It has been 16 years since Justin Wilson, founder and CEO of HeadAmp Electronics, Inc. sold his first amplifier, the Gilmore V1. An amplifier that adapted Kevin Gilmore’s “A Pure Class-A Dynamic Headphone Amplifier” design which was originally published on the now-defunct HeadWize forum in 2001.
Years later, Kevin Gilmore designed a more powerful variant which he named “Dynahi” and made slight modifications to the original “A Pure Class-A Dynamic Headphone Amplifier” design which was later known as “Dynalo”.
Justin continued his adaptation of Kevin Gilmore’s design and brought to the market the Gilmore V2 in 2003 and subsequently the Gilmore Lite in 2004. 13 years later, Gilmore Lite MK2 was announced.
Today, HeadAmp Electronics, Inc. produces one of the best solid-state headphone amplifiers as well as one of the best electrostatic headphone amplifiers, namely the HeadAmp GS-X Mk2 Balanced Headphone Amplifier and the HeadAmp Blue Hawaii Special Edition.
Plugging in the Gilmore Lite MK2, one would notice that this iteration retained the character of its predecessor. It is clean and powerful. The Class-A amplifier with an output of 1.5W has the ability to power most headphones with the exception of headphones like the HiFiMan SUSVARA which is known for its hunger for power. It also makes the amplifier suitable to drive the more sophisticated In-Ear Monitors that are fast becoming popular today.
Design and Build
Coming from HeadAmp, the build quality of the Gilmore Lite MK2 is top notch and is expected from a manufacturer of their stature.
Measuring at 146 (W) x 171 (L) x 51 (H) mm, the MK2 is encased in an aluminium enclosure that is 2.5 times the size of the original Gilmore Lite, much of it accounted for in the increased height from 30.5mm to 51mm. This allowed the Gilmore Lite MK2 to retain a relatively small footprint which would fit onto any desktop without any issues.
The front panel of the amplifier features a large volume control knob at the centre, a 6.3mm headphone jack on the left and an amber LED power indicator as well as an input selector switch on the right.
The rear panel feature two pairs of gold-plated RCA inputs on the left, followed by a pair of active pre-amp gold-plated RCA output equipped with an “on/off” switch for active monitors and lastly the power connector and the power switch.
There are significant changes to the design of the Gilmore Lite MK2. For starters, the amplifier features the Blue Potentiometer from Alps Electric, an incredibly popular stereo potentiometer which is a known standard in Hi-Fi applications and provides a silky smooth volume control. The amplifier is also designed based on the same circuitry founded on the GS-X MK2 where ultra-low noise JFETs are used at the input while pure Class-A bipolar transistors are used at the output. Similar to the GS-X MK2, the amplifier circuit is made up entirely of discrete components. In case you noticed the four capacitors from the photo, they are part of the power circuit and are independent of the amplifier circuit. Justin is a meticulous designer, a designer par excellence. This can be seen from the circuitry design right down to the grounding of the rear panel. Such attention to details has made the Gilmore Lite MK2 a joy to review.
In an effort to minimise noise interference to the amplifier circuit, the Gilmore Lite MK2 uses an external regulated power supply connected to a power transmission circuit onboard the amplifier. HeadAmp has also shared that in the near future there is the possibility of a high-performance dedicated power supply upgrade offering in a matching case, similarly to the one previously offered for the original Gilmore Lite.
The Gilmore Lite MK2 is one of the most neutral sounding solid-state headphone amplifiers I have heard at this price point. It features a THD+N that is under 0.006% as well as a frequency response of 10Hz-90KHz +/-0.2dB. The Gilmore Lite MK2 exhibits attributes of purity and transparency which many audiophiles would seek in a headphone amplifier.
Listening to “Lightbulb Sun” by Porcupine Tree (FLAC 24-bit/48kHz), this track has some of the heaviest and deepest bass that is surprisingly good sounding, the amplifier shines with its neutrality providing great bass weight and extensions while lacking in dynamism.
Listening to “Schindler’s List – Main Theme” by Tasmin Little, New World Philharmonic & Ian Sutherland (FLAC 24-bit/48kHz), I particularly like Itshak Perleman’s violin solos on this track, the amplifier’s lack of background noise and transparency provided a clean, clear, and balanced midrange presentation though one that is lacking in resolution. I can’t help but feel that there is something lacking when Perleman’s violin bow was going up and down, it lacked the seduction which I am so very used to and that’s what made this track really special.
The Gilmore Lite MK2’s neutrality and transparency have in a way made its lack of resolution and dynamism more evident, especially when pairing with TOTL headphones such as the Focal Utopia. However, its coherence across the frequency spectrum ensured a balanced and transparent presentation with clarity.
During the review process, I have had the opportunity to connect to two different sources, where input 1 was connected to the Wyred4Sound DAC-2v2SE 10th Anniversary Limited Edition DAC while input 2 was connected to the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP1000.
It was observed that there is a signal leak across the two RCA inputs. Meaning to say, when I silenced the selected input, I would be able to hear what is playing on the other input that was not selected at a very low volume and this occurs regardless which input is selected which means that the music on your selected source would be mixed with that of the unselected source if both sources are actively providing signals to both the RCA inputs.
- Neutral and transparent
- Small footprint
- Signal leak across the two RCA inputs
The neutrality of the MK2 is on the same playing field as many higher end reference headphone amplifiers in the market. The ability to enjoy music at this price point without discolouration, coupled with the gain level the MK2 provides is what impressed me the most.
Justin Wilson has designed an amplifier that offers something different from its competition, a value proposition for users of entry to mid-tier headphones and in-ear monitors.
This review unit is provided by E1 Personal Audio Singapore.
- Astell&Kern A&ultima SP1000
- Aurender N100 SSD
- Wyred4Sound DAC-2v2SE 10th Anniversary Limited Edition
- Campfire Audio Cascade
- Focal Utopia
- Pioneer SE-Master1
- In-Ear Monitors
- DITA Dream
- SIMGOT EN700 Pro
- FiiO F9 PRO
- Frequency response: 10Hz-90KHz +/-0.2dB
- THD+N: <0.006%
- Total Drive Power: 1.5W (Max)
- Gain: 7.5X (16.5dB)
- Input Impedance: 50K ohm
- Output Impedance: <1 ohm
- Price: USD 499 (SGD 749)
- Warranty: 1 year
- Website: www.headamp.com