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Hairball Audio Elements Gold Review - Clips Inside!

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by achase4u, Jul 10, 2016.


Did I put this darned review in the right place?

  1. Yes. Good job.

    0 vote(s)
  2. No. You failed.

    0 vote(s)
  3. I like candy.

    1 vote(s)
  1. achase4u

    achase4u Active Member

    This is my review of the Hairball Gold pre. I built this from the DIY kit.

    This review will be mainly in two parts - a brief review of the DIY aspect and the actual use of the preamp.

    The build guide for the Elements preamps is pretty good. It's not super specific on some components, so you will have to do a little research and cross referencing between the BOM and guide and even manufacturer web sites. My favorite build guides are the specific ones that leave little to no room for confusion and questions about components. There are a few capacitors that are quite hard to identify(especially if you've no LCR meter) by the BOM and guide, however some careful sleuthing of completed build pics can sometimes be helpful. Be warned, there are some slight cap type changes in old photos of the builds that I noticed, so that method is not foolproof!

    Other than that, the build guide is very good, explaining very important facts about your components such as capacitor polarity on some electrolytics as well as transistor and diode directions. Overall I think the guide is quite adequate. My favorite feature is the PCB silkscreen overlay page. This page shows the list of components and a picture below of the PCB. You simply click on the component designation i.e. R201 - 200R - and it will light up on the PCB picture below where this component should go on the board. It makes keeping track of which components you've installed, and finding their place, much easier. Just keep clicking on the component list until they are all lit up and you know you're done!

    Onto the hardware and sound.

    The unit itself is top quality. Components and all. A+. From the anodized aluminum front panel to the vishay components to the transformers and shielding case, it's all quite nice. I rather like the shielding case. It provides some electrical noise insulation as well as protects your components. I can't tell you how many times I have fought getting a module in a slot when the 500 rack is not turned up. Watch out for exposed components of nearby units! The casing solves this. The knobs seem like aluminum to me, if not a tough plasic. They are quite lightweight compared to other metal knobs, which makes me think they are aluminum. They do have some fluting to better assist in turning the suckers. I opted for the Grayhill stepped input gain option, and they implemented it nicely. It mounts via pins to a small PCB that is populated with the gain resistor set. The mini resistors are a tad tricky to install here so I opted to install them about halfway through the project instead of the very end when I am most fatigued.

    The sound -

    Big, pretty, musical clean.

    Every transient and note is accurately capture and served up to you in a sweet and musical way. There is plenty of detail and there is a slight color to things. Very subtle. To me it sounds big. Almost a tad larger than life. I worry a bit about preamps that make things obviously huge sounding because they are more of a "hot or cold" tool. You can't use it on every instrument in a mix or you'll run out of room and the bigness factor is lost as there is nothing smaller to compare it to. The Gold handles this perfectly as it is slightly large, but just the right amount. Safe to use as much as you want, or to just reserve it for your main instrument or vocal.(Or background vocalist is she's your girlfriend. You know she want's you to push her fader up.)

    The low end extension is quite adequate by any measure, and the top is open without being irritating at all. There is just this feel of musicality and subtle sweetness along with the incredible detail that makes the Gold my favorite clean preamp I have tried so far. I don't think I would like totally clean preamps and so I feel this is the perfect "clean" preamp for me. Just that hint of extra magic takes it from what would be dangerously close to sterile and makes it stunning. If I had 8 or so of these, my jazz, acoustic guitar, piano and classical recordings would be all set. I'd reach for these first without hesitation.

    EQ wise I would say it is fairly flat. I don't perceive any mid forwardness or scoop, or high end lift(though it is definitely open up top). Many clean preamps suffer from a light bottom end, but this is not the case with the Gold. Even through the D.I. on the front panel, there is a nice wide, clear, deep low end to the pre.

    It is said that this preamp takes many of it's cues from the venerable Hardy M-1 design(also a design based around the Deane Jensen 990 op-amp) and though I have never used a Hardy M-1, I can say I find myself experiencing and describing many of the sonic features and adjectives that users of the M-1 describe.

    Customer Service -

    Mike is a nice fellow who was very attentive to my needs for a resistor I either lost or was missing from my kit. He shipped it out to me ASAP and got me up and running. He's a nice guy, but quite busy - so don't expect a super fast email turnaround. After all, this is a small business. I know what it's like. He's probably busy working with suppliers and lasering/cutting houses, building preamps and packing and shipping out orders. So there isn't a surplus of time for communications, though he will get around to you.

    So, if you are looking to support a small business that makes high quality USA made audio equipment, consider Hairball Audio. I admit, the name threw me at first, but I have no room to talk as my own company is Rumpelstiltskin Pickups. I think the Gold is an excellent choice if you want an accurate signal that is slightly big, sweet and musical at the same time.

    Until next time... Rumpelstiltskin - out!

    Attached Files:

    Brien Holcombe likes this.
  2. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    I was looking at one of their kits...the FET compressor stereo link kit

    Good review...borderline shilling...but nonetheless, good review.;)

    You could have included an idea of the total build time?

    BTW - I like candy.
  3. achase4u

    achase4u Active Member

    Sean G,

    Thank you for replying! Their FET stuff looks quite nice. The new rack versions coming out will be on my list. I am thinking I want a nasty, rude blue stripe first :)

    Thank you for commenting on my review. I do slightly issue with the borderline shilling comment.(I also know you are a moderator on a forum of which I am a guest, and your job is to spot shady reviews etc) I realize my review is very positive - but there isn't an untrue statement there or opinion I don't truly hold. There is a reason I've only put three or four reviews of equipment on the web. Taking time out of my day when I could be doing other things to write a semi-lengthy review for others to see is only something I will do in two extremes - very good experiences or very bad experiences. I believe both are cases that warrant sharing with others. I do realize that I am part of the problem, which is to say that a lot of folks will only write a review when they are wow'd by a piece of equipment, which leads to mostly very positive reviews out there. It can make it hard to believe them.

    I have to say that I don't believe someone can "borderline" shill. To shill means you are paid or otherwise an accomplice of the seller to generate business. So you either are or you aren't. In reality, the positivity of a review cannot take you closer or further away from being a shill (paid or otherwise accomplice of a vendor.) Yes, a shill will make an overwhelmingly positive review which in turn leads some people to suspect whether or not this person is or is shilling. I suppose that is what you mean. I just want to clarify that that is not the case here(which is also something a shill would say... I digress) I suppose there is no way I can prove that to you unfortunately, so readers will always have to decide that. I do wish small companies to succeed who make great equipment. Part of this is my solidarity in thinking as I too own a small gear making business(for guitars). I know the passion and sacrifice it takes to bring something to the market. I don't think that spreading the word(if those words are true) is a dishonest thing to do.

    Is the main criticism here that my review is too positive sounding? Not objective enough? I would sincerely like to change my methods in the future if my review is being interpreted as anything less than honest. This Gold has so far continued to wow me every time I try it on something. That is not something I have experienced with any other preamp I've tried(I've used around a dozen varieties). I realize that this has contributed to my overwhelmingly positive review. Perhaps using it over more time, I will find it's flaws and that could make for a better review. I should have waited longer to review the Gold, as I can see that I am like the guy or girl with a new significant other who is praising them at their hangout before they've really spent a lot of time together. However, as an inherently lazy person, I used my recent enthusiasm to drive me to write the review that may have otherwise never come to fruition.

    As for the build time - you are absolutely correct - I completely omitted that by mistake. I would say that if you take your time as you should, you can expect to be done in about 3 hours time(breaks for candy included). I think I went slightly under that on this one because I had built a Copper last week and the actual PCB boards are the same. You simply change the values, types of components and omit some and short some connections.

    So, consider your savings for a built kit vs a DIY kit. I think there is a $200 dollar difference. I certainly think my time is worth $66+ an hour, so the savings are worth it. On top of the fact that these can be had for around $600 dollars for a built kit. That's already a better value than others in the market. I own Phoenix DRS1r's, A Designs P-1's and a Vintech Audio 573. The Hairball stuff is right up there and actually exceeds in some ways. Just how my ears hear it, though. :)

    My goal is to be as transparent as possible. I hope this post has helped prove that.

    Thank you for continuing the discussion on my review!

    P.S. - It's good to be in the company of a fellow candy lover... Enjoy!
    Brien Holcombe likes this.
  4. achase4u

    achase4u Active Member

  5. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    My comments regarding borderline shilling were tongue-in-cheek and were meant to be taken in jest...thats why I used the winky face at the end of the sentence.

    But on a serious note, RO is a most reliable resource for information many people turn to when searching for answers related to audio and recording. As this resource usually ranks high amongst internet search engines and SEOs' for various audio and recording related topics, we always try to ensure that that information that is posted is unbiased and most importantly, factually correct, whilst taking into account various points of view from those who have had experience using the product from their own first-hand account and user experience.

    A large percentage of internet searches relating to audio recording gear and related products are from those who are researching a product brand or a particular piece of gear to attain knowledge on or about the brand, product, the quality in terms of build and how it performs, how the product may or may not suit their needs, how it competes amongst other products in its category and price point, as well as to gain information from product reviews and first-hand user accounts from those that are currently using or have used the product in the past, to make informed buying decisions with a view to purchase if it meets or exceeds their own expectations or needs.

    RO encourages unbiased opinion and honest, factual reviews of brands or products for those reasons mentioned above. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for other sites or forums on the same topic where shilling blatantly occurs and certain high-profile members are known to promote particular brands, products and services over others, especially from their so-called 'leading authorities' on the subject or well-known, outspoken members on their sites, whose opinions are far reaching and taken by others, especially those with lesser knowledge on the subject or who may be new to audio, as gospel or fact.

    These people are often rewarded by the brands they openly promote with free products in lieu of endorsing that particular brand of hardware or plug-in over others or in some cases, cash-for-comment for positive promotion of the brand or product. Some actually make a business out of it.

    We don't have to mention names here, but it is a well known fact it does happen on other sites, and especially one in particular. RO does not condone this which is why when such blatant shilling occurs the posts are immediately deleted. Every now and then, and this is not directed at you, new members join the site solely with the intent purpose to use RO to promote their product brand or service or name-drop in threads and in most cases are never are seen of or heard again, without further contributing to RO. There is a dedicated classifieds section on RO specifically designed for advertising and promotion of goods and services, as well as dedicated advertising space on the site where product manufacturers can pay to promote their brand or product, just as they would in any form of media.

    The membership base of RO and the forum here have a higher degree of integrity. Many members of RO have dedicated much of their lives to their particular field of interest and have contributed much to the craft. The information they openly and freely share to others, in particular new members and vistors that come to the forum cannot be measured.
    This higher level of integrity means that the information that you receive here can be relied upon as fact, most evidently received from trusted sources, many of whom are specialists in their particular field within the audio and recording realm.

    Honest user reviews are most welcome, in fact, they are encouraged if its factual and the intent of the review is to give someone researching that particular type of product or brand a first-hand account from a users perspective, whether that be a positive or negative user experience. On the same token we don't wish for those that want to use RO as a platform to post a review just to bad-mouth a particular product or brand they don't particularly like either. Reviews are how we all gain knowledge about a product without actually using it ourself, be it positive or negative in its aspect.

    If my comments caused offense, then I apologise, but they we not personally directed as an attack on you by any means.
    I thought you may have gathered from my light-hearted approach, and in particular my use of the term "I like candy" as an indicator of the tone of my post and my angle of jest.;)

    - Sean.
    Brien Holcombe likes this.
  6. achase4u

    achase4u Active Member


    So often in text only situations we must rely on assumptions or clarification of what people's inflections are in a comment. I simply assumed wrong, and I sincerely apologize. I thought that there might be some slight doubt as to the authenticity and intention of my post, which I now know was never the case. I mistook the intention of your comment. I had thought that the smiley face and "good review" comment was in spite of me looking like a shill - not part of a tongue in cheek comment. Truly though, as I said before, I only took slight issue with it and I was not offended at all. I do apologize. I appreciate your informed and thoughtful response here. I like an open conversation of ideas that everyone can learn from. I am hoping my experience helps users who are curious about the claims this company makes about the sound of their products come to some sort of conclusion. I myself searched before purchasing only to find a little information here and there. What sold me was the clips on their site. Once I had the units in my rack and tried them, I knew how I felt about them(very good!)

    I have had bad experiences at the "other" site you speak of, and yes I try to avoid that place. My rare posts on that site are only in hopes of helping the silent majority of viewers who genuinely value someone elses opinion.

    It is unfortunate that others make a business of dishonest reviews. I am all about honest opinions and facts whenever possible. I think that goal is for the betterment of the community as a whole.

    I enjoy this forum as a place where I can learn and even share what limited experience I have with others. I don't post often, but that's mostly because I don't want to spout off about anything I don't really know about.

    No offense taken :) I mistook and misread your comment. Thank you for reading my review. I hope you can let me know what their FET kit is like if you decide to try it.

    Brien Holcombe likes this.
  7. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    RO is the best place to find information about this craft on the web not just because of the reasons I mentioned above in my previous post, but most importantly, because of the members who are part of the RO family. You will find that we treat each other with respect both for the knowledge we each contribute in our own way to the site, our different points of view on topics and to each other as members of the craft. That is something that is not found in many places on the web nowdays and contributes much to what makes RO what it is.

    Here you will find that there are many different points of view on many topics which makes for very interesting and at times robust discussions, but at the end of the day we are all here to learn from each other and further the craft. And what better place to do so than here on RO...a problem based learning forum dedicated to just that purpose.

    Its good to have you with us Aaron...and I hope you learn much from the forum and the wide range of topics it brings to the table.

    Brien Holcombe likes this.
  8. achase4u

    achase4u Active Member

    It sounds like the place for me! I appreciate the welcome and I intend to get my learn on. Thank you!
  9. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Thank you for taking the time to post your comments.
    I found your post to be informative; could you tell us the total number of hours you have in the build, as well as a "complexity" rating for those who are adept at electronics and who are confident enough in their skills to undertake a project like this?
  10. achase4u

    achase4u Active Member

    Of course! I am glad to contribute.

    Although I was too excited and engrossed to time myself accurately, I think it took me 3 hours to complete, including a healthy 20 minute break. As far as complexity, I would say that it is about 3 for those who are adept at this sort of thing. It's no terribly complex. There are no daughter or sub boards to be mounted except for the Grayhill stepped gain option if you choose it. That is probably the most difficult part of the project because of the sub mini resistor size and packing them into a small PCB. It took me about 15 minutes to do that part.

    Really it's just about placing standard resistors, capacitors of a few types, switches and transformers. No big deal. The only thing that took some sleuthing was the capacitors. You'll have to do some cross referencing to find the smaller types of capacitors and where they go. They aren't labeled as easily as say the electrolytic caps. They have the tiny number code.
  11. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Thanks for posting that info. :)
  12. achase4u

    achase4u Active Member

    My pleasure!

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