March
2024

Country of Origin

Serbia

Magna & Immanis

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (i5, 256GB SSD, 40GB RAM, Sonoma 14), 4TB external SSD with Thunderbolt 3, Audirvana Studio, Qobuz Sublime, Singxer SU-6 USB bridge, LHY Audio SW-8 & SW-6 switch, Cen.Grand DSDAC 1.0 Deluxe; Active filter: Lifesaver Audio Gradient Box 2; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 monos & Gold Note monoa on subwoofer; Headamp: Cen.Grand Silver Fox; Phones: HifiMan Susvara, Meze 109 Pro; Loudspeakers: Qualio IQ [on loan] Cables: Kinki Studio Earth, Furutech; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, Furutech DPS-4.1 between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 6 x 8m with open door behind listening seat
2nd system: Source: FiiO R7 into Soundaware D300Ref SD transport to Sonnet Pasithea; Preamp/filter: Lifesaver Audio Gradient Box 2; Amplifier: Kinki Studio EX-M7; Loudspeakers: MonAcoustic SuperMon Mini or Acelec Model One + Dynaudio S18 sub; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF, Akiko Audio Corelli; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~3.5 x 8m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win10/64; USB bridge: Singxer SU-2; DAC: iFi Pro iDSD Signature; Head/speaker amp: Enleum AMP-23R; Speakers: EnigmAcoustics Mythology M1;
Headphones: Final D-8000 & Sonorous X, Audeze LCD-XC, Raal-Requisite SR1a on Schiit Jotunheim R
Upstairs headfi system: FiiO R7; Headphones: Meze 109 Pro, Fiio FT3

2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; All-in-One: Gold Note IS-1000 Deluxe; Loudspeakers: Zu Soul VI; Subwoofer: Zu Submission; Power delivery: Furutech eTP-8, Room: ~6x4m

Review component retail: €5'700 & €8'600 ex VAT  

Coming up, nine pages of genesis story before the review proper ever begins. It all starts with Aleksandar McRibbon. Actually, his family name bears the crest of Radisavljevic, no tartan in sight. My Irish render is just easier on tongue-tied non Serbians. We could also call him Mister Raal when he's the inventive brains of that famous ribbon-tweeter house providing elite OEM parts to demanding speaker brands. Or just as correctly, we call him the designer of the world's first true ribbon headphone aka the Raal-Requisite SR1a/b.

I reviewed and awarded the SR1a ~4 years ago and previewed the first prototype at Alex's home in 2008. Much sljivovic aka plum brandy has cleared our collective gullets since; or should have if you fancy this fruity spirit. Today comes the surprise encore. If this were a classical concert, we'd get a short exhibitionist piece to show off our soloist's technical chops. Being hifi, we instead face new brand Raal 1995 with already two next-gen products, the twin-ribbon Magna and triple-ribbon Immanis headphones.

"As soon as all parts for final cosmetics arrive, I'll prepare shipments of both models to you and Lieven Vranken from Headfonia. So the first two reviews will be from you, the old wolf and a legend, and a prominent headphone guy from the new generation; if you agree."

How could I not? Like a sore canary I've been singing the SR1a's praises for years on end. Before we learnt more about Alex's latest venture, there were two interesting wrinkles already. One, contrary perhaps to expectations, more ribbon surface combined in series equals higher impedance so easier drive. It makes all existing amps for ribbon headphones legit contenders.

And spreading the same signal luv across multiple membranes embeds "complimentary tuning". It's Alex's term for how minor variations between segments even out for smoother summing at the ear; a bit like multi-paralleled DAC chips perhaps. He also calls Immanis "the most complicated headphone ever".

Going purely on the looks of this first champagne-hued teaser image, I foresaw upscale placement, more refined industrial design than the precursor's rad steampunk vibe; and a likely on- or over-ear-floating solution not the wicked angled array of the Raal-Requisite precursor. As it turned out, it's well-vented circumaural so on that score more standard, with the teaser photo showing the inner side of the driver before the earpad is added to the grille's rim. Before the full reveal, this was mere proof of life. Had we been served? Best get our ransom act together. Remember Gordon Gecko? Greed is good. Or if you prefer Leviticus, lust is life. This gig could trigger the lot.

First, a quick ribbon earspeaker primer. Without a separate voice coil—unlike a planarmagnetic, the entire aluminium ribbon is conductive already—the driving amplifier sees a virtual short. Where ribbon tweeters raise their impedance with a transformer, such iron would add prohibitive size and weight to a headphone. Alex's original solution had been an impedance-interface box which inserted the necessary resistance but demanded a ~50-100wpc speaker amp to source the required current since the box turns much of it to heat. After the SR1a's launch, Schiit Audio volunteered to design an amp which could drive this load direct, the Jotunheim R. I bought one. Since then SAEQ and Solaja have authored their own ribbon-direct amplifiers. Stumping popular perception, open-baffle ribbons can do low impeccably articulate bass when placed this close to the ear and baffle-step compensated. Because they lack the window-shutter magnets across their membrane which orthodynamic diaphragms require on at least one side, they don't suffer their instant-proximity reflections and phase shift. Given a ribbon's negligible mass, it can't store energy like our ears are used to with more conventional drivers. This creates astonishing dynamic reflexes, speed and fully exploded upper frequencies, areas where higher-mass transducers struggle by comparison. When first experienced, most listeners find ribbon headphones surreally fast and resolved but also lean, possibly even bright. That's not a function of insufficient lower bandwidth or tonal balance aberrations but absence of familiar fuzz, blur and resonance. Those sum to so-called warmth and weight which the ribbons don't incur but replace with explosive and peakier dynamics. Once our ears adjust to this new speed and insight, to varying degrees classic dynamic and planar headphones sound slow, hooded, low rez, portly or energetically boring by contrast. At least that's been my experience. With Magna and Immanis representing Alex's next generation so latest thinking, would they transform this otherness aspect which so sets my 1st-gen SR1a apart; or bolt on still more?

A planarmagnetic driver from Audeze. Note serpentine voice-coil traces, quad edge clamping, stave magnets front and aft, two vented end plates plus separate dispersion plate.

If you wondered why Alex calls his drivers true ribbons as though others were fake or pretenders, Børresen and Raidho keep calling their planarmagnetic tweeters ribbons. Certain air-motion transformer makers or users refer to their AMT as folded ribbons. Other makers of Linæum-derivative bending-wave drivers call them ruban or rubanoïde. That's French for ribbon. All are misnomers but in common use. To make the necessary distinction, Raal felt forced to call theirs true ribbons. As such they don't require separate voice-coil traces; are edge-clamped only on their narrow ends never the long sides; and only place magnets along their free long edges to not half obscure the membrane on either side. A true ribbon simply calls a spade a spade. Which is our end of Sam Spade style terminology sleuthing. As another movie character would say, s'all good, man.