The Desk

The Metrum Octave MK2 and the HiFiMAN EF-5 Meet Joel Press, Smooth Move, and the Witching Hours

Setting up an early morning escapade with the new Metrum Acoustics Octave MK2, the HiFiMAN EF-5, The Sennheiser HD-650, The HifiMAN HE-6, The HiFiMAN HE-400, and the HiFiMAN HE-500...

3:30 in the morning can be a man’s best friend or his worst enemy.  When both Girlfriend and Mother are visiting Casa Crane, a little centering 3a.m.-7a.m. concord of sweet sounds is as elemental as the Smooth Move tea that foils feline mischief.  Kill me not with your heaving plates-all will be shat.  Okay, I do half the cooking, but still double is, well, double.

Joel Press was my landlord 25 years ago.  He, for untold decades, ran the Jazz Workshop in Newton,MA.  Everyday, save Sunday, a varied group of Boston’s best would gather on Ward St. for a jam.  Additionally, whenever there was an act in town, you could bet someone from the gig would show.  This year marks the demarkation of the Workshop to parts South.  Gotham got it’s Boy back.   

Joel started making pilgrimages to NY a few years ago at the urging of Mike Kanan, (Jane Monheit’s pianist as well as the lead of a trio with Eliot Zigmund and Lee Hudson.)  and Spike Wilner, owner of Smalls and a fine pianist.  Joel is a few steps North of 80, but you go where the gig is, and the gig is in NY.

I came to check things out in Boston for a few months, 20 some odd years ago.  Due to my folks being musicians, (Joel shared a friendship with Marc Johnson who had played with my Dad for a few years before heading off to Bill Evans) I was granted a room.  So I rented the place assuming I would be gone in 6 weeks towards NY.  I stayed there nye 7 years.  Wonderful things happened at Joel and Maya’s.


How to describe the Metrum Acoustic Octave MK2...Not unlike it’s larger sibling the Metrum Acoustics Hex, it has a great power supply.  An overbuilt power supply with a good circuit means ‘ease’.  You get ease with the Octave MK2, and when things happen with dynamics and space, you get those too.  It’s an unusual stew that Cees Ruijtenberg has concocted.  Due to his industrial chip implementation and his way with circuit and power supplies, you get resolution of a high order, but it unfolds unfettered by over emphasis.  For me, Metrum equals long listening sessions.  I don’t have the inexplicable pull to un-tune myself.  I just keep listening, and it’s all there.  

The HiFiMAN EF-5 also has an overbuilt power supply.  It sports a TJ Full Music 12au7 dual triode input, followed by OPA275 Op-Amps run in class a/b.  Using the tube input for gain, and the OPAmps at output, really delivers. I would suggest Srajan Ebaens rather complete read of the amp, which he said was a step up from his reference Woo Audio amp.

I would concur.  Playing a variety of phones from Sennheiser HD-600’s, To the HiFiMAN HE-400, the HE-500, and the HE-6, I never was left with a presentation I couldn’t have lived with for years.  The surprise for me was how well it did with the HE-400.  I felt it might be too much for the HE-400 given the HE-400’s high sensitivity and ease to drive.  That it did so with complete authority, yet velvet gloved authority, made me listen a little longer than I might have to this duo.  The fact that it did so while being voiced on the HE-500, shows that whatever the specs measure, this is a tubed circuit that is quiet, and as such, versatile enough to drive IEM’s, HE-400’s, Sennheisers, and certainly the HiFiMAN line.  Good results have also been documented with AKG’s, Beyerdynamic, Grado, and so forth.  After my time with the EF-5, I have come to think of it as an easy choice.  Great texture, dynamics, and versatility make it an easy upgrade to take many headphones to the next level.  You also have the option of doing a little tube rolling, without breaking the bank.  I think the HE-400 with the EF-5 gets you at a very high level of headphone listening for the investment.  I think I would put it up against anything at that price, with the knowledge you can do everything from head-banging, to small group jazz, to orchestral music and leave feeling inspired.  Do I prefer the EF-5 on the HE-500 on which it was voiced.  Yes, but if I owned the HE-400, the EF-5 would be an automatic trigger pull if I wanted to scale up.  (and you could keep the EF-5 regardless of how high up the headphone ladder you wanted to climb.)


The HiFiMAN EF-5 will get lots of work in my stable.  I can plug most any of my varied cans or IEM’s into it and get to the heart of the music in a hurry.   Caveats?  The only one might be the volume control.  I’m knit picking here, but I would like it to feel smoother or less smooth-not that crunchy feel between(this could also be due to it’s newness).  That said, it was always quiet and easy to operate regardless of the phones on hand.  In other words, its taper was set just right.  I don’t think I could do better for 500 clams, truly.


We’re coming up on 3 hours of listening and the Metrum Octave MK2 still wants me to listen.  He’s saying, ‘I’m damn near as good as my big brother, and easier to carry.”  In my reference system, he makes a very fine argument to that end.  He is ultimately trumped, but the family resemblance and quality is remarkable.

All cabling was done by DNM and Tim at Simplifi Audio...Tim knows hifi.  And a big thanks to Fang Bian for lacing his cans with wiring that doesn't need replacing.

Almost time to put on the coffee and start the pancakes.  Here's Joel with Mike Kanan at Smalls...and a drink blender.  Nightfly, signing off.

Audeze earbuds Fostex fostex th-900 headphone amplifier HiFiMAN HE-400 HiFiMAN HE-500 HiFiMAN HE-6 Joel Press Metrum Acoustics Octave MK2 Mike Kanan Sennheiser USB DAC

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