Country of Origin


Per Aspera ad Astra

Writer: Simone Ragionieri
Simone's bio: click here

Publisher's intro: When word of new brand Raal 1995 hit headfi.org, it led to the formation of a dedicated thread which designer Aleksandar Radisavljevic used to explain his forthcoming models whilst answering related questions. To not waste his time with separate emails, I canvassed said thread myself as hard facts emerged to incorporate into my own review. In this way I came across the posts of Simorag who was one of if not the first to purchase a pair of Immanis headphones directly in Serbia. I enjoyed his contributions so much that I invited him to join my small staff. When he accepted, I suggested for his introductory feature a retelling of his most recent acquisitions and how those changed/improved his system. Today's format is deliberately not that of a formal review to instead segue straight into the anecdotal/subjective parts and skip over tech explanations, brand history and all the usual foreplay. For more on Simone, peruse his bio linked to above. Ed.

Part #1. The audiophile journey usually is no linear progression towards a sought-after form of aural nirvana. Instead it's a tortuous path that confronts us with ups and downs or at least lengthier detours to the next camp of our personal ascent. At least this is how it has worked out for me over the past 35 years. Sometimes during the journey you feel that you found a happy place where you could stay for longer than usual; or even make a full stop to just enjoy the music. But invariably curiosity reasserts itself, an external influence taunts, boredom hits or the upgrade bug reanimates. Suddenly the search for the unholy Grail starts all over again. I was in a very happy place with my rig a few months ago. I believed the synergy between components was working solidly and the overall result consistently good. The dCS Rossini Apex/clock with its balance of gravitas, detail, openness and scale fed the bits it received from a Taiko Audio Extreme effortlessly passed to my Riviera Audio Labs AIC-10 amplifier by way of ultra-clean precise voltage swings. Those the hybrid amp organically amplified and solidified into a grounded, dense and dynamic presentation that in turn was celebrated most energetically by the Spirit Torino Valkyria headphones then forwarded to my ears, brain and heart. There was a beautiful harmony between the darkish and hefty masculine tone of the Valkyria and my digital front end that provided me with thorough pleasure for over a year, no need to change a single thing. Most importantly given my musical preferences, the system was exceptionally good at portraying acoustic music of all genres and scale with a sense of immanence, visceral dynamics and tonal cogency that I had never had at home before and rarely experienced elsewhere.

I was curious whether I could push the envelope of that system still further and started experimenting with high-end interconnects, power delivery, tube rolling on the AIC-10 and finding the optimal mix of filters, upscaling and mapping options on the Rossini. This further elevated the performance with the notable inclusion of a Crystal Cable Future Dream 22 interconnect which gave a nice uptick in rhythmic drive and resolution. In the meantime I kept up with my regular diet of live concerts—typically classical solo recitals, chamber music, some bigger orchestral works—where those of us used to alternating live with playback performances appreciate just how challenging it is to go back to just stereo immediately after a full-immersion concert. Although I was pretty satisfied and especially about how the Valkyria headphones could mimic a piano solo recital unbelievably well, it was also clear that the system sounded consistently grainier, less warm and organic than real instruments. Strings and vocals for example had a kind of abrasiveness and bite that I didn't feel in the real venue.

Two things happened at this point relatively close in time. First I made contact with trusted fellow headfiers who raved about a DAC that became their gamechanger; and then with a headphone designer for whom I have the highest respect who had just announced his next-gen models. The DAC was the LampizatOr Horizon which of course I knew of as an avid forum reader and tradeshow visitor. The headphones were the triple-ribbon Immanis from Raal 1995, a new luxury brand from 'ribbon whisperer' Aleksandar Radisavljevic. I unfortunately had no opportunity to preview the Horizon in my own system. But having already experienced the effect of this DAC on a couple of familiar systems, my friends' feedback kicked me off the fence and in violation of my most sacred principle of try-before-you-buy, I ordered in this expensive machine. With Immanis, the designer's intent was to raise the benefits of ribbon tech ably demonstrated by his two prior Raal-Requisite models to the next level especially in terms of a fuller body, smoother treble and most importantly, a bass response extended to the bottom of the audible spectrum whilst remaining clean and articulate. As a former owner of his SR1a, this sounded irresistible so I went ahead and booked a personal demo with Alex in the remarkable city of Belgrade. It's a flight I gladly made. Predictably perhaps I returned home with a shiny aluminium flight case buried in my carry-on luggage wherein only temporarily laid a silent little treasure. The Horizon was due to arrive a few months later so I had plenty of time to get familiar with Immanis before a further big change was upon me; perfect when I don't like to make more than one change at the time. That's like wasting a dose of dopamine, not to mention risks losing track of what I am doing. The immediate reaction when hearing Immanis at home was shocking – and not always and necessarily in comforting ways.

On the positive side, I was total amazed by the sheer amount of information that this headphone could retrieve from my mostly 16/44 wav files. The resolution, detail extraction down to the plankton level, articulation of multiple intricate threads inside the musical fabric was like nothing I had experienced before except for the Warwick Acoustics Aperio and to a lesser extent, the SR1a. Even more impressive was that these loads of stimuli didn't detract from the wholeness of the musical picture in any showy way yet presented themselves—as the old cliché states—as though looking into the music through an immaculately transparent window. I was also impressed by the bass and sub-bass delivery. Having owned various iterations of the Abyss AB-1266 across about seven consecutive years and parted with them only very recently, I am addicted to great bass. The reach and volume of Immanis were competitive with the best, lacking only some oomph and gravitas in favour of their agile, fast and tight character. The most important positive though was how Immanis handled spatial information. In this regard it came very close to the openness and speaker-like presentation of the pad-less open-baffle SR1a sibling, providing the most remarkable out-of-head soundscape I had experienced through headphones without DSP assist.