Fortunately, I got some more time with the MrSpeakers Ether C. When I was searching for my last pair of sealed headphones, it came down to the Audeze LCD-XC or the MrSpeakers Ether C. My main concerns with the Ethers were its low sensitivity and low impedance. That combination seemed to tip the scales in favor of the LCD-XC given that the Sonett 2 – a tube headphone amp – isn’t exactly a powerhouse (122 mA into 100 ohms). When the owner during the last meet showed that he could get decent output from his AK 120 II, I thought, hey, why not give them shot on my setup the next time I get the chance?
Well, I’m happy that happened sooner rather than later. My general overall impression from the last meet remains unchanged and is quite positive. The Ether C’s had a very even tonal balance that sorta reminded me of a pair of Etymotic ER-4P’s. The sound signature was slightly warm, with bass that was neither pumped up nor shelved down. If there was one weakness against the LCD-XC, it would be that a sense of dynamics and impact wasn’t quite there. The Ether C’s sounded a little polite, of course caveated by the fact that they were a fairly new pair and that the Sonett 2 may not have had enough juice to really do justice to transients. Could that have been the source of the politeness? I’m not sure, but another Head-Fi’er with a decidedly more muscular setup (WA7 Fireflies + WA7tp tube power supply) also noticed the same tendency towards reservedness.
Unfortunately, I know for sure the Sonett 2 couldn’t power the Ether C’s to a satisfying volume level on classical music. The Sonett’s volume knob was pegged firmly at 10 and though the last movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 sounded mighty fine, it wasn’t creating the kind of sonic fireworks that I expected. If only I had access to the Nigel Tufnel upgrade to 11. I guess that’s reason enough to get a second headphone amp, right?
On a separate note, Urban HiFi showed up with a microZOTL 2.0 + linear power supply in tow, this time sourced from a Metrum Acoustics Musette. The Musette is a non-oversampling (NOS), filterless, R-2R ladder DAC. It hits just about every sort of digital contrarian bullet point I’ve seen. I’ve had the opportunity to listen to one other NOS filterless DAC (under show conditions) before encountering the Musette – a custom DAC built by Gary Dews of Border Patrol – and thought it sounded quite fine.
The linear power supply was the production version now available for purchase. In addition, this particular microZOTL had a new complement of output tubes – some Genalex Gold Lion 12AT7’s. The combination of the Musette and the microZOTL 2.0 plus all the goodies certainly stepped up the game from the previous meet. The ‘glare’ (for lack of a better term) I thought I detected before was gone, instead giving away to nice tone and warmth. Definitely steps in the right direction.