Review: Yulong A18 Amplifier
Being a headphone audiophile for 20 years says something about myself, I've tried the most common suspects in phone/amp offerings. My favorite so far is Beyerdynamic T1 in the high-impedance camp, and Denon AH-D7000 in the low-impedance camp. I listen to anything but hard rock.
Before Yulong A18, the cheapest solid state Headphone Amp (HA) I found listenable is Grace 902 ($1300). The HA in Grace 902 sounds more robust and liquid than the HA in Benchmark DAC-1 USB, but the Benchmark's DAC is more detailed. The HA in Marantz SC11-S1 and Accuphase E-407 are pretty good too, though most HA in "big rig" amps are sub-pal. Affordable tube HA can be had for less than $1000 and still remain very listenable, Antique Sound Lab's MG-head DT with NOS tubes, for example, is quite good with Sennheisers.
Simply put, Yulong A18 is the first sub-$1000 solid state HA that I consider listenable. Actually I would rate it above more expensive contenders such as Grace m902 and Headroom Max. Due to its class A bias, the A18 sounds more liquid and muscular than most solid state class A/B designs, and you really have to get an exotic tube amp to beat it in liquidity and mid-range fullness. At the same time, A18 is well-balanced, exciting music sounds exiting, not muddy or overly warm. Transients are fast and clean, decays long-sustaining and clear, and you can hear the "air" around every instrument. Bass energy is incredible and its like adding a 10 inch woofer to the already-excellent T1 and D7000.
The A18 can easily let you hear a change of cable or power cord, which is a good indicator of superb resolution and detail retrieval. PS Audio Premier SC power cord and Cardas Golden Reference XLR brought the A18 to another level in my system, switching them for lesser cables will result in an instant penalty.
All said, the A18 doesn't sound boring, it communicates with music and makes long auditions enjoyable. The overall tonal balance leans slightly to the mellow/ripe side, which is a good thing with modern phones emphasizing more and more on details and resolution. I found the A18 all I need for my HA audiophilia, and I imagine even a die-hard tube fan can live happily with the A18 for a long, maintainance-free time.
I highly recommend the A18, the build quality is first rate, parts are carefully selected and the inner layout is elegant. For what it's sold I can't think of a better HA.
Cary 306 CD, Benchmark DAC-1 USB, Denon AD-H7000 headphones
Benchmark DAC-1 USB, Grace Design m902, Marantz SC-11S1, Accuphase E-407