Published on September 23rd, 2011 | by Greg0
Pretty On The Inside: Graham Slee Portable Voyager Amp
We try not to judge a book on it’s cover alone. But sometimes a product comes in that looks and feels substantially inferior to others in the same range, and we can’t help but wonder what the makers were thinking. In this case, we’re happy to report that looks aren’t all that matters, and suggest looking beyond the case to what is an interesting option.
The Graham Slee Voyager headphone amp continues on our latest trend of checking out a wide range of audio gear. We’ve looked at amps of all sizes and styles, including some amazing tube amps and some that offered multiple input/output options. The most portable of these recent models was still a bit heavy to haul around, and nothing that matched our various DACs for a balance of weight and build quality. But the Graham Slee Voyager is all solid state (no tubes), which means it can hold up against some serious beating. It’s weighs only six ounces without a battery, and is about the size of a deck of cards. It’s a bit too large to use with your iPod while running, but suitable for just about anything else.
We mentioned the battery- the Voyager takes a normal nine-volt- but can also be powered by USB (cable not included) or from a power outlet. On battery power, you can expect 50 or so hours of life- we never ended up going through a battery in our couple of weeks of testing. Setup is simple- you’ve got an input and an output, both mini-jack. Connect them both, switch it on, and enjoy plenty of extra oomph and a greatly enhanced audio experience. The only other real feature is the contour switch, which acts kind of like a bass boost- we found it helpful on some songs but for the most part kept it off. Using a few different sets of headphones to see how the Voyager acted over a range of quality, we used primarily high-bitrate audio files and some lossless FLAC ones as well. The source was generally an iPod or iPhone, though we did try routing a DAC through (to only so-so results, it added some roominess but seemed to add relatively little). Overall, the effect was pronounced- but not necessarily more than using the SRS Labs dongle with some adjustments. Certainly, the soundstage felt larger, and bass especially sounded less harsh and more rounded. Trebles though, didn’t match that of other amps, and acoustic music felt a bit flat versus a tube amp. Cheap headphones sounded better- but the better the headphone, the less difference it seemed to make, and we’d generally suggest spending the money on a superior set of earphones or monitors instead.
Graham Slee used quality components, but hid them away behind some fairly unattractive plastic. And though this amp works great for some music, most listeners didn’t feel it added enough to any particular genre to render it necessary. On classic tracks- “Beat It” for example- it highlighted some instrumentation and brought clarity to the slightly fuzzy production, but several people liked the un-amped version better. Most amplifiers are larger, to be sure, but this one is too large to be used while truly on the go, and laptop users are likely fine with something a bit larger. All in all, while we were all set to voyage with the Graham Slee, this is one ship that we’re OK sailing without. $250 or so, available online.