RAAL Requisite CA-1a Ribbon Headphone Review

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by purr1n, Dec 26, 2023.

  1. penguins

    penguins Friend, formerly known as fp627

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    After some initial hiccups with a pair of interconnect cables, I have done about an hour of listening tonight.

    Right now it's PC optical out > Yggdrasil A2 bal out > MJ3 (on loan from JK47) > RAAL transformer box and CA-1A. Amp has been warming up for 2+ days.
    Will do pi2aes > Yggdrasil A2 and Spring 2 > MJ3 / Magni Piety > RAAL combo later. Want to see how "sufficient" a small amp like a Piety would be with this.

    Initial listening, I'm also liking it with the thicker semi-open pads, haven't tried the other one. But so far, in this set up at least, CA-1a isn't the super duper resolution master I heard in the SR-1a or even the Utopia. Guessing it's still between top 6 - 9 though in terms of overall ability to resolve though. Not sure how much of this is the MJ3 though - when I had the MJ3 loaner, that was probably one of the few complaints I had about it - good resolution, but not quite in the ballpark of "truly great" resolution. Otherwise, there's something "speaker-like" about the way this headphone presents sound to me despite it being a HP - I like this aspect of it. I will not comment about the other aspects of the sound yet as it's only been an hour.

    Fit and comfort wise - I can actually fit this on my head comfortably at medium headband settings. It's actually a bit too loose using the large settings. The handband doesn't have a lot of clamping force so I actually have to be careful to not shake them off when listening. However, there is one problem with both size settings, which is more pronounced with the medium setting - because there's only a little clamp force and the rest of the weight just hangs down into the headband - this leaves a hot spot of the top of my head after about 20 minutes. Had to take a break, switched to the large, and now have one again after about 35 minutes. While we didn't talk much about the HP during hand-off, of the little we discussed, I think @JK47 had this same problem too and he has a very different sized / shaped head than me (that or it was with the SR-1a). This will most likely be a VERY easy mod (and as easily reversible as putting paper in the cups) or thing to fix though. Don't know for sure until I try it tomorrow though.

    So far, overall, I'm liking it, but just like the SR-1a, I may not be able to do this HP personally long term due to fit / fitment issues that once again isn't just "b/c big head" - I hope this isn't the case.
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2024
  2. penguins

    penguins Friend, formerly known as fp627

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    Didn't get to listen for more than 20 minutes yesterday morning, but got some time in recovering this afternoon and evening. Some equipment notes relating to sound and then some stream of consciousness notes from here and there throughout the day listening.

    Conclusion first because this post is longer than I wanted - I like this a little more than expected. I have enough HP for now... but if one were to stop working and I already had proper amplification, this would be a top 2 or 3 choice as of right now. I would need to play with the headband a bit but it's workable here.

    Thinking back to the last socal meet, if I compare this to stuff there, the CA-1a was not as singularly impressive and "alive" in it's wall of sound as the properly amp'd HFM Susvara, not as "easily flowing" as the ETA "purple" on the Supernaut, not as impactful or "entertaining" as a properly amp'd ZMF Atrium, not an "mood capturing" as the Modi 2 MB with SW51 + JAR Sennheiser. On and on. Several more examples I could list or give. But like I said initially, I like this without really knowing why despite the fact that I can on paper also list many more small flaws. Maybe it's because all of the flaws I perceived were small.

    Thanks again to RAAL and SBAF for making this happen.

    --------------------------------------
    Equipment notes:
    Adapter Sound / Other Gear: With the MJ3, I think I liked the 16ohm input more than the 32ohm input on the included adapter / transformer beyond. Slightly more detail, maybe, but also slightly less blackground. The difference in actual sound was not huge and the biggest difference was a small difference in the volume. I could not find any documentation with regards to any recommendations, so I assume just do what sounds better and is hopefully electrically safe. Don't want to use this with the Piety as ultimately, the Piety just isn't going to deliver the resolution I want here. The CA-1a just isn't comfortable enough even after playing around with the fit that I want to use it for casual listening where I care less about resolution.

    Amp: After trying with a speaker amp briefly, I think a properly setup - don't blow your gear up - speaker amp and pre-amp setup is the way to go there.

    Adapter Selection: I do see on RAAL's site that the TI-1c was meant for SET (tube) amps with Z out 4-8ohm, so it could probably be used with the Stellaris whereas the TI-1b looks like it's more suitable for SS headphone amps with specs similar to the MJ3. However, we got the 1b, so I can't see if I would like the 1c with the Stellaris

    Headphone Fit Modification: this hasn't worked with most suspension type headbands in the past for me, but it works to a degree on the CA-1a. The headphone is big enough on the large strap settings that I have a little slack for this (and since it's just holes in leather, there does seem to be room to go a bit bigger if I punched my own holes) - If I put foam between the leather headband and metal band towards the ends so that it distributes the weight across the top of my head more evenly or in a way I find more comfortable - this headphone is much less uncomfortable. However, all my other HP are more comfortable than this regardless of how I play with the foam / other materials. Headphone is still loose in terms of clamp this way.

    Open vs closed pads: I vastly prefer the open. The closed do have more and slightly better bass, but then everything in the mids and highs sounds like someone put a blanket over it to me. and not just because "more seal better bass" - the whole balance of the HP just sounded off. The first CA-1a I heard when it was debuted had the open pads as well, so I assume this was the "original vision".

    Pad design: Also, this has a very simple pad design which I like. I can see it being very easy to make DIY versions of the pads if they wear out or someone wants to tune the sound. They're literally soft open cell foam stuck onto a thin plastic backing plate with two tabs on the plate that slide into two notches on the HP.

    Paper / Foam: Tried the included paper but prefer open drivers slightly more. [[[edit: just tried the included foam for putting over drivers - I like the foam more than the paper. Very briefly, it takes a little more of the edge off, kills a tiny bit of detail, but makes the overall sound more cohesive than it already is. I can see this HP being 50/50 for me with the foam vs the bare driver.]]] If I get one of these though, I'll probably try some thin sheets of various materials to see what works best for me. Purrin is right though - the sheets do take a little bit of the initial edge off without drastically changing other sound characteristics.
    ----------------------------------------

    Stream of consciousness:

    Most importantly - I can't say exactly why I enjoy this HP, but I enjoy this HP.

    Resolution: I still like this HP with the MJ3 but it I think it does hold the HP back a little bit in resolution, which I mention above. Unfortunately I can't test more as my speaker amp is overall less resolving than the MJ3 (use the amp b/c good deal + good synergy with speakers). Either way, it's already resolving enough for me to be what I call in the "fun zone". If MJ3 = topped out resolution for this HP, then I would say resolution could be a little better for the price, but it's still acceptable.

    Liveliness: The extra juice of the speaker amps did make this whole HP feel more alive though. Similar difference in sound as when you go from "sufficient" headroom and amplification on an amp to "way more than enough" amplification. I don't know if this can scale as much with amplification like the SR1a can, but it did scale here.

    FR - there are a few dips that I heard but they're integrated well enough that I couldn't listen for a little bit and say "they're between X and Y". Unlike some other headphones were it's easy or easier to do this. I knew the highs were cut off maybe above 15-16k (last time I informally checked I can still hear somewhere between 18-20k) as cymbals and other instruments with energy in the highs had their "sizzle" removed, "air" was lacking in some tracks here and there, a little bit of color was missing in instruments that have energy in the highs. It's more obvious than some other headphones with a dip somewhere above 15k-ish. In particular, this actually made a few Native American flute recordings I like (sorry, I don't know the names of the specific flutes used) less "piercing" after a longer listen but with a Duduk (Armenian apricot wood woodwind), violin, and piano / harp / organ, the color was missing a bit in the upper keys / strings. After looking at CSD plots, it "makes sense" that there's a big dip between 2-4k and a smaller dip around 8k - but again, it wasn't glaringly obvious. Anyways, FR and CSD are already posted, so I won't go on about this. Decay was also clean enough as the CSD indicates.

    Bass - quality is good, quantity within the range the range of good for my tastes (obviously more subjective), but doesn't reach down super deep, a little more slam than heft (I normally prefer a little more heft than slam).

    Mids and Highs - same thing - quality is good, but the dip in the FR is noticeable.

    Sounds somewhat dark tilted to me with the dips that it has, but is not in the category of "obviously dark sounding". Not warm and thick sounding though.

    Not fatiguing in any way.

    Layering is very distinct and clear / clean without being disjointed at all. Was better with more amplification. It's also really easy to inadvertently pick out any particular instrument even in busy music. Better than the Utopia at times for me. Maybe because of the FR dips (some stuff becomes easier to hear), maybe just the way the HP is, maybe the fit or the pads or this is just a characteristic of ribbon transducers in general - not sure.

    Staging is more speaker like. I suspect I would like it even more with thicker pads - when I pushed the hp closer to my head, the staging became worse. I liked some aspects of the sound when I pulled the HP slightly away from my head, but obviously other aspects got messed up when the seal broke by that much more.

    Positioning is also better than I expected. I could almost pinpoint instruments on a stage. Not sure if this would be even better with slightly thicker pads though.

    Transients are very clean without being sharp or "fast sounding". Decay seems to be cleaner / faster than most dynamics without sounding somewhat unnatural like some electrostatics I've heard.

    Tone and timbre (two different things to me) - you can hear the dips in the FR, but the tone and timbre themselves don't sound messed up if this makes sense.

    There is, for me, a good amount of "presence" to the notes. I guess maybe the other word is tactility. Not too much to become fatiguing or annoying, not too little to sound thin. And it's different from dynamics drivers or planars. Also a good balance in that it's not overly grainy (sometimes dynamics for me) or plasticky (oftentimes planars for me).

    Microdynamics are OK, but I can't say for sure if they're being held back by the amp. Macro is not as strong as most properly amp'd dynamics, but again, maybe this would be different if I were using something closer to a speaker amp.

    PRaT is fine, beats Senn 600 series and mods. Doesn't capture the "mood" of the top 10% (being maximum energy / emotions / whatever) and the bottom 10% (melancholy, sadness, dark, etc.) of music though.
    ---------------------------------
    edits: inserted more info above as I listened a little more today.
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2024
  3. miter53

    miter53 Friend

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    I enjoyed my time with the CA-1a. After a hiccup with no longer having a XLR out amp, @rhythmdevils generously loaned me his WA-33, a beast of an amp, which worked famously. The chain was Roon>Metrum Ambre>Sonnet Morpheus>WA-33. I found the RAALs very resolving with a huge headstage, and bordering on too bright for my tastes, although not harsh at all. Adding the foam filter pads to the split pads took a bit of the edge off, and was my preferred setup. The continuous foam pads also tempered the high end a bit, but I found they made the bass a bit flabby sounding. I was pleasantly surprised by the quantity and quality of the bass response. My only previous experience with RAAL headphones was a brief listen to the SR-1a, which I found somewhat lacking in bass.

    Some comparisons:

    CA-1a vs Tungsten - Remarkably similar sounding to me, with the CA-1a being a little more resolving with a bit bigger stage, and the Tungstens a little sweeter sounding. Of course, the Woo amp had no problem driving the Tungstens.

    CA-1a vs Verite Closed - Like comparing apples and oranges. They both sounded wonderful to me on the WA-33, but they come from completely different places.

    CA-1a vs Auteur Classic - The RAALs are in another league when it comes to resolution, transparency, and headstage. The ACs might be a little more fun, and a better long term listen for me, with my sensitivity to overly bright and analytical headphones.

    Thanks for setting this loaner up! These are excellent headphones that are a little different from much of what's out there. Definitely a worthwhile listen.
     
  4. penguins

    penguins Friend, formerly known as fp627

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    During my loaner with the Morpheus it sounded really thick but very resolving to me. Sounds like this synergized at least somewhat with the CA-1a?
     
  5. miter53

    miter53 Friend

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    There was nothing I would describe as thick with the Ambre+Morpheus+WA33+CA-1a combo. However, I could say the same about my usual chain of Ambre+Morpheus+DIY Aegis+Tungsten. I do connect the Ambre to the Morpheus with I2S, which I find is slightly more nimble than AES or RCA
     
  6. loadexfa

    loadexfa MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    Loaner Impressions
    I stuck with the smoothest option (thicker pads, black filter) due to my tendency towards sensitivity issues. I found these comfortable and reasonably light.

    Chain:
    Roon->Metrum Ambre->SFD-2 MK II->Stratus V3

    Vs Auteur
    • Both strike me as going for "neutral" tuning
    • Ca-1a has sharper transients, more resolution, and is faster
    • Auteur is more cozy, a bit more boomy, and smoother. Worth noting the Auteur is my favorite ZMF, I've heard them all and still prefer the Auteur.
    Vs HD 800
    • Ca-1a has surprisingly good classical tuning, I preferred it over the HD 800 which is a first for me
    • Ca-1a has a fuller sound and the staging is good even in comparison to the HD 800's massive stage
    I intentionally omitted more opinions to prevent any conflicts of interest.
     

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