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Review: McChanson 6EM7 SET headphone amp


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For headphone aficionados with neutral to bright cans, Eric Chan's 2-Watt 6EM7 SET Super-amp (A$650) is great value and compares favourably with mainstream offerings by Schiit and Woo Audio.

 

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Based in Sydney, Eric builds a variety of amplifiers under the McChanson moniker on eBay. Alternatively, he can be reached via his webpage McChanson — where a quick read of the blurb gives you a nice sense of Eric's personality. Formerly on staff at the University of Technology Sydney with qualifications in the computer and mathematics fields, Eric brings sound technical knowledge to the table. His ‘direct couple’ circuit forgoes capacitors in the signal path, while careful consideration is given to the layout of transformers, output tubes and internal hardware. Negative feedback is kept appropriately low.

 

Refreshingly, Eric is not enamoured with audiophile terminology, so don't expect a basket of metaphors when inquiring about the aural characteristics of his amplifiers. 'I just know when an amp sounds good, and when it doesn't,' he says.

 

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Over the past few months I've had several McChansons on my desk, including a 6FD7 amp; a 'standard' 6EM7 with two sets of inputs and line-out facility; and the subject of this review, the 6EM7 Super-amp – as nicknamed by Eric – with one set of inputs, upgraded sockets and ALPS volume control. Importantly, the Super-amp also uses higher-grade transformers salvaged from old Telefunken tube radios. German valve radios from the 1960s represent the pinnacle of the wireless — in the original sense of the word, and the superior frequency response of the Telefunkens is evident in Eric's implementation, with better dynamics and transparency than the standard fare.

 

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All McChansons require 150 hours to open up and shed that ‘cotton wool’ trait of fresh components. While the presentation of soundstage and tonal flavour is there from the beginning, the dynamics don’t really come alive until later. One attribute that does not change is the noise-floor, which is as low as you could hope for in a tube amp.

 

After break-in the Super-amp delivered a robust, open, natural sound that relegated some highly touted brands in my setup to apprenticeship status (see endnotes). Two watts and a low output impedance of 4 ohms is good enough for most headphones, including Sennheiser HD800 and HD650s, although their darker midrange isn’t a natural match, I found. But I was shopping specifically for an amp to drive my Grado RS2e and SR325e headsets, and with the Super-amp I found the ideal partner.

 

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Through the Grados the balance across the frequency range was impeccable, with a little extra lite-cream in the midrange depending on the selection of output tubes. Transients were quick and well defined. Soundstage width and frontal dimension was equal to the $1000 league, although this auditory facet has never been a priority for me. I value tone and the ‘live’ sound of instruments far more, and this is where the McChanson really shone,  even in the company of a Woo WA6. With acoustic genres it also bested my Schiit amps – the popular poop brigade sounding brighter or thinner depending on the model. Perhaps this is better explained by what I call the 'Madurodam effect', where instruments sound less lifelike in size.

 

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This is not apparent listening to a symphony from the start because all the proportions of the orchestra are the same, but plug in the McChanson and suddenly you hear what a cello really sounds like. Switch genres to Rage Against The Machine and there's plenty of heft to bass-lines and splashy cymbals galore. Some listeners might prefer a more honed or finely layered texture à la Chord Hugo, but I'm not one of them.

 

What I noticed in particular was how clear everything sounded as the Super-amp settled in. Vocals, violins, guitars, you name it. It's this unforced clarity that, to my ears, makes the McChanson an amp for grown-ups. Φ

 

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Sources 

Marantz SA-11S2 SACD player
Audio-gd NFB-1 DAC

Topping D30 DAC


Headphones

Sennheiser HD800, HD650, HD600
Grado RS2e, SR325e
Beyerdynamic DT800

 

Other amps:

Schiit Lyr

Schiit Valhalla 2

Schiit Vali 2

Woo Audio WA6

Little Dot 1+

Chord Hugo (previously)

 

Audition albums

Mozart – Symphonies 29, 31, 32, 35 & 36 – Mackerras, Scottish Chamber (Linn)
Rachmaninov – 24 Preludes – Steven Osborne (Hyperion)
Beethoven – Symphonies 3 & 1 – Leibowitz, Royal Philharmonic (Chesky)
Donald Byrd – The Cat Walk (Audio Wave)
Free – Free (Island Masters)

The Presets – Pacifica
Rage Against The Machine – Evil Empire

 

Tubes

Output: RCA 6EM7 side getter (clear, uncoloured sound); RCA 6EM7 coin base (a little more refined); Sylvania 6EM7 coin base (similar to previous, a little less definition); Realistic Japan 6EM7 side getter (obvious low-mids, pleasant); Pro/Comm Japan 6FD7 with adapter (good extension top to bottom and nice soundstage, more euphonic than in its natural habitat of a 6FD7 amp)

 

Rectifier: Sylvania 6BW4 grey plate (neutral, pairs well with most output tubes); Sylvania 6BW4 black plate (a little fuller in sound)

 

NB: Sylvania made most 6BW4 rectifiers. Many were re-labelled RCA, General Electric, Dumont, Tungsol etc. Still, the sound signature can vary between these 'brands' I've found.

 

 

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Disclaimer:

I am not affiliated with McChanson. These words reflect my opinion as a grateful customer.

 

 

 

 

Edited by was_a
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Thanks for all the feedback. Yes, McChansons equal similar designs that cost twice or three times as much - not taking into account the convenience (and cheap delivery) of local manufacturing. 

 

Tarzan - the amp I reviewed was purely a headphone amp, but the prior McChansons I tried did have RCA outputs - albeit via volume control. This worked well with two different solid state power amps: nice texture courtesy of the valves, yet good clarity and transient attack - a common characteristic across Eric's amps. Eric does offer a pre-out option (bypassing pot meter) when requested.

 

A small update on the Super-amp review: Eric installed a second output jack for higher-impedance cans. This provided more gain and power for my Sennheiser HD600s - which need plenty of juice to bring them to life. This still doesn't utilise anywhere near the 2W potentially on tap, so those with demanding cans should be sure to let Eric know if commissioning an amp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by was_a
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Great review, i have 3 McChanson amps. Your topic made me dig for my old HD 580 and i plugged it into the 6FD7 i was not using anymore.

Directly to the speaker outputs of the amp, it made me enjoying listening to music through headphones again and really enjoy tube amps compared to McCoy based designs i tried in the past

Thanks!

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On 02/06/2019 at 4:24 PM, maxsimonjp said:

compared to McCoy based designs

Would that be Cmoy perchance ? - those I have heard of.

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