I had my eyes on Crack for quite some time. I’m going though phases of getting different types of tube amp -PP, SET, Hybrid, OTL – and comparing them to one anoher. Now it was time for OTL (Output Transformer Less) and based on my research one of the best representatives of the OTL amplifiers is Bottlehead Crack (price $279).
Crack comes in form of a kit or the company can put it together for you. I decided to go DIY route – it’s much more fun like that and I would be more familiar with internal structure of the amp that way. It took me 2 weeks to get the package in the mail – Eileen from Bottlehead was very helpful and responsive – kudos to the company that not only provides a well regarded product, but also has great people working there.
You have to know me to understand that having the amp in my hands I couldn’t go to bed before it was all working. The good news was that due to the simplicity of the construction of the amp, I didn’t turn into a sleepless zombi. It took me approximately 4 hours in total to have the amp all connected and playing.
Now to the sound. I connected my Sennheiser HD650 to the amp (after I tried it with a $5 headphone set 🙂 ) and used the tubes that came with it. As expected out of the box the amp sounded OK. I have to admit of being impressed. Instead of including some current production 6as7 with the kit, Bottlehead included very solid Raytheon 6080 – based on the label produced in 1970 – that is a huge step up compared to a lot of other tube amps. Driver tube, 12au7, was Electro-Harmonix. So I started listening…
First track is my “check for crap” performance by Joel Xavier & Ron Carter called Silence. It immediate weeds out all the crappy tubes because it has two acoustic guitars and covers very high spikes in MF and Bass. I was expecting a lot of clarity from the amp, but it exceeded all my expectations. There was no fat in the bass even with the EH tube connected. However, EH did exhibit its deficiency immediately by sharpness in the HF. So good bye EH & Raytheon, hello Sylvania & Svetlana. If you were reading this site, you know that one of my favorite tubes is Sylvania JHS 5814 – can’t say enough good things about them. For the price, it’s like stealing a piece of joy.
With Sylvania things improved significantly, the depth and richness expended to fill the space, the soundstage doubled. And here came the next test, this time Diana Krall – You Are My Thrill. WOW. It felt that I was missing huge part of the song listening through other amplifiers. The richness of the voice, the tone of loneliness that the singer was trying to carry through the song, every breath that Diana was taking between the phases – all communicated perfectly. I was absolutely blown away. Details wise, this amp is absolutely superb.
After I recovered from the initial shock, it was time to move to other songs. I decided to test the bass. How do you do that, how else but by listening to “Le lac gele” by Michel Jonasz. This song digs so deep that in quite a few cases I thought my woofers in B&W speakers would overextend. How did the amp do with the song, not too bad. It didn’t produce the earth shattering LF, but the response was quite adequate. It wasn’t as tight as my solid state amp however, but in general, this is a weakness of any tube amp and that’s why I pair my tube amps with a solid state subwoofers.
Finally, I had to see how the amp will do with warm vocal performances, which could become very warm and mushy with a wrong amp. A song that I selected was “Here, There And Everywhere” by Lisa Wahlandt. And again the amp shined. Every single instrument came through beautifully, not being overpowered by voice. Cymbals came through very clearly and sweetly. Piano was shining though the whole performance – very clear presentation of positioning and no muffling on the lower end. Double bass was well defined and not lost with the rest of instruments playing.Voice – the voice was warm, gentle and embracing. There was a feeling that Lisa was singing personally for you and you alone.
Quite impressed, I decided to listen to something that I enjoy and not analyze 🙂 so I turned on “My One And Only Thrill” by Melody Gardot. What can I say, I couldn’t take my headphones off. I have to add that for that song I replaced Sylvanias with Westinghouse 12au7 tube – it added a new dimension to the sound. The sound was so hypnotic that I could feel that there was one and only thrill – and now it is Crack… 🙂
In conclusion, the amp is a tremendous device independent of the price. Paired with the right headphones, it will change the way you listen to music. About the headphones, high impedance headphones is a must. Paired with low impedance headphones, the amp didn’t sound that good – but that’s by design.
Enjoy the music, join the growing community of Crack addicts :), support the awesome company!!!