Not like speaker producers, headphone producers know that the amplifier a reviewer makes use of may make or break a assessment of their product. So properly, they appear grateful after I ask for steering.
When reviewing Dan Clark’s flagship Stealth planar magnetic headphones in Gramophone Desires #62, I requested Clark Audio president Andy Regan if he may “please” suggest an amplifier that he thought would permit the Stealth to function at full its potential. In response, he despatched me HeadAmp’s $1995 GS-X Mini headphone amp/preamp. This common all-driving headphone amp has enabled the Stealth and all the opposite headphones I’ve used to breed recordings with a easy, grain-free dynamic that makes vocal recordings sound exceptionally pure. As it’s extra highly effective (6W into 25 ohms, 4W into 50 ohms, 2W into 100 ohms) than the amps described under, I’ve used the GS-X Mini as a reference all through this report.
Once I assessment state-of-the-art electrostatic headphones, Woo Audio proprietor Jack Wu lends me his divine $8999 300B 3ES parallel single-ended electrostatic amplifier/preamp. day-to-day, I depend on Linear Tube Audio’s extraordinary and great Z10e, a full-function tube built-in amplifier that, along with powering the magnetic headphones, drives the electrostatic loudspeakers AND my reference audio system. Ever since I first raved about it in Gramophone Desires #36, the $6950 Z10e, which is specified to provide 3W into 32 ohms, has been the unshakable anchor of my desktop system, driving my Dynaudio Excite audio system X14 and in addition permitting me to really feel like an old-fashioned headphone connoisseur whereas having fun with the luminous attract of my beloved Stax SR-007 Omega Electrostatic.
For the reason that Z10e is my most used headphone amp, it was excellent for double-checking my outcomes in opposition to the opposite amps offered for this month’s headphone auditions, from Abyss and Focal.
Abyss goes excessive style
Thirty years in the past, Joe Skubinski based what has grow to be a profitable audio cable manufacturing firm known as JPS Labs LLC. Ten years in the past, in his first ever try to design a headphone, he created what I nonetheless think about the innovative planar magnetic: the Abyss AB-1266 (observe 1). What are the probabilities of hitting a house run in your first main league at bat?
Once I first reviewed the Abyss AB-1266 Phi headphones in Gramophone Desires #17, I discovered them to be probably the most open, lightning-fast, and microscopically clear transducers I’ve ever used. Their solely competitors for readability, element, and impartial tone have been AKG’s Stax SR-009 electrostatics and K812 dynamic open-backs. To me, the AB-1266 sounded extra conspicuously “proper” than any headphone I might encountered since my audition of Sony’s MDR-Z10s of 1989.
Mates who tried the Abyss have been blown away by its sound, however all had some points with its kind issue.
Along with their vaguely Frankenstein look, my head-fi pals struggled with the truth that the AB-1266 is massive and designed to drift freely close to the listener’s head as a substitute of becoming tightly in opposition to the cranium. This not-unprecedented characteristic precipitated the Abyss to drop when customers stooped and pissed off measurement geeks as a result of, like horns, omni-directional audio system, and panel audio system, the AB-1266 is tough to measure in a means that precisely displays its real-world efficiency. Nevertheless, skilled listeners aware of the sound of distortion knew instantly that the Abyss AB-1266 Phi was one of many lowest distortion transducers ever invented.
In 2017, Joe received bored with folks complaining in regards to the kind issue of his headphones, so he went out and wore all Anna Wintours, creating what could be the “world’s hottest” headphone. Realizing that the AB-1266’s distinctive bodily construction did not lend itself to prolonged informal listening, Skubinski determined to make his new headphones lighter, thinner and extra comfy, higher becoming the person’s cranium. This second headphone design, which he named after his spouse, Diana, makes use of a barely smaller planar magnetic driver (63mm versus 66mm) that was tailored from the AB-1266 right into a rugged, luxurious aluminum. The Abyss web site claims it is “the thinnest planar headset on the planet.” The inventory fourth-generation Abyss Diana TC I am reviewing prices $4495 and may be bought straight from Abyss in a minimum of 30 fashion-conscious colours of kiln-cured polymer ceramic. Sellers solely carry grey and bronze.
What are the probabilities of hitting one other residence run in your second inning?
For this report, Joe despatched me what he calls the whole bundle, which, for an additional $1500 ($5995 whole), substitutes a 1.8m HP Superconductor cable for the usual 1.5m cable, in termination alternative: three or 4 pin XLR or ¼” plug. (Different lengths can be found.) As well as, Joe despatched a set of elective ear cushions, which JPS gives as a substitute for the inventory lambskin or vegan Ultrasuede ear cushions In keeping with Skubinski, the ported pads “add a slight bass punch within the decrease bass vary, including a little bit extra depth and openness to the soundstage.”
In my expertise, headphone driver know-how hardly ever accounts for greater than 60% of what a premium audiophile headphone feels like. The opposite 40% is cut up between cables and pavilions. Headphone makers know this, so it is no shock that Joe Skubinski started his audio life as a cable maker, or that mastering the esoteric science of earcup design appeals to him. The bass lui pads are very good: every pad’s magnetic base is thickened by a millimeter or two, offering house for 4 acoustically formed ports that exit on the corners of the earcup. It was straightforward to differentiate between the punchier, extra direct inventory pads and the ported ones, which, as recommended by Joe, sound a contact hotter and extra spacious. It was not straightforward to select a favorite.
The Diana TC weighs 390 gm (the AB-1266 weighs 640 gm) and has an impedance of 69 ohms (the AB-1266’s impedance is 47 ohms) and a sensitivity of 90 dB/mW (in comparison with 88 dB of 1266).
Eleven Audio Broadway
Like Andy Regan and Jack Wu earlier than him, Joe Skubinski despatched me his advisable headphone amp, XIaudio’s $2599 Broadway (aka “Eleven Audio” observe 2). The Broadway is small (8.3″ × 6.1″ × 1.9″), mild (2.5 lbs), and completely unglamorous wanting. It’s specified to output 1.5W into 32 ohms at school A completely differential balanced.Its one enter is balanced (XLR) and its two outputs are each balanced: 4-pin XLR and 4.4mm Pentaconn.Its high plate is simple to take away, exposing a colony of populated inexperienced boards from lots of of floor mount elements the dimensions of an ant’s head.
Aside from the amount management and a 3W energy resistor, the one full-sized elements have been the 4 user-replaceable 3000mAh 3.7V lithium-ion batteries. In keeping with the Abyss web site, “This amp will run as much as six hours with out AC energy, or plug in for steady play, with the identical extremely refined sound on both energy supply. The circuit is designed to drift the batteries on the community instances.” I requested Joe what that meant. He advised me that Michael Xiao, the Broadway designer, created this absolutely differential BJT amplifier to run solely on user-replaceable batteries, even when the amplifier is plugged into the charger, and that Michael had gone to nice lengths to guarantee that reloading was inaudible. Xiao mentioned the cells have been chosen for the most effective sound.
I examined Joe and Michael’s declare by listening with out the charger for about 4 hours. I have never seen any sound degradation when the batteries have run out. I then plugged it into its wart on the wall and once more noticed no change in sound high quality. I additionally tried to see how lengthy it might work with out plugging it in. It shut down after virtually six hours.
The Broadway has an enter sensitivity of 1.0V and, in response to Joe’s measurements, acquire of 18dB into 50 ohms.
Abyss Diana TC
The Broadway-specified 1.5W into 32 ohms appeared a bit like a four-cylinder for the heavy-duty JPS Labs AB-1266, which thrives on turbocharged V8s. So naturally I began these auditions utilizing the Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC, to see if Broadway may muster sufficient steam to play the tempestuous Yuja Wang taking part in her 2018 Berlin Recital (24/96 FLAC, DG/Qobuz). My preliminary impressions have been one in all power, vigor and ferocious ahead momentum, from amp and artist, with no noticeable clipping or compression.
The AB-1266 rang strongly. Greater than power although, what struck me most in regards to the 1266 with the Broadway amp was its delicacy, and the way in which it let sounds begin and cease naturally and breathe actual air as they maintain. , with full and discreet safety. No headphones I do know of produce a extra richly nuanced sonic construction. At my low listening ranges, the 1266 and the Broadway labored superbly collectively.
I used to be stunned that after I switched from the 88dB/mW delicate 50 ohm Abyss AB-1266 Phi TCs to the 90dB/mW delicate 69 ohm Abyss Diana TCs, I needed to flip down the amount on the Broadway (observe a footer 3), and the way, with the Diana, the sound appeared to chill out a bit. Once I performed “Preludio: Asturias”, the primary observe La Guitarra dels Léons (16/44.1 FLAC Cantus/Tidal), with Xavier Díaz-Latorre on guitar and Pedro Estevan on percussion, the sense of pressing, delirious ahead momentum was alluring and impactful with the 1266, solely barely much less so with the Diana. The 1266s have been extra respiratory and specific above 2kHz and extra vivid and brighter via the higher bass, the place the Diana sounded softer, darker, extra lush. The 1266 confirmed extra of the energized air surrounding Díaz-Latorre’s guitar and uncovered extra of its inner quantity. Diana TC stored me glued to the performances.
Be aware 1: Abyss Headphones, a division of JPS Labs LLC, 16 Lancaster Pkwy., Lancaster, NY 14086. Tel: (716) 288-9112. Net: abyss-headphones.com.
Be aware 2: XiAudio, imported from JPS Labs Labs LLC, 16 Lancaster Pkwy., Lancaster, NY 14086. Tel: (716) 288-9112. Net: abyss-headphones.com.
Be aware 3: Quantity is expounded to voltage, not wattage.