I did not have the opportunity to take the amplifier back to Headfonia’s office to do a thorough evaluation, so these impressions were taken during a critical listening session on Music By Design’s premises (Hence the title: First Impression). Music By Design distributes high end audio gears as well as Grado products in several countries in South East Asia, and I found their shop to provide a good and quiet ambiance for doing critical listening. I only have the Ipod Classic with me, connected using a DIY LOD-to-RCA cable using a Canare Starquad cable. The cans used is the HD800 that I’m very familiar with. I’d also like to give credit to Jaben for providing the location for the photo session.
You can take this review with a grain of salt, since it’s not done in the usual review settings, but I believe that this should help people in narrowing down their choices in looking for good headphone amplifier. It’s also unfortunate that I didn’t have the balanced HD800 cable with me during this audition, so I was only testing it in single ended. In my experience, however, balanced drive doesn’t alter the sound character of an amplifier, so, what I’ll describe in the sound signature should be still relevant if you plan to use it for balanced operation.
During this time I also auditioned the Burson HA-160, the Lehmann Audio Black Cube Linear, and the Musica 40 amplifiers, all of which I find to have a distinct enough sound from each other. I was also impressed in how flexible the HD800 was during this listening, as the HD800 was able to have multiple characters depending on the amplifier being used.
The CEC HD53N stood out among the four amplifiers as being the sweetest sounding amplifier in the bunch. It is very musical in the sense of being slightly warm, having enough mellow quality in the sound, yet possessing top notch clarity and detail. Warm and liquid sound without the muddyness. The sound is very liquid, but it never lacks clarity. It’s probably the best combination between warm and detail. Although the description of warm yet detailed has been used in almost every other review of an audio gear, I do find that the HD53N is the best rendition of that “warm and yet detailed sound” among all the amplifiers that I have had the pleasure of auditioning.
When I heard the HD53N amplifier, the sound really reminded me of the TL51XZ CD Player. Both equipments really share the same CEC house sound. The sound is fairly unique. For example, take the WooAudio6 that I’ve reviewed with the Sophia Princess tube a while ago. The WooAudio 6 is warm, detailed, full bodied and with a powerful impact. The CEC HD53N is also warm, detailed, and full bodied (though not as impactful as the WooAudio6), but the CEC differs in that it has a more airy sound signature than the WooAudio6 which emphasizes more on low end body. Although warm and full bodied often means that you will also lose some airiness, it was not so with the HD53N. And while I found that the WooAudio 6 with the Sophia Princess have a superb soundstage imaging performance, I didn’t find it to sound as open as in the HD53N (of course I’m talking from memory here). And each instruments are also further separated with an overall larger soundstage than what I remembered hearing in the WooAudio6 + Sophia Princess set up. This was using a humble Ipod Classic as the source.