Review: Elemental Watson Hybrid Valve Headphone Amplifier

Firstly I would like to thank Jaben Singapore for this sample, I always try to write honest reviews. This unit received over 50hrs of burn-in to let the tubes settle.

Gear used:
HP Laptop > JDS Labs OL DAC > Elemental Watson > Hifiman HE-500


Tech Specs:
  • Frequency Response : 10 Hz – 100 kHz (-3dB)
  • Output power :
    • 250 mW + 250 mW (300 ohm)
    • 2000 mW + 2000 mW (30 ohm)
  • Headphone impedance : 30 – 600 ohm
  • Power supply ; 26V/0.8A DC adaptor
  • Dimensions : 140 x 90 x 130 mm
  • Net weight : 320 grams

Packaging, Accessories and Build Quality:
The packaging is nothing special, it comes in a simple brown card box, but it does its job in protecting the amp during shipping. All it has on the box is a sticker with very basic specification. Overall no fancy packaging, but then again, most boxes end up in a cupboard or thrown out so I am not too worried about this.

Accessory wise all it comes with is a very brief user manual and the power supply. Again nothing else is really needed but some companies include interconnects and jack adaptors. Again not worried about the lack of accessories as they are not required and this is a fairly budget amp.

Build quality is good, the sockets all feel solid, and the design is very simplistic and open. Nothing remarkable about the build, but I like the look and it helps it stay cool. The heatsinks at the side get quite warm, but the valves don’t get very hot and this amp tends to stay fairly cool compared to some tube amps, you wouldn’t burn yourself on this amp.


Features:
The valves are GE JAN 5654WE and are rollable, with other 5654/6AK5 equivalent valves.
The amp uses a dual-mono design, the valves are used on the gain stage, and the output is class-A mosfet powered.
It has a pair of RCA inputs, a 3.5mm line-input and a 6.3mm headphone output, this is an amp suited for hard to drive headphones, as the gain is high and there is channel imbalance at very low volumes.


Sound:
This amp may not be the best looking, have the best packaging but this is what matters, and it does not disappoint. It may look unassuming, but hook up the HE-500 and it drives them with ease, the lows are full and articulate, the mids ooze emotion and the highs are not aggressive, they are delicate with excellent definition and extension. I find this amp to play well with all genres, slower music tends to sound more delicate and you get hear a little more warmth, but it can keep up with faster music too.

This amp is smooth, slightly warm and full, it has incredible power too. Most of my listening on the HE-500 was done with the volume pot at just below 9 O’clock. My Feliks Audio Espressivo doesn’t sound quite right with the HE-500, it doesn’t have enough power to really control the low end and they sound a little thin with it, my Matrix Quattro II has a powerful headphone amp but it is too linear for casual listening. This amp for under £200 powers them really well and sounds excellent in doing so.

It would pair well with most flat to slightly bright headphones, it is small and sits nicely on a desktop set up, and is perfect for those that want a slightly more fun sounding amp.
The sound is not ruler flat, it has some warmth to it, but it is a very easy to listen to amp. It does not have the refinement of high-end valve amps, but it is a lot better than the cheaper Bravo Audio amps.


Conclusion: If you have some hard to drive headphones and are looking for a budget amp, you should take a look at this. It works really well with the HE-500, and has a very easy to listen to sound, for the price I am very impressed, you can valve roll too which will change the sound to some extent.

Sound Perfection Rating: 9/10 (Excellent value for money, just not suitable for sensitive headphones)



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