May
2024

Country of Origin

China

P1x

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 DAC; Active filter: Lifesaver Audio Gradient Box 2; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 monos & EX-M7 on subwoofer; Headamp: Enleum AMP-23R; Phones: Raal 1995 Immanis, HifiMan Susvara; 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; Amplifiers: Gold Note PA-10 Evo monos; 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: Sonnet Audio Pasithea; Clock: LHY Audio OCK-2;  Head amp: Kinki Studio THR-1; Speaker amp: Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Speakers: EnigmAcoustics Mythology M1;
 Headphones: Final D-8000
Upstairs headfi system: FiiO R7; COS Engineering D1; Cen.Grand Silver Fox; Headphones: Meze 109 Pro, Raal 1995 Magna

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: $1'950 – $2'200

To my cynical eyes, the sun-dial markers and pointer of the volume knob plus utilitarian toggle make a strangely low-rent contrast to the touch-screen input selector?

When Team Soundaware's email landed just after the Munich May show shut its doors, the attached Excel spread sheet itemized six models looking for their moment of fame on the global hifi review beat. Which one did I wish to meet up close and personal? Having already done the listed DAM1 DAC, I skipped over portable, BT and streaming models. Instead I said hello to the all analog P1x. It's "a reference balanced desktop preamp and discrete class A headfi amp. It works perfectly into various impedances and sensitivities and in preamp mode delivers excellent performance into an amplifier or active speaker. The sound is natural, airy, detailed and lush."

This $1'298 6kg Kinki Studio THR-1 is my desktop headphone driver.

Measuring a friendly 22x20x5½cm WxDxH and weighing just 2¼kg, I had the perfect perch for it on my office desktop. So this long-time user of their D300Ref signed up for a P1x. On the website, the precursor already did a fat 6wpc into 32Ω XLR4, half that 6.3mm. More specs were 128dB S/NR, 0.0007% THD+N. With one each XLR/RCA i/o, a rear-mounted gain toggle, an analog 'Saw-Link' input on HDMI for their matching DAP, an 800mA 'pure' USB power socket for a portable player and built-in linear power supply with AC filtering, the P1x is a simple deck for bloodthirsty headphones. How does 'x' exceed the original P1?

The 3-input precursor had potted Talema transformers in its 60V/4A power supply, four ultra low-noise Linear Tech regulators, Nichicon FG and Muse capacitors for 30'000µF of filtering, German coupling caps and a quality Alps potentiometer. Low-gain mode was for mobile players, high gain for 4-6Vrms stationary sources. Headfi mode disabled the pre-outs and their output buffer. The class A fully balanced gain circuit with high-speed current sources was a 3-stage affair with ±30V rails. Soundaware cite this classy Accuphase C290V as their preamp reference during the P1's R&D. AKG K1000 & K812, Sennheiser HD800S, Focal Utopia and HifiMan Susvara were amongst their cans. For dynamics I myself would run Meze 109 Pro, for planars Final D-8000, Meze Liric 2 and HifiMan Susvara, for ribbons Raal 1995 Immanis. At ~$2'000 the P1x demanded pricier loads than FiiO's FT3 or Erzetich's Thalia.

But first, what would my Soundaware contact Chalice divulge about its 'x' factor? "We adjusted the preamp buffer and lowered its THD to 0.0006%. Now the distortion difference between the headphone and pre-out paths is extremely marginal. We widened the volume range and also made it easier to adjust. We increased filter capacitance by 50% and used higher-grade coupling caps which improved the LF. We significantly overhauled the power supply, borrowing from our R&D on the MR2 and D300Ref models. Internal DC resistance is nearly 10 x lower and the mid-to-high frequency response of the power supply far better. We then revisited the headphone circuit and seriously enlarged its output to 12wpc into 32Ω and 3wpc into 300Ω. It's still a fully discrete pure class A output stage and with all the 'x' optimizations, we now have a more natural sound with better resolution and far superior dynamics and detail retrieval than the original P1. As to colours, we had the P1 in blue and grey but now just do grey." In its modest chassis, the P1x is like that souped-up plain car. It won't let on what's under its hood until on the Autobahn's left lane it suddenly does the high-beam fender nudge to thunder past us as we make befuddled room. It's a real power bruiser though discrete class A also promises a smooth cruiser ride. Tall tale or truth as it says on the tin?

… to be continued…