Tisbury Audio: Challenge Amp 1

The Sound

What both excited and impressed me was Tisbury’s claim of great versatility with the CA-1. While I do use my desktop components to drive a majority of high impedance and inefficient headphones, I do sometimes fancy the isolation of my IEMs or even the sound signature of one of my closed cans. For that reason I want my amp of choice to cater for them with an ideal black background and this is exactly what Tisbury are touting! When it comes to the juice draining headphones it stuck to its words and managed quite stress free, the HE-500 pairing was done with authority and great control, something that is rare with orthodynamic headphones. Hell this amp is even capable of getting the HE-6, a headphone that most use with a speaker amp due to it being so picky, to 113db SPL, although I haven’t heard the pairing to say how nice it actually sounds.

Let’s turn things around then and go to the other end of the scale and see how they manage with the more sensitive gear. As I have been using the Vision Ears VE6 a lot lately I decided to start with them. These are the most sensitive earphone (122 dB SPL) I have ever owned and I was greeted by an unbearable popping, it was horrible and I’m not sure what the cause was, but I was left unimpressed with the versatility claims. I then grabbed another IEM that was lying on my desk, the Dunu DN-2000, which granted, are much less sensitive (102 dB SPL) than the Vision Ears, worked a treat with the amp, displaying a clean and noiseless background, just like the bold claims. to clear things up, I thought I had to go to another 120 dBer so out come the Lear LCM-5 and while it was not as black a background as with the Dunus with me being able to detect the smallest swirls of noise with the volume turned all the way down, I had to say it done a very good job, better than a fair few portable amps of mine and it seems like the Vision Ears were an anomaly (they have an interesting internal crossover switch) to not worry about (unless you plan on that pairing) and these really do nail the versatility claims they make, which is great!

The sound form the amp from Tisbury takes on is a reminiscent of a thin pane of glass on a sunny day, a great comparison I know. It is very clear but also quite brittle sounding while being a tad bright on top of that. This makes the pairing with the headphones very important (when is it not) because you will really know it if the synergy isn’t right. I think a forwarded treble is what brings most of the characteristics of this amp; it gives a great sense of clarity, as we stay with a slight forwardness into the midrange, especially in the higher midrange. It also gives the amp a fair breezey tone, not the most bodied but fairly seductive in a sense, even though it likes to remains very clean and crisp.

Although true to designer Wes’s word, the HE-500 is a magnificent pairing and the one I have enjoyed using the most, with it really capturing the glory of its midrange and the thinner sound not being too dramatic when combined with an already thick sound of the headphones, I have tried to use it with the Sennheiser HD800s as much as possible as that really shows what’s going on with the amp. I do however have to say that the HD800 pairing was not a great one with it offering just a bit too much treble emphasis with comfort for me and the texture of the amp left them sounding a bit empty.

The bass is fluid and well timed, although not the hardest hitting, it does do a good job of getting through the notes. It does have quite a snappy decay; I wouldn’t say anemically short but it isn’t going to be dropping warmth into the mix any time soon. Bass depth doesn’t mess around, allowing headphone capabilities to show themselves off, with my ZMF Headphones I was getting that deep chest throb that I love so much. Still though I do find the bass to be very through the motions, it doesn’t display emotion or the most natural timbre, it gets the job done, very well in fact with nothing missing, it just doesn’t quite go the extra mile.

Last sound part and conclusion on Page 3

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

13 Comments

  • Reply June 19, 2014

    spudgered

    Great review guys as you’ve pretty much nailed the sonic signature of this compact headphone amplifier. I acquired one recently and though it’s extraordinarily transparent, the sound is just too polite and lacking in grungy grunt (think more bass euphony) for my taste, so my classical loving father now has it. One aesthetic thing that bugged me, was the way the mains adapter pin only pushed halfway into the amps power socket, otherwise it’s a very nicely designed unit.

    • Reply June 19, 2014

      L.

      It does do that indeed. thanks for the compliment.
      It is a great unit, especially for classic and Vocals

  • Reply June 19, 2014

    Rūdolfs Putniņš

    Looking good. I’d ditch the input caps, but that’s just me. Also there’s plenty space on the board to get a small tranny and not use a wallwart.

    Opamp+buffer circuits have a very good potential to sound good.

    • Reply June 21, 2014

      ohm image

      Tranny…

      • Reply June 21, 2014

        Rūdolfs Putniņš

        Well, sometimes it’s good to have a tranny or two on board!

  • Reply June 19, 2014

    Peter Janušič

    L you should have not read Sonny’s review before you made yours.

    • Reply June 20, 2014

      L.

      Who says I did? I even had my unit before he did and made my analysis. I just wrote the full text after he sent me his review. Don’t assume. But anyway even then it wouldn’t have mattered, it sounds the way it sounds. The only difference now is I didn’t need to repeat the technical part. Anyone who has heard the unit will agree with both our opinions, I’m sure. The comment below even proves that. Just to be clear we’re on the same level, I didn’t appreciate that comment 😉

      • Reply June 20, 2014

        Peter Janušič

        Thats what I gathered from you first sentence, didn’t assume anything. If you didn’t then I am sorry for the missunderstandment. For me your review wouldn’t be valid if you read his first.

        • Reply June 20, 2014

          L.

          I understand, but I’m pretty sure that any reviewer has read something of the product in question before making their own review.

          We’ve done dozens of double reviews here on Headfonia and sometimes the opinions of the reviewers do not match. Again, proof that reading another review first has no real impact on the review. At least imho

    • Reply June 20, 2014

      dalethorn

      It’s a tough choice, yes? (not really). A choice between the small possibility of influence and the very real possibility of learning things that save a lot of time and work. The good reviewers will save that time when they can, then they will dig in and see where the differences are. Good reviewers have to do that anyway, since sometimes there are sample differences, sometimes an earlier review misses something – many possibilities. Since amps come before headphones in the signal path, they not only have their own sonic properties – they create different effects in headphones that aren’t always predictable in advance. So I would expect any good reviewer to have as much information from other sources and reviews in advance of doing their own review, so they can predict some of the sonic effects in advance, as a starting point. Just because you start there is no assurance that you’ll end up there. Reviews can chew up a *lot* of valuable hours, so every bit of information from reliable sources helps to get the job done.

  • Reply June 23, 2014

    Michael

    Thanks for the review, guys. Do you think this is a good amp for Sony MA900, or Graham Slee/Yulong is better?

    • Reply June 23, 2014

      L.

      I’m not familiar with this headphone, sorry

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