EGD + EGA as a combination
The three headphones used in this test are the Audeze LCD-2, the Hifiman HE-560 and the Hifiman HE-1000. Cables used are the PlusSound 8-wire Apollonian+ on the LCD-2, the X16 PlusSound on the HE-560 and the PlusSound Echo+ and Audioquest balanced Nighthawk cable on the HE-1000.
HE-560: Each time I use this headphone with a good amplifier I fall in love with it all over again. Stoner makes the HE-560 sound almost perfect with a good combination of speeds, musicality, detail and body. The HE-560 with this setup has very good layering and its depth is as good as it can be. The overall sound signature is musical but neutral. Bass is tight and punchy with a neutral feel to it, it’s not boosted in any way. This still is one of the cleanest and clearest, most open sounding orthodynamic headphone on the market. This combination is sublime.
The LCD-2 is a headphone I don’t tend to use a lot anymore (that honor lately goes to the HE-1000, the Edition X and the HD800). On this combo the LCD-2’s bass is really punchy and it has bigger body. Sound stage is good and so are the detail levels. The mids also have bigger body where the treble is the typical LCD-2 kind. The LCD-2 in fact is easier to drive than the HE-560 but I still prefer the Audeze in combination with a Violectric V200 or V281. That combination is just more magical while it here isn’t the most spectacular to my ears.
The HE-1000 compared to the HE-560 has a slightly warmer signature to me and it can be considered as less neutral. On this combo, the bass and mids have bigger body. The sound stage depth and especially the better layering in combination with the higher detail level make this a very good sounding combination. The HE-1000 simply is a great headphone but I can see people preferring the HE-560 because of the more neutral and lighter sound.
The EGD and EGA sound detailed together with a neutral sound signature. There is no back ground noise and you get a very clean and clear sound with great speed and tightness. Detail levels are very good but the overall layering and depth can still be better. I have a feeling the amplifier is holding the DAC back. The next test should clear this up for us.
DAC only with V281 Amp (HE-560 + HE-1000).
With the V281 in the mix you can clearly notice the EGD is clean, clear and detailed and not adding anything to the sound. This combination also has a very black background. The V281 – which of course is a lot more expensive – makes the EGD shine more though. Better layering, more spacious sound with better extension, separation and a more musical delivery. It doesn’t mean the full Stoner setup is bad, it just isn’t as good. It has more of a neutral and flatter sound compared to a full sound with great voices and perfect timbre. To put it in other words the EGA is a bit more boring and doesn’t perform like the V281 which makes you fall in love with music.
Amp only with V850 DAC
The emotion again is a bit lacking and the amplifier is to blame for that. For the original $750 price* (see below) it isn’t a bad amplifier but it isn’t great either and it limits the combo. The EGD is performing very well but I feel it’s being held a bit back by the amplifier which is a shame. This combination simply doesn’t sound as spectacular, musical or neutral. It’s a bit in between everything. It doesn’t give me goosebumps but that’s probably also because I’m used to the V281s sound signature. The EGD and V850 however are pretty close but the V850 is more spacious and deeper. The advantage the EGD has is that it does DSD files, something Violectric will never be doing. The full Vio setup does it all so effortless while the Stoner setup sounds a bit more forced and direct. That’s also noticeable with just the DAC but in a lesser degree.
Stoner Acoustics have done it again for what their specialty is concerned: the End Game Dac performs very well for its original $750 and it can easily keep up with higher end DACs like the V850. The nice surprise is that the price temporary has been lowered to $450USD as they’re out of stock. For $450USD the EGD is a steal and if you need a good balanced only DAC, get it right now. Some people won’t like the fact that it is only for use with a balanced amp and that it only has a USB-input but if you can look past that and just focus on the sound, you’ll see this is a really good unit. For some people this might really be their end game DAC and I fully recommend, especially for the new temporary price. Unfortunately that isn’t something that I can say of the amplifier at $750. Sure it’s powerful and it doesn’t do anything wrong but it doesn’t really excel in anything either. To me the $750 price tag of the amp is harder to justify and I think the amp is clearly holding back the really fine sounding DAC. I do think the new temporary $450USD price reflects the value/quality of the EGA better.
Stoner Acoustics is also said to be working on a speaker amp but I secretly hope they first work on a better headphone amplifier. They however have already released a sneak preview of their new UD125 which is a portable DAC/Amp combo, so I do think they’re focusing on that unit first. I really look forward to that one, especially the DAC part as that to me still is Stoner Acoustics’ specialty.