SPL PHONITOR X & E

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

  1. Luckbad

    Luckbad Traded in a unicorn for a Corolla

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    I have an SPL Phonitor XE in the house for review. I've spent a couple of days with it thus far. I wanted to hear what a professional quality high(ish) end solid state amplifier sounded like.

    First impressions:

    This is the best string bite I’ve heard from a solid state amplifier. That tends to be a big killer for me; either it’s too subdued, or it’s artificially enhanced.

    Violins and cellos sound great.

    Future reference for my comments:

    Optimized PC -> Sonnet Allegro Pro USB card -> RME ADI-2 DAC -> SPL Phonitor XE -> Sennheiser HD650 w/ PRT and a few mods

    Cables are customs that I made, but not with anything particularly exotic.

    Power is cleaned up by an Emotiva CMX-6 for all of my audio devices and PC.

    I have other headphones and DACs I’ll check it with for review purposes, but that’ll be almost all of my listening right there.

    Day 2

    This is an outstandingly clean amplifier. Excellent blackground, tremendously capable with large power swings, and exceedingly neutral.

    It’s not explicitly dry or lifeless like some amps described like the above tend to be.

    The biggest drawback I’ve heard so far is with plucked strings. While bowed strings sound outstanding with a visceral bite to them, plucked strings seem to lack a certain sparkle and shimmer I expect from them. Perhaps the decay is faster than I’d expect? It’s hard to pinpoint at the moment, but I prefer the sound of acoustic guitar (one of my most frequent listens) from the Garage1217 Project Sunrise III, for example.

    IMG_20190301_105944.jpg

    Time to put my above thoughts to the test. I'm comparing the Phonitor XE by itself against the Garage1217 Project Sunrise III as a preamplifier.

    Those VU Meters really come in handy for auditory comparisons. I engaged DIP Switch 2 to push the RCA inputs to studio levels and connected the RME to the Phonitor via XLR and to the Sunrise via RCA (then the Sunrise to the Phonitor via RCA as well). I’m reversing phase with the RME on the right channel (then it reverses again at the XLR on my headphones).

    On the Garage1217 Project Sunrise III, the following setup was used:
    • Input capacitors are bypassed
    • Attenuation module is bypassed
    • Electro-Harmonix 12BH7 gold pin (new production)
    • For this first test, I’m not using a linear power supply or @atomicbob Noise Nuke (both of which will improve it sonically)
    Levels were matched precisely with a sine wave sweep. I first biased the tube in the Sunrise with a multimeter, then matched volume on the right channel to the point that the needle didn’t move on the VU meter when swapping between XLR/RCA, then biased the other tube channel to make the other side’s needle not move. That led to an almost 0.5V difference in the left channel’s bias from the norm, but the volume was right at that point.

    I vastly prefer the sound of plucked strings using the Sunrise as a preamp. Soundstage depth is notably deeper as well, and bass impact is more pronounced. My favorite acoustic guitar album is Tommy Emmanuel - Live! at the Ryman if you want to go apples to apples with a similar comparison.

    The RCA cables are better than the XLR, so that might make a small difference. The XLR are Mogami W2534 Neglex with Neutrik NC3MXX (and F) connectors. The RCA are made with Gotham GAC-1UltraPro cable with KLE Copper Harmony connectors.

    Later today or this weekend, I’ll do the same comparison with an LPSU and/or Noise Nuke and a nicer NOS tube.

    Edit 1: I double-checked the levels on the VU meters again in case there was some drift in tube bias (there wasn't--the amp has been on for hours).

    Then I recruited my wife to switch the XLR/RCA while listening.

    It's 100% clear which is which. The Phonitor XE alone is thicker sounding overall with a slightly compacted stage depth (the front stage is at roughly the same spot, but it doesn't pull as far back... if that makes sense) when compared to the Sunrise preamp. I could tell with 100% accuracy which was which.

    However, I was far less confident in which was preferable. I said I vastly preferred plucked strings with the Sunrise used as a preamp, but that gulf isn't nearly as wide as yielded by my sighted impressions.

    Before I knew which was which, I liked the Phonitor better for one song and the Sunrise better for another, despite being confident that I was choosing a different input for each.

    Ah, the joy of audio testing.

    I've not yet gone deep into looking for micro stuff yet. My guess is that some of that is lost by using the Sunrise preamp, but we'll see.
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2019
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  2. earnmyturns

    earnmyturns Smartest friend

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    Just been listening to my new XE:

    Metrum Onyx>XLR>Phonitor XE>single-ended>MrSpeakers Ether C Flow 1.1

    A recent Indian-inflected jazz album, Rajna Swaminathan's Of Agency And Abstraction with both plucked and bowed strings, digital download 24/96 FLAC. Maybe it's the NOS DAC, but the plucked strings (Miles Okazaki's guitar and Stephan Crump's bass) have the edge, harmonic richness, and weight that I expected (I've heard a lot of music from those two, both recorded and live). And Rajna Swaminathan's mrudangam has an incredible density, fast leading edge, and overtone detail. Anyway, this amp has brought me back (at least for now) to solid-state from quite a detour with tubes. Of course I could eventually escalate with a major tube upgrade...
     
  3. Luckbad

    Luckbad Traded in a unicorn for a Corolla

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    Since this is audiophilia, I hyperbolize a bit when describing the character and attributes of gear.

    It does an excellent job--better than any solid state I've spent time with. When compared to a great tube or tube hybrid amp, the Phonitor XE has a slight roundness to the leading edge transients.

    It might be more accurate to the source, all told.
     
  4. Luckbad

    Luckbad Traded in a unicorn for a Corolla

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  5. earnmyturns

    earnmyturns Smartest friend

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    Thank you for writing my impressions much better than I could ;) I agree that if I want clear truth, I go to my XE, but for a slight romantic angle for solo and small ensemble work, I use my Apex Peak.
     
  6. Scubadude

    Scubadude Almost "Made"

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    Thank you @Luckbad. With the exception of working well with IEM's your impressions apply perfectly to the original 2730 model. As I read your impressions I understand so well the picture you are painting. Your assertion that it may relate to the 120V power rail system is probably right.
     
  7. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    I like your honesty... although you maybe exaggerate?

    That's two very classy and desirable pieces of gear that I see in that photo: the RME and the SPL (A couple of great TLAs!). Both have been fantasy fuellers. Turns out that the RME/HD800 combination does not suit my particular ears (which are bad, so that's likely a just-me) but the SPL is not ruled out --- except financially, as hifi is off the priority list these days.

    But always nice to see :)
     
  8. Luckbad

    Luckbad Traded in a unicorn for a Corolla

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    What don't you like about the RME with the HD800? The main weaknesses of the RME's headphone output are some dynamic compression and a bit of rounding off of transients. Otherwise, it just sounds like whichever digital filter you're using (I either use Sharp or Slow, while default is SD Sharp).

    The Phonitor isn't going to change the sound of the RME, it just eliminates the weaknesses.
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2019
  9. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    It just seemed too much high frequency. Almost a little shrill. Or perhaps not enough bass. It was a couple of years ago now, and I can't remember better than that. But take my opinion with a pinch of salt: my hearing really is poor now, although it is is high-frequency stuff that I usually can't hear.
    My experience of the two boxes was not together. I do not remember what DAC the Phonitor was connected too, and I'm not even absolutely certain what 'phones I used, but I enjoyed it and I enjoyed twiddling its knobs. It actually came close to being a piece of extravagance for me a few years back. It is a very clever box, but all that crossfeed stuff is probably less entertaining after a a few weeks. I guess that, by then, you know the settings you like and just get back to listening to the music.
     
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  10. Hrodulf

    Hrodulf Prohibited from acting as an MOT until year 2050

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    Just got into touch with SPL regarding the Phonitor amp topologies.

    The unbalanced part between Phonitor X and 2 is the same. Phonitor X has balanced circuitry inside, whilst Phonitor 2 is SE (evident by the potentiometer). So Phonitor 2 seems to be a good deal for 700-800EUR.
     
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  11. Koth Ganesh

    Koth Ganesh Friend

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    @Thad E Ginathom, you were listening to the RME with the 800 through the headphone amp out and you liked it (at that time). You listened to the Phonitor 2 with the Convert 2. I do not remember you bringing the 800 but you were listening to the Utopia.
     
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  12. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    That's nice to get confirmation, as previous messages with SPL seems to have garnered mixed statements.

    Does the X have a 4-gang pot?
     
  13. Hrodulf

    Hrodulf Prohibited from acting as an MOT until year 2050

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    You are right, it seems to have a stereo pot. The same motorized one that's in the Pho 2.

    PHONITOR X

    [​IMG]

    PHONITOR 2

    [​IMG]

    The X seems to have at least some of its circuitry balanced, as it has more of double version discrete opamps.
     
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  14. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    @Hrodulf
    I'm assuming all those vertically mounted boards are their discrete modules? (which would make sense if they're running at 120V)

    I'd be curious to see a circuit line diagram and where it converts between single/balanced.
     
  15. elwappo99

    elwappo99 Friend

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    FWIW, this is the email I received from SPL when I inquired:

    "About the amplifier, the symmetrical Headphone amplifier is a Bridged Amplifier, that means the Signal comes in the Phonitor symmetrical and goes through the Symmetrical reciever on his Output the Signal is unsymmetrical, goes through all the Stages Matrix, Volume control, gain stage then into the headphone Amplifier.
    Also it would be possible to build the Amplifier completly Symmetrical but all components has to be there in double quantity. And we had to use a double stereo Potentiometer for the Volume control, what looks very easy but it has to been a Pot which is matched on all 4 four channels better then 1% in his resistens to keep the symmetric to the Signal. Also the components of the Matrix has to been completly matched to same values.
    Would we do that the Amplifier cost arround 10000$ per peace.

    About the Outputpower of both Outputs, the symmetrical output is able to deliver the double power like the unsymmetrical but it is restricted by the Powersupply Transformer, we do a lot of test hearings with multiple kinds of headphones and in the most times they didn´t need more then 2 Watt´s so we decided to use the same transformer like the other Phonitors. But in the Phonitor X and E we upgraded the capacitors for the Powersupply five times higher, to give the Output more power for short impulses. "
     
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  16. Hrodulf

    Hrodulf Prohibited from acting as an MOT until year 2050

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    It would make sense to sum the signal to SE before the potentiometer and the x-feed matrix. Otherwise you'd need a 4-ganger and double up on all matched passive elements for the matrix. The latter would be a nightmare.
     
  17. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    I should have been more specific... So right at the tail end before it goes into the amp section, I'm wondering if it goes through a phase splitter or if the amp channels are inverting and one of them simply taps off the other.

    (I don't believe one way is necessarily better than the other, I'm just curious which method they employ, or something else)
     
  18. Luckbad

    Luckbad Traded in a unicorn for a Corolla

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    The RME ADI-2 Pro FS → SPL Phonitor XE combination has an enthralling cleanliness to it. I'll stay here for at least a few more months (been here for 4.5 months already apart from the ADI-2 DAC being upgraded to the Pro FS--that's a real rarity for me).

    IMG_20190717_222746.jpg
     
  19. Claud

    Claud Almost "Made"

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    I had one of those THX AAA 789 amps on preorder. Have been reading about HD 800 suitable amps for days. I liked what I read about Phonitor E , then I found a refurbished E on Amazon on offer from a SPL dealer. I like refurbed items since the factory has gone through it again. Price was nice at less than $1200. I will keep my Cavalli LC v2 since I love its colored sound signature and at 71, my ears ain't getting any better. DAC upgrade is a 2020 item. Thinking Matrix.
     
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  20. msommers

    msommers High on Epipens

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    When you have the items and can provide some feedback, please do. Until then...
     

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