Audiophile conceits. During my formative years as a would-be classical musician—I eventually decided against a career so didn't finish the conservatory unlike my two French horn siblings who nowadays belong to the Hamburg and Wiesbaden opera houses—I played in festival and other temporary symphony orchestras. Think Tchaikovsky's 4th6th symphonies, Bruckner's 4th, Pictures at an Exhibition, Brahms' 3rd, Schubert's 8th, Beethoven's 9th, Prokoviev's 5thRavel's Bolero, Richard Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel, Debussy's Le Martyre de St. Sébastien, Rachmaninov's 2nd Piano Concerto with Alexis Weissenberg. I thus don't listen to much large-scale classical these days. The gap in sheer oceanic scale between the live experience and playback is simply too vast. That makes symphonica over headfi one audiophool conceit too many. Just so, Immanis had me rejoin their hare-brained ranks. It's obviously the proverbial teapot tempest to cram 70-some musicians into the confines of a skull. But the aerated spaciousness of Immanis, its expansive neatly separated staging and crystalline clarity across the board do parse truly complex fare exceptionally well whilst dishing out dynamic range that actually feels commensurate with the music's relative scale.

So I spun up Mozart's Requiem which I twice played live in concert for nearly religious experiences. Orchestra, chorus and solo vocals are a heady mix. So are pure voices like Russian Treasures at 24/96 with the Tenebrae choir under Nigel Short presenting shorter pieces of the Greek Orthodox canon by Rachmaninoff, Golovanov, Tchaikovsy and Chesnokov. I didn't expect to be this touched. Yes it was ridiculously puny on physical expanse compared to the real thing. Yet like a triple-distilled spirit perhaps, it also intensified intimacy there inside my private experience bubble unmolested by creaky chairs, audience coughs or the skewed perspective of a cheap seat off to the far side in the echo-y rear. Instead I had carefully massaged mastering and fully 'on' performances. Like massed strings, massed choral voices like on the Mozart pack inherent performance distortions when minor intonation or timing errors rub. On lesser kit, those can throw up enjoyment barriers; or require the saccharine treatment of low resolution. Immanis sailed right through it in glorious hi-rez. I was focussed not on the sound but its 'sacred' charge. Last time I had that feeling without any sound was in the Sacre Coeur basilica of Montmarte gazing at its huge stained-glass window.

At this point I emailed Aleksandar. Had my limited musical tastes forgotten to canvas any performance aspects he finds important or special with these ribbons? Whilst awaiting his reply, another quick comment on tubes or transistors. Because Immanis isn't inherently lean, I favoured the most comprehensively lit-up and resolved gear fronting it. But not everyone cares for a quicksilvery lithe sound. Simone in fact needs two tubes in his amp plus another seven in his DAC to compensate his hyper treble sensitivity. He could gain some desired tempering just with the Satis cable. My ears prefer quickening to thickening. Here the Star-8 MkII Silver effect creates enough of a resolution advantage to where I could tolerate even the somewhat gelatinous action of Thorsten Loesch's Tube+ mode and still remain in my inner circle. It's your kitchen. You're its boss. You decide where to exactly set those balances.

Alex on my question: "No, you haven't overlooked a thing but maybe you explained less about the midrange. Bass and treble are fairly easy to do but the most struggle I've had was with the midband. Maybe you could reflect on what you think about it. There's a whole set of complex interactions between chamber diameter and depth, distance between ribbons to ear, the absorption and lossiness of the pads, whether the ribbons should parallel the head or angle out. That's where I spent most of my development time. I essentially wanted superb resolution, instrumental separation and choral rendering yet not reduce a music library to just ten titles. If anything annoying remains, it'd be on the recording, not in the headphones."

The short answer? As the man said. And here goes the longer one. To me the outer three octaves that bracket the midband on either side set its tone. In most speaker systems and many headfi versions, the bass is too thick and opaque to overlay the midrange from below. Meanwhile insufficient or excessive treble light either causes image clumping or spot-lit side effects which can cover the gamut from crisp to edgy, dry, transient heavy and insufficiently bloomy. Immanis manages the rare feat of casting its electrostatic treble quality across the entire bandwidth down into the sub bass for continuous articulation and equal intelligibility. Alex is right to imply that usually this means a lean(er) midband and lightweight bass. But whatever tuning shenanigans he explored, weighed and finally set counteract this prediction brilliantly. It's why I went to lengths stressing that unlike with the SR1a, I had no need of any warmth or mass injection from preceding hardware or strategic music choices; why I thought tubes were entirely unwarranted though easily tolerated. I don't know how Alex managed but Magna and Immanis—even more surprising on the latter—exhibit the natural tonal body and timbral heft we know from other elite if more conventional kit without sacrificing resolution to make it so but rather, still intensifying resolution. That's not just about micro detail. Resolution multi-tasks as the anti-clumping agent which keeps images that pack densely side by side and front to back properly discrete entities and still beyond that, imbued with individual unique textures.

In how my mind works, treble injects white, bass black. One is light, one dark. The more intense both get, the wider the gradient of in-between grey values. Maximal values mean greatest timbre variety. As I hear it here, the decisive 1995 difference is that the black of these ribbons comes from their linear reach, not from any fat or timing slop masquerading as warmth. It's why 'warmth' with its usual connotations doesn't apply. More correct seems to be 'realistic fullness'. To answer Alex's question in a roundabout way, his midrange is realistically full in a way that doesn't detract in all the familiar ways from image separation and detail zoom or undermines them. And unlike overdamped alignments which dry out textures, the electrostatic finesse of ultra-low mass transducers makes for exceptional decay trails. Those don't merely light up recorded space. They add fluency and elasticity; what in valve speak is wetness. That now concludes my lengthy story on the Raal 1995 Magna & Immanis twin and triple true-ribbon headphones. All that remains is a final assessment on their ranking. For confirmation on that I roped in my contributor Simone who in the extreme headfi sector has a more comprehensive overview than I. "Their objective technical achievements are on par with the very best I've heard, Warwick's Aperio [€35K – Ed.]. I believe that they deserve the highest available award. As for my subjective evaluation probably irrelevant to your question, for me Sennheiser's HE1 [€70K – Ed.] was the prior reference¹. The balance of Immanis between technicalities and listening pleasure needs a warmer-than-neutral DAC or amp." That's where Simone and I agree to disagree.

Conclusion. My rarest award says it all. You understand now just how we got here. But it's not just about performance. It's an acknowledgement of Aleksandar Radisavljevic's groundbreaking work on true ribbon tech for no-compromise headfi. You'd expect novel tech from a Swiss lab, perhaps an ambitious young team of Chinese engineers fresh out of university and sponsored by its research facility. That this development stems from a small shop in rural Serbia is more of a surprise. That to my knowledge nobody else works this sector at all is still more so. It speaks to self sufficiency, resourcefulness, hard-earned experience, trained listener feedback from the mastering sector, untold man hours tinkering away then highly skilled specialist labour to put into production. Best headphone in the world? I wouldn't know. Best now fully domesticated and luxuriously finished ribbon headphone and with that, a new reference for already two listeners on my small staff? Absolutely!


¹ The informed reader recognized that Simone's two mentioned references are electrostatic systems. They require specialized amplifiers to energize the head gear's plates aside from amplifying the music signal like all regular amps do. Still unsaid in this brief quote? Simone sold off his prior HifiMan Susvara and Abyss 1266 to acquire Immanis and Spirit Torino's €12K Valkyria Titanium. More on that here.