Coming highly recommended by some peers of mine from overseas, Feliks Audio’s $349 Espressivo-E Tube Amp has solidified my hopes for a more positive audiophile future for us all. You don’t really need to read on beyond this point, just go buy one of these immediately if you are on a budget and looking for the best sub $400 tube amp available…
Feliks Audio is a Polish company that produces all of their amplifiers from the ground up and “in house” as they’ve so eloquently put it. I’d previously never heard of them, but requests to review one of their products became so intense at one point, that I had to reach out to the company for a sample. I spoke to a nice gentleman named Lukasz who worked there and my Espressivo arrived just a few short days later.
Unlike most companies, they’ve kept up with me as the review progressed and were eager to listen to my thoughts on the product. That sentiment is one I wish more companies would adopt…excitement and fever for feedback is something I understand and enjoy talking about. When I get to talk to the engineers and company heads who don’t wish to remain in the shadows, I feel closer to the company and in turn the experience ends up being more intimate for me. I know these guys worked hard and their efforts really show, so being able to talk to them about it along the way was very cool.
Coming in three different wood panel color varieties, the Espressivo is a solid metal chassis OTL headphone amp/preamp that has been hyped so massively over at Head-Fi’s forums, that I am baffled as to how I have yet to come across one at an audio meet. I’m not even sure there is a single negative statement on the Internet revolving around this amp and how well it performs…believe me, I tried looking and just couldn’t find a realistic or logical gripe even worth mention in a negative light. Both the volume knob and Line selection knob feel of a very high quality, the latter of which offers a very satisfying clink for each position between 1 and 3. No need to go into the aesthetics of the amp beyond that is it very good looking, very classy and oozing a price tag far above what the actual cost is.
Sure, the amp is single ended 1/4 output only, but at this price, I cannot honestly complain and after considering how good the product actually sounds. The Espressivo is a fully RCA input design with three Inputs on the rear, as well as a line in. At this price point, it is more than justified and I am hard pressed to find another amp that sounds this good that also included three inputs with a corresponding input selector knob on the front of the device. This amp also has a pair of power tubes, as well as driver tubes from the 6N1P/6N6P family. These stock tube selections are good and more than passable, but do limit the potential this amplifier is capable of. If you are into tube rolling, feel free to drop a message below with your results, as there are countless reports of obscure and common tube pairings for this amp that apparently sound good.
This amp is by no means a bass head enthusiasts dream, but I can testify in court that it does justice to the likes of my favorite over ear mid tier headphone: the Sony XB1000, which is a headphone that most bass heads consider the cream of the crop for your low end needs. I agree with that, close call between the XB700 and the XB1000, but both are easily top tier for just how nutty responsive a headphone can get on the bass end of the spectrum. The Espressivo could use a subjective small bump and boost down below and I say that only because I love my bass quantity to be borderline insane.
As for an objective field of view, I feel the Espressivo to be perfectly tuned in quantity and in comparison to the physical quantities of mids and treble it also brings to the table. I think I’d rate this as a slight bass boosted low end, something that won’t likely feel overly linear or lacking, but also something certainly not grossly overpowered and overflowing with bass quantity. Switching up between my gen1 Asgard and the Expressivo showcases noticeably more bass quantity.
The bass lacks that ugly broadness and brooding sense that most lower end and mid tier amplifiers have. Instead, it served up a bit of both types of bass textures: just a bit of thickness, but also still clean and clear enough to consider well into the “very clean” texturing type. Similar to how Audeze setup their original LCD series Planar headphones, I feel like Feliks Audio did the same here with their Espressivo’s low end. From a musical lovers standpoint, we all are jumping for joy. Although, the purists out there who desire clinical texture and tone should be opting for something else I think. Despite the nice level of clarity available here on the bassy end of things, the Espressivo has yet to sound like something I would ever consider accurate or tonally uncolored down below, instead opting for a plentiful vibe in quantity in the bass experience.
Tracks from Vaun, an underground Mindstep artist that I adore, really shine with this amp for all low end needs. Check out the track called Listen by him, which you can find on Youtube or Soundcloud…if you are into relaxing, slow paced trance and extremely deep bass, this guy is for you and so are similar artists like Stickman. Lately, I just sit back in my Eames chair with a scotch in one hand and a bubble gum flavored vape pen in the other, simply winding down at the end of my days to visceral bass mixes like these through my XB1000 and Espressivo pairing. Try not to take that as me saying this is a bass heads delight, just know that all three primary areas of listening (bass,mids and treble) are plentiful and not lacking in the slightest and the entire low end puts out great quality and quantity at the same time. You’ll not likely ever feel the low end to be too thin, nor will you feel anything resembling a bloated tonality or texture.
Much like the low end, the entire midrange feels vibrant and into the first steps of what I would call mid-foward. Thankfully, there isn’t a reverse V-shape (midrange bloom effect) where mids feel more prominent than the bass or treble experience. Instead, the Espressivo is setup with what I would consider equal bass, mids and treble quantities. Nothing fights for attention and things feel more than forward enough to consider this a vividly engaging amplifier, but also one that isn’t too in your face and that cannot pair well with the wide recordings in Classical music, or live concerts with a large venue physicality and sense of air. Typically, these genres don’t pair well with overly forward presentations…so thankfully, Feliks Audio tuned the Espressivo with some forwardness, but made sure to not overstep it and go too far forward.
With a forward enough presentation to be considered vivid, I can safely say that most genres or tracks with a focal point on vocals are going to feel quite pleasing to the ear. Sinatra lovers and similar Jazz enthusiasts will enjoy this amp, especially so if you own sets that are a bit slow on the draw like the Philips X2 or one of the upper-mid tier Audio Technica’s that are known for their excellent midrange. I feel like quick drivers or clinical headphones in general don’t mesh with this amplifier’s slightly boosted vibe, but that is a completely subjective statement and not based on fact.
Truthfully, I can’t really spot anything wrong or negative here, the amp is hand touched and tuned by an actual human and parts were not just tossed into the mix with the hopes of a decent end result. No sir’s, this is one of the few amps that plays well in most areas. I feel strongly about how nice this Espressivo can handle vocalists and anything mid-centric, but I could do wish a smidgen more softness had been added to the entire spectrum. By comparison to the effortless and slick as butter Airist Audio Heron 5 ($2000), the tone and slam of the Espressivo feels much more potent and less silky. If you like Schiit’s house sound, I think you’ll enjoy this one from Feliks Audio as well. I’ve heard much harsher amps, but there are also plenty of softer feeling amps out there as well.
There are times where I an unsure if I’d just heard potent treble, or if it had been the recording searing its way into something a bit hot in quantity. After hours upon hours of listening, I am going to side with those who say the treble experience on this amp is actually a bit on the clinical side and can vary from soft to potent, depending on the track’s quality. When I use my HD800 with this amp, I feel like turning down the upper end -2dB sometimes, but I feel like the bass and midrange don’t need to be touched by comparison.
This is odd, where I felt the mids and treble to be plentiful and never overflowing, there are some instances of listening where I felt the Espressivo had just a tad too much treble. I think this is due to the already abundant mid and bass quantities the amp puts out, so naturally the treble experience needs to be tuned justly to make sure it never sounds overshadowed by anything else. Prominence feels like it is the name of the game here: sometimes it sounds a bit too bright and snappy, sometimes it feels buttery smooth. It never got painful or annoying, but it was noticeable…
Imaging and Substance
The sound stage experience that the Espressivo shells out is should shrug worthy at best. Perhaps, slightly above average in width and height seems fair to me. However, depth of field and density are very good for an amp of this price. Normally, solid state amps take the win in this department, at least by way of the last generation of amplifiers to be produced by other companies over the last few years. But, this Espressivo is a tube amp that offers a very nice solidity factor on top of an already good depth of field imaging experience. Air and separation are also more than plentiful, but nothing special like my Heron 5 and flipping between the two feels like opening a window vs opening the front door to get some fresh air. Hard to beat that Heron 5 for massive, effortless sound staging prowess…
I don’t think you’ll want to specifically pair this with an HD800 or anything known for exceptional staging, but as a gateway amp to something much better, this Espressivo is a great start for the price. Solidity and that density factor at the sub $300 price point is hard to come by these days, but seems like most of my personal lot of headphones mesh very well with the Espressivo. I tend to love that weighted feeling and realistic density factor: the ATH ESW11LTD and my new Sony XB1000 for example, both of which have an excellent dense appeal without even a hint of thinness to their presentations. These types of headphones will combine well with the Expressivo and I can’t really think of another tube amp sub $300 that felt this solid and plentiful from top to bottom. Schiit’s Valhalla is close, but not quite as dense feeling as this Espressivo to my ears.
At the end of this, I am scoring the Espressivo near perfectly. If it weren’t for the lack of input and output types, it would have been my first 10/10 amplifier review that I’d posted in the past 10 years of writing about audio products. This amp really sounds wonderfully musical and lacks nowhere, yet it is priced well under what the actual sound quality matches up with. Head Fi’ers agree, Feliks Audio does amazing work and they are highly praised out yonder on other forums as well. I’ve got to say, this one is a real golden ticket for me as a musicality chaser, someone who doesn’t want a pure or accurate tone.
I don’t think the extreme clinical tone chasers should invest in this, but if you are in the middle and might enjoy a bit of both with the potential to EQ to achieve a boosted appeal to your desired presentation, or want a forward and linear sound with plentiful everything…this amp comes highly recommended. Damned if I can even think of something negative to say about her…she is powerful enough to drive 300ohm headphones with ease and room to spare, looks great, sounds great and has an even better price tag. Color me impressed, this one is a keeper and then some. The Espressivo is certainly the best $400 and under amplifier I’ve ever heard. Great job, Feliks Audio!
- Input Impedance: 100 kOhm
- Frequency response: 15 Hz – 45 Khz +/- 3 dB
- Power output: 400mW
- THD: 0.4 % (300 ohm, 20 mW)
- Optimal headphones impedance: 100 – 300 ohm
- Headphones output: Jack 6.3mm
- AC: 230V/120V (power cord included)
- Weight: 3.5 kg (7.7 lbs)
- Dimensions: 330 x 220 x 140 [mm] (13 x 8.7 x 5.5 inches)