Matching with the HD800

Now I have heard some great combinations with the HD800 in my time but this has to be up there as one of the best I have experienced to date. This is a strikingly balanced and transparent amp hence my initial heads-up on the DAC and source matching. The CMA800r is going to strongly reflect the rest of your setup to be frank so don’t throw it some cheap bones hoping it will cure everything by the time it spits out the sound because it wont. However I am not advocating you buy the most expensive DAC there it out there, simply use a good DAC that conveys a tonality you know and trust and the CMA800r will sing with panache and grace and with effortless resolution and detail.

Tonality

You could be forgiven for thinking that so much detail would leave a monitor or sterile like experience; full of technical excellence but lacking in fun. An accusation so often thrown at most HD800/amp pairings and whilst it is no basshead pairing the HD800 actually for the first time gains a more than acceptable level of PRaT and musicality I didn’t think was possible previously. The tuning by Questyle is most “un-Asian” like in many ways given the preponderance for a top down treble orienated setup I am used to getting from many SS amps in the East. There is nothing thin or sharp about this reproduction I can assure you. Even the bass response on the HD800/CMA800r pairing is probably the tightest, most detailed and most impactful I have heard to date. Bags of texture and presence and wonderful coherence.

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Some Amp comparisons

Compared with the HIfiman EF6 the CMA800r is more neutral and airy in its presentation than the thicker, warmer and bassier presentation of the EF6. It is also a little more forward than EF6. The EF6 is definietly more colored than the CMA800r and being tuned specifically for the HE6 it shows this in many respects in terms of pure power and tonal matching. The HE6 is liquid smooth with the EF6 and whilst the HE6 sounds appreciably better on the CMA800r than some other amps it still can’t get that full and smooth reponse I adore on the HE6 and EF6 combo.

In comparison to the Schiit Mjolnir, I felt the Mjolnir had a slightly better dynamic range and more power but at times it came across as brash and spikey in the treble response when using the HD800 compared to the more controlled response of the CMA800r.

If anything it is my Violectric V100 that should weep the hardest since tonally I always felt it aimed for the goal of being neutral, clear and articulate much in the same vein as the CMA800r as well as having a fairly decent matchup with the HD800. Compared to the CMA800r the V100 does a decent job but just lacks that final notch in detail and control and didn’t convey the same level of musicality. Good but not great compared to the CMA800r.



Headphone matching

The CMA800r also is no slouch for power. Anything dynamic is driven with authority especially the HD800 but even more demanding planers did a fine job with it. Even the HE6, though at its best for me with the EF6, did a decent job without sounding too thin, tinny or too sharp. It didn’t quite convey that thick lucious sound of the EF6 that has me in raptures for the last year but it wasn’t shameful either.

Luckily I am also in mid-review of the new Oppo PM-1 planer which is a new planer from Chinese bluray specialists and one of the easiest planers in the market today to drive, even out of an iphone. The PM-1 paired with the CMA800r is pretty effortless also with the pot rarely going past 9am so deliberating if this is overkill or not but in any event those who are not familiar with the PM-1 will find a thick lush and bottom up engineered planer with good top end articlulation but not as open and airy as planers from Hifiman or Audeze. A different flavor so to speak but a headphone ready to break out of the desktop amp environment and go portable.

Paired with the CMA800r it is smooth in the extreme but the bass is what comes to the fore with this pairing. It is fast, tight but also extends very well indeed. That lack of bloat and boom allows the PM-1 mids to shine. This is a match made for modern genres, Calvin Harris’s “We found love” from 2012 is a perfect example of the CMA800r’s current mode amplification capability for me with a fast bass tempo, lower treble cymbal work and a strong vocal section on the PM-1 but not an ounce of harshness or metallic aftertaste in that busy percussion work or sibilance from the female vocals. That is compressed 320k MP3 by the way and it sounds pretty darn good out of the CMA800r and Oppo PM-1.

The CMA800r also pairs very well indeed with the LCD-2 though after a listening session with the Oppo PM-1 the LCD-2 has many similar characteristics to the PM-1 but feels a little grander and less intimate than the PM-1 and dare I say it slightly more neutral in some respects (Rev2). With the CMA800r the LCD-2 reproduces all it’s plus points with an extra black background to boot. Everything feels so tight and controlled even right down to the LCD-2’s subterranean levels of bass extension and slam. Power wise it seems right on the money with nothing sounding thin, distant or clipped. Even the notoriously shelved down treble response on the LCD-2 feels more lively and articulate than usual. If the CMA800r managed to make the HD800 tap it’s feet more than usual I can assure you the LCD-2 is a full on musical treat.

The list of strong performances in mid-range cans was as long as my arm to be honest, both the Shure 1540 and 1840 sounded well controlled and detailed, whereas the notoriously inefficient K500 and K501 from AKG sounded incredibly nimble, expansive and smooth with those killer mids and a resonably responsive bass section though to be fair this is not always the K series strong point.

Click on next page for final thoughts…

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