AudioValve Solaris universal amp
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Ableza

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My search for a great sounding headphone rig that rivals my former high-end 2-channel system (that I miss so much) continues, and has led me to the AudioValve Solaris amplifier, designed and hand-made by Helmut Becker in Kassel, Germany.

The Solaris is a "universal" amp in that it is a genuine integrated that can drive any headphone including dynamic and electrostatic sets, plus it can drive loudspeakers with its binding posts on the back. It is a dual-mono design, and delivers up to 12 watts per channel of OTL Class A tube power, has multiple inputs (balanced, singe-ended, and even a MM phono preamp built in) has front-panel gain control and a balance control. It also has pre-outs in case you'd like to use it as a preamp for external amplification. It uses Russian 6GV18 (ECL85) tubes, not exactly standard fare, and the owner's manual warns against "tube rolling" and states that removing the glass top before the 3-year warranty expires (without factory authorization) will void the warranty. Solaris is continually servo biased, so the tube performance remains at peak for their life.

Solaris is a handsome looking amplifier. I am not normally seduced by looks and bling, but I must say the gloss black exterior, gold knobs, and large window to view the tubes has improved the looks of my home office listening area immensely. It also comes with a simple remote volume control, just in case you need to sit more than arm's reach from it. The amp is large, about the same size as a standard home hifi receiver, and weighs in at about 10 Kg (22 lbs.) My version does not have a DAC built-in, but it is available in that configuration.

So how does it sound? I use a signal path that is a Roon music server, player is Sonore Ultrarendu, DAC is Schiit Yggdrasil (V. A2) to the Solaris, and currently listening with MrSpeakers Ether C Flow and Sennheiser 650 headphones. Cables are from Audio Quest and Zu Audio. I played a variety of music since my taste is somewhat eclectic, ranging from Mahler's 3rd to Killing Joke, Steely Dan, Depeche Mode and Herlin Riley. I also listened for a while to some Motown soul courtesy of Qobuz high resolution streaming.

The sound from Solaris was universally excellent, with a slight bass emphasis that should come in very handy when using electrostatics. It seems to have a bit of a house-curve built in rather than being ruler-flat and to my ears it sounds very good. It brought my dynamic headphones to life. One of my ulterior motives for choosing Solaris was its ability to also drive electrostatics, but is has made my Ethers come to life in such a way that I am less inclined to make that investment. Although... I hear Voce calling my name.

There is absolutely zero detectable noise from the amp and dynamics are shocking. FR is beyond human hearing and THD is rated at 0.002% @ 1 watt. This amp can drive headphones with authority, clarity and musicality. Switching over to loudspeakers, the sound was equally impressive into my ancient set of rebuilt Infinity RS-IIs that adorn the back wall of my office. Very nice.

I said in the beginning of this post that I was striving to replace the sound of my old 2-channel setup. I used to own a Shindo Cortese amplifier, and the sound from Solaris very much reminds me of the Shindo with its F2A tubes and custom hand-wound transformers. What I hear now is very close indeed. So close that I find myself missing it less...

Solaris is not an inexpensive amp, but for the capabilities it offers I feel it is well worth the money. It comes in at less money than a Blue Hawaii SE, and has more capabilities, for example.

I highly recommend Solaris as an end-game amplifier.

IMG_0984.jpg

https://www.audiovalve.info/shop/headphone-amplifier/verto-kopie-2/
 
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RCBinTN

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I played a variety of music since my taste is somewhat eclectic, ranging from Mahler's 3rd to Killing Joke, Steely Dan, Depeche Mode and Herlin Riley.
Great review! I'm certainly on-board with your music selection :)
 
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Ableza

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Great review! I'm certainly on-board with your music selection :)
And just for you, RCB, I'm currently listening to Tab Benoit. That guitar is right here in the room with me... :)
 
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RCBinTN

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Sweet! Which album, if I may be nosy?
 
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Ableza

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Ableza

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TheDuke990

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Good choice. I'm as well a happy Solaris owner.
 
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Ableza

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urs

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David,
Thanks for your review.
As you point out, the SOLARIS is a "Universal Amp" indeed: It drives all types of phones perfectly.

I use it mainly, but not only, with my STAX 009S.
Other phones I'm using are the Stax 007, the Focal Stellia and an old Sony and previoulsy the "Mag-stat" Ether
https://www.head-fi.org/threads/stax-sr-009s-new-flagship-electrostatic-earspeakers-released-with-impressions.877870/page-45#post-14595659
(all my listening & tests were with the SOLARIS, of course !)

Needless to say I'm very happy with it. There only very few "Universal Amps" around - especially with tubes.
The SOLARIS I like also due to its very practical switches, such as rotary control elements and tuning options...AND it has a remote for volume ! :wink:

Regards
Urs
 
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eycheng

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Thanks for the review. I'm debating between AudioValve RK3, Luminare and Linear Tube Audio MZ2, MZ3. I'm curious how Solaris compares oneto RK3 sonically, and whether anyone has compared AudioValve offerings to LTA ones?

My primary cans are Focal Stellia, Audeze LCD-3; IEM is Campfire Atlas. I'm currently using RME ADI-2 feeding into a Woo WA8. The later is what I'm looking to replace.
 
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Ableza

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Thanks for the review. I'm debating between AudioValve RK3, Luminare and Linear Tube Audio MZ2, MZ3. I'm curious how Solaris compares oneto RK3 sonically, and whether anyone has compared AudioValve offerings to LTA ones?

My primary cans are Focal Stellia, Audeze LCD-3; IEM is Campfire Atlas. I'm currently using RME ADI-2 feeding into a Woo WA8. The later is what I'm looking to replace.
Perhaps Mr. Becker @rkvfather will be willing to reply to your query.
 
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rkvfather

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Solaris and RKV3 are basically identical amplifiers, but twice as powerful as luminaries. We switched to a different tube type 3 years ago from PCL805 to ECL65 / 6F5P.

The PCL 805 tube was no longer available worldwide and ECL85 has been able to secure many thousands of pieces for us.

So today, the performance data are slightly higher in comparison to the models before 2015.

Luminare has 2 x ECl85 per channel and delivers about 8 watts per channel. The two larger products bring have 12 watts per channel.

Since the chassis of Solaris and RKV 3 are almost identical except for the STAX function, it can be assumed that both sound the same.

Overall, the larger amplifiers are sovereign, because they have more reserves.

We still have some sources of information about Luminare, Solaris and RKV 3 available for you to visit.

They are partly German, partly written in English and give impressions from other users.

: https://audiovalveforum.de/upload/forum/

and a big german forum

https://www.open-end-music.de/vb3/forumdisplay.php?f=225
 
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Ableza

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Three quick updates. Using my current dynamic headphones, MrSpeakers Ether C Flow primarily and Sennheiser 650 just for testing, I can report comparison based on my memory of my two previous amps. I had used a Woo Audio WA22 with stock tubes and I found it much too "forward" and somewhat aggressive. The midrange was too in my face for my taste, and the bass repressed. I replaced it with a Schiit Mjolnir 2 with Gold Lions which was much more neutral and had plenty of bass, but which seemed to lack "life." It seems dynamics were suppressed. Solaris suffers from no such limitation in either case and I am in love with the sound of this amp.

Second, after discussing with @rkvfather I am now switching the amp to STAX mode when listening with loudspeakers. This is much more satisfying than using IMP mode which the owner's manual seems to prefer. More power to the speakers and better headroom. So if you use Solaris and loudspeakers, try this.

And thirdly, I was able to audition a set of Stax 009 and MrSpeakers Voce on the Solaris, brought to my house by a friend. I much preferred the sound of Voce, and these will be my next purchase. I will post an update once these are in my house and I have some listening time.
 
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