Just as a disclaimer, or what many will state, I do not have any affiliation with Steve's business, nor do I own any of his products or receive any discounts, etc. etc. etc. I felt a need to do some writing because the computer audio world has progressively pushed things ahead much in the same manner that digital has done in well, most subjective genres such as photography.
I have been into computer audio for a while now, but have primarily been a lurker on the internet, since computer technology progresses extremely fast, much like any technological device from computers to cell phones to digital cameras, etc. Due to making a mostly finalized system and really wishing to find that perfect solution (aren't we all?), I happened to stumble upon the mentioning of the Off-Ramp in an ongoing discussion about the Audiophellio 1/2 devices. The consensus had the Off-Ramp as being the best device, though some had mentioned though superior, was not such a major difference over the Audiophellio. I figured, I do not have the money for the Off Ramp, especially knowing if I would have gone with the OR4, I would have wanted the nicer clocks and so on which would have then put the price way beyond my budget. So I ordered the Audiophellio with the knowledge that it was close enough to the Off-Ramp according to some, and it also had a 30 day money back guarantee.
In the meantime, with all the research I had done on Empirical Audio, I stumbled on this forum and started to do some more reading. I learned that Steve is 150 miles away from me and we set up a date to get together to do a little listening, including my own pre-dac that has been very competitive with 20K+ Dacs, along with of course, the Audiophellio. Yesterday is when we met and now onto "the experience"
Usually when I meet with designers or people with mega buck systems, it's a very tense feeling because especially with designers, they absolutely will not take a word worth of advice or be open to hearing anything but that they know...yes...they know it all!!! In the end, the experience ends up being extremely one sided and you are essentially expected to behave and keep the lips zipped...pfffff!!!! With Steve, and only really the most select few out there, I felt like I could just sit and relax. Not just relax, but we actually interacted, we listened for things, specifics, like a open type of situation where if I was hearing anything odd or not so good, he would go right to it and scratch his head and say, "hmmm...you are right...I need to have a look into what I think is probably this, etc.". Well we never had to go through this since we both were with very similar feelings on the results, but I truly cannot be anymore thankful and appreciative to be around such a world class person not just in the art of the digital side of audio, but in just being a simple open human being. Don't mean to write like this, but the audio world can be such a playground of kids bashing each other over something we need to always keep an open mind about especially if we plan to continue to progress, grow, and learn. Just over appreciative of how Steve was just this kind of character.
If you are still awake, we have now reached the testing portion of this write-up of mine:))!!!!
Equipment involved was an OR4 that I believe has essentially the full works done to it, if not extensively modded. I have a feeling this resided in Steve's system as basically the reference piece in order to help develop the OR5. Also in the setup was the Overdrive DAC and associated battery pack, though we kept the battery pack off during the session. The OR5 came into the equation, along with the Audiophellio I brought along, and my pre-dac that even in recent times showed the door to some highly exotic new 10K French dac was put into use. Music selected was all excellently recorded stuff, ranging from Vocalists, to highly dynamic instrumentation, to orchestra/symphony, to Jeff Beck, and so on.
Unfortunately, I will not have too much to say about these devices because I do not like going into all the audiophile lingo and wordage. But I will say, clearly, how each one did, according to what I heard and not to say I have golden ears, but at least very objective based ears.
First up was the OR4. Since we did not have any other transport in the equation for a comparo, I can in the least say the music was absolutely brilliant. Of course the speakers play the biggest factor, but I'll get into something that truly struck me about the digital/jitter a little later. I really found no faults. Next came either the Audiophellio or the OR5. Well lets just get the Audiophellio taken care of because regardless of whether we compared it to the OR4 or OR5, it was VASTLY inferior. Yes, it played the music, but it truly showed its defectiveness by comparison to the OR4/OR5. Lets not make this into some competition or say things like, well the Audiophellio is priced to a specific market while, blah blah blah. Even a person with a lower end system should GLADLY pay the piper to get the sound that either OR4/OR5 give. Which brings me to the OR5. Now this one was indeed just as Steve advertised...the best to date! This said, we are talking about an already beautiful sound with the OR4 and taking it that next step into transparency/detail/soundstage/etc. Woops...wasn't supposed to speak adjectives now was I?
) Truly, those that have the OR4, even modded, are missing out on quite a step forward in the OR5. I do not like to say this, because the OR4 truly is that good, but the OR5 is just that much better.
My pre-dac has an issue on the right channel. It is something I entirely forgot about prior to bringing the unit out for an audition. It just happened recently and due to not listening to music as much as I should be, I simply have not addressed the issue. But frankly, I still thought the music sounded excellent using the OR5. So unfortunately, not too much to say about this, though that it did still sound the way it did made me know that a device that has taken out many very expensive dacs was still improved by the OR5. It also told me something I has "felt" all along, that being the issue of jitter, again, to be discussed at the end.
Now the final and truly unbelievable device, his overdrive dac. This unit is usually coupled to his battery supply, but we let it run without it. Though the OR5 is at this fine point, literally, that paired with a nicer dac, it will definitely get into the contention with other very top notch dacs. I am not absolutely sure I can say it would match Steve's own dac, but I think it's definitely possible especially if one is using a quality enough dac with the OR5. But let me just finalize the listening sessions by stating that this dac of his is absolutely gorgeous. The music with this in the equation is one very last adjective...SUBLIME!!! It simply did everything, and did so effortlessly. This is the true art and how a Computer Audio Dac SHOULD BE! I have not heard any high end made for Computer DACs, but after hearing this one, I would have no problem bringing it into ANY system, cost no object, end of story.
Conclusion of the listening session and what I got from it is like this: The modified OR4 was and is spectacular. I could easily live with one for years, but if I had my way, I would use the OR5. I truly feel the OR5 is that that absolute fine line where the OR6 comes around, and how much further can you honestly go. OR4 is already up there, but OR5 is on that fine line of is this it or can we go just that last ounce further and call it a lifetime:)! Similarly stated about the Overdrive DAC, I would have NO problem bringing even the modded OR4 over to ANY cost no object system and seeing if they can even match it. Likewise, I have a hard time believing there is anything or much of anything out there that can contend against the OR5. It's simply THAT GOOD!
Ok...soooo...I'm showing some of my enthusiasm. I cannot help myself when things just sound "right". I just absolutely love it when things just do it for me. Put it into the system, use correct playback, sit back, simply enjoy the music. Don't have to say anything...just have to say, yep, that's just it!!!
My final notes as I explained I would discuss is about jitter because somehow and some way, Steve is conquering an area that makes the noise floor go bye bye, and the music through. Steve had a transistor amp on the speakers and I am not a transistor person at all, be it any transistor amp period. There's just this certain thing to it that really gets to me. In hearing Steve's system, it is like this clogged line has been drained, and it results in a sound where all those adjectives given to SET amps start to come out. I can see the same result if a person with say, a 1-5K transistor amp and typical transistor based "mid-fi" put in a device from Steve and actually heard what was just a system suddenly becomes something far more understandable, comprehensible, and of course, musical.
Thank you again Steve for the invite! Please continue to follow the digital stream into the future. I know I'll be part of it!
Cheers all and hope this is objective enough and also has enough clarity, though feel free to pm me regarding anything but the magic behind this art!