Trying to recreate a recording as accurately as possible is both an admirable quest and folly. There is no perfection available at any cost; the best you can do is get close. Making matters even more difficult is the simple fact that the only people who actually know what that exact sound was are the artists and recording crew. Even they have altered it in their minds, a moment in sound is exactly that and it is lost in the next moment, changed slightly by the mind’s eye if you will.
Perfection is therefore subjective and even fluid. The ears of an audiophile, despite what they would like to believe, change over time, preferences change. Many of us have equipment we call accurate and some we call fun. The HiFiMan EF2A is one of the fun pieces. It has no right to be sitting among my best equipment, it is inexpensive, ugly, and is anything but accurate.
I won’t address the terrible DAC as I bypass it and use the single RCA input, triggered by the push button on the front. I am interested in the tube amplifier section of this little gem. Yes, I called it a gem even after I said all those terrible things about it. I will even heap another negative onto the pile, it sounds bad if you don’t do some tube rolling.
I purchased the HiFiMan EF2A for use in my office at work where I had hoped to save space not only by adding a small amp but because it includes a USB DAC. I knew it wasn’t going to be great even matched to BeyerDynamic DT 990 600 ohm headphones. These phones are fairly accurate which can mean they are, well boring sometimes. This combination lacked life; it just didn’t sing with detail or jump out in any good way. The bass was muddy despite being laid back and it turned the sound of horns into a dull blat.
I decided it was time to do some tube rolling and replaced the original nondescript Chinese 6J1 tubes with a pair of NOS Mullar CV4010’s. After a few days of burning in the tubes I jumped upon hearing it for the first time. The music bopped along with a heavier bottom end and filled the frequencies around horns with life. This is not accurate sound but it is sure fun. It has just enough distortion to make MP3s listenable for use on Turntable.fm. These tubes pop up occasionally on Ebay at very reasonable prices and for anyone looking for an inexpensive amp I highly recommend this combination as long as you will be using it with an external DAC.
At $169 on Amazon, this is a piece of equipment that gets a surprising amount of use next to my much more accurate and more expensive amps. It is fun and while I can’t listen to it for long periods there are times I want a change, I want to live on the audiophile edge with some thumping bass and screaming horns.
Do you have a favorite tube, a fun piece of equipment? Tell us all about it now.