WOLF EAR AUDIO MAKOYI REVIEW
MSRP: $2400 USD
- TONAL BALANCE / NEUTRALITY 91%
- PERFORMANCE FOR THE PRICE 76%
- FEATURES / FUNCTIONALITY 92%
- SOUND FIDELITY 82%
- MUSICALITY 86%
- BUILD QUALITY 95%
- Soothing midrange
- Good timbre
- Wide Soundstage
- Smooth and easy volume pot
- Solid build
- Lots of power
- No hum or any weird noises at all
- Grainless sound
- Excellent bass
ON THE FENCE
- May be too smooth and serene for some
- Lacks microdynamics
- Doesn’t have that last bit of transparency
- Not for those seeking precision and tactility
I was in the market for a SET amplifier and looked at the big red Makoyi on my computer screen with my ambitious compulsions prompting me to just dive in and buy it. I am a sucker for big red gear (like my Focusrite RedNet, modified Pioneer HRM-7, and now gone traffic Red Trafomatic Head 2). I reached out to Andrew with expressed genuine interest, apprehension, and a desire to review this unit. He was interested in sending me a unit for review and here we are with this wonderful piece of gear on my desktop and honest impressions to follow.
I gotta hand it to Wolf Ear Audio. For what seems like thier first round up of amplifiers, this amp performed flawlessly during it’s whole time here. What does that entail?
- Super Low Noise Floor
- Not one crackle
- Not one Hum
- Not one buzz
- It doesn’t get sizzling hot when left on for hours
- Sensitive headphones had no issues
- Both Jacks working simultaneously (sound quality taxed though)
- Myriad of tubes that work without any issue
The volume pot is smooth, sturdy with no wobble, and incredibly easy to dial in your ideal listening volume. Quite seriously this is one of the best in this regards I have used. Nitpicking would ask for just a little more resistance when turning the dial, but the increase in volume is never ever sudden, with the slightest incremental gain in volume as you turn the dial. Switching over to my Mogwai and I have caught myself release a sigh as I had to reach behind the blocks to turn the volume and sometimes the increase of volume was too sudden. The same thing with the Auris HA2 SE where the volume seems to have levels instead of seamless rises of level like the Makoyi.
This thing is a tank of an amp that is large but not huge being 15inches wide and 10 inches deep but a level 3 1/3 inches tall without tubes.
This amplifier has only one set of RCA inputs in the back which also means that the balanced jack in the front is just an option as there is no difference, good or bad, between the balanced and SE jack.
The website doesn’t tell the whole story about what tubes you can roll. From EL34’s to KT150’s with enough power to drive even the big Tungsol KT150s. That is a good place to be in for tube rolling because there are a myriad of options. Some of which I was lucky to have on hand during my time of review with the Makoyi.
- BASS EXTENSION 98%
- BASS PRESENCE 96%
- LOWER MIDRANGE BALANCE 98%
- MIDRANGE PROPER BALANCE 98%
- UPPER MIDRANGE BALANCE 86%
- TREBLE BALANCE 81%
- TREBLE EXTENSION 80%
- BASS CONTROL 90%
- TONE DENSITY (BODY , OPPOSITE OF THINNESS) 96%
- MACRO DYNAMICS (SOFTS TO LOUDS) 89%
- MICRO DYNAMICS (SMALL GRADATIONS OF VOLUME) 70%
- SOUND STAGE WIDTH 91%
- SOUND STAGE DEPTH 78%
- BLACKNESS OF BACKGROUND 89%
I told Andrew that I was interested in his SET amplifier. I asked him which amp he uses the most and he told me that he uses his OTL amplifier based on the headphones that he uses most. My SET interest came about because it is considered by most the ‘purest’ design of tube amps so I bypassed the OTL gear and went for the big red one, even if that meant a slightly higher THD value. Of all of the Wolf Ear Audio amplifiers this one is commented to sound the most ‘tube-y’ and was intentionally designed to sound that way. I was unaware of that at first and so it wasn’t until later on that I developed an understanding of the design target. The OTL Natayo amplifier is aimed at being faster, cleaner, and neutral with a higher output impedance of 20ohms and lower THD. The Makoyi is designed to sound bold, warm, smooth, and luxurious.
The sound of the Makoyi first of all must not be judged by the stock tubes shipped with the amplifier. Think of those tubes as a ‘get you by’ option until you purchase your own aftermarket matched pair. I started to judge the amp only by the stock tubes and was a bit underwhelmed until I plugged in my own. It sounded like I lifted a blanket off of the amplifier. I am not exactly sure why that is. My Mogwai and Auris reveal differences with tubes very well. As a matter of fact the Mogwai can sound like two totally different amps depending on the tubes used but it never had that huge of a difference with the KT88 tubes as the Makoyi. Different amps respond to tubes differently I am finding out very quickly. The sound signature and attributes of the Makoyi by nature though is a warm, controlled, and refined sound with smooth but solid and round tones. It is most tube-y in those regards and all of the pros and cons that come along with those terms.
The Makoyi bass is pretty thick and firm. It has very good reach and focus and is extremely solid at its fundamental core besting every amplifier I have on my desk in that regards. It is not expressively vigorous when drums and bass drops slam but it is has a more grounded and weighted delivery that gives rock solid foundation to music. My Auris HA2 SE makes every headphone I have plugged into it sound more snappy and fast than the Wolf Ear Audio Makoyi SET amp but it also is not as solid and tight, yet the Makoyi bass does punch admissibly well.
The low frequencies have blunt instead of sharp attacks that thud more than they pop. This works very well for bass lines but a little less so for drum kicks some times. The texture of the Makoyi bass is a little smooth and while it is defined and concrete-solid, some of the grit and grain fades into a more mild and velvety consistency. When switching from the SPL Phonitor E unit, the bass lines have a deeper reaching rumble that sounds lower in tone on the Makoyi with my Modified T50RP. The SPL unit sounds less big and roomy but more punchy and snappy.
The balance here in this band, even though I am sure it measures flat, sounds sub bass focused. I was playing D’Angelo – Back to the Future…I was easily reminded of my early 20s living in VA with all my friends kickin it as those basslines pumped with a deep but most satisfying volume in the sub frequencies. I played that same song on my Auris and and the SPL unit and it just wasn’t the same on those amps. The sustain wasn’t as gripping, consistent, and weighted with my T50 woodies in the picture with the other amps that the Makoyi bested in those aspects. Based on this, I must say the Makoyi is welcoming of planar bass… It should it has a real 4W into 32ohms.
Now let me make a point really clear here. If you plug a planar like my T50 mod in you will be rewarded with good results. My T50 has hefty bass and is modded that way but only on certain amps can it shine and this is one of them. The Makoyi makes it more responsive than other tube amps and even more so than the SPL E. The HD650 bass was close to as tight as I know it can be on from previous experiences but much less punchy than I have heard it at its best, giving the 650 a more casual than charismatic sound.
Sweet toned, smooth, and flush. The balance is actually excellent from the bass up through the midrange. The transition is flawlessly smooth and unbroken. I sometimes felt a want for more in the presence region on some headphones like the Atticus and Eikon but my T50 mod is too shrill and pervasive there so it worked well. The HD650 is strong in the presence region as well and because the bass is solid but the upper midrange is kind of flat on the Wolf amp, the 650 makes a good pairing for everything below 8khz. Plugging in the sensitive and low impedance Meze 99 Classics met me with a pleasantly smooth and punchy sound that played voices without any background noise from the high powered tubes and the instruments in the midrange flowed with an unhindered fluidity. Moving up to the loaner Audeze XC (which is pretty harsh to me in the upper mids and lower treble) and I found the XC to take a slight hit in clarity but a much welcomed dose of tube smoothness to help tame it’s shoutiness. Truth be told, the amplifier while much clearer with better tubes, still lacks that last bit of clarity some other amps in this price range scrape up. It has an old school, real tube sound to it that warms up the music, gives body, but loses some precision in the process.
The midrange timbre is dense, grainless, and polished. Harmonies are melodic and tuneful as ever. I have heard people use the word syrupy to describe tube amps and I can’t call it. Not sure if that is a word I would use for this amp because I am not really able to say I have heard a syrupy amp. This Wolf Ear Makoyi is not fast and is slightly on the slower side compared to the other amps I have here by just a little but sounds more natural and suave than the Auris and SPL units.
The flat/flush midrange also will not accentuate any boxiness your headphones may have. Words such as nasally, boxy, honky etc need not apply. From the bass to the midrange I find the Makoyi to have very good tonality. One pair of tubes I have (JJ 6L7GT’s) really warm up the lower midrange without ever sounding honky. When I use them on my Mogwai, the tonality shifts into a lush but overly honky sound that is not to be found on the Makoyi.
The treble of the Makoyi is a bit ill extended. It can sometimes sound rolled off and sedated. It is darker than neutral and able to abate some of the harsh tendencies of certain headphones. While tube rolling helps much, if you put dark tubes in the Makoyi it will sound especially serene as it’s a dim amplifier at heart. I no longer possess the HE-6 or HD800 because I couldn’t stand their treble or needed more power during my time with them but I believe they would have faired well on the Makoyi. It is possibly the least fatiguing and smoothest headphone amplifier I have had the pleasure of listening to but could stand for a bit better extension.
Treble texture is crisp and solid though, never sounding splashy with full body and good rigidity that contributes to its analog sound. Compared to my more energetic sounding Mogwai, the Makoyi takes cymbal crashes and preserves the tone, tightness, and realism of the notes but smooths out some of the annoying sibilance that the Mogwai allows to come through in rawness. In these cases I didn’t feel like information was missing but that it was easier to listen to. Perhaps when I get a little older I will prefer the opposite. Also certain songs I much preferred the more revealing sound of my Mogwai.
Now, contrary to my previous notions I have come to learn that just because it’s a tube amp doesn’t mean it suffers in tactility, precision, and insight. Most realistically, sometimes the opposite happens based on the design of the tube amp and details, textures, and nuance can become more bold and vivid depending on the headphone you use. In this case the Makoyi is of the former and it takes the back door on tactility and nuance but the front door with tonality. Some of the below is a repeat of the above but by performance aspect so you can see them separated.
The spacial plane of the Makoyi spreads out with an appreciable width. The separation is very good with every full bodied tone sounding distinct and never blended.
The Depth of the Makoyi however is just a bit shy of what I consider deep and concave. While much wider than my Mogwai, the images have less height and are more shallow and surface sounding.
The Tung Sol KT150 tubes (the large rocket shaped tubes in the picture) opened the sound stage up and flattened the midrange compared to all of the other tubes tested, giving it a more powerful, and snappy, yet spacious sound. Albeit depth was not something they could make the Wolf Ear SET do any better at.
Transitioning to my other amps made me miss the more spread out sound of the Makoyi at times in exchange for better depth.
The Makoyi makes my planar and low impedance headphones relatively punchy. It is not the most dynamic headphone amplifier I have heard by any stretch, but with the right headphone it can bring oomph. Particularly my modded T50RP which most definitely felt at home on the Makoyi. In fact I have never heard my T50RP sound so hard, composed, but powerful before. Once I reached ideal level, it knocked like the police.
The 650 and Atticus was much less so, it seemed to respond well to the power and bass grip of amp but the midrange tones or drums didn’t wallop and snares didn’t seem to thwack with as much intensity as I have heard it on other amps. I was initially assessing this amplifier with the HD650, Atticus, and Eikon where the dynamics seemed a bit lacking to my ears. However, my planar headphone had more guts on the Makoyi than the Auris HA2SE and SPL Phonitor E Amplifier.
While Macro dynamics varied depending on pairings from compressed to great!, micro dynamics seemed more simple and less complex accross the board. This area did much better on my lower impedance headphones than my higher impedance headphones and I found the Meze Classics to sound pretty nimble and nuanced. But overall, variation of subtleties took a bit of a hit on the Makoyi when compared to the SPL Phonitor E which is odd since it is solid state. Most usually solid state suffers in this area compared to Triode amplifiers so this was just a little puzzling to me.
TRANSPARENCY / CLARITY
I must make a note to my readers here for one second. The term ‘transparent’ or ‘clarity’ means a few things to different people. Just because a headphone sounds dark doesn’t mean it the fundamentals of the instruments are not clear. The veil can come from a lack of treble presence where overtones and harmonics don’t allow vocals to breathe and sound like you can hear through them. Now I don’t mean to offend you by explaining obvious things but clarity can mean overall transparency of the fundamentals, or not veiled from a lack of treble.
Well what does the Makoyi do with all of that? Well with the stock tubes this amplifier is underwhelming for sure. When I put the KT150 tubes inside or my JJKT77s in the veil is lifted by a lot as if a cloak had been lifted from the drivers compared to what is shipped with the amp. Andrew exclaimed the amplifier is sensitive to tube rolling, and the tubes shipped are economical ‘get you by’s’ . I definitely agree. The PSVANE KT88MKIIs do not lift the veil(make it brighter) but revealed the amplifier to have a polished sound with decent transparency of the fundamentals but still not at the level of some other high end amplifiers here. The music has a decently clean background with absolutely no noise or hum from but I determined it a little less transparent at it’s core than this tier of expenditure ought to bear.
Listening to the Fender Rhodes Piano sound of ‘Prince Minikid’ from Hiatus Kayote on the Makoyi sounds solid, heavy, bold, and smooth. The way the Makoyi characterizes the music is with full, dense, tangible tones that sound realistic and utterly grainless is special, earning it back much merit from what it lost in the previous section. Even though the treble is by nature dark on the Makoyi you can hear the body and weightiness of timbre which makes this an area I feel it really excels at. The timbre is not liquid or glossy and can lack a sense of purity and cleanliness that reminds me more of oil treated hard wood than a glossy lacquered high class finish if that makes sense.
However, it is grainless. Sometimes I have a problem with the graininess of the HD650 yet when I put it on the Makoyi those worries vanish, which makes the paring of the 650 special. Sure I have heard the 650 more lively and nuanced on other amps but the smooth yet present upper midrange, weighted tones, and buffering of its grain is special.
Attacks are blunt and taught and the decay of the amplifier sounds natural to my ears, not being cut short like the Sangaku which inturn has more ‘hear through’ factor. The Sangaku is thinner. In regards to natural decay, tone density, and bloom, the Makoyi performs organically with a slightly weighted sound to it.
I don’t expect this amplifier to be precise, it is after all designed to sound warm, smooth and tube-y. Detail retrieval is okay. I didn’t feel the brushwork of drums and small details to be lost but the Makoyi seems to be more about tone and feel than details and particulars.
- Meze Classics
- Modified T50RP
My time with this gear has come to an end. I have a sad feeling that it would have paired extremely well with my inbound Kennerton Odin, a pairing that I know would do very well on this amplifier. A midrange detail and precision monster like the Odin would work well with a laid back and powerful tube amp like this. Especially since the Wolf Ear won’t accentuate the Odins tendency to sould nasally. I know I when it arrives I won’t hear it at its best in regards to bass slam with the Makoyi gone, but also some of the other areas the Makoyi lacked in makes me super curious of what tricks the Natayo has up its sleeves even if it won’t work with the Odin that well. I had a good time reviewing this gear with ‘downs’ that later turned into mostly ‘ups’ once I understood it . It is pricey but to have a fully tube SET amp this powerful at this cost is not an area of the market that has been well exploited leaving the Makoyi without much direct competition for planar lovers that want fully tubed amps. I personally like to have over 2W with even some of the easier to drive planars and the Makoyi has the power to make them pop. There is some logic behind the price based on those facts but I can’t call it fully justified (maybe I am cheap) with its slight lack of transparency. I said that about the odin and then bought one lol. I will let the end user be the judge as what price you pay to get what you want is only for you to decide. Just one more comment on price though, The apex Sangaku price seemed almost acceptable because it was a preamp as well but in reality I would take the Makoyi over that amplifier in a heartbeat even if it costs 400 more USD and is slightly less transparent. The Makoyi has better bass extension, power, and pairs better with more headphones. My Mogwai is more affordable, (yet not with the upgrades I have now) yet is more transparent, has better depth, details, and dynamics being more appealing to me personally. But it still can’t grip the the sub bass of my planar like the Makoyi can.
I think Andrew is on to some really good things and his designs show promise. I am eager to read others impressions of this unit and other gear from Wolf Ear Audio because his passion is evident in his work and it shows in his craftsmanship. He shows hunger and passion, even talking to him. He is not some new guy throwing out junk into the market like I have seen before. This hobby needs more of that, but at reasonable prices.