ECP Audio L-2 Headphone Amplifier Page 2
Good Design Makes a Product Useful -- "A product is bought to be used."
The L-2 is as capable of subtle, low-level listening sessions as it is set at 11 and rocking out. That lack of a noise floor that I mentioned previously really comes into play here. The listener is free to enjoy whatever is being piped through their source of choice. I know that some prefer to sample and evaluate gear with all of the other components in the audio chain fixed, but it just so happened that during this review my primary DAC went kaput. This component failure turned out to be a blessing in disguise with the change of DAC being a particularly eye-opening evaluation tool. To replace the defunct EAD DSP 1000 I picked up two vintage reference DACs: the Parasound D/AC 1500 and the Adcom GDA-700. Both offer a different listening experience and helped to highlight just how transparent the L-2 is.
The clean, deep bass of the GDA-700 came through with authority, without bloom or distortion while a somewhat muddy upper-midrange was also present. A switch to the D/AC 1500 cleaned the midrange up with slightly reduced, and perhaps more realistic, low-end notes all gloriously crystal clear with a neutral but not sterile sound signature. The takeaway--it's going to take one heck of a source to leave the L-2 as the bottleneck in the chain. It serves up exactly what you feed it, as it should. I often found myself sucked into longer and longer listening sessions, sampling album after album and enjoying every minute.
There's one more important note to add--this is one of the few commercial amplifiers that I've sampled that gets gain right. All too often manufacturers submit to the "more is better" approach and for those wanting to preserve their hearing for future listening sessions that leaves precious little range of adjustment. Not so with the L-2. With a gain of approximately 5 into a 32ohm load (as all my Grados are) there's a wonderfully large range of useful volume adjustment. Given that my musical preferences run from Amanda Palmer to Bon Iver to Swallow the Sun and beyond, having more than a few degrees to play with was a welcome change.
Good Design is Thorough, Down to the Last Detail -- "Nothing must be arbitrary of left to chance."
So that the reader doesn't think that the entire article is a love-fest please allow me to share a few points that I think could be improved upon. They're minor but worthy of mention. One, the power umbilical leaves me wanting a bit. The strain relief is long and somewhat cumbersome and with the exit point off of the front face of the power supply it means that you'd better have a deep shelf to mount this piece on. For me, not a big deal, for use on a desktop, potentially troublesome. And don't think that you're going to bury the power supply down on the floor behind your rack.
That brings me to point number two, the power switch. It's on the back of the power supply and integrated into the IEC inlet. I get why this was done, panel space on the power supply is at a premium and having the integrated switch is very efficient from multiple perspectives. But from the user's perspective it is a bit annoying to have to reach over the top of the power supply to the back and feel for the switch. I'd suggest that modifying this detail so that both the IEC and umbilical exit on the rear and that the switch be mounted on the front panel would be worthy of consideration.
There's one last issue and it's hard to call it a real issue, the amplifier only has one set of inputs. Again for me this is a non-issue--I route all of my sources through one DAC and feed its output to the amp. However if you're a vinyl junkie or need more than one analog input it simply isn't going to fit in the L-2's compact chassis layout. From a sonic perspective however, there's just isn't anything to complain about and nothing mentioned above is a worthy reason for not choosing the L-2.
Good Design is Honest -- "(Design) does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be met."
All in all the L-2 is an exceptionally well executed headphone amplifier that simply delivers. While the asking price of $2495 puts it square in the cross-hairs of several larger competitors, I have no doubt that anyone who decides that it suits their needs will end up satisfied. It's certainly nice to see the high-end headphone amplifier game getting some fresh competition and if you're a lover of Grados in particular you owe it to yourself to try to find a way to try the L-2.