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