Tisbury Audio: Challenge Amp 1

I have always liked a very in your face midrange, with the vocals delivering a great sense of intimacy and that’s how I find the CA-1 to be, I’m very together with the vocalist, especially if they are female (I know, what more could you want) as this does have a little slant upwards. We get an energetic, upstart pace in the midrange; it does seem to be pretty excitable. This of course goes hand in hand with the brightness that does show its face in the midrange, and you get a really detailed presentation and heaps of clarity as well like I said earlier. The thing is when comparing to something like the Questyle CMA800R, it lacks certain smoothness round the edge and the more forward, brighter tone doesn’t seem as natural or true. I have been impressed by this showing of some bigger dynamics well, even if it the over sound is quite light and lacking body.

Although having an accelerated and very audible treble, I would not say it adds any truly bad qualities to the sound and if you wish a darker headphone just didn’t struggle in the high frequencies this will really help them push on. The treble is a bit strident and can be nice and splashy in the sparkle regions but it comes with plenty of air, extension, and glassy details! If you have a headphone that can be sibilant, bright to an extent of fatigue or you generally like to keep your headphones, dark, this will probably take them to a place you don’t want to go, that being said if you wish your headphones, like the HD650 or my ZMF Headphones, just a little more zip in the upper ranges, this really put a smile on my face, I mean it’s only an amp, it’s not outright changing the frequency response but just putting its own little mark on the sound signature of the headphones.

Compared to other amps I have to say this does have its own unique voicing that does stand it quite different to competitor amps. In the price range and a bit above, the most popular sound of an amp is either a more warm and resolving tone (such as Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear) or a darker sound (like the Yulong A28) so an amp with a brighter, faster, albeit less bodied amp is welcome even if it didn’t stick to the claims of pure transparency and was a colored amp in its own right. When it comes to picking an amp, synergy should be the first thing in your mind and this amp could really just do it with your headphones, I mean with ZMFs it boasted both the power to drive them and sound signature to tame them and that’s what it’s all about and as much as I can enjoy an easy, relaxed listen to the Graham Slee, it lacks dynamics and a forwardness that the Tisbury can deliver very nicely.

Conclusion

Aesthetically Tisbury have made a great product but when it comes down to final performance I have to say that I have found more underwhelming combinations with my vast range of headphones than ones I have been able to sink my teeth into though when they are good, they have been especially great! It does seem that Tisbury are very passionate though and I love the versatility of this amp, I can take all my collection on a spin which proves very handy and I am sure that they are going to develop on what they already have in the future and I am very excited for that.

L’s take is on the next page!

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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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