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Solo UL impressions

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DrHouse View Drop Down
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    Posted: 11 Feb 2012 at 6:40pm

Just some thoughts on my time with the Solo UL:

 

Equipment

PC Foobar2000 FLAC>>>Asynchronous USB MF M1DAC>>> Solo UL>>>>HD650/D2000

 

Test Songs:

 

Tool - Parabol, Lateralus, Schism

Rush - YYZ, Tom Sawyer 24/96

Pantera - Walk, A New Level

James Blake - The Wilhelm Scream, Limit To Your Love, Measurements

Jose Gonzalez - Broken Arrows, All You Deliver

Machine Head - Be Still And Know, Locust

Massive Attack - Group Four, Dissolved Girl

Portishead - Mysterons, Glory Box

Alice In Chains - Rotten Apple

 

 

I’ve always hated sibilant headphones (hence the HD 650) and the nicest thing about this amp to my ears is the treble presentation. Ive always thought there was a very fine line between too much and too little treble, and I think this is where that 'valve like' sound is comes in. What the Solo UL does is carefully walk the tightrope in between too much and too little treble. On the metal tracks listed such as Lateralus, I can happily crank up with the introduction of loud distorted guitars with no fatigue whatsoever, and a solid midrange gave the guitars authority. Very often I found myself waiting for the inevitable ear grating treble of a guitar, but the Solo keeps this under control and the result is very pleasing.  On the two Pantera tracks, which have a tendency to become a bit toppy as things pick up, Ive never heard them sounding any better. This allowed more much needed focus on the track's midrange of guitars. On Machine Head's Be Still And Know, the opening harmony between two guitars shows a very sweet treble with no notable grain. 

For those who are after edgier more prominent treble, maybe the SRGII would suit better, but to take a little bit of the edge off toppy recordings this is a great solid state solution.

Jose Gonzalez's acoustic tracks were conveyed as very mellow and with a close soundstage, exactly as they should be. He comes in with a few strong chords on 'Broken Arrows', and this has great dynamic. The presentation of the music I found to be natural and musical.

Good Bass, too. All of the Trip Hop had cleanly driven bass lines with little to no encroachment onto the mids. The ambient effects where still left to nicely float around, and I didn't feel that the voicing had necessarily added quantity to the bass, but it does go very deep and is tight. That being said, there was definitely a slight increase in low end presence with other tracks. Massive Attack's incredibly thick and harder to control bass lines were nicely held in place, and on Group Four, vocals were kept airy, the way they should be. With a good amp like this, it's not necessarily that it adds or improves on anything, it simply feels like it’s been brought back to ‘normal’, to what it should have been from the start. Exactly what a good amp from a good source should do.

On James Blake's Wilhelm Scream, his closely mic'd vocals are kept very musically intimate. On ‘Limit To Your Love’ with a wealth of tones and sounds around the mix, single details remained well defined, including the sweltering sub-bass line. The ‘muddy’ bass often labelled to the HD 650 was non-existent here.

The Rush album listed above has been my first foray into 24/96 audio, and instruments had noticeably better definition than the redbook copy.

Make sure that you have a clean sounding DAC alongside this. When using an old denon CD player, the bass loosened and clouded a little bit over the midrange.

When on lower volumes, treble presence disappears a little quicker than expected, but this is only a note for those who prefer to listen at much lower levels. Lastly, I hope that in the future Graham offers more connections around the amplifier, such as balanced cable and input support which appears to be becoming more popular. Also maybe build the external PSU1 into the unit itself? I for one wouldn’t mind a larger unit size considering the home use only.

 

Overall I recommend this for those who want a LITTLE edge taken off the top, and a more musical presentation with authoritative low end and mids. Don’t be misled to think that the bass is blown out of proportion, which was a pleasant surprise on first listens. The rest lies in the headphones you use, and that’s exactly how it should be. Any further ‘upgrades’ to an amp like this (if any) would probably be for greatly diminishing returns. All in all you really can’t go wrong with this. Definitely worth a try.

 

N.B. Just for anyone using an Audiolab M-DAC, the difference between that built in amp and this IS significant. Just thought I’d put that. 

 

EDIT: after going back to some other equipment the Solo UL definitely adds significant kick to the low end. 

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alanbass1 View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote alanbass1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Feb 2012 at 7:36pm

I have had my SOLO UL burning in for 11 days now and reading this review (listening to Mozart's Requiem through my Naim Uniserve/Uniti - SOLO UL - Grado RS1 set up) I can only conclude that this is a very special musical combination indeed.  Onto Masive Attack's Mezzanine now.....back to the music



Edited by alanbass1 - 11 Feb 2012 at 7:38pm
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DrHouse View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote DrHouse Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Feb 2012 at 8:50pm
Mezzanine off the Solo UL= Thumbs Up
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Fatmangolf Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Feb 2012 at 11:02pm
Thanks DoctorH for a very good review and an impressive selection of test tracks. I think you're right about the low frequencies, it has got more body than any of my built-in amps. I was really impressed by the weight and punch of the Solo Ultralinear, even at higher volumes while the midrange remained very clear and natural. It is extraordinary.
Jon

Open mind and ears, whilst owning GSP Genera, Accession, Elevator EXP, Solo ULDE, Proprius amps, Cusat50 cables, Lautus digital cable, Spatia cables and links, and a Majestic DAC.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Jog3004 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Feb 2012 at 10:29am
Hi, I've just got my solo UL but just as I had to go away for work speaking at several conferences. I had about 30 minutes listening before I went & initial impression was good, immediately I noticed improved separation & the bass was tighter, especially with the phiaton ps500 that can be rather exuberate at the least with bass, but more noticeably on my Grados the bass appeared to be tighter but also more evident. I've got a long way yet to burning the solo in, & on the first listen, the amp had not been turned on,which I found that the sound improved when I left my novo on to warm up, & from that point I left it turned on permanently ( hope there is no Eco warriors listening!). I must confess though, the solo UL was impressive, but, but so was the novo, the latter being too good & possibly resulting in many not bothering to upgrade, though I do think they're missing out on a blistering amp a la solo UL.
James
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote alanbass1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Feb 2012 at 10:55am
The Solo UL is my first dedicated headphone amp and I never knew what I was missing out on all these years....
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote DrHouse Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Feb 2012 at 12:52pm
Thinking back, if the Solo UL had a slightly more expansive soundstage, this would be a 'be all end all' amp... all in the pursuit of perfection i guess

Is Graham currently working on any new products/improvements?
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