Apex Hi-Fi Audio Peak Headphone Amp and Volcano Power Supply Page 2

Sonic Impressions
First impressions were that there was plenty of power on hand, almost too much, as the gain seemed a bit hot, but easily drove my HP1000 and Audeze LCD-2. There was no background hum or operational noise, but due to the high gain of the circuit, some hash creeps in as the volume pot approaches the top end of the scale, albeit well beyond sane listening volumes. The sound, at first, conveyed its more "solid-state" colors than "tubeishness." I hate using those cliches, 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, but I find the solid-state/tube cliche still has merit in describing overall sound to a wide-range of people.

The presentation seemed to be focused on speed, transient response and attack, with a crisp and energetic lift and tilt towards the upper mid-range and treble. This was easily apparent with acoustic guitar --- the fingers plucking against the strings seemed to really pop with great clarity. I found the bass to have nice punch, without being boomy or bloated. If anything, I felt there could have been a bit more body in the bass. Coupled with my HP1000 and the Audeze LCD-2, which are can be a little thick in that region (versus the Sennheiser HD800's lighter bass sound, for example), the combined effect was very good, especially with the LCD-2 where at times the bass can get a bit woolly.

The Peak was clearly providing excellent damping force to the drivers – with my already pretty-well damped HP1000, the overall presentation became a bit too incisive at times, which I would imagine would be magnified using a normal John Grado can. The extra grunt and damping factor of the Peak seemed to gel extremely well with the Audeze LCD-2 rev.1. Though I did not have the Sennheiser HD800 on hand, I would surmise the combo might be even more snappy, sharp, and incisive than my Grado combo, which might be too much for some listeners. I really experienced this transient tilt with my speaker set-up. The First Watt F1 with the JFET upgrade is one of the most neutral, truth-telling devices out there. Coupled with the Lowther DX-65 driver, which is incredibly detailed and resolving, was simply too much of a good thing, and was almost too snappy, overly vivid, zippy, and eye-popping. Users will want to be mindful of their associated gear and pairings.

The amp itself seemed to prioritize resolution and immediacy. The Peak was highly resolving of the minutest details within various recordings. The sense of immediacy, especially with drums, was breathtaking at times. Speed appears to be the name of the game with the Peak, and it would likely couple well with slower, less-damped headphones like the Sennheiser HD650, but may prove to be a bit too intense with quick/fast/well-damped headphones like the Sennheiser HD800 or Hifiman HE-6.

The tube stage, consisting of a 6SN7 providing voltage gain, really showed its "colors" in the midrange. I found voices, guitars, and strings to be extremely smooth, pure, and detailed, with zero etch and without any sort of peak or accentuation. The mids were very full and organic – female voices had plenty of body, weight, and heft. The excellent midrange portrayal really helped counterbalance a kind of analytical "sheen," created by extreme transient response and detail resolution, which seemed to overlay the entire spectrum, especially in the bass and treble.

That single tube really seemed to prevent the sound from being classified as "bright," and thus keeping the tonal balance in check and equilibrium. If that tube was just another transistor, or if the circuit itself wasn't single ended but push-pull, the tonal balance might have gone too far in that speedy direction. Though I am currently a solid-state convert, admiring its lack of operational idiosyncrasies, kid-proofness, and the discovery that SS can sound just as musical as any tube SET (thanks in part to ECP Audio's DSHA-1), the tube-sters can always fall back on being able to modify their sound through tube-rolling with the Peak. My experience with that tube has shown the vintage 6SN7s to be high-performing and excelling in the tonal department, such as a vintage Tung-Sol black glass.

Pete and Todd seem to have succeeded at combining some of the best traits that the stereotypical solid-state and tube camps possess – noiseless operation with excellent transient response, and resolution married to midrange voluptuousness and inner-transparency. Of course, being familiar with Pete's work, I have no doubt he could have accomplished the same thing with either all tubes or transistors (cue the original TTVJ 307A, or even the TTVJ FET-A). The very nature of tubes and solid-state can make it difficult to marry the two successfully into a design, but Pete, in my opinion, has done so. By maximizing the 6SN7 by limiting it to voltage gain, providing it a real B+, having it drive a constant high impedance (thus keeping its operating point ideal and the tube itself happy), and using mosfet transistors (two per channel arranged as a source follower and current sink, to do the major grunt work) he has created an overall presentation that is highly resolving, fast, focused, articulate, and immediate, while retaining midrange "glow" and transparency.

Todd, I would imagine, will continue to be the audio dealer for many more headphone listeners, and the Peak is a nice, relatively affordable high-end offering within the Apex line that draws its lineage from Pete's excellent engineering and Todd's ear for truly high-end performing gear.

Editors Note - Having spent a good bit of time with the Peak and Volcano, I thought I'd throw my two cents in with a comment on the hybrid nature of this amp.

Pete has been designing hybrid amps for quite a while now, and I agree fully with Ryan when he says, "Pete and Todd seem to have succeeded at combining some of the best traits that the stereotypical solid-state and tube camps possess – noiseless operation with excellent transient response, and resolution married to midrange voluptuousness and inner transparency." I find this a surprisingly satisfying amp that combines a tad of tube lushness with an authoritative and articulate solid state output. I think this is a lovely amp. Highly recommended from me.

I'll also note that Todd is aware that the stock Russian made Tung-Sol 6SN7 has some downfalls, but knowing full well that most tube enthusiasts will have a favorite part, he doesn't want to burden the price of the amp with a high-cost tube that many will likely swap out.

Check out what others have said in the Head-Fi threads linked under "Resources" below.

Head-Fi impressions and TTVJ Peak/Volcano loaner thread.
Peak page on Apex Hifi and TTVJ sites.

Apex Hi-Fi Audio
405 2nd Ave E
Three Forks, MT 59752
(866) 444-3910 - Int (406) 285-3910

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.

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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