Staccato Discrete Opamps

Disclaimer:   Staccato Audio approached me having reviewed several competing brands and asked if I would review the OSH-S discrete Op-amp they are making as they feel it is better than any I have reviewed to date.  Staccato hasn’t been widely known outside Poland and is making a push to introduce their products to a broader international market.    I quickly agreed to give them a shot and in mid September a box arrived containing two of the single Op-amps for use in the comparison test.   For testing, a Burson Swing and Xduoo XD-05Plus (with adapters) was used.    If you have an interest in purchasing these,  I suggest you head to their website here.

 

If you are new to the Op-amp rolling, you may wish to read my Intro to Op-Amps post for some background here before diving into the details.

Staccato Audio has made several power amplifiers that are well respected in Poland and Eastern Europe, but until fairly recently were less well known in the West.  The Op-amps were at first designed to get the most out of their own amplifiers, but then when they found they had a product that could work in place of the standard dip-8 package op-amp, it was decided to try them in other products as well.  And not only did they work, they were often a considerable improvement over the originals.   Today, Staccato Audio offers both single and dual op-amp packages in four (4) layouts as shown below.

 

Unboxing / Packaging:  

Packaging is fairly simple using cardboard boxes with the staccato name printed on the top.  Packing is quite good with the pins well protected and the op-amp solidly encased in foam for its travels.

 

Design/Build:

The Staccato Op-amps are J-FET in both input and output stages and were designed specifically to have very low open loop distortion.  A source follower is used to allow a higher output current than the bias current with a maximum output current of +/- 30mA.     Two voltage ranges are listed as the op-amps can be driven to 18V if cooling is sufficient but will need to be dropped back to a maximum of 15V in applications where tight fits and lack of air movement lead to heat build up.   For more details on internals, the full datasheet can be downloaded here.     The Op-amps stand about 1.25 inches high (not counting pins) and are roughly 1 inch side and 3/8 inches thick.  I had no trouble getting them into the Fun for testing and even tried to put them in the XD-05 Plus for kicks.  I couldn’t get the case back on the XD, but they did fit in that fairly confined space which I found fairly surprising.

 

Sound:

For purposes of these tests,  I started out with a Burson Swing DAC and Fun! amplifier set to basic stock level.   All op-amps in both are Ne5534 singles or Ne5532 doubles where called for.   These were wired to use USB input to the Swing from my laptop, the DAC (fixed voltage) RCA outputs of the Swing to the RCA inputs on the Fun, and the Hifiman He560, Sennheiser 800, and Campfire Cascade (with Cloth pads) used for all listening sessions.    Sound notes are written in reference to replacing the stock 5534 op-amps in the Fun only (only had the two single op-amps to work with) so the Swing remained factory stock while the op-amps in the Fun! were swapped repeatedly to compare sound.    I chose what I would call today’s top competitors to put up against the Staccato, these were the Muses03, the Burson V6 Classic and V6 Vivid, and the SparkOS  SS3601.   This gives a good cross-section of what can be had in both integrated circuit and discrete component op-amps.

 

Bass:

vs Ne5534

Bass depth and detail were improved on the Staccato when compared to the stock Ne5534 which was a bit rolled-off and smoothed over by comparison.   The Staccato was able to bring a sharper edge to the big crash of kettle drums that made it feel a bit more lifelike when compared to the Ne5534.

vs Muses03

So what can you expect from a top line integrated?  well as it turns out, you can expect performance (bass at least) to be pretty much on par with the discretes.  While not as sharp as the SS3601s, the Muses03 was not as rolled off as the V6c either.  It falls into that same middle ground the Staccato does and detail levels are really too close to call.     To my ear, the Staccato and Muses03 are more alike than not in the bass and I could be happy with either.

vs Burson V6 Classic

These two have a lot in common as both are smooth performers and neither is hyper aggressive.  the V6C is warmer in tone than the Staccato, while the Staccato manages to unearth more detail and better textures and feels less smoothed on the edges than the V6C which can at times feel like someone polished off all the sharp corners.

vs Burson V6 Vivid

The Vivid is Burson’s Attack dog.  It trades a bit of detail for a faster attack and a bit more edge compared to the V6C previously discussed.  In the bass, that comes through as the Vivid has slightly less texture than the Staccato and perhaps oddly, the sustain is a bit better on the Staccato than on the Vivid.

vs SparkOS SS3601

The SS3601 is slightly more crisp while the Staccato is just a bit more rounded and sounds a bit more at ease.  The SparkOS is very technically proficient which I love, but at times sounds a bit strained like it might be at the edge of its ability while the Staccato sounds considerably more effortless in its delivery.   Detail levels are similar and bass depth is similar for both of these.

 

Mids:

vs Ne5534

Mids on the Staccato are more engaging and lifelike where the Ne5534 is a touch more linear.  Strings have an improved tonality on the Staccato.   Vocals are slightly lifted on the Ne5534 comparatively, but more detailed and clearer on the Staccato.

vs Muses03

This is probably the model that comes closest to the Staccato as both have good detail and tonality with a very linear signature.    Nothing jumps out that vastly separates these two where mids are concerned.

vs Burson V6 Classic

The burson Op-amps really stay true to form all the way through the frequency spectrum and here again we see the V6c having good detail but feeling a bit smooth comparatively and loosing that last little bit of detail as a result.

vs Burson V6 Vivid

The V6V once again trades a bit of detail for a bit more dynamics and speed of attack.  The Staccato has better linearity, is more detailed, and has a bit better tonality to my ear as well.

vs SparkOS SS3601

The SparkOS has a boosted lower mid-range compared to the Staccato that is more linear.  I found both had extremely good mids and good detail, but the Staccato manages to do that without boosting the lower-mids in the process so takes the point for best linearity with equal sound quality.

 

Treble:

vs Ne5534

The Staccato was easily better extended than the Ne5534 which sounded a bit more closed off and veiled by comparison.

vs Muses03

These two are quite similar in extension, detail, and effort level.  I found it very difficult to find any large differentiations to report.

vs Burson V6 Classic

The V6C is well extended and well detailed but not as effortless or clean as the Stacatto particularly in the lower treble.

vs Burson V6 Vivid

True to form, the Vivid trades that last bit of extension and detail for a bit crisper performance and while the Vivid’s treble is quite enjoyable, I found it slightly less detailed and slightly less open at the top end when compared to the Staccato.

vs SparkOS SS3601

Here again, very tough to find talking points as both extend well, are extremely detailed, and have more in common than not.  The Staccato is slightly less sharp on the edges, but not enough to feel like you are losing any detail so those what found the SparkOS a bit jagged on the edges will appreciate the Staccato.  Neither is overly forgiving and both will show sibilance if it is in the track but neither will create it if not.

 

 

Instrument Separation:

I had originally titled this section soundstage in keeping with my previous reviews, but fact is the op-amp contributes to soundstage by enhancing the instrument separation.  Changes in stage and imaging are built on that instrument separation so I have focused on that aspect.

vs Ne5534

The Staccato easily outpaces the 5534 with a cleaner and larger separation between instruments on the stage and tighter sound so edges are better defined and width of the section is smaller in comparison to the 5534 presentation.

vs Muses03

These two again are fairly closely matched with a slight edge going to the Staccato due to slightly tighter definition.

vs Burson V6 Classic

The V6C is the best of the Burson’s for stage but oddly not for instrument separation as the speed of the V6V surpasses it as does the Staccato fairly easily.

vs Burson V6 Vivid

The V6V design for speed gives it crisp edges but sections are still fairly wide when seating the orchestra, the Staccato has a bit tighter definition and almost as good an edge as the V6V in this department.

vs SparkOS SS3601

The SparkOS has great instrument separation, no doubt about it and even the Staccato struggles to match it. Both are good, but the SparkOS is the leader in this category.

 

Thoughts / Conclusion:

Lets start off by saying, I could live happily with the Ne553x series op-amps, had I not heard these others.  It is definitely a case of not knowing what you are missing until you try.   Even then, you have to listen for the differences as most are not the reach out and grab you kind of change.   Having said that, none of the Op-amps I discussed here are bad, all are quite good, but all will appeal to different listeners.

Where space is a concern and only an IC will fit, the Muses03 finally delivers a single Op-amp from muses that fits into any standard socket and brings the quality the Muses02 has been known for with it.

Where space is less of a concern, the discrete op-amps take that next step up in performance where the ICs leave off and give the end user a chance to really custom tune their devices.    And that is what I think these are best used for.   Not every op-amp is going to work for every device or user.   But they can augment the strengths of a device or at the very least attempt to mitigate weaknesses.

For those systems where the mids seem a bit recessed, the SparkOS that has a slight mid boost may be just the ticket, for systems that need a bit more energy and life, the V6-Vivid is a good call.  Ah, but which one is best you say.  Well there are 4 really good all-around options in our list.  I am removing the V6-Vivid because unless you do need that boost in energy, the loss in detail, at least to me is the deal breaker.   Having removed it, that leaves us the Muses03, the V6-Classic, the SS3601, and the Staccato.   The Muses03 I am going to remove as it lacks that last bit of detail the other three bring to the table and might be slightly veiled in the mids by comparison to the top two performers.   Which leads us to #3, and this is where it will start boiling down to individual prefence and taste and I will give away my bias right up front.  I’m a details at all costs kind of guy, I want that last bit of detail even if that is what makes a poorly recorded track sound like crap.  For that reason, I put the V6-Classic in 3rd.  It performs admirably and does a lot well, but it just smooths over a bit too much to be my top choice.    So can the Staccato dethrone my previous champion?   No, but I think the two can share the crown.  Both brings something slightly different, and I really like both.    The SparkOS models can be little balls of thorns at times and can seem a bit stressed.  I love the details, but lets be honest it is not the most relaxing of signatures as it doesn’t have the effortless flow of some other models.   That is where the Staccato comes in, it manages to retain the detail level of the SparkOS while having a bit more effortless, musical quality to it.   The Staccato also is a bit more linear as it doesn’t have the lower-mid bump and maintains the extension on both ends to rival the SparkOS.    So, when listening for every little nuance of a recording for purposes of evaluating the quality of the mastering or recording, I’d pick the SS3601s.  They just reveal everything.   For sitting in my easy chair and enjoying Stravinsky, the Staccato will get the call.  It retains 99% of the detail, but allows the music to flow out with no sharp edges in sight.       For those who loved the detail of the SparkOS but longed for a bit more musicality, give the Staccato a try, they are well built, well priced, and sound amazing!

Staccato Discrete Op-Amps

8

Packaging

6.0/10

Build Quality

9.0/10

Sound Quality

9.0/10
  • 9/10
    Bass - 9/10
  • 9/10
    Mids - 9/10
  • 9.5/10
    Treble - 9.5/10
  • 9/10
    Soundstage - 9/10
  • 8.5/10
    Imaging - 8.5/10

Summary

Pros: Razor sharp details and dynamics to die for,  combines the best qualities of the other models I have tried to date.

Cons:  too large to fit into some portable models and get case re-installed, More costly than some alternatives.