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  • Sajid Amit
    Sajid Amit

    Bangkok Trip Report: Part 1


     

    Hello Readers. So, I am back. I had a bit of a hiatus from writing during which time I tried to figure out and “resolve” my persistent back pain problem. That led to a trip to Bangkok, a city well-known for its medical tourism in Asia. 


    The excellent healthcare industry aside, Thailand is absolutely wonderful. It has the most stunning beaches, mountains, and natural beauty. But we didn’t get to go to the beaches this time. We stayed in Bangkok: a big, bustling metropolis with great malls, cafes, restaurants, and a thriving night life. 

     

    The pandemic affected the tourism industry greatly and Bangkok stayed under lockdown for over a year now. My wife and I re-entered just as the country opened so that meant that although streets, malls and cafes were busy with locals, the expat crowd was just beginning to trickle in.


    Despite large swathes of Thailand being poor, there is notable income disparity in the country as is evident from the fact that Thailand has over 28 dollar-billionaires, to say nothing of the countless other high net-worth individuals. This means that luxury products have quite a market and high-end audio is no different. 


    Before I traveled, I spoke to a few manufacturers to speak to their dealers in Bangkok so I could audition a few gears and do a few reviews. It was heartening to see various dealers oblige and literally open doors for me, allowing me hours of relatively uninterrupted, critical yet joyous listening. 


    I spent the most time at Mungkong Gadget, a fine Thai establishment carrying various brands, and catering mostly to portable audio enthusiasts. 

     

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    Upon entering, my eyes caught sight of the new Vision Ears releases, the EXT and the Phonix. 

     

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    I am not as much an IEM enthusiast as I am a headphone enthusiast but who could pass up the opportunity to audition the EXT which has been getting rave reviews? I was particularly drawn to the purple monitors because I had heard that they had a wonderful tuning. I also was not a fan of the Phonix on first listen, so I did not spend much time with it.

     

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    And I had heard right. The EXT is indeed wonderfully well-tuned with great performance across the frequency spectrum. It had great rumbly bass, a natural-sounding midrange, and a fun and airy treble. I was also curious to find out how the EXT would fare in a direct A/B with my favorites, the Empire Ears Legend EVOs. I was not able to do this A/B on my first day but on a subsequent visit to Mungkong. By that time, I had acquired this high-end cable from another store in Bangkok to drive my EVOs. 

     

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    The manufacturer of the gorgeous cable you see pictured above, is Hong Kong based Creator Cable. Creator has a large market in Asia, particularly Japan. It was love at first sight for me with this cable. I just really appreciated how premium and gorgeous this cable is, with robust, high-quality connectors, and a thick and weighty sleeving. The cable has a tad bit of memory but that’s a worthy compromise given how good it feels to wear around the ears and the cable does coil nicely around the ears. 


    That being said, when I A/B-ed the EXT with the EVO’s, I stuck to the stock cables for the most part. And in this comparison, I also added the Sony IER-Z1R mostly because of how well it also does bass. I thought it would be interesting to compare all three.
    Firstly, comparing bass, I found that the EVO is still class-leading in terms of both quality and quantity. The EXT is close, as is the Z1R. But nothing comes close to the EVO for bass texture, weight, speed, control, and sheer visceral experience. For low frequencies, my ranking would be EVO > Z1R > EXT although the EXT bass is quite outstanding. 


    Overall, the EXT has a thinner sound than the EVO; more air and overall treble energy; and better resolution in lower treble. The EXT also has less upper mid energy which could be what draws people to it because it is a more relaxed presentation than the EVO.


    I like the EVO’s energy greatly because while it is energetic, it is still warm, and I find that to be a lovely balance. 


    The Z1R impressed me greatly once again. It does not have the technical chops of an EVO or an EXT, but it is honestly not very far behind, which is quite remarkable for the price point. The Z1R bass, in particular, approaches very close to EVO territory. The other thing I really appreciate about the Z1R is how coherent a presentation it provides, perhaps even more so than the EVO or the EXT. 

     

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    The drawback of the Z1R to my ears is its slightly drier midrange and an overall slower presentation, especially with regard to transient response abilities. This gives the Z1R a slower attack and a longer decay (which incidentally, some actually prefer).


    Other IEMs I enjoyed on this trip are the Sennheiser IE900 which I have heard in the past. It’s a strong IEM for its price but does not compete, in my humble opinion, with multi kilobuck IEMs like the Legend EVO or the Vision Ears EXT or for that matter, the Noble Sultan which I really adored. 

     

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    The Noble Sultan is very impressive. I loved its overall balanced tonality, with slightly less energy in the upper mids than the EVO, but greater lower treble energy. This is sort of the reverse situation to the EVO, but both monitors strike a good balance between being energetic and relaxed. I am extremely picky about my bass but I loved the bass on the Sultan. I would probably buy the Sultan at some point, although my EVO still remains my number one IEM.

     

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    Moving on to headphone reviews, I got to try for the first time a bunch of different headphones on this trip. I also tried some headphones I have tried earlier but developed a renewed appreciation for. 


    My chain was the rather impressive Mytek Manhattan II and the even more impressive Woo Audio WA33. But I did try other DACs, both higher-end and lower-end as well as amps of a wide variety and topology (especially for headphones I was less familiar with). 

     

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    The Manhattan II is a rich sounding DAC, while being very detailed, well-layered, and it worked well with almost every headphone and amp I paired it with. This could be quite the reviewer’s tool. It is also incredibly well-built. I really liked the display with bright, almost neon, dot matrix fonts on an otherwise inky black screen.
        

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    Meanwhile, the Woo Audio WA33 is very impressive for a headphone amp. Driving difficult loads like the Susvara, I found it to be no less detailed than a speaker amp. It extracts the minutest details from a track.

     

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    These are the sort of headphone amps you can buy blind, without auditioning. They sound incredible and look so stately. I love how the tubes stand out on the top chassis, gleaming with pride. 

     

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    The stock tubes are quite excellent in my opinion, but yes, you can unlock greater performance by tube rolling. And you should. Woo Audio amps take well to tube rolling. 


    So how is the overall sound you might ask?


    It’s stellar. The first thing you notice is the incredible resolution this amp offers. Next is the speed and dynamics whilst projecting a deep and layered stage. You definitely feel the “tube” staging and layering at play and a certain sweetness to the presentation. However, the sweetness is minimal compared to other Woo amps, but it’s there letting you know that it’s a tube amp. 


    The dynamics are impressive and the bass on most headphones hits hard. There are solid state options like the Ferrum Audio OOR and Hypsos which hit harder, but the WA33 dynamics are still noteworthy. 

     

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    My one nitpick with the WA33 (and this could well be the result of stock tubes) is that the stage width is not the best I have heard on certain headphones, including on the Hifiman Susvara. 

     

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    Overall, I would summarize my impressions of this amp by saying that it is a very neutral sounding amp with sweetness and just a little bit of warmth, without overdoing those qualities. It is certainly one of the best headphone amplifiers in the business, no question. I am particularly familiar with the Hifiman Susvara so I used it to test chains and also as a palette cleanser. 


    Next, I tried the LCD5 on this setup. I used to own the LCD5 but have sold it, mostly due to comfort issues. It was nice to listen to it again. I confirmed that it has all-out better bass than the Susvara, in both quantity and quality, to my ears. The LCD5 also has a more forward midrange which became a tad fatiguing after a while. I sensed this was the Mytek DAC at play, and on changing DACs, realized that it was partially a synergy issue. But the LCD5 really benefits from EQ to its upper mids. 

     

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    And then I tried the LCD4 right after trying the LCD5. And how I loved it! I forgot how pleasantly voiced this headphone is and what an out-and-out all-rounder in being able to play all genres well. Works with everything and excellently!


    Off the WA33, the LCD4 vocals sounded better than I remembered. Although voices sounded less detailed than either the LCD5 or the Susvara, they were thicker, richer, and warmer. Overall, the LCD4 has a more natural presentation than the LCD5, although the latter is sharper and clearer. The LCD4 also throws a nice and wide stage with big, beautiful images. 

     

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    I wish some reviewers would not constantly knock the frequency response of the LCD4. Yes, its lower treble is relatively muted, and has a bit too much air on certain tracks like Megadeth’s Holy Wars, but with the Roon Audeze Preset, these issues are more or less addressed. 


    The LCD5 is a slightly more technical headphone and has a far clearer presentation, but what good is clarity if the overall presentation is less enjoyable? I am quite convinced the LCD4 was more enjoyable than the 5 to my ears.


    And regarding bass, the LCD4’s low frequencies are very impressive as you will have heard, albeit, not with the same grunt and impact of a 1266 Phi TC. 


    It is a heavy headphone but sometimes I think that a heavy but comfortable headphone is preferrable to a light but uncomfortable headphone, since the LCD5 became difficult for me to wear over time, due to the ridiculous clamp pressure. 


    In sum, let me be bold and say that I consider the LCD4 to be a better all-rounder than not only the LCD5 but also the Susvara, in the sense it plays all kinds of genres and tracks well. The Susvara is clearly more technically proficient, but I don’t find the Susvara to be an appropriate companion to more aggressive genres like rock and metal, regardless of how I amp it or what DAC I use. The Chord Dave makes the Susvara more forward but I have not been won over by the Dave as a DAC, especially without the MScaler, and in a direct A/B with the Holo Audio May. 

     

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    Among headphones I tried for the first time were the Grado GS2000E and the PS2000E. The Grados have always turned me off due to their cheap-looking and cheap-feeling build. But I decided to try them anyway, and boy, am I glad that I did!


    The GS2000E build was slightly better but still cheap for the price. What I really enjoyed was how well the GS2000E presented aggressive music such as rock, and in particular, lead guitar solos. The bass was also not bad at all. It is evident that many Grados are great for rock (as some of you will know already). The Grado GS2000E has great clarity and with the WA33 makes for a great pairing (overkill territory, I know). 

     

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    I also tried the Grado PS2000E. This was more detailed, had faster transients, and was brighter. However, overall, I didn’t like it as much. The tonality was not as balanced, in my opinion.


    Next, I tried some lower-priced amps including Woo Audio’s WA22, WA2 and the battery-powered WA8. The WA2 was impressive with the 800S. I tried tube-rolling and this amp responds greatly to tube upgrades. In general, the WA2 gives the 800S a bigger sound. It is a nice listen. However, off the stock tubes on the WA2, the HD800S is not at its resolving best. Even with tube upgrades, I doubt the WA2 can get the HD800S to perform at its maximum resolving capacity. 

     

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    Meanwhile, the WA22 was much better, which you would expect given the price difference. The WA22 is more resolving and dynamic than the WA2, and as is the case for most Woo Amps, also responds well to tube-rolling. And finally, I tried the WA8 Eclipse, which is Woo Audio’s portable / transportable amp DAC combo. The WA8 had such amazing synergy with the HD800S that I bought it on the spot. I hope to do a more detailed review of the WA8 in the future. 

     

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    So that’s it for Part 1 of this two-part written review series. Stay tuned for Part 2 in which I discuss various electrostatic headphones including Stax’s latest release, the SR-X9000; compare the SR009 with the SR009S; share my views on the underrated Hifiman Shangrila JR and the very beautiful Audeze CRBN; as well as thoughts on Meze’s Elite, Focal Celeste, and FiiO’s latest M17 DAP. Until next time!

     


    About the Author:

    Sajid Amit is an academic, researcher and practitioner in international development by day, and audiophile night and day. His YouTube channel is called the Amplify Audiophile Show and is available here. His HeadFi thread is here. 
     

     

     




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    Thanks so much for the report @Sajid Amit! This made me really miss audio shows even more and look forward to Munich next month. I'm happy you spent a bit of time with the Grados. I've always loved Grado headphones. I fully understand they aren't the most accurate, but there is something about them I love. 

     

    I still need to get the IE900!

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    33 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    Thanks so much for the report @Sajid Amit! This made me really miss audio shows even more and look forward to Munich next month. I'm happy you spent a bit of time with the Grados. I've always loved Grado headphones. I fully understand they aren't the most accurate, but there is something about them I love. 

     

    I still need to get the IE900!

    Agreed, my friend. Something about the Grados!

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    On 4/13/2022 at 6:50 PM, zerung said:

    Thank you for the nice writeup.

     

    On the subject of Thailand; Let me peddle some Thai Music. Very Audiophile and easy to listen to:

    Chutima Kaewneam|Inspiration By Impression

     

    https://www.qobuz.com/ie-en/album/inspiration-by-impression-chutima-kaewneam-waraporn-luangpanit-komsun-uengprasert/ii83knjoj0s7b

     

     

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    Thank you for reading! And for sharing the song recommendation!

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    Always a pleasure reading your reviews Sajid. Wish you had added the Thailand pics :-). I agree its beautiful city and the beaches are the best. Wish we had the same beaches here in Los Angeles. 

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    Hi Ajay. 

    Yes, for sure will post some Thailand pics in part 2, for sure!

    Best,

    Sajid

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