Sound, Pairings, and Other Questions
So it looks great and it’s intelligently designed. Back to the core question. How does it sound? Fantastic! It’s easily one of the best portable amps I’ve ever heard. And I’ve tried most of the single-ended portables worth trying.
First and foremost. The soundstage is big and feels like it’s projected in a speaker-like manner. On par with 529 USD ALO The Continental V2 and significantly wider and deeper than 299 USD The National. Not a bad start. For fans of ALO Audio amps (me included) I can say that the 599 USD+ Pan Am still outperforms it, in this regard, with bigger headphones. But on the other hand, not one of the ALO’s are as portable as Vorzamp, especially not the Pan Am (with the battery-pack The Passport).
The center image is very focused, the rest can get a bit muddy. It has similarities to the Triad Audio L3 in this respect. Huge soundstage, but a bit fuzzy/non-analytical when it comes to imaging and instrument separation. Compared to The National and Leckerton Audio UHA-4, they’re not even in the viscinity. So, it’s a “luxury problem”. Remember that I’m comparing it primarily to Pan Am/Continental, and their greatest strength is just this factor we’re discussing. Vorzüge should be proud. Tubey, but fast. Not bad. And this little “flaw” isn’t automatically something very negative. The separation of tubes has it’s charm. But for modern music, which has a tendency to be mixed and mastered all over the soundstage, exact pin-point perception is, in my honest opinion, not a necessity to enjoy it fully.
How is the frequency response then? Since the EQ primarily influences the lower and upper end of the frequency range, let’s start with the mid-range. It’s very forward and smooth. Very similar to The Continental, but more attack and a lightning-fast decay. To put it short: It turns my LCD-3’s into the »perfect« Grados. This is definitely an amp for modern music. But more on that later.
Moving on to the treble. Maybe a hint of rolled off upper-highs. But there’s a solution for this. With the treble-EQ on, and an extra 5-6 dB’s (?) suddenly appear, adding some classy sparkle. Unfortunately some light hissing too. Lucky for Vorzüge, it’s only noticed with sensitive headphones (>100 dB/mW). But, a small amp for small IEMs, right? Wait, didn’t he say LCD-3’s? Yup… I must say that the treble boost works very well with LCD-2/LCD-3. Highly recommended. Not sibilant at all, and due to the low sensitivity, no “hissing” side effect. However. The Audez’e’s are among the darkest headphones out there. Fiddling with the treble switch with more neutral to bright headphones, e.g. Grado headphones, is a no-no.
The bass? Excellent! Much-much better than The Continental V2. It’s deep, fast and detailed. Remember a lot of buzz, concerning choosing either the bass of The National or the soundstage/mids of The Continental? You can have both, and the solution isn’t automatically spelled P-A-N A-M. To it’s defense, The Pan Am is indeed better with excellent tubes (such as Mullard CV4010’s), however more options equals better.
Built In EQ
Something I can not understand is the bass-EQ switch? Seriously… Who decided to add something in the range of 12-15 dB (a personal approximation)? Not only is it way too much, but it bleeds into lower mids. Very boomy. Very Sennheiser IE8-/Monster Beats-esque. Flipping the switch on Audez’es gives an extreme boost. It’s not pleasant at low volume, but it “works”. And turning it up to normal headphone levels, results in some serious clipping. The worst I’ve heard. Like someone drove a Koss PortaPro with Krell mono-blocks. In short: quite flawed. . With CIEM’s, no clipping. But they would have to be on the neutral to bass-dry side to benefit from this.
Since I am a logic-driven person. I usually try to understand how other people think. To respect their point of view, even if I don’t share it. Let’s see if this seems logical to you:
Ok… There are bass-lovers in the world. They most certainly have bass-oriented headphones. But bumping up the bass this amount destroys the whole lower range on such headphones. So it’s a no-go. What if the bass-lovers have neutral headphones? Then, it might be just right amount. Right? Well, yes and no. For starters. Why would a bass-lover want a neutral headphone that needs so many dB’s of bumped up bass? Secondly, several headphones that are on the light side in the lower range tend to sound boomy when EQ’d up. The increased quantity affects the quality. Period.
The EQ-part is not worth 90 USD in addition to the extra weight and lower battery life. However, criticism should be constructive. My suggestion is that Vorzüge either use variable knobs (like Triad Audio L3 and ALO Rx MKIII) or multi-position-switches (like Unique Melody PP6, e.g. bass: +0 dB/+6 dB/+9 dB and treble: +0 dB/+3 dB/+6dB). To be honest, as long as you avoid the EQ (unless you have a very neutral headphones) it sounds great with most of the headphones and in-ears I’ve thrown at it.
The fixed gain, is something that needs to be bold in this review and further explained. The VorzAMP truly shines when driven straight from a good source with its own volume control. Why? The channel imbalance, at lower volumes (the first 1/4 of it) can be quite annoying. This can easily be avoided by lowering the volume of the source, and using the higher range of the volume potentiometer. Adding a hot source with fixed volume, such as an iDevice + CyperLabs Algorhythm Solo (CLAS) with 2Vrms out and it’s only useable with medium to low-sensitivity headphones, in my case LCD-2/LCD-3. A simple low/high gain-switch, like several of its competitors, would have solved this problem in no time. You might be thinking “where?, wasn’t it crammed to the max already”? Yeah the front that is, but there’s plenty of room on the back next to the USB-mini input for gain-levers/-knobs. Just for the record. To give the VorzAMP a fair chance to show what it had to offer with high-sensitivity headphones, I had to feed the output signal from my CLAS via my 4000+ USD Audio Research-preamp and then to the VorzAMP. Some 12AX7-goodness added, but the same benefit for all the amps in the review. And yes. Hands down, it’s much better with IEMs than The Pan Am. But “not really” since in real-life-situations you can only feed it via the volume controlled-3,5 mm-out for the best performance, you’re locked to using modified high-end iMods/WhipMods/DIYMods etc. unless your willing to compromise and settle for the standard DAC in your DAP. Does it seem a bit complicated and mixed up? I agree. How hard can it be to add a gain-switch? “Everyone else does it?!”
Back to more positive things, I consider this a portable amp for modern music. It’s lightly recessed treble/bass and forward mids suits the loudness-war splendidly. It takes the edge off, so to speak. And it keeps up with all variations in tempo and instruments without any effort due to plenty of PRaT. I enjoyed it immensely with bass-heavy headphones. With IEMs one can turn on the EQs for an “extreme earthquake with a twist of piercing“-sensation… which is fun for like a couple of minutes. With more demanding headphones such as Audez’es the bass becomes very boomy. It runs out of breath. So for extreme bassheads with orthodynamics (LCD-2’s and HE-400 come to mind), I would recommend Triad Audio L3. It delivers the deepest and heaviest bass I’ve heard from such headphones. Outshines my previous La Figaro 339 by miles in the bass-department. But remember, this is for the few % of readers that have a very narrow musical preference, more specifically hip-hop/rap and electro genres.
However, don’t be fooled, this isn’t a single-purpose amp solely for modern music. I’ve had numerous pleasant surprises with acoustic pop/rock, classical music and various other calmer genres. Truth be told, I do prefer the Pan Am in most (read: all) for more demanding headphones. The wider, clearer imaging makes a big difference, especially with headphones that have a lot to offer when driven well. With the LCD-2 rev 1’s, the differences weren’t as obvious as they were with the LCD-3’s. But back to the same old mantra I’ve been repeating. The Pan Am isn’t portable, in the true meaning of the word. On the other hand, chunky orthos might not be the something you jug around for your casual stroll around town. So am I angry at an amp that maybe even wasn’t designed for the purpose (read: headphones) I so dearly want to use it for? Well if it was designed for easier loads, why oh why, is the gain so wrong? The “Advantages” in the intro? Don’t think so. Someone, anyone, what’s the german prefix for “Dys-“?
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