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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, Laiv Audio Harmony and Sonnet Pasithea; Active filter: Lifesaver Audio Gradient Box 2; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 monos & Gold Note monoa on subwoofer; Headamp: Kinki Studio THR-1; 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 Cen.Grand DSDAC 1.0 Deluxe; Preamp/filter: Lifesaver Audio Gradient Box 2; Amplifier: Kinki Studio EX-M7; Headamp: Cen.Grand Silver Fox Loudspeakers: MonAcoustic SuperMon Mini + 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: Acelec Model One
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 music samples: click here
Review component retail: €5'700 & €8'600 ex VAT  

Foreword. Due to novel tech and its practical implications, this long review doesn't hit listening impressions until halfway down page 6. If you want to skip all the intro stuff and engineering background, click here. If you do have proper time and the inclination, I also invite you to pursue musical tracks linked to via album covers; and/or watch the embedded full concert videos. I had fun curating them. You might enjoy them despite YouTube's compression algorithm? If so, do follow up with the full or high-resolution versions off your favourite streaming subscription service.

It all began with Aleksandar McRibbon. Actually, his family name bears the crest of Radisavljevic. No tartan in sight. We could just call him Mister Raal, the inventive brains behind the famous ribbon-tweeter house providing elite OEM parts to demanding speaker brands. Or we call him the designer of the world's first true ribbon headphone, the Raal-Requisite SR1a/b. I reviewed and awarded it ~4 years ago after I'd previewed the first 2008 prototype at Alex's home. Today comes the encore. If this were a classical concert, we'd get a short exhibitionist piece to show off our soloist's bravura chops. Being hifi, we instead get new brand Raal 1995 and two next-gen products, the twin-ribbon Magna and triple-ribbon Immanis.

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.

First a ribbon primer. Without separate voice coil—unlike the above planar, the entire aluminium foil conducts—our amp sees a virtual short. Where ribbon tweeters raise their Ω with a transformer, such iron would add prohibitive size and weight on the head. The classic Raal ribbon tweeter with its transformer housing at right reminds us. We'd not want to wear two of those canisters. Alex's original solution was an Ω-interface box. It inserted requisite resistance but demanded a ~50-100wpc speaker amp to source sufficient voltage when the box turned much of it to heat. After the SR1a launch, Schiit Audio designed the since discontinued Jotunheim R to drive this load direct. Later SAEQ and Solaja authored their own versions. Stumping popular perception, open-baffle ribbons will do low impeccably articulate bass when right next to the ear and baffle-step corrected. With no window-shutter magnets across their membrane which isodynamics require on at least one side, true ribbons don't suffer instant-proximity reflections and associated phase shift. Given negligible mass, a ribbon 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, all areas where higher-mass transducers struggle by contrast. When first heard, most listeners find ribbon headfi surreally fast and resolved if also lean, possibly bright. That's less a function of insufficient lower bandwidth or tonal balance aberrations and more due to wholesale absence of broad-band fuzz, blur and resonance. Those traits typically sum to so-called warmth and weight which ribbons replace with explosive peakx dynamics. Once our ears adjust to their speed and deeper insight, to varying degrees classic dynamic and planar headphones sound slow, hooded, low-rez, portly or energetically boring. At least that's my experience.

If you wonder why Alex calls his drivers true ribbons as though others were fakes, Børresen and Raidho call their planar tweeters ribbons. Certain air-motion transformer makers refer to their AMT as folded ribbons. Other makers of Linæum-derivative bending-wave drivers call them ruban or rubanoïde so French for ribbon. To make the necessary distinction, Raal 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.

About Raal 1995, "it's my solo effort but Danny McKinney of Raal-Requisite again is my distributor/dealer for North America. I'll supply all other markets directly from Zajecar in Serbia." A joined-at-the-hip brand separate from Raal Ribbon the tweeter supplier might signal a future home for turnkey loudspeakers? "Correct, the plan is to eventually start producing complete speakers under that brand." Back on headfi, ribbons like electrostats need special amps, the latter to generate high stator voltages of typically ~550V, the former to drive ultra-low Ω at the necessary SPL. Together with planars, these driver types all are thin-film designs not classic domes or cones. Alex's original ribbon was narrower than ortho or e-stat membranes but Immanis narrows the gap on raw surface area.

Original resistor/inductor-based interface and the SR1a and its parts. Hover mouse to engage loupe function.

This 2nd-gen TI-1b interface connected to the XLR4 of a conventional headfi amp of 2-6wpc into 16/32Ω. The ITI-TRS cable makes said connection when an amp only carries a 6.3mm output. No longer must one dedicate a speaker amp to headfi. With this newer interface not available when I got my SR1a, even potent but otherwise standard headfi amps like my iFi iDSD Pro Signature, Enleum AMP-23R or Cen.Grand Silver Fox will now drive ribbons. "The new headphones come with a 32Ω interface which works for all our models." As circumaurals, Magna and Immanis don't need the SR1a/b's baffle-step correction. Raal-Requisite of course already have the circumaural CA-1a at left. With outré looks of a different style than my more Klingonesque SR1a above, it still doesn't fit the conventional mould.

With Raal Ribbon having started in 1993, what did Raal 1995 signify when Alex was just 25 years? "I started learning about transducers in 1993, producing different prototype ribbons to measure and experience. But my first completed speaker only exhibited two years later at May 1995's Belgrade International Tech Fair. It was built by commission for Dragan Solaja as a 2-way with 8" bass-reflex mid/woofer and 40cm open-baffle ribbon. We demoed it with his hybrid Mosfet power amp and a tube preamp. So 1995 was the year of my first formal audio work. It marks the moment when I decided that this would become my professional career." Next year Alex will thus celebrate 30 years on the beat.

To familiarize myself with today's lay of lush can land, Camerton's Binom-ER costs €5'499 so a bit more than Focal's Utopia and T+A's Solitaire P. HifiMan's Susvara still wants $6K, the Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC slightly less. By my count, ~€6'000 seems to be 2024's virtual ceiling beyond which only extremists float like Spirit Torino's $11K Valkyria Titanium, HifiMan's $18K Shangri-La and Sennheiser's $60K HE-1. Diamond-studded 18K gold-plated bling commissions exist for Focal and Onkyo. When encrusted in 126.5 carats of diamond and rubies, the Beats Pro can even fetch $750'000.

Meanwhile a glut of 'best from' hovers right around the €5K mark. It includes the Audeze LCD-5, Stax SR-009S, Warwick Sonoma M1, Yamaha YH-5000SE, Final Sonorous X and Meze Elite Epoque. $4K buys a Dan Clark Expanse or Stealth, €3.6K a Kennerton Rognir, €3K a Meze Empyrean II. Magna sets up shop on Susvara turf, Immanis hits a new high at ~€10K with VAT. These are summit-fi contenders. The exact call of the coins has Magna ex VAT at €5.7K. It ships with a 1.8m S2 cable, 32Ω interface/stand, XLR4/XLR4 interface cable and hard plastic case. Immanis packs with Star-8 MkII pure silver cable with new 10" stranded wire from Y split to the headphone and hard aluminium case for €8.6K. "Users who already own our Star-8 cable and don't need another will get €1K deducted from the price of the Immanis package. People who already own the TI-1a/b/c interface or direct-drive amps like the VM-1a or HSA-1a/b/c won't need the interface/stand. That lowers the price by another €1'130. So fully nude just in its flight case, Immanis can sell for €6'470 ex VAT." That's quite the arc for a young Serbian man whose September 2008 prototype headphone looked like this science-fair project. Time for some Irish levity.