Apex Hi-Fi Audio Peak Headphone Amp and Volcano Power Supply

Todd the Vinyl Junkie and Pete Millett
When I started out in this hobby, almost all of my top headphone purchases were the result of dealing with one man – Todd Green, AKA Todd the Vinyl Junkie, or TTVJ for short. He literally has been my bona fide "dealer," and unfortunately has been just as addictive and damaging on the wallet as a street dealer of ... well you know, "imports and exports."

My first real headphone amp was the original Ray Samuels SR-71, bought through Todd. He sold me my first real source, a Meridian G07, which I ultimately would upgrade to the G08, also through Todd. He was my primary Grado go-to-guy, which included being able to get in on the Grado Head-Fi limited edition HF-1 and HF-2. You could say this relationship was pretty "old-school" --- where an audiophile pretty much had one or a few dealers that they trusted their opinion and that would only sell you "the good stuff." Todd is definitely that guy for hundreds of individuals all over the world.

When Todd first broke out into developing his own line of headphone amps with Pete Millett as co-collaborator and designer, I was really excited. I knew that Todd's business savvy and ear for high performing gear, coupled with Pete's engineering chops and reputation, the result would be nothing short of stellar. The TTVJ 307A was a huge monster of a machine --- filled with chunky pieces of custom transformer iron for balanced input and output coupling, and a no-expense single-ended SET circuit with a max loaded power supply centered on the DHT 307a tube. While my current listening experience still acknowledges the Eddie Current Balancing Act as the top-dog in the current headphone amp market, especially regarding headphone soundstaging, the discontinued 307A remains by far the most complete, perfect sounding headphone amp I have ever heard. If it were not for its $5,000 price tag and the really funky/borderline ugly utilitarian looks with not much attention to visual detail and cosmetics, I am sure more would have sold.

The Apex Hi-Fi Peak Headphone Amp ($1395) and Volcano Power Supply ($700)
Todd and Pete have rebranded their headphone amp collaboration under the label Apex Hi-Fi, and in addition to their top-of-the-line 307A revision utilizing the PX4 tube known as the Pinnacle, we have for discussion in this article the Apex Peak, a 2-stage hybrid design utilizing a 6SN7 for voltage gain, coupled to a single-ended Mosfet output stage, all DC-coupled. The circuit itself is pretty top-notch – inputs and headphone/preamp output are all relay-based, the 6SN7 has its own dedicated B+ supply, highly regulated and filtered, as well as featuring small-mode common chokes to help decouple high-frequency hash from the stock switching PSU. There are two models lower than the Peak – the discrete solid-state Arête, and the entry level AB opamp-with-discrete-buffer Butte.

While the Peak normally comes with a switching-mode power supply, one can upgrade to an extremely well built regulated linear power supply known as the Volcano, which can also power the Apex Arête --- a very similar FET headphone amp, but without the tube. The review sample was used with the stock Tung Sol reissue 6SN7GTB, the upgraded Volcano power supply, and was mated to various sources, including a Meridian 508.24, an Adcom GCD-750, and a Squeezebox classic and Apple Airport Express connected to the digital input of the Adcom. Headphones were my Grado HP-1000 and the Audeze LCD-2 rev.1 on loan from a fellow forum-member. I had two headphone amps at the time of the review period that I was able to compare to the Peak, both from DIY guru and now ECP Audio headmaster Doug Savitsky – a custom hybrid design utilizing a 12SN7 tube coupled to a solid-state mosfet follower, balanced transformer coupled from input to output, and my current custom-tweaked DSHA-1. The Peak also spent some time in my speaker rig, which consists of a FirstWatt upgraded F1Jfet and Lowther Alerions with DX-65 drivers.

Sonic impressions next ...

COMPANY INFO
Apex Hi-Fi Audio
405 2nd Ave E
Three Forks, MT 59752
Todd@TTVJaudio.com
(866) 444-3910 - Int (406) 285-3910
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COMMENTS
MrSaikes's picture

Do you even prefer the 307a to the Apex Pinnacle? What are the sonic differences to you?

Nice review also, as always =)

ryanclarin's picture

I have never had the chance to directly compare the two. I was able to spend a lot of the time with the pinnacle at can jam 2010 and it truly is state of the art sound. The px4 seems to combine some of the speed and punchiness of the 45 tube with the tonal richness of the 2a3. The 307a always seemed to be a richer lusher tube to me but Pete made that thing sound so clear and fresh. If cost was no object the pinnacle would be my island amp.

Laurence Wayne's picture

Although a great review Ryan, I am compelled to weigh in on your comments regarding Todd The VJ. I, too, have been utilizing Todd's expertise for many years. I discovered Todd when he and Tyll worked together. After several orders based on Todd's recommendations, I learned to just trust him. So much, that when Tyll answered the phone one time, and tho we had a very nice and helpful conversation, I wouldn't order without Todd's approval! Todd does have an unusual amount of proficiency when it comes to audio, but what makes him so special is that he couples that talent with integrity. He is completely trustworthy in all aspects of his conduct. This is coming from someone who has spent his life having to make that evaluation. That said, I may destroy my integrity with the following, but to demonstrate how good Todd and Pete are, occasionally I use the TTVJ Slim with my Sennheiser HD800 and it handles superbly.
Judge Laurence Wayne

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Well Judge, I'd say you show some good judgement there. I'll echo it in fact: Todd is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. His care for customers is as constant as the sunrise each morning. And he's got the best Belgian beer within 100 miles.

That last one gets me every time.

ryanclarin's picture

Todd simply doesn't carry bad sounding gear IMO. And yes he is also a great guy and when I actually had the freedom and money to buy things his opinion was 100% valid and authentic.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Well ... I'm pretty sure he's got a couple of ED10s he wants to get rid of.

'Course the fact that he still has them shows you he's not trying to hard to get them into someone elses hands.

TheWuss's picture

Very insightful review.
I really agree with most of your take on the Peak, Ryan.

I might add that while the Peak keeps a good bit of its character regardless of 6SN7 tube(speediness, slight spotlight on upper region), I have found that some tubes give the amp a thicker, fuller sound.

I currently am using a Sylvania 6SN7GTB. A "cheapy" by most tube collectors' standards. But, with a few hundred hours on it, I simply couldn't want for a more articulate and neutral sound.

As a testament to Todd and Pete's accomplishment with the $2200 Peak/Volcano: I also have the higly regarded, and a third more expensive Cavalli Liquid Fire. And am pleased to report that the Peak is not left in the dust. Not at all.

Moreover, they are different flavors. But, yes, the Cavalli does bass a bit better overall... As you have noted, that is the Peak's achilles heel.

Cheers!
The Wuss

n_maher's picture

I knew both before they partnered up and I have to say both are among a handful of folks that have come out of this hobby as people I'd call friends. The fact that they now collaborate is one of those rare bits of greatness that defies description.

I had the opportunity to sample the Peak (minus Volcano IIRC) at CanJam Chicago a few years back at its debut and came away impressed. Of course I'm an unabashed Millett fanboy.

And Tyll is right on two fronts: that stock tube bears rolling and Todd's Belgian selection is unmatched.

Great read Ryan!

ryanclarin's picture

Thanks Nate for taking the time to read. I bet something like a RCA grey glass would do the trick. Though in my experience nothing beats a tung sol black glass.

shinn's picture

Nice review, Ryan!

If any, I think you haven't touched describing its soundstaging capability have you?

Anyway, have you listened to the Eddie Current Zana Deux or new Eddie Current 2A3? I wonder how they compare since they are quite similar pricing (as opposed to the much more expensive Balancing Act that you have reviewed).

ryanclarin's picture

The zana, which I reviewed for 6moons, is still one of my favorite amps. That was the old model which had great sound staging and was very pure and transparent but the peak definitely has more grunt and raw power especially into a low impedance load. the new zana which I haven't heard is supposed to be better into low imPedance. I've owned the older moth 2a3's and they were good traditional SET sound but have not heard his updated EC version.

shinn's picture

Thanks for answering Ryan!

When you mentioned the ECP Audio DSHA-1 on your Peak's review above, it seems promising. I never heard about it before mentioned/reviewed in several audio forums.
Is it on-par against the Peak/Volcano in terms of sound quality and powerful enough to drive the LCD-2 and Hifimans?
Sorry if I ask for something OOT.

ryanclarin's picture

It is definitely on par with not only the peak/volcano but other hi end offerings as well. It's a very well designed circuit with all the parts coming together extremely well - the transformer coupling seems to really complement the differential nature of the output buffer, so you get a very musical warm yet punchy dynamic sound. Drives the lcd2 extremely well, and I would contact doug directly for a possible audition with the HIfimans.

sgrossklass's picture

(First page.) I s'pose those ought to be "small common-mode chokes" instead.

Re: "...as my experience has shaped my belief that sound is more a result of circuit topology than whether transistors or tubes were used for the active devices..."

Of course. Much of the so-called "tube sound" has to do with (output) transformer distortion and, particularly in speaker amps, non-negligible output impedance.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of "hollow-state" gear - fun to play with, maybe, but always behind "sand" when it comes to price/performance and power consumption.

The Monkey's picture
Nice article, Ryan! And I'd like to echo the above that Todd and Pete are two of the best guys in this hobby/business.
bluepromo01's picture

Other manufacturing companies needed more quality control because other products they produce do not pass the quality. According to the new i read some power supply is made from china because of lower labor.
If you were noticed that AVR has made here in usa most of them are quality products.

 

 

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