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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
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Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz, Tidal, Denafrips Terminator+ clock-synced to Soundaware D300Ref SD transport/USB reclocker; Preamp: Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature with WE VT52/300B or Elrog 50/300B; Power amps: LinnenberG Liszt monos; Headamps: Questyle CMA-800r monos; Phones: HifiMan Susvara; Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; Cube Audio Nenuphar; Aurai Audio M1 [on loan]; Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, LessLoss C-MARC Entropic cords between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 4 x 6m with high gabled beam ceiling opening into 4 x 8m kitchen and 5 x 8m living room so no wall behind the listening chairs
2nd system: Source: Soundaware D100Pro SD transport; DAC/pre: Denafrips Terminator or COS Engineering D1; Preamplifier: Passive Preamp icOn 4Pro Model 3 SE; Amplifier: Bakoon AMP-13R or Crayon CFA-1.2; Loudspeakers: Acelec Model 1 w. Franck Tchang magnesium super tweeters, sound|kaos Vox 3awf, Zu Submission subwoofer; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~4x6m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win7/64; USB bridge: Audiobyte Hydra X+; Headamp: Kinki Studio Vision THR-1; Phones: Audeze LCD-XC on Forza Audio Lab cable; Powered speakers: Fram Audio Midi 150
Upstairs headfi system: Source: Soundaware A280 SD transport; Integrated amplifiers: Schiit Jotunheim R or Bakoon AMP-13R; Phones: Raal-Requisite SR1a, Audeze LCD-2, Final Sonorous X & D8000, HifiMan HE-1000
2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; DAC: Kinki Studio; Preamp: Wyred4Sound STP-SE II; Power amp: Pass Labs XA-30.8; Loudspeakers: German Physiks HRS-120; Room: ~6x4m
Review component retail: S$ 3'098 incl. EU VAT [~€1'910 at time of writing]
Wonder Woman. If this were a DC comic, Athena by Denafrips would be her. She was ancient Greece's original super woman. In purer than immaculate conception—so still beyond what today we call artificial insemination—she sprang clad in full armor from her father Zeus' head like a floral bud. Ancient gods were an outré bunch. They had wicked super powers and a propensity for debauchery and misdeeds. Think rape, incest, fratricide, even plain ordinary murder. Ol' Shakespeare had nothing on them. Still today, the parthenon remnants remain dedicated to Athena who'd won patronage over Athens by beating Poseidon in a competition. She created the first olive tree so was a botanical geneticist as well. She played counselor to the roving Odysseus. In the Renaissance, she became a symbol of wisdom, the arts and classical learning. Down the ages, she proved a popular goddess. She was the early archetype of the strong accomplished woman, equal of any man and supreme multi-tasker well before Oprah & Sis.
In the Denafrips heavens, Athena is the bigger of two preamps to also demand twice what smaller Hestia asks. Inside she might be two Hestias. Designer Mr. Zhao must adore strong women when his stable also has Gaia and Venus. His flagship pre is pure class A, fully discrete and true balanced. XLR dominate this business with 4 in:2 out over just 1/ea. RCA. However you enter/exit, input Ω is a usefully high 12.2k, output Ω a standard low 200. Dress code is black or silver, dimensions are 43x38x9.5cm WxDxH, armored weight is a reassuring 18kg. The IR wand is metallic as befits aspirations. All this you knew from reading the product page. Looking at its photos, you also knew that in signature house tradition, the chassis is an invisible double decker. The dual-toroidal power supply occupies the lower half beneath a central twin-layer Mu-metal shield, the signal-path circuit with massive capacitor bank the upper.
How about gain stages, output devices, voltage gain and bandwidth? For that I had to ask Alvin Chee, proprietor of Singapore's Vinshine Audio, global reseller for Denafrips. In hifi direct sales, he's become a top ambassador for top-quality fairly priced kit from the People's Republic. If you have misgivings about current Hong Kong events, like millions of hard-working Chinese, Alvin and Denafrips have nothing to do with it. One can't paint an entire country with the brush of its regime. If one did, all Americans would be tainted by their 2016-2020 presidency. End of pesky but necessary detour.
In the lid-off photos, we saw four rows of white relays whereby Athena switches her resistor matrix in fully balanced 'quad' mode. Here many preamps with XLR i/o cheat. They use single-ended volume to not be fully balanced. Athena is balanced front to back. Attentive readers noticed 4 x XLR inputs yet just 3 XLR input selectors. "XLR4 is a direct input not routed through the selector relay. The signal connected to XLR4 will be attenuated and available on all outputs for customers with a single source who want the purest signal path possible." That's novel.
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