Denafrips Hestia preamp review

Discussion in 'Preamps' started by Aklegal, Oct 6, 2020.

  1. Aklegal

    Aklegal Almost "Made"

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    Manufacturer Page: https://www.denafrips.com/hestia
    hestia.jpg

    Preliminaries:
    The Hestia is a 60 stepped relay attenuator. The flagship Denafrips preamp, the Athena, has the same specs with lower distortion numbers. The Athena by the way looks to be two Hestias in one box - one Hestia per channel. The same way the Hattor Big preamp just doubles up on the stepped attenuators when you step up from the Hattor Mini. I only mention this because I was originally going to buy the Athena, thinking bigger was better until I studied the specs and pictures a bit more - mainly noticing that despite double the number of relays the number of volume steps remained unchanged. I seriously doubt the two preamps sound any different. Folks at ASR might be willing to pay for the lower distortion numbers though. New, it will cost you about $900.

    Looks and Functionality:
    Notwithstanding my crappy photos, this is a badass looking piece of gear. I think this is par for the course with the upper range Denafrips offerings. It has a huge display - I'm partial to displays. It never got warm during the more than two weeks of 24-7 burn-in. The remote worked well - it just seems overkill for a small preamp with only 3 inputs. Unless you own a Denafrips DAC and CD Transport, you will probably only ever use 5 buttons on the thing. I imagine most people who end up with a Denafrips stack that includes the CD transport, have probably opted for the Athena for matching aesthetics.

    Sound:
    In-house I still have my headphone amp, the Master 9, for comparison. My memory of the Schiit Freya+ is still pretty fresh as well. I also did comparisons to the Yggdrasil outputting directly to my amp and volume-controlled through JRiver media center. My final assessments were made after more than 2 weeks of burn-in.

    Soundstage:
    I gave some initial thoughts in the Freya thread here https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...ream-of-consciousness.7998/page-8#post-318390
    My thoughts on the Hestia's soundstage depth did not change from what I wrote in that post. The width did get a lot better and it ended up almost on par with the Master 9 and Freya+.
    Regarding soundstage depth, the Hestia's stage is deep but I find it to be poor at layering. I suspect that this has more to do with my biggest complaint about the preamp, which I will get to in a little later.

    Tone:
    This is an artificially warm preamp. I say artificially because the Hestia just can't suspend my belief long enough to think that the added warmth is natural. Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation and Phil Collins Face Value had lots of body all of the sudden but it just sounds fake to me. The main reason for this is that while the Hestia is warm it is decidedly not smooth. The edges get rougher as the volume goes up. I'm not opposed to a warmer preamp, I lived with and loved a Hegel H360 for about a year. Its the roughness and lack of refinement that ruins things.

    Detail:
    My biggest beef with the Hestia is that on first impression it sounds clear and bold but it quickly becomes apparent that details are being obscured. This is the weirdest bit about the preamp because this lack of this lower level detail makes it appear like it has a very black background. Unlike it's poor ability to fool you into thinking the recording you are listening to actually is as warm as the Hestia portrays it as, it does a fairly skilled job at convincing you that it has an inky black background. Upon switching to the Master 9 or the Yggdrasil direct, I was hit with "oh yeah, I was right, you can hear that guy in the audience talking during that solo" types of experiences over and over. Putting the Hestia back in the chain, I found those missing details only after increasing the volume a fair amount.

    Dynamics:

    [​IMG]

    Look, maybe it isn't that bad but there is a distinct drop off from every other preamp I have heard in my system. The Hestia just seems intent to bore here. It's competent and you hear those big moments, its just lazy AF. Also, in keeping with what I wrote above, dynamic swings seem a bit muted or truncated given the Hestia's lack of lower-level detail. So you are left with a whole lot of "in-the-middle" dynamics: The Hestia doesn't think those low volume sounds and those big, loud crashes on the other end of the spectrum are that important. If there was a such thing as a reponse chart for dynamics, The Hestia would be rolled off on the extreme ends.

    Conclusions:
    This is actually a good preamp LMFAO. And yes, I do prefer it to the Wyred STP SE, thanks for asking. After you use it exclusively for about a week you might forget how better preamps sound. There were a lot of moments during which I really enjoyed what I was hearing a lot. It was only when I switched back to the Master 9 or the Yggdrasil direct that I remembered how outclassed it was. But this thing is $900 - buy a Freya+. Denafrips should put this thing in a cheaper case and sell it for $499.
     
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  2. uncola

    uncola Friend

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    too bad to hear about the Hestia, I thought the design and build looked great..
    I'm amazed you have a Folsom EC7293! I loved my folsom td7297, I recently gave it to my friend.
     
  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    How were you using the Yggdrasil direct? Were you comparing to a passive pot, digital attenuation, etc. What inputs / outputs were being used with the Hestia.

    LOL, from your description of the sound, I almost thought you were talking about the Terminator DAC. Maybe they have a house sound.
     
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  4. MyPetSasquatch

    MyPetSasquatch Friend

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    Thanks for your impressions. Back when I was trying a ton of different preamps I kept coming back to the idea of grabbing a Hestia to see how it sounded. I've personally found preamps to have a surprisingly outsized effect on the sound, and a lot tend towards excess warmth. I actually thought the STP-SE wasn't terrible in that regard, but from memory it suffered a bit in terms of clarity and transient response, plus Wyred 4 Sound might have the ugliest products on the market.

    Also, ATL represent!
     
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  5. Aklegal

    Aklegal Almost "Made"

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    I used the Yggdrasil's xlr outs into my amp. My amp is single ended so I sometimes used a transformer and other times I used a plain old rca to xlr adapter. I only have one source - JRiver on a Raspberry Pi - so Jriver's digital attenuation was used. Its not perfect but it gets me close enough to not having a preamp in the chain in order to make comparisons.

    I went back and forth between the XLR and RCA outs on the Hestia and I didn't notice a difference. I used XLR inputs the entire time.
     
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  6. exocer

    exocer Rando

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    I actually own and use the Wyred4Sounnd STP-SE Stage 2 preamp, as my first dedicated pre-amp since switching from my Marantz AV7704 pre/pro. It was a notable improvement over the Marantz but now I am debating listening to other units since it was beaten by the Hestia :). Interesting review.
     
  7. Aklegal

    Aklegal Almost "Made"

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    I have never heard the Stage 2. The SE is dull and has a veil. I actually owned the Wyred longer than any other Preamp and I bought it twice. All in all there was one in my system for about 6 years total. I have also heard it with more sources, more amps, and more speakers than any other preamp or integrated I have owned. I would love to hear the Stage 2 but I wasn't going to take the risk given that I couldn't get the SE to work in my system.

    I really wanted to like the Wyred, as evidenced by how long I owned one. It checked all the technical and functionality boxes for me.

    You might end up keeping the Wyred but you should hear other preamps just to be sure. Compare it with a Saga and let us know.
     
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  8. exocer

    exocer Rando

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    Thanks!

    I would like to try the Freya some time.
     

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