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Main menu: Tests
Theme: Trafomatic tube headphone amp

July 2008.

Trafomatic Experience Head One (part 1)

with Saša Daničić
© HiFiCafe.NET 2008.

Reviewer's dilemmas

For purpose of more objectively perception of audio product like a tube headphone amplifier, which is after all for nuance specifically, well why not to say „intimate” than others, before any concrete activities I have surfed on Internet in search for text on this subject. Already after couple of texts on this subject the following was clear:
beside testing device it was needed to have at least one reference device with which you could make a comparison (another amplifier, tube or solid state) and two model of headphones as nearest quality (which doesn’t mean the same price range).

With all that announcing to couple of friends that I’ll test tube amplifier for headphones, as one of obligatory question from their side was “and with what will you compare it?”. Well, I won’t compare it because I don’t have with what to compare. Does it mean then that this test isn’t objective? Well, it’s on you to decide - whether you’ll continue reading or you shall close this page in your browser.

For you that decided to continue follows the extension.

Sound test

Since we cleared, I hope, how the things are, it’s obviously that my starting position wasn’t weary representative. Of course, if we don’t count the good will to “hear” Trafomatic product in spite all, in as much possible optimal conditions. I had only one headphone (Sennheiser PX200 that inherited from by kids "stamped" model PX100), which I use for couple of years attached to laptop to listen music or watch a movie in a hotel, while waiting airplane on airport and so. And that’s it. And of course as it usually happens, luck “smiled” at me and situation changed over the night.
Saša Čokić from Trafomatic called me and said that he purchased for his own needs Grado SR-80 headphones and that he will deliver them to me as soon as possible, and then a couple of days later I got them from those good people that wanted to stay anonymous and Grado GS-1000 headphones on borrow as long as I would need them.
Well, what now? Is this good or bad development of situation?

Good - yes if you consider the fact that model SR-80 is well known and quite a bit spread model in our areas (not to say wider), and that GS-1000 is globally on top of the reference headphones of “classical” design. Now someone can ask “which are those non-classic headphones?”. Well let’s say Stax earspeakers (electrostatic headphones with recommend tube or solid state output „drive unit“), then „open air ear speaker“ headphones for various walkmans/discmans, iPods and similar gadgets, etc.

Bad - because until now I have never seriously hangout with Grado headphones so that their sound is absolutely unknown to me.

If I have continued to hesitate and lament over the situation, from this article certainly nothing would happen, so I picked up everything I got, made space on my shelf for a new “guest”, connected cables, turned on the amplifier to "warm up " tubes, put up a coffee and from my disc's shelf choose up some favorite tracks to listen. On sunset of one of those days that announced expected arrival of spring, listening could begin. And so on during next two weeks, officially, for purpose of this test.

I've started listening first with a SR-80 model. Or all of you that have this model or had a chance to try it, you’ll agree that they are not a champion in comfort, o not in a long way. Personally they were too tight for me and after every half of hour I took them of to get some rest for my ears. Fortunately as an accessory on that ergonomic shortage it doesn’t come with a weight, so that after all you won’t have the impression that you have some "tank alike" or similar model on your head.

As a first CD choice fell on album of Brazilian guitarist and singer Celso Fonseca („Rive Gauche Rio“, Ziriguiboom/Crammed Discs, Zir24). Very intimate record, that from arrangement and performance perspective in a modern way paraphrase, and often “quotes” classical Latino sound in his best tradition as it was defined at one time the names like Caetano Veloso, Joao Gilbert, Astrud Gilberto and their alike. Floating, wide, warm, rhythmical and seductive sound tide that suddenly surrounds you from all sides and continues on waves carrying you from song to song. An illusion that you can’t complain, except that it has lost after opening my eyes after 3 combined songs that I listened in a row but not being aware of it. Detail resolution is very good but in a certain way little confusing, since I have listened this album numerous times on at least ten systems, but experience was never like this one a minute ago. Or its about something else, like that the sound source points have been lost and that the sound is coming from all ways or from one point and then spreading  concentric from centre.

Classical music had its main representative in “Piano Concerto No. 1” by Tchaikovsky, remastered release from RCA edition Victor Living Stereo (Piano Concerto No. 1, B-Flat Minor Op. 23; The Nutcracker (Excerpts), Fritz Reiner and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, SONY BMG Music, 09026685302). Regarding the year of publishing of this tapes („Piano Concert“ 1955. and „Nutcracker“ 1959.) it is quite clear that all damage on original master tape could not be removed and that is heard nicely, but in no way will it disrupt you to enjoy in performance and music it self. Regarding the “Piano Concerto No. 1” dynamical contrast is well preserved even on a low volume levels, but on higher levels considering a weakly defined bass in relation with very good treble, with this challenging materials, final impression is that you are still denied with complete impression and that the sound is somehow “thin”. Complete picture is noticeably combusted, not enough focused and it can tire down listener after longer listening. But rhythm and neutrality of sound is still present enough that mentioned shortages makes you want to give up from loosing your time and get back to your speakers and listening of music without annoyance to neighbours.

In the case of „Nutcracker”, general impression is far better because of overall recording quality which is on a far higher level. Also a 4 year technical advance has probably done their thing. And that you can hear on SR-80 very clearly and contact with music is far more intimate and direct from first tact of known themes from this ballet.

Beauty (or perhaps “curse”) engaging hi-fi at least on hobby level, certainly lies in that we always try to hear higher, better, clearly, cleaner than we had a chance to do until then. All this can unfortunately be very frustrating, if we don’t have the luck to experience something of this with normal “psycho-mental” engagement. Listening the only official album that Mitar Subotić Suba published under his name, titled „Sao Paulo Confessions“ (again with Ziriguiboom/Crammed Discs label, Zir03), the amount of new details and their distribution inside the sound image was above all expectations. Mentioned album definitely isn’t something you could find on a list of “reference” labels, watching strictly from audiophile perspective. But there are many reasons to find its place on top of the list of albums that illustrate how its possible on very personal, brave and conscious way, to fuse and define one different electro-latin music expression. Modern, and also much relied on tradition.

Few songs from this to me very dear and privately very significant album, I admit were very hard and uninteresting to listen on speakers. Listening them on a combination of Experience Head One and SR-80 experience was quite different. “Around my head” suddenly appeared so many details quite differently placed in ambience than it seemed to me listening mentioned album on speakers. Sound sparkles in form of samples, and harmonic lines that followed them, on a moment seemed so confusing that I had to rewind the song again on the beginning and check if I’ve had heard that well or I only thought so.
Concentrated arrangement structure from this album was a great test to see how will Experience Head One manage the resolution and dramatic completion this time created by electronic instruments, samples, rhythm machines and at the end – original Brazilian percussions.
Well he managed it and very well nevertheless, but it point out that we haven’t head it all.

Before that model GS-1000 has found itself on my head, I tried to mentally relax myself and approach to a new circle of listening comely, without falling into trance before time with a glass of vine. Actually, why am I faking, I said to my self, those are just headphones one of most famous and appreciated manufacturers on the world. And I was right, almost ...
Can a 40 years old person be delighted with something like a 4 year old kid? Why not!? And why am I asking you that? Am I perhaps exalted, but ashamed to admit? Well I am not ashamed and I admit - I was thrilled.

Honestly, I was afraid on the beginning. will GS-1000 be a tough bite for Experience Head One? It was a big bite, but for someone else. Namely GS-1000 with Experience Head One support is simply a combination that doesn’t forgive and were the word compromise is almost forbidden to mention. If you remember what I wrote in previous chapters regarding SR-80, here it got totally expected on quality for two classes more – and timbre and resolution, and rhythm and stage dimension, and transmission of dramatic plot capability, and overall control of the sound picture.

But also all shortages of a record came to the surface, production, mastering, (over-modulation and in a relation with speakers much noticeable entry in clipping as a result of unnatural loudness of record). Clearly a GS-1000 is very serious piece of hifi equipment. After more than two weeks of officially using the same and with listening totally different music materials, impression that I acquired was- that amplifier that arouse them, which was  Experience Head One in concrete case, only in extreme cases didn’t manage to win the fight with music material.


SR-80 and GS-1000 are not headphones on which you will experience catharsis and thrill listening to all kinds of music, and also listening to music on 100 dB and more levels of volume. Of course, no one can forbid you, but then you can forget for at least third of those things they recommend you with Experience Head One listening on a long way without fatigue, beauty of middle tone part of the specter as a special trademark of tube amplifiers, very good treble, bass that doesn’t go all the way but is controlled because of that, emotion of vocals that is almost impossible to resist, timbre that sometimes can “deceive” a listener but does it on utmost likeable way.
Balance, relaxation and realism may not be on that level you could have standing or sitting on some concert, but surely it is very close, maybe even closer to the music you have expected.

But surely should be very clearly said that it’s unreal to expect that a category of headphones like GS-1000 can afford large number of a good sound lovers, and those that from very personal and objective reasons will reach for headphones as a valid part of hifi system. Or to make a wrong conclusion that if you don’t have most expensive headphones you wont be in position to enjoy in the sound that Experience Head One gives. On the contraire with SR-80 you’ll be on only few steps from total pleasure, subjective, and from the aspect of price/quality ratio. If I would want to relay on intuition, and concretely about Grado program, my opinion is that model SR-325i would be that point you should never go over in combination with Experience Head One.

With assumption that you believe in your CD player, with some extra time spent on playing with various electric cables, and if there is time with interconnect cables, you will be assured how the sound in your headphones is magically changing from very pleasant to elevate.

A few useful remarks: when attaching power cables pay attention to the IEC polarity, more exactly schuko socket. Also, time needed to accomplish amplifiers optimal working point ("burn-in" time is approx. 50 hours) is between 30 and 45 minutes.

Before connecting the headphones you must check input impedance and towards it set the selector on front side (30, 100 or 300 ohms). Grado models have impedance of 32 ohms, while for instance Sennheiser has typicaly 300 ohms.


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