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Many amps emphasize the treble, probably most of those currently manufactured. If you listen to such an amp after one as rich and dense as my Leben, you'd probably start thinking that its designer had some hearing issues. Each time I hear a strained sound with a bright shouty treble I turn it off and never return. When I first started with the Phasemation, I thought it was another such case. But after a short while I realized that it was quite the opposite. There was great grip over the entire audible range and its tonality was very good – different than the Leben but at the same high-end level. It so happened that I finished my listening sessions with the Depeche Mode album but had started it with Martin L. Gore’s Counterfeit2 solo album, his second release not issued as a standard compact but copy control disc. I mentioned something about this before but would like to do so again as historical facts might come handy for many readers.

Although you can't tell them apart just by their looks, the signal on a copy control disc is written a bit differently than on a standard CD. Starting in 2001 two labels used the CCD system – EMI EMI and Sony BMG Music Entertainment which at the time worked quite closely together. The last discs with this system were released in 2004 (Sony) and 2006 (EMI). Copy control did just what its name suggested – prevent a disc from being copied. Several such methods existed but the most widely used introduced some incompatible data which would prevent a computer drive from properly reading the rest of the data. In theory this shouldn’t have bothered regular CD players but it did What a paradox when the manufacturers of audiophile CD players did their best to protect the process of reading a CD from distortion, vibrations, radiation and such whilst supporting new superior pressing methods for the format. The big labels meanwhile worked in the opposite direction.

Because the CCD specs did not conform with the Redbook standard these labels couldn't place the Compact Disc logo on them. What's more the international IFPI organization forced EMI to use a special CCD marking plus information about what kind of devices would actually be able to read these discs. Sony managed somehow to circumvent this obligation but soon stopped using copy control. There are two more things worth mentioning. First, the copy control system was cracked quickly and discs could again be copied using new software like Nero. Second, the software Cactus Data Shield (CDS) used for CCD was created by Israeli company Midbar Technologies.

The sound from CCD isn't very good and in most cases actually rather bad. The most obvious problem lies with a treble that's quite thin and lacking in definition. On occasion there can be too much treble to get shouty. Since many albums were issued as both CD and CCD in the same country, you can easily verify this. The more recent top transports and also decent D/A converters are able to deal with this quite well but the problem still exists to be audible. If you play CCD in a system that includes a component which already emphasizes the treble, your session might become very unpleasant. Here the Japanese amplifier surprised me with its balanced approach to the entire range, not just the treble. What I initially perceived as an emphasis or brightness quickly turned into richness of detail and information. I listened to Counterfeit2 without thinking once that here a label did everything in its power to make their album sound as bad as possible. The bass meanwhile was not completely mature or rich at least vis-à-vis the Leben. But it did exist in perfect harmony with the rest. Listening to it on its own merit one doesn't lack for anything but perceives everything as a whole. What's more transients are exceptionally fast, bass is precise and of great selectivity. Everything seems to be simply accurate.

I admittedly missed the richness of my tube amp but a few days later concluded that it was simply a different rather than inferior take. It might not have been as euphonic but it had amazing clarity. Another exceptional quality of this amplifier was its spacing. It delivered a kind of surround sound that wasn't 'inside' the head or restricted to between the ears. This wasn't a function of some crossfeed circuit which would manipulate the signal with analog processing to create a wider soundstage. This result really came from precision which unfurled a broad image in a very unforced manner. It could actually turn into the key attraction for many prospective buyers as the usual limitation with headfi is that each channel is only heard by one ear whilst with speakers each ear hears both. The ear/brain uses this arrival-time difference to precisely allocate image locations but can't do so with headphones. The EPA-007 had very good headstage depth and width plus a nicely defined center which made its presentation quite unique.

Settings and options. To obtain this impressive tonality and spacing we need the proper settings for each headphone. The Japanese amplifier offers three adjustments. First we need to select the impedance for a given headphone. It really works. In each case there was only one right setting. When I listened with different one, the sound lacked palpability or got muffled. The second setting of higher circuit gain was actually useful only for the inefficient HifiMan HE-6. The most obvious sonic changes to the sound were introduced by the third setting called damp [presumably that's adjustable NFB to change the output impedance and thus the damping factor though it would also affect gain – Ed]. With all cans at my disposal I preferred the sound with this knob turned to the left 'soft' position where it delivered the most palpable warm voices close to the listener. When I used the opposite 'hard' position I heard everything from a bigger distance to seem a bit muffled and harsh. I already mentioned which cans worked best for me: the HD800 and HE-6. I'd add the 600Ω version of beyerdynamic's DT-990 Pro and the AKG K271 Studio but only when the latter's stock cable was replaced by Oyaide. The sound of the beyerdynamic and AKG wasn't as opened as the other two but instead a bit warmer and richer. I thus actually found myself choosing specific headphones for particular music or moods.