Digital Audio Players
Sony WM1A (K-modded by Music Sanctuary)
Sony’s WM1A – relative to the Cavalli Audio Liquid Carbon we’ll discuss later – brings a warmer, more rounded, more intimate sound to the ETHER 2. The player possesses a lower-midrange bias, causing instruments to sound richer, fuller and more harmonic. Fortunately however, no articulation was lost up top. Cymbals maintain their crisp, clean shimmer and snares still crackle. However, the WM1A noticeably grants the ETHER 2 less dynamic range. Instruments don’t pop as much against the black background, resulting in less resolution and transparency. Imaging is also a touch narrower as a result. But, in the absence of a full-fledged desktop amp, I reckon the WM1A will get the ETHER 2 80% of the way there.
Kojo KM-01 Brass
The KM-01 Brass is a Japanese, battery-powered, portable amplifier. Like the Sony WM1A, it possesses a warmer signature. But, the KM-01 is less bodied by comparison. The warmth it carries comes from the low-end, which takes a step forward in the mix in terms of lushness and impact. However, presence remains untouched, so the melody of the bass never oversteps the lead instrument. The treble gains headroom as well. Flourishes and nuances there remain just as punchy, but sound more refined and effortless. The KM-01 certainly has the hallmarks of a tube amplifier in tone. It certainly isn’t the most resolving or transparent of the lot. Its imaging isn’t the most precise either. But, if you want the ETHER 2 to sound more laid-back and euphonic, the KM-01 is certainly a viable alternative – especially when on the go.
The HUM Hypno is a single-ended, battery-powered portable amplifier that drives the ETHER with ease at high gain. With the WM1A and Hypno combo, the ETHER 2 possesses a neutral tone, but shaves a bit of its body for a more precise, clinical sound. Notes sound more articulate than harmonic, which translates to higher definition and perceived clarity. In terms of headroom, dynamic range and transparency, I’d say the combo performs better than the WM1A on its own. But, the stack still loses out to the Cavalli Audio Liquid Carbon. The Liquid Carbon produces more fleshed-out, complete instruments against a blacker background. But, it does so with less treble sparkle and pizzazz. The Hypno is an ideal portable option if you’re looking for near-desktop-class headroom, with more sparkle and liveliness in tone to boot.
In sheer technical prowess, the Mojo is the strongest of the portable lot. In headroom, dynamic range and scale, it’s on the same tier as the Liquid Carbon – producing instruments with volume, vibrancy and authority. The only aspect where the Liquid Carbon has a clear edge is in soundstage depth. The Mojo’s upper-midrange has a distinct honky-ness to it that makes instruments sound perceivably more saturated. So, the Liquid Carbon sounds more refined and laid-back by comparison. Regardless, I think the Mojo is the ETHER 2’s most capable portable companion of the bunch. Thankfully, it isn’t affected as much by the Chord product’s unique timbre, resulting in a decent desktop-esque experience on the go.
Cavalli Audio Liquid Carbon
The Liquid Carbon is my go-to desktop amp, preferred for its refined and mature rendition of impact. It never fails to captivate with punchiness and energy, but it’s always complemented by authority and control. I think the Liquid Carbon is an ideal amp for the ETHER 2 in timbre. It injects just enough kick into the headphones without ever tipping it towards losing composure. In terms of imaging, there’s enough headroom to discern stage differences between tracks. However, I have a feeling the ETHER 2’s are capable of scaling further with higher-end amplifiers. I won’t be certain until I get the chance to try them. But, I can confidently say that the Liquid Carbon is beyond sufficient as far as drive is concerned.
Brise Audio UPG001 STD HP
The UPG001 STD HP emphasises note definition and vocal forwardness, whilst retaining as much of the headphone’s inherent balance as possible. Relative to the REF HP, the STD HP doesn’t bring as much dynamic range – notes and micro-details don’t pop as vibrantly. However, this is ideal for those who wish for a more transparent, undramatised presentation. The midrange is now tipped slightly towards the upper-mids. Vocalists sound more present, vibrant and saturated. The lower-mids also take a step back, so those very instruments are perceivably more defined. However, this is to the detriment of note structure. Instruments – though still composed – sound less complete and balanced. All in all, the STD HP provides a shortcut of sorts towards a more intimate sound, though not the last word in technical respects.
Brise Audio UPG001 REF HP
Brise Audio’s UPG001 REF HP brings a more dynamic, forwardly sound to the ETHER 2. The low-end carries more body and weight for a more guttural, grunt-y presentation. The upper-mids and treble are also a touch more energetic with increased sparkle and projection. As a result, the soundstage may be perceived as smaller, due to the amount of room that this occupies. In return, the REF HP brings higher resolution, clarity and micro-detail retrieval – livelier instruments against a blacker background. In all honesty however, the difference isn’t what I’d call night-and-day. And, whatever differences there are aren’t my cup of tea. This is a cable ideal for those looking for more liveliness and energy out of the ETHER 2. For those who are happy with a more transparent, reference signature, the VIVO cable is the suitable match.