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SPL Phonitor E Headphone Amplifier

Rating:
3.5/5,
  1. Army-Firedawg
    Straight forward and well built solid state amp. that sounds just as nice
    Written by Army-Firedawg
    Published Apr 2, 2017
    3.5/5,
    Pros - Great built, easy to use, powerful, linear
    Cons - Unsure if it comes w/ dac or what price is w/ or w/o dac unit, universal remote function can be a little finicky.
        It’s not too often that someone other than a company reaches out to me asking if I would be interested in reviewing a product. The majority of my reviews come from my own legwork and throwing my name out there and hoping for the best. But that’s not the case in this instance, this time I actually had the pleasure of having a fellow head-fier @grizzlybeast ask if I would be interested in taking part in a tour he was putting together. So to you my friend I give my heartfelt thanks for it means a lot to me for someone who hasn’t even met me to give me such trust with a rather expensive product. But pleasantries aside
     
     
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    A little about me
        I would like to say that first and foremost I am NOT an “audiophile” but rather an audio enthusiast. I listen to music to enjoy it. Do I prefer a lossless source? Yes, of course. But I can still be very happy streaming from Pandora or even my YouTube “My Mix” playlist. I also prefer equipment that sounds the best to me personally regardless of what frequency response it has or rather or not it's “sonically accurate” and I always have and shall continue to encourage others to do the same.
        I'm a 25 year old firefighter, for the City of Concord North Carolina as well as the U.S. Army North Carolina National Guard. The cliché of wanting to do this since I was born couldn't be more present with me. I've worked hard over the last several years to earn this position and now it's time for me to work even harder to keep it.
        My interests/hobbies are power lifting, fishing and relaxing to audio products and reviewing them to help other decide on what products would work for them. Few things make me as an audio enthusiast/review feel more accomplished than when someone tells me that I helped them find the type of sound they've always been looking for.
        Now, the sound signature I personally favor is a relaxing, warm and sensual sound that just drifts me away in the emotional experience of the music being performed. Yes, accuracy is still important but I will happily sacrifice some of that if I'm presented with a clean, warm sound that can wisp me away into an experience that makes me yearn for more.
        My ideal signature are that of respectably forward mids and upper bass range with the bass being controlled but with some slight decay. I like my treble to have nice extension and detail reveal with a smooth roll off up top as to not become harsh in the least. Examples of products that have given me chills and keep giving me the yearning for more feels are the (in no particular order) Bowers & Wilkins P7, Oppo PM-1/2, Empire Ears Hermes VI & Zeus XIV, Audeze LCD-XC, Meze Headphones 99 Classics.
    Equipment used at least some point during the review
    -Headphones
        -Audio-Technica ATH-W5000
    -D.A.C.
        -Schiit Bifrost 4490
    -Source
        -LG V20
        -HP 15634 Laptop
    -Misc. Equipment
        -Source cleaner
            -iFi Nano iUSB3.0
    Disclaimer
        I am by no means sponsored by this company or any of its affiliates. They were kind enough to send me a product for an arranged amount of time in exchange for my honest opinion. I am making no monetary compensation for this review.
        The following is my take on the product being reviewed. It is to be taken “with a grain of salt” per say and as I always tell people, it is YOUR opinion that matters. So regardless of my take or view on said product, I highly recommend you listen to it yourself and gauge your own opinion.

     
    The Opening Experience  
     Why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience
        Please allow me to explain why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience with a product. Maybe it’s due to my southern roots in the hills of eastern Kentucky, but I’ve always been raised under the pretense of when you introduce yourself to someone for the first time you present yourself with confidence, class, character, pride, and competence. You greet the other person with a true warm smile, eye contact and a firm handshake. Anything less or short implies to other person that you either don’t care about them, are too full of yourself, too busy to be bothered by the likes of them, or worse, just generally disrespectful.
        As a consumer, I take this same belief to when I open a new product. Why? Because think about it this way. How else can a company introduce themselves to their customers? How do they present their products? Are they packaged with pride and presented in such a way that makes the listener eager to listen to them? Or maybe they’re just wrapped up and placed in an available space. How about the box itself? Is it bogged down with jargon that says look at this, look what I can do. I’m better than anything on the market and here’s why read this and check out that. Or, is the package clean, simplistic and classy? As if saying to the customer ‘Good day, pleasure to meet your acquaintance. Please give me a listen and allow me to show you what I can do and allow my actions to speak louder than my words.’
        This is why I feel so strongly about the initial presentation of a product, and I feel it’s truly a shame more people don’t. But with all that aside, let’s discuss how this products introduced itself shall we?

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        When a product of this price tag enters into my review quo I can’t help but get giddy and also nervous. I always put really high expectations on a company to provide me a memorable experience throughout the lifetime of the product and this includes me initially opening it. SPL did about what I would come to expect. It arrived in a standard cardboard box with the SPL logo and a picture of the Phonitor e on the front with the SPL logo on the sides along with a checkmark by the type of Phonitor e I recieved (110V, American plug).
        So was I blown away by this? Nah. Will I forget about the unboxing in a couple weeks? Most likely. But I also didn’t find myself disappointed either, it was an average unboxing of an amplifier.

     
    Construction
     
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        The build quality of the SPL Phonitor e is top notch. Aluminum throughout its construction, sleek and smooth corners and frame and inputs for days. But to get a little more in depth than that I’ll start with the front. The volume knob is rock solid with no side/side play at all but retains its butter smooth rotation. Beside that you’ve your Matrix knob which goes C1, Off, C2 (to be discussed further in the features section) in which each selection is firm and presents a notable click so you know when it’s in its spot. Moving on you’ve your analogue input on top and your digital inputs on bottom (this unit can be equipped with a integrated dac) that both present the same confident selections as the Matrix switch. On the right side of the Phonitor e you have your 4 pin XLR balanced and ¼” output jack respectively. Then beside them, to finish things up, you’ve the power switch (well, standbye switch).
        The sides and top are quite straightforward; they’re smooth black aluminum that doesn’t have anything on them.
        The bottom is the same as the sides and back minus each corner has a beautiful aluminum vibration absorbing foot that is bottomed with a soft yet very durable rubber to mitigate any vibration from the table the unit would be sitting on.
        The back on the unit is quite the opposite of the above, there’s quite a bit going on back here. Starting from the left and moving right, we have the 110V power input (also available in 230V if desired), the actual power switch, analogue inputs (RCA & 3 pin XLR balanced) and then lastly the digital inputs (coaxial, optical, USB) for when you’ve opted in to the available integrated D/A converter.

     
    Features

     
        Honestly, the SPL Phonitor e is a pretty straight forward solid state amplifier that, if wanted, can be equipped with a D/A converter (to be discussed later). But as mentioned earlier, this device has a Matrix switch that according to SPL adjusts the cross feed setting from the standard 30 degree speaker placement. C1 has less crossfeed than C2 which I would assume to have more. From my personal testing and going back and forth I hear no discernible difference between the Off setting and the C1. However the C2 setting seems to “move” the “speaker placement” to a more narrower setting for I can hear less detail from the side and rearward. The difference is very small but still noticeable
    The last feature that’s present within the SPL Phonitor e is the ability for it to sync up with “any” universal remote. Unfortunately I had a rather difficult time getting this set up. Now, to disclaim, I was using the Universal Remote app that came with my phone (LG V20) so that may have played into the problem because I got the learn mode to activate once (the volume knob rotated all the way down as it’s supposed to when it begins the learn mode) but was unable to get it to work since then. Now with that aside, the feature is a really cool setting and it very plausible to work due to the volume knob being motorized.
     
    Specification (Copied straight from the SPL website)

     



    Phonitor e

    Headphone Amplifier



    XLR Input

    1. Neutrik XLR, balanced, Pin 2 = (+)
    2. Impedance: ca. 20 kohms
    3. CMR: -82 dBu (at 1 kHz)
    4. Max. Input Level: +32.5 dBu

     

    RCA Input

    1. RCA,  unbalanced
    2. Impedance: ca. 10 kohms
    3. Max. Input Level: +32.5 dBu

     

    Digital Inputs (optional)

    1. Coaxial SPDIF (RCA)
    2. Optisch TOSLINK (F06)
    3. USB (B)
    4. Sample Rates (kHz): 44.1, 48 , 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192

     

    Balanced Headphone Output

    1. Neutrik 4-pin XLR connector 
    2. Pin wiring: 1= L (+), 2= L (-), 3= R (+), 4= R (-)
    3. Impedance: 0.36 ohms
    4. Damping Factor: 180 @ 40 ohms
    5. Frequency Range: 10 Hz to 300 kHz ( -3 dB)
    6. Crosstalk at 1kHz: -90 dB 
    7. THD & N: 0.00091 % (at 0 dBu, 1kHz, 100 kohms load)
    8. Noise (A-weighted): -98 dBu
    9. Dynamic Range: 130.5 dB 

     

    Unbalanced Headphone Output

    1. 6.35 mm TRS connector 
    2. Pin wiring: Tip = Left, Ring = Right, Sleeve = GND
    3. Impedance: 0.18 ohm
    4. Attenuation Factor: 180 @ 40 ohms
    5. Frequency Range: 10 Hz to 300 kHz ( -3 dB)
    6. Crosstalk at 1kHz: -90 dB 
    7. THD & N: 0.00091% (at 0 dBu, 1 kHz, 100 kohms load)
    8. Noise (A-weighted): -103 dB
    9. Dynamic Range: 135.5 dB 

     

    Max. Output Power (at +30 dBu @ 1 kHz)

    1. 2 x 1 W at 600 Ohm impedance
    2. 2 x 2 W at 300 Ohm impedance
    3. 2x 3.7 W at 120 Ohm impedance
    4. 2x 2.9 W at 47 Ohm impedance
    5. 2x 2.7 W at 32 Ohm impedance

     

     

    Internal Operating Voltages

    1. Analog: +/- 60 V
    2. Digital: + 5 V and + 3,3 V (optional)

     

    Power Supply

    1. Mains voltage (switchable): 230 V AC / 50 Hz or 115 V AC / 60 Hz
    2. Fuses: 230 V: T 500 mA; 115 V: T 1 A 
    3. Power consumption: max 30 VA
    4. Stand-by power consumption: 0.7 W

     

    Dimensions (incl. feet)

    1. 278 mm W x 57 mm H x 335mm D
    2. 10.95 in W x 2.24 in H x 11.19 in D

     

    Weight

    1. 3.3 kg; 7.3 lbs (unit only)
    2. 4.4 kg; 9.7 lbs (shipping)

     

    0dBu = 0.775V. Specifications subject to change without notice

     


     
    Sound

     
        The sound of the Phonitor e is one of smooth elegance. I’ve put as many hours as I was able to within the week I had it and not once did I get fatigued. The detail retrieval is exactly what I would expect from a product of this price point. Well, let me go into that slightly. The Phonitor e retails for $1,499.99usd but I am not sure what this product costs with the available built in dac. so my deciding that it’s expected of a $1500 solid state amp is on the assumption that it’s WITH the included dac. due to I’ve been unable to find a listing of how much this unit costs with the dac built in OR what it would cost to upgrade the unit that doesn’t have the dac. When using the dac I find its detail retrieval to be on about the same level of my Bifrost 4490. The main thing I was able to decide that separated the two is that the 4490 had better separation with larger background inclusion (I can hear voices reverb off the background better with the Schiit).
        Getting back on track from that likely confusing first paragraph. Just talking about the Phonitor e while using its own dac, I find the sound to be very smooth and detailed. There hasn’t been any instance of my music that I feel I was missing a detail that otherwise should’ve been there. The volume selection is beautifully linear with power for days. The headphone I used was the Audio-Technica ATH-W5000 which has shown to be a stickler for certain amplifiers and likes to be given a nice amount of juice otherwise it doesn’t shine like I’ve found it able to. And the W5000’s paired seamlessly with the Phonitor e, unlike that of my Schiit Lyr 2 (perhaps it’s a tube amp/solid state thing).

     
        

     
    Conclusion

     
        I really enjoyed my time with the SPL Phonitor e during my week with it. It was a super smooth solid state amp. that is built with the level of care and craftsmanship I’d expect no less from a product of this price tag. It’s optional built in dac has very nice detail retrieval and is only minimally separated from that of my Schiit Bifrost 4490 (honestly unsure if that’s a good or bad thing because as I said earlier I’ve been unable to find a price of having the dac added). As for my final thoughts, I wasn’t offput by this amp. To me it was a normal amp. of this price and neither disappointed me nor impressed me too much. I do really like the remote setting though, only wish I was able to get my phone to sync with it.



     
    Also, make sure to check out my unboxing and review videos. They’re pretty awesome AND you getta put a face to the Army-Firedawg name. If this review helped you out at all please hit that thumbs up button for it really helps me out a lot. Till next time my friends, stay safe.
    1. Sonic Defender
      I owned a SPL Auditor and very much liked it. The synergy with my 600ohm DT880 was uncanny. The grip and control over the driver was just fantastic so I can only imagine the Phonitor is also equally impressive.
      Sonic Defender, Apr 3, 2017
    2. Army-Firedawg
      I most certainly maintained a tight control over the headphones I used. Now nothing in my arsenal is above 300 ohm so I can't match your results but I'd image it'd be just an upgrade to the sound you liked so much. Thing's built like a tank though for sure. 
      Army-Firedawg, Apr 15, 2017