Graham Slee Desktop Amps: Novo, Solo SRG II, Solo Ultra Linear

graham_slee_04

I think the problem with the Graham Slees is that they are just too quiet. Too quiet in the sense that there is no buzz on them. Too quiet in terms of public awareness of the brand. Too quiet in the sense that “when was the last time you heard someone mention a Graham Slee amp?” Even the enclosure design is very understated. And while the purists may give a nod to Graham Slee’s business philosophy that a great product will speak for itself, in a very crowded market like what we have these days, that simply is not enough. If you imagine a typical meet situation where you have say a table with the Burson amps, another table with WooAudio amps, and another with the Schiit amps, and finally the Graham Slee table. You and I know precisely where people will be queuing up for an audition, and that’s exactly what I’m talking about.

I’ve had a listen to the Graham Slees during local headphone meets, and my impression was just that they are smooth and warm sounding amps and just that. After all it’s a meet condition, and it’s hard to listen to subtle refinements on meet conditions. But listening at home in a quieter setting and with gears that I’m very familiar with, it becomes clear that the Graham Slee amps, especially the Solo SRG II and the Ultra Linear models are a higher resolving amp than the Schiit stuff are.

As the Zana Deux amp has been sold, I find the Graham Slee amps actually doing a very good job of making me not miss the Zana. It has the same smooth tube tonality, and whilst the soundstage is not a good as the Zana, I enjoy the clean and less grainy sound that I hear from the Graham Slee — something that I can’t seem to get with the Zana. Having a grainless sound does boost the perception of clarity and on some music I do feel that the Graham Slee to give a clearer sound than the Zana does. Paired with a high end DAC like the Audio-Gd Ref7.1 and the Bryston BDA-1, I really think that the sound quality is first class and easily the best set up I’ve listened to. Obviously the $2,000 DACs have a lot of role in this, but my point is that the amplifier is very good and scales up very well to a high end DAC to make for a pretty high end system.

So here we are with the three desktop amplifiers from Graham Slee: the Novo, Solo SRG II and Solo Ultra Linear. Special thanks to Rudi, Adit, and Alvon for the loaners.

The Graham Slee Novo

The Novo is the lowest end model in this comparison and can be bought for £212.75 (~$348). It gives a taste of the basic Graham Slee sound of a smooth and warm sound with good clarity. The smoothness doesn’t get in the way in the impression of clarity and is an all around good amp.

Compared to the Schiit Asgard which is priced lower at $250, tonality is roughly in the same ballpark except that the Graham Slee Novo has a fuller mids but a less spacious soundstage. Micro details are also better in the Asgard as they are less obvious on the Graham Slee. The Novo however has a blacker background and is less grainy than the Asgard. The Novo has more upper-mid bass body where the Asgard has more mid-lower bass. It becomes more of a choice of sound signature then, and the Novo will be a better amp for vocal lovers where the Asgard has a more all rounder sound.

Despite the small case and the understated looks, the Novo is actually a very solid performer and it’s quite hard to pick on where the fault is. Overall a very smooth sound, a very clean and black background, very clean separation, smooth treble, good round bass punch, and a full mids with good clarity. Perhaps I would only ask for an improvement in the top and bottom extension — both of which I will get in the higher up Solo model.

Identical size for both Graham Slee Solo SRG II and Ultra Linear, while the Novo (top) is shorter.

 

The Graham Slee Solo SRG II and Ultra Linear comes with two sets of inputs. The Novo comes with a loop out RCA. All three amps require the same 24V power supply.

 

The Graham Slee Solo SRG II

Higher up the line is the SRG II model, and this is where things become more interesting — closer to high end territory. The Novo and the Solo SRG II are very close tonally, with the Novo being the less open, entry level model, and the SRG II clearly being the better amp where the sound is much more open and spacious. Better frequency extension up and down, better sense of ambiance, clarity, and micro detail. All of these improvements in technicalities without losing one bit of the smoothness of the Graham Slee sound.

The pricing of the SRG II somewhat puts it in the same league as the Burson HA-160 amplifier (the DAC-less model), and I do think that the SRG II is a worthy competition for the Burson HA-160. The Burson has a more solid state, impactful and agressive sound, where the SRG II has a more tube-like, smoother, mellower sound. The SRG II is not a totally mellow amp, as the bass is actually fairly punchy. But the overall voicing just makes it a more relaxed amp than the Burson is. For instance, bass punch is fatter but more rounded with longer decays in the SRG II, where the Burson’s bass is faster, tighter and more articulate.

I don’t know why my brain is so used with judging a book from from its cover, because when I am listening to the Solo SRG II, it really gives me all the good things that I want from an amp, but when I take a look at the actual build of the amp in the drab silver aluminum enclosure, I somehow think that the looks surely does not match the sound quality. I mean this is an amp that is clearly ahead of the Schiit amps, the Hifiman EF-5, or the Bada PH-12 amp (review coming up soon), and it is truly something that I can live with for my personal listening device. It just seem to lack grunt in the aesthetics department.

As I have mentioned earlier, the Graham Slee doesn’t quite have that “look at me” looks, and the all around balanced and natural presentation may lack the wow factor that some other less refined amps may have, but in reality, I’ve been living with this amp for a few weeks now and I can say with full confidence that this is a really good amp. Even compared to the refined and smooth sound of the Woo Audio 6, I actually think that the Solo SRG II has a more balanced tonality and may be the amp that I choose, judging only by the sound aspect. But what can I say, the Woo Audio 6 does look much better than the Graham Slee, and sadly things like that do get into my overall judgment.

Comparison between the PSU1 £141.63 (~$231) and the “green” power supply.

 

The Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear

The top of the line model, called the Solo Ultra Linear, takes the same basics from the SRG II model and attempts to give a more linear tonal balance. Most noticeable is the presence of mid and high treble regions, which were more laid back in the SRG II. There is also an improvement in low bass regions, though the Ultra Linear is still mostly a neutral amplifier and not quite a bass champion. The added treble does boost instrument details and adds a more spacious feeling, but it’s still quite safe from being a hot-treble amplifier.

Other things like timbre and soundstage remains the same. The signature midrange that I found on the Novo and the Solo SRG II is still here with the Ultra Linear. There may have been an improvement in detail level, but I think in this case it is attributed to the increase in mid and high treble levels, rather than improvements in micro details.

Although I do enjoy the more open sound of the Ultra Linear which mostly results from the changes in treble, I really think that the Ultra Linear and the SRG II are in reality two amps with slightly different tonal balances. The SRG II has a more traditional mid-centric sound and sounds like a grown up Novo. Where the Ultra Linear presents a more linear tonal balance with more evident treble and low bass. In this case I do think that the pricing is quite fair, seeing how the SRG II costs ~$710 with the PSU1 power supply (the good power supply), where the Ultra Linear sells for  ~$840 with the same PSU1 power supply. A $130 difference in price, and I do think that’s quite a fair difference for a more linear version of the amp.

The PSU1 power supply and the Green power supply.

All three Graham Slee amps require the same 24V power supply, and so you can either use the premium PSU1 or the more economic “green” switching power supply. On all the amps, you see the same improvements across the board when you upgraded to the PSU1 power supply. Instruments and soundstage are less congested, blackground becomes blacker and dynamics improve. This of course makes for a very desirable upgrade for all the different amps.

With the Novo, I may be content with using just the green power supply as the amplifier is intended to be an entry level model and upgrading to the PSU1 would put it close to the price of the SRG II with the green power supply and I’d rather go with the SRG II at roughly the same price. The SRG II is actually “high-end” enough to justify spending an additional ~$200 for the PSU1 power supply. It truly brings the SRG II from a good $500 level amp to something closer to a $1000 amplifier and if you have the budget, the power supply upgrade is well worth it. With the Ultra Linear, Graham Slee only offers the PSU1 power supply, and I do think that’s the proper power supply to use with the Ultra Linear as this model is meant to be the flagship.

Voltage and Current

Based on the same 24V power supply, I don’t seem to notice any difference in voltage swing and current capabilities. That means that the same headphone would need the same volume level on all three amplifiers to achieve the same loudness level. I’ve also tried them to drive the Hifiman HE-500 and all three models, including the Novo, did an equally good job of driving them, with the only difference between resolution between the amps.

END WORDS

I think these are great amps and they truly are. I especially have a soft spot for the Solo SRG II and Solo Ultra Linear, and more when they’re being powered with the PSU1 power supply. The Graham Slee Solo amps definitely becomes a solid alternative for people shopping around for a good solid state amp around $500 and up. The tonality is mellower, smoother and is more laid back than say the Burson HA-160, so depending on your music choice the Graham Slees would be a more fitting amplifier if you tend to listen to slow to medium paced music, where the Burson is better for faster paced Rock music.

The Novo carries the same Graham Slee signature as the bigger brothers, but with the Schiit Asgard being priced at $250, it’s quite a tough competition for the Novo as I can’t say that the Novo is a better amp than the Asgard for the price.

 

Availability
  • Customers in Indonesia, please support our sponsor Jaben Indonesia by purchasing from them.
  • The Solo Ultra Linear is the top-of-the-line model and can be bought for £514.85 (~$840) supplied with PSU1 power supply;
  • The Solo SRG II can be bought for £434.00 (~$710) supplied with PSU1 power supply; £314.25 (~$514) supplied with energy saving power supply.
  • The Novo amplifier can be bought for £212.75 (~$348) supplied with energy saving power supply.
  • The PSU1 power supply is sold independently for £141.63 (~$231).

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121 Comments

  • Reply August 3, 2011

    Anonymous

    We actually did a review of the Voyager long ago in 2009 

    http://www.headfonia.com/graham-slee-voyager/

  • Reply August 3, 2011

    Donunus

    Great Review! As always you seem to review the products that I am currently thinking about. Very weird! 🙂 

    • Reply August 3, 2011

      Anonymous

      Are you sure about that? 😉

      • Reply August 3, 2011

        Donunus

        In this case for example, I’m not kidding LOL. I was just reading about the dt48e and their supposedly great synergy with the ultra-linear just yesterday on facebook 🙂

        • Reply August 3, 2011

          Anonymous

          Send me that DT48e and I’ll test them for you. 😉

          • Reply August 3, 2011

            Donunus

            Better yet, Send me one of those. I’ll take the middle one, the srg hehehe. You don’t need all those amps there

            • Reply August 4, 2011

              Anonymous

              😉

  • Reply August 3, 2011

    cex

    i am one of graham slee solo user, and i am totally agree with u. my question is, which one do u prefer for your own personal ? the solo or ultra linear?

    • Reply August 4, 2011

      Anonymous

      Hi Cex,
      I like both at first, but at the end I think I’m leaning more towards the Ultra Linear.

      • Reply August 4, 2011

        Rudi0504

        Hi Mike

        Two thumbs up review MikeI am totally agree with your very good review, that you like more Ultra Linear than SRG II.You can hear music for long time listening, Ultra linear never give you fatigung or boringsound.Ultra linear sound very good with all my Headphones like LCD 2 R 2, HD 800 , T 1 and Hd 650 .Specially Ultra Linear can drive LCD 2 R2 very good and has no Powewr problem with Orthos Headphone ( except He 6 )Cheers 

        • Reply August 5, 2011

          Anonymous

          Thanks, Rudi.

  • Reply August 4, 2011

    Jake

    Please recommend good dac for 100$
    and good headphones for 150-200$
    thanks.

  • Reply August 4, 2011

    Robert H

    “[…]
    but with the Schiit Asgard being priced at $250, it’s quite a tough
    competition for the Solo as I can’t say that the Solo is a better amp
    than the Asgard for the price.”

    Do you mean Novo here?  I am a bit confused :S
    Either way great review. You made me notice a fantastic deal on a local hi-fi forum (for the Solo with PSU1) so I might own one of these rather soon. It’s kinda scary for me when you consider I only just read about the amp 10 minutes ago here and am now considering purchasing one 5 minutes later. God I have to stop this crazy hobby.

    • Reply August 4, 2011

      Anonymous

      Yea, I mean the Novo. Sorry will edit it.

  • Reply August 4, 2011

    tash

    Hi Mike  – how would you rate the Novo against the M-Stage please?

    • Reply August 5, 2011

      Anonymous

      Hi Tash,
      The Novo is much more smoother and refined than the M-Stage.

  • Reply August 5, 2011

    jeffreyfranz

    Fine reviews, Mike. Your writing style is definitely maturing, and I also  appreciate your candor about being affected by appearance, cosmetics. I know I am, and it’s a rare person who is not.

    • Reply August 6, 2011

      Anonymous

      Thanks Jeffrey,
      I realize I still miss small spelling and grammar errors here and there. And yes, don’t we all get affected by appearance? That’s why apple products are selling so well, among other factors.

  • Reply August 7, 2011

    TheMiddleSky

    I tested Solo II for some times since a year ago, and I think it’s st ill my fav SS amp sub $1000, and I found that your review is really hit the point mike, nice.

    have tested how quiet are these amps mike? with IEM?

    • Reply August 8, 2011

      Anonymous

      When I tested them, none of them are very quiet with IEMs. I was using the JH5Pro IEM.

  • Reply August 13, 2011

    Austin M.

    Will the Solo Ultra Linear compliment both the HE-6 and the HE-500 well enough?

    • Reply August 13, 2011

      Anonymous

      Hi Austin,
      Good with the HE-500, but not powerful enough for the HE-6. A speaker amp is needed for the HE-6.

  • Reply August 13, 2011

    Austin M.

    Bummer, so I guess the FS5 won’t work either then huh… Well, looks like I’ll invest in a speaker amp unless there are any others that can drive the HE-6 well.

    • Reply August 15, 2011

      Anonymous

      Well the HE-6 is sort of an oddball in that sense, and so I won’t go and invest in a very expensive speaker amp just for it — unless you really want to build a system around it.

      Something as basic as the Fiio A1 digital speaker amp works pretty well to power the HE-6, but of course the fidelity is not going to be as good.
      http://www.fiio.com.cn/product/index.aspx?ID=27&MenuID=020301

  • Reply August 13, 2011

    Austin M.

    Oh, and by the way, check your Twitter. Do you want me to call over Skype or mobile, or does it matter?

    • Reply August 15, 2011

      Anonymous

      No it doesn’t matter, either way works.

  • Reply August 14, 2011

    P. J.

    Mike are you in touch with Graham Slee? Would you ask them for a loaner?

    • Reply August 15, 2011

      Anonymous

      Yes I am in touch with him. What loaner? Like a loaner program like Burson’s?

      • Reply August 15, 2011

        P. J.

        Yes that’s what I meant. I haven’t heard much about their amps (although I was once close to buying the Novo) and since they are small shipping shouldn’t be too expensive. What do you think Mike? If you disagree then disregard my idea.

        kindest regards, Peter

        • Reply August 16, 2011

          Anonymous

          I think if you go to his website, he has a GSP owners forum where a loaner program is happening…
          http://www.gspaudio-community.activeboards.net/forum_posts.asp?TID=207&FID=9&PR=3

          • Reply August 16, 2011

            P. J.

            Thanks Mike 🙂

            • Reply August 17, 2011

              Anonymous

              Let me know if you got one as a lonaner.

          • Reply September 4, 2011

            P. J.

            I was unable to register, it says new registrations are currently suspended so I don’t know of any other way to ask for a loaner.

            • Reply September 5, 2011

              Anonymous

              I will write him an email, P.J.

            • Reply September 5, 2011

              Anonymous

              I will write him an email, P.J.

            • Reply September 5, 2011

              Anonymous

              I’ve sent Graham an email about this, PJ. Let’s wait for his reply.

  • Reply August 22, 2011

    Scytus

    Have you tried either the Solo or Ultra Linear with the T1? According to what most on head-fi suggest, the T1 sounds its best with tubes; I wonder how it would sound with the tube-like presentation & bass emphasis of the Graham Slee’s.

    Theoretically, it should be a great combination, but you never know. Most on head-fi say the synergy between the T1 & HA-160 sounds off; which I wouldn’t have suspected.

    • Reply August 22, 2011

      Anonymous

      No I didn’t have the T1 around when I did this review. I think it would be a good match though.

      As for T1 and the HA-160, I think it’s a good combination, just depends on the music. I enjoyed listening to Prodigy through it.

  • Reply September 13, 2011

    Peter Janušič

    Any more info from Mr. Slee, Mike?

  • Reply September 13, 2011

    P. J.

    Its me P.J.

    • Reply September 14, 2011

      Anonymous

      Sorry for failing to update you P.J. I’ll just forward you the last email from Graham: 

      ————————————————————————————————————————————————————Hello Michael,
       
      Thank you for your
      recommendation.
       
      To join our user group
      requires the completion of a form on our website: http://www.gspaudio.co.uk/register.htm

       
      The forum software which I
      sourced through a third party is an off the shelf hosted product which let
      anybody join in, which is OK in a utopian world, but there are a number of
      people who verbally attack us and threaten our companies existence – they have
      tried to destroy us – this is true! These are the people who have made sure
      there is little known about us – they are nasty people.
       
      This is why our forum is
      locked to new members unless they fill out the online form above, but finding an
      easy way of sending them to that page is so far impossible.
       
      We have ran loaner programs
      before – in fact we started this around 2006 via Rockgrotto, but Rockgrotto
      banned me because the owner thought I was making big money out of being on his
      site. This is far from the truth. We have had little support compared with other
      manufacturers.
       
      Our user group forum has
      grown slowly since I started it in 2008. Although we have sent out an invitation
      with every product sold since then – that’s over 12,000 products – only 700+
      people have bothered to join.
       
      We have run loaner programs
      for the few members we have but only a few bother to write about their
      experiences (even so most have bought the product so they like
      it!).
       
      It’s as if there is a glass
      ceiling – a very low one. But we will run loaner programs again.
       
      Best wishes,
      Graham 

      • Reply September 14, 2011

        Peter Janušič

        Mike thank you very much. I have registered and am waiting to receive my password. I will let you know if I get a loaner.

        • Reply September 15, 2011

          Anonymous

          Okay, PJ. I will write an email to Graham to let him know about you.

          • Reply September 15, 2011

            P. J.

            Thanks Mike!

  • Reply September 17, 2011

    P. J.

    I have been approved and made my first post on the Slee forum asking if I could participate in the loaner program. A big thanks to you Mike for making it possible! Will let you know if I do get a loaner.

    • Reply September 19, 2011

      Anonymous

      Awesome, P.J. Hope you do get it.

  • Reply September 21, 2011

    Lanangjalang

    Great writing Mike, i personally highlighted your ‘blackground becomes blacker’…

  • Reply September 25, 2011

    Sergey Pilipenko

    “…The Novo carries the same Graham Slee signature as the bigger brothers, but with the Schiit Asgard being priced at $250, it’s quite a tough competition for the Novo as I can’t say that the Novo is a better amp than the Asgard for the price.” 
    Given the price mark of Novo lowered by assembling DIY kit ( 120GBP ~ $185 ) will it be able to sustain competition with Asgard in terms of sound quality? 
    There’s an opinion of head-fi community member that Novo sounds “euphonic” and Asgard more “slamming” 
    http://www.head-fi.org/t/497902/schiit-asgard-unboxing-and-first-impressions/1320#post_7716609
    http://www.head-fi.org/t/497902/schiit-asgard-unboxing-and-first-impressions/1320#post_7716735
    Would you agree?

    • Reply September 26, 2011

      Anonymous

      Sergey,
      I would agree with the Novo being described as Euphonic, but the Asgard.. perhaps not slamming but more like a standard solid state sound.

  • Reply October 23, 2011

    Carl

    Quick question Mike, coming from Schiit Lyr, do you think it will worth the upgrade to Ultra Linear? Also..I’m thinking of doing this once and for all, So I don’t need to consider buying/upgrading the amps for another 3-4 years at least.

    With that in mind, I am also considering the Lehmann Audio Black Cube Linear. Having no chance to try them before purchasing..I wish to hear your advice before making any decision 🙂

    I am using HD800, DT 880 and AKGK701. (Considering for a T1 as well actually, not so soon though)

    Thank you 🙂

    • Reply October 24, 2011

      Anonymous

      Hi Carl,
      I personally think that the Ultra Linear is the better amp. It is smoother across the frequencies and also has a better resolution and detail. But I am not sure if it’s going to be the once and for all upgrade for you. The Lyr is still much better in terms of power output and having the tube rolling capability is also a good plus on the Lyr’s part.
      As for the Lehman Black Cube, it’s a very precise amp with very little color. Again, it’s very good at what it does but most people I know would want to have more coloration in their amplifier than what the Lehman does. So, again I cannot guarantee you’ll find it to be an upgrade.
      Personally you seem to be into very neutral, linear, uncolored headphones. I don’t know if you’ll like neutral uncolored amps to go with your neutral headphones, or if you would be better off with tube amps and their colorations. Personally I’m more of the latter.
      Anyway here is the review I did on the Lehman Black Cube, I was very impressed by its combination with the HD800, but again it’s an amp that I think demands a very high quality source (think $2K+ source).
      http://www.headfonia.com/lehmann-black-cube-linear/

      • Reply October 27, 2011

        Carl

        Much appreciated!

        Lot more consideration to take in before making a decision I guess.
        I’ll just take my time lol 😀
        Thank you!

        • Reply October 27, 2011

          Anonymous

          You’re welcome, Carl.

  • Reply November 30, 2011

    Joel

    how does the burson ha160 compare to the ultra linear? i already have the burson but i was thinking of getting the ultra linear. 

    • Reply December 1, 2011

      Mike

      Hi Joel,
      Briefly, the Ultra Linear is more mellow, smoother, slower paced. The Burson is more lively, forward and energetic.

  • Reply December 5, 2011

    Kevin Sommers

    I’ve been going back and forth between the Burson and one of the Graham Slee amps for about a week now. Which one of these amps do you think would be better with metal? I don’t listen to the normal deathcore, nu-metal stuff but black metal(burzum, darkthrone, etc.) and doom metal(Saint Vitus, Electric Wizard) and was wondering if the Burson was warm enough to take the glare off the highs on my Ultrasones or if the Graham Slee would be a better bet. 
    I like a fast, intimate sound but I really need to tame these sizzling highs, its bad enough that its bluring the vocals right now on an ASUS Essence.

    • Reply December 5, 2011

      Mike

      Hi Kev,
      Definitely the Burson for fast metal. It’s pretty warm, but if the Ultrasone is still to bright you may need a different headphone.

      • Reply December 5, 2011

        Kevin Sommers

        Thanks Mike, the Ultrasones are perfect in almost every way, its just that the treble gets a little blurry/silibant sometimes, they get staticy with really energetic songs on occasion, enough to drown out the song itself, so I’m hoping its more of an amping issue with my Essence STX.

        • Reply December 5, 2011

          Mike

          Kevin,
          If all else fails just tone down the treble with some EQ. Itunes works pretty well.

  • Reply January 6, 2012

    Danschic

    What’s your opinion of this amp with HD650s and Denon D7000s? Thanks!

    • Reply January 6, 2012

      Mike

      Dan, 

      It should be nice and smooth, though it’s going to be a little mellow. 

      • Reply January 8, 2012

        Danschic

        Thanks for the advice, Mike! I’m a big fan of smooth and mellow and liquid.

        I just got a deal on the SRG II, and I’m loving it so far.

  • Reply February 3, 2012

    David

    Hi Mike,

    I have a chance to purchase a Novo.  Do you think it would be a good upgrade from the Musiland Monitor02?  I would be using it with DT880 600ohms. I know that you have mentioned the Asgard but I can’t purchase one readily available here.

    Thanks!

    • Reply February 3, 2012

      Mike

      David, 
      The HE-500 is MUCH MUCH harder to drive than the DT880 600 Ohms. 🙂 

      The Beyer should be very easy for the Novo.

      • Reply February 3, 2012

        David

        Thanks Mike,

        Would it be a step up from a Musiland Monitor02? Or sideways

        • Reply February 3, 2012

          Mike

          It would be a step up in quality.

  • Reply March 29, 2012

    Jovytheseeq

    After one week listening to my new Ultra Linear amp,I think I am in love! this little thing runs so much colder than the Asgard. I can’t beleve the PSU1 draws only 2.3 watt power ! the Asgard, while not sounding  nearly as good, uses up 36 watt power and disperse so much heat. can you beleve that? I can finally stop worrying about my electricity bills 😀
    A big big Thank you  Mike, for this wonderful  review,which ended my amp seeking journey for my HD650s

    • Reply March 29, 2012

      Mike

      Glad you’re enjoying the Ultra Linear!

    • Reply April 16, 2012

      Telstar

       obviously, the Slee is class AB amp…

  • Reply April 4, 2012

    Nick Tam

    Hmm so if the Graham Slees have good synergy with the Bryson Sound, would you say the Fostex A3 as a cheaper alternative would still have good synergy? I didn’t get the Asgard in the end… was stuck having been enlightened about the Schiit glitch and going for the Burson HA-160/Fostex combo, the Solo/Fostex or the HA160DS for simplicity sake. I do have my HD650s now but I’m confident in saying that I definitely enjoy slower pace music so would it be a better option to go for the Solo/Fostex combo? Or is the DAC section still the first consideration for the Burson HA160DS? thx!

    • Reply April 5, 2012

      Mike

      I think if you’re listening to slower pace music, I would lean towards the Solo, Fostex HPA3 (or Dacport LX since you won’t use the Fostex’s HP out), or Woo’s WA6.

  • Reply April 11, 2012

    AhUmmm

    Hi Mike,
    i just bought a Graham Slee Solo SRGII. 
    I have a Alessandro MS1i and now i’m looking for a headphone with a different sound.
    I’m undecided between Beyerdynamic dt 880 600 ohm, Sennheiser hd 600 and Sennheiser hd 650.
    I listen rock, jazz and eletronic music.

    If you were in my shoes, what would be your choose?

    • Reply April 13, 2012

      Nick Tam

      HD600 for better genre bandwith, I’ve the HD650 and it doesn’t seem to sound as great with electronic music as it is when playing jazz and slower pace rock. DT800 leaning towards higher frequencies and I don’t think the synergy matches with the Solo SRG as well, the Solo was tuned with the HD600/650 in mind afterall.

  • Reply June 15, 2012

    Victor Yu

    Hi Mike, I had the Asgard and now Jaben offers me a bundle for Alessandro MS Pro + the Solo SRGII at a very good price. I’m thinking whether I should sell the Asgard or not. How will u compare the two? Is the Solo beats the Asgard in all aspects, or the Asgard still have some benefits over the Solo?

    • Reply June 15, 2012

      Mike

      You should go for it. The Solo is in a different level than the Asgard, and it pairs with the MS-Pro beautifully.

      • Reply June 15, 2012

        Victor Yu

        In any sense should I still keep the Asgard, for certain type of music?

        • Reply June 15, 2012

          Mike

          I would just keep it in case.. The Solo can be very smooth and sometimes it’s not gritty enough for Rock and Alternative.

  • Reply September 22, 2012

    chriss92

    Hi Mike, Is it gonna be an upgrade to the sound to My HD 600 with Solo
    SRG II? I think my price point is there with an amp, I already use the
    ASUS XONAR ESSENCE ONE to my HD 600 I really like the sound of it but I
    think it maybe can improve the sound a little more, Do you have advice
    for other amps with same price point with the Solo SRG II? I’m gonna use
    the Signature Pro as well.

    Thanks.

    • Reply September 22, 2012

      Nick Tam

      With the HD 600, the better known combinations are the Solo SRG II, Asgard and probably some OTL tube amps. I haven’t really heard the Xonar Essence one, but I could imagine it’s somewhat similar in sound to the Essence STX. Somehow, the Asus just gives me that sort of sound that feels… lacking in a way I can’t describe. And if I recall, that thing is just packed full with OPAMPs in most of its circuitry, like 12 of them? The Asus are OPAMP amplifiers, their sound could be improved by swapping out the OPAMPs. However, it’s going to cost more than a new amplifier if you had to replace all of its OPAMPs with higher quality ones. The SRG II is a massive step up. At the price point of the SRG II, I don’t think you can find better synergy other than the OTL Crack and WA3. Also depends on what sort of sound you’re looking for. The Solo SRG II has a tube like warm sound to it, the Crack being a clean sounding sort of tube sound, and the WA3 leaning more the tubish sound of tube.

      There’s also the Burson HA-160D which is better for rock, but personally I think the Sennheiser duo (600/650) is better for slow paced music. Just a share of my personal opinion, but either of the amps I’ve mentioned shouldn’t be a “miss” with the HD600 since they’re built with the 600/650 as their reference headphones.

      • Reply September 22, 2012

        chriss92

        Hey thanks for your answer:) yeah I lisent most to the computer its easer to organise your playlist and so..Why I bought the ASUS where beacuse I dont have any good options here I live in Sweden the other amps here was so expensive to and must have a DAC to thats why I bought the ASUS, and I have not boufht something from outside Sweden before, but I plan to do it now, do you think the Asus Xonar Essence One can work like a good dac with example Solo SRG II? I think I prefer a smooth sound with natural bass or something like that,I lisent alot of diffrent genres but mostly Singer/Songwriter,Classical,Orchestral Music, Triphop(Massive Attack),Britpop(The Verve. Stone Roses)

        Thanks.

        • Reply September 23, 2012

          Nick Tam

          Classical/Orchestral is kind of an opposite to Triphop and Britpop so there’s that problem there… I kind of think that the ASUS is better off an all-in-one solution, wouldn’t really build a system around it. If I were you I would roll in some OPAMPs, I’m pretty sure you don’t have to roll all of them but you really have to look into that yourself. There’s bound to be one or two OPAMPs that can improve your sound further.

          • Reply September 23, 2012

            chriss92

            Maybe I try that what OPAMPS might be good? But I think I rather Buy a new amp and dac,but If I sell the ASUS E1 or buy a new dac and amp what options do you think? Can I have the Solo SRG II with those genres I listen to? and what dac would suits good to? I know everyone has different taste but I think i’m that guy who get used to new things but want improved sound, this is really hard if you cant test listen the things. Anyway thanks for the answers I really appreciate it, but my budget is around up to 800$ for now with both amp and dac, does it be any good options for that price?

            Thanks.

            • Reply September 23, 2012

              Trent_D

              The PanAm, is a dac/amp that, with the passport battery will run around 800 dollars, and it looks like it would be a good all a rounder. I wish I had it so I could tell you for sure.

              • Reply September 23, 2012

                Nick Tam

                Damn I nearly forgot about the PanAm as well… Mike did mention that the DAC section was on par with the Dacport, but regarding genre matching, I think it’s best if you can audition the DAC. It’s hard to go wrong with the PanAm unless you really don’t have a preference for the tubes

                • Reply September 23, 2012

                  Trent_D

                  I agree. It is hard to really make a call unless you can hear it with your own ears. A problem I face anytime I think about audio gear, which is often.

                • Reply September 23, 2012

                  chriss92

                  Thanks Trent_D and Nick Tam for your answers, I think I’m interesting with tubes now and the PanAm looks interesting, but I have no experience with them, can the tubes crack if you have really long listen sessions like 12 hours and so^^? And how long does the tubes last when you must change them? I’m a bit worried about that, sometimes when I have much time I can listen for so long hours. Thanks again.

                  • Reply September 23, 2012

                    Nick Tam

                    Regarding tube life, it depends on the construction of the tube. Don’t worry about the tubes, provided they’re NOS, they should last years if not a decade at least. Ruggedized tubes have longer life but less sound quality. The PanAm shouldn’t be using some rare breed of tube though, since the stock ones are Chinese issues.

                    • September 24, 2012

                      chriss92

                      Hi here I am again^^, So I think I go with a SS amp tubes looks nice but I think I go with an SS amp instead, and add a seperate DAC later if I’m not satisfied with the ASUS E1..but for now i begin with an SS amp, I’m not sure what I want, it’s so many options,really what whould you prefer for SS amp with the HD 600?i’m not sure with sound signature but I’m not so “picky” I think. I can stretch up to 900$ I have Naim Headline,Burson HA-160,Musical Fidelity M1 HPA here in Sweden, but it’s long way from I live so I’m not test listen them. Besides the Graham amps to I have checked out Violectric HPA V100 to or maybe v200..ahh its to many options here i’m so confused, what do you think?:)

                    • September 24, 2012

                      Nick Tam

                      First of all, I think there’s not much point going too high end since the HD600 doesn’t scale as well as the HD650. Burson is the faster paced of the “Built for Sennheiser” crowd and may be a better option for faster paced rock. No experience with the two other amps. V100, V200 may not be the best pairing for the HD600, you’re better off with the Graham Slees.

                    • September 24, 2012

                      Trent_D

                      If you want SS, why not just start with the Asgard and see how that treats you?

                    • September 24, 2012

                      Nick Tam

                      That depends if he can get it at all. Won’t stop people that want to go for “the absolute best” amp they could afford and just stick with it instead of going with incremental upgrades.

                      But Trend does have a point. Perhaps you should just go for the Asgard. Although I do feel that the bottleneck in your setup is the DAC anyways and not just the amplifier section.

                    • September 24, 2012

                      Trent_D

                      Well, could try the old MS2+, asgard, and see where that takes him. Just buy from stores with an easy return policy. Therefor, if you don’t like how it sounds, you are only out shipping.

                    • September 24, 2012

                      Mike

                      Chriss,
                      I think Nick and Trent have both gave good comments regarding the HD600/650 and the amplifiers.

                      I think SS is a better way to go since you want to cover Britpop and Massive Attack. You can start with something like the Asgard, or if you want something nicer go for the Burson HA-160. If you want an all-in solution you can get the Burson HA-160D/DS with built-in DACs.

                      Here is the review on the Burson amps: http://www.headfonia.com/tag/burson/

                      The new PanAm amp is also a good alternative. $599 with built in DAC, add in another $199 for the battery power supply and you have a DAC/Amp combo that can cover both extremes pretty well: Classical and Britpop. I’m trying it right now with Beethoven, Oasis and Massive Attack.

  • Reply November 10, 2012

    Tyrion

    Hi Mike ,I wanna buy the Audiolab MDAC ,but seems it’s from UK ,the voltage is different to US,what should I do for this item ?to buy a converter?is there any good product could recommand?thanks

    • Reply November 19, 2012

      Mike

      Tyrion,
      ARe you buying directly from the UK? Local US retailers should stock the US voltage version.

  • Reply November 17, 2012

    Wilson

    Hi Mike, in your opinion which dac pairs better with Ultra-Linear. HRT Streamer + MS pro, or Musical Fidelity M1DAC. I have HD650 and mostly listen to R&B, Jazz and some classical music.

    • Reply November 19, 2012

      Mike

      Wilson,
      I haven’t tried the Musical Fidelity. The HRT is good with the Ultra Linear though.

  • Reply December 1, 2012

    Gernot Hanser

    Dear Mike hello,

    Nice review as always!

    please let me ask, is the Novo getting a better soundstage and bass after a good amount of burn in time?

    And do you also know if the Novo gets warm – as we know the Asgard gets hot.

    Thanks gernot

    • Reply December 1, 2012

      ryan

      I have the SRGII and have never turn it off for months…it doesn’t run warm

      • Reply December 1, 2012

        Gernot Hanser

        Ahh okay I see…. Thanks Ryan!

      • Reply December 4, 2012

        Gernot Hanser

        I guess because Novo is Class AB but Asgard is Class A

    • Reply December 4, 2012

      Mike

      Like Ryan said, the Novo gets only warm. The Asgard hot. Usually the improvement are very slight, and you get better bass articulation but nothing else major.

      • Reply December 5, 2012

        waxdoctor

        thank you too! so asgard is the “hot thing” I will go for ;)….

        • Reply December 5, 2012

          Mike

          Alright great!

          • Reply December 5, 2012

            Gernot Hanser

            yes thanks a lot – really hot 🙂

  • Reply January 13, 2013

    Reyes

    That’s an awesome review.

    But I wish to know how does it sound when pair with the HE-500?

    Thanks

    • Reply January 14, 2013

      Mike

      Reyes,
      The Solo II pairs VERY nicely with the HE-500.

      • Reply January 14, 2013

        antonius wijaya

        How about Solo II sound when pair with the AKG K550?

        • Reply January 15, 2013

          Mike

          I’ve never tried the K550 on that amp, but the Solo should be able to drive it just fine.

  • Reply April 2, 2013

    Richard

    Dear Mike,

    Great Review! I am currently looking for an amp for my HD 650’s. Which of these would you say pairs better with them: Graham slee ultra linear or woo audio wa6se?

    • Reply April 3, 2013

      Mike

      Both are good choices, the Woo is more dynamic, clearer and cleaner sounding, the Graham Slee more mellow, more relaxed.

      You should also look at the Bottlehead Crack review. It is my favorite amp for the 650.

  • Reply August 19, 2013

    Arya

    Hi Mike,

    I have Dacport and GS Solo.. What is your advice for me, about the volume at Dacport while I connect it to GS Solo? I’m afraid if I use max volume, it will hurt the GS Solo.

    • Reply August 19, 2013

      Mike

      The calculation is complex unless you want to play a test tone and measure the output voltage from the dacport. If you want to do it the simple way, get the Dacport LX (better SQ too) or just put the Dacport at 50% volume.

      • Reply August 19, 2013

        Arya

        Okay, thank you Mike.

  • Reply November 11, 2013

    Yongky

    hi mike, i paired my dacport lx with solo ii. since i’ve read that lx is class A amp and solo ii is bipolar AB, would u think that was a decrease?or it just an alphabet matters?

  • Reply December 9, 2013

    Jeff

    Hey Mike, would you say that the Solo SRG 2 or the Solo Ultra-Linear sounds better with the HD-650 and also what would be a good dac choice for this?

    • Reply December 9, 2013

      Mike

      Jeff,
      Sounds better compared to?

      There’s a lot of good DACs. The Solos are fairly transparent amps and so the better the DAC the better the music. You can go up to the thousand dollars range.

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