Okay, apes, it’s time to toss bones to the firmament. It’s time to beat on your mates and rip sinews from the teeth of angry panthers. Evolution’s catching us up again. This time, however, it’s the Germans, not Americans, who are pressing us to the edge of the audiophile solar system. The eponymous VorzAMP has its sights and prices set high, and has been the cause of an infatuated uproar among Japanese audiophiles for quite a turn. I think you will agree with them that you don’t need a Discovery-sized headphone amp to blast off toward Jupiter. The lovely fräulein, VorzAMP, is beautiful to hold, behold, and listen to.
Models: VorzAMPpure VorzAMPduo
Price: (USD $) pure 430 duo 520
EQ: pure no, duo yes
Silver Solder with Gold Compound
Gold Plated PCB YES
Top Grade Metal Film Resistors
Top Grade Metallic Capacitors
RoHS (Environment Friendly, Free from Hazardous Chemical)
Play Time [hours]: pure 30, duo 26
Size [mm] – slim design 83 x 66 x 18 83 x 66 x 18
Weight [g] – light weight design (with batteries): pure 100 (140), duo 110 (150)
Included in the box
VorzAmp™ (Headphone Amplifier)
VorzKabel™ (20cm long)
Set of Li-ion batteries (2x1000mAh)
USB Power Adapter (100AC to 230AC)
Mini USB to USB Cable (Charging from Computer)
Today’s review centres on both amps. The difference between the two is the EQduo EQ system, which only the VorzAMPduo has. The two amps are very similar, but have different target users. The pure user probably doesn’t care so much about boosting frequency bands. He or she loves his/her earphones as they are, but wants a bit more power. The duo user is out for power and the utmost in EQ pleasure. And the EQduo does offer that.
Attention to detail is a German trait that has endlessly been copied, and in some ways, improved upon through the ages. I think that Vorzüge have proved that it’s not a wholly copiable trait. Every VorzAMP comes with four back screws and four front screws, and usually a two bolts in the volume pot. Blah blah blah. We’ve seen it before. But Vorzüge’s take on this ubiquitous design is simple: countersink everything, miniaturize everything, label the parts that matter. Each screw sits in its own niche, as does the EQduo’s switches, the on/off switch, and the in/out jacks. The volume knob is secured by two bolts which are driven precisely into an aluminium trunk, leaving nary a dimple or a pimple. Beautiful.
As sure as Bob is somebody’s uncle, the VorzAMP is the most solid amp I’ve ever mishandled. And trust me, I do my best to mishandle what I review. If I could throw the GoVibe VestAmp+ or Hippo box+ through a wall, I could throw the VorzAMP through the Vestamp. And evidently, the paint might not even scratch.
That is because the VorzAMP is blessed with a special epoxy that is treated at especially high temperatures. The overall effect is a highly scratch-resistant surface, and a veritable blackness that could even extinguish Satan’s candle. While I’ve yet to scratch mine, I’ve smeared it with the touchy-feely finger prints of a true admirer.
The overall effect of the VorzAMP is one of stunning beauty and workmanship. Of course, no beauty is unharassed by caveat. While anyone would be floored by the absolute precision with which each screw is driven into its metal chassis, if one wants to undo those screws, one will find that utter precision in construction needs utter precision in deconstruction. Behind the beautiful epoxy, is a beautifully laid out and labelled amp made of expensive parts and dipped in that audiophile ambrosia that we commonly dub gold. But laying it all bare is a labour of love, not lust. Merely screwing around will damage parts. My suggestion for eager screwers is to first, twiddle the volume pot off. Then you can move to that succulent body. Remember, the VorzAMP is a lady.
The above caveat deepens to a cavern-eat as I consider the included T5 hex key, a scornfully wicked tool that Vorzüge reckon is good enough for their lady. It isn’t. It will bend and warp under the pressure of a good twist, possibly stripping the head of a bolt, or in utter embarrassment, strip itself. Vorzüge should know better than to include such a chintzy, teenage tool in seduction of a lady. If you want to get in and out of the VorzAMP for any reason, man up. Wine and dine VorzAMP with a real tool, not a freebie.
Caveats aside, the VorzAMP is a work of art.
Ergonomics and Polish
Perhaps its those 88 million people cramped between the Alps and the Baltic Sea that has Vorzüge engineers chasing down every last spare millimetre. Fresh from its vacuum blister, the VorzAMPduo’s black matte sucks in light, and never lets it out again. It has me humming ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ while confidently prodding the lady’s lush blackness with broken fingernails.
Maybe I’m clinging to the obtuse assumption that my essays make sense on their own. Perhaps I just need more whisky. Or less. Gulp. But if you haven’t gotten a glimpse of my thesis for this next section, then I’ll take another sip.
What I’m trying to say is that I’ve not used a portable amp of the same size that at any price exudes this much polish. Sure, Vorzüge’s display box loses to the Americans. And the logo is the unladylike amalgamation of Star Wars and the 90′s. But let me reiterate what I’ve not yet properly said: the VorzAMP isn’t just a pretty face; it’s also a kick arse piece of engineering. It fits in a front pocket (barely), doesn’t scratch easily, can be operated blind, holds battery life for almost 30 hours, and has the most beautifully labelled circuit board I’ve ever seen. Those insides and the attention to outer detail shame GoVibe by hundreds of dollars, and honestly, ALO can’t hold a candle to it. A brief comparo with ALO’s The National is disgustingly one-sided. A quick look at the VorzAMP’s circuit board reveals rows of precisely labelled and soldered components, and the the most calculated use of space in its class. The Germans have used every square centimetre perfectly. Which points to its intended uses.
The VorzAMP is a portable amp. The IN/OUT ports are spaced closely together – close enough, in fact, that massive in/out jacks won’t work. I’ve had no problem using ALO fatties next to each other, but fatter than that and you will risk damaging the amp or the plugs.
Actually, there is one instance of severe over engineering: the on/off lamp. Gee whiz, Sunny Cooper! It’s enough to blind a bat. My first flick of the switch foretold how I’d use the VorzAMP: as a flashlight, handtorch, keyfinder, dust pointer, etc., and so on. It is far too bright to use at night on a bedside. Hell, it causes eyes to squint in bright light, too. Shame, too, because the VorzAMP is a great size for a bedside rig.
Indeed, it is a great size…
The VorzAMPpure and VorzAMPduo are twins fräuleins with different personalities. The pure is Snow White, singing and dancing, and never straying from the two. She sounds lovely. The duo probably came out second, and has an attitude for it. She loves to rock out, and headbang, and grind in the club. She’s the one I’d recommend for hip-hop lovers, or those people who cling to prude earphones such as the Etymotic ER4, and don’t mind a bit of a romp.
The EQduo is powerful. It is also the only feature between the two. It boosts bass to the tune of 15dB, and treble to the tune of about 9dB. Powerful.
Another thing to note: even after a full day of play, the VorzAMP doesn’t get hot. Maybe a degree here or there goes up, but really, this thing is perfectly cool for the pocket-stuffer.
VorzAMP is small enough to nestle smoothly into a pair of tight jeans, even connected to a nano 7G (okay, so that isn’t a big package (not at all what she said)), but compared to the sound you get, it is a hard idea to swallow. So much sound from such a small box is incredible.
But moments fade. Eventually my prodding had to come to something and that something was wonderful. I plugged my trusty (and dirty and old) Audio Technica CK10 into the outport, my iPod nano 7G (brand new) into the import, lit up the amp, and dropped my lower lip. Why?
At my inaugural listen, the first word that popped from my grinning teeth was ‘BAAAAASSSSSSSS’. That’s long for ‘bass’, and how long it is. And that was because I flipped the EQduo switch straightway. If you get the VorzAMPduo, I suggest toggling that badboy – it’s worth it. But let’s talk about the Vorzüge’s amp stock bass sound first. Without being a monster, VorzAMP bass is effortless steps back and forth to and from the midrange. It is detailed, open, and describes great width. It is never strained. In truth, it has a slow roll off about 1 decibel at 30Hz. Whether that is audible or not is up to debate. What stands at the forefront is detail, and precision. If that impression of precision comes from the slow roll off in the lower bass registers, I’ll eat someone’s hat. I tend to believe it is from the rather wide separation of left and right channels described by the VorzAMP and low harmonic distortion in the signal.
Whoever is responsible for it deserves a good, long kiss. Subjectively, the VorzAMP basslines are about as sonorous as basslines get.
It pairs brilliantly with all sorts of earphones, but I tend to find the best match in semi detailed, neutral earphones such as the Audio Technica CK10. Why? Detailed earphones simply bring out the lovely detail in the signal, especially in the bass region, which has traditionally been glossed over by audiophiles as a non-detailed part of the spectrum. But let’s move on.
The truth about the VorzAMP is that there is another slow roll off in the high frequencies. It is of the same type, about 1 decibel, and I’d argue whether it is audible or not. I had a headfi meet last week here in Tokyo, and most of the members loved the VorzAMP highs. The same thing goes for Japanese audiophiles. Most people love the extension and smoothness. Some call it effortlessness. I agree. Highs in some ways are a little less detailed than lows, eschewing channel separation for presentation. Again, highs are sonorous, smooth, and well extended. In some ways, the VorzAMP mimics the high frequency energy and lushness of the GoVibe Porta Tube+ (an even more expensive amp), though it is subjectively more ‘liquid’.
But let’s get back to the moment I hit the EQduo switch…
My jaw hit the floor. Fortunately, I had the sense to pick it up again. It is not polite to stand like that on the train. Neither is the EQduo’s bass. It registers at about 15dB over the stock response. Within its band of influence, it is more powerful than the Digizoid zO2. Transformative is the only apt adjective I can think of that describes its response. And miracle of all miracles, it isn’t flubby. It won’t flatten out in distortion, nor run amuck on signal quality.
Then, there is the treble EQ boost. Neither are polite, but the treble is the less straight. It induces some sibilance and a small amount of background noise, but otherwise, does as advertised, and boosts treble response by around 6dB. Either switch drop the baseline output by about 3dB. It’s a fair game to play, as with such intense effect, distortion could easily enter into the signal. But Vorzüge obviously know when enough is enough. Honestly, I don’t think I could handle more than 15dB on the low end.
Remember, when engaging EQ circuits, only the portions of the signal that are affected by EQ will be raised. If there is no information in the EQ band, then flicking the EQ switch will have no affect on the music.
Remember the excellent Graham Slee Voyager? Well, the VorzAMP EQduo system its next incarnation. It is both more fun, and more academic than the Voyager. Similar levels of polish are noted here, though I find the Slee more dryer in its presentation. It also doesn’t even come close to powering multi armature IEM earphones as efficiently as does the Vorzüge VorzAMP. Seeing as how the VorzAMPduo and pure are tiny amps, it is no surprise; Vorzüge’s aim seems to be portable. I think they’ll be damned if they don’t make the absolute best in class amps for the portable audiophile and I’ll be damned if I can argue against them. But to be honest, I would rather plug my DT880 into the Voyager than the VorzAMP. Synergy or whatnot, the dryness of the Voyager is gin to these ears.
The most detailed frequency is the mid-upper lows through to higher mid frequencies. Fans of just about any genre will find a hard time getting a more suitable amp for their pocket pleasure. I had one or two symphony lovers tell me they wished for a bit more instrument separation for large ensembles. They may be right here. Distortion, while very low, rings slightly. Hence, perhaps, the smooth, though well extended highs. Remember, too, that instrument separation is hard to poinpoint. For some, it comes with more treble emphasis. Flip the treble swtich and you’ll get it and the ‘detail’ you’ve been craving. The VorzAMPduo will be your last amp. For others, it comes from 100% clean signals. In which case, I’d have to recommend ALO’s Rx, or another, larger amp, the O2.
Finally, background noise is minimal, but not perfectly black. It is a little less than the Porta Tube+, which itself is minimal. You will be able to detect it with sensitive earphones, but since the noise never fluctuates, it isn’t bothersome.
The VorzAMP is about smooth extension and nonpareil bass-mid detail. I fall into the camp that loves the VorzAMP’s strengths. Let’s move on.
Sound in a nutshell
Before I get ahead of myself, I should probably summarise. The VorzAMP sound is contained within three distinct elements: slight roll offs at extreme ends of the spectrum, an extremely detailed, yet calm bass response, and, with the VorzAMPduo, a low Ω output that suffers very little at the hand of multi-armature earphones. And, if you’ve chosen the VorzAMPduo, a hard-hitting EQ circuit packs a punch when your headphones don’t. Neither amp is excitable. The sibilance-scared audiophile take note: the VorzAMP doesn’t excite recorded sibilance in any way (that is, until you flip the treble switch up).
A few golden-eared Japanese colleagues consider Vorz highs to be the most sonorous of any battery powered amp. Really, it comes down to that point. We all know that difference in signal ‘sound’ between amps is always very small, but when you are splitting hairs, the VorzAMP is one of the most sonorously smooth, yet detailed amps around.
Which leads me to my next point.
Scaling with better sources
While the iPod touch 4G does a good job of feeding the VorzAMP, the Cypher Labs Algorhythm SOLO does much better. Nearly every metric jumps up several levels of clarity. Still, the VorzAMP retains its signature smoothness while gaining what some audiophiles may argue as better treble extension.
The VorzAMP works equally well for home amps, but of course, it is built for the portable music lover: input and output spaced closely together, light, and a rapidly ramping volume pot. I could be happy using the VorzAMP at home, but I feel its place is best served in a pocket or near a desktop rig.
Best headphones for the VorzAMP
What headphones is the VorzAMP suited for? Simple, really. Anything except for the most sensitive of IEM earphones. And, unless you really want to cause your ears to bleed, full size 300-600Ω headphones such as the DT880 600Ω. The latter I comfortably use at what would equate to 10-11 o’clock on the volume pot, or just less than 50% of a complete turn. Yes, the output is powerful.
Output power doesn’t stand up to ALO’s The National, but few portable amps are able to make your ears bleed with full size headphones quite like it. The Vorzüge amps are able to hit about 80% of the volume pot before audible sizzle distortion is emitted from headphones like the DT880 600Ω. That volume is already too loud for me, but I am sure that some people actually listen to those levels. So, for comfortable and safe listening levels, the VorzAMP is more than adequate for the mighty DT880, but for levels that border on the dangerous, the VorzAMP won’t cut it.
Earphones have plenty of volume (we’ll get to that later) and are driven almost perfectly in every case. Whatever output transducer you are plugged into will rejoice.
For the DT880 600Ω, I listen at about 10-12 o’clock on the volume pot.
For the CK10, I listen to about 7:30 to 8 o’clock on the volume pot.
For the ES10, I listen to about 7:30 to 9 o’clock on the volume pot
For the Sleek Audio CT7 and the Audio Technica CK100, I listen to about 7 to 8 o’clock on the volume pot.
As you can see, volume scales up rapidly.
Which leads me into my first issue with the VorzAMP:
Issue #1: gain
The number one issue with the VorzAMPs is the sensitivity of the internal gain circuitry. The unit I’m enjoying here is part of a third batch. It is mostly free from gain problems, but not entirely. The first one or two batches had extremely aggressive gains. Many audiophiles at a recent meet in Tokyo loved the amp, but said that with sensitive custom earphones, the volume was too loud. You might be thinking: “Just turn the volume down”. You’d be right, except that by turning the volume pot down to near zero, channel imbalance rears its head. That means that one side is louder than the other. The only way to fix that is by raising the volume. And that hurts.
The last batch features a gain that is lowered by several decibels, enough to make sensitive IEMs usable. It is now similar to ALO’s The National. In orther words, more than usable, but not ideal for IEM users.
Even when using my Audio Technica ES10 headphones, I sometimes find the lowest volume to be higher than I’d like. But that is just sometimes.
Issue #2: lamp
This isn’t a sound issue, and for some, it will be a non-issue. Pictures don’t do justice, but that damn circle is as bright as the sun. You won’t be using this amp as a beside rig except as a divorcee. Even in broad daylight it is a burning aperture of light. I hope that Vorzüge can tone it down.
For instance, the CK10 can pick out a bit of background noise. The CT7 multiply that noise by about 2. The treble switch does that again. This leads me into the 2nd slight misstep of this amp: gain. It is simply too high for the volume pot, for the output power, and for sustained voltage.
Performance (NOTE: coming soon)
This review’s RMAA measurements reflect the performance of the Vorzüge VorzAMP driving a Beyerdynamic DT880 and Earsonics SM2. Since these measurements are taken with my equipment, they should not directly be compared measurement-to-measurement to other technical data taken with different equipment. The data represent the ability of the amplification circuit to drive the above headphones and no load only.
What’s my opinion?
Well, Vorzüge’s amps come at a hefty penny, something to the tune of 400-700$ depending on which model you order and which part of the world you live in. They arent’ small investments. But evolution is about big returns on big sacrifices. So is love. Battery life is great. The engineering is top notch. The amp itself is small, perfect for most pockets. It’s much shorter, but a bit chunkier than an iPhone, and perfectly made. Sound is wonderful. You won’t forget it. And that’s the crux of it isn’t it? Vorzüge’s first products are stunning achievements. Unfortunately for me, I have other products to review. More unfortunate for those products is that I’ve reviewed the VorzAMPs first. Comparisons don’t lie. I wish I had met the VorzAMP in Secondary School and be lead through a passionate university love affair that would end in two sets of lips muttering ‘I do’. Later on, we’d argue the finer points of gain and the densely packed front panel. But we’d still be in a quagmire of love.
Because, you see, once you go black…
|Reviewed Ver:||VorzAMPpure, VorzAMPduo|
Hot damn! Headphones really are a rockin’ way to enjoy music, right? Feel free to explore TMA’s headphone oubliette
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