Cypherlabs Picollo: Old School Analog

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 CLs 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, Picollos 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 Ive 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. Its 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 youre 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.

Closing

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.

Nathan: yup.

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

25 Comments

  • Reply August 21, 2014

    George Lai

    Do you guys feel there would be a big difference if a DAC was put into the path between the source you used and the C.L.A.P.?

    • Reply August 21, 2014

      ohm image

      The CLAP?

      Dude…

      Honestly, if you have a good enough source, this amp is a great partner. In fact, you can have a naff source (hissy, poor resolution when hooked up to earphones) and this amp will clean that thing up very well.

      Naturally, a CLAS and iPod will put out a higher quality signal to Picollo. But it’s up to you what/how you want to carry. I’m a conceal and carry sort of dude, so Picollo and something tiny, you know?

      That said, at my desk, it is really great to snap something like the the CLAS to a Picollo. That, or a source with an excellent line out. I still love the sound of the iPod Video and nano 1G. Line outs from those devices are A-Okay for me. Picollo is about the same size as the AK100, so it fits even better.

      • Reply August 21, 2014

        George Lai

        That’s great to hear. I must go and have a listen. If only they give an option not to have that wavy engraving …

        • Reply August 21, 2014

          ohm image

          I’m sort of with you. I don’t even like the Japanese urushi lacquer, and this one reminds me of it a bit. The entire device, however, is a pleasure to use. The undercarriage could be better, but whatever.

          Be happy to hear your opinion.

          • Reply August 21, 2014

            George Lai

            I guess I could stick the Headfonia logo over it.

            • Reply August 21, 2014

              ohm image

              The thing that I think needs to be revamped?

              • Reply August 21, 2014

                George Lai

                Yup, so make sure it fits nicely over the wavy thingamajig.

            • Reply August 21, 2014

              L.

              Now there’s an idea!

  • Reply August 22, 2014

    dalethorn

    “….Why’s that, Lieven?” you might say?”

    Heh – I don’t have to ask – this little amp is calling my name already.

    • Reply August 22, 2014

      ohm image

      Actually, I’m thinking of sinking a few $$$ on one myself. I’m furiously checking the used market.

      • Reply August 22, 2014

        L.

        You guys are such addicts

    • Reply August 22, 2014

      L.

      see below #addicts 😉

  • Reply August 27, 2014

    gagetbOy

    can you specify the differences between the picollo and the pure 2? does the pure 2 have a channel imbalance?

    • Reply August 28, 2014

      ohm image

      PURE II doesn’t have channel imbalance. Picollo’s low gain is lower voltage than PURE II’s, and therefore, a little nicer for really sensitive earphones.

  • Reply January 18, 2015

    Jpeets

    Great review
    As far as a DAC to put in front of this do you have any recommendations?
    Or would just the headphone out of my iPhone 6 give a good enough signal?

    Thx for the hard work

    • Reply January 18, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Thank you. I would go for a Cypherlabs DAC, there’s isn’t alot on the market that’s better for idevices without CCK.

  • Reply March 24, 2015

    Dreamriser Kit

    Hi Lieven. Now I have Fiio E12A and have a plan to get Picollo in the future since I heard it is a great amp for IEM. So I would like to ask you what improvement in term of sound I will get from doing that? Is Picollo a hugh improvement from E12A? My Gears are DX90 and Yuin PK1. Thank for your answer.

    P.S I know DX90 amp is really good, but I don’t like to pair it with PK1

    Lynx

    • Reply March 24, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Hi, in audio everything is relative. Do I think it is worth the extra cash, yes. But that doesn’t mean you find the improvements worth the money.

      Objectively the Picollo is the better amp. More detail, better body, more timbre, nicer sound, bigger sound stage, etc.

      That being said, the DX90 headphone out already is pretty darn good. So will you notice it and have a better sound: yes. But I can’t decide if it’s worth it to you.

      • Reply March 24, 2015

        Dreamriser Kit

        Thank you for a quick and clear answer. Will go to the shop and try Picollo soon whether it worth extra cash or not 😀

  • Reply April 21, 2015

    Dreamriser Kit

    Already got Picollo and wow I really love this little black box’s sound, especially the mid. Really excellent body and details. And yes Lieven you are right about the bass. ‘It always there’ is a nice term for Picollo’s bass section. Compare to IEM an earbuds is always lack of bass that is why Piccollo is an ideal amp for my Yuin PK1. Mid-Gain option is also perfect for 150ohms earbuds. Better sound than low-gain, while high-gain is too harsh for my little earbuds.

    After a week of burn in (maybe 50 hours) I think this unit sound better. Maybe because an analog inside as you mentioned? How many hours you burned your Picollo during review, Lieven?

    P.S Thank again for Picollo review. I decided to try this amp after reading your review and I glad I did!

    • Reply April 21, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Thank you. I have to say I can’t remember how long burn is was, didn’t keep track of it

  • Reply October 25, 2015

    Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    Someone has heard The national plus and compared with Picollo ?

  • Reply November 30, 2016

    André Ferreira

    Hi Lieven!
    Great review.
    I´m an AK70 owner and I use the balanced out to feed my Noble3 iems.
    Do you think the picollo with the single end output will had more detail and richness to the ak70?
    Thank´s!!

    • Reply November 30, 2016

      Lieven

      I don’t have the Noble 3 but the thing here is that (to me anyway) balanced sounds betetr than the SE of the picollo. Something like a Duet, now that would upgrade the setup. But the AK balanced out is quite good

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