Melos SHA-1 headphone amplifier Page 4
Running the same comparison between my own buffered passive preamp and the direct Theta hookup, my preamp sounded identical to the bypass sound through the bass range, but added a slight forwardness in the lower midrange that the Melos did not. The extreme high end was closer; where my preamp was indistinguishable from the direct Theta hookup, the Melos sounded rounder and more liquid, which gave the sound a sense of ease on top that was not at all unwelcome. Don't infer from these comments that the Melos has that old-fashioned, Mr. Softee tube sound, however; the Melos's high end is alive and open.
In terms of sheer loudness, the Melos was able to drive the Grados far louder while remaining cleaner and clearer than my own buffered passive preamp, which could play the 'phones fairly loud but went into clipping before the Melos did. If you need more volume than the Melos/Grado combo, either you plugged your turntable directly into the Melos or you are DEAF, bub! In which case, CONGRATULATIONS! Now you can enjoy your music again without worrying about the temporal palpitude, timbral viscosity, or whether or not the fourth flautist from the left was chewing Bubble Yum or his own cud.
From a flower to a garden
So the Melos is clearly a Class A headphone amplifier, the perfect partner for the cool-man Grado headphones. But even though this combo is the clearest, most transparent listening tool you can buy, it's still just a tool. I call it a tool because, while the Melos/Grado duo will allow you to instantly hear the most minute detail in the music, the slightest difference between sources, cables, passive parts, and other minutiae in the signal path, it is not a substitute for listening to music over a pair of speakers in a room. Because while the Melos/Grados can reveal even the tiniest nuance, they can't reproduce SPACE. No headphones can unless you're listening to a binaural recording, and those things usually feature guys playing ping pong, or else it's a "you are there" location recording of a busy street corner, babbling brook in a forest, etc., and the thought of some audionut listening to a binaural recording of a babbling brook in a forest instead of actually getting off his fat ass and EXPERIENCING A BABBLING BROOK IN REAL LIFE makes my brain hurt. So while the Melos/Grados setup is astonishingly revealing in terms of tonal differences and the like, it won't tell you anything about the sense of acoustic ambience, or lack thereof, in a recording.
That's when you plug it into your system as a line-level preamp, and that's when the Melos SHA-1 really shines! The SHA-1 is just so natural-sounding, so free of the grain and congestion and coloration that plague most preamps, that I wonder if you can really do significantly better at any price.
Until I heard the Melos, I wasn't happy with the line-stage performance of any preamp I tried; that's why I originally built a passive preamp, and that's why I ended up building my buffered passive preamp to address the shortcomings of the purely passive approach. Until you hear your system with one of these minimalist units, you won't believe how colored even some of the most highly regarded line stages are.
Well, the Melos SHA-1 is just as good, if not better. At no time did I ever feel the need to switch back to my own preamp during the months I used the Melos as the preamp in my main system; it's just a terrific-sounding piece of gear.