Nectar Hive Electrostatic Headphones

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by dncnexus, Aug 31, 2020.

  1. dncnexus

    dncnexus Almost "Made"

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    Nectar Hive Review

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    The Beginnings


    As I took my first step into electrostatics I was afraid of what I would find. I have gone on my audio journey knowing what I wanted from the beginning. I wanted dynamic driver headphones to pair with tube amps. This has been my path my whole time inside of this audiophile hobby, but as time went on I started to wonder if I should have been more open minded about the headphones I purchased. Planars were a natural step with my curiosity and I demo’d some, primarily the Audeze lineup. I quickly realized that planars weren’t what I was searching for, so I turned my eyes toward the elusive electrostatics. After lots of research, I thought that they would be a waste of my money, since they seemed to be the antithesis of what I normally enjoyed, being bright, airy, and lacking bass punch. But something about the quickness and speed made me lust after them.


    I learned from @Gazny about a new “startup”, if you could classify it as such, known as Nectar Sound. They were producing electrostatic headphones out of their garage, but touted the experience of an electrostatic, while keeping the redeeming qualities in dynamics that I wanted, primarily impact and bass. I quickly reached out to Sajeev, the owner to inquire about his headphones, and upon talking to him learned that Bottlehead had created a tube energizer to match his headphones. I quickly pulled the trigger since it seemed to be exactly what I wanted, and with a higher end amp from Bottlehead it would be a good investment for other electrostatic headphones in the future. The price of the headphones are $600.


    After a couple of weeks, I was able to get my amp built and the headphones delivered. And now we are here for the review. I will be adding a review of the Bottlehead Tube Energizer to the proper thread, but since I have a lack of reference to know how it compares to other energizers, it will be more informational with less subjective bits.


    Disclaimer


    This is my first entry into electrostatics and as such I have a limited experience with energizers and electrostatic headphones. I will not be able to compare and contrast to other electrostatic headphones, and as such might be lacking a point of reference that one could attach themselves to. Due to this I have come to the conclusion to reference aspects of these headphones to my dynamic driver headphones, namely the ZMF Auteur and HD 6XX. These will not be a comparison on which is better, rather a way to keep a reference. I know that each headphone has a different use case, and as such they can not be compared fairly without bias. I have not been able to test the Hives on other energizers, so I can’t say with certainty which aspects of these headphones are the headphones themselves and which aspects are those being influenced by the tube energizer. YMMV depending on the energizer used. I will try to update as time goes on when acquiring other energizers and how this influences the sound.


    Review


    Source
    Modius SE -> Bottlehead Tube Energizer -> Nectar Hive
    Modius SE -> Asgard 3 -> ZMF Auteur/HD 6XX


    Build

    These are built well. The headphone is 3D printed, but with a “ABS Like” resin. This is claimed to be more durable than regular 3D resins used. When holding them they do feel quite robust, but I would be careful not to drop them. The headband is made from a nice mesh material, and the earpads are from Brainwaves, although these can be pad rolled, and a user has successfully been able to use ZMF pads on these. I have not tried this yet but will in the future. The connector is a standard STAX 5 pin that was sourced from Moon Audio.

    118702702_312959363099578_7016404954512888266_n.jpg


    Bass

    This is the part that surprised me the most. I have done research on electrostatics and this is where many say they are lacking. This is not the case with the Hives. The bass is well extended, with slight rolloff in the lower frequencies but nothing that is dramatic. Bass has impact, and is well textured. Layering can get slightly muddled in complex bits. When compared to the HD 6XX, it extends much further, but has a similar feeling of slam and impact that the HD 6XX has on the Asgard 3. While not a bass can, it can hold its own and make me forget that this is an electrostatic.


    Mids

    The mids are an interesting aspect of the sound. I will touch a bit more of the separation but mids are given their own space to breath in the mix. It is not prominent or mid forward, but it feels that way occasionally due to the way things are spaced. Both male and female vocals are nice to listen to, but lack a sort of intimacy that the HD 6XX has, and lacks the liquidity that the Auteurs have. I would describe them as slightly dry in tonality, with the timbre to be too fast. It makes for an interesting experience, but slightly artificial sounding. The vocals could be seen as pretty neutral and real to life, but I am more inclined to favor vocals that are more seductive.


    Treble

    This was an area that I was a little afraid of. I hear that electrostatics are bright, but that is their redeeming quality. I would say that the Hives are not bright at all. They are airy, but nothing comes across as sibilant. The detail in the highs are very impressive. I think they did a good job in the highs.


    Timbre/Tonality

    I am not sure if these are the same, but I kind of lump them together personally. I found the timbre to have a very quick decay. This is quite a stark difference to my Auteurs that have a lustful seductive timbre. I can say I enjoy the Auteur more, but I do see the appeal of the faster transients and quicker decay. Tonality wise, the Hive are very clean. Throughout the whole FR, everything seems very clean, precise, and almost sterile? Not too sterile, there is a slight warmth to it, but it's ever so slight.


    Micro/Macrodynamics

    I found the dynamics, both micro and macro, to be very good with this headphone. I am not the most well versed in this aspect of sound description, but I didn’t feel anything lacking or noticeable when listening in regards to dynamics.


    Soundstage/Imaging/Separation

    Soundstage is quite impressive. It is larger than both the Auteurs and HD 6XX. If the HD 6XX is 70% of the soundstage of the Auteurs (which is what I found personally, if you find different, you can just scale the percentages based on what you think), then the Auteurs are 70% of the soundstage of the Hives. They seem to be quite expansive, not artificially so but enough where imaging and separation benefit greatly. Everything in the mix feels like it has its own space to breathe. Mids seem to be placed in the center and away from the music. Imaging is not blobed like the HD 6XX rather a clean sweep across the soundstage. I found this to both have depth and well as width. Due to the soundstage and good imaging, separation of instruments, noices, voices are very well defined. This is one of my favorite qualities of this headphone.


    Quirks

    These are not without their quirks though. One thing to be aware of is the ability for the stator to stick with changes in pressure. If you take off your headphones while they are energized it will create a sticking phenomenon with the stator and you will have to unplug the headphones and touch the 5 pins to get it to de-energize and unstick. This can be annoying if not known, but I have since learned that when I am trying to take off the headphones, I should unplug the headphones, de-energize, then take them off. This seems to be the best method I have found.


    Conclusion

    Overall I have been quite impressed with the Nectar Hives. I think it has been a good entry into the world of electrostatics and these have made me appreciate the electrostatic characteristics. I am now interested in how the other electrostatics are, and am looking forward to trying some offerings from STAXs in the future.


    I don’t like them as much as I do my tube amps and dynamics, and the ZMF Auteur and soon ZMF Verite Closed will stay as my go-to favorites and headphones I reach for the most, but I think that the electrostatics, and the Hives will have a place in my collection when I am looking for a different flavor than what I am normally used to. They aren’t my favorite in my collection, and probably electrostatics never will be, but they have found a niche part to reside in my collection, and they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
     
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  2. HAL9000

    HAL9000 Almost "Made"

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    BF2 - Bottlehead Estat Amp - Nectar Hive Estats > BF2 - Neurochrome HP1- Focal Clears

    Just got my Estat system put together today and it kicks ass!

    No, the system does not have the bass of the Clears, but the Bottlehead/Hive combo is (slightly) better in every other way. Chalk it up to that Estat magic :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2020
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  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I knew about the Nectar, but I was not aware of a Bottlehead estat amp. I should contact Nectar sound and maybe find an STAX energizer or something similar for a loaner. Do you guys know if the Nectar is STAX pro-bias? The price is right. We need to support folks like Nectar.
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2020
  4. Gazny

    Gazny Facebook Friend

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    I believe it is 5 pin pro bias. The bottle head amp has options for both 5 and 6 pin.
     
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  5. HAL9000

    HAL9000 Almost "Made"

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    Nectars are Pro bias

    Bottlehead has sockets for Pro and normal bias headphones
     
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  6. ogodei

    ogodei Headphone Heaven Gatekeeper

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    Email sent for an order.
     
  7. dncnexus

    dncnexus Almost "Made"

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    It's a 5 pin pro bias. I have other information about the amp or headphones such as tube pairings, frequency graphs, and other info. I will make another post with more information for others who are interested.
     
  8. ogodei

    ogodei Headphone Heaven Gatekeeper

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    Would love to hear more, especially. Went through the amp thread on the Bottlehead forum but didn't get a very clear picture.
     
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  9. HAL9000

    HAL9000 Almost "Made"

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    Here is the technical overview from the manual:

    The Bottlehead Tube Energizer is a zero global feedback, class A tube headphone amplifier. It features both 580V Stax Pro Bias and 230V Stax Normal (legacy) bias jacks. There is a single input, a balance control, and level control.

    This circuit is rather unique as far as electrostatic headphone amplifiers are concerned, as it is a simple cascade of two differential amplifiers per channel, with the second differential amplifier directly coupled to the headphones themselves. No global feedback is used in this design, which provides a smooth, open sound. To further enhance this design, each differential stage uses our Bottlehead C4S constant current source. These provide a very high impedance under the cathodes of each differential amplifier, providing very tight AC balance in each stage. As a side benefit of using this technology, this amplifier is a tube roller's dream!

    Quality polypropylene capacitors are used in the signal path, long life high temperature electrolytic capacitors are used in the power supply, and a very generously over-sized power transformer was chosen to ensure a long lifetime. The headphone output jack is custom made and very gentle with both stock Stax plugs and the Moon Audio 5 pin plug. There jack pin contacts are recessed for added safety when plugging and unplugging headphones.

    The bias supply for this amplifier is of the Cockroft Walton voltage multiplier type with additional series resistance between each output of the supply and the headphones themselves. This supply is unregulated, as it is designed as an ultra low current power supply for safe headphone operation. A 12AL5 diode sits at the bottom of the voltage multiplier and slowly turns on as the amplifier warms up.

    The high voltage power supply in this amplifier is a bridge rectified split rail type. This provides a positive and a negative voltage rail that allow for an enormous swing at the output stage without voltages that are any higher than what you would find in a 300B amplifier. The positive side of the high voltage rail is soft started by a 6CG3 damper diode that provides a controlled application of the positive rail voltage to the amplifier to further reduce undesirable behaviors during startup.

    There is an additional small 12V DC power supply to heat the 12AL5 and the first gain stage tubes to maintain proper heater cathode voltages.
     
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  10. Degru

    Degru Rando

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    The tendency for the diaphragm to stick seems concerning. Means tension is too low. I would hope the diaphragm is strong enough to withstand this behavior.

    Also, does it have dust covers? I seem to recall reading that it doesn't at one point.
     
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  11. dncnexus

    dncnexus Almost "Made"

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    Sajeev said this is what enables it to have better bass than most estats. He seems to say it won't cause a problem as long as you be careful but is something to watch out for.

    It does not come with dust covers and is missing an outside filter, so it is a concern for dust. Would be worth investigating a solution for covers.
     
  12. qu1en

    qu1en MOT: Nectar Sound

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    Hey guys - Nectar guy here. Really appreciate the write up and the review. I like to let this stuff play out but I was encouraged by a Nectar user to join the conversation. Specifically about the diaphragm sticking because it is an interesting topic and thought I could add something to the conversation.

    The tendency to stick is something I wish I could permanently get rid of but it will not damage the headphones. I have made many a headphone stick, and never have damaged a headphone in a fully constructed state. I have opted for consistency, and permanence. The tension of the diaphragm is one factor in the sticking, however so is the type of coating and coating method as well as the voltage bias. I have built headphones in the past that will not stick (without changing the tension), but they have other inconsistencies. Actually if you use my Nectar or Pollinator headphones with a normal bias (240V) instead of the Pro-Bias it should not stick. It will be a little less loud though, and I typically do not test it with normal bias, but it should work the same.

    The RR1 conquest also sticks and they talk about it, so I suspect this is something that is an issue for most small estat builders. I am jealous that STAX has cracked the code, however I read recently (yesterday actually!) on a forum that the SR009 can fail as a "common problem" to suddenly lose 10dB on one ear. If this is in fact true, and a product of a loss of charge on the diaphragm or a lack of ability to hold that charge, which I suspect, then again this is a trade-off that I experienced during development while trying to remove the susceptibility for the diaphragm to stick. I rather live with my diaphragm having a propensity to stick if you suddenly adjust it than someone's headphones losing charge or becoming imbalanced later. It's a "devil you know" vs "devil you don't know" situation.

    Also again - no dust covers! I opted for the most open type of design. Adding a dust cover caused musical congestion with extremely dynamic music (confirmed by an early astute customer), at least the way I was doing it with an acoustically transparent crumpled mylar, but that doesn't mean that it can't be done right. Also I love the way it looks the way it is. I only experienced one issue with what was probably caused by dust one time (on my personal set, that I still have). It was kind of a lite squeal noise I heard (not caused by the sticking). So I took a dust-buster spray can and just *carefully* with enough distance away from the diaphragm to not damage it, gave it a couple of quick sprays, and it went away permanently.. Those spray cans are scary since sometimes they do spray out freezing liquid if not done right... so I caution anyone to be very careful when trying this. I didn't have to take anything apart to do this. But hopefully, it will never come to that. In addition, it is easy to see the diaphragm and inspect it. Anyway when I store them, I have a sponge insert that blocks anything from getting in there.. And now I ship the Hive with this insert.

    Hope that helped provide some insight into the design.
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2020
  13. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    They look very interesting. Tempting to get my hands on them later. I found I preferred koss 950 to any stax (and by extension 95x even better). And based on the measurements I can expect a bit better bass response with nectar's offerings.

    Here are what I found Nectar hp and elsewhere. Both measured by Sajeev (qu1en) himself and via minidsp EARS.

    [​IMG]
    source: https://nectarsound.net/elementor-430/

    [​IMG]
    source: https://forum.headphones.com/t/nectar-hive-estat/7713/12

    The bottom graph is particularly for Hive (the upper one is Pollinator's).

    Here are a couple of questions I'd like to ask @qu1en
    1. What compensation curve do you use for headphones measurement? Looking at bass region I'm guessing HPN.. right? If you can share exported fr texts (smoothed or not), I can convert them to sbaf-compensated results that everyone here is more familiar with.
    2. It's not very clear to me whether you can build the amp for the buyer if asked in placing orders. Seems you've done a lot of work in building estat amps (https://nectarsound.net/diy-amplifier/) but not sure if you sell fully-assembled ones for headphones buyers -- of course with extra charges.
    Anyway welcome to sbaf!
     
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  14. dncnexus

    dncnexus Almost "Made"

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    I've asked him about him selling his amp but he doesn't wanna deal with the logistics and legal end of selling amps. Apparently it can get dicey from what he was telling me. I have his amp that he DIYd, in for demo from @qu1en and am writing up a review in comparison to the BH Energizer.

    I was planning on building it myself since it seemed like a fun project and it's good for me to have a SS energizer in for reference. Just a spoiler on my review but the SS amp he designed is quite transparent and neutral.
     
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  15. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    Too bad to hear this. How much is the BH one? I've looked at BH homepage, but couldn't find. Unsure if it's rather a bespoke product..

    Anyway except BH which I don't know yet, estat amps are extremely limited that has bothered me for years both in price and quality, which ultimately made me give up the entire etats.

    600 usd for headphones sound very sane, but when combined with something sold around 1k (the cheapest new offering on the estat amp market for now= stax srm-353x; I don't think I am happy with that price for what it is), total 1.6k don't sound tempting any more. DIY is not for anyone and that's clearly something I'd avoid anytime, too..
     
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  16. dncnexus

    dncnexus Almost "Made"

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    I understand what you mean and think entry into estats is very difficult due to low quantity and price as you said.

    The BH Energizer is $1500 with options for upgrade pot and capacitors which put it at $1650 all in. Not a small sum of money, which is why the $250ish for the DIY amp is pretty alluring. The BH Energizer you need to email them about, they will put it up for sale eventually but it'll never be a kit, only build by them.
     
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  17. Tachikoma

    Tachikoma Facebook Friend

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    Just replacing the coating on a Stax headphone will make it stick too. I don't think the sticking has resulted in any damage though.
     
  18. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Thanks for joining up. I'd have ordered one of the headphones already if I had a decent stat amp handy. Don't increase the price!

    The high-end STAX losing charge is something I've experienced. It tends to be unit dependent with some drivers being more susceptible than others. What I've done to alleviate this is to store the headphones with desiccant. Post warranty service on STAX headphones to replace one STAX driver in the USA costs 90% of a new retail pair. My old SR009 which I had sold off early had a channel just completely die twice (fortunately within the warranty - even then, the USA warranty provider tried to get out of it). The RCA jacks on a SRM323 amp fell off during shipping after I had sold it. I sent it back to USA service, and they charged me still despite it being under warranty.

    So yeah, I would say that STAX has a lot of issues (product, customer support, and distributor support), so much so that I've sworn them off since I live in the USA. STAX has been such a pain that one point, there were no USA distributors (I spoke to one of them and I could tell there were peeved at the lack of manufacturer support). To be fair, some people have obtained stable headphone pairs though and STAX's lower-end Lambda headphones seem almost bulletproof.

    This is why I find your estats exciting; well other than I dislike the voicing of most STAX estats (I prefer the Sennheiser or Koss estat FR).

    One thing to be cautious of is Head-Case. Those guys will buy your stuff, tear it apart, and crap on your headphones if they haven't already. They kind of have their own turf, and anything new that challenges the status quo in their little playground is bad to them.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2020
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  19. qu1en

    qu1en MOT: Nectar Sound

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    I don't use any compensation. Those are just raw measurements.

    Yeah I don't sell amps unfortunately. I just got done building a battery powered transformer output version that performs quite well. Will take more measurements and put some finishing touches on it and probably make a vid on how you can build one on your own. Not having to deal with 120V AC makes it much safer to work with.
     
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  20. qu1en

    qu1en MOT: Nectar Sound

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    Thanks for the heads up. I agree about the generally off putting attitude. I think that everyone has something to contribute and learn no matter how much or little they know.
     
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