Supersharp: Apex Glacier
Disclaimer: I purchased the Apex Glacier from Todd @ TTVJ.
There are so many good things to talk about the Apex Glacier amp that I really don’t know where to start. It is a phenomenal amp, excelling in all three areas of design/build, functions, and lastly sound quality. It is the slimmest, sharpest looking amp I have ever seen. The raw stainless steel enclosure is something I’ve never seen before in portable amps. Not only does it better the usual tradition of anodized aluminum cases, but it also ends up looking extremely sharp. It looks quite phenomenal in photos, but I don’t think that the photographs are able to tell the whole story. As much as I try to capture the best angles of the Glacier, I still think that this amp looks better in person.
Of course the sound is where it matters, because without a good sound, it’s just a fancy looking amp. And yet, it is the sound of the amp that drives me to open up my computer in the middle of the night and started writing this review, as I can’t quite stop thinking about the sound of the Glacier! It’s quite different than the last few amplifiers I’ve listened to, and the more I think about it, the more I can relate this sound with the bigger Apex Peak amplifier that I reviewed a while ago.
Having guys like Todd of TTVJ and Pete Millet behind the amplifier puts a lot of weight and credibility into the amplifier. It shows the moment I started learning how the amplifier operates. The digitally controlled volume control that doubles as a power button. The color changing LED that multi functions as a power, charging, and volume level indicator. The flushed in gain button, though a bit of a hassle compared to regular gain switches, does ooze class as you don’t have toggle switches protruding from the casework. The three levels of gain is really monstrous, and though it doesn’t have the raw power of the Portaphile 627 I just reviewed, the Apex Glacier still ranks confidently as one of the most powerful amps out there. At the maximum gain settings, you can bring any orthodynamic full size out there, short of the Hifiman HE-6, and expect a respectable driving power. I must wonder, with a case that slim, and a USB DAC build inside, how does they manage to squeeze in all those sophistication with the digital controls and that sort of a power output? This is an amp designed and built by people who really know their stuff.
The sound is not like a lot of the amplifiers I’ve reviewed recently: those warm, weighty lows, slightly dark sounding amps. Nothing like those, the Glacier is a much faster paced, lively and with an exciting forward midrange. It’s like having a little bit of that Grado/HD25-1 forwardness injected into the system. To be honest it was a little bit of a shock for me, having been acustomed to mostly laid back, dark amps with weighty lows. The Glacier seemed too upfront, too impolite for me when I first listened to it. The presence of the extremely smooth Portaphile 627 amp only makes things worse at that time. My ears were just used to the Portaphile 627 type sound, not the fast forward sound of the Glacier.
As I began to try pairing the Glacier to different headphones, I begin to notice two things: that guitars are always awesome with the Glacier, and that this amplifier has such an excellent PRaT to its sound that I seem to be constantly toe tapping no matter what I play. The fast and forward presentation really injects live to slow and/or dark headphones, in particular the Hifiman HE-300, Hifiman HE-4 and the Fidelio L1 with which I think the Glacier is the best amplifier I’ve heard those three headphones with. It’s also an excellent pairing with the LCD-2 and definitely one of the best portables I’ve listened to the LCD-2 out of. Maybe I just got lucky with all these pairings, but I was cleaning my storage where I have a lot of headphones I haven’t used in a long time. I happen to have the Glacier around, and so I used the Glacier with an Ipod as the source to test if those phones I have been keeping in storage still works, and surprisingly the Glacier really injects live into a lot of them. I was suprised to hear the kind of transformation on low-end headphones like the Goldring DR50, Sennheiser HD201, Superlux HD661, and the Koss KC25. I said to myself, this Glacier, is truly a music making device.
With the fast, forward, “solid-state” sound, the Glacier does lose a little smoothness and depth when compared to the more laid back sounding amps like ALO’s Continental or the generally dark and laid back Ray Samuels portable amps.
The sound still has traits of its older brother which is the TTVJ Slim. The Glacier inherits that wide spacious soundstage of the TTVJ Slim, the same midrange sparkle, but with a faster paced and better articulated bottom end (though losing some bass body in the process). I enjoy the faster paced sound of the Glacier more than the TTVJ Slim, but that’s merely a personal preference. The sound is a step more solid state, if you are familiar with the usual characteristics of solid state amps, especially if you remember the sound of the TTVJ Hybrid amp with its vacuum tube section. It doesn’t have the lushness, depth and coherence of the Hybrid, but the Glacier injects PRaT and energy unlike any other amps in the market.
DAC Section on the next page…