Due to my superhuman ability to manipulate RDO's (usually Mondays) I find myself sitting at Terry's place listening to the Heschl HAL-350 while he's still at work. I had to get some listening time to tune my ears in to this puppy as Terry's had several weeks so I figured I’d need to do some catching up.
I've just run a single song through the Heschl 3 times, once using the Droplet cd player's DAC via the aux analogue inputs, once using the Heschl's internal DAC via the coax input and a third time using the droplet's internal DAC but with a Burson buffer in between the two.
The internal DAC is clearly well ahead of the Droplet, the soundstage is deeper, vocals cleaner and piano is sweeter. The Droplet (without the buffer) still produces a nice song but it's a bit airy and doesn't have the same level of detail. Add in the buffer and the level of detail steps up, not quite to the same level as the internal DAC but much closer, the air is still there but it doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the music. The soundstage doesn't change with the addition of the buffer but the level of presence of the music definitely increases.
I feel the analogue input of the Heschl would benefit from having a higher input impedance. Simon told me last month that the input impedance of 5K was chosen so that the capacitance of the cables wouldn't become a factor. OK, fair enough, and I could always use the internal DAC of course, but I still feel that the analogue input is missing out.
After running the same song (and a few others) through the Technical Brain TB-Zero Int, I'm forced to conclude that the TB sounds tonally leaner, (less smooth, less rich, less full) and it focuses a little more on the upper mids with instrumentals but with vocals it is every bit as good as the Heschl via its built in DAC, particularly hard sung female vocals. The level of control the TB has is just unbelievable but it doesn't have the raw current to exercise that control on more demanding tracks. For lighter music it is just plain brilliant but on heavier music with a bit of volume applied to it (OK, a lot of volume, Terry doesn't mess around and these speakers are fairly demanding) it just can't match the power delivery of the Heschl.
If your preferred music of choice is vocal full and instrument light the TB would be an obvious choice.
However the TB can work some serious magic on occasion. It uses this upper focus it has to somehow reinforce the soundstage on some songs. It is a little hit and miss but when you hear it work this magic you just can't forget it.
The Zeus is a little different again, not quite as pleasant to listen to as the Heschl or the TB and a little harder sounding on piano and harder played strings (I don't get that back home as my Lenehans are not as treble-hot as these Vienna Acoustics speakers are). However this is not exactly a loss when you consider the cost disparity. Vocals are very nice but not quite up to the level of the Heschl fed via the Droplet. Instrumentals are a touch better than the vocals but still not quite up to the level of quality on display from these other 10K plus integrated amps.
The Shinai is very different again. It sounds bold and full and very much like a tube amp but in a more likeable way (since I don't really like tube amps but I do quite like the Shinai). It sounds very well rounded, no harshness noticeable in the treble at all (and these Vienna Acoustics will let you know about any of that if it happens to show up). On slower music it is damn good, on faster music it is very good but it steers toward full and round rather than hard and fast. So heavy metal bangers will not approve but I think everyone else would very much enjoy the Shinai.
On the same track used above vocals were just as good as the Heschl and the piano was sweeter and softer which may not be completely accurate but it is more pleasant to listen to. Those 37 watts have a whole lot of torque to back them up as the Shinai sounds every bit as big as the other amps in this list. I have to make mention of its warmth too, it doesn't sound that warm directly (as in the music does sound a little warm but not very warm) but it feels like it sounds much warmer than that. I know, it doesn't make a lot of sense but that's the way it seems to me, it almost makes me smell toast, that's how warm it “feels”. It also generates quite a bit of heat, this is the only amp that I can't hold my hand on the heat sinks of while it's running.
Terry's been home since the Shinai went on and we've been discussing a few things and running through a few songs. We both agree the Shinai is great for the slower stuff. But when we threw Big Pig's first album at it it didn't really satisfy in the combination of slam and bass. Terry was then determined to try the Heschl with the same music so we did and I have to say the Heschl takes control of those Vienna Acoustics speakers like no other amp. At lower volumes the others can keep up and even manage to sound better in some areas but crank the volume and the sheer awesome power of the Heschl becomes apparent. The TB has more control in the upper mids but it just doesn't quite have the power required to fully exercise that control whereas the Heschl just gives more and more as you ask more and more of it. So much grunt, so much control, it's pretty impressive guys, more people should listen to it. Pity it's a bit on the hexy side, I know Terry would love to keep it. (heck, I’d love to keep it too)
So that was Friday above and I've formed most of my opinions regarding the Heschl, the TB and the Shinai but haven't had the chance to listen seriously to the ML 383 yet (since it won't accept banana plugs we had to search out some speaker cables for it, speaker cables that Terry isn't a fan of so I’m not sure it would be an even contest anyway). We'll see if those opinions change over the course of the next day or if they stay intact.
Bruce and Rod came around to Terry’s place but not before Terry had to leave due to work commitments. And Andrew (of QAC secretarial fame) came by a little later as well. We talked, and we talked and we did so some comparing but mostly we talked (and we drank some beer, and we talked some more). When we did get down to listening Rod ran us through a demo of the Heschl comparing the Droplet via the analogue input, the internal DAC via the coax input and the internal DAC via the USB input (using a laptop he had brought with him, nothing special, just a laptop with an optical drive and an SSD). Well I was dumbfounded. The USB input was far better to listen to, the soundstage just seemed far more relaxed, details popped out with ease and string decay was so much more noticeable.
We did run through the other amps and I stand by my opinions stated above with one or two amendments. That Zeus hardness I mentioned was far more evident as we cranked up the volume. By the time we got to it Terry was back and I believe it was him who suggested I should put the caps back in but I hadn’t brought the screws with me. It would seem that the mod (removing half the filtering caps from the circuit) that made the Zeus work far better with my Lenehan speakers has had the opposite effect with Terry’s Vienna Acoustics speakers. Oh well, these things happen.
The Shinai may be just a touch better than I have stated above, it really is a very pleasant amp to listen to, it sort of grows on you.
The Technical Brain is very much as stated above, if only I could get it to work it’s magic on every single song… if only.
We didn’t get to the Mark Levinson 383, for the same reasons as Friday (it’s no longer available new so the interest level wasn’t as high, and then there’s the speaker wire/binding post issue) so I’ve left it at Terry’s place so he can give it a run/test as he has the time. I suspect however that as long as the Heschl is in the building he will be spending his spare time listening to it.
However we did give the Sansui 907 Limited a quick run. It performed well, with more control and power than its 80 watts would suggest, but it didn’t have the drive of the Heschl or the TB. Actually I thought it sounded quite a bit like a lower powered TB with a little more flesh on its bones. Nice to listen to but a bit out of its league when compared to its competitors on the day. We didn’t run it for very long, so I can’t really say much more about it than this.
The Heschl is a fine amp Ladies and Gentlemen, it has the sound quality, the poise and the power to defeat the very best amps I’ve heard to date. In fact the only amp I’ve heard that may have had comparable slam was that Magnus that Gremrock had for a while and it was only a power amp so a direct comparison can not really be drawn.
There is a particular track that Bruce brought with him that was played many times towards the end of the day, awesome acoustic guitar. I know it made a very big impression on Terry, I liked it but it was starting to get a bit old by Sunday morning when Terry put it on for an extra dozen or so plays. I’ll let Bruce or Terry supply the name of the artist and the song as I’m pretty sure I’ll get the spelling wrong.
There wasn’t much that happened on Sunday morning, Terry had a few things to do so we didn’t get up to much, just a little discussing and hashing out our preferences.
All in all, a great weekend.