Another day, another Feliks Audio amplifier review. It seems like these guys crank out magnificent sounding gear almost every few months. I’m not complaining. I enjoyed every single one of them so far. Today, we are going to be taking a look and listen inside the Echo, a $452 ($399Euro) OTL tube amp that really impressed me something fierce!
Similarly to the rest of the Feliks Audio’s arsenal, the Echo is made of solid metal in the center chassis area with some perforated holes in the top section for venting. The sides are solid wood panels and gorgeous to the naked eye, giving off a very classy and sometimes vintage appeal.
The connection points for IN and OUT (both standard RCA) feel of immensely high quality and the volume knob feels oh so yummy. I really enjoy the tactility of dialing the knob and the overall smooth feel of it.
Sometimes, as my Airist Audio Heron 5 offers in heavy clinking, I do enjoy the opposite in a hyper-smooth but dense feeling wheel as this Echo offers. No doubt, the Echo scores very high on the build point ladder…but we already knew it would. All of Feliks Audio’s amplifiers do, so I expected no less of this one, of course.
This one is rated at 350mW and suitable for usage up to 600ohm. It is also a whopping 100mW more potent than the Euphoria (250mW). With that extra power in mind, I still find it nearly dead silent for usage with my custom Nemesis CIEM’s from Empire Ears. I hear nothing but the environment around me in my listening room and that accounts for noises outside of my home through the closed window.
While playing, the Echo showcases zero floor noise to my ear, no static or hiss what so ever that I am able to detect. This is an amplifier that is great for moderately difficult to drive headphones, as well as IEM’s. If there ever was an office desktop amplifier that I would love to recommend, this is it.
For the series college dorm room audiophile or the business executive who doesn’t want a large desktop rig…please, pay attention. You will love this Echo. I would invest in a good ground loop isolator for usage with the Echo and that has literally nothing to do with the Echo.
It is to make sure your power outlet in the wall doesn’t screw up the extremely quiet appeal the amplifier can have. Turned up to max without any audio playing, I hear no difference from when the knob is set to the lowest possible point. And this is a tube amp…that is amazing. This is a very quiet amplifier.
Oddly, Feliks Audio recommends 100-600ohm, whereas most other amps from their company list at 32-600ohm. They seem to be intending you to use the amplifier with more difficult to drive headphones. Yet, I am finding that even with custom monitors, the Echo is extremely quiet and smooth.
I think this is the first time I’ve ever disagreed with what they have on paper, but that really isn’t a disagreement in the sense of an argument. I think they are only recommending that because of the added power at 350mW vs the 250mW in the Euphoria, for example. Now, I understand it is an OTL design and that typically OTL’s are not really intended for use with lower impedance headphones. But, so far, very efficient headphones sound great.
Tubes and Stock Tone
The Echo comes with 2 6N6P power tubes and 2 6N1P driver tubes, which lend credibility to a very slick and silky sound signature. In my opinion, the 6N1P family expressed a very gently warm tonality on the low end, as well as a reserved, but plentiful treble. I have a few other older and vintage amps that I use some of these tubes with when I want to very slightly warm up a sound signature on my rig.
In the case of the Echo, the experience doesn’t quite match what I thought it would. But, that is because of the OTL design and I think the sonic signature of this family of tubes it more or less being bypassed in exchange for a neutral sound. I do not classify this as a totally neutral or clinical experience. But, I also will not call it something that exaggerates or that is overly warm. Such is not the case.
In regards to overall tonal hue and highlights, the bottom end feels extremely balanced underneath the midrange and treble. With some EQ, that changes a lot. That, at least to me, is a very rare quality to showcase in a sub $500USD tube amplifier. The name of the game in this family of tubes, and seemingly also with the innards components and stock tuning of the Echo, is the balance.
What I mean by that is this amplifier showcases just the right amount of warmth without feeling overly so, but at the very same time, it never lets it affect the midrange or the treble, which is also on the moderately sweet end of the spectrum. At least, that much is true to my ear. But more on that in the Treble section coming up in just a bit.
Feliks Audio is known for moderate appeal: a middle ground, something to cater to most players in the ballgame and not the all-star of the series alone. So too, the Echo seems tuned in raw quantity on the moderate appeal as well, along with it’s older brothers the Espressivo, Elise and Euphoria.
On a totally flat EQ or EQ disabled, the bass end of the amplifier showcases something that would make a bass enthusiast desire much more. On a subjective level, I need a lot more to satisfy myself. The more reference type of a listener will enjoy this level of bass offered. There is plenty of bottom end to do justice to most headphones out there, but those headphones that are regarded for excellent bass extension will be left underwhelmed.
The unit will increase bass quantity with sufficient EQ toggling and seems to hit a breakpoint around +4dB before it gets just a tad wonky. With certain other DSP plugins active in Foobar2000 (plugins that affect sound) such as “realbassexciter” the Echo can get closer to a +6dB before I hear any serious shake.
Oh my. That is very silky smooth. For usage with my ZMF Auteur ($1599), the Echo sounds and feels amazingly pristine. Especially so with the solid pad option from one of the other models ZMF offers that will drastically increase bass quantity and depth.
The Echo is one of the cleanest, if not the very cleanest sounding tube amp in this price range that I’ve ever heard. What I am most impressed with is the gentle speed in slower jazz tracks that I frequent most of the time. A humorous track from The Who Framed Rodger Rabbit OST titled Why Don’t You Do Right has a nice upright bass in the background that feels eerily realistic, to the point where I noticed the bass strings clip the fretboard below it at one point. Not only hearing it but also feeling it in the track.
The low end is very pure feeling but also can house better depth when properly EQ’ed to add a bit extra. Again, I am a bass enthusiast and adding in any more than +5dB is a no-no to me because most amps and sources can’t handle it without audible deterioration.
With that in mind, fidelity and purity are good enough to sometimes feel that I don’t need to bass boost. That is a very rare thing for me as someone who values musicality over purity. In this case, I found the purity factor off the charts great for the price.
Oddly, again, the Echo seems very moderately placed with noticeably lacking intimacy in forwardness. This is not a forward sounding amplifier at all, it is more relaxed in that sense. But, don’t take that as recessive. It isn’t recessed. This model feels middle ground even with forward sounding headphones and sources that I know to be vividly forward in setup. The Euphoria is noticeably more intimate feeling. If you want a relaxing sound type, this is for you.
Owners of the Beyerdynamic T1, AKG K712, Focal Elear and Sennheiser HD650 type headphones out yonder will go bananas for this Echo’s sound signature in regards to vocal presence. Most artists feel like a more live recording than an intimate one. Something more along the lines of a distant appeal where you can see the singer out in front of you behind the microphone, rather than very close and in your face inside of the void. This lends excellent coherency factor to live venue tracks and especially so with binaural recordings out there.
In the way of purist fidelity, the Echo performs extremely well. In fact, I am fairly positive this is the best sounding tube amp I’ve ever heard for bass and midrange quality, bar none, in the price tier. But, again, that lacking sense of a forward appeal tends to ruin that for me.
It is very audible that the amplifier sounds as pure and clean as it does, it is exceptionally great at this. However, the lacking intimacy and forwardness makes me desire that well-formed coherency at a closer range than what is there.
Now, that is entirely subjective, of course. I am only saying that headphones that have a very intimate forward midrange will not sound as nice as they can in the way of intimacy factor with that statement. I am not saying fidelity is altered. But, when something is that clean sounding and you need to experience it in a relaxed position with an intimate headphone, things tend to feel a little off in a physical sense.
What I am saying there is that if you have forward sounding headphones and are used to an up-close and forward sounding rig, this Echo might not be for you. The Echo has exceptional vocal clarity and headphones with a relaxed presentation will shine absurdly well with it. If you have a Focal Elear, this is a great amplifier for you.
Lending to the tube amplifier way of life, the entire upper end feels very cohesive and well formed in a physical sense of the word. The density factor is excellent inside the entire upper end, without a hint of overblown brightness or dullness.
Having said that, I feel like the treble response was tuned to be on the sweeter end of the spectrum. Meaning, the experience is toned down and not harsh, even on harsh tracks as played through very pure headphones. My HD800 doesn’t sound as harsh through this amplifier as it does the Euphoria, or my older Schiit Mjolnir, which is a solid state.
It sounds a lot closer to my Heron 5 from Airist Audio, which is regarded as a musical sounding amplifier for the most part. The treble response, at least in my opinion, is reserved in tonality and not what I would consider pure. It lays on the musical side of the spectrum, but again, not overly so.
In terms of physicality and literal physical amounts of treble, the Echo never feels harsh or painful even on tracks that I know that showcase that type of a sound. What that means is purity is still great and physical impact and tactility is smooth and enjoyable without much of a dynamic kick factor to bother you.
In that sense, the upper end is not what I would consider neutral or reflective. It is under-tuned. Meaning, it is toned down in potential kick factor. At least, in my opinion. That is a wonderful thing because not many amplifiers are tuned this way and that offer this type of a sound. Yes, tonality is what I would consider a reference sound. But, raw quantity and dynamic kick are subdued and on the soft side. I love this type of treble response!
The Echo showcases an audibly apparent superior width factor to height factor. The amplifier sounds wider than tall and has a slightly rectangular shape to it. The depth of field is phenomenally good in this model and very noticeably so over the Espressivo…and pretty much on par with the Elise. That is a hell of a feat for a $450USD or so tube amplifier.
When used with my Nemesis from Empire Ears, the stage depth feels exceptionally deep for the price tag. My ears tend to focus on the depth factor more than the width factor, even though the width factor is plenty wide feeling.
Air factor is what I am most impressed with, which lends credibility to the sweet treble response the Echo seems to be showcasing. If you have a great imaging headphone, this is a great starter amplifier for you. A fantastic stepping stone in your imaging arsenal.
Feliks Audio really did a number on the mid-tier tube amp world, didn’t they? This Echo is probably the best overall tube amplifier in the price bracket that I’ve ever heard. Although, I don’t think the Echo will play well with forward sounding headphones and audio sources.
Beyond that, the amplifier looks great, feels great and sounds great as well. For being so small, I will be recommending this for anyone in an office setting or who needs a great bedside/chair-side tube amplifier with a relaxing sound signature. The Echo’s price tag makes it another exceptional value, but at this point…none of us really expect any less from this company.
If you are looking for a very pure sounding bass and midrange, with a subdued treble experience in a physical tactility sense of the listening experience, then this Echo is a fantastic choice for you. It is the one I’ll be keeping by my bedside when I want to wind down at night, no doubt. I really enjoy the treble experience and the quiet factor of the amplifier when used with my Nemesis is a real win for me. Great job, Feliks Audio. Yet another winner.
Echo Technical Specifications
Power tubes 6N6P x 2, driver tubes 6N1P x 2
Frequency response: 15 Hz – 45 Khz +/- 3 dB (300 ohm)