The German Shapeshifter: VorzAMPduo

 

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.

 

 

Headphone Pairings

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?!

 

Music Pairings

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-“?

 

Continued on Page 3, End Words

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Valentin is a mid-20’s multi-tasker. Played a lot of instruments from the age of 5-6 and onward. Grew his hair, experimented with 4x12” Mesa Boogies whilst growling in front of a mic. Cut his hair and DJ’d electro beats at clubs. Grew a moustache and people started calling him Dr. Hogea. Has ravaged through all genres you could imagine. A playlist with Warren Zevon, Dissection and Dead Prez is the daily diet. Preferably in a transportable manner. Life is too short for a desk.

    39 Comments

    • Reply November 24, 2012

      Julius

      A Buddy of mine emailed me about a week ago and asked if I wanted to take a listen to this amp. I ultimately passed on it and am thoroughly regretting it. Gosh, I really enjoy your writing style. What a great review! I get so excited when other authors use certain words and phrases that don’t really go togther in the portable amplifier world, such as “Soundstage” and “Big”. When I see those terms near each other, I usually end up getting it. Welcome to the Guest Spot Family. Ed and I serve drinks and cookies on Friday nights.

      • Reply November 24, 2012

        L.

        What do mike and me get? :p

        • Reply November 25, 2012

          Trent_D

          Increased review output and possibly an increase in readership?

          • Reply November 25, 2012

            L.

            But i want cookies too!

            • Reply November 25, 2012

              Trent_D

              Well, Julius didn’t say you couldn’t attend.

              • Reply November 25, 2012

                L.

                😉

                • Reply November 25, 2012

                  Trent_D

                  get my last email?

                  • Reply November 25, 2012

                    L.

                    Who is this and what email? 🙂

                    • Reply November 26, 2012

                      Trent_D

                      Yeah, for all I tell my daughter she needs to learn patience, I need to learn some myself. Since it is actually happening, I’m actually getting a little nervous.

              • Reply November 25, 2012

                Julius

                Aww! Of Course they can attend. Anyone can! Free Cookies for all! All I need is your social security and credit card number and verification.

                • Reply November 25, 2012

                  Trent_D

                  Oh sure. I will mail them to you, complete with a money order containing my whole bank account. Will that be enough?

      • Reply November 25, 2012

        Valentin

        Do you have any Leffe? Or is that L’s role? 😉

        Great you liked it. Hope we all will find a niche in this good ol’ family.

        • Reply November 25, 2012

          Edd_N

          As Julius already said – welcome to the family Valentin! That was a superb review! Full of detail and very balanced. I haven’t heard of this one and yet it’s another that makes my wallet want to cry ;). I will bring white russians and Doritos next Friday 🙂

          • Reply November 26, 2012

            Valentin

            There’s a Vorzamp Pure FS on the head-fi. Pick it up before the Vorzüge-frenzy starts? 😉

            Thanks a million for the kind words. I do my best. It took a while to write, hopefully the next ones goes a bit faster.

            Looking forward to reading new stuff from you guys!

            White russians? Maaaaaanly! Bring out the Stroh-rum 160-proof!

    • Reply November 24, 2012

      Trent_D

      This review was fun. I could never quite tell if this was a positive or negative review. I know how you feel though. When I saw the film Prometheus last summer, it was maddening. So close to utter brilliance, but a few forehead slapping decisions really shot it in the foot. Seems to be the same here. Here is hoping they take feedback.

      I am loving these guest reviews. Hope to see another one from you.

      • Reply November 25, 2012

        Valentin

        When perfection is so close, someone just has to mess it up. I just can understand it. Vorzüge are skilled engineers/designers. Who/when/why?… decided to add that moronic EQ? And then non-existant gain-control? It makes baby Jesus cry.

        • Reply November 25, 2012

          Trent_D

          It really is a head-scratcher. Those are basics in this age of digital audio. Although, if I ever see someone walking town with the LCD-3 around their head, I will make sure to recommend this to them. And before you say that is crazy, a co-worker of mine, who I have awoken to the world of headphones, says he sees people walking around the university of Minnesota with HD700’s on their head… Connected to ipods… I hope baby Jesus likes to cry, cause it isn’t going to stop.

          • Reply November 26, 2012

            Valentin

            And I thought that a dude yesterday in downtown-Stockholm w/ Denon D5000’s was weird. Especially considering all the rain and humidity. Poor phones…

            HD700?! Hah.. Beam me up Scotty!

            • Reply November 26, 2012

              Trent_D

              I should find this guy. Trade him my HD202 for the HD700. The HD202’s will sound better connected straight to his ipod, so he might go for it.

    • Reply November 24, 2012

      Gorboman

      Wow! Almost the perfect one. Now that’s something I have to try listening to.

    • Reply November 24, 2012

      Mike

      I like his writing style. 🙂

      • Reply November 25, 2012

        Valentin

        Thx Mike! More coming. And you know it! 😉

    • Reply November 24, 2012

      Captain Spaulding

      I’m new here, so maybe I don’t yet get the joke — but is English a second language to the reviewers here? I’ve noticed that many reviews posted here are so poorly written (or translated) that it would take Talmudic scholar to figure out what the writer is trying to say.

      Take this gem (from above review) as an example:

      “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 however not even in the same viscinity. [sic] It’s a “luxury problem”. ”

      Huh? What does the word “they’re” refer to? Depending on the reference, this could either be a positive or negative statement. Does the reviewer care whether we can tell the difference?

      I sympathize with the person below that commented “I could never quite tell if this was a positive or negative review.” Maybe if the writer was less interested in verbal masturbation and more interested in stringing together a few, coherent sentences, we would know.

    • Reply November 24, 2012

      Spencer Chan

      Nice to see the ‘con’s with the ‘pro’s. I was looking for something to drive my LCD2s while walking around the house. Seem like this may fit the bill. Esp with 20+ hour battery life!

      • Reply November 25, 2012

        Valentin

        Highly recommended! Add a CLAS and you got some hi-quality sound. I’d pick up the Pure though… Or pay 90 USD for a treble-sparkle-lever. 😉

    • Reply November 25, 2012

      Julius

      Two questions. Despite the low end EQs odd placement, how does it affect headphones or sources you might consider lacking bass quantity? Also, would you consider the low end more analytic or edging more towards the warmer end?

      • Reply November 26, 2012

        Valentin

        In my honest opinion. It adds a mid-bass hump. Which I really don’t like. It might work with very dry phones, like K701/Q701-ish. However, they’ll probably end up like a muddy HD650. It’s simply too much. I can’t picture one headphone that would really shine with that amount.

        The low end is warmish, but very good layering. W/o the EQ-bass on that is.

      • Reply November 26, 2012

        Valentin

        I would pick up the Pure. However I think a lot of potential buyers think “better safe than sorry”. Which, well… 90 USD for a treble-sparkle-lever. 😉

    • Reply November 26, 2012

      L.

      Valentin, could you please put the prices of both in the review somewhere? 😉

      • Reply November 26, 2012

        Valentin

        Look again… 😉

        “These solid little works of art sets one back 430 and 520 USD respectively.”

        • Reply November 27, 2012

          L.

          Someone asked to add it. of course I didn’t double check 😀

          • Reply November 27, 2012

            Valentin

            I can understand that a quick-reader might miss it. However, I don’t like just busting out facts. I tried to incorporate the traditional details so it becomes more fluent. 🙂

    • Reply November 26, 2012

      Yago

      Hi Valentin, I’m Yago (previous owner of this VorzAmpDuo for just a few time) but I agree with you in all that you say about this amp.
      For me, apart from the too much gain maybe it’s the best portable amp to drive full size headphones,

      Congratulations for your fantastic review!

      Yago.

      • Reply November 26, 2012

        Valentin

        Thx Yago!

        It sure is a keeper! 🙂

        • Reply December 13, 2013

          Nik

          Hello Valentin
          I read your thorough review and are interested to Vorzüge amp.
          I wanted to use it for the reader to use AK120 with headphones as K701 or HD650. But also for driving better a IEM as Etymotic ER-4S.
          You’ve got to use the AK120? What do you think of the synergy?
          I was thinking of buying the new model Vorzamp Pure II that should have the same sound signature, but that allows to adjust the gain.
          Do you have any other advice for a truly portable amp?
          Thanks in advance for your answers.

          • Reply December 13, 2013

            Mike

            I think the Vorzuges are good for 650s. For a thin IEM like the ER4S I’d go for something warmer and fuller on the mids like the ALO International or RSA Intruder.
            The K701… I don’t have any recommendation for it.

    • Reply April 20, 2013

      Christoph Seufert

      I really doubt the integrity of this manufacturer: Why you think they are german? For sure they aren’t (why should shipping to germany then be more expensive than to the US). And what are surprise: Shipping to China is even less.

      On the website there is no address, no names, no country, no phone number, no email address.

      Very poor review because of that: When you recommend a product to at least a bit of background research to protect the readers.

      • Reply April 21, 2013

        L.

        I can’t comment on the Vorzamp but I know of several German brands who are actually manufactured in Asia (with high end components). Coming from Asia doesn’t always mean it’s no good 🙂

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