Amplifier

VentureCratft SounDroid Vantam Review

VentureCraft are a Japanese company well known for their portable headphone amplifiers and amp/DAC combo units. Today, I will be taking a look at their latest offering in this category: the feature-packed SounDroid Vantam. On paper, it may just be the audiophile’s ultimate portable companion: DSD playback, balanced 2.5mm output, line/optical/USB in, line/optical out, digital upsampling and op-amp exchangeability are all crammed into its tiny aluminium chassis. Colour me impressed! How impressed? Let’s find out below.

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Ortofon MHd-Q7 Amplifier

Released in 2013, the MHd-Q7 is Ortofon’s first portable amplifier.In true Ortofon style, it features beautifully  clean and minimalistic lines with solid build quality, but does the sound live up to its looks? Let’s find out.

Many thanks to Musica Acoustics for providing this unit for review. The MHd-Q7 is available from them currently for USD298 – you can find more information and purchase it here.

Package and Contents

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The MHd-Q7 comes in a plain cardboard box with closed-cell foam packing. Contents are minimal: you get the amp itself, 3.5mm interconnect and USB charging cable. Fair enough.

Design

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I have mentioned this before, but Ortofon really knows how to make a good looking product. The MHd-Q7 really feels high quality with its clean and stylish aluminium construction that has a smooth, pleasant-to-touch finish with absolutely no rough or jagged edges whatsoever. It weighs in at about 150g, which is enough to make it feel solid but not unnecessarily heavy.  I wish more amps looked and  felt this nice.
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The wonderfully minimalistic design extends to its functionality as well – no unnecessary switches or knobs here. All you get is the 3.5mm input and output jacks, volume knob, power and recharging indicator LEDs on the front and USB charging port on the back. I was quite impressed at the quality of the volume knob which also doubles as the power switch – it feels solid, giving very granular volume control and has a satisfying click when turning on or off.  Unlike my daily driver, the Tralucent Audio T1, I did not notice any channel imbalance whatsoever, nor any noise while adjusting the volume – absolutely brilliant!

Although it calls itself a ‘headphone amplifier’, you can tell that it was designed mainly for driving IEMs, which it can do to volumes that would be more than satisfactory (or safe) for most listeners. It, however, struggled to drive my K701s, which are 60 Ohm headphones (albeit quite inefficient)  – maxing out the volume achieved barely adequate volume levels for me. I don’t like the prospects of this amp driving your 300 Ohm Beyers or other high impedance phones.

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The MHd-Q7  measures 67mm wide by 84mm deep (including volume knob)  and  27mm high (as per the manual). This makes it unusually short, wide and deep compared to many other amps out there. This means that it will be quite difficult to stack it with some players such as my F-series Walkman as the widths do not line up  and the difference in length introduces problems with shorter     interconnects. This may make it an awkward choice for people looking for an amp to use on the go.

Battery life is decent, with a single full charge lasting about 20 hours (the manual quotes 18). You can also use the device while charging it – not being able to do this was a minor annoyance with the T1.

Sound

The MHd-Q7 produces a very smooth, analogue sound overall. I would not call it muddy, however, as it retains a high degree of clarity with a spacious presentation and excellent instrument separation. I would say that it wins out against the T1 in this respect.

Bass is more pronounced, yet with a soft and rounded quality to it. The T1 produces a tighter and more controlled lower end, however I did find that the MHd-Q7 had a more natural sounding timbre, especially for instruments like bass guitars and brass instruments.
Mids retain that signature Ortofon warmth and close presentation – vocals especially sound very intimate and smooth.The high end is less pronounced than that of the T1, so it does lack a little bit of sparkle. Instruments like high hats and cymbals also sound somewhat diminished in comparison.
All in all, I would say that the overall sound characteristics of this amp are close to that of the e-Q8, and tend to emphasise them when the two are used in combination.

Closing Comments

The Ortofon MHd-Q7 is a strange beast. Very handsome looks and solid feeling construction pair awkwardly with odd dimensions that hinder portable use, which it was supposedly designed for. I also take issue with it terming itself a ‘headphone amplifier’ when it struggles to drive much more than IEMs. Its sound is sweet and smooth and spacious: while not particularly my cup of tea, I can certainly appreciate the finesse with which it renders the music – there is not a hint of sluggishness to be found here.

If you’re a fan of vinyl-like sound and can make its peculiar form factor work for you, I think the MHd-Q7 is certainly worth your consideration.