How It sounds
I’ve had the Picollo for quite some time now and in the beginning I wasn’t too convinced. When I first started listening to my brand new straight out of the box unit, I had a hard time believing what Nathan said about the Picollo. It didn’t sound like what he described at all: it had fat bass, sounded really dark and was lacking in detail. I decided to give it a full charge and burn in and after a few days of letting it run the sound had changed. I didn’t expect burn in to change it that much but I guess analog amps take some time to settle down.
Left/right balance is very good but 3 dimensional wise there is room for improvement. Sound stage width and depth both are good. So is overall detail. But Picollo can’t reach the same level as either the Theorem and Duet. You get a smaller sound stage, not as much detail, and all of that is more centered. It is a more ‘inside your head’ sound. That doesn’t mean the Picollo doesn’t sound good, it means the Theorem and Duet, which both cost more, are extremely good.
What I like a lot about the Picollo is the excellent bass. It’s not that it is overly present but it has good body, it’s fast and tight but it’s always there, especially with IEMs. This is probably the only part I don’t agree on with Nathan. From what I recall he finds the bass to be neutral and I think it is more than just “neutral”. For the rest I have to agree that the amplifier sounds pretty linear and correct or uninfluenced as you might call it. It has really good detail but I wouldn’t call it an analytical amplifier either. The mids, like with all CL gear, are gorgeous: musical, detailed, and clear. Mids have good body and complement the bass perfectly but aren’t the most airy (hence why I I say centered). Mids are fairly neutral but very musical – just don’t mistake musical for warm. Treble is good and not hot by far but for my personal taste could have had a little more sparkle and extension. That, of course, depends on the earphone in use.
Duet and Theorem are livelier and more dynamic. They put you further into the music, whereas Picollo places the music inside your head. But again, they have higher price tags too.
Nathan: How dare you disagree with me! How dare you! Actually, I think we rather agree quite well. All of CL’s latest amp-toting devices put out contrasty signals. Lots of detail, lots of edge. Picollo is probably the softest sounding of the bunch, which is GREAT for earphone use. The way it is able to separate channels way out, while keeping control over what in reality is a crazy wide signal, is great. But most of its plusses – of which there are many – come when paired with earphones.
And earphones of any type. This thing can drive. While I prefer the sound of the Vorzüge PURE II, Picollo’s gain stage is better tuned to a wide variety of earphones, from the most sensitive, to earphones that exhaust the outputs of some players.
I reckon it is the best-controlled IEM amp I’ve heard to date. Do I need to expand that catalogue? Absolutely. But of the IEM amps of which I am familiar, Picollo is the best overall package. It’s not quite as moody or evocative as PURE II, or as edgy as DUET. But it is more controlled, outputs less background noise than DUET (and about the same as PURE II), while adding absolute control over L/R.
Rotating the volume pot does invoke noise, but when set at a particular volume, that noise disappears.
I think the clincher is: if you’re buying an amp for your IEMs, doing better than Picollo will be hard. Like me, you may prefer PURE II from a sound character perspective, but Picollo, being smaller, getting better battery life, retaining better L/R balance at very low volumes, and putting out similar levels of resolution (if not dynamics), is nearly a perfect choice. Make that the deciding factor.
So you might not get the same level of performance from Picollo as you will from Duet or Theorem, but you do get an incredibly good and musical amp. Especially for IEMs. The Piccolo has an extremely low floor noise, features a dead quiet volume pot with a wide range and a completely black background. It has more than enough detail and clarity with an always nicely present bass. On top of that it has enough power to drive full size headphones, from 35Ohm orthodynamics to 600Ohm Beyerdynamics, when needed.
The Picollo is the cheapest out of CypherLabs’ product range and it can be bought directly from the CypherLabs online shop or from one of their dealers. If you mostly listen to sensitive IEMs and are in the market for a new amplifier, the Picollo is definitely one to consider. At $399, I think the price/quality ratio is very fair.