I got the EF-6 in for a few weeks or until further notice. So I thought I would do some comparisons.
This is a nice sized box and has some good weight to it as well. Bigger and heavier than the stacked GS-X mk2, but not as big or as heavy as the F1J. So it sits right in the middle of the other two amps size wise.
This is a Single Ended (SE) amp with only SE inputs, the other two amps have both balanced and SE inputs.
After running for 3 to 4 hours straight the EF-6 gets a little warm, warmer than the GS-X mk2 but not nearly as hot as the “room heater” F1J. The F1J gets hot to the touch.
These impressions are only with the HE-6 headphone and using the SE inputs on all amps. I will use other headphones later.
First up: EF-6 vs. F1J
PWD mkII (DAC)
The first thing I noticed about the EF-6 is that it had full control of the HE-6. The bass has a lot of body, very full sounding and very powerful and goes deep while not being exaggerated or muddy it’s actually pretty tight. However, the overall sound signature sounds a bit laid back for my taste. The F1J is livelier in comparison, has more attack more punch in the overall presentation. The mid range on the EF-6 is very clean, sounds a little recessed and a tab bit thick in the lower mids. The highs are smooth, yet still on the laid back side. The F1J highs are livelier and have more energy while being tamed pretty darn good.
Still the sound of the EF-6 just sounds pushed back to me and can sound lifeless compared to the F1J. I have to turn the volume up to get the energy I like. First I changed the PWD for the Master 7. It did make the EF-6 sound more open and the soundstage got wider by a slight margin, but still not the sound I wanted to hear. Then I found a switch on the back of the amp. -10 and 0, it was on the -10 side. I switched it to 0. “Yes” I mean the amp came alive. Now it has the energy I was looking for. Put the PWD back in the chain, now its closer to the F1J than before still not as refined and not as lively. Still the EF-6 being a little more laid back or mellower compared to the F1J, it sounds almost like the F1J on the 0 setting compared to the -10 setting.
These two amps has a different type of sound signature; with the F1J being a little more energetic and a little more refined sounding, having more power, attack and authority and able to tame the treble better. The EF-6 may have a touch of midrange sweetness; The EF-6 is not rough has no grain and is not aggressive; it does not lack power and it stays pretty controlled at higher volume levels. It has a pretty clean and detailed sound, with maybe a tad bit of excess treble energy that might make it sound a bit bright for some on the 0 setting, not to me. Although the treble is less tamed when compared to the F1J.
IMO to get the best out this amp with the HE-6 I would use it on the 0 setting. Using this amp on the -10 setting with the HE-6 IMO sounds dull, pushed back, almost veiled, Use it on the 0 setting it sounds more upfront, more involving and has more energy.
While the bass is pretty good on the EF-6, it has to take a back seat to the F1J. You wouldn’t know this unless they were compared side by side. The F1J delivers more force and punches harder. They both seem to go really deep and both are able to stay tight and controlled. The F1J just has more quantity, more snap, and more impact. The EF-6 has these qualities as well, just not at the level of the F1J.
The EF-6 does not lack in the soundstage area in fact it’s pretty good. It has less air than the F1J, it sounds less open as well. However, the EF-6 does have a deep and wide soundstage. Instrument separation goes to the F1J because of it being more open and having more air IMO, but the EF-6 does not sound congested at all. The soundstage, imaging, instrument separation and detail retrieval on the EF-6 is on par or better than most of the SS headphone amps out there that I’ve heard.
If I had to pick one of these two amps to use with the HE-6, I would go with the F1J with out a doubt. It has the energy, attack, punch, transparency, detail and authority that I like. The EF-6 is not that far behind using the 0 setting, but still not up to the performance levels of the F1J. The F1J is the best amp I’ve heard with the HE-6 “That I can afford”. I’ve heard better that cost way out of my price range.
Next up: EF-6 vs. GS-X mk2
Master 7 (DAC)
EF-6 on 0 setting:
This match up is a little easier to compare. I will use the SE loop out on the GS-X mk2 into the EF-6. This is a much easier way – no changing out cables, all I have to do is switch the headphone from one amp to the other.
The highs / treble are much more tamed and extend out much further on the GS-X mk2, they’re pretty good on the EF-6 as well just not as tamed and less polished when compared to the GS-X mk2. I would say the EF-6 extends a little less and may have a bit more treble energy that might not be welcomed to some. I could live with it where it may be an issue to others. I would say the GS-X mk2 wins here.
Same here with the midrange, both are detailed, well balanced, not recessed or overly forward sounding with the EF-6 having a more sweet sound and the GS-X mk2 having a more neutral and refined sound. At moderate listening levels the GS-X mk2 is the cleaner and more precise sounding. At higher listening levels the EF-6 gets better, while the GS-X mk2 maxes out.
The EF-6 wins here.
The soundstage is a clear winner for the GS-X mk2. That’s just because this amp does exceptionally well in this area. The EF-6 is not far behind at all, it’s very good, with good width and depth. I would say the EF-6 has a more open sound, more air compared to the GS-X mk2. Still the GS-X mk2 wins here.
Overall I thought the two amps were fairly comparable when using the HE-6. The EF-6 is the less clean or less polished sounding amp of the two. However, it makes up for that with its good power, punch and attack when compared to the GS-X mk2. The bass is powerful and well controlled on both, IMO the EF-6 has a bit more thump to it. Also at higher volume levels the bass on the GS-X mk2 will start to distort just a little with the HE-6 not so on the EF-6. The EF-6 wins here.
The GS-X mk2 is without a doubt the more transparent of the two. You can really tell by comparing these two side by side that the EF-6 has a slight mid-range warmth and GS-X mk2 does not IMO.
The GS-X mk2 can’t keep up with the EF-6 in terms of scaling to a higher volume level. As I push the volume, the EF-6 keeps going and gets stronger, while the GS-X mk2 is to the max and starts to distort on high gain just a little, again only with the HE-6. I can push it to the max as well on medium gain, it has no distortion but it also has less attack and less punch. The EF-6 wins here.
If using only the HE-6 I’ll take the EF-6 by a hair. That’s at higher volume levels and if you want to rock out. At lower volume levels I’d go with the GS-X mk2, but the HE-6 sounds it’s best at higher volume levels. However, as close as these two are using the HE-6, they are much further apart using other headphones: in favor of the GS-X mk2.
Remember this is with the HE-6 headphone only.
Highs / treble: detail retrieval – micro and macro, the ability to tame the treble
F1J --> GS-X mk2 --> EF-6
Bass: Impact, quantity, quality
F1J --> EF-6 --> GS-x mk2
Soundstage: Deep, wide, back to front, left to right.
GS-X mk II --> F1J --> EF-6
Instrument separation: Air, openness
F1J --> EF-6 --> GS-X mk2
Imaging and placement:
Three way tie. biggrin.gif
(GS-X mk2, F1J) --> EF-6
EF-6 --> (GS-X mk2, F1J) - The Ef-6 has the sweetest midrange. Both the GS-X mk2 and the F1J have a pretty neutral midrange. So if you like a little color the EF-6 is the winner. If you like your music untouched then the other two amps are winners. Pick your poison.
Sheer Power: Grunt, muscle
F1J --> EF-6 --> GS-X mk2
With the HE-6 both the F1J and GS-X mk2 are super clean, very revealing, dynamic and ruthlessly transparent. These amps will tell you what your source is. They just tell the truth. The EF-6 has a very light touch of sweetness to it. So matching this with a sweet sounding DAC may not be the best paring unless you like that sort of thing. A more neutral DAC will make this amp sound really good IMO. While the GS-X mk2 is more graceful, and delicate so to speak the F1J and EF-6 has more grunt or oomph – for lack of a better word.
Out of all the SS “headphone” amps I’ve heard the HE-6 on, I would say the EF-6 and GS-X mk2 are the best thus far. I have not had a chance to hear the DarkStar. I’m sure the EF-6 will put up a great fight also being half the cost it already has a lead IMO.
If anyone were to only use the HE-6 I would go with the EF-6 that is if you didn’t want to venture into speaker amps. IMO the GS-X mk2 is the best all around SS amp that I’ve heard. If you have multiple TOTL headphones like the HD800, LCDx, TH900, T1, HE-500, Mad Dogs, and well just about any headphone you can think of: The GS-X mk2 is the way to go. Of course the Ragnarok is coming out soon and might have something to say about that.