Firstly I would like to thank Feliks Audio for the loan unit for review, I have been using it for the past month and a half roughly and it has been thoroughly burnt in which is essential with valve amps.
Marantz CD-52 > Coaxial > Matrix Quattro II DAC > Elise > Hifiman HE-500 / Beyer T1 2nd Generation
Audio Opus #1 > Optical > Matrix Quattro II DAC > Elise > Hifiman HE-500 / Beyer T1 2nd Generation
- Input Impedance: 100 kOhm
- Frequency response: 10 Hz - 60 Khz +/- 3 dB (300 ohm)
- Power output: 200mW
- Pre-amp Gain: 20dB
- THD: 0.4 % (300 ohm, 20 mW)
- Supported headphones impedance: 32 - 600 ohm
- Headphones output: Jack 6.3mm
- AC: 230V/120V (power cord included)
- Dimensions: 310x205x170 [mm]
- MSRP: $699
Packaging, Accessories and Build Quality:
The Elise comes in a plain card box, with cut out polystyrene to hold it all securely in place, the valves come in boxes and bubble wrap and are numbered. The product comes very well packaged and nothing can move or break during shipping. But there is no commercial packaging as such, but that makes no difference in my opinion.
Accessories are none, but this doesn’t need any, it comes with everything you need, the amp, valves, power cable and a manual (which shows where to insert each valve)
Build quality is impeccable, no imperfections in the finish of the amp, all the inputs and the headphone out are solid, and the valve sockets are tight. And to top it off it looks fantastic with a very understated matte black finish, and symmetrical valve placement. There are cooling vents on the bottom of the unit, feet are pre attached and it all works as it should. The volume knob has a small line indicator for the volume, and the volume pot is very smooth to operate.
This is an OTL valve amp, it has 1 set of inputs and 1 set of outputs, I would have liked it to have 3 inputs like its sibling the Espressivo, but I can get by with just one set of inputs. There is a set of RCA output sockets which mean this can be used as a pre-amp, a nice little feature.
There is a small blue light that indicates the unit it on, just below the headphone jack (not that you need it with glowing tubes), this amp does get very hot as you would expect, so don’t leave flammable materials resting on it, but I have ran it for 8hrs and more and it has been fine.
This amp is suitable for high and low impedance headphones, however it does work best with high impedance headphones like the Beyerdynamic T1, but also works well with the Hifiman HE-500, which are low impedance but need a lot of power.
The Elise has incredible valve rolling capabilities with the use of adapters or without, making this very tuneable to your tastes. The stock valves are a great starting point though, sound excellent and give you a good idea of what valve amps sound like.
Here are the recommended alternatives to stock valves:
Standard: 6AS7G (6N13S)
Alternatives: 6080, 5998, 6N5P, 6N5S, ECC230, 7236, CV2523
Alternatives: 6N8S, CV181, ECC32, 5692, 6F8G
I will mainly be comparing the Elise to its sibling the Espressivo which I own, my reference amp of choice is the Matrix Quattro II internal amp, it is very balanced and neutral.
First let me tell you that the Elise has plenty of gain, and drives the T1 with ease, and even drives the HE-500 with authority. I have tested turning up the volume with the HE-500 and no clipping can be heard throughout the range, most of my listening was done at around the 10’oclock mark with the HE-500. The Espressivo doesn’t drive the HE-500 as well, and clipping occurs at 2o’clock onwards (louder than anyone would want to listen to however) and I find the Espressivo has more gain (9o’clock normal listening level) but less authority in raw power.
The Elise has a smooth and full sound, it brings a sense of euphoria to your headphones and music of choice. It does this however with no effort, it never strains to bring out the detail in the music, or the volume. Compared to a more neutral amplifier I find the lows are fuller, which in turn fills out the mids slightly without masking the finer details in your music. I find this is where you can tell apart the budget valve amps from the serious ones, it has the warmth of the valves but it is subtle and doesn’t smear the details or sound, it just slightly enhances it.
I know there are purists out there that want wire with gain, and then there are people like me who just want to sit back and enjoy the music, with this amp I find myself just enjoying it, and not analysing the sound of my headphones or the amp.
It brings out a sense of grandiose, and emotion in the music you are listening to, it doesn’t hurl detail at your face, but you can hear them if you listen. I also find it does not lack power, I am a big fan of rock, post-harcore and metalcore, and with the HE-500 there is speed and precision without harshness.
I just feel my headphones sound more natural and effortless with a hint of warmth from this amp. It is very hard to describe the exact sound of this amp, as it is such a good amp for the money, it is warm but not overly smooth, it is powerful and extends to both extremes very well, I think the best way to sum it up is effortless and non fatiguing.
Compared to the Espressivo, I find the Elise smoother, the Espressivo sounds a little more detailed and airy, but doesn’t have the power or resolution of Elise, the Elise sounds more effortless and less strained. The Matrix Quattro II sounds sterile in comparison to the Elise, the Elise just makes everything sound bigger and fuller, but still separate and detailed. The Matrix Quattro II is great for referencing but for actual enjoyment the Elise is so much better.
Conclusion: From the build quality, to the customer service to the sound everything about this amp is good, and for the $699 asking price it is an incredible deal indeed. The rolling capabilities are huge, but the stock valves are a great starting point. It looks as good as it sounds too, they have managed to make it functional and aesthetically pleasing all in one. The sound is warm and full, with a wide soundstage and a very easy to listen to sound, yet it doesn’t stumble when it comes to technicalities either. It has the emotion to bring out the subtleties in Diana Kralls - The Girl in the Other Room, and the power to play Story Of The Years – Black Swan without faltering.
It works well with most headphones too, of course you won’t want to use sensitive IEM’s with it, but most full size headphones will work well, it even works well with the slightly warmer sounding Fostex TH500rp, but does play better with neutral-bright sounding headphones. And valve rolling allows you to match the sound of the amp to the headphones to some extent, making this a truly versatile amp.
All that could be added is more inputs.
Sound Perfection Rating: 10/10 (Incredible value, impeccable build, impressive sound)