Ortofon HD-Q7

I normally have a bias against tiny desktop amps, as they tend to not sound very good when compared to bigger sized amps of the same price range. Likewise, this HD-Q7 amp from Ortofon has been in the market for a while, and yet I’ve never really had the desire to find out what it sounded like. Yep, I’ve heard way too many mediocre amps put in a fancy packaging that adds absolutely nothing to the sound quality.

A few weeks ago, a friend of Peter’s bought a HD-Q7 in Japan, hand carried it back, only to find that the amplifier doesn’t work. Peter asked me to take a look at it, and when I did, I noticed that the shop had given the wrong wallwart with the amp. They gave him a 9V DC wallwart, when the amplifier blatantly said 16V AC at the back panel. So, I begin to search for a 16V AC and found a generic 16V AC wallwart, and plugged it in. The amplifier made music, and I briefly listened to it for about 5 minutes, before I went back to doing the Superlux HA3D amplifier review. A few hours passed, and suddenly I got a black out, apparently due to short circuit. The cheap wallwart had melted from overheating after only ~5 hours of use, causing short circuit which trigggers the blackout on half the building. Luckily, nothing was damaged. I can’t have this happen for the second time, so I decided to build a good quality wallwart. The next day, I went to shop for a proper travo and a good metal box. Not long after that, I have a working power supply for the Ortofon HD-Q7.

Both 1/4″ and 1/8″ outputs can be used simultaneously.

Two inputs types offers versatility. The mini-jack input is also given a higher gain level than the RCA input. Very well thought.

I began to start listening to the Ortofon amp. I didn’t think that the amp was built for big, serious, headphones (what a bias, Mike!), and so I tested it with the Audio Technica M-50, the Sennheiser HD558, and the JH16Pro. To my surprise, the amplifier was very very good! It has this crystal clear sound, very refined, very smooth. It didn’t have any nasty distortions, no noticeable colorations that I can complain about. I knew then that I have a special amplifier on my hand. I continued to use it with other headphones including the HD800 and the Audez’e LCD-2 with good results. Unfortunately, the Hifiman HE-6 was way out of its driving power, but I know that the Ortofon was not designed for power hungry headphones anyway.

I use the HD-Q7 mostly for my computer set up, with the HRT Music Streamer II+ as the source. The dimension is quite compact and so it takes very little space on the desktop. The HD-Q7 is still one of the few electronics being made in Japan, and I’m quite surprised that they are able to throw in so much quality without adding the usual Japanese-made “premium” on the pricetag (it’s $367 on ALOAudio.com). Though fairly compact, the casing is quite heavy and sturdy, and so you can plug/unplug your headphones without having to hold the amplifier from toppling over. The big volume knob is very smooth and having the knob on top makes adjusting the volume much more convenient since it’s sitting on the desk. The volume control is also very sensitive. Although I don’t know what kind of volume control they’re using with the HD-Q7, I’m very amazed at the precision of the volume control. With a sensitive IEM like a JH16Pro, I have so much control over the level from dead zero level to a comfortable listening volume. There is no gap and no “jump” in the volume level, and the left/right balance is quite spot on even at minimal volumes. It may have limited gain for big full size headphones, but I believe the Ortofon amplifier is designed mostly for simple desktop set ups, and I’m getting very good sound with popular medium size headphones like the HD558 and the ATH M-50. Compared to other small size desktop amplifiers, the Ortofon takes first place in terms of sound quality and refinement levels. The background is very black and the soundstage is very good. The treble and midrange is also very special and deserves a special mention — awesome clarity, smooth, and non fatiguing. The amp is has enough forwardness forwardness to keep things engaging, and yet it’s also quite relaxed for long term listening.

The HD-Q7 doesn’t come with gobs of gain, so you need to plan your system carefully. Yes, it can drive big headphones like the HD800 or the LCD-2 (though not the Hifiman HE-6), but depending on the source line out level, you may not have enough volume to listen to music at head-banging loudness level. For instance, with the HRT Music Streamer II+, I’m listening with the Sennheiser HD800 (300 Ohm) anywhere from moderately loud at 10 O’clock to really loud levels at 1 O’clock. But playing a classical music recording with the same source and headphone, I’m playing around 3 O’clock to max volume. With a portable source, however, the signal level is often much weaker. When listening direct from an Ipod with a LOD to RCA cable, my listening level goes up to 1 O’clock to maximum volume, where with classical music, maximum volume only gets me moderate level loudness. It’s interesting that using a LOD to 1/8″ jack cable and using the 1/8″ input of the HD-Q7, I was able to get very close to the loudness level that I’m getting with the HRT Music Streamer II+. Apparently Ortofon has designed a different gain setting for the mini jack input, expecting that portable players would have a lower output level than desktop sources.

The compact size makes for a very office-desk system.

I normally don’t spend this much time talking about volume and gain levels, but I want to make the point that you need to be careful about pairing headphones with this amplifier to make sure that you can get enough loudness level for your use. If you’re planning to use the big 100+ ohm headphones (or any of the orthodynamics), then you should use desktop sources which has a higher output level than portable players. Of course, it’s a no brainer to use desktop sources if you have them, since they almost always give better sound quality, and the HD-Q7 requires AC power to run anyway. If somehow you want to use a direct Ipod source, then it’ll be best to keep the headphone output to easy to drive headphones (i.e ATH M-50, HD25-1, etc) or even better, IEMs. Anyhow, I think that the HD-Q7 is not designed for driving big full size headphones, and so it’s best to stick with medium size to IEMs.

The Ortofon HD-Q7 turns out to be one of the most special amplifiers I’ve ever encountered. The sound quality is amazing for something with this size and price point. When compared to other small desktop amps, such as the Bravo and the Audiotrak ImAmp, I think the price is a little on the high side (ALOAudio has it for $369). But for the quality of the sound, the compact size, and the first-class build quality definitely makes up for the pricetag. If I don’t need the monstrous power level of the M-Stage or the Hifiman EF-5, I would definitely choose the HD-Q7 over the two bigger amps. But for most people who don’t own power hungry cans, I think the Ortofon HD-Q7 would be a terrific amplifier for a compact desktop system.



System used for review:
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, HD558, Audez’e LCD-2, Audio Technica M-50, JHAudio JH16Pro.
Source: HRT Music Streamer II+, Ipod Classic

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30 Comments

  • Reply December 13, 2010

    davy

    Excellent review! It's interesting that this amp is neutral yet not fatiguing, that's hard to find in some cases! I'd love to try this out some day…especially with a Music Fidelity V-DAC.

    🙂

    • Reply December 13, 2010

      Mike

      Ah, it's a very nice amp, Dave. 🙂

  • Reply December 14, 2010

    dannytang

    Hi Mike, I currently have a Audinst HUD-MX1that's driving my AKG K701 and Shure SRH750DJ. I'm considering upgrading to better/more powerful amp. Do you think the Ortofon HD-Q7 would be able to adequately drive the K701 or would I better off with the Matrix M-Stage? I'm considering the HD-Q7 because I want to keep things as compact as possible cause my desk is busy enough as it is with my dual monitor setup and homework from school; but if the M-Stage is that much better I can definitely look into making some space for it.

    Thanks.

    • Reply December 14, 2010

      Mike

      Hi Danny, if you're using the Audinst HUD MX1 as the source, then the HD-Q7 should have enough gain for your K701. I've been listening to the Audez'e LCD-2 and HD800 with the HD-Q7 and I don't think it lacks gain at all, with the HRT MS2+ as the source.

      The HD-Q7 is more refined than the M-Stage, and I'd recommend it for something like the K701.

    • Reply December 14, 2010

      Mike

      Hi Danny, if you're using the Audinst HUD MX1 as the source, then the HD-Q7 should have enough gain for your K701. I've been listening to the Audez'e LCD-2 and HD800 with the HD-Q7 and I don't think it lacks gain at all, with the HRT MS2+ as the source.

      The HD-Q7 is more refined than the M-Stage, and I think you'll appreciate the added refinement with the K701. 🙂

      • Reply December 14, 2010

        dannytang

        Thanks for the suggestion!

      • Reply January 19, 2011

        Tintin

        The M-Stage is able to extract some bass thump and slam out of the K701 but do you think the HD-Q7 will have enough current for this too?

        • Reply January 19, 2011

          Mike

          Hi Tintin,
          The M-Stage has a strong bass, so I think that's what gives you the bass "boost" on the K701. The HD-Q7 is more neutral on the bass, so I don't think it's going to give you as much bass. I don't think it's an underamped/lacking current issue, more like the amp's natural voicing.

          • Reply January 19, 2011

            Tintin

            Makes sense. Thanks for these precisions.

  • Reply December 14, 2010

    donunus

    Just curious why you chose the hd558 over the 598 for this review

    • Reply December 14, 2010

      Mike

      Oh, the 598 is out on a loaner. 🙂

  • Reply December 14, 2010

    donunus

    What a beautiful looking amp I must say 🙂

  • Reply December 14, 2010

    esanthosh

    Mike,

    If it works with HD800, I guess it should have no issues with HD600 as well. So, instead of my original plan to use HRT MSII -> Burson HA160 -> HD600, may be I can consider this amp. That would be a very compact setup as well I guess. Only wish I had the newer version of MS2, which looks nicer than the original version 🙂

    • Reply December 14, 2010

      Mike

      Yep. I tried it today with the HD650 and it didn't have any problem driving it.

      • Reply January 23, 2011

        lx14

        Hi Mike, how did the pair sound? I am considering this to pair with HD650's. Or do you recommend any other amp?

        • Reply January 24, 2011

          Mike

          Oh, it was a good set up with the HD650. The Ortofon sound reminds me a lot of the WA6. 🙂

          • Reply January 25, 2011

            lx14

            So with the HD650s you'd recommend this over the M-Stage?

            • Reply January 25, 2011

              Mike

              Yes, I'd probably get the HD-Q7 over the M-Stage for a HD650.

  • Reply December 14, 2010

    donunus

    So not considering the power, is it more refined than the burson??? o.0

    • Reply December 15, 2010

      Mike

      No, the Burson is a tad more refined than the Ortofon.

  • Reply December 15, 2010

    .Sup

    It looks like a very neat desktop amp but the fact it has a wallwart PSU is turning me off. Thanks for a very interesting review and even better photos Mike!

  • Reply April 17, 2011

    Caesar

    I’m a Senn HD650 – Hd-Q7 user and all i can say is that my headphones are being driven gracefully with crystal clear highs and smooth refined treble. Really happy with this combo.

    • Reply April 17, 2011

      Anonymous

      I sometimes think that the desin of the enclosure gives e impression that the Ortofon amp is more of a gadget and less a serious piece of audio gear. The sound is actually very good for the price, and happens to match well with the Hd650.

  • Reply July 27, 2011

    Loric

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your really great reviews !

    I’de just order an HD650 and I plan to change my Audinst HUD-MX1 for a more adapted combo to the Sennheiser. I will use HRT MS II+ as DAC and for the amp I currently  consider :
    + Ortofon HD-Q7
    + and Schiit Valhalla (it seems to be better than Asgard for the HD650).

    Any advice or comment for a definitively Rolling Stones fan ?

    • Reply July 28, 2011

      Anonymous

      Hi Loric,
      I think either the Ortofon or the Schiit Valhalla would be good amps for the HD650 at this point.

      Rolling stones, yes, I think either of the two would equally be good.

      • Reply July 28, 2011

        Loric

        Thanks Mike!
        I think that I will go with the Valhalla: this will be my first tube amp and moreover, finding a 16Vac wallwart  in France for the Ortofon seems to be quite difficult …

        • Reply July 28, 2011

          Anonymous

          That’s true. I think the Valhalla will be a nice companion.

  • Reply December 25, 2011

    Andrew

    Mike, for a JH13 or 16, what would you say for SQ: this Ortofon or the Pico Slim?  I have a good dac, and am looking for a matching amp.  I know you loved the Pico Slim – is this better if portability is not an issue?

    • Reply December 26, 2011

      Mike

      Hi Andrew,
      Still a vote on the Pico Slim. It’s just the perfect pairing, even not considering the size.

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