SPL PHONITOR X & E

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by gbeast, Dec 24, 2016.

  1. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

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    SPL Phonitor x - Review

    Introduction

    This will be a summary or TL;DR; version of my full review. - if you want more information then I have a much more comprehensive and detailed full review posted on the main headphone.com site. That “full” review includes more detailed impressions on how the unit sounds, it’s features and how they work (in particular the “Matrix” feature), coverage of the optional DAC module and some thoughts on how it works with other gear.

    The unit I am reviewing is on kind loan from “Headphone.com” for audition/review purposes.

    --


    The “SPL Phonitor x” is a premium, feature-rich, headphone amplifier and pre-amp, billed as having features and performance that lend it equal facility in professional/studio settings as well as in the role of an audiophile headphone system.


    [​IMG]

    The unit provides both balanced and single-ended source inputs and headphone outputs. A configurable cross-feed/speaker simulation “Matrix” feature, a granular balance/stereo/mono control, VU meters with configurable sensitivity and enough power to drive almost any headphone with power to spare.

    Options

    In addition to “classic black”, the Phonitor x can also be had (along with the rest of the matching line of SPL components), in two additional colors … a classy looking silver and, perhaps my (guilty) favorite, a metallic red finish.

    Three Colors (1024).png

    An optional DAC module, the “DAC192” can be added to the unit (at time of purchase) for all-in-one operation. The unit I am reviewing is equipped with this module, details and impressions for which are contained in the full review.

    Build

    The Phonitor x has a very solid feel to it; all of the switchgear is wonderfully tactile and engages firmly and positively with a satisfyingly solid “thunk”. The large, central, illuminated volume dial is buttery-smooth. All sockets mate solidly with both input and headphone connectors. Labels are clear and concise, with the functions they indicate being entirely unambiguous. The overall impression is that this is a very high-quality and entirely “premium” device.

    Sound

    The $2,499 question is, of course, “How does the SPL Phonitor x sound?”

    In a word … fantastic!

    For a start it is clearly both an entirely neutral and highly transparent performer. Using a variety of sources and headphones there’s no tonal shift beyond what those components impart by themselves.

    How transparent?

    Much of my listening was performed using a Chord DAVE DAC as the source. The Phonitor x is the only solid-state amplifier I’ve paired with/compared to DAVE that does NOT result in a noticeable loss in transparency or resolution.

    It covers up nothing, makes excuses for nothing, and lets the source show its true colors without omission or editorialization.

    It is, for all intents and purposes, the proverbial “wire with gain”.

    Lots of gain, if you want it …

    There is an addictive sense of lurking power, absolutely effortless delivery and this is accompanied by an impression of “scale” to music that I’m not used to outside of either very-capable speaker systems or state-of-the-art tube-based headphone rigs.

    Huge dynamic swings in the most powerful musical performances don’t even begin to phase this thing, while micro-dynamic nuances are fully resolved, even when they’re occurring together.

    Transient response, perhaps mostly subtly exemplified by plucked strings and most vividly by rapid-fire electronic percussion is, to say the least, first class. Paired with Focal Utopia, HD800S or Abyss AB-1266 Phi, transients are lightning fast, and that remains the case with somewhat more laid back cans like the Audeze LCD-4.

    Listening to one of my favorite instruments, the piano, both from commercial and my own recordings (of my own instrument), illustrates a pure, unwavering tonality. No emphasis, no bias, just a pure and honest reproduction of what the unit is being fed.

    Treble is delightfully smooth, but without any loss of detail and maintains an excellent sense of air, space and, where called for, delivers any sparkle present in the source material - with no rough spots nor glare at all.

    Bass is reproduced with excellent drive, slam and control and yet retains its texture. Tunes played in the lowest bass registers are ably communicated. Some of this is no doubt due to the significant available power, combined with larger than typical voltage drive.

    Both upper and lower registers blend perfectly, seamlessly, into a fully detailed and present midrange. Once again I was struck by how transparent the performance of the Phonitor x was, even compared to the direct outputs of the DACs I’ve been feeding it with.

    Detail and resolution are superlative; where brush strokes on cymbals or drum-skins are so well rendered that you can hear when the wire bundle is split or part of it clips the rim of the drum head. The inadvertent twisting of a bow as a violinist seems to shift the hold mid-note, minor utterances, odd, tiny, shifts in a vocalist’s tone, changes in the depth and pace of the artists breathing, environmental noises (chairs moving, pages turning in music, other sounds common to live recordings) are all clearly audible(fn).

    Complex layering is easy to hear through and excellent separation make focusing on a given instrument, or voice, amazingly easy … either spatially (especially with the right headphones and the “Matrix” function in play) or by being able to isolate that one performer/instrument via its sound and how it is being played. If you want to pick a mix apart, or focus on part of an orchestra, the Phonitor x is an excellent tool.

    Overall, music is portrayed with a distinct sense of “substance” and notes carry an interesting feeling of “weight”, despite the result never feeling anything other than realistic, natural and transparent.

    This is set against a dead-silent, carbon-black, background. At no point, in normal operation, was the background anything other than completely silent. And it is, perhaps, in part due to the absolute void against which the music is delivered that results in the presentation being one of absolute clarity and vividity.

    Summary
    Simply put, the SPL Phonitor x is the best sounding solid-state headphone amplifier I’ve heard.

    It maintains a neutral, accurate, extremely transparent rendering while providing ample drive to the most demanding headphones I own. It yields a huge sense of scale and power with effortless delivery, has excellent tonality AND tonal weight, transient response is superb and it plies it’s trade against a dead-silent, void-black, background.

    Its features, and sonic performance, make it easy to integrate into studio scenarios and still able to satisfy audiophile sensibilities.

    The optional DAC module is a useful convenience feature, but I’d reserve it’s use for monitoring purposes - when listening for pleasure I would be looking elsewhere for a source.

    If you’re looking at high-end headphone amplification, then the SPL Phonitor x really deserves to be on your audition list.

    I am sufficiently enamored with the Phonitor x that I have decided to buy one; which is the highest recommendation I can give any component. It'll replace the iFi Pro iCAN that I was previously using for solid-state duties in my primary rig.
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2018
  2. knackedupdude

    knackedupdude Rando

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    Is there any sonical difference between the X and the 2?
     
  3. pavi

    pavi Almost "Made"

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    brilliant review, as always, @Torq.

    typo alert: in your full review on headphone.com, there's a typo (nothing instead of noting) that (perhaps) inverts your intended meaning: "For purists, it is worth nothing that a) you can completely disable this feature..."
     
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  4. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

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    I haven't heard the Phonitor 2, so I don't know.

    I'm inclined to think that the fundamental amplifier circuits in the Phonitor 2, x, and the upcoming "xe" are essentially the same, but that's just a guess. There could be parts tweaks, changes in board layouts/routing, and they have different features sets/biases so it's possible there are difference in the sound. I'd expect with all the features disabled they're probably indistinguishable in most cases, but again ... that's just speculation.
     
  5. knackedupdude

    knackedupdude Rando

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    Alright. Its just that I found a deal in which the guy was selling a Phonitor 2 with exp rack for $1350, and I was wondering if the Phonitor 2 would sound way too different from the X. I doubt I'll be able to demo an X, only the 2, but oh well, worth a shot for me I guess.
     
  6. Thenewerguy009

    Thenewerguy009 Friend

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    Wasn't the Phonitor 2 the older model that everyone hated?
     
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  7. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

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    I thought that was the "Phonitor Mini" (which I've also not heard, so I have no opinion on it either way).

    There's a plain Phonitor 2, here, for $900.

    Still can't do more than speculate about how it sounds.
     
  8. Riotvan

    Riotvan Got lost for three weeks at Delft City Hall

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    Regardless of performance, the risk of damaging the amp by unplugging headphones without turning down the volume is a major strike against the amp imo. Maybe it has something to do with the high voltage rail or whatever. I'm a one headphone kinda guy so it usually stays plugged in, i just know I would forget it the one time i do unplug.

    Fucking love those meters though.
     
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  9. Dotard

    Dotard Acquaintance

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    I thought it was a pretty common warning for amplifier makers to say that you shouldn't plug/unplug headphones while it's on - especially tube amplifiers. Something to do with the sudden short circuit putting stress on the electronics. I know I've seen similar warnings across Beyerdynamic and Cayin amplifiers over the years.

    In any case, I might chalk up that particular warning to typical German over-engineering.
     
  10. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

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    I think the problem is that the warning isn't obvious, nor emphatic, enough ... and that the amp really can go "poof" if the TRS output gets shorted when inserting/removing the headphone jack and something is playing with the volume set to a high-level.
     
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  11. sacredgates

    sacredgates Audio-Technica's high priest

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    SPL decided to enter the market for the home user a while ago and adapted the Phonitor 2 into the X.
    Phonitor 2 and Phonitor X should sound pretty much the same. The matrix crossfeed functions and controls in the X are set up for the home user. There are a bit more crossfeed possibilities with the Phonitor 2, which are in the first place intended for people mixing music, but basically you should be able to get the same results as with the X. The X has a balanced headphone out, but just as a convenience (the amplifier is not balanced). Both can be used as a preamp, but the 2 cannot be ordered with a dac module. The 2 is cheaper and can be found second hand quite often for good prices. The SPL mini is a completely different animal and is not worth considering. It does not have the transparency or other qualities of the 2 and X at all.
     
  12. elwappo99

    elwappo99 Friend

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    I haven't looked at at the phonitor line much since I sold the mini I had so I'm not up to date at all the new line. Are you sure it's not balanced? I thought the 'X' and 'E' were balanced. From their description:

    "Phonitor x has an advanced dual power amp built-in that drives headphones balanced which twice the power of the standard 1/4" jack."
     
  13. Dotard

    Dotard Acquaintance

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    Not to derail the thread too much, but I had to re-read the manual and the warning comes across exactly how I suspected - that if you unplug the headphones while the volume is up, you are putting stress on the circuit due to the sudden short, and can potentially reduce the lifetime of the amplifier due to this stress.

    I believe the same effects are pretty common in many amplifiers, such that unplugging devices can put the same stress on the components due to the sudden short, and will marginally decrease the lifespan of the components.

    Has there been a documented case of a SPL Phonitor going "poof" due to simply unplugging headphones? A cursory google search comes up with only happy customers. At first glance this appears to be a couple people taking a few innocuous lines in the instruction manual to extremes.
     
  14. Erikdayo

    Erikdayo Friend

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    It happened to @gbeast. I remember reading about it in his review thread over on HF.

    Edit: It was posted about on here too.

     
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  15. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

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    The first report I know of is actually earlier in this thread. And then it's mentioned, explicitly, in @gbeast's review here.

    While, personally, I always mute/drop the volume to change headphones, failing to do so doesn't usually let the magic-smoke out. If the unit was specifically protected against such shorts then I doubt the manual would mention it.

    Much of this will depend on your specific TRS connector. Some are more prone to causing shorts than others (due to slightly different "ring" widths). I use XLR whenever possible as it completely eliminates this issue.

    Either way, I would get into the habit of engaging the "mute" switch on a SPL amp prior to changing/plugging/unplugging headphones.
     
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  16. Dotard

    Dotard Acquaintance

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    Thanks guys. That certainly gives me pause and I will be more careful with the amp in the future. Pops and smell of copper burning seem to be far outside the scope of what the warning in the manual alluded too.
     
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  17. sacredgates

    sacredgates Audio-Technica's high priest

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    I contacted one of the SPL staff members specifically about this (see my post in this thread one page back from Jan. 30 2017): amp is not balanced...
     
  18. elwappo99

    elwappo99 Friend

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    Gah! I must have skipped over that post. Sorry and thanks for pointing it out!

    It's pretty confusing the way they are wording this. How can it double the output power using the 4pin XLR vs the 1/4" TRS if they have the same circuit?


    upload_2018-7-29_13-33-18.png
     
  19. knackedupdude

    knackedupdude Rando

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    Well, I don't wanna deal with the shipping and taxes BS. The Phonitor 2 deal I found was local. I guess I'll demo it first.
     
  20. damaged-goods

    damaged-goods Acquaintance

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    @Torq
    Thanks for the excellent review. If you happen to have experience with the Violectric V281 could you please post some comments how these compare?
     

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