Headphone amplifiers, either by stereotype or due to sheer convenience of their manufacturers, are usually associated with small size units, which require only a few square centimeters of our desk space. While in Hi-Fi and the wide PC-audio segment this is almost completely true, yet entering the world of High-End you need to be careful, when planning the space you are going to put it in. If you still do not know what you will be dealing with, trying to reach the audiophile nirvana, then I suggest to have a quick look at the Ayon HA-3, or, in the ultra-hardcore version, at the Woo Audio WA-234 MONO. I think, that even a very superficial look at the offerings of the mentioned manufacturers will allow you to easily accept the device we are going to test today. This was created under the keen eye of its designer, Andreas Hoffman, and is a headphone amplifier by design, although when the stars are aligned well, and by this I mean the right configuration, it can also perform the function of a classic integrated. Of course I am talking about V16 – the first and only amplifier of the German company Octave of the single-ended type.
Although the tested construct had its official premiere during the Munich High End in 2017, if I remember correctly, and already then it drew interest with its unconventional external design as well as the use of characteristic, egg-shaped tubes KT150, the tests performed by our local, and also foreign press – were done using the older generation, and less refined, KT120 tubes. Fortunately when we spotted this amplifier during one of our latest visits in the Warsaw shop of the distributor Nautilus – who is carrying this brand – it turned out, it has the KT150 tubes fitted, so were sure not leave the shop empty handed.
As you can see for yourself, the V 16 resembles a bit the helmet of a medieval knight, so from the beginning we can see, that instead of designer licentiousness we can only count on ergonomic pragmatism and engineering roughness, something that should not come as a surprise when talking about amplifiers made in Karlsbad. The less oddities and extravaganza, the cleaner the circuit and the lower its failure rate. Easy? As pie. But let us get back to the topic. The Octave V 16 can be described as a double-decker, or even a triple-decker. The ground floor is occupied by two headphone outputs – non-symmetrical 6.3mm big jack and a 4-pin XLR, a solid sized volume knob and six buttons, with which, looking from the left, we can set the bias, adjust gain and activate the loudspeaker output, while the last three select the appropriate input. On the next floor we have only the vertical ventilation slits with a centrally placed name plaque and only on the highest floor we finally find our tubes, which are covered by an armored, not very well looking visor, to comply with EU regulations. Fortunately this cage can be easily removed, what makes the whole look much more appealing. Talking about tubes, in the first row we have a single triode ECC82, coming from the Slovak JJ, and two medium power triodes EF800 from Telefunken (NOS), working as drivers, behind which we have the two KT150 from Tung-Sol in the output stage.
In contrast to most conventional tube products from Octave, the back plate have almost the full height for use, what was absolutely exploited by the constructors, who implemented a big heatsink there, occupying about half of the available space. Only beneath it there is space for two pairs of RCA terminals, a pair of XLRs, a proprietary connector for the optional, external PSU, an IEC socket integrated with a fuse, and single, solid loudspeaker terminals. There is also a switch for the subsonic filter, while the main power switch is placed on the left side, close to the front panel.
Taking into account, that I did not know, how much the tested unit played, I decided to play everything I could through it, for a week. So I fed it from the computer, through the iFi system, from time to time listening to how it performs using the almost top Denon headphones, which I also received completely new, and had to play their time to be ready for testing. Although such setup fulfilled all usability criteria, it might not be completely satisfying in audiophile terms, so finally the Octave landed in the main system, where the source role was taken by the Ayon CD-35 and Lumin U1 mini.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you thought, that listening to headphones is nothing else than an ineffective way of putting one’s head into a glass bowl and playing a cosmonaut, then the first seconds with any headphones powered by the V 16 will make you change your mind quickly. And this change will be complete, as the impression is as if someone would not try to put you in a jar, but in the eye of the storm or inside the center of a big explosion. Because the Octave has enough power, that you could try to take two cutting boards from Ikea or two ping-pong paddles and connect them instead of your headphones to this amplifier, and there would be a good chance they would play. The power and dynamics offered by the German amplifier make the sounds trying to get inside our head not only make it explode (metaphorically of course) but even split it into individual atoms. You get to the point, when from a mute and passive observer of the musical spectacle, we become its part. This is no longer the dilemma if the musicians are at home with us, or we are on the stage with them, but the level of intensity is so high, that we are fully integrated with that what is happening. As if we would pass a threshold, behind which we cannot discern the virtual reality from the daily reality anymore.
And you absolutely do not need to limit yourself to the audiophile, sleek recordings, as it is enough to take a fully mainstream item like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” to allow yourself to be carried away by the music and become its inseparable part. Interestingly, even with such dynamic, rock repertoire, the amount of information provided by the V 16 in the full spectrum of the reproduced, or audible if you prefer this term, band, seems not possible to be assimilated on one hand, but does not make you tired, neither does it create any psychological barrier, coming from the perception, that in this puzzle we are the weakest link. Nobody makes us absorb all the nuances and stimuli reaching our ears, we have full freedom of choice, if we want to enjoy the piece as a whole, or explore any of its parts, digging deeper and deeper into the living tissue of the recording.
Trying to characterize the timbre and sound aesthetics of the sound offered by the V 16, at least in a collusive way, we have to confess, that it operates in a much more neutral way than you could expect from a tube. But you need to take into account, that the Octave was never renowned for euphonic sound, in contrary, you could have the impression, a very valid one, that the devices made in Karlsbad are much more neutral and truthful than the solid states units able to compete with them. This is also the case here, where the amplification itself tries to interfere as little as possible in the reproduced signal, allowing us to modify the final sound by choosing the right headphones, source or cabling. When I wanted to have some nice warmth and sexy rounding, based on a slightly “plush” base foundation, then I reached for the Meze 99 Classics Gold, or their black version Neo, but when I concentrated on the most comfortable analysis of the repertoire, but without crossing the think red line of overly analytical sound, then I placed the Denon AH-D9200 on my head, while the HiFi Man HE5SE (test coming shortly) how it feels to listen to headphones, while having the impression of dealing with a stationary system. I think I do not need to add, that with practically all the material the sound was top notch, and the higher quality signal was fed from the source to the Octave, the palpability and intensity of the experience increased proportionally to the abilities of the sound engineers. This is the reason, that despite my unconcealed love for the heavier and more cacophonic genres, having the V 16 in my room, I was more often reaching to the ECM catalogue, where you can find pearls like “Where the River Goes”, a truly star project, where Wolfgang Muthspiel, Ambrose Akinmusire, Brad Mehldau, Larry Grenadier and Eric Harland played, and the very balanced improvisations are interwoven with the classic, and indispensable for this label, playing with silence.
I left for the end the episode with loudspeakers, because as with the headphones it was brilliant, with loudspeakers in my system, the not so easy to properly drive Gauder Arcona 80, and the even more difficult Dynaudio Contour 30, did not wake my enthusiasm, and not in the hero of the test, so I decided not to tire it, and myself, anymore and let Jacek try it, as he has the highly efficient Isis at his disposal and should not have the issues I encountered.
As you can see for yourselves, the Octave V 16 Single Ended is not only a run-of-the-mill headphone amplifier, as it does everything it wants with most (if not all) headphones available on the market, and with some more hassle, it can even drive loudspeakers, making the borderline between the recipient and the artist disappear. Because instead of leaving us in the place of a passive spectator, it engages us actively into the musical event, where we become one with it (the event, not the amplifier) and have no chance to stay indifferent and distant, as those things do not exist in this configuration.
System used in this test:
– CD/DAC: Ayon CD-35 (Preamp + Signature)
– Network player: laptop Lenovo Z70-80 i7/16GB RAM/240GB SSD + JRiver Media Center 22 + TIDAL HiFi + JPLAY; Lumin U1 Mini
– DAC/Headphone amp: Ifi Micro iDAC2 + Micro iUSB 3.0 + Gemini
– Headphones: Meze 99 Classics Gold; Meze 99 Neo; Denon AH-D9200; HiFi Man HE5SE
– Digital sources selector: Audio Authority 1177
– Turntable: Kuzma Stabi S + Kuzma Stogi + Shelter 201
– Phonostage: Tellurium Q Iridium MM/MC Phono Pre Amp
– Power amplifier: Bryston 4B³
– Loudspeakers: Gauder Akustik Arcona 80 + spike extenders; Dynaudio Contour 30
– IC RCA: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond
– IC XLR: LessLoss Anchorwave; Organic Audio; Amare Musica
– Digital IC: Fadel art DigiLitz; Harmonic Technology Cyberlink Copper; Apogee Wyde Eye; Monster Cable Interlink LightSpeed 200
– USB cables: Wireworld Starlight; Goldenote Firenze Silver; Audiomica Laboratory Pebble Consequence USB; Fidata HFU2; Luna Cables Rouge USB
– Speaker cables: Signal Projects Hydra
– Power cables: Furutech FP-3TS762 / FI-28R / FI-E38R; Organic Audio Power + Furutech CF-080 Damping Ring; Acoustic Zen Gargantua II; Furutech Nanoflux Power NCF
– Power distribution board: Furutech e-TP60ER + Furutech FP-3TS762 / Fi-50 NCF(R) /FI-50M NCF(R)
– Wall power socket: Furutech FT-SWS(R)
– Anti-vibration platform: Franc Audio Accessories Wood Block Slim Platform
– Ethernet cables: Neyton CAT7+; Audiomica Laboratory Anort Consequence
– Table: Rogoz Audio 4SM3
– Accessories : Sevenrods Dust-caps; Furutech CF-080 Damping Ring; Albat Revolution Loudspeaker Chip
The device, which is being tested with music today, came on out list by a kind of coincidence. What coincidence? Well, during our test of the top Japanese headphones Denon AH-D9200, we were discussing what amplifier should we use to drive them, and knowing the potential of the tube constructions from Octave, the choice was quite obvious. But as it usually happens, just anticipating good results does not guarantee the appearance of a product in our portfolio. Fortunately the good standing of the products from our western neighbor was proven again during the test of the Denon. This is the reason, that in this test we will look at a very interesting device, because it was constructed to work with headphones, as those gain popularity within the listening community, but has enough power, to drive easy loudspeakers and using the very popular KT150 power tubes, the amplifier Octave V16 Single Ended. Finishing this introductive chapter I will probably be quite obvious mentioning, that the distribution of this electronics employing electrons traveling through vacuum is the Krakow-Warsaw based Nautilus.
Analyzing the looks of the V16 we can clearly see, that the attention was to have the unit occupy as small place on the desk as possible, yet still contain all the elements needed to be put inside the chassis. This is a headphone amplifier after all, and it needs to fit on a space which is already too small for the needs of its owner, being it a desk at work or at home. This is the reason, the constructors decided to extend the construction vertically rather than horizontally. You must confess, that before seeing the pictures attached to this test, such a concept may seem a bit difficult to master. Yet the device I unpacked from the transportation cardboard box and placed on the testbed turned out to be a nicely looking skyscraper. It is a bit avantgarde looking, compared to classic tube amplifiers, but I ensure you, even if you do not have placing issues at home, and the amplifier would have any size, after a few days the V16 is not only not disturbing, but it even seems to be a nice designer approach to create something different than usual for this kind of audio gear. So let us continue. The chassis, despite its height, still has some kind of platform for the electron tubes on the front part of the “roof” and the transformers hidden behind them under an appropriately shaped cover. Of course, to fulfill the requirements of the CE certificate, in the starter pack we have a solid cage protecting us from becoming burned by the glowing tubes. Will you make use of it? This I do not know. As you can see on the pictures, I did not use it, but I have to mention its existence. Regarding colors, it is very conservative but not boring. The German designers used the existing standard, in this case using black powder coating for most parts of the chassis and the silver color of brushed aluminum in the lower part of the front. A malcontent could argue, that such approach is boring, but I assure you, that here we deal with visual calmness and not any lack of ideas for the external looks. The mentioned silver part of the front offers quite some functions, for an amplifier, which we can select using six round buttons (bias level, gain, selection between headphones and loudspeakers and three line inputs) and a big volume knob. Of course, as the main goal of the V16 is to be a headphone amplifier, the front panel boasts also two outputs for the headsets (one is a standard jack, the other something looking like a four pin XLR). Moving to the back, on the left side we see the main power switch, while on the back we have the confirmation for the functionality seen on the front – three sets of input sockets (two RCA and one XLR), single loudspeaker terminals, an IEC power socket and a socket for the optional, external power supply.
Following my introduction paragraph, it should be clear, that today’s test is a kind of confirmation of the sonic capabilities, which were initially heard with the combination of the Octave with the Denon headphones. I know, that this is a completely different event, and its outcome may also be completely different, but if a product is able to show something interesting, then this should be visible in any configuration; against all odds. And this was the case here. Yes, the overall presentation had the same general tint coming from the Sennheiser HD600 I won, but from the first notes played I knew, that we deal here with a very good amplifier. What kind of amplifier? Let me tell you. First of all, similar to all other products from Octave, the V16 is following another path than the typical tube amplifier. You can hear the assets of the glass tubes, but not in the aspect of forceful search for musicality and saturation, but by breathing air into the music, what makes it absolutely free in creating the virtual world. It becomes ethereal, but importantly, with a hint of tube. The result is so phenomenal, that despite the slight change of the gravity center of the music by the popular Sennheiser headphones a tad higher, nothing was interfering with my enjoyment of the played discs. To calm down malcontents I will immediately confess, that the vocals were less juicy, when compared to the Japanese headphones (D-9200), but with the German headset (HD600) still far from hyperactivity or tiring overbrightness. It was a bit lighter, but still brilliant, because it was smooth and with proper breath, what should not be underestimated when talking about reproduction so close to our head. Was it ancient music, or jazz, every time the ease of reproduction of their vitality was the main aspect. So why did I connect two musical genres so wide apart in terms of age? Writing about ancient music, I always think about sacral music, and those artists tend to focus attention to the smallest details, and are recorded in churches or monasteries. On the other hand, jazz from the ECM label puts on playing with silence, with brilliant solos from each one of the artists piercing it, or all kinds of sounds placed in the air. What does it have to do with each other? The response to that question is simple. Those two, seemingly distant genres, are utilizing the abilities of the tested amplifier to phenomenally create the virtual stage. If we are to hear the echo, playing together with the musicians in the insides of a church, generated during a performance of Claudio Monteverdi compositions, then we not only get it presented on a silver plate without any constraints, but it shown with appropriately lesser energy than its source. Does it seem easy? It does, but it absolutely is not, because besides the vocal and instrument passages placed on the stave, exactly that kind of behavior is essential for this kind of music. OK, but what with jazz? Here things are similar. Usually we deal with a studio recorded material. This does not always sound as brilliant, as its creator would like it to be, despite all the efforts spent at the mastering table, if the reproducing system is not up to par. Lack of ease in music of silence, which is jazz, turns out to be killing it, and our tested amplifier never allowed that to happen. And I will just mention, that both genres are my beloved ones, and I exactly know, how they should sound. But OK, what with other musical creations? Very similar. Naturally in rock and electronics the described aspects are not as important. But you must confess, that when in a single package with good resolution you get a tad of swing, which is avoiding the “wow” effect at any cost, the music becomes more engaging. At least I perceived all the experiments with those genres as such.
At the end of my test I could not resist to try the German engineering sample to my loudspeakers. And what was the effect? I must confess, it was positively surprising. Of course there was no chance in getting a wall of sound similar to a 200W solid state amp, but still it was very interesting. First of all – you could hear the effect of vitality of the music all the time. Secondly – my set, very well submerged in timbre, made the effect of the midrange saturation being moved higher almost imperceptible. So what do those two remarks bring into the test? A lot. It was clear, that the effect of the lighter midrange, I described in the previous paragraph, is not the issue of the amplifier, but rather the signature of the Sennheiser headphones used for testing. Those are very well known, and rather lightly sounding, what needs to be taken into account when drawing the first conclusions. Currently the manufacturers put more emphasis on musicality of their headphone products, what combined with the tested amplifier would probably completely eliminate the issue of the sound not being appropriately heavy, what was confirmed by the test with my loudspeakers.
As you can see from the text above, in case of the headphone amplifier Octave V16 we deal with a slightly different approach of the designer to the usage of electron tubes. Here it is not about increasing euphonic (read as musicality above anything else) of the sound, but about using their characteristics to increase the swing in the creation of it, while consistently avoiding insistency. The music was presented with brilliant breath, but without any signs of garishness, what is not so easy to achieve. Is this an amplifier for music lovers? I am convinced, that it should at least be listened to by any headphone user. However with a preference for users of headphones without anorexia, so rather not devices dissecting the sound, but preferring its full body. And the rest? If somebody has easy to drive loudspeakers, then why not. After that what I heard with my “wardrobes” I would not be surprised, if someone will hit two flies with one blow.
System used in this test:
– CD: CEC TL 0 3.0 + Reimyo DAP – 999 EX Limited TOKU
– Preamplifier: Robert Koda Takumi K-15
– Power amplifier: Reimyo KAP – 777
– Loudspeakers: Trenner & Friedl “ISIS”
– Speaker Cables: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond, Statement
– IC RCA: Hijri „Million”
– IC XLR: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond
– Digital IC: Harmonix HS 102
– Power cables: Harmonix X-DC 350M2R Improved Version, Furutech NanoFlux NCF Furutech DPS-4 + FI-E50 NCF(R)/ FI-50(R), Hijiri Nagomi
– Table: SOLID BASE VI
– Accessories: Harmonix TU 505EX MK II, Stillpoints ULTRA SS, Stillpoints ULTRA MINI, antivibration platform by SOLID TECH, Harmonix AC Enacom Improved for 100-240V, Harmonix Room Tuning Mini Disk RFA-80i
– Power distribution board: POWER BASE HIGH END
– Acoustic treatments by Artnovion
Drive: SME 30/2
Arm: SME V
Cartridge: MIYAJIMA MADAKE
Phonostage: RCM THERIAA
• Power tubes: KT150; optional KT 120, KT88, 6550, EL34
• Power Output: 2 x 8 W/4 Ω (High Mode); 2 x 5 W/4 Ω (Low Mode)
• Line inputs: 2 x RCA, 1 x XLR
• Frequency Response: 10 Hz – 80 kHz/-3dB
• Load Impendance: 3 – 32 Ω
• Load Impendance Headphone: 6 – 2000 Ω
• Gain: 26 dB
• Total Harmonic Distortion: 0,5%
• Signal-to-Noise Ratio:- 110 dB / 8 W
• Headphone output: 3V/8V
• Pobór energii: 200 W @ full power, 120 – 200 W idle
• Dimetions (WxHxD): 220 x 330 x 330 mm
• Weight: 19.1 kg
• Finishes: metallic Black, ocean Blue, ice Grey