Tisbury Audio Challenge Amp 1

The Challenge Amp 1 by Tisbury Audio

Absolutely loved the vocal and mids performance with the K501 but I was also very curious, given the wide range of reference tuning headphones used, just how well the CA-1 would perform on highly efficient cans and IEM’s. There is a plethora of comments praising the performance of the CA-1 with the HE-500 as well as observations on the Audezes and Senns HD range already floating around on the “interwebs’ so lets go left of centre a bit and try some other cans.

Sony MA900

The Sony MA900 is a budget-fi favourite of mine, and something perhaps a little similar in presentation to the K501 but a few notches lower and critically a very low impedance headphone at 16ohms. It also suffers from notable distortion on some amps if driven too hard or if impedance is far too high. Well the MA900 was equally at home with the CA-1 on a low gain setting with almost identical levels of performance as the K550 on the mids but with a slightly smaller soundstage and not quite the same level of resolution. Actually it sounded positively lush and flowing with the CA-1 with tracks like Camera Obscura’s “Lloyd I am ready to be Heartbroken” sounding majestic without ever being forced or too brittle. Goodness this amp is helping to discover just about every discarded alternative track I have in my possession from the last 20 years!

The Unique Melody Merlin

Technically the CA-1 handled the 12ohm Merlin well in terms of power, zero buzz and a really low noise floor but tonally this is a different kettle of fish to the K501 and the MA900 with a much thicker and deeper sound and a laid back mid and treble section. The Merlin’s darker tuning still couldn’t disguise the CA-1 prominent vocal stage but this match suited more husky jagged vocals such as Florence and the Machines and Ida Maria then sweeping angelic type madrigal type singing from MSG. It is as close as rocking out as I got with my headphones and cans of choice with the CA-1. It just didn’t soar as I hoped it would.

Ultrasone Edtion 8 (Twag v2 recabled)

If ever there is a dichotomy of design intention then a 32ohm Ed8 sitting on the CA-1 is it. The Ed8 is modernity at its shiniest and possibly the most expensive and polarizing portable headphone in recent history. Remember only 2 digits higher and you have the infamous Tyll “Cheese Grating – ear aching” You Tube review of the ED10 so we are really reaching mischievously deep here. (60 minutes later).. Really regretted that last 60 minutes of my life. The CA-1 and the Ed8 is really one of the weirdest matches I have ever heard. It sounded thin, sharp and totally lacking in any bass. I know the ED8 can do better than this (honest) and I know the CA-1 can perform leaps and bounds better than this. Best keep these two as far apart as possible, maybe in separate rooms or in different dimensions.

Oppo PM-1

This had quite the opposite effect from the Ed8. I loved this combination actually. Just the right amount of bass response without it being overwhelming and plenty of texture and detail to boot. The PM-1’s smooth and welcoming yet spacious and detailed tonality just clicks with an already airy and detailed CA-1. Nothing is overplayed and everything feels wonderfully natural. I could listen to this match with EDM and rock all night without an iota of fatigue also which is a bonus. It is not the fastest of headphones but that lush midrange combined with the lusty late night vocals of Diana Krall are just perfect for my tastes.

Beyerdynamic DT1350

Continuing my testing with a somewhat left of centre range of cans, the DT1350 is a little higher up in the ohm scale at 80ohms but still essentially a fairly easy to drive headphone. I remember this headphone a long time ago as having a slightly dry or unique midrange but with very little low end distortion, excellent slam and a distinct lack of top end harshness. I essentially switched from the PM-1 to the DT1350 in ‘mid Diana Krall’ and whilst there was a slightly higher level of dryness and sibilance and not quite the lush presentation the PM-1 offered, the DT1350 certainly sounded a lot better than I remembered when paired with the CA-1. I would still give the edge to the more natural and richer tonality of the PM-1 though but the Dt1350 kicks a bit more in the lower end than the MA900 and more clarity and aggression in the mids and treble than the Merlin.

Shure SRH1540

Again not the norm de jour but a nicely put together mid-fi headphone that received relatively positive reviews for an above average sense of space and headroom in a very musical closed can package. With a sexy look and comfort fit for a king its one of my favourite casual listens on any given wet and dreary weekend. Sadly not quite the match made in heaven for those floundering genres I spoke of before with a little too much energy in the lower treble for my liking but unlike the DT1350 the SH1540 it suffered little if any sibilance in vocals and had a bit more slam and depth than the MA900. The main problem I found with the CA-1/1540 match was that U shaped signature just didn’t gel with the mid and vocal focus of the CA-1. The 1540 requires something a bit richer and more planted to really make it sing though the airy presentation of the CA-1 does help to make this one of the more “open” closed headphones I have used.

Dita – The Answer (The Truth Edition) IEM

I only got these through the door yesterday so had very little time to benchmark them. These single dynamic driver units are rated at 16ohmns with 102db, terminated with Van Den Hul cables and costing around $1000 so I thought stylistically and tonally this might be just the ticket with the CA-1 on paper. And I was right, well almost. These are simply superb earphones matched with the CA-1. Smooth, full bodied and natural sounding earphones combined with the CA-1 excellent mids and vocals performance is full of win for me.

Driving on low gain the CA-1 pot can go to around 10am on the dial before getting a bit too loud but that is decent control for a desktop amp. The Answer is still not the ‘answer’ to hard rock and the CA-1, (get it? no?.. nevermind will get my coat). The CA-1 is relatively stubborn in that respect but matched with something like Damian Rice’s “Elephant” it is searing with emotional detail in the vocal staging and possessing a drop dead super black background with a massive yet accurate sound stage. The Truth’s slightly elevated bass adds some much needed lower frequency weight when needed but never as domineering as say the UM Merlin’s. It’s also a bit cleaner and more forward in the mids and treble than the Merlin when used with the CA-1. When I mentioned vocals I do think on this occasion I preferred male vocal reproduction over female vocals which tended to show a tiny bit of harshness now and then depending on the recording.

Click on next page for final thoughts…

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