anonymous

      Spot on, Amos.

  • Reply August 17, 2011

    Austin M.

    I’d bet this would be a very nice combination with the HE-300.

    • Reply August 17, 2011

      Anonymous

      It would be nice with the HE-500. Perhaps a bit too warm for the HE-300.
      Actually it’s very nice with the HD800.

  • Reply August 17, 2011

    Donunus

    This was one of DrArthurWells all time favorite amps on headfi. He always raved about these with k701s, sa5000s and hd600s I think. This was back in 2005 If I remember correctly. The reason why I’m saying this is because you might be able to get some good tube rolling tips from his threads. I remember him having detailed descriptions of the different tubes he used with this amp.

    • Reply August 17, 2011

      Anonymous

      Yes tube rolling for sure, but I’m not sure if I have the time to do tube rolling.. I think it’s a good amp with the SA5000, K701, and the HD600. Or should I say “it would be a good amp”…

  • Reply August 18, 2011

    P. J.

    Nice review Mike but could I ask for bigger photos?

    • Reply August 19, 2011

      Anonymous

      I guess you are right. I will update the review with bigger photos.

  • Reply June 2, 2012

    Ken Stuart

    Too bad – they missed the opportunity to cal this the “Bing” 🙂

  • Reply June 2, 2012

    Ken Stuart

    Too bad – they missed the opportunity to cal this the “Bing” 🙂

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