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Quasar. No idea why Heed chooses to use the name from a quasistellar radio source on their RIAA. Listening to it gave me a hint, though. It literally lightens up my living room!
The Quasar is the top RIAA in the Modular range, the range of small boxes consisting of 2 headphone amps, one DAC and 2 RIAA’s. Small in the case of Quasar goes for the RIAA itself, since the power supply is around four times bigger, as we during this test use the Obelisk PX. Obviously not as easy to hide as a wall wart, besides, one might argue that a unit so low on power demand as a RIAA should not need a power house to feed it. O ye unfaithful! The proof is in the pudding, as always. No need for arguing, use your ears instead. Case closed.
The Quasar is not the easiest to use. It’s factory set for MC with a 470 Ohm load, look underneath an you’ll find nothing but a warning saying that you must not open the box, ’cause then you might be killed by trolls or followed by evil spirits. Now, since I, for logistic reasons wanted to start the show with MM pick-up, I consulted the user manual. Well, what do they tell me, other than opening the box and start playing with electrical jumpers? Well, in reality it isn’t much danger, anyway. Remove the power cable, wait a couple of minutes (or the time you spend removing the 4 allen screws), then you’re good to go. So I moved the 4 jumpers from MC to MM settings. Also, there are jumpers for customization to MC pick-ups, both for micro Volts p.u. output (100, 330, 600) and the more normal resistance settings. Also, there are high and low output connections from the RIAA itself on the rear facia, so you have big chances of finding something suiting your p.u. That said, Heed has not opted for more than three different loads, 100, 470 and 1k Ohm, a little sparse for my taste, but still suitable for most.
The Quasar showed to be rather jumpy regarding RFI, having a mobile switched on in the room soon became a nuseance; the shattering sounds kept on annoying me until I put the phone in flight mode. Well, let’s look at the positive side of this; no disturbances while enjoying your music, as long as your phone is off. And, with the phone out of the way, plus necessary adjustments made, the listening itself is pure bliss. Even though it’s decades since the origin of Heed had anything to to with Britain, they still deliver sound as British as any. It is filled with rhythm and perfect timing, it spreads joy and light to the world. On top of that, it presents room and positioning to die for. I do admit I was taken a bit aback, ’cause the price wasn’t that bad, was it? OK, so the design is simple, no doubt that saves money. Compared to huge valve RIAA’s, we save a lot on transformers, valves, heat sinks and big boxes, while compared to the more modern designs, we also save on remote control and several switches. The tiny box is full, M-caps clearly visible, the rest seems like rather standard component quality, tidily organized on the PCB. I guess the word sensible is the simple description of the total design.
The MM in use is an Audio Note IQ3, a rather high output design, giving a strong 6,5 mV out. I therefore was puzzled that to get a reasonable gain, I still had to use the “High Output” connectors. Heed explains that the “Low Output” is mainly aimed at older amplifier designs with high input gain, so fair enough. After a couple of weeks burn in, we’re ready to listen, and, since I made a quick check initially, I can recommend new owners to stay calm, the change from new to burnt in, is huge. Initially rather boring, the initial nature takes a 180 degrees turn somewhere down the road, and returns like a hurricane. Or, with the light of a Quasar, if you want. The mentioned p.u. is also a very lively performer, I found this combination to be truly awesome. Probably not heard the AN p.u. coming so much alive since I played it on AN’s own RIAA. And, I don’t think I’ve ever hard it so full of timbral character, this is just beautiful! Especially suited for classical works, no doubt, but the rhythmic behavior also give a certain snap to rock.
So I start off with something in between rock and classical; the beautifully recorded “Caverna Magica” from Andreas Vollenweider. Here, the Quasar is allowed to show it’s brilliance on several aspects, first the precision. Both depth and left – right orientation is excellent, as we hear the two persons coming walking into the magic cavern, and the sound picture. Then the water drops, perfectly placed, snappy, precise. We clearly notice the changes in timbral charachter as we go from the echo of the cavern over to the drier studio sound. The elegance is fulfilled by Vollenweider’s harp, surrounded by a big soundscape leaving nothing to the imagination. I guess have heard this even better, but to a very different price, indeed. Impressive, Heed, really.
On the more rocky side of town, we find John Lee Hooker supported by Carlos Santana in the wonderful song “The Healer”. This is not as convincing as the previous example, here the presentation needs more “balls” and precision in the lower regions, while the Quasar seems to slowly loose some of the fantastic sense of control lower in the frequency register. Not so that it lets go of the grip, not at all, but the rhythmic sense just gets that little tad slower, and, by that removing the final edge to this beautiful piece of music. In absolute terms, I have heard RIAA’s with more power and control, giving this song even more brutality and presence. But the voices are so elegant, so close and realistic that you can forgive quite a lot on other aspects.
Along the same route, we find Jimmy D. Lane and his album “It’s time”, recorded with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band Double Trouble. The album is a 45 rpm version from Analogue Productions Originals (APO), sounding terrific. Here the bass is sturdy and firm, but still not bulls eye, since being just that tad in the softened. But the timbral qualities are on the other hand brilliant. No problem distinguishing different guitar types and drum sounds, even the backing congas have their own, natural timbre. Loosing out that little bit on the “balls” part is all to hold against the Quasar on this recording, all over this is a very solid performance.
The legendary recording by Miles Davis and his band of stars, this time on Columbia / Classic Records 180 gram pristine vinyl, is allowed to shine through the Quasar. I get totally sucked into the music, the natural warmth and elegance is totally riveting. I know I have heard this also on extremely good digital equipment, with an intriguingly different result. The digital solution probably had more details and focus slightly higher in the frequency spectrum, but I can’t remember it had this level of natural instrument sound. Over an over I was caught by surprise and wander, when the music was presented with such presence and realism. Awesome.
Now, let’s change to moving coil. In the price range we’re operating at here, there is no excuse for having poorer performance whether you use mm or mc, like we often see among the budget RIAA’s. We fit a lovely Benz Micro L04, checking out what fits best, 100 or 470 Ohm load (it is 100), and put Andreas Vollenveider back on the platter. This pick-up is clearly smoother and more elegant than the AN IQ3, but might lack a tad on raw dynamics. And, no doubt, the Heed Quasar is absolutely wide awake also when receiving the signal from a moving coil. The precision is fabulous; the room is bigger and wider than with the AN, the details are clearer, the harp is crispier, the bass is… hm… about the same. My first impressions are two; first I am impressed that the Quasar managed to make the AN pick-up so transparent and “mc-like”, second, i am shocked by the level of details it magically digs out from the tracks with the Benz in front. Or, let me rephrase; I have as a matter of fact never before had a RIAA in house that conveys the Benz’ groove-work so lively and playful. And, I mean, this is not the most expensive RIAA I’ve had the pleasure of having in my system, not by far! And, compared to the internal RIAA in my McIntosh MA8000, this is one hell of a beating. The MA has not much success when it comes to moving coil to be honest, the contrast to the Heed is brutal.
So let’s take the next step and enjoy a second round of John Lee Hooker and his friend Carlos Santana. I still can’t copy the most magic moments from the past with this album (way back when with Voyd and Audio Note), but my gut feeling here is that I would have to dig out my valve equipment and change my speakers to go back there. But again it’s striking what level of details the Benz finds, all of a sudden. The song is layered, interesting and comes alive like a hurricane. The AN was slightly heavier and bolder, but the elegance here is still just lovely. I wander if I hear a slight thickening in the midrange around the voice, but I’m not totally sure, so I eagerly continue to the next record. Jimmy D. Lane was flourishing with the AN p.u., and here I guess the combination of Benz L04 and Heed gets just that little tad too light. I can hear exactly the same timbral character from Heed DA (the DAC in the Obelisk range), extremely open and vivid, a tad light in the lower regions. You know what? This might be just the tuning for classical music!
J.S. Bach, violin concerto in A minor, recorded in Sweden and released on Opus3 label back in the eighties, is next in line. I had high hopes, but feel a little disappointed, to be honest, as I don’t find the real Stradivarius sound with this set-up. The room is flawless, as the details and placement of all musicians in all dimensions, but the timbral character is not fully where I want it. Not as soothing and relaxed as a real classical orchestra, when listening to it live. That said, this is not the Heed’s fault alone, here we’re struggling with both german speakers (ouch!) and transistorized amplification, so maybe it’s just me longing for the old times, again. The second movement has a slightly darker voicing, though, and that immediately brings us closer to reality, so to investigate this further, I dig out Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis / Herbert von Karajan / Deutsche Grammofon. Here we have a fuller tone, but also a poorer recording in other aspects, than the Opus3. But still it’s captivating. So emotionally loaded and lingering, that it brings the listener to the edge of the chair. Still I know I have heard this bettered by esoteric valve RIAA’s three times the price of the Heed combination, let’s say this is as it should, then.
Well, where does this bring us? First, there’s not a touch of doubt in my mind that this RIAA is tremendous value for money, soundwise. Second, it’ not looking good, and it’s slightly awkward in use, if you change pick-up from time to time, like me. But if you’re looking for a no nonsense product, capable of digging out incredible amount of information from your LP’s, the Heed Quasar might be your savior. Given that you have a system that’s tuned slightly towards a dark presentation, the Heed will blend in perfectly, and lighten up you world. Welcome the Quasar to your own home!
Heed Quasar / Obelisk PX power supply, Norwegian price € 1525 (with standard Q PSU, price drops to € 900)
Imported to Norway by Moiz
Heed Quasar med Heed Obelisk PX strømforsyning, spiller med en lett, luftig klang, store lydbilder og meget god detaljeringsevne. Antakelig vil noen savne et visst skyv i mellombass og dypbass, men uansett er balansen innenfor det noe ulne begrepet “nøytral”.
Heed Quasar har meget god formidlingsevne av musikkens sjel og nerve, men vil nok ha godt av et anlegg som er tunet litt mot det mørke. Den hurtige , presise og klangrike gjengivelsen egner seg nok spesielt til gode klassisk-innspillinger, men fungerer overbevisende på de fleste musikkstilarter. Ikke mitt førstevalg om jeg hadde Drum’n’bass som livrett, men for klassisk og jazzfolket er dette virkelig en perle.
Litt fiklete i bruk om du er av den typen som bytter litt rundt på pick-up’er, på den annen side er det nøkterne designet garantert en del av realitetene som gjør at Heed Quasar gir mye godlyd for pengene. Strømforsyningen som er benyttet i denne testen er altså fra Obelisk-serien, og det finnes en enklere strømforsyning som vil ta prisen tydelig ned. Basert på generell erfaring vil nok standardløsningen med strømforsyning fra samme serie som Quasar hører hjemme i, gi enda mer for pengene, men allikevel fjerne noen snepp med kontroll og åpenhet fra gjengivelsen.
Alt i alt opplver jeg Heed Quasar som et meget spennende produkt i sin prisklasse, så levende lyd kan jeg aldri få nok av!