Ray’s F-35 Lightning is a beast of a portable amplifier that remains a solid mid tier buy. It does not play well with higher end Daps and sources, so sticking to the middle tier headphones and sources will certainly make your rig sound better than using most of the portable mid tier Daps alone. Is it worth $500? Hell yes, the clarity and quietness of the player is exceptional for the price. Is it interesting or special with regard to texture or tone, design or implementation? No, it makes no sense to me to put a single ended input on a balanced only output portable amplifier, especially not one that doesn’t have much texture to it anywhere. The Lightning is a purists amplifier and it will rock a solid experience for the most part but seems to be really picky with what headphones mesh with it.
I was really shocked that the Lightning was that quiet even on high gain settings and it will certainly be my go to recommendation for mid tier amplification needs. It isn’t as tonally beautiful as my ALO International, which had a much more sparkled and lush sound to it, but it does offer some incredible raw and pure sound. This amp is for those purists out there with reference grade mid tier headphones and sources, as always Ray has done an incredible job and has clearly designed the Lightning to cater to a specific buyers group, not the masses.
I think it is the best mid tier amplifier with a balanced output there is on the market when I look at this from an objective point of view. Clarity and power, background noise and purity are all pretty stellar. Subjectively, I feel that those audiophiles out there who enjoy headphones with a less pure sound, or perhaps those headphones and sources with a softer presentation are going to find the Lightning out of place. Sadly, I can’t offer any specs on this amplifier at all, Ray doesn’t list any details. All I can definitively say is that there are no portable amplifiers anywhere near this size that boast that type of power and clarity for that price. Not one. The Lightning gets a “B” rating from me and passes the test, but I would like Ray to drop the single ended input and drop the Midgain switch as well. Neither seem like they should be there and feel out of place.
Big thank you to Ray for loaning his Lightning to me for this review, as well as Artemis Cables for making some of the most beautiful cables I’ve ever seen.