Review: Granite Audio 823 Headphone Amp Tube amp

Category: Amplifiers

I liked the Musical Fidelity X-can V.3 amplifier that I bought last month so much that I decided to give the 823 headphone amp from Granite Audio a try. The idea of an amp for almost $1K tempted me, and their return policy made it easy. Well, I couldn’t believe my ears. The short version of this story is that I immediately put my X-can V.3 amp up for sale and figured out where to position this beautiful piece of Granite equipment. The Granite return policy, while reassuring, was totally superfluous for me. I can’t say that the difference between the Granite and the X-can was night and day, but it was almost as significant as the difference between running my AKG701s out of my Adcom preamp and running them out of the X-can. These are the only two headphone amps I’ve ever auditioned, so my experience is limited, and I only have the AKG 701 headphones, so everything I say probably applies only to those cans. But the Granite 823 is an incredible amp with the AKGs.

Compared to the X-can amp, the Granite IMMEDIATELY struck me with its complete and total silence, even at full volume. When there was no music playing, there was absolutely no sound. Once the music started, however, the differences were even more striking. The sound had infinitely more stability, coherence, and presence. On a piece like “How Fortunate the Man with None” by Dead Can Dance, the bass nearly bulged (as it’s supposed to on that cut) out of the speakers, while the chimes virtually flew out with stunning precision and clarity. Bruce Cockburn’s guitar work and vocals jumped out of the completely black silence with clarity and definition that was simply shocking. The attack of the sounds from the entire audio spectrum was immediate and crisp. Vocals, guitar strums, and organ notes died out with precision and grace, and, on Amused to Death, Roger Waters’s carefully enunciated final “t,” “d,” and “f” sounds snapped with as much clarity as if he had been sitting next to me, perhaps even more. On a recording of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, it was almost unnerving to hear the musicians turning the pages to their music and an occasional creak from Sir George Solti’s podium! The treble was sharp and incredibly clear without being in the least shrill, while the bass (on acoustic folk and jazz, and on rock and classical albums) was full and thunderous, with nary a lump or thud that didn’t seem uncannily accurate. The midrange and imaging were incredible. I know the AKGs are known for the precision of their soundstage, but the Granite (again, compared to the wonderful Musical Fidelity unit) positioned the musicians and instruments across the entire sound field, but also seemed to add another spatial dimension of nearness and farness.

In only have a Sony ES cd player and some mid-range interconnects, so I attribute all this magic to the Granite’s synergy with the AKGs. A lot of us have remarked that the 701s are “cold and abstract,” but, when teamed up with this Granite tube unit, they warmed up tremendously, while still maintaining their ulta-coherent, ultra-precise sound, My guess is that the stridency some associate with the 701s gets tempered via whatever the Granite 823 does to the signal.

I’d like to thank all of you who helped me with some of my decisions over the past few months. I think I really nailed it with this combination. The Granite unit is also incredibly beautiful; I’d be happy to post some photos if anybody’s interested.

Associated gear
Adcom amp/preamp; Sony ES CD player/ Aural thrills interconnects

Similar products
Musical Fidelity X-can V.3