January
2019

Country of Origin

China

Hestia & Hyperion

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo boost, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz Hifi, Tidal Hifi, Fore Audio DAISy1, COS Engineering D1, Denafrips Terminator, Soundaware D300Ref,  AURALiC Vega 
Preamplifier: Nagra Classic, Wyred4Sound STP-SE Stage II, Vinnie Rossi LIO (AVT module)
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1 monos, F5, F6, F7; Goldmund/Job 225; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics NC500 monos; LinnenberG Audio Liszt monos
Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; Cube Audio Nenuphar; Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V & VI & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence
Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL3000 and Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Black Cat Cable redlevel Lupo; Ocellia OCC Silver
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps/sub
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands 
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: 4 x 6m with high gabled beam ceiling opening into 4 x 8m kitchen and 5 x 8m living room, hence no wall behind the listening chairs
Review component retail: about €775 and €1'095 ex VAT at press time

Call me Zhao. He'd really say that. If you could talk to him. But unless you spoke Chinese fluently, you'd do like I must. You'd commune with Alvin Chee in Singapore. He is Zhao's fluently English but otherwise global distributor for the Denafrips brand. Until recently, Denafrips were exclusively known for four discrete R2R DAC models with DSD functionality. But with his new Hestia and Hyperion true-balanced line stage and power amp, Zhao moves beyond his established purely digital reputation. Don't box me in, Herr hifi profiler. He'd probably say that. If he spoke English. As things stand, he gets to play the silent Eastern mystic card. Which makes us very green grasshoppers on the other side. But here's what we do know:

Hestia's class A fully discrete circuit builds around a precision relay-switched resistor ladder for volume control. It spans 85 steps for claimed channel balance perfection and THD of four zeros behind the decimal point, then 23. With XLR outputs delivering 4Vrms and RCA half that into perhaps a subwoofer or headphone amp—as a true balanced machine, you'll want to make the XLR i/o your primary ports of call—Hestia specifies minuscule 120dB signal-to-noise rations, crosstalk below 110dB and -0.3dB bandwidth of 10Hz-80kHz. There's remote control, Brussels-aware 1-watt idle draw, 20-watt full power draw, longitudinal markers of 32 x 33 x 6cm WxDxH and gravity of 6.5kg. Like the companion amp, the chassis can be black or silver. Warranty is a solid 3 years.

Hyperion's class A/B circuity is so honestly balanced that RCA inputs don't even figure. It outputs 80wpc into 8Ω, 150 into 4. It does so with a 300VA power supply and 147'600µF of capacitance which spreads out across 18 large Elna caps. Four pairs of transistors per side do the heavy lifting. Bandwidth is 10Hz-80kHz -2.2dB. THD+N  is a shiny 0.00078%, S/NR an equally brilliant 125dB. The 32 x 38cm foot print is deeper than the preamp's by 5cm. Height exceeds it by 4cm, weight by 10kg. Which segues neatly into money. Here the numbers are $1'198 and $1'698 respectively. Singaporean, not US. At press time, that equated to €775 and €1'095. With direct shipping from Singapore, EU customers will add 20%+ VAT. That flies the preamp to your door for less than €1'000. The amp would arrive for below €1'400.

If we call the combo €2'400 to round up a reference, we appreciate Zhao's strategy. After all, money talks. Here we remember Hyperion as one of the twelve Titans of antiquity. They overthrew the reign of their father Uranus; he of the unlimited funds to make our point. Hestia was ancient Greece's goddess of home, hearth and the right ordering of domesticity and family. She too might keep the budgetary peace when discussions revolve other ways a household might spend its discretionary funds… like a 3-week vacation to a Grecian island perhaps. Hestia will whisper how investing into a quality hifi will gift us many more hours of pleasure, across untold years, than even the lengthiest of holidays with our currently unpredictable weather. Stay home and live it up could just be the better motto.

A peek beneath these metal sheets admires construction quality and guts on par with the Denafrips flagship Terminator DAC. Plainly Vinshine Audio in early 2019 remained keen on representing high-value performance gear that's built to fine standards. When offered a chance to take this dapper duo for a spin, I pounced on it like our Bengal cat Chai does with a toy bird.

To review cost-no-object items may show what's possible whenever anything goes. But personally, hearing what's possible when gifted designers challenge themselves to work within leaner budgets is more fun. When successful, it moves our markers downward to keep our ears honest. Losing the plot is typical for us reviewers. As years go by, we tend to get tapped for costlier and costlier assignments. Those parallel that by then we routinely own more ambitious gear.

Now it's important to check back into the lower tiers. Here advances can move more than they do at the very top. Not all tiers rise equally. As a result, there's compression for more sameness in the middle while the line of diminishing returns migrates downward. And shopping on that line is where the smart money wants to be especially when it's about a complete package which combines fine cosmetics and finishing with upscale tech.

With Hestia and Hyperion, the photos ticked off the visual items. On tech, we learnt about discrete resistor-ladder volume not a pot; and fully balanced circuitry, hence balanced volume control. With these models, Denafrips set up camp where Adcom and Rotel used to sell. And with the new Artemis headfi amp consolidating earlier domestic HA-10 versions into a global flagship, the Denafrips portfolio was growing further. There even were rumors of a pending Terminator firmware update to add DSD 512.