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Published on September 23rd, 2011 | by Greg

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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.

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.



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