Garage1217 Project Polaris Review
November 3, 2015 Luckbad 1
A gorgeous, versatile, powerful amplifier at a great price manufactured in the USA. Is the Project Polaris worth taking up a few inches of your desktop? Spoiler Alert: Heck yes it is!
Garage1217 Project Polaris In the Box
- Project Polaris (Assembled) or DIY Kit
- Power Supply
- 5 Year Warranty
Note that the case in the picture doesn’t come with the Polaris; it’s a B&W Type 1000 case.
Garage1217 Project Polaris Features
- Advanced Startup protection circuit
- Advanced cooling design to keep temps nice and low when demand is high
- Three output resistance settings from 0.1, 35 and 120 Ohm
- 3 selectable gain settings with a quick swap attenuation module effectively giving 6 settings
- Three bandwidth settings
- Pre-amp output so it can double as a volume controlled preamplifier
- Very efficient, low power consumption, low temperatures
- Awesome choice for headphones from 16-600 Ohm
- Loads of headroom and more than enough output power (up to 2.4W continuous per channel, depending on headphone and settings)
- Comes with power supply. Plug in your source to the RCA jacks, plug in your headphones and fire her up!
- Not an audiophile feature, but you can change the power LED’s brightness or turn it off. You can also rather easily change out the LED without soldering to change the desired color
Garage1217 Project Polaris Impressions
Before I dive into impressions, I want to comment on Garage1217. This is headed up by a great guy named Jeremy out in Arizona. He handles the layouts, chassis, builds, manuals, and all the other business, customer service, etc. on his own. solderdude–aka Frans–is the engineering genius behind the Garage1217 amps and the mastermind at DIY Audio Heaven. Jeremy’s wife, Wendy, also helps out and doesn’t kill him. What this tiny crew does is phenomenal, and they provide incredible customer service in addition to amazing products at low price points.
That out of the way, how does the Project Polaris sound? Phenomenal. At its core, it’s a solid state amp that provides some of the characteristics of tubes using its JFET input stage. This mimics tubes with its pleasant distortions. The result is a beautifully silky smooth sound that causes absolutely no listening fatigue.
Still need to roll off the highs a bit? Well, let’s talk about the versatility of this amplifier. You can adjust the bandwidth via jumpers. This allows you to roll off the upper octaves to varying degrees to taste. For me, this is clutch, as I’m sensitive to treble. Adjusting the bandwidth allowed me to use the Fostex TH600 with the Project Polaris without the need for EQ at all!
If you want a neutral sound with a little extra sweetness, you can leave High Bandwidth on and achieve audibly perfect neutrality (-0.5dB 6Hz – 100kHz at 30 Ohm load).
In addition to being smooth in the treble and reminiscent of tubes despite being solid state, the Project Polaris is powerful and punchy. It enables your headphones to hit hard in the bass and has more than enough power to drive even 600 Ohm cans (up to 2.4W continuous output power per channel).
Returning to the versatility discussion–which is a major selling point of the Polaris–you can drive low impedance IEMs as well. Adjustments can be made quickly and easily with jumpers (no need to open anything up either–it’s all there for the adjusting):
- Gain: 3 selectable settings + an attenuation module that effectively gives you 6 settings (I keep the attenuation module on for all IEMs and pull it off for Sennheiser HD650s).
- Output Resistance: 0.1, 35, and 120 Ohm. What this means is slight changes in sound and volume depending on how your headphone responds to changes in output resistance.
- Bandwidth: Three bandwidth settings to adjust treble rolloff and neutrality.
Beyond those settings that change the sound, you can also adjust the LED brightness (or turn it off completely) or swap it for another color without soldering. The amp stays quite cool no matter what I throw at it. It can even be used as a volume-controlled preamp via its RCA outs.
This kind of versatility and sound from a major manufacturer would cost you, plus or minus, infinity dollars. Why? It simply does not exist on any other amplifier. The closest you’ll come from a “major” manufacturer would be the Audio-GD C-2 (which is also quite excellent), but that doesn’t offer the tube-like sweetness, tiny footprint, or many other features of the Project Polaris.
Major manufacturers do offer different output impedance… they just happen to sell them as completely different amp units rather than letting you adjust it on the fly.
I can’t speak highly enough of the versatility of the unit. About all it can’t do is provide balanced output.
Let’s quickly discuss the looks. To my eyes, the Garage1217 amps are among the most stunningly beautiful amplifiers ever built. I love being able to see all the guts and the incredible build quality (seriously, look at how well-soldered Garage1217 amps are). Don’t love seeing all the awesome stuff inside? You can also get a CNC’d aluminum chassis for $40 more than the see-through acrylic. You can get it with a Black or Silver volume knob and various LED colors.
Are you a DIY enthusiast? You can save $35 and get all the parts in a kit from Garage1217, including detailed instructions, to build it yourself. While it seems like a fun project, you will sacrifice the generous 5 year warranty you’d get for buying it assembled. Jeremy and Frans (creators of the Polaris) are huge DIYers themselves, and they keep that at the heart of everything they do.
Is this a basshead amp? At its core, no. It has no bass boost switch, so it is inherently not a basshead amplifier for that reason alone. It does provide ample punch and tons of power, though. If you use EQ, it can rattle your headphones off your ears no problem. If you’re scared of EQ and are a basshead, you might want to look for something with a bass switch (but it’s not going to be as good as the Polaris–sorry).
Would I recommend the Project Polaris from Garage1217? Without hesitation. This is the most versatile, best bang-for-the-buck solid state amplifier I’ve ever used. If you want tubes instead, well… Garage1217 has five offerings for you too (I have an Ember II review coming up when time allows here at Basshead.Club).
Garage1217 Project Polaris Specifications
- Solid state output stage with JFET input stage
- Power consumption: (0.03A cont, 0.25A peak)
- Power supply: 48VDC
- Input Resistance: 11k or 21k depending on gain setting
- Gain: 12.5X / 7.5X / 4.5X without Attenuation Module. With Module, reduce by ½.
- Max Output voltage: 16Vrms at 300 Ohm
- Max RCA Output voltage: 2.9V
- Output Resistance: Selectable 0.1, 35 or 120Ohm
- Frequency range (High BW – 30 Ohm load) -3dB: 2Hz-290kHz
- Frequency range (High BW – 30 Ohm load) -.5dB: 6Hz-100kHz
- Dynamic Range 108dB
- Noise level -109dB
- Crosstalk: -98 dB (very conservative!)
- THD: > 0.045%
- Phase shift: 180 (inverting amplifier) on wide BW and 30 Ohm load 15Hz – 28kHz (+/- 10)
- Slewrate: +16V/us, -20V/us
- Suitable for: 16-600ohm Headphones
- 6L X 5W X 1.5H in inches
- Acrylic Chassis .65lb (without power supply)
- Aluminum chassis 1lb (without power supply)
Garage1217 Project Polaris Measurements
These measurements are available on the Garage1217 website and were not taken with any of my gear, as my measurement equipment is no longer here!
Aggressive Bandwidth (Default)
green trace = ‘high BW’
orange trace = ‘mid BW’
red trace = ‘low BW’
Mellow Bandwidth (Optional)
green trace = ‘high BW’
blue trace = ‘mid BW’
orange trace = ‘low BW’
Garage1217 Project Polaris$215-$290
Overall Sound9.0 /10
Basshead Potential8.0 /10
Build Quality9.5 /10
Reviewer Bias9.0 /10
- Works with IEMs and demanding headphones
- Tons of options--ultra versatile
- Incredible bang-for-the-buck
- Looks awesome
- Small footprint
- No bass boost switch
- No balanced out
- Channel imbalance below 9 o'clock on volume
- Won't do your dishes for you