The Beta22 Amplifier

Though micro details are very high, the Beta22 does not place a particular emphasis on the treble, and details may not “pop out” as much as in other amplifiers, like when I’m listening to the Grace m902, the CEC HD53N, or the Lavry DA11. But when you are comparing the Beta22 to those amplifiers, it becomes very clear that the Beta22 is in a superior league.

The Beta22 has the most life-like sound I’ve ever heard. The ambiance of the recordings is very convincing through the Beta22. Each instruments maintain a very real presence though a natural attack and decay pattern. Percussions, strings, pianos, wind instruments, all sound very life-like, with good snap, body and weight on each instruments in the music. The Beta22 remains the most life-like amplifier I’ve ever auditioned. Being a neutral amplifier, the Beta22 doesn’t put an emphasis on vocals. However, vocals sound great on the Beta22. The texture on the vocals are rich while not sounding dry, and with good body.

When talking about ambiance, it’s also important to consider the headphone being used. For instance, when reviewing the HE5LE, I didn’t really hear too much advantage in the ambiance when moving from the TPA6120 amplifier to the Beta22. I even prefer the TPA6120 for pairing with the HE5LE, because the upper midrange gets some boost on the TPA6120, while the Beta22 remains flat throughout its frequency range. Surprising isn’t it? But when I’m using the HD800, that’s when I really get to hear what the Beta22 is all about.

Two box set up using a standard rackmount casing.

 

The Beta22 has a good body in the sound, and bass presence is never lacking. What may be lacking, depending on the listener, is bass punch. A good friend of mine who’s actually not a basshead makes a remark about the bass punch when he first listened to the Beta22. He only said that “the bass was lacking”. I didn’t really get it at first, because bass presence is plenty and the Beta22 is very far from sounding thin, but eventually I realized that he meant bass punch. Obviously a bass heavy cans would not be the best headphone to find out about this. However, what’s amazing with the Beta22’s bass is that it comes in many layers. I don’t know if you have experienced a layered bass before, because it’s only present on the best set ups. But when you have heard it, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Actually the superb layering on the bass is only evident on the balanced Beta22 and HD800 combination. So it may be because of the HD800 as well, but the thing is, I’m not hearing it when I’m using the HD800 on other amplifiers.

Moving to the soundstage, obviously soundstage performance is very good on any amplifier at this level. But how good is it? On the Beta22, the first thing you notice is the width and the depth of the soundstage. The soundstage has more width than it does depth, but a better quality source may make it more even. I have no complaints about the size of the soundstage, but I do think it lacks a clearer imaging. Some amplifiers may have a smaller soundstage than the Beta22, but the imaging more precise. For example, the WooAudio6 with Sophia Princess, Lavry DA11’s headphone out, and CEC’s HD53N all have a clearer image of the soundstage, although the soundstage size is not as big as the Beta22. This is a difficult issue, and it may not be the Beta22’s fault here. From my experience with headphones, it’s very hard to get a wide and speaker like soundstage while maintaining pinpoint accuracy in the imaging. For instance, on the Stax Omega2 set up I auditioned recently, the imaging is very precise, but the soundstage size is smaller than the Beta22 + HD800 combo. Every other amplifier that present a clearer imaging than the Beta22 does fall short on the soundstage size as well. Big soundstage and precision imaging may be a give-and-take combination. When you gain one, you lose the other.

Despite my critique above, the Beta22 and the HD800 in balanced mode, from a good source like the CEC TL51XZ, remains the most speaker-like set up I’ve ever heard. I can hear a very wide and enveloping soundstage that goes to the sides of your ears. Yes, some of the other amplifiers may have a clearer imaging, but they don’t fill up the soundstage as the Beta22 does. Depth layering on the Beta22 and HD800 combination is also the best I’ve ever heard. No other amplifier comes close in that department. The soundstage has multi-layers of depth, and this gives a very life-like effect. I think I’m limited by the quality of my source, and a true high end DAC or a high end vinyl set up would improve the sound considerably because the Beta22 scales up to the source very well.

So, in reality, the Beta22 is not a perfect amplifier (I really wish it was). It doesn’t have a treble that sparkles (which often gives a nice wow effect), its imaging can also be sharper and better defined, and I also wish that it’s a little less neutral (some emphasis on the upper midrange, for instance, would be preferable to me). Personally, I like my music to have more PRaT and impact, and the Beta22+HD800 doesn’t give it to me. Despite all of these critiques, however, the Beta22 remains the best sounding solid state headphone amplifier I’ve heard and it belongs to the top of the top of headphone amplifiers.



Gears used for the review:
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, HD650, Hifiman HE5, HE5LE
Source: CEC TL51XZ, Lavry DA11, Buffalo24

4.2/5 - (16 votes)

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37 Comments

  • Reply June 8, 2010

    buz

    How far away from the BCL would you place it? (Going by the description, I think I’ll made a good call in getting my M-Stage, because this sounds a little dull to me 🙂

    • Reply June 8, 2010

      Mike

      Hi Buz, the BCL wins in speed, but overall the Beta22 is still superior.

  • Reply June 9, 2010

    xnor

    The "lack in bass" your friend heard was most likely just due to the (very) low output impedance (= good) of the b22. And the layered bass you've mention is the logical side-effect. This has nothing to do with the amp itself. Add two 100Ω resistors in series, or just connect your bass heavy headphones to a receiver and you'll get a "punchy" bump in the FR (depending on the headphone).

  • Reply June 9, 2010

    xnor

    About soundstage: moving the headphones even millimeters on your head will cause more drastic changes than what you'll ever be able to hear between most, if not all, amps that are well designed.

    (Check out headphone measurements from HeadRoom expert Tyll posted at headfi, if you don't believe me.)

    So this is a moot point for me as well.

    As for "treble that sparkles", "less neutral", "more PRaT and impact" … why not use the E7 with bass boost plus some equalization instead. t_t

    Note: I'm not defending the b22 or amb here, I don't even (want to) own one.

    • Reply June 9, 2010

      Mike

      Thanks for the comments, xnor.

      As an experiment, I have tried adding a resistor on the headphone out on another amplifier, and the higher the resistance at the output, the bassier the sound is. I don't remember it adding bass punch though. Perhaps you can share the particular amplifier and headphone combination you've used for your experiment.

      I know that Tyll is a measurement expert (we talked about headphone measurements before), but I never realized if he has made such remarks about headphone positioning being able to replace soundstage characteristics inherent in an amplifier design.

      About soundstage: moving the headphones even millimeters on your head will cause more drastic changes than what you’ll ever be able to hear between most, if not all, amps that are well designed.

      Lastly, I don't understand how using an E7 can alter PRaT and impact, besides the fact that it's a very inadequate source for something like the Beta22.

      • Reply June 10, 2010

        xnor

        Punch is a matter of accentuating frequencies around 100 to 200 Hz, where many headphones have an impedance peak. Combine that with high Zsource and you're likely to see more punch (again: it depends on the headphones). It doesn't have much to do with the amp itself, except that some amps might roll-off sub-bass which could result in the punch sticking more out of the music.

        Maybe the resistor value was too high/low.

        Slightly different positioning will result in big differences – peaks and nulls especially at higher frequencies. That's what he measured.

        Now think of playing a mono signal, you should hear the same on both ears but you don't because of positioning differences. It might not be so easily noticeable with a mono signal, but has an effect on stereo imaging nevertheless.

        I'm sorry about the e7+bass boost+eq joke, but that last paragraph was just too much.

        • Reply June 10, 2010

          Mike

          Hi Xnor,
          I understand what you're trying to say, and I'll try to experiment with what you just shared.

          Cheers,

          Mike.

  • Reply June 10, 2010

    glac1er

    Thanks for the review Mike. This B22 makes all headphones sound good, even the ibuds.

    • Reply June 10, 2010

      xnor

      An amp does NOT improve the signal.

      Yours seems to be quite broken if even ibuds (!) sound good.

      • Reply June 10, 2010

        Mike

        Thanks for the information, xnor.

      • Reply June 10, 2010

        Brian

        Nah, I think Glacier brought up a very important point in a sense that all these cool devices only serve as a bridge between your ears to sweet, delicious music.

  • Reply June 16, 2010

    Shahrose

    Very informative reviews. Instead of merely gushing, you've provided a balanced view with pros and cons and great detail within each section. I also felt your comparisons to other amps in the price range (or even to lower-end amps) was helpful as it gave me reference points to gauge the Beta with.

    If you ever get a chance Mike, do post a review of the Dynahi/Dynamite/GS-X/GS-1. I think some of the shortcomings you've found with the Beta might not be present in the Dynahi or Justin's well-designed Dynalos. (I know some who feel the bigger Gilmore amps are superior to the Beta).

    • Reply June 16, 2010

      Mike

      Hi Shahrose,

      I'm glad you find the review useful.

      A review of the Gilmore designs would be really hard to pull off. They're not very common around here, and HeadAmp is not the type that gives out loaners.

      I felt that even a first class design like the Beta22 has weaknesses, and so it's only logical that the GS-X/Dynamite would do better in some areas than the Beta22.

  • Reply June 30, 2010

    Frank

    as an audio mastering engineer i deeply prefer the HPBA-2 by Qes Labs

    here you can read my review:

    http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/479300/review

    no sound coloration.Plenty of dynamic.

    A true balanced reference monitoring system through headphones

    highly recommended!!

    • Reply July 1, 2010

      Mike

      Thanks, Frank. Doesn't hear much about the HPBA-2, but you're welcome to post some impressions on it. 🙂

  • Reply September 17, 2010

    Jehan

    Hey mike, how much is the total cost of a 4 board Beta 22 inclusive of a case? thanks

    • Reply September 17, 2010

      Mike

      Budget roughly $1200-$1500 depending on the case you use.

  • Reply September 18, 2010

    Jehan

    $1200-$1500 for a 4 board? Where can I get the case custom made? Lastly, how much will assembly of 2 boards Sigma 22 be? Thank you very much.

    • Reply September 18, 2010

      Mike

      $1200-$1500 should be enough for everything, including 2 S22s with two toroids, case, attenuator, knobs, wiring, jacks, etc. There is no standard case, and so you need to find your own enclosure, design the layout and holes and get a shop to get the holes made.

      Please visit the amb.org/beta22 site, under their parts list page, they have a list of suppliers for the enclosure.

      I personally got the case for this built @ Kaichin at Sim Lim Tower (top floor) for SGD ~$40 each. It works well enough. The front panel is black anodized aluminum, but everything else is plain sheet metal. The paintjob is a bit thin and scratches easily though.

      The audio store in Taiwan (check the link under amb website's parts list) makes nice looking cases, but the cost is quite prohibitive for me.

  • Reply September 18, 2010

    Jehan

    Thanks Mike. Keep up the good work.=D

  • Reply February 5, 2011

    CheetahDeals Blog

    Is there a company that sells pre-made Beta22s?

  • Reply February 12, 2011

    Brian

    So Mike,

  • Reply December 31, 2011

    Ferdiansendjaja

    Hi mike

    I just bought beta 22 2ch from the local forum and when i test it with NAD RP 18 ortho, i spoted a noise comming from the driver (like the rp18 drivers broken). Is these caused by damaged mosfet like you mention before? Or the gain (gain 5) is to high for rp18??

    The setup : ipad – b22 – rp18 via lod2rca

    Thanx mike 4 d input

    • Reply December 31, 2011

      Mike

      Maybe grounding issue.

      • Reply December 31, 2011

        Ferdiansendjaja

        Ooo the grounding issue eh, do you know where the place to fix this issue in jakarta??

        Thanx again 4 the info

        • Reply December 31, 2011

          Mike

          You have to find a builder. Talk to the guy who sold you the amp?

          BTW welcome to the world of DIY.

  • Reply June 6, 2012

    Gibran

    Hi Mike. A noob question. How much improvement will I get from CMOY to Beta22 if I am using HD650? Will amp upgrade improve my listening experience by a big margin? Thanks in advance :).

    • Reply June 6, 2012

      Mike

      Gibran,
      The difference will be HUGE!

      • Reply June 6, 2012

        Gibran

        Hahaha, I’m decided ;).

  • someone tried the b22 with the audez’e lcd 2 ?

    • Reply December 13, 2012

      Mike

      Pretty good but not really worth the hassle IMO. I’d just go for a Burson. Similar price and you get much better build quality.

  • Reply January 27, 2015

    Benedict Yappy

    Mike, I’m curious after I read that you’ve tried Etymotic ER4 balance with the Beta22. How is the result compare to standard setup, say, ER4 out of AK120?

    I’m interested in building a Beta22, tp use with LCD-X after I buy it and ER4. How do you advice about pairing Beta22 with LCD X? Seems like it will result in amazing sound.

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