Heaven 11 Billie Integrated Amp MKII Review
By Steve Huff
My Video Review has the most details and information on the Billie. Be sure to give it a watch!
This review will focus on an integrated amp that was sent to me from Heaven 11.
It’s called the Billie and it is currently in the MKII generation. This is a sleek, bespoke, gorgeous, small sized beauty that runs a tubed class A pre-amp mated to a solid state Class D amp. The amp puts out over 200 WPC into 4 ohms and 120 WPC into 8ohms yet out comes in at a svelte 12 lbs.
The integrated has it all. It includes a built in phono preamp, DAC and headphone amp (that is quite nice) and also includes bluetooth streaming (if you desire to not use a streamer). In other words, it’s ready to make music right out of the box. Just add speakers and you are good to go.
This amp uses the JJ EC99 tube and there is a pair of them that sit on top of the amp, giving off a glow show at night.
The Billie amp is not out to wow us with flash, fancy displays, golden trims or heavy weight as this one comes in at around 12-13 lbs, and that is a PLUS in my book. After moving around many 100lb+ amps I am feeling it in my back and body! Not a problem with the Billie. It was a treat to unbox it and place it atop my cabinet.
Speaking of my audio cabinet, I adore it and it was inexpensive and took us 10 minutes to assemble. I used to have a fancy rack that I spent thousands on. Not needed…I prefer the one I use now. So many email me asking me where I bought it, so here ya go..THIS IS IT ; )
The Billie amp comes in at under $2,000 and I feel it is one of the best bargains I have found within HiFi at the time of this writing. Really.
Normally when I have an integrated amp come in that sits in the under $3k range they are nothing at all like the Billie. They are either voiced t0 put out extended bass and treble (V curve, smiley face EQ) or they may even sound dull and flat.
I normally do not hear a refined, 3 dimensional sound from the amps in this price range. There is usually some hiss, some grunge in the treble area or maybe bloated bass. They are usually nice but not as smooth or refined as a higher end piece.
I admit, I have been spoiled by hearing some incredibly high end audio gear. Being a guy who reviews all price brackets within HiFi I know that what one pays for a product does not tell you what it will sound like. I have owned integrated amps up to $27k in cost and an amp like the Billie makes me realize how ridiculous it is to spend that much on an “all in one” box.
When I owned that expensive amp I loved it, adored it and enjoyed it but I knew I had to because I just spent the cost of a nice used car on it! Was it awesome? Sure it was but so is this $1985 integrated I am about to tell you about.
THE BILLIE MKII INTEGRATED AMP
The Billie is sleek, small, and packed with everything one needs to enjoy HiFi music and I am taking about a high end musical sound, not compromised sound. If you do this right, the Billie can absolutely be all the integrated you may ever need as you can even upgrade later with a better DAC or phono pre if you desire.
When I insert it into my reference system with a DCS Lina DAC, Pass Labs XP-17 Phono Pre and my reference speakers the Billie is rather special in the way it brings forth the music and especially the voice. It is not showing me it costs much less than any piece in my system. Rather, it hangs with them perfectly.
I enjoy the Billie much as any other integrated I have owned and loved, regardless of cost, and this is a big deal. When I can say that I enjoy a $2k integrated as much as a $7k integrated or even a $27k integrated that leaves me scratching my head as this should not be, and has never happened to me. Yes, I enjoy the Billie as much as any other fantastic integrated I have had here.
For me, the bIllie is about the music pure and simple. It is not here to shower us with special effects like some high end amps do. I sometimes fall for these “WOW” amps but it seems to never fail. After a few months I grow tired of them as they assault my ears and brain with too much of the upper frequencies. Sometimes they are lean in the mid bass and they call this “fast” or “tight” but I end up asking “where’s the bass”.
As I write this I am listening to “Winter Birds” by Ray LaMontagne and I am just taking in all in. The vocals sound better with the Billie (and Fleetwood Devilles) here than with any other amp I have had in here over the last two years. The acoustic guitar that he is playing has weight to each pluck and the sound is full, rich and delicate all at the same time.
It’s MAGIC and this magic usually doesn’t show up in this price range. It just doesn’t. Not like this.
Keep in mind, I am not saying the Billie is “better” than more expensive amps. I am saying the Billie sounds, to these ears, just as musically pleasing as most of the higher end integrated amps I have heard. There’s a special intimacy about the sounds the Billie creates because it is bringing us the music as it is should be. When I listen I am not saying “I wish I had my reference gear in”…instead I just enjoy the music and have no worries or stray thoughts about what could be “better”. My ears are really liking the presentation of this amp.
The Billie uses JJ EC99 tubes. When you order you can upgrade to Gold Pin tubes which would bring a touch more detail and smoothness but even with the stock EC99’s the sound is just beautiful. Rich. Sublime. Warm. The kind of sound that makes you want to listen into the wee hours of the night.
These tubes will last around 10,000 hours of use. That’s a long time as these are not power tubes, but rather are used to drive the class A preamp section. The tubes do make a difference here and normally this is not the case with hybrid amps. Most hybrids I have heard up to $5k normally sound faster, leaner and more extended up top. That’s not a good thing really as it takes away some of the richness and musical nature of the music!
As I get older I find my tastes I audio change. I have went through the stages of wanting extended detail and speed but I learned that comes at the expense of musicality. What is “musical” when it comes to an amp? Well, for me that term means all music I play should sound fantastic. It means there is enough mid bass to deliver body and drive and enough treble information to provide some air and sparkle. It means the bass is whole and complete, filling in the lower registers. There should be no holes in the sound and it should never sound lean or stripped of life. I have heard many mega buck amps sound HiFi rather than musical. The Billie is of the Musical variety.
The Billie MKII sounds like a rich tube amp but with enough power to drive almost any speaker. I love the melding of old school and modern and with a Class D amp inside I feel the tubes were 100% necessary. I am not usually a fan of Class D amps, even a couple of the newer GAN FET amps have left me cold (not all).
The secret sauce of the Billie is the tube preamp, and later I will try it with a big Pass abs X250.8 amp to see if it retains the magic.
3. The DAC
The Billie includes a high res DAC built in and you can stream to it via Bluetooth or use a streamer and go into one of the two digital inputs. The back of the Billie has a COAX input and an Optical input. There are also two AUX RCA inputs and a Phono Input.
The DAC built into the Billie is quite good but not as good as my external DCS DACs that retail for $20k with the clock. For a built in, it is actually better than I expected by a fair margin. Even so, if you wanted to take the sound up a few levels the Billie is not afraid of external DAC’s. With my DCS Lina DAC and CLOCK installed the Billie shows it can scale with the best of them.
While the $20k Lina DAC/CLOCK sounds sublime, the built in DAC does a great job of decoding those digital bits. An external is not needed but the option is there if one ever wanted to upgrade without buying a new amp.
The Phono Stage
The Billie also includes a phono preamp built in and this one sounds fantastic! It’s a moving magnet design and has a big sound. Compared to recent built in phono preamps I have heard it’s about equal to The Luxman 595 ASE and Michi X3’s built in’s (and these are $7-$12k amps).
I kept telling myself…how could this be under $2k?!?
Do note that If you want to use a moving coil cart you will need an external phono preamp.
The Headphone Amp
This is incredible to me. I have a set of Verum 1 Planar headphones here and over the last two months I have not found an integrated amp that could power these to their full ability. The Luxman head amp was not the best with the Verum 1’s and could not power them correctly. The MICHI did better but it still felt like something was missing. The Billie, somehow, powers these hungry cans very well. The sound is just like the speaker sound. Rich, fluid, tube like and extremely musical and rich.
I sat listening to these incredible $350 headphones (made and shipped from the Ukraine) for a few hours one night. I couldn’t believe the lower cost Billie was driving them this well. I am no headphone pro and have limited experience with headphones but these sound great with the Billie. I just enjoyed the music, again, not wanting for more. This tells me how satisfying the Billie amp is. Never once did I want to remove the Billie over the weeks I had it here to replace it with my reference set (which is $23k more).
Not because it bests my reference, it doesn’t. I talk more about this in the video at the top of the page. Even at $2k the Billie does offer high end sound, real sound. It’s warmth and musical nature is addicting. While I do not get the extra airiness, transparency or dynamics of the big reference stack I get enough of all of that to be satisfied WITH that dose of tube magic. It’s crazy to see this amp cost what it does.
After some time with the Billie I have decided to buy the review unit and keep it as a reference for this price bracket. This way I can use it for future reviews and comparisons.
One of the special things about the Billie is the preamp section. It’s class A. It’s smooth as butter and brings realism and gorgeous vocals to the amp. The midrange of the Billie is seductive and I attribute this to the preamp. For kicks I used the Billie as a preamp by connecting a Pass Labs X250.8 to the preamp outs on the Billie.
WHOA! I was blown away. While not as quiet, sweet or clean as the much more pricey Pass Labs XP-22 (my reference) it brought that vocal magic in an even bigger way. The details were now more extended and the sound was very 3 dimensional. I was hearing a tube flavor and with the X250.8 this sound was just awesome.
I bet that some of you out there use the Billie as a tube class a preamp. It’s excellent.
Overall Build and Style
The Billie is unique as its design and style is rather sleek, modern and at the same time very simple. No big meters, no glowing lights, no big gold or flashy highlights. The Billie comes in either black or silver and is just gorgeous to look at. There is nice air ventilation on the sides and the amp runs cool to barely warm.
The amp is 12lbs and is pretty small, so it will not take up a ton of space. This could be a great amp for your main system, bedroom system or office system. No big heat, no big cost to run (class D is efficient) and easy to place.
I think the amp looks beautiful with superb attention to detail. It looks much nicer in person than in photos.
The Heaven 11 Billie started years ago as a Kickstarter and ever since it has been slowly upgraded with improved parts and features. I never heard the original version (but I have had my eye on it for a long time) but am so happy I was able to hear this MKII as it taught me a lesson.
Yes, even after 35 years doing this I still learn every time I get a new piece in.
What the Billie taught me was that it is easy for music lovers like us to get caught up in the hype with new gear. I am guilty of this myself and because I truly love what I do here I often buy the fancy gear that excels in those “WOW” moments.Sometimes though, with some of that gear I either regret the money spent or have a headache from the details thrown at me. I sometimes have buyers remorse when I spend too much money on audio because I realize we do not HAVE TO SPEND so much to get beautiful high end sound.
With the Billie I feel the opposite. I would have no remorse here but rather I would feel like I got a smoking deal. I would cherish the amp for the beautiful sound quality and style knowing I didn’t break the bank to do so.
As I write this I have been listening to the Billie and right now Phoebe Bridgers is singing “Summers End”. Her voice is silky, sweet and dead center between the speakers. This presentation is no “lesser” than even that $27k integrated I spoke of earlier. It’s just as beautiful, present and magical and yes, different. Remember in audio there is no such thing as “better” when it comes to amps, speakers, etc. There is just different.
The Billie is not the most detailed amp out there. If you are a detail hound and refer the lean, detailed HiFi sound then look elsewhere. Usually you can find that sound in the mega buck amps and speakers. Magico, Focal, Gryphon and others come to mind if you want lean, fast, uber detailed and those special effects I speak of often.
If you want to hear music that sounds full, fluid and with the magic of tubes you will want to hear the Billie. If you value musical over hyper detail you will love the Billie. If you want all of your music to sound great, you will want to look into the Billie.
Heaven 11 asks the question “When was the last time music gave you goosebumps”? I have had my share of goosebump moments and can happily say that the Billie can do that for you in the right system and setup. I had a few goosebump nights with the Billie in play. To get this and all I spoke of for under $2,000 is unheard of in new HiFi in 2023. Sure, you can find an amp for under $2k but you will have to spend double this to get one that can do what the Billie MKII does at least that is how I hear it in my system.