If you go to any regular audio buff meet and you talk headphone amps chances are you are going to hear regular names being dropped such as FiiO, RSA, Ibasso, Mini3 to name but a few. In certain hallowed circles though you are going to hear another name and that is Go Vibe.
At times Go Vibe has slipped below the radar in terms of name dropping in forum conversations yet the name has had a relatively long and illustrious heritage as one of the original DIY amps created by a certain Norm Dalgarno. Up until 2007 Norm had made quite a name for himself with the Go Vibe range of amps such as the Classic Go Vibe in the early 2000’s and for the fast developing mobile audio community he had achieved cult status and beyond before retiring out of the business line in 2007.
Luckily Jaben of Singapore came in and bought out the line and brand and with Crossroads continuing the production from Norm and since then the range has expanded greatly to include all sizes and types of amps and DAC’s and amp/dac combo’s such as the Petite, Magnum, Deringer and Martini. The Vulcan+ amp though occupies the business end of the spectrum and just by casting one eye on the front panel you can tell that its a swiss army knife of a portable amp.
The mere fact this amp is powered by not one but two 9v batteries should tell you something about this amp. No its not a powerful amp in terms of voltage, don’t expect Ibasso PB2 style ortho driving watts of power here, but do expect switches that actually do have an effect on your listening experience. This is as about as close as it gets to having an EQ hard wired into a portable amp. So despite its menacing looks this amp can really sing.
Treble boost function
3 Gain levels
Variable bass knob
Operates on 2x 9V batteries
Sadly we don’t get a whole lot more detailed than that as much of the specs are not issued by Jaben so the rest is my best guess without opening it up for inspection.
For power I would have to rate this at best 300 – 500mW, which initially seems kind of strange given the size of the amp being one of the bigger headphones but this makes sense given the ton of switches and circuitry required to run those switches. Is it possible there is a range of Opamps inside to convey that wonderful switching capability – maybe, but I will let you know when I open it. For now the tech specs, the dark arts are, shall we say, a bit of a secret.
But don’t let that put you off since invariably its the front panel that is the star of the show and its not about power but dexterity and nerdy audio wet dreams.
In a sense much of this technology is the ultimate conclusion of the Go Vibe development line where Magnums have Bass and Gain options, the Vulcan now has bass, gain, sound stage, impedance and treble.
As you can see above the eq switches are all neatly in a line beside the volume knob and at times it is a bit of a tight squeeze between the cabling of your source and headphones, especially if you have an angled plug but nothing that would say design flaw. What I love most about these swtiches is the ability to flick between each to make adjustments for differing types of headphones. Got a small sound stage? No problem, flick up the sound stage button and you transported into a much bigger sound arena. Your headphones a tad dark? No problem, flick the treble switch and give it a bit of sparkle. Lacking bass? Slam that bass dial all the way to the right and drive those cans hard! Ultimately you will find your right set of switch adjustments for your music and setup or even just your mood.
SQ wise these retain the same sexy forward or aggressive sound Go Vibe is known for. This time though the detail is much clearer and sharper than say the petite or even the magnum. By no means a dark amp it does have a muscular signature. Having the bass dial on tap really does help as the dial is not like the Fiio E5 which focuses on enhancing the sound levels and can be messy but instead actually does target the bass. Turn it up and the bass goes up also and by quite some distance which is fantastic for slightly shallow sounding headphones.
One thing I did try was using the Vulcan as pre-amp to my Baby Stax SR001 MK2 and this was a dream come true. The Stax is a beautiful airy sounding setup with rich mids and a very analog sound but lacking somewhat on the power levels in my opinion. Hooking the Vulcan up as a pre-amp and you have a whol different equation. The sound stage EQ release the Stax a bit from the slightly compressed stock sq and the gain gave it much more aggression. Throw in some bass and leave the treble as stock and the Stax sounded much better, more lively and meatier.
Now a few things I did notice about the Vulcan+ when using these settings. Sure you can twiddle with the switches but watch your noise floor and hiss since this tends to creep in if you set the impedance or gain too high. Lowering them may initially feel like your loosing a bit of oomph but SQ wise the quality will be enhanced and besides you can just turn up the volume a bit more if you want more oomph. As mentioned previously they are not built for power do don;t think your HE6 is going to love it based on physical size, erase that thought right away. It will confidently handle low impedance or efficient headphones and the hard EQ does shine a lot better.
In terms of matching I thought it paired really well with the Hifiman HM602 and did a good job on the ipod 5.5g and iRiver H120. The edge goes to the HM602 for the deeper richer sound that I tend to favor from my DAP’s but the others are no slouches. Certainly when used with an amp sack the ipod 5.5G and Vulcan+ are a tempting portable combination.
Prices at around higher end of things this amp is not for the cautious but it does represent a heck of an engineering feat in terms of EQ hardware options. The combinations are endless with variety of sources, music and headphones and this is where the long-term value lies in the Vulcan+. Think of this as about 3 amps rolled into one and you get where I am going with this.
Available online in Jaben HK with prices at HK$3200.00