So, after the problems with my X-CANV2, my new V8P arrived a couple of days ago courtesy of Musical Fidelity. It looks better in the flesh than in the pictures. The huge volume knob is a darker silver with a bright polished rim. The casing is black with heat sinks, so it does look like a square version of the first two X-CANs. Build quality is excellent. The headphones click into the sockets, the phono plugs slide firmly into place, the LED shines a very bright blue.
The amp can be used as a preamp, hence V8P and there is one line in, one line out and a pre-out. But nowhere on the casing does it mention the Burr-Brown DAC lurking inside. Only a type B USB port on the back shows this functionality. This seems odd as so many people are using PCs as their main source now. The internal DAC does not stop an external DAC being connected via the line in. There is a tiny switch on the front panel to switch between USB and line. The amp uses a generic driver to install itself on a PC or Mac. It took about 10 seconds to do this on my lPC with Windows XP. The only issue is volume control. With my ipod connected to the line in the volume is at about 9-10 o'clock. With the USB I have found that to keep the amp at the same level I have to maximise the PC's volume. I tried the amp with its volume at 3 o'clock (maximum is 5, minimum is 7), but you can hear hiss, so I went back to using the PC's volume.
Once warmed up I dug out my tester tracks using my ipod. New Order 'Regret' rocked along, Peter Hook's bass clear as a bell, but not hugely deep. The tissing cymbols that sound like tambourines were still there. But the midrange was very full and detailed. Next was Massive Attack's 'Angel'. The opening bass and deep clicks distorted. But I have only heard one set up that does not distort, the Bose Sounddock of all things. Again the bass was clear, but not deep. What was very cleear was the level of detail coming through. As the track starts various metallic bowed sounds create a background soundscape. At 41/42 seconds into the track there is a similar sound that briefly appears. It was very clear. The only time I have heard it as clearly as that was on £15,000 worth of Naim. Next was Pink Floyd 'Summer 68'. From the start the stereo effects were amazing. I realised I was hearing music in the headphones rather than in my head. The track had a brightness and musicality that I have not heard elsewhere. Then Ash 'Oh Yeah', a dreadfull mess of a recording, which is still a mess here, but it was more pleasing to the ear mess than before! Last was Gomez 'Whippin' Picadilly'. Now the stereo effects and soundstage really opened up. At one point the sound was going round the outside of my head.
I then repeated the tracks using Spotify through the DAC (except Pink Floyd, not available). Everything was again clear, detailed with a full midrange and a well rounded but light bass. This was the main difference between the line in and DAC, the lack of bass. The noise on the track 'Angel' was audible, but only just. The high hat cymbols on 'Regret' sounded very much like a tambourine. But of course I am using Spotify. The hard drive with itunes on it is noisy and upstairs, but that will eventually be integrated into the set up. So there is an obvious room for improvement and at the moment Spotify will more than do. (I am listening to Brian Eno's 'Nerve Net' as I type this and the level of detail and atmosphere is brilliant.)
The improvements over the X-CAN V2 are, a wider sound stage, better stereo imaging, more midrange detail and regarding the bass and treble, well I quote Antony Michaelson 'Because the V8P has no effective voltage or current limit it will never clip into any headphone and always remain completely linier. This has a counter intuitive effect of possibly making it sound less "exciting" or "rhythmic". Its just that unlike any other headphone amp it doesn’t limit.' Unlike any other system I have had, I am listening to the music, even when I am listening to the system. The reproduction of the music is the priority. Hence I have talked as much about the recording of my tester tracks as the amp itself. I would happily recommend this amp to anyone. Its RRP is £400, but I have seen it online for £350.