I made some pretty big changes this year to my setup. I went on a quest to find a solid-state amp that would take me out of the never-ending tube anxiety I had been trapped in for a while. I had grown tired of all the little annoyances that come with tube amp ownership. I thought I could be satisfied with my Cayin iHA-6 which did everything I needed it to, but ended up splurging on a Cen.Grand 9i-806 “Little Silver Fox” and almost called it quits there. In the end, I did not hear enough improvement to justify the upgrade, so I returned the Little Silver Fox.
All the while, I was using an OG Bifrost 2 and thought that it could be holding back my ability to hear improvements in amplification with my Meze Elite. So here is my first entry for 2023:
- Schiit Yggdrasil A2 - Finally took the plunge and upgraded my very competent and much-beloved BF2. I was leaning towards the LIM back when I was using a single-ended Quicksilver tube amp. Now that I was using a balanced solid-state amp, I thought I’d go for the OG Yggy. I don’t regret my decision. I immediately heard more bass detail and texture. As it has warmed up over time, it’s become even more coherent and nuanced. Glad I took the risk and upgraded my DAC.
I started to read about the new Schiit Mjolnir 3 and how it was a high-end, over-engineered Class A amp that was hiding at a mid-fi price point. It sounded like a perfect match (cosmetically and acoustically) for my black Yggy.
- Schiit Mjolnir 3 - I’ve finally found the solid-state amp that has put my tube-mania to rest. It’s an amazing match with my Meze Elite (Angled Alcantara pads w/ZMF Verite Silver XLR cable) in push-pull mode with no feedback. It was equally adept with the ZMF Caldera I had in the house for about a week. It outclasses my iHA-6 in most ways, as expected. It’s incredibly detailed without being strident or exaggerated. It’s just a joy to listen to overall.
This leads to the my number three. I have to go with current favorite headphones. They’ve had a few challengers over the past year but still maintain the top spot in my personal hierarchy.
- Meze Elite - I got to demo a lot of great headphones this year and thought one of Zach’s ZMF creations might dethrone the Elite. I got to try an Atrium Open, African Blackwood Verite Closed, Auteur Classic (still own and cherish my Manchurian Ash OG Auteur btw) and the one that I really thought might win me over, the new Caldera.
When I found out Zach was finally putting out his first planar, I thought my Elite was in trouble. I’m a huge ZMF fan and love to support them whenever possible. When I finally got my week with the Caldera, it was just as good as I expected. With my MJ3/Yggy A2 combo, the Elite and Caldera were neck and neck in my opinion. Technical abilities was as good as I will ever need or desire. More importantly, they are both engaging and natural while also being completely non-fatiguing. Both sounded right. The Caldera was bit more visceral and muscular in its presentation while the Elite was a bit more airy and spacious.
You may be wondering how the Elite remains my number one if the two headphones were so evenly matched, along with my longstanding ZMF preference. I added two things to my Elite this year, the new Angled Alcantara pads and a ZMF Verite Silver cable. The combo of add-ons has taken my favorite headphones up another level. I used to prefer the Hybrid pads before the Angled Alacantara pads came out. The Angled pads noticeably improve the technicalities and soundstage in my opinion. My big ears even have more space!
On top of those improvements, I also find the Elite’s comfort unrivaled, even by the new BBB strap from ZMF. I can wear my Elites for hours without any discomfort. ZMFs are very comfortable as well, but Meze has upped the ante in high-end headphone comfort.
It would also have cost me a pretty penny to switch to the Caldera. I’d love to have that ZMF lifetime warranty on drivers, but for now I’m sticking with the Elite and taking my chances.
To mix things up, I still use my Ash Auteur from time to time. They sound great on the new MJ3/Yggy 2 (in SE Class A instead of push-pull mode I use with the planars). This way I don’t feel like I’ve betrayed Zach and Bevin!