Melos SHA-1 headphone amplifier Page 3

Days passed, and the sound got even better! The bass settled into a nice, tight groove, and the overall sound just kept getting more open and relaxed. But above all, the adjective I kept coming back to was clear. The speaker placement was far from optimum, and the gear wasn't sitting on spiked steel Audiophile-Approved racks; Allah forgive me, I was even using a single-box Japanese CD player!!!!! I tried to remind myself that the Melos was a headphone amplifier, not a preamp, but the bedroom system sounded so good I gave JA a call to tell him about my find.

"John, it's about the Melos SHA-1 headphone amplifier—"

"Wonderful line stage, that," JA said. "I'm using it as my reference preamp at the moment, and the system just sings."

"Uhm...yeah.'s Harry?"

Beaten to the punch by the Hurdy Gurdy Man.

Like it is
So what does the Melos SHA-1/Grado headphones combo sound like?

Like it is. That's all I can come up with; the Melos amp and the Grado headphones are the most revealing, detailed, transparent listening tool I've yet heard. Bar none. The "best" speakers and amplifiers can present an amazing illusion of reality in a good-sounding room, but nothing I've heard comes as close to telling you exactly what the audio signal sounds like as the Melos/Grado setup. Not the Apogee Grands, not the IRS Vs, not the B&W 800s. Not even the excellent $2000 Stax SR-Lambda Signatures with their tubed driver circuit, which I find to sound less "see-through" than the $1500 Melos/Grado rig I'm listening to as I write.

No matter what recordings I listened to, the Melos/Grado combination revealed information and detail I hadn't heard before. I must have listened to Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland at least a thousand times over the years, but I heard hidden details like buried overdubs, weird reverb tails, drum-kit rattles, wholesale phasing manipulation, and countless other little buried treasures that were all new to me. As I said before in my Rotel CD player review in Vol.15 No.3, listening with the Grados is like looking with a high-power microscope; everything, and I mean everything that your signal source sends down the line is laid out in naked, obvious detail. Free of the listening-room echoes and reverberant wash and amp/speaker colorations that obscure this kind of detail in even the best systems and rooms, the Melos/Grado combo comes closest to the paradigm of just simply plugging your interconnects into your ears than anything else I've heard.

Listening to Electric Ladyland, I heard stuff like Jimi talking to the rest of the musicians in the studio at the very start of "Rainy Day, Dream Away"; over speakers, I can just barely hear some extremely low-level talking going on, and it's hard to tell just who it is doing the talking, but the Melos/Grados allowed me to not only identify Jimi's voice, but to actually hear what he was saying quite clearly and easily. And at the very end of "1983: A Merman I Should Turn To Be," I heard for the first time some breakthrough guitar tracks that poked through the sounds of the spaceship circling Earth for the last time before the track fades into the lead-out groove. I sat there thinking, "This is crazy!" There should have been nothing on Electric Ladyland that's escaped my notice after all these years of intensive digging, but there it was, song after song: guitars and bass and voices and sound effects that I was hearing for the very first time. It was almost like listening to a brand-new record, and exciting beyond words.

Look, let me set the record straight here. When I sit down to listen to music, the object is not to "listen for" squiggly little details like this in order to validate my system's alleged sooper-dooper resolving powers. Rather, it's to sit back and let the emotional message of the musicians, if there is any at all, come through and excite/delight/soothe/enrage/seduce/amuse/move me. If there's one aspect of the Audiophile Approach to Listening I just can't relate to, it's this insane obsession with reaching farther and farther and farther into the record groove/CD pits, the thought being that, once you break through some mythical layer of shale around 2000' down (and the only way to do that is to spend spend spend that long long green, and the line forms to the left, boys), there exists "special" information that will fill in all the blanks and finally break down the barrier to perfect sound reproduction.

Sh'yeah! And maybe Jason Donovan will fly out of my butt!

So while I confess astonishment at the high level of resolution that the Melos SHA-1 and the Grado headphones possess, I have to throw in this li'l warning not to take this review as an endorsement of the Great Detail Safari. The Melos/Grados duo is a powerful listening tool, but it can actually end up being distracting if you're so bowled over by all the heretofore hidden detail you don't hear the music as a whole.

OK, back to the rave.

Wear your love like heaven
As it happens, I was able to do a "bypass" test with the Melos by hooking my Grados up directly to the Theta DS Pro Basic II's outputs; the Theta's BUF-03 output buffers' 2 ohm output impedance can drive the Grados directly, although I had to find some CDs that were recorded at a lower average level than most due to the lack of any level control with this arrangement. Levels were matched using the 1kHz test tone on the first Stereophile Test CD and measuring the AC voltage at the headphone jack with the Grados connected.

111 South Valley View Blvd. Suite A-217
Las Vegas, NV 89102
(702) 248-6745