Geshelli Labs - Archel 2 Pro - Amp - Official Thread

The “Archel 2 Pro” is the latest headphone amplifier from Geshelli Labs. It is a lower power (about half) but quieter and lower-distortion alternative to the original Archel Pro. It has a very small footprint and, like other Geshelli products, a design focused on performance rather than complicated/fancy enclosures, while still maintaining an interesting and consistent aesthetic.

The unit features switchable gain (Unity and 4x), and selectable LED illumination (red, blue, purple and off), and adopts a log-taper volume pot (as with the “B” revision of the original Archel Pro).

Specifications:

  • < .000095% THD+N @ 2Vrms
  • > 120dB SINAD
  • >125dB SNR
  • 500 mWatt Per Channel @ 16ohms

(500 mW into 16 Ω translates to about 26 mW into 300 Ω)

Finish Options:

  • Several Colors
  • Aluminum Case (Plexi Front/Back)
  • Optional All Plexi Case Design
  • All Plexi Comes in Clear or Smoked

The Archel 2 Pro was originally available for pre-order (now finished), with formal shipping and order availability announced for November 29th, 2019 at $149.99. Some pre-order units have already been shipped (that’s mine, above - received 11/15).

This is the spot to discuss this new, ultra-low distortion, amplifier.

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Impressions/Mini Review

This will be a very brief review/impressions of the Archel 2 Pro, since I bought it partially on a whim and partly due to my growing curiosity as to how the recent emergence of several ultra-low distortion, inexpensive, headphone amplifiers performed, rather than it being something I was likely to use myself.

The unit in question is mine, purchased as part of the initial pre-order (at $119.99). Units ordered when these units hit general availability (11/29/19) are supposed to be $149.99.

Package

The package is a simple, no-fuss-nor-fanfare box lined with form-fitted protective foam and company artwork printed on the exterior. Inside you’ll find the amplifier itself (in a protective wrapper), a boxed power supply, a small lint-free cloth and a Geshelli sticker.

Build

This unit is housed in a simple, extruded, aluminum “project-box” sleeve with custom printed/drilled plexiglass front and rear panels. Various anodized colors are available. There is an option for an all-plexiglass case as well. Form factor is the same as other Geshelli products. Switchgear is simple, directly exposed, PCB-mount tactile switches. The volume potentiometer has nice tension but, quite reasonably, does not feel as smooth as on higher priced units. This is definitely a function-over-form product.

Operation

The front of the unit, features tactile switches for power on/off (hold) and changing the color of the power LED, switching between 3.5mm and RCA inputs and toggling between high (4x) and low (unity) gain (hold), LEDs indicating power status (left) and gain (right) and a nicely finished, aluminum, volume knob.

Gain, input and LED color settings are retained between power-cycles if done via the front-panel switch. And the LED brightness is not blinding … enough to add some color/interest on a desktop in normal indoor/evening lighting.

NOTE: When you first connect the unit to power it defaults to ON, so be very careful if you are setting the thing up for the first time, or use a power-strip to power your system on and off from a single switch! Ideally disconnect your headphones between sessions and zero the volume before connecting them!

The rear panel houses the power-socket and two stereo inputs, one 3.5mm TRS and the other standard RCA connections. Switching between these is done by pressing (short) the “Input/Gain” button and the actual switchover is relay-based - a nice feature on something at this end of the market.

Performance/Sound

Overall, when paired with appropriate headphones, the Archel 2 Pro delivers a clear, crisp, fast, neutral/reference sound. Resolution/detail are very good, tonality is even and pure, with a “lean” characteristic I find with most very low distortion amplifiers (if you’re looking for an amplifier to add “body” or “weight” to the output of your source, this is not where to look).

Long listening sessions were fatigue-free and the music was engaging. Differences in sources are discernible without much effort. Transparency is excellent. Instrumental timbre is natural. Vocals exhibit no strain nor sibilance, though in a state-of-the-art chain micro-dynamic nuances are not as easily discerned as, say, direct from the source unit’s output.

Only cranking things up to very enthusiastic (in most cases, rapidly-unhealthy) levels really starts to show the limits of the unit and results first in a loss of dynamics/sense of compression, followed by more egregious and obvious divergences from a clean, undistorted, delivery.

Using the low-gain setting with sensitive, hiss-prone, IEMs is exhibits no audible noise or hiss at all. The background is completely black and, of course, remains so with more demanding, full-size, cans.

There is some slight channel imbalance audible here with sensitive IEMs, and my most sensitive headphones, at the low-end of the dial - though with most full-sized headphones this likely won’t be apparent unless in “high” gain mode. With IEMs it can be addressed using an iFi Audio “iEMatch” or “Ear Buddy”. On my unit it is gone by around the 21:00 position on the dial (depending on transducer). This not something that is uncommon with inexpensive volume potentiometers - and there is likely to be some unit-to-unit variation here.

Power is adequate for most headphones at reasonable listening levels, however higher impedance/lower-to-moderate sensitivity models will let you hear the limits of power/performance available here. With the HD6XX and ZMF Vérité, for example, at higher volumes, I ran into clipping with high-energy peaks and big bass-drops (its worth noting that the HD6XX almost doubles its impedance around its resonant frequency, halving the available power), and a general sense of unease and edginess elsewhere.

High Level Comparisons

JDS Labs Atom

I was not able to audibly distinguish between the Archel 2 Pro and the Atom unless pushing the power limits of the Geshelli unit. Features are similar, though the Atom has nearly four times the available power - which is readily apparent with more challenging headphones at higher volumes, as well as pre-outs. Thus if you want similar technical and audible performance but with more power and/or pre-outs then the JDS Labs Atom is a more compelling alternative and at 2/3rds the price.

Schiit Magni 3

Sound via Magni 3 has a bit more weight/body and impact, and a hint of warmth vs. the Archel 2 Pro. The Schiit unit may be a better fit with a leaner sounding source and/or brighter headphones. Magni 3 has more power (almost 6x as much), also, and generally is capable of cleanly driving all but the most pathologically power-hungry cans well beyond tolerable listening levels. Archel 2 Pro offers slightly better apparent clarity and perhaps a slightly darker feeling backdrop (at least with sensitive IEMs).

Monoprice/Monolith Cavalli Liquid Spark

The Liquid Spark has a warmer signature even than the Magni 3, and a more present low-end than the Archel 2 Pro, but this comes at the cost of a slight loss in clarity, resolution and, of course, neutrality. Again, the Archel 2 Pro has significantly lower power capacity, losing out by a factor of about four to the Monoprice unit. But the Geshelli unit is technically superior as long as you stay within its power capabilities.

Summary

The Geshelli Archel 2 Pro is a highly technically competent amplifier. It has a reference-signature, exhibits excellent resolution, clarity, tone and speed, class-leading low-noise performance (even with ultra-sensitive IEMs), and performs wonderfully with most reasonable headphones at sensible listening levels.

In and of itself, there’s a lot to like and recommend and very little here to sway one away from buying, and enjoying, the Archel 2 Pro, provided you’re not trying to drive demanding headphones while listening at high levels. And doing so in the knowledge that, currently, it is essentially the best objective/technical performer in its class.

However, when taken in the context of the market and when considering value, things are not quite so clear cut …

At $150, it is ~50% more expensive than its three most immediate/obvious competitors - the JDS Labs Atom, Monoprice Liquid Spark and Schiit Magni 3. All of which run rings around the Geshelli unit in terms of available power, all offer pre-outs and are, at least for me, significantly more aesthetically pleasing/more nicely finished. Audible differences are extremely small, and completely absent for me vs. the Atom.

Unless you’re simply “following the numbers” or are looking for an amplifier to make an aesthetic match with other Geshelli products, it’s somewhat hard to make a compelling case for the Archel 2 Pro over the usefully cheaper, audibly-indistinguishable, better featured and much more powerful, JDS Labs Atom.

As a technical/engineering accomplishment, the Archel 2 Pro is very impressive and worthy of note. But if I was buying at this end of the market, I would spend my money on the Atom (or the Magni 3 or Liquid Spark, depending on what I was pairing them with). I wouldn’t be giving up any useful performance in doing so, I’d have a usable pre-amp, and no worries about being able to drive pretty much any headphone I might care to enjoy in the future to any level I desired, while saving money doing so.

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A few additional thoughts …

First, I’ve sent this along to @dbstechtalk now. While I believe he has a review unit, he owns other Geshelli products and since I’m not going to use this I figured he could. This means I can no longer answer hands-on questions on the unit (unless I already know the answers) and you might want to direct such questions to David.

I know I went on a bit about the lack of power vs. other similarly price alternatives. This really is the only operational/performance issue I can point to here. It’s not a big one for MOST people with MOST cans at MOST sane listening levels - they will probably never run into these power limits. My headphone collection has an unusually large number of harder-to-drive cans in it, so I ran into the power limit fairly quickly - something I had sort of taken for granted as not being an issue with the other similarly-priced amps of this nature.

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Thank you for the interesting read. I find the Archel 2 to be a pleasant amp with ample power for the average consumer. I do also have moments of desiring a little more power with some headphones, ie. HD600 and T50rp. What really impresses me is the quiet background and clean, clear sound. I love how I can plug any DAC into it and hear differences, the Archel 2 doesn’t color the sound at all. I will do a full review in the near future also.

Thank you Torq for gifting me your Geshelli Labs Archel 2. I greatly do appreciate it.

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The Geshelli Labs Archel 2 Pro in my opinion is the “Little Amp that Can”. It measures well, has decent power and doesn’t color the sound. What more can you ask for from a little box of metal and acrylic?





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@Torq Received your gift. Thank you very much. Appreciated greatly.

I am surprised it isn’t purple :joy:

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The original order WAS! :wink:

When I decided it wasn’t something I’d wind up keeping and using, no matter how good it turned out to be, I sent them an email asking to switch to black - which they responded to within about an hour!

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That makes sense.

Geno and Sherri are amazing with customer service. They truly do go the extra mile for their customers.

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The Archel 2.5 is out now, with XLR and RCA inputs, and significantly more power than the Archel 2.

https://geshelli.com/archel2-5-pro

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That was quick!

Power looks to be almost double the single-ended version, which would be enough to address its ability to drive most of my more demanding headphones - things like the LCD-4 (probably) and Phi TC excepted.

Assuming no unusual limits on voltage swing, it should be able to put 53mW into 300 ohms, and still have enough power to drive more reactive, dynamic, high-impedance cans so those should be fine too.

Looks like they’ve reduced the price of the single-ended version as well, though I’m not sure if that’s a sale price or just a new, but lower, permanent price.

Anyway, that’s a useful power bump and will also be a better mating with the balanced-output DAC.

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I think everything’s just on sale for Black Friday/Cyber Monday.

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