Written by ngoshawk
Published 18 minutes ago
Pros – Superb sound.
Tube rolling is FUN!
Provided tubes need not be upgraded.
Did I say stunning sound?…
Cons – None, but if I had to niggle…oh heck, no I won’t…
Nothing of any major, minor or electron-level consequence…
Apex Pinnacle 2- $12,000 from TTVJ
I will admit, that even though @Todd prepared me for the sheer size of the shipping container, I was aghast at the Pelican 0370, sitting in my school’s office. “Oh my GOODNESS,” was the exact verbiage used to the secretary who graciously signed for the critter. Picking up the unit, placing it on a cart I had from my room, I felt a little bit like the end of Temple of Doom, and that warehouse scene…kind of, but with the sort of anticipation awaiting a trepitated feeling. One of almost dread, that I was taking into my charge something quite rare, and worthy of the term “Summit-Fi.” Also, something of this price cannot be underestimated, unless you work at an audio boutique. Well, I don’t so hence, the trepidation. That said, having done another tube amp a bit back (see “comparisons”), I also felt a calming effect. One that felt like I was on an adventure that deems extreme reverie and examination of my review “skills.”
A “discussion” from another thread of the evening read, made me go back and immediately re-evaluate the critter I had in possession being discoursed. After another micro-critical listen, I could see both sides’ avenues. A few really took a dig, while others seemed to be over the top impressed. I will of course admit that my high end hearing loss predicated an *asterisk* with my review(s), and this “discussion” was indeed one, where my shortcomings hindered. A regret, but there is nothing that can be done, so I move on.
The whole time I was reading the thread (of which I fully respect BOTH reviewers) I of course had the Apex going. Almost glossing over Bob Marley for some other music, I settled back to my familiar Bob (good any damn time, and what a way to make you feel a bit better, his music can be a part of anyone’s soul…and should), I had my Focal Elear with custom LQi XLR balanced cable running on the receiving end, and my Opus#2 as source. I must also admit that at that particular cosmic moment, I again realized that I was using something that cost more than 8 times what the beginning and end product cost…But, I also realized it was time to move away from the awe, and listen.
Giving Dave Matthews Grey Street a good listen, I just listened. Then played with the settings, perching on the “High Impedance” setting for an exceptionally satisfying sound. I am being understated for a reason…I’ve only been listening for 45 minutes…Moving to my Unique Melody Maestro V2’s with requisite Effect Audio Ares ii balanced cable (using the iFi L26 adapter), I drove into Dave and twentyonepilots. I will admit (using low impedance); I was drawn further into the musical nature of the Sophia tubes. Running all three in the set up provided me a good baseline for comparison to the other two 6SN7 tubes (Sophia driver tube was brand new, per Todd) included (an Electro-Harmonix 6SN7EH, and Sylvania 6SN7GT). Why a baseline? Well since Todd communicated that the Sophia driver was new, I would do my best to break it in, so that I could actually “try” to isolate the 6SN tubes. I will try. And of course, enjoy the Sophia output tubes.
Well past midnight on that first fabled night, I am torn between three things: 1. Sleep (well of course…). 2. Playing with our 6 month old Aussie Shepherd, who has woken up to be taken out. Or 3. Continued listening, since it is the end of the week, and who needs sleep anyway. #2 is a solid draw too, but she understands the gravity of the situation.
Reading the reviews of the Pinnacle, I was drawn into a bit of history while Ziggy Marley strode through my ears. I do love reading the history of such items as this, and the driving forces behind them. Something a small number of companies do, and I wish more would follow…
Spending near on a full day with the Elear and Pinnacle2 can lead to thought of elation, and emotive exuberance. A lucky lad I was, as I had a days worth (at least) of work to do on the computer, which sits in close proximity. Varying music, and volumes, one could begin to discern the feeling that this was indeed well, did I say WELL above anything heard to date in the portable market. Garnering impressions was somewhat of a hostile event, as my brain simply wanted to listen, unencumbered by the thought of having to DO something worthwhile besides listen. But, I did and it was a very productive day. I am taken aback by the clear nature of all that passes through the system. Separation the size of a concert hall would not be a wrongful impression. Depth of wonderful proportions accompanies this separation. Layered presentation (to me) can be a harder precipice for tubular implementations. But a sound of such proportions through tubes produces stunning results. Results that throw out the somewhat typical warmish sound presented.
I found the excellent Kenzie to be a warm sound, which brought me in invitingly. I tend towards warm character and the Kenzie up until now was still the best representation of this to me. Even better than my iTubes2 running in my iFi stack. Taken separately, and I appreciated the iTubes for what it was, a very good economical representation of quality tube sound, but still behind the Kenzie.
By comparison, the Apex, well…reaches that Pinnacle (pun intended). If this is what true tubular sound is, then I wholeheartedly approve. Again, I go back to that separation and imagery of almost analytical quality. But in such a good manner, that one soon forgets that comparison for it really isn’t fair. For instance, the bass quality coming out of the Elear/Pinnacle2 combination has never sounded better. Van Morrison’s The Party’s Over defines that in the jazz double bass line laid down. Typical bass line, but brought forth with such clarity, that it is as if that bass is in my living room. Impeccable. I am thoroughly impressed time and again with how smooth this amplifier is, as well as natural sound that I have not heard of this quality, before.
Van Morrison’s Take It Easy, Baby defines that smooth, natural unforced sound, which audiobeat’s review of the first gen Pinnacle defines. And I would unabashedly concur that those qualities have risen above that standard to ethereal levels. I really am at a loss to describe the quality of sound, which graces my tired old ears. I could just as easily wax lyrical about the differences presented due to musical recordings, but that misses the point to me. This was meant to be simply enjoyed. This is basement 60’s jazz quality smoking a Cuban, enjoying a snifter of French Brandy-stuff. Those cool cats have nothing on this, and if this were playing behind a curtain, there would nary be a note missed of quality between the live and P2. Bringing back memories of a favorite jazz haunt in Westport, Kansas City; I am transformed back into that special time. And that really is the point of such quality sound. Take us back to a time where we simply enjoyed. Closing myself off with my Maestro V2’s, I have that intimate setting of the prime corner table. My local KC bier will have to suffice as I lay up in the corner of my living room listening. And that ain’t a half bad substitute.
I am three days into this gig, and I haven’t even thought about changing the drive tube, this is so sweet. But, I must to fully understand what one could do to personalize their sound. And when even my ears can discern those subtle differences of sound, such as exactly how deep a breath is taken by Van Morrison, then there is some serious voodoo going on here. Detail that would make an Executive Assistant for a Fortune 500 business jealous by nature is on the order no matter what plays through. I switched for one of my go to videos, Coldplay’s excellent Technicolor ii on YouTube. This is not only a fantastic emersion into puppetry but a cacophony of complex sounds, with added loud shots due to the fireworks involved. The P2 didn’t flinch. Not even a bit. And, while the eminent poor quality of the standard MacBook Pro DAC was more evident than ever, this was still extremely tolerable. But, I quickly switched back to the Opus#2, for sanities sake. I do not have anything of higher quality and as such I am extremely impressed by the synergy presented together. Alone the Opus#2 is superb. Together with the Pinnacle2, stunning. So much so, that upon my review, I will now have a new “favorite combo.” And it really isn’t even close anymore.
a. the neighborhood of one of superior especially royal rank
b. the bearing, carriage, or air of a person; especially : stately or distinguished bearing
c. something (such as a spirit) felt or believed to be present
I do believe good ole’ Merriam Webster can define the Pinnacle 2 much better than I. Using too many superlatives can get downright dangerous. One faces the risk of tainting a really good product if one oozes praise or solidity of verbiage towards something good. I beg even that tarnish of reputation of both scribe and product can result. That said; I cannot shake the sheer manifestation involved with this platitudinal acquiescence of sound. I do believe Merriam W had the Pinnacle in mind when describing Presence. It is well past (notice I didn’t use beyond…) any other product I have heard, and most likely ever will (let’s hope for a Pinnacle 3…please?). Even with that said, my weary old ears can tell and describe how good this critter is…completely.
With fortitude of bass present, due to some effect in the warmth (to me), there isn’t the bulk offered by my iTubes2. And that is good, for something of this equivalent would be drowned out with that aptitude. Taken separately the bass can be almost considered polite. But that wouldn’t be a very good description, for it is quite good. Depths are not the deepest, but lest I say presence is non-parallel. With midrange as the basis for the whole sound, the bass balances quite nicely with the treble.
Tied together…that is a concept, which could be used to describe the overall conceptual and foundational sound of the Apex rather suitably. With my limited sound knowledge, I hinder a bet to say this, but I cannot find flaw in any of the sound. Rich, full-bodied expansive sound stage, layer upon layer (stated again, I know) of sound, intricately, expertly and precisely placed giving detail to sounds not heard in my music. Even that, which I can recall unabashedly sounds better. Almost an unfair comparison, but a quick switch to the balanced out on the Opus#2 using the Maestro’s sounded thin and stodgy by comparison to the Maestro/Opus/Pinnacle combo on SINGLE ended communiqué of sound. And the Maestro/Opus/balanced is a very, very good set up. One of which I am thoroughly happy and gratified with.
Natalie Merchant has never sounded so fresh and alive as on this combo (except maybe on the Elear combo). From MTV Unplugged, Candy Everybody Wants is indeed a treat worth the wait until you deserve it. No sibilance in an otherwise somewhat sibilant album, her voice is as golden as it comes. Such a melodic opera she professes that one must hit replay often so you catch all the subtle nuances and inflections. Followed closely by Bob Marley’s seminal Buffalo Soldier and you have the complete protection package. Bob’s voice is the male equivalent of golden to me, and the protective nature of this song, perfectly balances the draw, or impatience in anticipating Natalie’s after.
As if on cue, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Leave My Girl Alone followed to further protect that specter of peak tonality. In those three songs alone, I have covered most of my favorites. The sensuality of the female voice, the accented Jamaican of Bob holds the male cues, brought together, and me to my knees with Stevie’s sumptuous, passionate riffs and gravely voice. And, for dessert? Well of course it was Ziggy Marley’s Have You Ever Been to Hell. This has driven me so far the opposite way, that ethereal would not fully describe the emotive responses I feebly try to decipher and describe with word.
OK, enough of the platitudes. What might not be adequate or need slight tweaking? If I had to nitpick, I’m not real fond of the transformer covers located behind the tubes. I believe a 1920’s industrial look was sought, but it just looks out of place. I do indeed like the exposed nature from the previous Pinnacle. Top quality those covers are, of course. A second “quibble” would be the aluminum knobs. Tactility-wise, I do like the feel, but in an otherwise 1920’s Birmingham Small Heath’s way, the knobs look a bit out of place, and feel “light.” They do function perfectly, and without flaw; so comparing them, to the lit “buttons” on the otherwise excellent Chord Mojo (which I have at the same time, drat…) or Hugo 2 I had awhile back the aluminum knobs are spectacular. Perfect of form, they just feel that “lightness” to me belying the nature of the critter. Other than those mentioned, I cannot find fault.
Switching (finally!!) to my Grado GH-2 Limited Ed, I found the sound as good as it could ever sound. With rich vibrant treble notes, and the sumptuous male voice of Lyle Lovett on I’ll Come Knockin’ makes me understand completely why I purchased these from Todd, after the audition/tour. Just such a melodious welcoming sound surrounded me. Not quite the bass push of the Elear, but pleasantly present, defined by Bob Marley’s She’s Gone. I am enthralled with how well the Pinnacle matches whatever I throw her way, and I will indeed be downtrodden and distraught when she is gone.
Something interesting I noticed though, was that when switching impedance on the Grado, it had little to no effect. I might have heard a hint of a more full sound, but not enough to define any real difference. The same cannot be said of either the Elear or Maestro. Running the Elear on high impedance gave me the best response. The Maestro, just the opposite. And I did try the Maestro on IEM, but did not like the sound produced. Switching back to low, the melodious melody can back fully warranting my desires and choice.
I am amazed that whatever I plug in just sounds good (one would surely hope with this…). @Audiobeat again mentioned that the Pinnacle let the headphones of choice sound like they should. No coloring of sound from the Pinnacle was heard, save a hint of warmth. Well, according to my les than stellar ears, I would concur. But, what the Pinnacle2 does, is let those headphones of choice sound remarkable. Unencumbered is verbiage I used earlier, and that would be how I would describe the sound through your choice of headphone. I am lucky with what I have, and can only imagine what the Focal Utopia or HiFiMan Susvara might sound like through this set up.
To put that in perspective (a bit), I am running about $2500-3000 worth of front and rear end with the Apex, and it allows for the other two to justify that they do indeed belong. Often, one is faced with mismatched sources/front/rear ends that aren’t copacetic together. I would not call the Pinnacle 2 forgiving, but allowing. The Opus#2 is a darn fine device on it’s own, as is the Maestro V2. Running the Maestro on the Effect Ares ii balanced cable through the Opus is a joy of rich full, dynamic sound. But, when run through the Pinnacle 2, that wonderful combo is lifted to new heights. MORE richness, MORE dynamics, MORE detail is had, and with little effort. I have never had the honor of something so rich cooperating so nicely with my other gear. Yes, I have had quite acceptable results, but this relationship is like a mentor taking in the students for that final lesson, without humiliating said students. It…just…sounds…better…period.
I will regret the day I send the Pelican 0370 off to the desert, but it will not be with dread. It will be with a revered humbleness. A humbleness, with which I understand I have been allowed into very exclusive company, and it, was an accepting company, not a snobbery-riddled one. There is no pretense, just acceptance of what you provide. This would be Hotel California, and I willingly do not want to leave, but am allowed to, knowing what I will remember and experience. It is pure love, and it is good.
Trusting an old friend means you can ignore them. It also means, that they will always be there when needed. As such, after the exemplary time using the Opus#2, I decided to go “old school,” with my Shanling M5. Ever since I borrowed Nik’s, I fell in love. I knew someday I would have one, and luckily early in my re-emergence into our personal audio world, I happened across a fine gent in Russia selling his. I will admit that watching the journey across ½ of the planet was quite fascinating in it’s own right, and the two of us kept in contact via PM throughout. I wish him well, and since have used the M5 as my reference. Until the Opus…
That old friend hooked right up, sitting comfortably on my table providing me the exact memories I remember; but with greater detail, greater clarity and greater low-end grunt. Since hearing the M5, I have endeared myself to their “house sound,” which is slightly warm and inviting but with sufficient detail to make you understand that it has a deserved place in the mid-fi realm. Going through the Pinnacle 2, this was reconfirmed, in a very big way. Listening to Pink Floyd’s live version of Time, I was transferred back in time to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City for the greatest concert I have had the honor of seeing (OK, that and Stevie Ray Vaughan). The sentiment still holds, that of thunderous sound, but so well controlled that you felt inside Gilmour’s guitar exactly like he would want in one of Roger Water’s fantastic trippy artistic animations. Just superb of imagery, with near-lethal presentation; I was in that 32nd row again. THAT is what the Pinnacle 2 can do.
The P2 does not transform your music, it envelops your sound, while allowing for those fond, and maybe not-so-fond memories to come flooding back, in full force. I felt the memories of everything consumed that night before, during and after the concert. Man…what…a…trip.
I would add that to me, the P2 seems to make that Shanling sound a bit less warm. Maybe I am just hearing the sound, as it should be. Maybe not. Then McKinley Black’s sensuous Bailinho da Maria comes on, and what I just stated comes back as pure drivel, gobbledygook and balderdash. Forget what I said…this is pure damn sound, the way Shanling meant. Incredible sensations put Goosebumps on my skin. As if to drive home how stupid I sounded at the beginning of this paragraph, Los Lobos brings My Baby’s Gone back home, running me over, backing up again to look down at me and loudly proclaim, “You moron, JUST LISTEN!!” before speeding off in their ’67 low rider Chevelle.
With all of this said (if you are still with me…), I have neglected to talk about specifications, fit and finish and other incidental items included. To be honest, when one purchases something of this accord, that is of trivial matter (at least that is the way I am thinking of this…). It just doesn’t matter…I would add that fit and finish are exceptional (and I can certainly handle the aluminum knobs of which I complained a bit earlier), placing all parts together as they should…no misfit shape or face. Understated overall, the focus is on the tubes, moreover that is right and good. As it should be.
I would add that the Nordost Frey 2 power cord itself, runs in at $1800; while the interconnect at roughly $1G (from what I could find), isn’t something to sneeze at, or on! What this says, is that when you produce something of this upper echelon, one must have the complete package. But of course it does.
As luck would have it, the cables from the Beat Audio tour set up by @Barra arrived two days before I shipped the Apex…oh darn. Currently running the Prima Donna 8-wire ($1200), in my Maestro’s and still the Opus#2, I am amazed that I have yet again elevated a sound, which I thought could not go much higher (humor me, cost wise…). What was an incredibly clear sound, stepped up a notch. To use an analogy from another review, it is as if I am now viewing a crystal clear day after a snowstorm in -30 weather, with no wind. Just an incredible scene and sound. Dead still, senses piqued for that additional bit of music, which might have been lost in my “lesser” Ares ii cable. It was said in another review of the original Pinnacle that detail would not be an appropriate description of the sound. Almost an insult, as detail refers to the ability to pick out that far away instrument from the back, which may have been missed. I would agree, and after all the mentions of detail amend that to purity. A spot where you see and experience everything. And everything experiences you. A spot where there is no hiding, so there is no need for details. Details become irrelevant, because all is there. If one were to ascent into this, and ask of the music, “How can such detail be explained,” the music would simply look at you with puzzlement, bewilderment and perplexity for it knew all along there was nothing missing. So, I humbly concur with @Anders review and state purity is of which I see, seek and experience. I really am at a loss for words…
Song after song, hour after long bloody hour, the Pinnacle 2 would throw something not new, but PURE at me. It was as if I was hearing most if not all of my music under surgically-precise pure conditions. Not dry and analytical mind you, but of such precise nature that you KNOW that this is indeed how the music was intended. This is the way an artisan intends their craft to be heard. To fully understand the mind and passion (and a decent bit of craziness for some I have had the pleasure of knowing…) of said artist rolled together with that analytical engineer. Passion, craziness and precision. Three pretty doggone decent words to describe the sound and character of the Pinnacle 2. I would imagine that this is the audio equivalent of driving a super car or hyper car. And if I had to choose which one…well that would be a bit tougher, since you have a mix of old world passion and parts along with the new exacting Science of the others. This could possibly be the Porsche 918, but I do not believe that would be accurate. Maybe an older Ferrari 512 Berlinetta Boxer. The cutting edge of its sensuous drop dead gorgeous shape, backed by old world technology in that venerable V12, melded to a torque level so fierce, that experts drivers often complained about how “untamed” it was to drive…all the while with an ear to ear grin on their face.
Yes, that would be it. An “older” early-80’s Ferrari BB512. Replete with that karmic tie to the artisan-engineer. The one with the vision, passion and ability to produce the finest piece of audio kit I have had the honor of auditioning. One I will miss immensely, but also know that those who follow (a meet in Lost Wages, errr Phoenix via Las Vegas, I believe) will enjoy as I. I do indeed feel as if I have had the honor of driving my favorite Ferrari of all time, and will not soon forget.
There are two reasons I have survived the week on 2-3 hours of slumber each night since the arrival of the Pinnacle…1. We (my peer and I) are hosting 1200 Science Olympiad Science nerds from five states this weekend and must put the finishing touches on all of the preparations, and 2. TO MAXIMIZE MY BLOODY TIME WITH THE P2. I will have approximately 35-40hrs of glorious listening in, and well worth the sleep-deprivation it will be. Knowing I had my favorite coffee for each “next day,” and favorite local brew each evening session, I continued. I will collapse Sunday, dreaming of music, kids running around in lab coats and goggles, good beer, good coffee, listening to Santana’s El Farol. What a crazy Alice in Wonderland that will make in my mind. And I will grin like those Ferrari test drivers from ear-to-ear as I fall into that slumber. It will be worth it.
I want to reverently, passionately, fervently, and with a bit of that craziness thank @Todd from TTVJ and Pete Millett for allowing this fine piece of kit to travel to those on which luck has shined. I said this of the 64Audio reviews, but it holds here more so…I am a very lucky man, indeed.