the AudioKey REVIEWS! Magazine - MARCH 2024 - ISSUE 15

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MARCH 2024 I15
Last Platform You’ll Ever Need

Music is art, art is music.

Wassily Kandinsky - Murnau. Two Houses, 1908
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MUSIC Copyright AudioKeyReviews 2024














Front Inside Cover: Paul Cezanne, Still Life with Ginger Jar, Fruit

Back Inside Cover: Claude Monet, Normandy Farm Under the Trees

The Other Art. It is my belief that the artist and the musician are not only creatives, but they access heart and soul and experience, perhaps, in the selfsame ways. My own love for art and music are inseparable. And so art, music, and those things which facilitate the music shall share theses pages.


LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - SEND HERE Copyright AudioKeyReviews 2024
62 38
Claude Monet - Poppies at Giverny, 1887


Welcome to another issue of AudioKeyREVIEWS! Magazine.

It has been quite the ride as we rose to 22 million views in 2022 and 25 million views in 2023. What 2024 holds is truly anyone’s guess, though we will be pushing mightily for even more views and more exposure than we received last year in the US, Canada, and the world at large.

In this issue, we review products both new and established, regardless of how long they have been on the market; good or even great products from manufacturers who hold to high fidelity and musicality first and foremost. Further, there may well be a generation or two not familiar with a long-ago reviewed product, which may turn out to be beautifully synergistic with their musical and high fidelity needs.

And we continue along our course with regard to publishing reviews of good to exceptional products that speak to the best in high fidelity, while sending lesser products back to their manufacturers unreviewed and thereafter unmentioned, as there is no reason to write a bad review.

In the US issue of AudioKeyREVIEWS! our illustrious editor Raine Jordan travels to Bar Shuri, the first HiFi Bar in the San Francisco Bay Area. And in the Canadian issue, Kathe Lieber writes about Joni Mitchell and her incredible career.




K. E. Heartsong

Managing Editor

Dr. Irina Kuzminsky

Senior Editor(s)

Andre Marc

Oliver Masciarotte Columnists

Dr. Irina Kuzminsky

Rain Jordan

Music Reviewers (Video/Written)

Dr. Irina Kuzminsky Photographer

K. E. Heartsong

Graphic Design

Wabi Sabi Design Group

Mark Rothko - Untitled, 1955

Preternatural ability to play all genres of music, including choral and live music, with exceptional technical prowess and outstanding musicality. A giant stalker and eliminator of the first order.

—K.E. Heartsong, AudioKeyReviews

They never failed to please, with any musical source at any reasonable listening level. (Perhaps they really are Shmoos!).

—Kalman Robinson, Stereophile

I found the VIVID Audio KAYA 45 speakers to be the most transparent and musical speakers I have reviewed in my more than 10 years of professional reviewing experience.

—Jim Clements, Home Theater High Fidelity

Contact us for your local dealer.


One of the Best Products of the Year and One of the Most Affordable!




Ideon Audio is one of those brands that have been on our list to audition, based on word of mouth buzz and numerous positive reviews of their bespoke products. The company is based in Athens, Greece, and focuses on digital audio exclusively. They

can””, To achieve this they employ fully linear and low noise power supplies, with critical circuits getting dedicated lines. Also employed is obsessive signal re-clocking, at several stages, They also believe in isolated inputs and outputs, as mentioned, selecting

manufacturing philosophies with regards to digital audio. First, they say they choose the best components possible, without compromise. Second, they use in house designs, and avoid off the shelf solutions. And lastly, they believe in rigorous testing and hand assembly.

All this is to serve their stated goal is to make digital music files “as good as they

Star USB clock. In simplest terms, it is a USB re-clocker that is situated between your source, and DAC. It passes on all digital formats, including DSD. The end result theoretically is far lower noise and higher precision, which has a direct impact on the sound of digital music. The Black Star retails for $3900
Wassily Kandinsky - Light, 1930

The unit is about the size of most audiophile grade DAC units. It comes equipped with an aluminum faceplate, IEC

modular designs, which makes product updates easy.


Eliminating the 5V current if not needed can only improve things.

The “3R” denotes that Ideon “re-clocks, re-generates, and re-drives” the USB signal. This is done with ultra-low jitter femto clocks and very low noise oscillators . Ideon emphasizes their custom power supplies as one of their secret weapons. There are subtle LED lights on the front panel that provide power status, as well and also note “Lock” and “Host” to let the listener know all systems are a go. Lastly, Ideon believes in upgradable,

Allnic M-3000 MK 3 monoblock amps, the Rogue RP-7 preamp, Boebicke W11 speakers, and Clarus cabling throughout. Our audio networking and playback software is Roon. We must note that we have used numerous USB isolation devices and purifiers over the years, with our current choice being the Intona USB Hi-speed isolator. We have varying degrees of improvements with most of the USB enhancement devices we have tried. Some offered no discernible difference,


and others, like the Intona, provide a subtle but clear improvement.

What followed, once the Black Star was installed, was perhaps the most profound result we have encountered in many years of reviewing. From the get go, music that we had been streaming from our NAS in the prior weeks showed the biggest positive transformation we have experienced with digital audio. To be perfectly honest, we were not expecting this. The reasonable expectation was a slightly more refined sound, and perhaps less digital grit.

However, what we heard was such a vastly improved listening experience, there was some disbelief at first. The first album we streamed was the debut from one of our favorite British bands, Kula Shaker, K. The 96 Khz remaster is an improvement over the CD, and smartly, the dynamic range was not highly compressed. Before the Black Star, the music on this album sounded smooth, a bit peaky in the treble, but a bit flat overall. Listening to the same album with the Ideon in place brought a three dimensional, holographic presence that was simply absent before.

To be quite honest, we even questioned our selves and wondered if we were imagining this improvement. But as we listened to more and more music that we were intimately familiar with, it became clear

this was no sonic illusion. We lost all track of time when listening to The Calling, an album by Irish vocalist Meav.

Her voice is a thing of wonder, and the chosen repertoire was a perfect match for her. On tracks like “Light Flight”, “Glimmering Girl”, and “Sovay”, she is accompanied by violins, flutes, acoustic bass, harp, and mandolin.. Meav and her accompanists even breathe new life into tried and true songs like “Wayfaring Stranger’ and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” The Black Star elevated this superb recording to another level, accenting the romance and overall longing in the performances. We just felt more connected to the music.

We went to cycle through most of the high rez Bad Company catalog, music that we have been using in recent reviews. One that we particularly enjoy is the Deluxe remaster of Straight Shooter, from 1975. On most of the album Paul Rodgers voice sits on a bed of lush acoustic and electric guitars, piano, propelled forward by the powerful drumming of Simon Kirke. What we found most astonishing is hearing new mix details with the Black Star in the loop. In particular, reverb tails, subtle drum fills, and vocal harmonies were so much more prominent. They did not sound apart from the total sound picture, quite the contrary, they were part of the whole fabric.


The same applies to the album that followed, Run With The Pack, from 1976, The title track had us awe struck. It features a prominent piano part played by Rodgers along with orchestration during the climax. The overall drama and emotion that the band brought to this recording comes through in spades with the Back Star, with everything sounding more coherent and impactful . To our ears, it made this 24 bit remaster sound much closer to the original vinyl release. A win!

An album we long hoped would be remastered is All That You Can’t Leave Behind by U2. It finally saw a 96 Khz release a few years ago and the result is a far better listen than the original CD. We are intimately familiar with this album, having heard it in every conceivable environment, as well as hearing most of the tracks live at concerts.

Larry Mullen’s crafty bass drum work so distinctly.

The last album we streamed, as saw it only fitting, was the very last album the late, great David Bowie released, Blackstar. It is a better sounding recording than his previous

effort, which came after quite a long absence from the music world, The Next Day. It was made while Bowie knew he was terminally ill, and it is majestic in scope and execution.

To say we were astounded at the level of impact of songs like “Beautiful Day”, “Kite”, and “Elevation” would be an understatement.The fuzzed out guitars on “Elevation” literally exploded out of the speakers, and various electronic effects were more prominent than we have heard before. It was also a revelation to hear drummer

The title track is a fantastical feast for the ears, with syncopated, jazzy drumming, saxophone, electronics, strings, and Bowie’s close miked vocal front and center. The Black Star made us appreciate what a master work this album was. We heard individual elements more clearly than ever, with bass lines, backing vocals, and keyboards intertwined but all musically organized.

We thought about the particular reasons we were hearing such improvements in detail

retrieval, dimensionality, and texture. Our conclusion was that a vastly lower noise floor, more accurate timing, and a purer USB signal must be what was at play. The music even seemed louder, as if we moved the volume knob up a half a decibel. We have experienced this with other top shelf products that lower the noise floor, like well designed power cords.


The Ideon 3R Master Time Black Star paired with our Bryston BDA-3 DAC,, improved the sound of our digital system in clear and undeniable ways with no negatives. We experienced greater resolution, a more believable sound stage, and far more realistic texture.

Of course, this comes at a price. The price tag of the Black Star might raise some eyebrows but it will also open ears with it’s amazing performance. We would be skeptical if not for hearing it in our own system, with an already very capable DAC. We imagine the majority of astute listeners will come to the conclusion that we did. Ideon clearly has found a way to make transmission of USB audio faithful to the original master file. Highly recommended.


Ideon Audio 3R Master Time Black Star: $3900


Parren 6, Neo Psychiko, 11525 Athens, Greece

+30 210 6199887

:info@ideonaudio AKRM

Pierre Auguste Renoir - Le Bouquet
Andre Kertesz


Irecently, or rather, I had it on in the background, when, suddenly, something stopped me in my tracks. I was listening for real as a luminous soprano voice soared above a symphony orchestra – it had mesmerized me. The something was the third of the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss (composed in 1948) as sung by Erin Wall in a recording by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. It was not a name that was familiar to me, but I soon learnt that she was Canadian-American, associated with companies such as the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and that she had died in 2020 at the untimely age of 44 from breast cancer. Silvery, radiant, and passionate, her voice spoke to me, and I could hear how she would have shone in Mozart, R. Strauss, Britten, Mahler.

Erin Wall’s recording of the Four Last

sprach Zarathustra

warmth, a soaring quality, and silvery sensuousness mark Erin Wall’s performance. Her voice opens up in the top range into a rounded silvery tone and manages the pianissimo passages with no loss of a rounded tone quality. Naturally I sought out the recording at the earliest opportunity. Sir Andrew Davis had recorded the Songs many years ago in the 1970s with a young Kiri te Kanawa, a recording which helped launch her stellar career. Critics at the time were asking whether Erin Wall’s recording of the Songs, also with Andrew Davis, might not do the same for this soprano. The third song, “Beim
Toulouse Lautrec- Helene Vary


Schlafengehen”, the one I had heard first on the radio, again made the deepest impression on me with its restrained passion and rapturous longing, conveyed with equal intensity in the violin solo which at one point takes over from the voice.

This incredibly satisfying recording sparked my curiosity to seek out a recent interpretation of the Four Last Songs and, as luck would have it, there was one that came my way immediately. Released on February 9th 2024 by Alpha it is by rising Lithuanian star Asmik Grigorian who offers us two versions of the Four Last Songs on the same album, the orchestral version with Mikko Franck and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and the less known piano version with Markus Hinterhäuser (incidentally the piano arrangements are not by Strauss but by Max Wolff).

With Wall’s soaring lines and silvery tone still embedded in my consciousness, as well as Sir Andrew Davis’ masterly approach to the Songs, I turned with some curiosity and even trepidation to the new recording. A different voice greets me straightaway and the absence of the silvery sheen of Erin Wall’s voice is something to get used to. Something fragile and precious

seems to be missing. The interpretation is altogether more confident, more ‘full’.

Would I have reacted in the same way if I had not just been listening to Erin Wall? I guess I would have found this recording satisfying enough for its technical proficiency. But the magic is missing, that something that speaks from the artist’s heart directly to our heart, that stops us in our tracks. And, in the end, isn’t that what music is about – the language of the heart?

The title of Asmik Grigorian’s recording, Laws of Solitude, seems rather contrived, as does the equation featured on the album cover, 4 + 4 = ∞. Four refers to the 4 Songs, featured twice in orchestral and piano versions. The sum total of which is supposed to be infinity, a kind of 8 lying on its side. It strikes me as too clever by half, and it is not cleverness that is needed in music of such ilk, it is the tremor of the heart. According to Grigorian the songs conjure up for her the ideas of childhood and of the artist’s solitude as ‘a journey towards infinity’. However that may be, the album itself does not compel one to follow the artist’s journey. The idea of orchestra and piano requiring different colours in the voice is not immediately obvious in the interpretations, though tempi can sound very slow in the piano version, while in my beloved third song the piano


really could not do justice to the achingly beautiful solo violin line. The shimmering magic of Strauss’ orchestral colours was absent – and missed – throughout.

Laws of Solitude is Asmik Grigorian’s third release with Alpha. Her debut album, released in 2023, was Dissonance, a selection of nineteen songs by Rachmaninov which Grigorian characterizes as ‘small pieces of opera in a few minutes’. She is accompanied on the album by pianist Lukas Geniušas, himself a Rachmaninov specialist.

I headed across to this album which had earned Grigorian the top Female Singer of the Year accolade at the Opus Klassik Awards in 2023, hoping to catch a little more of what makes her gift so special. Maybe she is a singer who needs the drama and intensity of the opera house to truly shine and to bring out her best as a singeractress, I thought. For a start, in the Rachmaninov songs the piano really comes into its own – this is Rachmaninov, the superlative pianist, after all. Asmik Grigorian’s voice easily cuts through the dense piano textures to then summon up intimacy when it is called for, and you can see the reason for the accolades she has attracted. The Rachmaninov songs are a

much better vehicle for her power, athleticism, and the steely dramatic quality of her voice. So, to catch Grigorian at her best, listen to Dissonance, or, better still, see her live in an opera house.

But for the Four Last Songs go back to Erin Wall in what must be one of the more magical interpretations of this masterpiece out there. AKRM
Imogen Cunningham - Fleur noir et blanc

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K. E. Heartsong

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Claude Monet - Nympheas



It was early Friday evening, and the rain had finally cleared after three months of atmospheric rivers. An almost full moon was ascending in the east sky, waxing gibbous. Twilight is always a magic show here, if you new hi-end audio bar, a while ago, after Covid restrictions had been somewhat lifted, but they wouldn’t let my party in without vaccination cards. Luckily, we headed down the street to Yoshis, another amazing music venue in Oakland, and were able to hear live music. Fast forward, two busy years later, I suddenly remembered there was a hi-end audio bar in town that I was quite curious to check out. Admittedly, I’m a little late to the party. Bar Shiru opened in 2021, and since then, they’ve been met with

plenty of enthusiasm and praise by the community, by hi-end audio enthusiasts, and the press. So, for this visit, I purposely decided not to delve into many of the positive reviews I saw online. I wanted my own experience, an impromptu listen, a kind of pedestrian view.

My friend met me at the door of Bar Shiru. I could see the amber lighting inside the bar through the tinted windows as we stood in front of the building on Telegraph Avenue, in downtown Oakland. A security doorman named Bird, very politely took our names, and reserved our seating. He told us we had a 20 minute wait for a table, and a two hour listening limit once we were seated. Since I had no real idea of the layout of the bar, what the listening experience or the audio components would sound like, my curiosity was very high. “Do you want to take a walk while we wait?” I asked my friend. The night was gorgeous. The air was still and warm and I wanted to take in the environment. Oakland has changed so much. A slew of new luxury high-rise apartments, upscale restaurants, bars, music

Painting by Rossetti


venues and cafes line downtown. The streets were crowded with people enjoying the evening and the break from the rain. Yet, sadly, poverty and homelessness was still very apparent. The contrast between the haves and have-nots is stark and disturbing. I moved out of Oakland in 2020 after 13 years of living in a fairly affordable spacious loft at the old Sears building, not too far from Bar Shiru. But, Silicon Valley, the world’s technology hub, expanded into the San Francsico Bay area, rapidly driving the cost of living up. Thus, the faces in Oakland have changed. A newer shinier world is here but these corporations are not sufficiently investing in many of the communities and infrastructure where they are building their empires.

We didn’t get very far before I got a text that our table was ready - much sooner than 20 minutes. As we entered the bar, I was immediately awed by the interior design and layout. It was much like a loft space, industrial, but tempered by tasteful custom décor, and creatively divided spaces. The bar was on the right, the tables were in the center of the room, and the lounge area and sofas were tucked in on the left. I started to look for the speakers. The first speakers I noticed were on the wall behind the bar. It seemed like a great space for listening. The speakers were close enough to the bar and large enough to hear music without it being crowded out by the chattering of conversations. From where I was standing, I couldn’t tell if the speakers were smaller, fullrange speakers, or large robust monitors, but my guess was full-range. On the walls above

the bar were large photos of jazz greats, Grant Green, Billie Holiday, Clifford Brown, Nina Simone, and someone I didn’t recognize (my bad). The ceilings and walls were strategically outfitted with acoustic panels which I am sure are a necessity in a cement structure with very high ceilings. As we walked to our table, I got a quick glance of the speakers in the lounge area to my left, and the large main speakers were housed against an impressive wall of records toward the back of the bar. The place was full and vibrant, much chattier than I expected, but it was a Friday night. The host reminded us again of our two hour table limit. We were seated fairly close to the main speakers and the main audio system. The audio components were stored on a beautifully designed custom console just a few tables away from us. The source, an impressive set of turntables. The amplification, tubed amplifiers as well as solid state amplifiers. The cover of the album that was currently playing was well displayed on the console, Charles Bradley, No Time for Dreaming, and up next on the second turntable, Donald Byrd, Ethiopian Knights.

As we settled in and ordered drinks from their menu of creative cocktails, I was happy to see that they listed their audio components in the back of the menu. Here is that spectacular list:

• SME20 turntable with series IV vi tonearm

• VPI Super Scoutmaster turntable with JMW memorial tonearm

• Ortofon 2m Black phono cartridge

• Line Magnetic LP-33 vacuum tube phono preamps


• ISONE ISO420 customized analog rotary mixer

• Line Magnetic 805-IA vacuum tube integrated amplifier

• Line Magnetic 34-IA vacuum tube integrated amplifier

• Parasound Halo A23+ solid state power amplifier

• Line Magnetic LM-812 Altec Iconic ultrahigh fidelity loudpeakers (main floor)

• DeVore Fidelity Orangutan 0/93 custom loudspeakers (bar)

• Dynaudio X18 loudspeakers (lounge & mezzanine)

• Dynaudio Evoke10 loudspeakers (front room)

But lo and behold, here is the confounding surprise. I could not hear the music well enough from where I was sitting. The audio quality was not distinguishable, despite the fact that I was nearly sitting in the sweet spot. Charles Bradley’s album, No Time for Dreaming is a dynamic emotive album, but I could not get the immersive musical experience that I know is possible. The second album, Donald Byrd’s Ethiopian Knights, a Blue Note recording, was only slightly more audible. Perhaps the level of noise from people talking and laughing was just too high to hear the quality and sonic signature of hi-end audio. As I mentioned, it was a full house on a Friday night. It was noisy. My friend and I struggled to hear each other unless we raised our voices. But, maybe that’s the issue, we didn’t come primarily to talk and laugh, we came mostly to enjoy good music on a hi-end audio system, in a beautiful environment, while chatting a bit (key word, a bit) and having a cocktail. At one point, I walked over to the main loudspeakers, to be sure they were playing. I

then went over to check out the audio system, to be sure there weren’t any tubes that had burned out on the amplifiers. Of course, everything was fine and beautiful. I just couldn’t hear it well enough. Maybe the bar or lounge would have been a better option. It would be very difficult for me to believe that this spectacular hi-end audio system, providing it was fully operable, would not deliver incredible hi- fidelity music. Nonetheless, I still had an enjoyable time. The staff was friendly, the vibe was fine despite the noise, the drinks were tasty, the music selections were excellent, the décor and ambience were perfect, and both my friend and I had great parking karma. Honestly, I am astounded by the creativity, vision and dedication that went into the making of Bar Shiru. I would like to come back on a less noisy night to actually hear and enjoy this incredible hi-end sound system and well-curated music collection while I sip on glass of Cabernet in a beautiful setting with a few music-loving friends. I am sure that is the purpose of Bar Shiru. Otherwise, how would the true potential of this meticulously manufactured hi-end audio system be experienced if it can’t be truly heard? The meaning and feeling of the true-to-life music that it is designed to play would be lost. The people who come to listen no matter how casually, will miss the chance to hear the artist’s music and message as they intended it to be heard. It would be sacrilegious to reduce hi-end audio to just a trendy concept when it isn’t. It’s the art and sound of music. It’s a kind of magic. AKRM
“Solid state dynamics, resolution, detail retrieval, and spaciousness married to tube liquidity, remarkable tone/timbre/texture, offer #%$*@! musical bliss. What more could one ask for (Aurorasound HEADA)?”

—K.E. Heartsong, AudioKeyREVIEWS! Magazine




Afew issues ago, I began a review stating that, “looks can be deceiving.” The subject of that piece was Boenicke Audio’s slim W8 towers. Now, I have a bit more to say on the subject of Boenicke, so let’s dive into yet another retreat into my preconceived notions regarding cabinet size versus perceived low frequency extension, into my house arrived Sven Boenicke’s first design and his most compact offering. Originally envisioned as a desktop speaker, it’s a bit smaller than his MTM (mid–tweet–mid) center channel model, and sprung feet are available for that use case. They are of a vented design, with the horizontal slot port on the back, so I

wouldn’t use them in a classic bookshelf placement. The kit I received did not include the feet but did include the model–specific stands, making the W5 a stand–mounter like very few others. First off, the “stand” is actually a bespoke, form–fitting platform solid wood cabinet. As with the W8, the cabinet has a similar 4" width and 8" depth. Where the dimensions of the two models diverge is their height. The W5 is a mere 30" and the wispy wand that is the stand only enhances the petite visual impression. Though you would never know from looking at it, the speaker’s clamshell “box” is constructed of two mirrored CNC–machined halves composed of solid engineered “trees”;
Ralph Gibson


towers that were flanking the W5s. Yup, the W5 plays bigger than it looks. During our e–mail conversations, Sven Boenicke echoed

walnut, oak, ash, or cherry on special order. Three finishes; oiled, white stain and hipster black, all in a soft matt, round out the appearance options. Around the rear are a single pair of WBT Next Gen binding posts with a tiny tweeter positioned just above. Yes, you read that right, the sole HF transducer is on the back. What’s more, there’s only one driver on that skinny front baffle, a custom 3" widebander that provides the lovely natural midrange.

As I mentioned, the W5’s appearance is deceiving. With the stereo running through the small speakers, every single visitor to our manse asked, “…are those ones playing?” while pointing to the taller, all black and visually more imposing Scansonic HD

what occurred at my house.“When playing the W5 at any show, as long as there are W8, 11 or 13 in the room as well, it’s not quite easy to convince the audience that not the 8, 11 or 13 are playing - although it’s sufficiently clear we do not offer wireless speakers and the speaker cables are connected to the 5 only…funny, but true.” With a nominal impedance of 4Ω and low sensitivity of “83-86dB/Watt/meter depending on frequency,” they do require hefty power to make them get crazy. Despite their size, that they do so head bangers and Beethoven fanboys need not worry that small size brings

small sounds. The key to their outsized low frequency response is the 5" side–mounted woofer, with 16mm or over 0.7 inches of excursion. When I asked Boenicke about adding a subwoofer, he was emphatic. “I would strongly recommend to use them without a sub. Almost no one uses them with subs…In most normal sized and damped rooms i have heard them in, they go down to about 35-40, this of course including room gain.” In my room, I found that they gave me usable output to 39Hz which was as predicted. During setup, I did try my KEF KC62 active microsub simply because I could but, in the course of reviewing them, I neither ran the sub nor felt it necessary.

So, what does this little box deliver? In a word; refined dynamite. I only have heard two Boenicke models so far, but both offer what appears to be a no–nonsense “house sound.” The W5 delivers delightful delicacy and ease, with a midrange righteousness and, thanks to that strategically located tweeter, air for days. The bottom too is clean, precise and on point. Together, the whole is candid yet never clinical.

I ended up placing the speakers in a roughly 6 foot equilateral triangle, well away (4.5 feet) from the back wall. Though these speakers are designed for sitting, they comport themselves reasonably well if you’re situated way above their median axis. That

means they serve equally as a “lifestyle” product as they do for us fidelity–forward, sweet spot–situated audiophiles. In addition, many of us long for better audio quality but the Spousal Approval Factor limits choice. Here the W5’s quirky, modern good looks and small size allow them to complement decor rather than dominate a space. Appearance choices aren’t the only variations available. As with all Boenicke speakers, one can choose from the standard model I reviewed, plus two more higher cost, dialed versions that include upgraded crossover components and internal acoustic linearization measures.

When I enlist music to provide sonic wallpaper while I read, I frequently turn to instrumental soundtracks, electronica or dance, whichever suits my mood. At low playback levels, they keep my autonomic foot tapping or head nodding along while my higher functions absorb the words flowing in through Meine Augen. The Daniel Lanois–influenced soundtrack from season six of Peaky Blinders [96k Qobuz, Domino Recording Co 2024] from Anna Calvi and Nick Launay is a ponderous, menacing mix of manipulated sounds and acoustic performance. It caused me to stop my reading, turn it up a touch, and concentrate. In keeping with the drug addled, PTSD–tortured mind of character Arthur


Shelby, track 10, Arthur, has a tiny, metallic sound that comes and goes, panning left to right and back. It teases the listener, hiding just on the edge of perception. With a lesser playback chain and more quotidian loudspeakers, one just might miss it.

Boenicke has said that, early on, he knew that he was “really bad at maths,” so he solves problems differently that many grew out of a desire to create loudspeakers that sound like the live performances he records. In a marketing piece, he opines that, “The best possible loudspeaker completely disappears as a technical medium and opens a gate as widely as possible to let you travel in time and space back to the original recording venue.”

Six time Grammy–winning composer, arranger and musician John Leventhal’s That’s All I know About Arkansas from this year’s Rumble Strip [44.1 Qobuz Rumblestrip Records] is an Americana delight; its clean, wideband production is perfectly displayed by Sven Boenicke’s little W5. My colleague Gavin Lurssen mastered this title with his this album doesn’t seem to be available in HRA versions. This is Leventhal’s first solo album and boy, is it a doozy. Some loudspeakers tend to add their own hard “detail” to playback, but the grit and texture of Leventhal’s vocal with wife and labelmate Rosanne Cash on harmonies, the mellow percussion and the string sounds from guitar

and mando were all tastefully conveyed without hype or stridency.

For a stripped down sound check, I turned to Abdullah Ibrahim’s new album, 3 [192k Qobuz Gearbox Records]. With over seventy recordings as band leader, Ibrahim is almost 90, yet he keeps on groovin’. On most of the studio recording, you can hear producer Darrel Sheinman’s almost throwback approach to creating the trio’s soundstage. Ibrahim’s piano occupies left and center, Cleave Guyton Junior’s flute lives center and right, and Noah Jackson’s bass is wide and up front, anchoring the middle. Track five, Mindif, has pianist and composer Ibrahim largely laying back while Guyton and Jackson delicately stroll along. Through the W5, the upright bass is large and in charge, while the flute sweetly carries the melody accented by the keys. All three musicians are right–sized, existing in a balanced and cogent albeit synthetic acoustic space.

Boenicke’s approach to everything he does follows an “…uncompromising devotion to fidelity.” As another proponent of fidelity–first, I can appreciate that outlook. Looking for something big yet subtle to test the little loudspeakers, I settled on a 2022 Chandos recording of Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Works [Qobuz 96k 2023]. Alpesh Chauhan conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony

Orchestra in this extra large composition, and it was here that the W5s finally met their match. Although what came out of the speakers was both smooth and splendid, they were not up to the task of reproducing all the thunderous fundament that the strings, pipes and percussion proffered. A touch of equalization helped considerably, as long as I didn’t turn up the gain past my comfort level.

For those of us who listen to and enjoy pop music, we are all now used to remixes. Late last year, veteran prog rocker Peter Gabriel tried something different…He released i/o [96k Qobuz Real World Productions], which revealed some of the push and pull of music production most of us take for granted. Gabriel gave the same multitrack to “…two of the world’s best mix engineers,” allowing Spike Stent and Tchad Blake free rein to craft what I think is a unique finished product from his raw materials. The result is not only an entertaining package but also an excellent test of any playback system. i/o offers rare insight into the myriad choices that go into the creation of a final deliverable. As one example, Stent’s version (Bright–Side Mix) of The Court is more ambient, with isolated instruments pushed back into the “hall.” Although fundamentally the same, they are the same song after all, the Blake version

Pierre Auguste Renoir - Le Bouquet

(Dark–Side Mix) pours on the reverb and echo in the chorus. To even a trained listener with a small speaker system, I tried it on my inexpensive lifestyle setup† in my office, many of these subtleties were difficult to tease apart. With exaSound’s e22 Mk. II DAC and Parasound’s JC 5 pumping out the tunes into each W5 through all Audio Art Cable wiring (review forthcoming), nothing was diminished, nothing was lost. All the drive, impact, presence, and delicacy were preserved, the enveloping artificial soundscape unreeling as the double album progressed.

In a company backgrounder, Boenicke states that “…it is our upright wish and goal to invent, design and manufacture the most honest products possible. That means that… you do not get less than what meets the eye from the outside. But even much more.” The W5 exemplifies that philosophy. Their modern Bauhaus design, willowy stature and form–follows–function construction all speak of honesty, not artifice. Every time I parked my keister to listen, I found myself annoyed if drawn away. There are some other great sounding speakers in this price range, but none I can think of that combine understated style and outsized sound in such a diminutive package. If you’re more interested in impressing your friends with higher fidelity rather than bling and bloat, the W5 may just be the ticket. Please give them a listen.


Boenicke Audio

Basel Switzerland

W5 Speaker: Standard edition $5,389

SE $8,158

SE+ $11,512

Stands $450

† — B&W 685 driven via LinkPlay’ WiiM

Amp through generic copper speaker cabling


Allnic Audio enjoys a reputation among audiophiles for designing and building tube components that take no prisoners with regards to sound and build quality. Their products are expensive, and they make no apologies for this. There is a good reason. Allnic cuts no corners, there are no compromises, and they offer a world wide

The company designs products with very specific goals and technology in mind. Allnic produces products with the belief that as a coupling device for amplifying stages, transformers are superior to capacitors. They also believe Permalloy is best material for transformers.

We did our own research on Permalloy,

alloy. The company has a history dating back to 1990, with a long list of legacy components.

Telephone Laboratories. It is noteworthy for having an extremely high magnetic permeability, which enables it to be used as a

Ansel Adams


17 magnetic shielding material to block magnetic fields and as a magnetic core material in electrical and electronic equipment.

In addition Permalloy has an impressive capacity to attract and conduct magnetic lines of force. It performs exceptionally well in applications that call for effective magnetic field conduction thanks to this characteristic, known as magnetic permeability. Due to its low coercivity, the alloy is easily demagnetized and can approach magnetic saturation quickly. Because of this property, it's perfect for applications requiring quick changes in magnetic field.

And finally, not to get too technical, Anisotropic magnetoresistance is the term for the property where the electrical resistance of permalloy varies according to the direction of the electrical current and the magnetic field. This feature is especially helpful for applications involving sensors. It is generally known that it is an expensive process to use Permalloy.

Allnic's current distributor is Kevalin audio, based in Portland, Oregon. This is a major plus for the company as Kevalin is very passionate about Allnic products, and probably outside of Allnic themselves, the most knowledgeable of every facet of each design. I received in for review one of Alnnic’s top shelf phono preamplifiers, the

H-7000, which has been recently updated. The retail base price is $18,000.

The Allnic H-7000 is an all transformercoupled, LCR tube phono stage.main amplification duties are handled by four pentode E810F/7788 preamp tubes in triode mode.Two 7233 and two 5654 tubes handle voltage regulation. The power supply is a sturdy external box with a 5U4G rectifier tube. The units are connected with a robust umbilical cord.

The feature set for the H-7000 is quite extensive. First, it can accept both Moving Magnet and Moving Coil cartridges, in fact, there are two inputs of each kind. Theoretically one can connect four turntables simultaneously, and switch between them via a large rotary knob on the front panel.There both balanced XLR and single ended RCA outputs, There are numerous parameters that can be adjusted to accommodate various cartridges. There are four gain settings and four impedance settings for each channel. To round things off, there is a phase selector button, as well as a front panel mute switch, which is always very welcome.

The main chassis is built like a tank, with everything laid out quite nicely for the user interface. There is a feel of high end industrial art, and elegance in the appearance. The two meters on the front panel give the H-7000 provide a classic look. The review

unit arrived in silver, however a black finish is also available.

Our review sample also arrived with,in house manufactured Allnic MC step-up transformers feature pure silver wire windings on Allnic’s Permalloy transformer cores. Of note is variable impedance loading, which assists in cartridge optimization. The silver windings are said to provide increased resolution and dynamics,and soundstage three-dimensionality. This option is available at additional cost but is a big upgrade. We were told this is the first review of the H-7000 with the silver option.


Set up was rather straightforward. The tubes for the main unit come preinstalled, however the rectifier tube for the power supply must be installed, which was a simple task. The tube comes smartly packed inside the chassis for optimum protection, and the cover is removed

and the tube put in the socket. Attaching the umbilical cord is the last step.

John at Kevelin Audio asked us to let the H-7000 warm up for a period of time before each use to insure maximum sonic quality and reliability. We let the unit warm up between twenty and thirty minutes for each listening session. John also suggested not getting too hung up on the cartridge settings, and to use our ears as a guide, which we did.

The H-7000 was dropped into a system that was well balanced, and with plenty of transparency. The reference system was comprised of Allnic’s own M-3000 MK 3 mono block amplifiers, a Rogue RP7 preamp, Boenicke W11 speakers, and Clarus cables. We used a Rega RP8, with a Rega Alphion cartridge, and SOTA Comet VI turntable. The SOTA was outfitted with an Audio Technica AT-33S cartridge. The Allnic amps and the Boenicke speakers will also be


reviewed in full. Everything was plugged into Bryston and Audience power conditioners. We spun quite a few records of varied vintages, and genres. The first thing we

of a voice. Her take on the Jagger / Richards classic “No Expectations”, and the Willie Nelson penned title track, and her own “Sweet Sir Galahad” are nothing short of

noticed about the H-7000 was how harmonically rich it was, in every frequency category. An album that really shown the light on this characteristic was Joan Baez's overlooked 1970 masterpiece, One Day At A Time. Baez performed many of the songs on this album at the original Woodstock festival. The backing musicians included many of Nashville's top session players, and the arrangements lean towards gothic country rock.

The Acoustic guitars are the bedrock, along with pedal steel, fiddle, dobro, and baroque touches like sitar and harpsichord. The spotlight is firmly on Baez’s clarion call

stunning.The H-7000 made the acoustic guitars feel amazingly present and dimensional, and the it spotlit how balanced the overall mix was, and the elegant restraint of all the musicians involved. Goosebump moments galore.!

We then plowed through a stack of Rolling Stones albums, including, one of our prized possessions, an original 1968 London pressing of Beggars Banquet. The impact of this record cannot be underestimated. It was a direct reaction to the psychedelic flights the band took on Between The Buttons, and even more so on Their Satanic Majesties Request. They left the flutes, dulcimers, and autoharps

behind and dove back into menacing rock and roll, country blues, and folk. There were also still the use of instruments popular at the time, like Mellotron.

The H-7000 revealed the unique production techniques and expertly layered instrumentation used through out. Examples are the stacked acoustic guitars, Brian Jone’s otherworldly slide guitar on the aforementioned “No Expectations”, and amazing guitar and harmonica interplay. The H-7000 pulled more out of the grooves of this pressing then we have ever heard before, and the overall tonality was exceptional. Mick Jagger’s voice was especially impressive in tone via the H-7000.

We were also determined to spin a stack of records consisting of music recorded without overdubs in an actual acoustic performance space. For this we turned to jazz and classical. One album that really shone a light on the H-7000’s way of rendering natural texture and ambience was the London label pressing of Rafael Fruhbeck De Burgos and the New Philharmonia’s glorious recording of Suite Espanola, by the great Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz. The string textures were so lifelike, and the recording space seemed to be frozen in time, it was very easy to suspend disbelief. Ultimately that is what audiophiles strive for.

The last record we spun was an original mono mint pressing of the legendary Columbia release, The Sound Of Jazz. It is

one of those rare times that musicians and recording engineers captured lightning in a bottle. The participants included Billie Holliday, Mal Waldron, and Count Basie, among others. On Holliday’s “Fine and Mellow” the band rides a smooth bluesy groove while Holliday gives one of her best latter day vocal performances. The H-7000 transported us into the studio, with the bass having superb presence and warmth, the horns and piano sitting in their rightful place in the mix, and overall cohesion. Simply wonderful.

From a musical perspective, experiencing music via the H-7000 is like hearing playback in an acoustically fine tuned listening space. The tonal balance is nearly optimal. Dynamics and musical flow are exceptional, with impact, and decay being immensely life-like. The H-7000 is the most accomplished phono preamplifier we have heard in our system to date.

The H-7000 worked flawlessly for the months it was in house. It also produced no discernible noise, either mechanical or electrical. This certainly what one would expect at these price points. Simply giving the H-7000 proper ventilation and keeping the power supply a decent distance away, which the long umbilical cord allows for, are the only considerations.

It should be noted that the power supply unit can be tube rolled, Various rectifiers can


be chosen to taste. This is an easy and cost effective tweak. There are a number of good rectifier tubes on the market, and swapping them out is rather simple. The 1:6 interstage transformer reduces the number of tubes to maintain. The circuit design tasks the tubes with less current demand allowing for extended tube life.


There is no other way to put it, the Allnic H-7000 tube based Phono Stage is the most impressive analogue component I have encountered. It is also the most expensive, and appropriately so considering the obsessive attention to detail, materials, and build. It will be hard to see it go, but even so, we enjoyed listening to vinyl as we never have before. Very highly recommended.

Product Information:


Kevalin Audio:

H-7000 Phono Stage

Base Price: $18,000

+1 503.292.5592



• Moving Coil (MC) x two (2) pairs unbalanced (RCA)

• Moving Magnet (MM) x two (2) pairs unbalanced (RCA)

Ground: One (1) x screw type terminal


• One (1) pair x unbalanced (RCA)

• One (1) pair x balanced (XLR)

Voltage Gains:

• MM +40db (1KHz)

• MC1 +60dB (1KHz)

• MC2 +62, +66, +68, +72db (1khz)

Input Impedance:

• MC up to 470 Ohm, MM 47k Ohm


• E810F/7788 x 4

• 7233 x 2 (voltage regulators)

• 5654 x 2 (voltage regulators)

• 5U4G (rectifier)


Phono Stage – 430mm (16.9 inches) x 350mm (13.8 inches) x 173mm (6.82 inches) (W x D x H). Power Supply – 170mm (6.7 inches) x 275mm (10.8 inches) x 118mm (4.65 inches) (W x D x H)


Phono stage – 15.7 Kg (34.62 lbs). Power supply – 8.1

Kg (18 lbs). Both units in original packing: 30 Kg (66 lbs) AKRM
Auguste Lepère - Montmartre in the Snow
Vincent Van Gogh- Square Saint-Pierre at Sunset



Yes, cables make a difference. And headphone cables, almost literally wired to one’s brain, tend to make a

Shock? Momentary catatonia? I still don’t really know how to qualify that statement. But it got worse when the amplifier

more easily discernible difference.

I can’t help but recall my conversation with a well-known longtime amplifier manufacturer, who would surely have been aware of this, and yet… The manufacturer declared to me, with a straight face and nary an iota of sarcasm, that “Wires, cables, they don’t make a difference.”

manufacturer said, “But these cables” (let’s call them cable X) “definitely make a difference.”

Once my jaw was back in place and the fog of shock and momentary catatonia had worn off, I made a mental note to myself: Nobody knows nothing. It’s a phrase that
Vincent Van Gogh - Sprig of Flowering Almond in a Glass


makes the rounds inside and outside the movie industry, and even for those tangentially involved, its truth is immediately grasped.

I have been very fortunate and am thus very grateful for the wealth of exceptional headphones that have come to live at Casa Heartsong. Each sports its original cables, and they have time and again given me pause as to their sonic/musical and technical rendering abilities. Of course, not all headphones are exceptional and not all headphones that I have reviewed could be classified as such. Those that were not were sent back to their respective manufacturers with the promise that I would not write a bad review about them, nor would I ever mention them by name.

This review takes me down the “road less travelled” or truthfully, not travelled at all— after market headphone cables. And the cable in review is the Danacable Lazuli Nirvana Reference.

REFRAIN: Unlike most reviews, this review will be non-sequential, as it will start with how the headphones actually sound and not the process of physically “undressing” them and/or laying out their various parts, specifications, etc. Think of this review, then, as a non-linear movie—Memento, Kill Bill, Arrival, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, etc.—that likewise starts at the end and winds its way to the beginning.


In short, the Lazuli Nirvana Reference cables allow for an increased flow of the music from one’s system to one’s headphones to one’s brain. It is the selfsame thing I had experienced when I placed the Kubala Sosna cable loom in my two-channel reference system and removed the previous cables.

The difference was not subtle. It was as if the previous cables had been struggling to trickle out the music from my system and though quite good, it really had been a trickle, while the Kubala Sosna let a “river” of music emerge. And that “river” now allowed for the flow of music that was refined, alive, finely differentiated, and wonderfully natural. There was simply no going back.

The Danacable Lazuli Nirvana Reference cable also raised the the bar relative to the standard cable. The bass was now more resolute, differentiated, and impactful. The midrange was more textured, refined, detailed, liquid, in the sense that it just flowed, and was more, well, real. And the Lazuli Nirvana’s treble was extended and yet smooth, detailed like the previous regions, transparent, and well resolved. In truth, what more could you ask for?


The Lazuli Nirvana Reference cables are substantial, in that they are thick, twisted strands of cable; at three meters long ,and

they can be a bit heavy and not as flexible. Their connections are firm, and once attached to amplifier and headphones the contact remains.


The Danacable Lazuli Nirvana Reference cables will improve the music issuing forth from one’s headphones. They will take what may well have been a trickle of music coming from one’s system and allow for a river of music, and that difference will be stark. It’s as simple as that.

Pros: Exceptional aftermarket cables that will improve the quality of one’s music quite easily and effectively.

Cons: Heavy, not as malleable as the standard cable.



Each of us have a particular ability, or several perhaps, that we are predisposed to, are good at, or excel in. The difficulty I have found over the years, and I imagine most encounter, is discerning or coming to grips with what that or those abilities are. Some appear never to find them or even to search them out, instead opting for what they are ‘supposed to do’ as dictated by another or by societal norms, which is a rather unfortunate turn of events in anyone’s life.

In my long years, I have discovered that writing is both a love and an apparent talent, which began at age five, when I wrote poetry for my seven aunts. Of course they adored my poems and this abetted a will to write while growing the ‘writing muscle’. A love of design and a creative ability are also my talents as it seems. And it is this combination of ‘abilities’ that have found me starting this magazine and website and writing reviews, though more of my books and screenplays are finding their way to interested parties. Who of thunk?

Audio components are, in fact, likewise possessed of a talent(s) and abilities which find them set apart from their respective kith and kin, while setting standards, in some cases, for all of ‘audiodom’. In this respect, I have come across DACs, streamers, speakers, amplifiers, etc. that have

proven my prior statement to be true. And there are entire genres of audio equipment— electrostatics, single-ended triode and OTL amplifiers—that lift all boats, musically speaking. Then there are the planar magnetic headphones, whose top performers—Meze Empyrean Elite, ABYSS AB1266 Phi TC and now the HiFiMan Susvara—are incredibly talented. This brings us to the current review of the HiFiMan Susvara and its talents and abilities, all gathered at the cutting edge of headphone design.

Yes, the hits do keep on coming even in terms of a rather narrow niche—Top of the Line (TOTL) headphones—STAX SRX9000, ABYSS AB1266 Phi TC, ZMF Atrium, Meze Empyrean & Elite and those soon to be determined.

REFRAIN: Unlike most reviews, this review will be non-sequential, as it will start with how the headphones actually sound and not the process of physically “undressing” them and/or laying out their various parts, specifications, etc. Think of this review then, as a non-linear movie— In the Shadow of the Moon, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, The Queen’s Gambit, etc— that, likewise, starts at the end and winds its way to the beginning.


• Grimm Audio MU1 Streamer

• Silent Angel Rhein Z1 Streamer

• Silent Angel Forester F2 Power Supply

Vincent Van Gogh - Peupliers_à_Saint-Rémy


• Silent Angel Bonn NX Network Switch

• Silent Angel Genesis GX Master Clock

• Bricasti Design M1SE DAC


• Aurorasound HEADA Headphone Amplifier

• ALLNIC AUDIO HPA 10000 OTL/ OCL Headphone Amplifier

• Pass Labs HPA-1 Headphone Amplifier

• ABYSS AB1266 PHI TC Headphone

• MEZE Empyrean Headphone


• Kubala Sosna—cabling and wires

• RSX Beyond Power Cables

• Danacable Lazuli Nirvana Headphone Cables

• Audience Hidden Treasure CAT7 Ethernet cables

• TORUS RM20—Power Generation


Natural. The HiFiMan Susvara is exceptionally natural in its ability to communicate music. And this translates to the naturalness of tone and timbre, to air and atmosphere (of a given venue) and to staging, all leading to the Susvara’s ability to, well, ensnare one for long hours of listening, and very comfortably I might add.

Yes, natural is a term consistent in my notes as it surfaces continually over the course of my review of the HiFiMan Susvara. One does not have to ‘listen’ or seek it out, as it is always there, setting itself apart from the various headphones attempting naturalness

and almost getting there – save coloration or soul-sucking neutrality (a coloration as well), or tonal/timbral inaccuracy, however slightly off. This ability, coupled with the sum of its others abilities, listed below, allow the Susvara to transcend simple music playback and provide instead a you-arethere presence and the resultant palpability of a ‘genuine’ interaction.

The Susvara’s tone and timbre relative to voice and instrumental notes is superb and, in truth, calls attention to itself for its incredible, again that word, naturalness, relative to all other headphones. The Susvara, marginally, even pushes past the ABYSS AB1266 Phi TC and the STAX SR-X9000, two stellar headphones, and given the talents and abilities of the aforementioned headphones, this is truly saying something. And did I mention how beautifully refined the Susvara is?

But there is a good deal more to the Susvara that lifts it to a rather commanding position. It is incredibly quick/fast as its microdynamics are on the level of an electrostatic headphone and its ‘speed’ folds everything in with the proper pacing, timing and rhythm, again a vaunted electrostatic ability. But where electrostatics can, in general, seem more ethereal, lighter, the Susvara brings a concurrent weight and solidity that, again, find it more natural, grounded.

And then there is its dimensionality. I’ve spoken of this often with the electrostatics and then with two non-electrostatics—

ABYSS AB1266 and the ZMF Atrium— that came to within a rather thin patina of an electrostatic’s abilities. The Susvara, however, pushes even closer in regard to dimensionality than the prior headphones, making live and choral music eminently more enjoyable. Transportive was a term I often used when describing electrostatic headphones, or Tardis-Like, a Dr. Who reference, which meant that you were being transported to the venue where the music was first recorded. Few audio components of any kind can do this, so when one does, it is truly exceptional.

Finally, I would be remiss if I neglected the Susvara’s other outstanding technical abilities. Its ability to both excavate and carefully extract detail on par with the best of

the best headphones and, dare I say, the abilities of other TOTL components, not just headphones. And it is this level of detail retrieval that provides the space for nuance and intention and emotion to unfold as one. The Susvara’s transparency brings into focus even that which lies at the edge of a given soundstage, and in a number of cases reveals that which was not previously known to have been there, at the edge of the stage.

The HIFIMAN SUSVARA’s soundstage is an electrostatic-like soundstage, meaning that it captures the given venue accurately with great realism, depth, and holographic imagining but, as mentioned above, it adds weight/gravitas to that mix, fleshing out a performance. Further, the Susvara can, like the ABYSS AB1266, be quite intimate or remarkably cavernous, when called to be so. And its staging is superb, as width, depth, relative positioning/layering, air, and ambiance (of the venue) again point it in the direction of an electrostatic headphone with planar/dynamic abilities.


Highly detailed. Electrostatic-like speed. Superb transparency and resolution. I had mentioned in the Abyss AB1266 review that:

“There was some trepidation, I must admit, with the Aurorasound HEADA


driving the Abyss AB1266 with its 2 watts of power. The Abyss at 88db is not at all very efficient and its 50 Ohm impedance requires a good deal of power run across it.”

The Susvaras, however, presented an even more rarefied case as their ‘efficiency’ dropped down to 83db with 60Ohms of impedance.

“Yikes(!),” was the first word that came to mind, but in addition to the Aurorasound

HEADA, the current, in-house, reference HPA, there was the ALLNIC HPA 10,000 also in for review, and with its 10 watts of power, things would be handled one way or the other when it came to bass reproduction,.

applied gain (11-12 o’clock @ High Gain).

The Susvaras rendered Alexandre Desplat’s “Postcards” (The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons Soundtrack, Concord Records) with a wide, natural, and differentiated soundstage. The deep ‘rumble’ at the edges of the both weight and gravitas. Of course the balance of the bass review tracks

I needn’t have worried as the HEADA has proven time and again that it is quite the marvelous headphone amplifier and able to leap… well drive even the most inefficient of headphones with moderately

Marsalis’ “Secret

The Troubadour Jazz Records), David Holland’s “B-40/ Emerald

Taylor’s “Chairman Mao” (Nightfall, Naim Records)—were wielded against the Susvara and it handled every one with incredible naturalness, superb tonal/timbral differentiation, blazing dynamics, and exceptional staging. And while the Abyss AB1266 Phi TC does, indeed, go deeper


across the bass region, the attendant strengths of the Susvara certainly level the playing field. I’ll take them both!


Natural.Tonally & Timbrally Superb. There is the aforementioned naturalness which conjures impeccable midrange beauty, timbre, and tone that bring a true sense of a voice or an instrument with all the technical attributes easily discernible. This quite rare ability, even among the very top headphones, regardless of technology, allows one to listen across genres with an ease and naturalness that summon performers and performances for hours on end to you or you to them. Perhaps another way of describing this in relation to the human voice is a ‘humanness’ that is as far away from a digital rendering as ice is from fire.

Melody Gardot’s Worrisome Heart (Decca) heard via the Susvara is, perhaps, one of the most beautiful and detailed renderings that I’ve yet listened to. Patricia Barber’s sibilance free performance (Verse, Premonition Records), known to be ‘hot’ with less than stellar components across the chain, is itself incredibly natural, refined, and presents technical bonafides on the same level as both the ABYSS AB1266 Phi TC and the STAX SR—X9000 electrostatic headphone. Sarah Vaughan’s After Hours (Parlophone, UK) is the most

breathtakingly natural and the clearest, the most realistic, the most intimate that I have ever heard it with the Susvara.

The Susvara brings the music home. What do I mean by this? What this transducer does for one’s music is to render it in a manner that is beguilingly natural, seductive, detail rich, and expressive. Yes, a mouthful of descriptors that help me to get close to describing what the Susvara does, though I may not have captured its, well, essence in its entirety.


Sometimes massed violins do not actually sound like massed violins, when any part of the ‘High Fidelity’ playback chain shirks its responsibilities for accuracy or naturalness of tone and timbre. However, when there is synergistic alignment and all components meticulously do their jobs, tone and timbre are superb, engrossing, and truly rewarding. The HiFiMan Susvara is outstanding in this respect and will bring great clarity and many revelations to one’s music.

Across countless albums and streams this was true of the Susvara regardless of the genre, and the Susvara’s naturalness and truthful beauty relative to tone and timbre compelled one to listen, happily, for hours. The Susvara also highlighted the lack of relative ability, given the consistency of the playback chain, of other headphones. Suffice

to say, that if tone and timbre are inaccurate or, God forbid, wrong, then one’s musical experience is, well, flawed, inexact, colored, etc. Across the treble region the Susvara’s naturalness again set it apart from all headphones regardless of their technological clan—dynamic, planar, electrostatic, etc.



There are a number of things that the Susvara and the ABYSS AB1266 ($5,995), as planar headphones, have in common that seat them at the pinnacle headphone performance.

To begin, their ability to unearth copious amounts of detail with a preternatural, matter-of-fact ease that may well border on audacity. Though if you are the owner of said headphone(s) or their reviewer it is an audacity that is most welcome and which quickly propels either headphone to the head of the class and to top honors. Dynamics, microdynamics, and pacing are likewise without peer for the two headphones, though one must certainly consider the STAX SR-X9000 in the mix here. And then, there is the incredible ‘openness’ as though the listener is suffused with the air of a given venue, and the Susvara’s and the ABYSS’ ability to provide said venue to its full depth and width.

Further, both headphones possess the ability to layer the soundstage—place musicians at relative depth and width— that would seem at odds with a headphone and more at home with loudspeakers, but these two headphones (as do the best electrostatic headphones) recreate the stage with great mastery and truth and fidelity.

Where the Susvara and the ABYSS AB1266 very slightly appear to edge each other out are in the areas of overall bass weight/gravitas, tonal and timbral shading/ accuracy, naturalness, and comfort. To be clear, they are both exceptional in the above areas, far above any dynamic or planar headphone and many electrostatics that I have reviewed, heard, or owned to date. One imagines, however, that with TOTL—Top of the Line—headphones there must exist an inherent competition to push past all others, outdo all competitors.

In this respect the ABYSS AB1266 manages to push ahead of the Susvara in its ability to plumb the depths to the HolyBass-Head-Grail, that is, given the accompanying amplifier to snatch it up with ease. The Susvara is by no means bass ‘shy’ or ‘weak’ and many, this reviewer included, would be as happy as a clam with the Susvara in this respect. However, for tone, timbre, and naturalness there is no other headphone of which I am aware that captures and renders tone and timbre so realistically, so naturally,

and with such ease as does the Susvara. And in this ability even the electrostatics cannot match the Susvara. The ABYSS AB1266 is indeed exceptional but here the Susvara pushes ahead. And comfort, while the ABYSS is not uncomfortable, given its Frankenstein-like form and ‘air-clamping’ mechanism, the Susvara is extremely comfortable and provides for a fit that one can happily wear all-the-day long.

In truth, I find the headphones complementary and different enough to give distinct perspectives on one’s music that are always at the tip-top of the game. That is to say that having both would, no doubt, greatly benefit the headphone connoisseur.


While the Susvara and the STAX SRX9000 ($6,200) represent an ‘Apples versus Oranges’ comparison given their technological differentiation—planar versus electrostatic—I have come to know them both quite well, so as to put forth a goodly and reasonable comparison.

Firstly, the Susvara and STAX headphones are alike in that I find them beautifully designed and extremely comfortable for all day wearing/listening or reviewing. They are both exceptionally musical in a way that compels one to listen for hours on end. To say that I have been ‘enraptured’ by their abilities would not be

an exaggeration. And the Susvara and the STAX SR-X9000 are detail hunters/ excavators of the first degree. They both possess lightning-fast abilities with regard to dynamics and microdynamics/transient speed, the combination of which appears to conjure ‘lifelike’ performances and in-venue ‘seating’—you are there—like no other headphones.

Where the two headphones differ, interestingly enough, is in their respective bass weight and gravitas. The Susvara is more hard-hitting in the bass region, carries more overall weight, and reaches more deeply and more ‘dynamically’ toward the sub-bass region, but not into the sub-bass region. The STAX SR-X9000 provides an exceptional measure of bass response, perhaps the best of any electrostatic headphone, but compared to the TOTL Susvara it falls a hair’s width short. At the other end of the spectrum the STAX SR-X9000 scales the treble heights with unmatched abilities replete with a transparency, resolution, and clarity that have to be experienced. In this respect, the SRX9000 has no peer. In the midrange however, the Susvara, given the weight of the upper bass which extends but does not diminish fidelity or clarity, is more significant, tactile, fleshed out, though the STAX SR-X9000 is very close behind.

If these two headphones were able to utilize the same amplification, which they cannot, then they too would be very

complementary, but having them both means investing in a complete separate system—an electrostatic HPA—to keep them both. Though they are that good, cost for most would certainly be a factor.


Wow! And the hits keep on coming! Yeah, not that long ago I was singing the praises of the ABYSS AB1266 Phi TC and before that the STAX SR-X9000 and they are still every bit as good as reviewed. The HiFiMan Susvara now easily joins that rather fantastic duo with a few talents up its ‘sleeves’ that allows it to move slightly past the other two headphones in certain areas—naturalness, musicality, blazing speed (even relative to electrostatics!)—while being their equal in most others.

The Susvara is truly a phenomenal planar headphone with, perhaps, its main differentiators being its rather sublime naturalness and its exacting way with tone and timbre, which lift the playback of one’s music to new levels of performance and enjoyment and technical prowess. And one must certainly mention its electrostatic-like speed which, well, brings live performances and choral music to life, as only electrostatics have been able to do.

One, however, must be very clearly aware that the HiFiMan Susvara will not suffer the poorly powered, nor the qualitatively weak headphone amplifiers.

That said, it has easily won our DIAMOND AWARD for its sublime abilities placing it on that aforementioned plateau of excellence with the ABYSS AB1266 Phi TC and the STAX SR-X9000.

Pros: Natural, more so than any headphone I have heard to date, and, matched with its superb technical abilities, this makes the HiFiMan Susvara perhaps that desert island headphone or, in this day and age, that deeply buried, post-apocalyptic-bunker headphone that will see you through until septic failure or water/food shortage or catastrophic disagreement with your bunker mates.

Cons: If power was the “Achilles Heel” of the Abyss AB1266 Phi TC then it is doubly that for the HiFiMan Susvara. You’ll need high quality power from a high quality HPA of at least 2 watts. THE COMPANY



1-201-HIFIMAN (1-201-443-4626)






Imagine for a moment that the people around you, all the people around you, are visibly and unnaturally shaking. And it is perceptible, if you concentrate and look very closely. However, as you look more closely, you notice that there is a strange noise that accompanies the unnatural shaking. A look of

audio houses developed CD players, DACs, and other digital wares. It would be some of these same audio houses that would first understand and then deal with jitter, toward its ‘ever-increasing’ diminishment—‘Jitter Diminishment.’

I have long witnessed, the reduction of jitter via the ever-improving quality of the signal, the resultant bits and bytes, and the

people for whom all of this is true. Jitter. The ‘skinny’ on jitter is that it’s always, well, shaking because its timing is off. And, ahhh, it’s always making noise too because of the shaking. It’s a wreck. And that shaking and noise—(electronic timing artifact) —is affecting the music (all of our music!) in some very weird and uncomely ways. Just saying. And a lot of people really don’t know or believe that it even exists! Can you imagine that?!

It was the CD player that brought ‘jitter’ to the attention of a great many, and certainly many of those in the audio industry, whose

DACs, streamers, etc. Recently, I have become aware of another level of ‘Jitter Diminishment’ that makes its way to consumers who value ‘high fidelity’—distortion free musical playback. My first experience with a ‘jitter diminishment’ component of this ‘raised’ level was the Silent Angel Bonn N8 pro. The Bonn N8 Pro with its 10MHz Word Clock was an eyeopening experience and has never left my system (I bought it). This, however, brings me to a higher level still with regard jitter diminishment, which brings me to this next review.
Tamara De Lempicka - Lys et roses jaunes


There are two new Silent Angel products— Silent Angel Bonn NX Network Switch and the Genesis GX Word Clock—tasked singularly and collectively with higher levels of jitter diminishment. Are they largely on a par with the Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro with its inbuilt 10MHz Word Clock? Or do they raise the bar significantly?


Unlike most reviews, this review will be non-sequential, as it will start, below, with how the equipment actually sounds and not the process of physically “undressing” it and/or laying out its various parts, specifications, etc. Think of this review then, as a non-linear movie—Memento, Kill Bill, Arrival, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Terminator, In the Shadow of the Moon, The Queen’s Gambit, etc—that, likewise, starts at the end and winds its way to the beginning.


making all those strange noises as a result. Yep, jitter’s ugly. While we may not be able to do anything for the good people in this scene, the analogy hopefully provides a rough understanding and a wee bit of practical insight into what jitter is and why we want to diminish it—we want those people to stop shaking (and making that weird noise)!—like our music.

The Silent Angel Bonn NX Network Switch and the Genesis GX Word Clock (NX/GX Combo) were employed in my reference two-channel system and my reference electrostatic headphone setup (see SYSTEMS).

Silent Angel In. Silent Angel Out. Now, let’s bring to mind that earlier scene in which everyone was shaking and their bodies were

The first part of the review entailed placing the NX/GX Combo in a given system and taking notes on the differences of the system when there had been no switch or word clock, or when the Bonn N8 Pro Networks Switch w/10MHz word clock was replaced—Switch In. The second part of the review entailed taking both components out of the system entirely and analyzing the difference—Switch Out. And to reduce

variables, I used, solely, the Genesis GX’s strength relative to the Bonn N8 Pro—its 25MHz Clock.

In my review of the Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro Network Switch, I gave the following observations after initially placing it into the

rather notable leaps in improvement— transparency, resolution, ambiance, air, staging, etc—and overall musicality which conveyed greater emotional pull. Tone and timbre were more natural, there was a better realization of texture, while decay, ambiance, air, and even the indrawn breath of performers were now

“That which was quasi-intelligible … is now clear, has entered the mix earlier than previously heard, and is also more transparent and better resolved.”

Experience and hindsight are two potentially powerful tools for a reviewer and especially during a time when technological improvements blaze forward, leading to evercontinuing improvements. And this is what was experienced when switching the NX/GX Combo into the reference two-channel system and then into the reference headphone system.

If there was no network switch or word clock before the NX/GX Combo was switched in, then the improvements were vast and immediate, across the board. This was easily heard in both systems and it encompassed

The music, better refined and more organic, arose from a background that was black quiet.

When the NX/GX Combo replaced the Bonn N8 pro the improvements were also very immediate, though not as stark as having no network switch and/or word clock. The NX/GX Combo, for instance, brought an overall clarity and focus, as if quasi-translucent layers were summarily removed. This resulted in being able to hear (see) a good deal more of the stage, the performers, the crowd, their interaction, and the ‘micro-sounds’—violin bow positioned, subtle finger movements across the strings of a cello (heretofore unheard), the turn of a page, a stifled cough, etc. Further, this combination of greater ‘jitter diminishment’


shoulders, settled one in to hear the music, and, unfortunately, often prevented one from taking review notes.

However, once the NX/GX Combo was taken out of the system, things got very interesting. My reference system has evolved to be a highly transparent, resolving, detail rich, musical renderer of signals and streams and waveforms. It has deftly allowed me to parse even ethernet cables switched in/out, at the very top of the chain. And it has recently gotten even better with the addition of the Vivid Audio Kaya 45s!

The above said, it was easier for me to discern the difference without the NX/GX Combo than I would ever have imagined. The resultant increase in jitter made the music

measure of previous detail, and more, well, strident. This I would never have even imagined, despite my long years as an audiophile and music lover.

I am trying to think of a single person I know who wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, especially given my very revealing though musical reference system. I cannot think of that person. My friend’s daughter (15) couldn’t miss the change, it was that stark. Needless to say, it was a firm letdown when the NX/GX Combo was removed from the system after having lived with it for weeks.

If your system is fairly discerning— transparent, resolving, detailed and musical— you will immediately get the difference, especially if you’ve not been using a network

switch or clock at all. If you’ve only been using a network switch you will still, very much, hear the difference. However, it is taking the NX/GX Combo out that will provide a most profound understanding of that which you no longer have. At least, that is what it has done for me and my system.


The Silent Angel Bonn NX Network Switch and the Genesis GX Word Clock will together dramatically reduce jitter, period. What the switch-in of the Silent Angel NX/GX combo will entail is an eyeopening experience and a real-world introduction to ‘Jitter 101’. What this will mean in practical terms for one’s music is greater focus and resolution and transparency, more detail, and a better overall appreciation of your music. The prior ‘noise’ or ‘shakes’ as the above analogy attempts to define has simply been dealt with to a much greater degree than most will have ever experienced. Other aspects of improvement will be that tones and timbres will be more germane/natural to their points of origin— vocalists, musicians. And there will be refinement via the Silent Angel NX/GX Combo noticeable in the more natural and nuanced presentation, the sense of ease, and greater access to a performance’s spatial cues.

If what you seek is the next level with regard to effectively diminishing jitter and its attendant troublesome gremlins to a state of dramatic unnoticeability (‘shake-free’), you may

wish to look no further than the Silent Angel Bonn NX Network Switch and the Silent Angel Genesis GX Word Clock combo.

The Silent Angel Bonn NX Network Switch and the Silent Angel Genesis GX Word Clock are easy winners of our DIAMOND AWARD for excellence, which takes into account their build quality, their ‘service skill’—‘jitter diminishment’ in the interest of the music— and their ability to do it exceptionally well.

Pros: An exceptional option for mid-fi to highfi systems that will provide improvement across all aspects of the music and especially so if you do not have an optimized network switch and word clock already employed in your system.

Cons: None.


Thunder Data, Co., Ltd.

Silent Angel Bonn NX : $3999

Silent Angel Genesis GX : $3799

Thunder Data Co., Ltd

For specifications see web.

John Sexton

San Francisco




“Once more into the breach”, that is with regard to HeadAmp, a manufacturer who has consistently provided us with products for review which have continually distinguished themselves as top notch performers and thus award winners.

As I mentioned in an earlier review,

simply to get his view on the lay of the headphone space and other times to schedule a review of HeadAmp equipment. The information was always helpful and insightful and the equipment was alway shortly mailed out for its review.

To date, I have had the pleasure of reviewing the HeadAmp Blue Hawaii Special Edition (BHSE) electrostatic amplifier, an product, which remains one of my amplifiers. I have also reviewed the HeadAmp GS-X Mini, the ‘little brother’ if you will to the headphone amplifier currently under review. The Mini is quite small but packed with ability, ample power reserves, and a rather delicious

regarding HeadAmp equipment. This in and of itself is quite rare, as calls to manufacturers more often than not find themselves in voicemail purgatory or worse. I could list the names here of the various culprits, but that would be in ‘bad form’. Perhaps.

I have had a number of conversations with Justin. Sometimes the conversation was

This brings us to the review of HeadAmp’s Top-of-the-Line dynamic headphone amplifier and big brother to the Mini, the HeadAmp GS-X MkII. The GS-X MkII is a two-chassis, 6Watt amplifier with multiple inputs, outputs, and headphone outputs for, literally (with adapter in some instances), all dynamic and


planar headphone and In-Ear-Monitors (IEMs) as well. But how does it sound?

REFRAIN: Unlike most reviews, this review will be non-sequential, as it will start, below, with how the equipment actually sounds and not the process of physically “undressing” it and/or laying out its various parts, specifications, etc. Think of this review then, as a nonlinear movie— Memento, Kill Bill, Arrival, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Terminator, In the Shadow of the Moon, The Queen’s Gambit etc—that, likewise, starts at the end and winds its way to the beginning.

CD, album, stream, etc—to more accurately tell its story.


Whereas the HeadAmp GSX Mini touted a good measure of transparency, resolution, and detail retrieval, it was, above all, musical, richly musical, employing a degree of warmth that tube lovers would no doubt fall in love with.

The HeadAmp GS-X MkII goes further in every respect, while bringing a greater sense of neutrality or getting out of the way of the music. And this trait alone allows the music—

I used several headphones for ferreting out the GS-X MkII’s voicing, its skills and abilities. The headphones were the Meze Empyrean, the MkII and thus its own quite distinct synergy. I used the Abyss AB1266 as the main headphone for its outstanding transparency and resolution and its ability to let the music flow unencumbered by ‘editorial’.

The HeadAmp GS-X MkII is a good deal more transparent and resolving than the Mini and this brings forward a wealth of detail/ information and spatial cues—positioning, spacing, relative depth, etc—which will allow one to better hear or ‘see’ the performers on


moves well beyond its ‘younger’ sibling—GSX Mini—and its noise floor is much lower still. There is no area where the HeadAmp GS-X MkII does not eclipse its sibling and this, in turn, allows for greater refinement, detail, ambiance, air, three-dimensionality, and overall musicality.

The HeadAmp GS-X MkII’s volumetric cube—its soundstage or how it recreates the original venue—is chameleon like in that it will take on the great difficulty of unfolding a choral landscape in the most natural manner, though only certain dynamic and planar headphones—Abyss AB1266, ZMF Atrium, etc

The balance of the headphone reference system was taken up by the Baetis Audio Revolution X4 streamer (review coming), the Silent Angel Bonn N8 network switch, the Silent Angel Forester F2 power supply, and the Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC and the Mojo Audio Mystique X DAC BASS

Dominique Fils-Aimé’s “Birds” (Nameless, Ensoul Records) plays and the bass lines are taut, articulate, deep. This is a refinement beyond the GSX Mini’s abilities. Christian McBride and Regina Carter’s “Fat Bach and Greens” (Conversations with Christian, Mack

Avenue Records) follows and its rendering is aided by the GS-X MkII’s greater refinement, transparency and resolution which lifts ever more detail free, while blazing transients set things rocking. Collectively the traits allow for a deeper dive into the upper and mid bass. As I had mentioned in my review of the HeadAmp


“And when the ruckus starts with the playful, musical, quick-moving mix of Christian’s bass and Regina’s violin dueling or doing their ‘call and response,’ texture, palpability, and microdynamics are liberated.”

Waters’ “My Home is in the Delta” (Folk Singer, Geffen) plays and there is more “there there” in relation to overall information (see

This rendering is now bettered by the GSX MkII with its improved dynamic contrasts, greater transparency and insight into the music, and its faster-still transients that facilitate much head-bobbing and toe-tapping and swaying with the music. And the music, relative to the Mini, is delivered free from editorial and is, as a result, more natural.


Transparent. Resolving. Musical. I play the same songs/tracks that I used to evaluate the GSX-Mini (still currently in-house). Muddy

There is also, interestingly, a sweetness that diminishes nothing but that pulls one even further into the music. It was my intention to go on to Mercedes Sosa’s Misa Criolla (Universal Music Argentina S.A.) but Folk Singer has me rapt and listening intently as I attempt to take notes. Suffice to say that the HeadAmp GSX MkII has laid bare the various tracks across this album (and others), and its greater transparency has allowed for the performance’s innate live emotion, its ‘blues’, to come flowing through.


Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and then “Three to Get Ready” (Time Out, Columbia-Legacy) play


and there is greater air and ambiance, speed and weight with regard to the resolution of Joe Morello’s Hi-hat cymbals that the GSX-Mini cannot match. Neither can it match the textural detail coming from Paul Desmond’s alto sax. It is a no-nonsense portrayal that does not bring the ‘tube-like’ warmth of its sibling but, again, “Just the facts, Ma’am.” And it is both unadulterated and lovely. It is this portrayal and those like it that stand the HeadAmp GSX MkII squarely near the porch of electrostatic headphone amps.


The HeadAmp GS-X MkII is an exceptional headphone amplifier that not only outperforms its GS-X Mini sibling, but a goodly number of headphone amplifiers that have come my way for review these past years, some being a good deal more expensive.

Its attributes are many, starting with its exceptional transparency and resolution, which ferret out both detail and insight in a manner that compels one’s attention. And one mustn’t forget the lickety-split transient responses or the dynamic contrast or the air and ambiance set free.

As I look over my review of the HeadAmp GSX-Mini, I’m reminded that “things change” and “everything is relative”. When I wrote of the Mini that, “You can’t possibly be making all of this incredible music”, the same thought, though of a higher order, can now be said of the HeadAmp GS-X MkII. The HeadAmp GSX-MkII wins, easily, our GOLDEN

KEYNOTE PLUS AWARD that sits it on the doorstep of our highest award. Pros: Transparency, resolution, ability to unearth detail that some HPA ignore, a natural rendering of the music free from editorial (especially when coupled with like headphones —specifically the Abyss AB1266 Phi TC). Cons: None.).


GS-X MKII Headphone Amp: $3,299

Call or Text : 434-981-2829


Vincent Van Gogh - Avenue of Poplars in Autumn 1884
Claude Monet - Red Water Lilies


Welcome to AudioKeyREVIEWS Magazine’s Recommended Components, which will become part and parcel of each of our various issues. The purpose of this section is to acquaint the reader with products—speakers, DACs, amplifiers, preamplifiers, turntables, headphones, IEMs, streamers, portable audio, etc.—that we feel are quite exceptional and rise above their like brethren. There will be three categories —Budget, Mid-Tier, and Top-Of-The-Line. In our Budget Recommendations there will be products that compete far above their respective price point and are, generally, also built to reflect this.Our Mid-Tier Recommendations will encompass those products within arms reach, in terms of relative affordability, that present value and a challenge to the vanguard of their respective product niches. Finally, our TOTL Recommendations will be composed of those products that are at the cutting edge of technological advancement now happening across the world. The three categories of recommendations will rotate across the various issues of our magazine and there will also be a fluidity to the products within the various lists. Things change and especially now given our current technological epoch. The various lists, however, will be fixed on the website.
Paul Strand


AURORASOUND HEADA $2999: If you’re looking for an endgame headphone amplifier and even if your headphone amplifier is more expensive, try this one, you may be quite surprised. That said, the Aurorasound HEADA headphone amplifier is a top echelon component and an easy DIAMOND AWARD winner.

SILENT ANGEL RHEIN Z1 $2299: The Rhein Z1 and Forester F2 combo played far above the league that their combined price would indicate. For many, this $3,900 combo may well represent an endgame streamer/ power supply capable of exceptional fidelity with DACs from entry level to those on the cutting edge.

ABYSS AB1266 PHI TC $5999: I think that I’ve said it all. The Abyss AB1266 Phi TC is a phenomenal headphone. It brings an undying passion for musicality and a ferocity for transparency and clarity and detail retrieval, formerly the domain of the best electrostatic headphones. But this planar headphone speaks that language—electrostatic—fluently and well.


TORUS RM20 $3999: Can you say pristine, natural, open, and unhindered frequency response? Wide dynamic range? And there were oceans of detail, air, microdynamics, and ambience rendered by the Torus RM 20. It was not subtle. On the contrary, it was stunning.

RSX POWER8 $399: The RSX Power8 clearly holds to the dictum, “Do no Harm,” to the system in which it is being utilized. What it, in fact, offers is pure, clean power, a testament to the meticulous parts selection, research, and conscious minimalism all employed in its design. suffice to say, that it has no competitors at 3 to 4 times is cost.


$249.99: Disinterested in ostentation, Geshelli Labs believes in real world pricing with high fidelity performance. Their JNOG2 plus ERISH2 are a petite and potent bargain. With just enough character to put flesh on bone, the classy little twosome sets your music free without excessive color or dispensable features.

Paul Cezanne - Nature morte avec un pot de gingembre et des aubergines



Magical măj′ĭ-kəl▶ Of, relating to, or produced by magic.1

Syn•er•gy sĭn′ər-jē▶ The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.2

For us a Magical Synergy represents two components or more, that together make music far above what either make separately. Generally, we’ve discovered Magical Synergies via reviews, where we mix and match a good number of components to determine how one of the components —the component under review—sounds.

And while there may be strengths and weaknesses between the various combinations, the Magical Synergy represents that combination which has very few if any weaknesses and a wealth of combined strengths.

In this respect, we’ve done the homework for the reader by evaluating numerous combinations to uncover the Magical Synergy, as many of you may not have the time, options, or financial wherewithal to make these determinations. And Magical Synergies are not always uncovered in our reviews and or our research, as they tend to be, well, rare.

A note on the various Magical Synergies that we uncover. We are music lovers first and foremost and not professionals who produce music or movies for a living and require different synergies, nor do measurements come into determination for us of what is a good Magical Synergy and what is not. No, for this we determine by ear, heart, and soul, that

which moves us, provides for that “vibrational” comfort food, and a rich and engaging musical experience. The experience should, of course, come with sufficient detail and resolution and fidelity to recreate venue and/or the experience of listening to live music, when appropriate. After a long and trying day in this topsy-turvy world, wouldn’t it be wonderful if some small measure of nirvana could be achieved through one’s music and the components that play it back?

In other words, our Magical Synergies do not render music that is dry, unengaging, subtractively neutral (see dry, boring, etc.), flat, or lacking in dynamics, when called for.

Please find for your review a number of Magical Synergies below.

2 The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.



What happens when transparency is, seemingly, exceeded? Realism? Or, perhaps, seeming realism? This is the conundrum raised by the Abyss AB1266 Phi TC and its easy ability to make the best of the best headphones sound dull and uneventful, while it waxes on clear as a well-made bell … Yikes! The Abyss AB1266 Phi TC is a phenomenal headphone. It brings an undying passion for musicality and a ferocity for transparency and clarity and detail retrieval, formerly the domain of the best electrostatic headphones.

The Aurorasound HEADA headphone amplifier is musical from ‘Square One’, ‘Jump Street’, ‘Scratch’, or, practically, as soon as you turn it on, though it gets worlds better thereafter. It is a beautifully, carefully designed endgame component to pass down. If you’re looking for an endgame headphone amplifier and even if your headphone amplifier is more expensive, try this one, you may be quite surprised. That said, the Aurorasound HEADA headphone amplifier is a top echelon component and an easy DIAMOND AWARD winner.



There was immediate magic from the Ti 100 MkII, though this was purely from a musical perspective, which was immersive in the extreme. However, after about 100 hours the magic suffused to all aspects of the Lyric Ti 100 MkII’s performance. Tis was easily witnessed, as it followed an exceptional pair of 200 watt/channel, solid state monoblock amplifiers with dedicated preamplifier with relatively minor lessening in overall performance. Remarkable! Te Lyric Audio Ti 100 MkII is, of course, not one of those products as it has easily met our criteria for the DIAMOND AWARD, our highest award, which reflects on its excellence.

Te Vivid Audio Kaya 45s came in, with little expectation from me. Tey sat patiently while the other inhouse speakers were put through their paces And when its turn came, well, it astonished and continues to astonish. Additionally, the Kaya raised the bar of performance and award citation for not only speakers but all other equipment aw well. No small task. And this speaks to the profound abilities of the Vivid Audio Kaya 45.

Te Kaya 45s will beautifully play all genres of music and have you neglecting none, as was the case with this reviewer. Te high-fidelity touchstones are always scrupulously met and with a refinement, naturalness, ease, and musicality, most will simply never expect. I certainly did not. Tat said, the Vivid Audio Kaya 45s win our highest award, the DIAMOND AWARD, while making it look easy and yet a good deal more difficult for other speakers and components alike.



The Dan Clark STEALTH planardynamic headphone is a revelation. It exceeds its prescribed edict—to excel in planar magnetic duties—and goes on to become exceedingly familiar with, if not master of the edicts of the other headphone worlds and technologies. Again, there are very few headphones capable of doing this and fewer still with such compelling musicality. You and your music, regardless of genre, will be well served…Please note that to date, I have listened to a great many headphones, and these days it takes a great deal to move me.

Te HeadAmp GS-X MkII is an exceptional headphone amplifier that not only outperforms its GS-X Mini sibling, but a goodly number of headphone amplifiers that have come my way for review these past years, some being a good deal more expensive.

Its attributes are many, starting with its exceptional transparency and resolution, which ferret out both detail and insight in a manner that compels one’s attention. And one mustn’t forget the lickety-split transient responses or the dynamic contrast or the air and ambiance set free. When I wrote of the Mini that, “You can’t possibly be making all of this incredible music”, the same thought, though of a higher order, can now be said of the HeadAmp GS-X

Vincent Van Gogh - Path in the park at Arles
2 3






5. ALLNIC L-8000 MONOBLOCK AMPLIFIERS (not pictured)

6. AND other reviews, columns, interviews, videos, etc.



MAY 1,

Music is art, art is music.






































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