WELLS AUDIO MILO - REVIEW
MSRP: $1599-2249 USD
- TONAL BALANCE / NEUTRALITY 91%
- PERFORMANCE FOR THE PRICE 81%
- FEATURES / FUNCTIONALITY 79%
- SOUND FIDELITY 85%
- MUSICALITY 93%
- BUILD QUALITY 83%
- Non-fatiguing analong sound
- Smooth and full midrange balance
- Excellent Layering and good soundstage for a solid state
- Wonderful timbre
- Hum on sensitive headphones
- Asking price
- Slightly veiled tonality
Scour around the internet and you will find some varying impressions of the Wells Audio Milo solid state amplifier, however most people really seem to enjoy it, stating their love for its natural sound. I have been wanting to hear one for a while but don’t make it to meets enough for that desire to be fulfilled. Luckily a friend of mine was able to send me the unit to enjoy and review. Special thanks there my friend! No real disclaimers needed and I won’t get into the things that I usually skip over when reading a review myself so let’s get to it shall we?
- Output Power-18 watts rms into 8 ohms at 1kHz with no more than .015% THD-12 watts rms into 32 ohms @ .006% THD-10 watts @46 ohms @.005% THD
- Frequency Response-+/- 0.25 db from 16Hz to 30kHz
- Signal To Noise Ratio- -94db at full power
- Input Sensitivity-0.72mV RMS
- Gain-30db (12db attenuator available, see below)
- Input Impedance-17k ohms
- Output Impedance-0.1 ohms
- Damping Factor-80, reference 8 ohms nominal
- Power Consumption-42 watts @ idle, 145 watts @ maximum power
- Inputs- 1 pair RCAs, 1 pair XLRs optional (add $200.00)
- Outputs- 1 x 4 pin stereo balanced connector, 1 1/4″stereo plug
- Operating Voltage-120 volt, 230 volt at 50 or 60 Hz
- Shipping Dimensions-16″ x 12″ x 12″
- Shipping Weight-10 lbs.
- Dimensions-8″w x 7.5″d x 9.75″h
Finish and looks
Wells Audio designed the Milo to be taller for a small foot print. The clear-bottom silicone planks the amplifier uses as feet are just a bit odd looking but they will do. Even though the amplifer is light, those planks keep the unit from sliding when plugging a headphone in. Were I to own one I wouldn’t complain about the looks but would be happy the footprint is small. The Plexiglas face-plate and heat sinks cover the thin housing for a headphone amplifier that weighs very little for as much power as it delivers. I was expecting the unit to be much heavier than it is and have thoughts of wondering if the power supply was kind of skimped out on.
The slightly staticky jumps in volume have distortion in between volume levels but I didn’t have a tough time getting my ideal volume on any headphone. Mind you this unit has all of the upgrades so I do not know how the stock model would fair.
After using the HE-6 (stock) so much with it, it didn’t occur to me that the Milo has a higher noise floor. It doesn’t add any grain or really any dirtiness to the sound when using a planar but as soon as I plugged in the HP3 I heard the amplifier humming a bit as the noise floor was very audible.
Gobs of power, to the point that a lot of it is useless unless you are just plain insecure. Even the HE-6 doesn’t need 10W into 46 ohms but it did make for a good pairing.
- BASS EXTENSION 95%
- BASS BALANCE 96%
- LOWER MIDRANGE BALANCE 96%
- MIDRANGE PROPER BALANCE 98%
- UPPER MIDRANGE BALANCE 92%
- TREBLE BALANCE 83%
- TREBLE EXTENSION 81%
- BASS CONTROL 89%
- TONE DENSITY (BODY , OPPOSITE OF THINNESS) 86%
- MACRO DYNAMICS (SOFTS TO LOUDS) 92%
- MICRO DYNAMICS (SMALL GRADATIONS OF VOLUME) 80%
- SOUND STAGE WIDTH 89%
- SOUND STAGE DEPTH 90%
- TRANSPARENCY(NON-FR RELATED) 90%
- CLARITY (FR RELATED) 76%
The Wells Audio Milo amplifier is probably one of the most unique amplifiers I have heard. It comes the closest to bridging the gap between tube amps and solid state in some aspects but falls just a little short in some of the areas they both excell at. I will review this amplifier differently than most in my breakdown. Let’s start with the timbre and attack and decay etc.
The Milo is smooth as a marble. There is really no grain to the sound, no roughness, no etch, and no digital nasties. In fact in a quick AB next to even the Eddie Current Black Widow, the Milo sounded just a hair less processed and a little more fluid. The typical aluminum foil type texture to the music from your average solid state amplifier does not apply here. Tonal density is pretty good and besides its naturally full sound due to it’s frequency response, the Milo has good body to the notes. They decay is pretty naturally like a tube amplifier. Sustain is firm and driver grip is excellent.
I think that while the transients aren’t sloppy they are also not that fast, nor are they too slow. The attacks have good focus and solid leading edges that are not too crisp but a bit rounded and more natural like a tube amplifier. Words like bite, sharp, crunchy, and dry are not what I would use to describe the tones of the Milo. An overdriven electric guitar will sound convincing and rich but with a little less growl, dirt, and grunt than. Neither are words like slow, wooly, loose, uncontrolled, or mushy adjectives that apply to the Milo. There is a healthy, rich, and firm core to each note played that usurps ones expectations of solid state amps but doesn’t have the raw texture of some of the top of the line tube amps.
Were this aspect just a little better then the Milo would be a compelling purchase option. I personally found the Milo could stand to be just a very little more resolving for the price as a solid state amplifier; especially after one pays for all of the upgrades and reaches the 2249 price tag. The fundamental information is clear and audible and the details are there just easier heard on a couple of other amps like the Pro iCan and the HE-9. If a headphone can reveal minutiae then you can hear it through the Milo but it is not for the analytical at heart. When listening to “Kept Woman” – Fleet Foxes 24/96 I felt like the rasp of his voice was less resolved as I was used to and the reverb trail didn’t fade off as clearly as I heard on my iCan or Aficionado, even if it had more body and range than the former. Still and so, the Milo is resolving enough to deem mid-high end, but that is just not its strong suit.
Now here is another area that the Milo does very well at. The layering is excellent. There is good space around the instruments. Next to the Eddie Current Black Widow v1 and the Pro iCan, the Milo casts a larger, broader sound stage with very good depth making the other two sound a bit flat, especially the iFi. The sound stage is about as well rounded as I have heard with a the height, width, and depth sounding almost equal with each other. Sure it is not as expansive as the Audio GD HE-9 or my Aficionado, but it is much better than even some other tube amps I have reviewed in terms of holography.
With all of this power, and all of the impressions I read around on the internet I was expecting a little more here. I was kind of expecting this super punchy and beefy sound. Yet while my lofty expectations were brought down to reality, the Milo is still good on Macro-dynamics. With the right headphone, it is actually very dynamic I just think that the my imagination and growning curiosity of this aspect grew the all powerful Milo into a bigger banger than it really is. The Acoustic Research H1 does well on the Milo which makes it pop. It’s dynamic range is not as broad as my tube amps but it holds its grounds fairly well.
Not what I would call an area the Milo ‘excels’ at but it is not bad. At times I had the impression that the micro dynamics were just a little bit blurred together. Percussion sounds good but as hand slaps and wood blocks in the background pop out, but at the very lower level of dynamics sound a little too smooth and a little dull to me. Subtleties, while decently audible, didn’t have an effortless time popping out from the slight glossiness. Still not bad at all. I think it does decent to good, just not stunning.
The trouble I have some times describing sound is explaining the difference between what I think when I hear the word transparency and clarity. Those words are synonyms but I have kind of disassociated them in my mind. I think that gear can have a veil to it but be very transparent; without haze or like a clean window. The Milo is a very clear window on an overcast day. It is a bit dark and sometimes there is a veil to the music that needs to be lifted for the music to sound free and open. There can be a bit of stuffiness to the tonality; a little murkiness in the sky but the Milo doesn’t have much haze and is pretty clean sounding. It is smooth and warm. The background is not uber clean and I wouldn’t say it has the blackest background but the way the instruments pop you quickly forget that it is not the cleanest you have heard. Distortion is not high but depending on the headphone, you can hear a grayer background if the headphone is very sensitive like the Klipsch HP3. The Aeon Flow Open sounded like it had a blacker background in comparison.
The bass of the Milo is not bloated to my ears. It is just a little heavy and if someone thinks the Pro iCan is overdone on the low octaves then they will definitely say the Milo is. It is decently tight; not super tight, but above par. It has excellent sub bass and the mid bass presence is pretty much exactly where I think it should be in terms of presence. A dynamic driver and a Mogwai with the right tubes will slam harder, but the Milo is no slouch in the bass. I was not wowed by it like I was with the HE-9, but I definitely think it does well here. The Schiit Vidar bass will be a little more focused and hard with the HE-6 and other planars as well, but the control on the Milo is not too far behind to leave any complaints. It reaches deep and performs well.
Wells Audio has got some soul for sure. There is just this fluent and natural quality to the midrange that sounds really good to me. It actually sounds really balanced. I would almost say spot on. Of course it is hard to separate the upper treble from the mids, as it gives it air and a little of that is missing; but when focusing on the midrange alone then it is very hard to fault its balance. I remember saying that the Phonitor X had a spot on midrange and I would say that it has just a little too much upper mids and this has just a salt shake too little. However, when I say a shake I mean barely noticeable, this is probably as close to balanced I have heard in the midrange. My Aficionado was used as a reference on a lot of songs and the harmonics from the tubes were richer and made the music more pleasant but the tonality of the Milo was not too far behind in terms of balance which is saying a lot. Still I would like a little more bite and edge to the music that I feel the Milo smooths over on some headphones a little which results in an agreeable but mild tonal balance. With something like the HD800, the Milo actually sounds really good in the mids and the edge and bite still comes through.
Laid back and a little veiled. It actually was able to almost fully tame the treble of the HE-6 with no mods. This is partly because with enough power the HE-6 starts to behave up top but even so it is still too bright. The Milo took that treble and tamed it very well but also exhibited some of that veil that I referred to earlier. Putting the He-6 on the Pro iCan cleared it up but made it way too bright. There are no peaks or nasties in the treble. It is about as grain free as solid state gets here as well. My Aficionado has made every amplifier I remember sound grainy to a degree and the Milo is the only one that I can say sounds as close to refined (polished) in the treble. I can here decent snap and okay bite here as it is not glossed over into mush but the treble of the Milo is still a little laid back.
vs iFi Pro iCan
The iFi flagship is actually the better all around performer when it comes most of the technicalities. That would also make the Milo fall behind the Audio GD HE-9 as well. The Milo betters the Pro iCan in terms of layering, soundstage (by a lot), slam and naturalness of tone; also it is less grainy, and in most cases realism and the sense of being there. However, the iFi flaghsip bests the Milo when it comes to resolution, microdynamics, clarity, speed, blackground, noise floor, build quality, volume control, functionality, features, matchability, and air.
Now, the only problem is that the iFi sounds much more solid state/unnatural and its narrow sound stage can be just as annoying as the Milo’s veil. Also the iFi sounds more strident and less fluent or liquid in comparison. The iFi is really responsible for showing me the Milo’s veil as is the Aficionado but I expected the latter given the price delta. Music comes through with good conviction on the Milo though and it sounds more wholesome and natural than the iFi which is a little thinner in comparison. Bass presence, rumble, sustain and slam go to the Milo. Control barely goes to the Pro iCan but it doesn’t rumble as deeply. The Milo sub bass pitch sounds deeper. The Pro iCan sounds a little tighter though and less wooly compared to the Milo. Now which one would I listen to more? The Milo: It is more natural in tonality and while it is less analytical, it is also more musical and realistic.
Sometimes the warmer stuff makes you think it is slower than it is. The Milo is simply a natural sounding amplifier that sounds correct. It doesn’t sound bad with the ZMFs, Senns, planars, or other dynamic headphones. It can control all of them without making hardly any of them sound sloppy. It is a bit dark for a headphone like the HD650, Atticus, or Aeon Flow Open otherwise the Milo got along well with of most headphones I tried.
I do think that with all of its upgrades the price becomes a bit much to ask for the resolution and technicalities given BUT it sounds realistic and natural enough that it is actually very unique for a solid state. It didn’t win me over because at the end of the day, were I going for this sound and since I use mostly dynamic drivers I would just use a tube amplifier and get better synergy, but if I was bent on solid state for planars then the Milo would be up there on my list. I did really enjoy the amplifier with the HE-6 and my T50 mod. Even if it wasn’t the clearest I have heard them, the synergy was there for sure in what I thought sounded more enjoyable than all of the headphone amps I have tried with the HE-6.
In the end I am going to call it good, and not exceptional. Still, you would be very hard pressed to find a more organic sounding solid state amplifier out there. I can dig it.