Head-Fi Reviews of Sparkos Labs Discrete Op Amps in Creative Soundblaster X7 and Burson Swing and Fun DACs
Head Fi member Wiljen said - For purposes of these tests, I started out with a Burson Swing and Fun DAC and amplifier. Sound notes are written in reference to replacing all the Ne5532 and 5534 op-amps in both devices with the appropriate Sparkos Labs SS360x op-amp in thier place.
Bass depth was improved slightly to my ear, but detail was improved substantially. I found the Sparkos discrete op amps to have a more crisp, clean sound while the Ne553x sounded more rounded off and smoothed over by comparison. I also found the Sparkos to be more dynamic than the Ne553x with really thunderous passages being closer to real than with the stock models.
The same trends carry through to the mids where again details are sharpened and dynamics are a bit expanded compared to the stock op-amps. Strings in particular have a more natural tone and vocals are actually slightly behind where they are with the Ne553x and more in-line with the rest of the signature (I don’t see this as a bad thing).
I do think the Sparkos tends to lift the lower mids slightly (or the 553x is slightly recessed in comparison) which may account for the noted improvements in strings and acoustic guitars.
Treble really shines on the SS360x and is the best I have heard to date out of the Swing/Fun combination. Treble seems effortless and infinite with no discernible roll-off. The attack of snares is spot on without cymbals taking on a metallic or click like sound (tough balance to get both right). Here again the attack and display speed of the SS360x is on full display, and where other op-amps at times may seem more flowing, the SS360x does a great job at revealing what is there good or bad.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Ok, so this one is the hardest to write, can we really expect soundstage to change as a result of swapping one tiny part in the overall or are we now hearing the result of some other component and blaming it on the op-amp? To really get this down, I used the same headphone (He560) and ran the test using the same passages repeatedly while switching only the op-amps between runs. The outcome is yes, I do think you can hear differences in both stage and imaging depending on what op-amp is in use. The SS360x improved the imaging due to its precision and yielded better instrument separation which either improved the stage size or made it seem larger due to the cleaner divide between parts. I also enjoyed the improved layering provided by the SS360x as again I think the precision made it easier to hear all the parts individually rather than the amalgam produced by the Ne553x.
Head Fi Member Yethal reviewed the devices in a Creative Sound Blaster X7 sound card, and he said - There is this often repeated audiophile cliché that a better piece of equipment can reveal details in the recording that were previously inaudible or that a veil is lifted from a song. Sounds like something straight out of Stuff That Never Happens Land, for me at least. But over the course of my tests I did actually notice details I've never noticed before. In Leonard Cohen's Slow a stopwatch can be heard in the background throughout the entire song. I heard it for the first time yesterday even though Popular Albums is one of my all-time favorites and I listen to it practically every day. How come I've never noticed that before? So are all other audio reviewers telling the truth when they say that <whatever> device uncovered a new layer of music for them? Frankly, I have no idea but I can still hear the stopwatch. And I definitely couldn't hear it two days ago.
Sparkos Labs SS3601 are a simple, yet significant upgrade over the stock Creative Soundblaster X7 op amps and I really can't recommend them enough. They require zero technical knowledge and no soldering skills to install, but prove to be a clearly audible and measurable improvement in sound quality.
Let the whole world know.