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Thread: Arkless MC Head Amp: Full Review

  1. #1
    Join Date: Jul 2016

    Location: Welsh Borders

    Posts: 175
    I'm Gary.

    Default Arkless MC Head Amp: Full Review

    Right, let's take another look at this Arkless MkII Head Amp. I posted my first impressions on here a few days back. I have now had the chance to do some more listening, note-taking, thinking and finally writing. This is a piece of kit I anticipate holding on to for keeps (I can't imagine how much I might have to pay to improve on MC vinyl replay vs what I have here) - so it may be of value to any of you who are in the market for a very high quality head amp or SUT to know why I like it so much.

    First off, the system: I am using a Fidelity Research MC 702 cartridge, playing through a NVA Phono 2 stage, passive pre-amp using a conventional Panasonic stereo volume pot, SET amp and Audio Note AN-J loudspeakers. The cartridge manufacturer specifies a loading of between 3 and 60 Ohm. The loading of the Head Amp is achieved with resistive plugs - supplied by Jez according to whatever value you specify - round the back of the unit, here ...



    I am currently using a pair of 51 Ohm plugs. No doubt I will experiment with my 75s and 120s in due course, and I may post my impressions if they are at all interesting. But what am I hearing now?

    Well, first record on was a modern Living Stereo re-pressing of Sonny Rollins' "The Bridge". I was genuinely taken aback! The sound coming from my very familiar system was immediately fresher, more energetic and extremely powerful - but without thickening up or becoming in any way dense. It was as if someone had hoovered up the mush and hash (that I hadn't even been aware of before) from between the notes and voices of instruments and the different layers of music, leaving clean fresh space between them. The texture of the music was open and clear, and I had not previously appreciated how much this contributes to "getting" the feel and architecture of the piece so much more readily. It was a bit of a revelation to me!

    At the beginning of side 2 is a piece with some terrific double bass playing. I was truly astonished at how my system, incorporating the new head amp, was now playing this back. I have NEVER heard double bass move so quickly, firmly and powerfully. Every note had clean edges and every one of them stopped before the next one started. It was remarkable to hear articulation like that at such breakneck speed (and on an instrument that can too easily sound puffy and indistinct). And very tuneful too - very low sounds came through as musical notes, not as a rumble.

    On to record no. 2: Patricia Barber's studio album "Modern Cool" on Premonition. This is a superb recording which captures the full range of jazz pleasures - smoky female vocals, keening electric guitar breaks, a cracked, desolate-sounding flugel and more fabulous bass playing, much of it bowed. Again, it was absolutely thrilling to hear the music laid bare, so clear in texture and timbre with every woody vibration or cymbal brush stroke resonating in the air. It was on this record that I really started noticing the positioning of the instruments and the musical "stage". I'll make a confession now: I have never really "got" all the stuff that is talked about soundstage. When people say that they are getting a holographic sound image and it's as though the musicians are there in the room with them, disporting themselves amongst the sofas and sideboards, my reaction has always been a bit "yeah, whatever ..." But for the first time, I'm starting to get it. I noticed a genuinely realistic and pleasing distribution of the sound across the whole of the opposite side of my sitting room. Somebody who is really tuned into this whole soundstage phenomenon would probably rave about the ability of this head amp to reproduce sound in 3D. For me, it's pretty remarkable to be able to say that for the first time I can hear that there is a lot more to it than I had previously believed.

    On to Monteverdi: 3rd and 4th Books of Madrigals, Glyndebourne Opera Chorus (just voices, with no musical accompaniment). With the new head amp in the system, again that word "texture" comes back to the front of my mind. Choral music can be tough going in my view if the voices just become a homogenized wall of sound. Absolutely no chance of that here: the various voices and parts of the choir occupy their own position, both in space and in the musical weave. Once again the architecture of the music became very much clearer than I have been used to hearing. It's also apparent that the head amp is very good at handling dynamic range, not just in going from quiet to loud (or back) with ease, but it can also pull off the remarkable trick of being able to reproduce a loud sound alongside a soft one and allow them both to be heard simultaneously. The clarity of texture and dynamics just makes it so much easier to grasp the big picture and understand the shape of the tune and composition that you are listening to. It's more coherent is what I'm trying to say, I think.

    I'm aware that this review is becoming a bit lengthy, so I'll not bore you with recounting every record I have put on ("too late for that", I hear you say). But every one of them was an absolute delight: masses of rosin and wood sounds, harmonics and atmosphere in string quartets and early consort music, superb articulation, agile punchy bass and rattling, pattering drums in Paul Simon's "Late in the Evening" (and you should have heard the moment when the brass section launches!), buckets of previously unheard low-level detail and nuance on J J Cale's "Troubadour". In every case the different elements of the music are fresher and more distinct than I have been used to hearing but at the same time richer and more satisfying. I really am bowled over - I honestly had not anticipated hearing my system sounding THIS good.

    Here's a couple of final pictures of the little feller in situ.





    There has been a bit of discussion in the earlier thread about the aesthetics of the casework I requested from Jez. I'm unrepentant - I think it looks great alongside its new mates, and as you can see it's a very handy size to slot onto a shelf if you don't have unlimited space. I couldn't be more pleased! It has turned out to be one of those rare components that has the ability to transform a system and fill you with satisfaction every time you hear it. Very, very highly recommended. Emphatically. Without reservation. Clear? I'm done.
    IB.
    Last edited by Infinitely Baffled; 10-01-2017 at 02:13.

  2. #2
    Join Date: Jul 2016

    Location: Welsh Borders

    Posts: 175
    I'm Gary.

    Default Arkless MC Head Amp: Full Review

    Sorry, I should have added this comes in at £750 - probably a bit more if you wanted fancier casework. It carries a 10 year guarantee (yes, really!) and a fast-turnaround online helpdesk if you should need it (which I can't see why you would - but nice to have, anyway).
    IB.

  3. #3
    Join Date: Jul 2012

    Location: Benson, Oxfordshire

    Posts: 358
    I'm Alex.

    Default

    Nice one Gary, I was equally astounded by my Mk I. So much so that I pimp it out to anyone given the chance. If yours is even better then I am both jealous and amazed.

    I really think more people need to be buying these, nothing I have tried at even twice the price works better for me in my system.

    With regard to the looks, I'm in the camp of it looking on the bland side, but then so do my Croft amps, I didn't buy any of them for their looks

  4. #4
    Join Date: Oct 2012

    Location: NE England

    Posts: 3,507
    I'm Jez.

    Default

    Wow! Thanks for the excellent review there Gary.... I take it you like it then?
    Arkless Electronics-Engineered to be better. Tel. 01670 530674 (after 1pm)

    Modded Thorens TD150, Audio Technica AT-1005 MkII, Technics EPC-300MC, Arkless Hybrid MC phono stage, Arkless passive pre, Arkless 50WPC Class A SS power amp, (or) Arkless modded Leak Stereo 20, Modded Kef Reference 105/3's
    ReVox PR99, Studer B62, Ferrograph Series 7, Tandberg TCD440, Hitachi FT-5500MkI, also FT-5500MkII
    Digital: Yamaha CDR-HD1500 (Digital Swiss army knife-CD recorder, player, hard drive, DAC and ADC in one), PC files via 24/96 sound card and SPDIF, modded Philips CD850, modded Philips CD104, modded DPA Little Bit DAC. Sennheiser HD580 cans with Arkless Headphone amp.
    Cables- free interconnects that come with CD players, mains leads from B&Q, dead kettles etc, extension leads from Tesco

  5. #5
    Join Date: Oct 2012

    Location: NE England

    Posts: 3,507
    I'm Jez.

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by alcarmichael View Post
    Nice one Gary, I was equally astounded by my Mk I. So much so that I pimp it out to anyone given the chance. If yours is even better then I am both jealous and amazed.

    I really think more people need to be buying these, nothing I have tried at even twice the price works better for me in my system.

    With regard to the looks, I'm in the camp of it looking on the bland side, but then so do my Croft amps, I didn't buy any of them for their looks
    So do I!
    Arkless Electronics-Engineered to be better. Tel. 01670 530674 (after 1pm)

    Modded Thorens TD150, Audio Technica AT-1005 MkII, Technics EPC-300MC, Arkless Hybrid MC phono stage, Arkless passive pre, Arkless 50WPC Class A SS power amp, (or) Arkless modded Leak Stereo 20, Modded Kef Reference 105/3's
    ReVox PR99, Studer B62, Ferrograph Series 7, Tandberg TCD440, Hitachi FT-5500MkI, also FT-5500MkII
    Digital: Yamaha CDR-HD1500 (Digital Swiss army knife-CD recorder, player, hard drive, DAC and ADC in one), PC files via 24/96 sound card and SPDIF, modded Philips CD850, modded Philips CD104, modded DPA Little Bit DAC. Sennheiser HD580 cans with Arkless Headphone amp.
    Cables- free interconnects that come with CD players, mains leads from B&Q, dead kettles etc, extension leads from Tesco

  6. #6
    Join Date: Feb 2013

    Location: W Lothian

    Posts: 30,039
    I'm Grant.

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Infinitely Baffled View Post
    Right, let's take another look at this Arkless MkII Head Amp. I posted my first impressions on here a few days back. I have now had the chance to do some more listening, note-taking, thinking and finally writing. This is a piece of kit I anticipate holding on to for keeps (I can't imagine how much I might have to pay to improve on MC vinyl replay vs what I have here) - so it may be of value to any of you who are in the market for a very high quality head amp or SUT to know why I like it so much.

    First off, the system: I am using a Fidelity Research MC 702 cartridge, playing through a NVA Phono 2 stage, passive pre-amp using a conventional Panasonic stereo volume pot, SET amp and Audio Note AN-J loudspeakers. The cartridge manufacturer specifies a loading of between 3 and 60 Ohm. The loading of the Head Amp is achieved with resistive plugs - supplied by Jez according to whatever value you specify - round the back of the unit, here ...



    I am currently using a pair of 51 Ohm plugs. No doubt I will experiment with my 75s and 120s in due course, and I may post my impressions if they are at all interesting. But what am I hearing now?

    Well, first record on was a modern Living Stereo re-pressing of Sonny Rollins' "The Bridge". I was genuinely taken aback! The sound coming from my very familiar system was immediately fresher, more energetic and extremely powerful - but without thickening up or becoming in any way dense. It was as if someone had hoovered up the mush and hash (that I hadn't even been aware of before) from between the notes and voices of instruments and the different layers of music, leaving clean fresh space between them. The texture of the music was open and clear, and I had not previously appreciated how much this contributes to "getting" the feel and architecture of the piece so much more readily. It was a bit of a revelation to me!

    At the beginning of side 2 is a piece with some terrific double bass playing. I was truly astonished at how my system, incorporating the new head amp, was now playing this back. I have NEVER heard double bass move so quickly, firmly and powerfully. Every note had clean edges and every one of them stopped before the next one started. It was remarkable to hear articulation like that at such breakneck speed (and on an instrument that can too easily sound puffy and indistinct). And very tuneful too - very low sounds came through as musical notes, not as a rumble.

    On to record no. 2: Patricia Barber's studio album "Modern Cool" on Premonition. This is a superb recording which captures the full range of jazz pleasures - smoky female vocals, keening electric guitar breaks, a cracked, desolate-sounding flugel and more fabulous bass playing, much of it bowed. Again, it was absolutely thrilling to hear the music laid bare, so clear in texture and timbre with every woody vibration or cymbal brush stroke resonating in the air. It was on this record that I really started noticing the positioning of the instruments and the musical "stage". I'll make a confession now: I have never really "got" all the stuff that is talked about soundstage. When people say that they are getting a holographic sound image and it's as though the musicians are there in the room with them, disporting themselves amongst the sofas and sideboards, my reaction has always been a bit "yeah, whatever ..." But for the first time, I'm starting to get it. I noticed a genuinely realistic and pleasing distribution of the sound across the whole of the opposite side of my sitting room. Somebody who is really tuned into this whole soundstage phenomenon would probably rave about the ability of this head amp to reproduce sound in 3D. For me, it's pretty remarkable to be able to say that for the first time I can hear that there is a lot more to it than I had previously believed.

    On to Monteverdi: 3rd and 4th Books of Madrigals, Glyndebourne Opera Chorus (just voices, with no musical accompaniment). With the new head amp in the system, again that word "texture" comes back to the front of my mind. Choral music can be tough going in my view if the voices just become a homogenized wall of sound. Absolutely no chance of that here: the various voices and parts of the choir occupy their own position, both in space and in the musical weave. Once again the architecture of the music became very much clearer than I have been used to hearing. It's also apparent that the head amp is very good at handling dynamic range, not just in going from quiet to loud (or back) with ease, but it can also pull off the remarkable trick of being able to reproduce a loud sound alongside a soft one and allow them both to be heard simultaneously. The clarity of texture and dynamics just makes it so much easier to grasp the big picture and understand the shape of the tune and composition that you are listening to. It's more coherent is what I'm trying to say, I think.

    I'm aware that this review is becoming a bit lengthy, so I'll not bore you with recounting every record I have put on ("too late for that", I hear you say). But every one of them was an absolute delight: masses of rosin and wood sounds, harmonics and atmosphere in string quartets and early consort music, superb articulation, agile punchy bass and rattling, pattering drums in Paul Simon's "Late in the Evening" (and you should have heard the moment when the brass section launches!), buckets of previously unheard low-level detail and nuance on J J Cale's "Troubadour". In every case the different elements of the music are fresher and more distinct than I have been used to hearing but at the same time richer and more satisfying. I really am bowled over - I honestly had not anticipated hearing my system sounding THIS good.

    Here's a couple of final pictures of the little feller in situ.





    There has been a bit of discussion in the earlier thread about the aesthetics of the casework I requested from Jez. I'm unrepentant - I think it looks great alongside its new mates, and as you can see it's a very handy size to slot onto a shelf if you don't have unlimited space. I couldn't be more pleased! It has turned out to be one of those rare components that has the ability to transform a system and fill you with satisfaction every time you hear it. Very, very highly recommended. Emphatically. Without reservation. Clear? I'm done.
    IB.
    Looks nice on shelf Gary. Thats all that counts
    Regards,
    Grant ....
    Sometimes incompetence is useful. It helps you keep an open mind.
    .... ..... ...... ...... ................... ..... ..... ..... ..... .....
    IMUTO TAURUS X4 BATTERY SUPPLY. - RPI2B & AUDIOPHONICS DAC running MOODE 3.1- CHROMECAST2 AUDIO DONGLE - JBE SERIES 3 SLATEDECK & EMOTIVA XPS-1 PHONO - DENON DV2900 & HEAVILY MODDED MF X10v3. - PIONEER SA8100 AMPLIFIER. - WIN10 JRIVER21, SPOTIFY - AUDIO TECHNICA ATH-MSR7 HEADPHONES, KINPS CABLES, SMSL M6 MINIDAC, CHROMECAST AUDIO DONGLE POWERED BY BATTERY PSU - FULL RANGE TWIN & SINGLE TELEFUNKEN's - CARTS.. AT95S, SHURE M55E, JVC MD1029. - RCA CABLES BY BRIAN SPKR CABLES BY MOI HAIR BY MARCO FEET BY ELECTRICBEACH - MAINS REGENERATED BY POWERINSPIRED AND FILTERED BY BELKIN PURAV.

  7. #7
    Join Date: Jul 2016

    Location: Welsh Borders

    Posts: 175
    I'm Gary.

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Arkless Electronics View Post
    Wow! Thanks for the excellent review there Gary.... I take it you like it then?
    Just a bit!
    Well done with this, Jez. A great piece of equipment, and beautifully made. It's a credit to you.
    Gary.

  8. #8
    Join Date: Oct 2012

    Location: NE England

    Posts: 3,507
    I'm Jez.

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Infinitely Baffled View Post
    Just a bit!
    Well done with this, Jez. A great piece of equipment, and beautifully made. It's a credit to you.
    Gary.
    The cheques in the post
    Arkless Electronics-Engineered to be better. Tel. 01670 530674 (after 1pm)

    Modded Thorens TD150, Audio Technica AT-1005 MkII, Technics EPC-300MC, Arkless Hybrid MC phono stage, Arkless passive pre, Arkless 50WPC Class A SS power amp, (or) Arkless modded Leak Stereo 20, Modded Kef Reference 105/3's
    ReVox PR99, Studer B62, Ferrograph Series 7, Tandberg TCD440, Hitachi FT-5500MkI, also FT-5500MkII
    Digital: Yamaha CDR-HD1500 (Digital Swiss army knife-CD recorder, player, hard drive, DAC and ADC in one), PC files via 24/96 sound card and SPDIF, modded Philips CD850, modded Philips CD104, modded DPA Little Bit DAC. Sennheiser HD580 cans with Arkless Headphone amp.
    Cables- free interconnects that come with CD players, mains leads from B&Q, dead kettles etc, extension leads from Tesco

  9. #9
    Join Date: Jan 2008

    Location: Wrexham, North Wales, UK

    Posts: 67,851
    I'm AudioAl'sArbiterForPISHANTO.

    Default

    Nice to see some of Jez's kit getting proper recognition on here, which I think has been long overdue!

    Gary, where in the "Welsh borders" are you? I'm in Wrexham, don't mind driving distances (often drive to see my mate in South Wales), and would love to hear your head amp (and system), if you fancy a sesh sometime? I'll bring some tunes with me a few beers

    Marco.
    "A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do". - Milan Kundera.

    My system:

    Modified Technics SL-1210MK5G/Mike New high-precision bearing & baseplate/Mike New ETP platter/Bruil record weight/Nagaoka GL602 crystal T/T mat. Paul Hynes SR7EHD PSU (plus regulator modules)/DCSXL pure-silver DC lead. Ortofon RS-212D tonearm/'Speedy Steve' custom-made Ebony armboard. Yannis Tome 423.5 Phono Silver-Litz tonearm cable, with Furutech CF-DIN(R) and Eichmann silver Bullet Plugs. Cartridges: Denon DL-S1 in AT MG-10 headshell with AT-6106 Quattro Hybrid lead-wire. Denon DL-103C1 in '103U' headshell with AT-609 silver lead-wire. Vintage Denon DL-103AU in AT-Ti15ANV Titanium Headshell. Shure M55E in Denon PCL-300 headshell with 6N silver lead-wire. Shure original USA SC35C. Audiocom-modified Sony X-777ES/DAS-R1 transport/DAC. Raspberry Pi-3 Model B and IQaudio Pi-DAC+/Paul Hynes SR3DR-05 linear PSU. Heavily-modified Croft Charisma-X preamp. Modified Goldpoint SA4M-47 passive preamp. Stereo Coffee LDR. Head-amp: Paul Hynes design/SR5 PSU. Also modified Lentek. Tube Distinctions 50W Class A P/P Copper amp with cryo-treated Tung Sol KT150s. Speakers: 'Lockwood Majors', using 15" Tannoy Monitor Golds, modified with bespoke crossovers. Also Celestion Ditton 15XRs. Stands: Mana Acoustics (non-magnetic stainless steel 'clones’). Hi-Fi Racks Podium T/T wall shelf. Sony ST-5055L tuner. Cables: Furukawa EE/F-S 2mm & 2.6mm solid-core mains leads, fitted with Furutech FI-50 IECs and FI-1363Rs. Stereo interconnects: Sommer Carbokab 225 (with silver-plated MS Audio non-metallic POM RCAs). Speaker cable: VDH 'The Wind' Hybrid II. Digital coaxial cable: 1m Trompeter Electronics Triax TRC-75-2, with MS Audio ‘Starline' silver-plated RCAs. Mains block: Mark Grant 6-way, modded with Furutech FP-1363R sockets and Furukawa cable. Tube Distinctions digital noise filter. VPI HW 16.5 record cleaner.

  10. #10
    Join Date: Oct 2012

    Location: NE England

    Posts: 3,507
    I'm Jez.

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by [B
    Marco;822288]Nice to see some of Jez's kit getting proper recognition on here, which I think has been long overdue! [/B]

    Gary, where in the "Welsh borders" are you? I'm in Wrexham, don't mind driving distances (often drive to see my mate in South Wales), and would love to hear your head amp (and system), if you fancy a sesh sometime? I'll bring some tunes with me a few beers

    Marco.
    Yer tell'in me..... Cheers Marco.
    Arkless Electronics-Engineered to be better. Tel. 01670 530674 (after 1pm)

    Modded Thorens TD150, Audio Technica AT-1005 MkII, Technics EPC-300MC, Arkless Hybrid MC phono stage, Arkless passive pre, Arkless 50WPC Class A SS power amp, (or) Arkless modded Leak Stereo 20, Modded Kef Reference 105/3's
    ReVox PR99, Studer B62, Ferrograph Series 7, Tandberg TCD440, Hitachi FT-5500MkI, also FT-5500MkII
    Digital: Yamaha CDR-HD1500 (Digital Swiss army knife-CD recorder, player, hard drive, DAC and ADC in one), PC files via 24/96 sound card and SPDIF, modded Philips CD850, modded Philips CD104, modded DPA Little Bit DAC. Sennheiser HD580 cans with Arkless Headphone amp.
    Cables- free interconnects that come with CD players, mains leads from B&Q, dead kettles etc, extension leads from Tesco

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