Cary Audio HH-1 Hybrid Tube/Solid State Headphone Amplifier Page 2

Since I brought it up, let's start on the bottom. Listening to "All of It" from Bella Sonus's "Enamoured", there were a few times when the bass was so deep and powerful I couldn't stop my subconscious reaction in yanking the LCD-3 off my head to see if I had accidentally left a subwoofer on. Some of the deepest, tightest bass I have heard yet from the LCD-3 was on tap via the HH-1. Indeed, no need to worry about this Cary's bass performance. It was exemplary. All of the three cans I used showed good bass performance via the Cary.

The midrange was open and transparent, and on the lush/beautiful side of things. Vocals were very well served by this. And well recorded rock like Porcupine Tree's "Stupid Dream" sounded excellent, with good nuance and detail in both the midrange and treble. The treble was smooth and silky, and very clean and non-edgy. It was also just a little soft. The HH-1 is undeniably voiced like a tube amp, hybrid or not. It's clean, clear, and has no problem conveying musical detail, but the music is nonetheless rendered a bit prettier than real life actually is. It's not like the Cary puts so much rosy glow on the music that it seems artificial, but there is some romanticism that's being applied. What makes the Cary so engaging is that the application is combined with the rest of the package, like strong transparency, nuance, and detail, that the overall presentation serves the music well - VERY well.

But if you are a "neutrality uber alles" type, then the HH-1 is simply not going to be the amp for you. I recently reviewed the Burson Audio Soloist and, as I mentioned in my review, it's at the other end of the spectrum - neutral to perhaps just a very wee tad bright. It's a much better choice if one's predilections drift that direction. But for me really it's more about headphone matching. If you are married to that one special headphone, make sure it likes a slightly lush sounding amp. And if your main squeeze headphone is sometimes a bit icy, the Cary may be just the ticket for a life of bliss.

And along those lines, I really don't think the HH-1 is the BEST match for the LCD-3. Used in combination, up top things are just a bit TOO lovely. If you want a super-lush pairing, then by all means use them together and you will be in hog heaven. But I felt that the LCD-3 was better served with the Red Wine Audio "Audeze Edition", for example, as it was with the Burson Soloist. On the other hand, The Ultrasone Edition 8 sounded better with the HH-1 than I've ever heard them sound. The "Ed 8" can use a touch of warmth, and the Cary provided just the right amount. I could, and did, sit around and listen to that combination for hours. I daresay the vast majority of speaker system hi-fis that cost the same as a good DAC plus the Cary and Ed 8 won't sound nearly as good and will be FAR more colored. It would be fun to play that combination for a died-in-the-wool speaker audiophile who had never heard a good headphone rig, and watch said person's jaw hit the ground.

The HH-1 was equally impressive with the Audio Technica ATH-W3000ANV. I loved this pairing too - I couldn't get enough. Neal Morse's vocals on Transatlantic's cover of America's "I Need You" from "Whirlwind" were just plain chilling. Ditto Steven Wilson's on Porcupine Tree's "Buying New Soul" from "Recordings". That's a reference track for me, and the Cary served it up in such a compelling way that I wanted to play the 10-minute-plus track repeatedly.

The Cary was also a soundstaging champ. Width and depth were both outstanding. Playing Mumford and Sons' take on Simon and Garfunkle's "The Boxer" gave me such a case of the goosebumps I thought I was going to fall over. It was positively SPOOKY how well the HH-1 dished out a soundscape and drew me into it. I've come back to it several times...same result. Really good stuff. Imaging freaks, take note.

The Cary Audio HH-1 is definitely a highly enjoyable listen. As with any audio product, it's not going to be perfect for every listener, and like every headphone amp, it's not going to be perfect with every headphone. But if you like a little romance in your music, and you haven't already bought a romantic sounding headphone (which might yield too much of a good thing), the HH-1 is very easy to recommend. Definitely offering highly competitive performance at its price point, with the right headphones, I could live very happily with the HH-1 as my main, or only, headphone amp. It deserves serious consideration if your goals are a highly musical experience. Enthusiastically recommended, as described.

Cary Audio home page and HH-1 product page.

Cary Audio
1020 Goodworth Drive
Apex, NC 27539

elmura's picture

The LCD3 is a warm, sub-bass-focused, treble-light 'phone. The Edition 8 is bass-shy. So, by saying that the sound was too lush with the LCD3 but just right with the Ed8 right may actually indicate that the amp is somewhat natural with a very extended bass response which would suit the majority of non-bass focused headphones.