My other attempt in describing the HD53N sound would be to compare it with the Jazz at the Pawnshop CD. Okay, I’m sure not too many people have compared an amplifier with a CD before, and this is probably the first of such comparisons in the world of audio, but bear with me. The HD53N really reminded me of the sound of the recording in the Jazz in the Pawnshop. Jazz at the Pawnshop still remains one of the most highly regarded jazz recording due to its sonic qualities. If you’ve heard the CD, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. The soundstage sounds very warm and enveloping in the recording. That’s exactly how the soundstage sounds in the HD53N. The ambience is very clear, yet relaxed. It’s not too laid back though, and you’ll find that some instruments to sound really intimate in the recording. Even on a mediocre system, the superior recording will display a very distinct separation between the instruments. All those great qualities that I found on the recording of Jazz at the Pawnshop, is exactly the same kind of sound that I’m hearing in the HD53N, even when I’m not playing Jazz at the Pawnshop. The soundstage is warm and large, the instrument separation very distinct, the mood is relaxed yet it remains intimate: that’s exactly the HD53N sound.
The only thing that I find to lack in the CEC is impact and PRaT. It has a decent impact and PRaT, but I would not say that it’s the best in the category. If you are a vocal, smooth jazz, or audiophile jazz lover, then the CEC has just the perfect qualities for your music. If your music is aggressive and needs powerful impact, I suggest you look to the Burson HA-160.
The HD53N is a great sounding solid state amplifier, with a beautiful build quality, intuitive controls, and it also provides balanced drive. I wish my Beta22 was built as nicely as the HD53N and comes with a nice display in the front panel. But even when talking about sonic performance, in some ways, I find it to be better than the Beta22 when it comes to projecting a more distinct instrument separation and a clearer image of the soundstage. The Beta22 ultimately still wins in giving a more “real” image of the music, and having more weight especially in the instruments. So, I would not hand over the crown to the HD53N just yet. But overall, the HD53N is very very good, and for less than the price for the parts of a balanced Beta22 build (my Beta22 was roughly $1,200-$1,300 in parts alone), you get a superb sounding amplifier without the hassle of DIY. Moreover, the Beta22 also requires a pretty high end source to shine, whereas I was really able to enjoy music with just an Ipod Classic feeding the HD53N. Looking at the big picture, the HD53N does seem like a very good buy.
System used for review:
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800
Amplifier: CEC HD53N
Source: Ipod Classic 120GB