ampsandsound Agartha 2021 Review
The reviewer is giving his honest experience with the product and was not paid to write a favorable article. The gear was purchased due to interest and enjoyment in sound quality and in pursuit of gaining more knowledge about sound.
During my review of the Bigger Ben Rev 2, I found out that I could use a preamplifier to strengthen the signal and get a better connection through my music chain. This was a big revelation for me, as it enhances signal quality for sonic dynamics and musical enjoyment. I had written this review, and still, I hadn’t thought of using preamplifier, of which I had two in the Feliks Audio Euforia and Garage 1217 Sunrise III. I would recommend it because it ultimately makes a difference in the sense of space, strength of timbre, micro, and macro-detail. Using a preamp for the first time reminds me of the same I went from Kenzie OG Rev 2 to the Bigger Ben or Agartha. Maybe not as dramatic, but definitely clearer resolution and elevated harmonics in general through the clearer signal, and should definitely be considered when putting together a chain. What is odd is that about 4 years ago, I remember using my previously owned Feliks Audio Elise as a preamp and having good results, but I hadn’t noted it.
I’ve had the Bigger Ben Rev 2 for a little over a year now. I’ve been able to sit back and think about my experience and compare some more qualities which I’ve been happy to discover and be able to differentiate from other sound amplifiers I’ve come across.
I don’t know what’s best in the market, however, I’m currently interested in the ones that gave me my introduction to the hobby such as Feliks Audio, ZMF, Audio-GD, ampsandsound, Schiit, and others I’ve yet to hear such as Burson, Violectric, Donald North Audio, Woo Audio, Auralic, Auris, and more, and I’ve yet to be disappointed.
Justin at ampsandsound has been a tremendous resource to my questions on my learning in the audio world and helping me in my tube rolling questions. It has been a great experience with ampsandsound. I feel like the company is onto something because I am convinced of the magic in the transformers. The evidence in the sound reproduction coming from the their amps make me a believer.
The first time I turned on the Bigger Ben Rev 2, I got a preview and understanding of the sound that was to come. My initial impression was strong as I got a sense of the great resolution and detail as the tubes were still heating up and some of the clarity was beginning to awake. It was similar to my impression with the Agartha, except for some reason, I was and still totally am amazed by the bass quality; not muddy, impactful, engaging of the Agartha + Arya. However, comparing the Bigger Ben and the Agartha is like comparing apples and oranges.
The Agartha is a Direct Heated Triode design which is reminiscent of a 80’s, 90’s sound which is spacious and has a more live feel, while the Bigger Ben has a Tetra design, which has more tube rolling options and is more reminiscent of the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, where the sound has a thicker midrange and slam.
When I first heard the Agartha 2021, I remember it sounded weighty in the notes with a lovely timbre which the Bigger Ben shows signs of, but doesn't decay like the Agartha. As far as resolution, I think Bigger Ben takes the crown because it seems to fade out so clearly on the stage.
As I’ve been listening to the Bigger Ben and trying a few more tube combinations, the quality is apparent through the clarity of the notes. The sound of the Bigger Ben is crisp yet smooth, and commandingly powerful as headphone amplifier; in the way it portrays the stage, in the decay of the precise detail. The notes are surprisingly resolving, and have a characteristic of strength, power, and quality about them.
I’m still doing my research on output transformers and tube amp design, but speaking with my experience with previous amplifiers like the Kenzie OG Rev 2, Agartha 2021, Euforia MK I, Elise MK I, I think the Bigger Ben Rev 2 is an excellent sounding amplifier, its sonic characteristics are for someone who enjoys quality. The Bigger Ben made me believe in the power of transformers and how they could affect sound.
Compared with the Agartha 2021, the Bigger Ben is more mellow, and I would say it’s suited more for relaxation because it’s resolving and gives a huge, yet defined sense of air, and the notes can sound somewhat distant as the soundstage is spacious; the Bigger Ben lulls you into the sound more at once, while with the Agartha you marvel at the notes being played and their presentness.
The reason I would hypothetically choose Agartha 2021 is if I wanted a more live feeling with instruments sounding forward, a tad more sparkly, and dynamic. Sonically, the Bigger Ben is sweeter and more subtle in its excellence, but does have the midrange and slam of the tetra design.
The Bigger Ben is compatible with many tubes: 6L6GC, EL34, KT66, KT88, 6550, and KT90s, so there is a lot of combinations to experiment with. It's a fun amp to roll with since the over spec'd and ultra high quality transformers at ampsandsound allow us to roll without worrying about possible constraints to the quality of the sound.
To me, the Agartha matches more of the rhythm and feel of the track with its timing and presentness; violin, bass, strings -- it sounds like you can feel the shape of the notes. I believe this is because the Agartha 2021 has a little more emphasis in some regions that allow it to have a unique sound which can be great for beaty passages.
With the 5AR4 and Topping D90SE, energy of pace, grandness and size, accuracy, and detail take the show (this combination is oddly similar to the Agartha 2021 with JJ 300Bs). With the 5U4G, it’s not the forward detail of the similarly sounding Agartha 2021, but laid back and highly detailed. The 5U4G is a bit slower and less energetic than the 5AR4, but they provide a pleasing sound to the amp. The naturalness, space, and overall ambiance that the Bigger Ben provides with the 5U4G is something enjoyable. It’s a softer tone, yet resolving, full-bodied, and effortlessly smooth. The 5AR4 as rectifiers are quite amazing themselves as they are fast and pace to the rhythm with a sense of urgency. It's a good tube to substitute depending on your mood.
Listening to the Bigger Ben in some tracks gives a feeling of being in a large concert hall because of the clean stage / breadth of sound scape, but then the detail, and nuance kick in, and it shows even more the power of the Bigger Ben.
With the base signature of the Bigger Ben, you don’t have to break the bank to find a matching DAC. The Modi Multibit works great, and just about any headphone I had paired well with it. The Bigger Ben has a clean and natural sound that would surprise most enthusiasts.
I would say that with my experience with the Bigger Ben Rev 2, Agartha 2021, and Kenzie OG Rev 2, all of them are great amplifiers. If the reader is someone who is interested in Hi-Fi, I would start with the Kenzie OG Rev 2 (since it can power most headphones) and do research on the other amplifiers. Being an entry point amplifier from ampsandsound, the Kenzie embodies what I feel are some of the core traits that add to the ampsandsound house sound: great power, stage, resolution, and dynamics. They are all special, and though some may be built more technically specialized, despite the price differential, they may not however be necessarily be significantly sonically “better” than the other; differences in resolution can be heard (and may be the most important depending on the person), and your end game is ultimately up to your preference, which can change depending how far along your journey you are.
The Bigger Ben Rev 2 is an end-game amplifier for me. For someone whose looking for their “one” amplifier -- it’s interesting because ampsandsound has quite a few amplifiers; of the ones that I've owned: the Kenzie OG Rev. 2, Bigger Ben Rev 2, and Agartha 2021, they all sound different and while I can say one is slightly superior to the other, at the end of the day, they all are really in a class of their own, because the base resolution is still there and house sound is still there. I guess this is more of a tribute to Kenzie, because I feel that it’s an awesome package in a compact size and it’s hard to beat; however, they are all great in their own right.
Though I’ve have written this review, I haven’t tube rolled much with the Bigger Ben, and yet, I’ve been very satisfied with the little that I’ve rolled. Though it’s hard to choose between the two, I’d still go with the Agartha in a head-to-head competition, however, for daily usage, it’s a toss-up with my preference being slightly toward the Agartha. The Bigger Ben stands next to the Agartha as a behemoth in it's own right and is a value conscious pick for me. One thing I have previously mentioned is that the 5AR4 as rectifiers, and Topping D90SE as a DAC, you can get what some might consider more preferable to the Agartha in detail, clarity, and space. However, I don't think the Bigger Bens timbre and presentness reaches level of the Agartha, which, because the mid range frequencies are toned down a little on the Agartha, the other frequencies are allowed more detail and precision, which is a great thing to witness in a 300B amp like the Agartha.
They are different amplifiers, still, of the same caliber, and I believe the Bigger Ben to be a great complement in its respective Tetra sound to the Agarthas DHT sound, and in some cases, may perhaps be more superior value-wise. However, if the DHT sound is ultimately what you prefer, it's possible the Agartha Rev 2 is what you may be interested in.
Product link: https://ampsandsound.com/products/bigger-ben