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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
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Sources: iMac 27" fully loaded, Audirvana 3, Soundaware D300Ref, Denafrips Terminator with 32 x upsampler
Pre/power: Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature w. Elro gER50, LinnenberG Liszt
Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex
Cables: Allnic Audio ZL3000/5000
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra
Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc & amp stands
Room: 5 x 10m continuing into open space
Review component retail: Schitt $799, Raal Requisite $3'500
Systematically. It's how we'd like to assemble a satisfying hifi. The actual route to it is often more haphazard. Even reviewers can chance upon an unexpectedly winning combination well after a review first published. So these short features grouped under the same constellation logo are about the grace of hindsight, occasionally from sheer dumb luck when certain items just so happened to be on hand and produced unexpected sparks. In all cases, our archives will already have published feature reviews on the main components. But those reviews are about parts. Today's report is about proven combinations. Often the key players will be the amp+speaker pairing. After the room, that's the biggest variable. Adding a particular digital source (I don't do vinyl) won't markedly tip the balance or wipe out the winning bits. Neither will cables past a base level of competence. So don't expect complete itineraries. This is about locking in a particular sonic flavor or presentation with the most important determinants. Sorting out the secondary and tertiary players remains at your own discretion.
Today's feature speaks to one of my core contentions. We can't know what's on our recordings unless we use superior headphones. Eliminate the room's unpredictable EQ on a loudspeaker's frequency response and nonlinear reverb behavior. Hear more detail from lower ambient noise and no loss over distance. Without knowing what our recordings sound like when the room isn't interfering, we can't recognize how much our acoustics skew the sound. That's operating in the dark. On a family member. With shaky hands. Under the influence.
To be fair, most headphones only trade our big room for two tiny ones: those enclosed/defined by the ear cups/cushions hanging off our ears. Those housings and pillows cause reflections, air compression, losses and reinforcements. The only way to eliminate them are floating open baffles. First to propose that heretical concept were AKG's K-1000. Its originators today run the MySphere company out of Austria to offer a much-revised successor. There was/is the Jecklin Float and its descendants. But most radical and effective of this outré lot are the Raal Requisite SR1a true ribbon earspeakers.
Ribbons situate their magnets on the diaphragm's narrow ends. Unlike planarmagnetics, they're not in front of our ears. As dipoles, they can't trap the rear wave. As floating baffles, they don't touch our ears nor do they employ any cushion. Ergo no energy storage, air compression, reflections or associated time delays. To be wearable, the SR1a eschew impedance transformers and massive motors for increased efficiency. The result is a 0.018Ω load and need for 7 amperes of current at clipping. So the original concept includes an interface box. That inserts sufficient load resistors to, with the custom cable, create a 6Ω impedance. Now a 100wpc speaker amplifier drives the headphones through this interface box. That burns up most the voltage gain yet sources the requisite current. I tried class D from Purifi and Nord; high-power class A from Pass; class AB from Goldmund to LinnenberG and SImon Audio. All worked very well. Naturally their size/price could make for very uneasy bed fellas in the context of a compact headfi. Who in their right mind would dedicate our Pass Labs XA-30.8 to just headphone duties?
Breaching this unease is Schiit's Jotunheim R. In one compact box it packs a volume control, optional USB-only DAC, custom amp capable of driving the SR1a's virtual dead short with the required voltage and current gain, XLR/RCA i/o plus an active version of Raal's baffle-step compensation. The upshot? Now these radical ribbon earmonitors can hop on a desktop and take up minimal space especially if one opts for the DAC module. Sonics are naturally far too exciting to get any work done so in my case, this setup hoofed it onto my bedside table. There it's stayed ever since. The point is this. If you're a performance-chasing audiophool, you owe it to yourself to know just what's possible. Without an actual benchmark you can return to like going to the well whenever you're thirsty, how will you reach that goal, recognize that you have or assess how far you still have to go?
Having owned AKG K-1000, Audeze LCD-2 & -XC, Beyerdynamic T1 and T5p, Final D8000 & Sonorous X, various Grado, HifiMan Susvara & HE1000 plus Sennheiser HD800 plus having reviewed Dan Clark and Stax electrostats plus Meze's Empyrean, the SR1a top them all for speed, linearity, immediacy and dynamics. Their steampunk appearance has form follow function without concession. Their price, whilst more than competitive given today's flagship headphone climate, certainly is far from casual. They're admittedly an investment and indulgence. But they're also any audiophile's direct sodium thiopental shot in the arm. Truth serum, baby. Like nothing else, they show you what's on your recordings without obscuration, omission or taking liberties so with minimal loss. Yes, fronting the SR1a with our Vinnie Rossi DHT preamp and LinnenberG Liszt monos through the interface box does eclipse Jotunheim R a tad. It just takes up seriously more space and explodes the budget beyond any recognition. Having explored those byways and dead ends, I very happily settled on the Schiit as my highway to drive these ribbons on. As should be crystal, Jotunheim R won't work with any other headphones, period. It's a devout monogamist. Isn't it time you too settled down and owned one uncompromised ultra-resolution setup that can go pretty much anywhere, even on the road?
Postscript: Raal Requisite since added their own HSA-1a amp [$3'900] which can drive two SR1a at once or switch to 10wpc/8Ω speaker drive (50wpc/1Ω). It's a different circuit/price proposition which I've not heard. But it supports a similarly compact ribbon earspeaker setup so also should be on your radar especially if you have the right speakers as well.
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