It’s been a little over the year that I have reviewed Black Pearl headphone amp from earstream, which you can find here where I also mentioned Sonic Pearl, including the 6moons review, so, that’s how it all began.
After I finished my Black Pearl review, I ended up buying one, fully loaded with PSU and Battery Powered supply, which I am still happily using in my system, driving AKG K702, however, I was always interested how Sonic Pearl sounds like, and gladly, Michal was very kind to fulfill that wish.
Well, my idea was to write a Sonic Pearl review, based on comparison to its little brother, but I decided to put something else in between as well, but before that, I would like to say that, while they are from the same house signature family, in the sense of refinement and tonality SP is definitely a different kind and this is because of upgraded power supply, some tweaking in the design, upgraded components, such as volume pot and very solid chassis.
All above translates in their price, where BP starts from EUR 450 and SP starts from EUR 1450, however, my own Black Pearl did cost me EUR 700, because I bought an external battery power supply with automatic charger as extra.
Both are fairly transparent and will not cover much, but higher you climb with your system, faster you appreciate that difference.
This review is based on comparison between the Sonic Pearl, Black Pearl and SPL Phonitor.
Regarding my system, things changed a little, I got an external DAC, but the rest still remain, so here we go:
Source: Unison Research Unico CD player (2x NOS ECC82 Mullards)
DAC – Blacknote DAC30 (Gold Note Italy)
Headphone amplifiers: Sonic Pearl, SPL Phonitor MK1 (on loan, thx to tohenk2), Black Pearl and Cary CAD 300B SEI integrated amp
Headphones: AKG K702, HD800 (on loan, thx to tohenk2)
Power supply: KEMP Electronics
Analogue Cables: Ear Stream Sun Rise (on loan from Ear Stream), Rumi ( on loan from SilverFi cable atelier ) & Van den Hul D102III Hybrid XLR
Digital cables: DHL Labs Silversonic USB & SilverFi Digital S/PDIF RCA
Music: E.S.T. “Good Morning Susie Soho”, Lars Danielsson “Tarantella” and “Libera Me”, Shelby Lynne “Just a Little Lovin”, Patricia Barber “Companion” and “Verse” Chris Minh Doky “Scenes From a Dream”, Arild Andersen “Hyperborean”, Ketil Bjørnstad & David Darling “Epigraphs”, Joona Toivanen Trio “Frost”, Rachmaninov piano concertos 1&2 by Krystian Zimerman with Boston Symphonic Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa,
Beethoven Symp no 9 XRCD24 The Solti Collection – Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Sir George Solti, Jean-Guihen Queyras - Bach Cello suites, Anna Netrebko – Sempre Libera, Buddha Bar XI, Buddha Bar IX, Buddha Bar “Ten Years” and more…
Aesthetically, Sonic Pearl is totally different level and size than its little brother Black Pearl.
First of all, it is much bigger & heavier, looks very nice and built like a tank.
This is because of a bigger power supply inside, very solid aluminum body and very good looking / designed volume bottom. I do like how it looks in general, also ON/OFF lights are nicely dimmed, kind of discrete, if I can say so. There is nothing that irritates and volume control is very smooth and while design is kind of standard, but certainly got some extra care and attention and you can see and feel that.
There are 2 differ colors you can choose from: white and black, both are classic, but also stylish.
Amp is not balanced and standard comes with normal power supply, but can be customized with battery supply on order.
It is also possible to combine the purchase with custom made interconnects and power cord, price will be more interesting. I am using such cable that has been suggested by Michal, called Sun Rise. Build quality, finish and sound are very good and are matching with the amp very well.
My music choice was not different from my Black Pearl review, but there are always more than you can mention, but that was the basis I was normally focusing
BASS and its tonality
Let’s start with acoustic bass and cello, from E.S.T., Arild Andersen and Jean-Guihen Queryas.
Well, this is very interesting territory, always been the main issue for many people who own AKG K701/702, as most folks find them bass shy. Well, that’s not a lie, but also varies a lot, depending on the source quality and the system behind.
Stepping from Black Pearl it is obvious that Sonic Pearl has more delicate and upfront character and while it’s more closer to your face, bass is deep and clearly separated from midsection, which translates in better balance overall, however, it kicks less hard than Black Pearl, especially with electronic music, it is very obvious that BP is punchier, because of this.
When I listen to contra bass through both, I do hear 2 differ tuned instruments. While both are detailed and controlled, Black Pearl plays at little higher note with raw touch, where Sonic Pearl have more wood in sound, that also vibrates slightly differ, with touch of softness ( not rolled off ), but without losing natural tone.
When I compared to SPL Phonitor, I hear very tight, clear and clean bass coming out form it and to me, it’s very close, if not the same, to Black Pearl, at least, it have the same higher and dryer tone, however, in the picture as an whole, it separates much better from the rest. This is, actually, what distinguish Phonitor from other two, its precision and freedom from any coloration. He is also less upfront sounding and distance is just a little too big for my liking.
For example Bach cello suites by Jean-Guihen Queryas, which were recorded in church, are breathtaking and tonally very balanced Sonic Pearl naturally mixed in a whole, without disturbing any moment of it and while he were playing without anyone around, the feeling that you are there never left me. Cello sounds very organic, you feel that the sound have been naturally influenced by the surroundings, where Black Pearl does that trick as well, simply because of its less extreme precision, but Phonitor reproduce cello as it been recorded in the studio, showing his PRO nature. It’s not that I don’t like the tone, but for my taste, it doesn’t have to be all the time, that preciseness with too much focus on specific matter, if you know what I mean.
SOUNDSTAGE & IMAGING
Sonic Pearl is the most airy solid state amp I heard so far, sound is big and the way it portraits, makes listen very special, because of mixture it combines.
Black Pearl doesn’t sound that big, slightly narrower left & right staging, but still doesn’t destroy the natural feeling of it. Actually, this is, all together with refinement and balance, is that moment of true, where you realize why one cost more than another. I believe that combining so many things together, such as intimate and closer signature with such big and airy sound, which also has enough depth in such balance, is not that easy task and requires a lot experience and knowledge.
When I listen to SPL Phonitor, it is clear that he have most deep staging, to deep, its pushed much further than I wish it was and I like both Pearls, in that regard, by far. On the other hand, Phonitor combines such depth with extreme precision and air as well; actually it is opposite what Sonic Pearl does, but still not at the same level by ratio:
Sonic Pearl – Very airy and spacey with enough depth and best balance
SPL Phonitor – Very deep and precise with enough air, good balance
Black Pearl – Spacey, with equally deep and wide stage, fairly balanced.
I was listening to Beethoven no.9 XRCD24 the Soldi Collection hi rez file and it is so obvious when you switch from Black to Sonic Pearl that things I described are there, however both Pearls bring the performance to the top, where Sonic Pearl is the most impressive, feels powerful and most impactful, that’s where HD800 were shining like a star for me as well, which is another eye opening. I was drawn in to the orchestra, like I have been many times by the see golfs; you become a part of this perfectly explode mega mixture of sound that feels nothing but boost of emotions, it suck you in and fulfill with every single note that been plaid, it’s like been electrically shocked, when your whole body got tense and this what I call visualizing reality, been there, been a part of it and simply enjoy every single moment of it, moment of perfection.
When I switched to SPL Phonitor, it was like switching from perfect picture to one that just been slightly downsized, soundstage just transformed in to the differ form, it was like dropping from HD800 to K702 kind of staging: deeper and airy, but because of such change, the impact is gone and the orchestra feels smaller. You know, this is not complain, but simply a fact, when you combine HD800 with Sonic Pearl, it become very obvious that to beat that combo, you must offer a lot and Phonitor, unfortunately, not fully on pair with Sonic Pearl up here. Yes, extremely precise, accurate and dead neutral, but certainly playing with its own characteristics/parameters. Phonitor do not show much freedom, he like precision, yes, again and again, that’s what it does, such precision, in some moments, make you visualize the boarders and for me, Black Pearl kicks not that far behind up here either.
MID FREQUENCY SEDUCTION
Things are pretty clear here, at least for me they are. Sonic Pearl wins, hands down. She is like farm butter on the bread, baked in brick kiln, like virgin olive oil and sourdough bread, like Ive Mendes, if you like. She will seduce you, no matter how strong you may be, you will smear that butter and dope that bread, just to extinguish that sin fire inside you and I don’t even want to start about IveJ
Less refined Black Pearl walking just a step behind, but not with head down, as what it does, is nothing less than showing natural arrogance, she is a brutal typo, who just know very well how far to push and that feels nice…
Where all this leaves emotionally flat Phonitor? Well, he can’t complete the task, unless you are deeply in love with its dead neutral basics. To me, it sounds apathetic and this can be very tricky, so, be aware, because, if your system show any sign of flat and analytical manner, man, you should run.
TREBLE and TROUBLE
Black Pearl shows some of them, trouble I mean, not only because of less refined and delicate nature, but also because it have enough honesty in the character, it is more than less toward neutral, but no way dilute kind or aggressive, and to me, have much organic nature than Phonitor.
SPL Phonitor goes further, due its basics, the treble is unmistakable and I am not having any trouble here with extra attention to the detail of it, crystal clear and clean, as it should be. He will not cover any issues; will be honest and always “annoyingly” precise.
Sonic Pearl is perfectly balanced and refined, even with very nasty moments, nothing but mercy and gentle finish, without marking or rolling offs and your ears, while can get prickly, will never going to bleed.
Conclusion and disclosure
What we have here are tree fantastically placed in their price range performers and while I may came as very critical at some points, it refers to my personal preferences only.
SPL Phonitor, oh boy! I don’t think I can live with it for longer period; this is too much of a good, if you know what I mean. There are things I really like about that guy, but as much as I do, there is also a factor of enjoyment and he left me with wanting more, especially holy midsection.
Black Pearl doesn’t need more words than I already wrote, just read my review, if you like of course. Perfect? No. Self-confident? Certainly yes!
Sonic Pearl is nothing but fundamental finesse, like a good Merlot, so, if you like me, do not torture yourself by sickly trying to find the same tonality in differ kind grape and save the time to enjoy music, especially if you are HD800 or K702 user and if you ask me, this amp going nowhere, that’s all I can say.
THX for reading.
Mr. Michal Wyroba
Edited by Blackmore - 1/29/14 at 7:05am