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Raal Ribbon Headphones - SRH1A

Discussion in 'High-end Audio Forum' started by once, Oct 7, 2018.
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  1. nishan99
    Just some advice, if you plan to sell the amp in the future and get the Jot R, pick a popular one with good resell value to save some $.

    The Jot R release is probably couple of months from now.
  2. Torq
    I've run the SR1a extensively with both one Vidar and dual Vidar's, both with the interface (and a number of other amplifiers) and the Jotunheim R. Both are excellent, but the Jotunheim R yields the better end result AND results in an overall response that I think more people will immediately appreciate.

    In fact, so far, the Jotunheim R stands up extremely well against much more expensive amplifiers (with the interface). It flat out beats a number of them, and personal preferences probably are the main factor in the remainder.
    exdmd and FLTWS like this.
  3. Darthpool
    Ha, glad my humor was received well...I never know when in written form lol. As far as the low volume levels go for the SR1A go...I feel they are good, but I honestly 99% of the time am in my lowest listening levels of 70db with rare dips into the 60dbs. Maybe tonight I can get some time in with them for some low level listening...but the rest of the weekend I'll be moving my whole setup into a new room (daughter is taking over my current space...and 3year olds and expensive audio/PC/camera gear don't mix so well).

    nishan99 likes this.
  4. Darthpool
    Can confirm, granted with limited listening with the Jotunheim R...but I currently run dual Vidars and originally had only one Vidar for a couple weeks. The Jotunheim instantly brought the "A" game in my limited listening time! It easily won me over to the point that I will be insta-buying the Jotunheim R when it launches to replace the Vidars in its chain.

    It has like @Torq says above "...more people will immediately appreciate." as that is exactly how I heard it...instant gratification lol. I do think the dual Vidars will beat it in certain aspects, but not enough to warrant the inconvenience of having them in the chain. Especially since I currently have my Cayin Ha-1a MKii tube amp working as a preamp for some tube flavor and warmth. Which would be un-necessary based on memory with the Jotunheim R (though I may experiment with it still in the chain when I get the Jotunheim R). Eventually I would like to add the Freya + (waiting for it to come out in black...I might not be able to though as my patience isn't the greatest asset I have).
    Torq likes this.
  5. jokostyle

    How would you compare the results obtained with the Etude Vs Jotunheim R ?

    guitardave likes this.
  6. thomaskong78
    I had driven Apogee Duetta Signature (also ribbon speaker) with Krell KSA 150 from 1989 to 1999 with satisfaction.

    The only reason that I had switched to another speaker is to get sub bass below 35hz.

    But I still miss Duetta speaker.

    Sr1a may also work well with big Krell power amplifiers.

    But you never know until you try.

    Krell class A amplifier is a space heater.
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2019
  7. simorag
    Short term RAAL SR1a impressions


    I have listened to the SR1a for the first time in the summer and I was impressed by some of their special traits.

    While I preferred the AB-1266 Phi TC overall experience and (relative) versatility, I was captivated by the SR1a transparency, detail retrieval and realistic vocal presentation.

    So, after getting some encouraging feedback (including this review) that my amp – the Riviera AIC-10, which I actually selected to max out my TC experience, after a multiple-months auditioning campaign :) – could get them to work fine despite its severely undersized 10W nominal output rating, I decided to take the plunge and bought a pair from a fellow head-fier.


    The following is my initial review after about 50 hours of listening.

    Build and finish
    The SR1a looks and feels more like a decently polished prototype rather than a luxury piece of equipment.

    Apart from subjective aspects – e.g. aesthetics – the design, construction, material selection etc. appear to come directly from the form-follows-function philosophy with limited to no concessions to perceived quality aspects.

    One of the strong points due to the lack of constriction around your ears. Adjusting of the leather band length is crucial to get the comfort right, so that the soft side pads do not push on your temples.

    Weight is not an issue to me (especially coming from the AB-1266) and I could wear the SR1a for multi-hours listening sessions, up to 6 hours straight with no problems.

    Actually, thanks to the lack of direct contact with the pads and the limited air pressure directly hitting my eardrums, reduced physical listening fatigue is one of the best features of the SR1a.

    Timbre and tonal balance
    The SR1a has a neutral, slightly tilted to cold, tonal balance to my ears.

    In this respect, it is not dissimilar to my AB-1266 Phi TC, however, due to a generally very fast response with quick attack and decay of notes, and to a less present bass / sub-bass, the SR1a sounds leaner to me.

    Given that the SR1a responds very well to EQ (more details in the following), this slight coldness can be adjusted to the listener’s preference to some extent.

    I listened to the SR1a with my AIC-10 (hybrid), the Chord Etude and Thrax Enyo (tube), and I would say that my Mullard NOS equipped AIC-10 sits in between the Etude and the Enyo with a warm-ish yet very transparent tonality, that suits the SR1a character very well in my opinion and to my tastes.

    Soundstage and Imaging
    The soundstage size is vast and fairly deep, in headphone terms, and can be tailored by adjusting the earpieces (more about this in the following).

    Ambience is captured well. Conditions where the contribution to ambience reconstruction are related to rumble or deep bass atmospherics effects are much more enjoyable with the AB-1266, and sound drier with the SR1a. More generally, I find it easier with the Abyss TC to be drawn into the recording venue character (studio, church, concert hall, jazz club, live ...), being very clear examples The Trinity Session from Cowboy Junkies and Live in Cook County Jail from B.B. King.

    trinity-session.jpg bbking-county-jail.jpg

    Although the open, reflection-free design of the SR1a provides a unique presentation, I would still place the SR1a firmly within the (best) headphone experience. Reports where the SR1a are compared to speakers (even in near field configuration) are a bit exaggerated in my opinion, as the sound comes mostly from around your head, as usual.

    By widely opening (45° or more) the pads, the nearfield loudspeaker setup mimicking effect is increased, but the imaging is less clear and the soundstage lateralization is emphasized, with a loss of cohesion.

    Imaging is as pinpointed as it gets, provided you don’t overcome the pads opening sweet spot. Layering is very good as well.

    Clarity, transparency, resolution and detail retrieval
    Off the chart performance here, simply the best I have heard from any type of transducer. The Abyss TC can even sound muffled in direct comparison.

    Readability of intricate musical passages is extremely insightful, non-musical background effects (hiss, noise, audience / musicians cough, breathing, etc.) are apparent, even beyond realism.

    Very fast piano pieces are incredibly clean, and you can hear every single note almost like a staccato, without ringing or blurring of the notes. It is a deep dive into the score that goes, again, far beyond a realistic listening session. It’s exciting, but I believe I like the AB-1266 reproduces the harmonically complex, resonant nature and full bodied character of a concert piano live performance better.

    Solo instruments like a violin, or a sax just pop out of a pitch-black background with the right recordings, adding up to realism and you-are-there perception (example: Ask Me Now, Mc Coy Tyner, Chesky Records).
    Situations where the classical "I have heard this track hundreds of times and I never noticed this" moments come out are very common (example: Jazz at the Pawnshop).

    Here the limitations of my amplifier do not allow me to provide a thorough and fair feedback.

    The AIC-10 can drive the SR1a properly (i.e. in line with what I remember from the Chord Etude I tried last August) at moderate loudness levels – actually most of my typical listening is done at 75-80dB – and when the type of music, recording level and sub-bass content allows.

    Notably, I had gross bass distortion problems with organ, hip-hop (honestly, I use some hip-hop tracks only when testing equipment, as I don’t listen to this genre normally) and clipping with quietly recorded classical pieces in extreme dynamics passages like tympany attack, or full-blown choruses.

    However, with baroque, piano, jazz, singer/songwriter, progressive rock no artifacts or hardening occurred which I could relate to amp struggling. Most of my listening is done with the knob under h13.

    All this said, dynamics is generally good, but not great. Response is softer than with the Abyss, and I miss the sheer scale and the physical impact of the air hitting my skull and ears that the AB-1266 can produce, even at modest listening volume.

    Apart from lack of power / current from my amp, I believe a limitation on visceral impact of the SR1a is produced by its open design as opposed to the traditional sealing pads, because I had the same feeling when I tried the RAAL with the Etude and Enyo.

    Being addicted to the mighty AB-1266, I was expecting a severe disappointment here.

    Actually, the overall bass performance from the SR1a is better than I thought, quantitatively in line to what I remember from the HD800S. All goes quite fine until 100Hz, then some roll-off starts mildly and a drastic drop occurs on the last octave.

    Bass quality is excellent – within the caveat above – especially in terms of speed, texture and articulation.

    After applying some EQ, I got closer to the amount of bass quantity I was looking for, together with a moderate, but welcome, increase of overall perceived warmth.

    About bass slam in general, and that missing last octave, here is where the power limitations of my AIC-10 kick in, so I would rather avoid over-commenting about the sub-bass capabilities of the SR1a by themselves.

    Of course, in my present set-up and for my mild basshead tendencies, the Abyss TC outperforms the SR1a by far in terms of bass satisfaction. To be honest, the endorphin shot from the sub-bass kicking-in in albums like the ones below, that the TC are able to deliver is – I believe – not possible to achieve within the SR1a design envelope (driver response, pad-less earpieces).

    hey-now.jpg pictures-exhibition-organ.jpg trittico.jpg

    The SR1a midrange is very close to my subjective perception of neutral. Using vocals as a midrange benchmark, I have got the most realistic vocals presentation heard to date from a headphone.

    The LCD-4 provided richer, more seductive and euphonic female vocals, while SR1a provides realism through a striking clarity, texturing, body, while retaining a cooler timbre. Again, a similar signature compared to the TC.

    An outstanding feature of the SR1a is how well the vocals are separated by the rest of the music, whereas with the TC they are a bit recessed and blended / blurred in direct comparison.

    Same Girl album, from Korean singer Youn Sun Nah has provided immense pleasure to my ears via the RAAL.


    The same stands for stringed instruments. Listening to the late Beethoven string quartets with the SR1a has been one of those goosebumps moments.


    Treble is very well refined and liquid, and has an extension which, I guess, easily surpasses my (15kHz limited) hearing capabilities without roll-off. Cymbals, triangles sound spookily real, well placed and with the right size.

    Being sensitive to sibilance and treble peaks around 7-8kHz in general, I was happy to find that the SR1a, while being on the bright side, are not too aggressive to my ears.

    Sibilance from the SR1a is better than what I was afraid of, and after a bit of EQ correction at around 7.5kHz, I am getting a smooth, non-fatiguing response without sacrificing transparency and the sense of air too much.

    Response to EQ
    My experience with EQ has not been great in the past, as I always ended up doing more harm than good, especially in terms of reduction of transparency.

    With the SR1a, I was happy to find that they are able to take some EQ with very limited drawbacks, and I am now using them with a +4dB bass increase (low shelf) from 80Hz, a small dip around 1800Hz and a -4dB, Q=1.5 dip at 7500Hz.

    With this set-up, the overall listening experience is extremely polished and well balanced (still a bit bass-light for my tastes), and listening fatigue drops to nearly non-existent levels.

    Effect of pad opening and headband adjustment
    As an AB-1266 owner, I am used to adjusting the headphone structure to fine tune the sound presentation, and the SR1a allow a similar possibility, by changing the opening angle of the pads and the headband length.

    A larger pad angle provides soundstage widening and a softer, more diffused sound, while placing the pads more parallel (and, by doing so, closer) to your ears increases gain, imaging focus and intimacy.

    My preferred set-up, at this point (i.e. after about 50 hours of listening time only) is with an approximated 30° opening for most situations.

    Furthermore, moving the pads forward / backwards (by changing the placement of the headband on my head) and especially upwards / downwards (by changing the length of the headband) made a difference, as it changes the coverage of my ears by the ribbon driver area.

    For my small head, the best setting was the shortest headband (see below) , where the drivers are nicely overlapping my ears. This improved soundstage depth and imaging stability.


    All in all, the SR1a is very much worth experimenting with the fit and needs a bit of time and patience to be tailored for best performance, no different than AB-1266 also to this respect.

    Preliminary Conclusion and Next Steps
    I am really enjoying my time with the SR1a so far, while still being in the process of re-discovering my library in order to identify the portion of it that the SR1a, driven by the AIC-10, can render in the most satisfying fashion.

    My next steps are to continue this very enjoyable rediscovery process, possibly leaving the critical listening approach I have kept in these first couple of weeks, and allowing myself to relax more and get lost in the music.

    Afterwards, I will begin to come back to the Abyss TC for some more direct back-to-back comparisons, which will ultimately lead me to a criterion for balancing my listening between these two great headphones depending on mood, musical programme etc..

    Fun time ahead :wink:
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2019
  8. manishex
    Excellent review as always. Matches my experience of the two. Thanks simorag.
    simorag likes this.
  9. Zhanming057
    @simorag Thanks for the review. I agree with most things. The only clarification I would make is if you want to listen at anything above 75db or so, you'll need a stronger amp than the AIC-10. At a (probably) more common evaluation volume of 95db, having 100w or more to allow the bass to fully extend is crucial. Even at 75db I suspect that the AIC-10 is constraining bass performance...but I haven't heard the combination.
    Darthpool, simorag and FLTWS like this.
  10. guitardave
    I received my SR1a’s yesterday, along with a Benchmark AHB2 amp. I have been listening for a couple hours today, mainly because I cannot walk away! I thought I would just listen to a couple songs but yowzah, this is addicting! I started with my oppo 105 into the benchmark and loved that, but moving to an auralic streaming hi Rez Qobuz into a pavane into pre and benchmark is just really pretty stunning. The purity, musicality, nuance, and emotion are exceptional. It just sounds like the entire playback chain has been eliminated and a much more direct connection is in place now. The sound is literally perfect to my ears. image.jpg
  11. earlinarizona
    Could someone clear up a few things on the SR1a for me as I just joined in.
    1) Some have said you need over 120 watts to properly run the SR1a but I noticed the Schiit Jotunheim only has less then one watt. The Riviera AIC-10 which I was very impressed with at Munich this year playing MySphere headphones only has 10 watts. Can someone clear this up for me.
    2) Can the SR1a sound like you are listening to a speaker in the room or still small sound in size. The Mysphere did seem to create speakers in the room but there was just too much noise at the time to gather a good opinion. Besides the bass could some of you use these in place of a very good sized room speaker or does it just give you the power and size of a desktop speaker?
  12. Zhanming057

    1) You need 150w into 6 ohms with the original adaptor box to reach 111db spl at 33hz. Practically, you don't want to be listening to music at 110db for anything longer than a minute, so if your evaluation volume is lower than 110db, you can cut back on wattage accordingly. I still consider about 50w the bare minimum for regular speaker amps since bass speed is also lost when going to lower power, but YMMV. The Jot R skips the adapter box entirely and runs on about 18w. The difference is that the original adaptor box serves as a voltage to current adaptation. The Jot R skips the adaptor entirely and can run on lower wattage. See my signature for my review that talks a bit more extensively about the wattage requirements.

    2) The experience will be closer to the Mysphere than speakers. Not a real substitute but you can drive it off the same system as a desktop speaker system.
    exdmd likes this.
  13. simorag
    The AIC-10 is able to properly drive the SR1a only within two, pretty firm, constraints: a) you listen to relatively quiet volume (75-80dB max), b) you don't listen to bass-heavy tracks and / or music with extreme dynamics swing. This is a rather limiting usage envelope, therefore I would say that the 10W AIC-10 (its designer told me that the 10W rating is very conservative, and 15W+ is the typical actual measure btw) is NOT a great amplifier for the SR1a in general.

    I suffer from bland tinnitus so I have made an habit over the years to lower my (typical) listening volume, which I have consistently measured to 70-75dB SPL average / 80-85dB SPL peak, and at these levels I have the feeling that the SR1a are not held back most of the times. Furthermore, I listen to a lot of baroque and chamber music - not known for being earth shattering - so in my particular case I may end up discovering that the SR1a covers a significant enough part of my listening, as a complement of the AB-1266.

    Considering that every 3dB SPL increase you have to double the amp power, I can totally relate to @Zhanming057 50W bare minimum / 100-150W recommendation to handle 95-100dB SPL peaks through the adapter with minimal distortion, plus some headroom, being the bass the most crucial aspect. There's no substitute for raw power for that, I am afraid.

    As a note, at the recent Tokyo Autumn Fujia Avic Headphone Festival, the SR1a were driven by the 250W Mytek Brooklyn Amp. It seems a convenient package, not excessively expensive or hot or bulky (thanks to class D design). I would be curious about how it pairs with the SR1a tonality-wise, as I don't think I would like a dead-neutral amp with them.

    I tend to correlate loudspeaker presentation to a live event mostly in terms of soundstage, as in both cases the main sound source is in front of you and only reflected sound comes from the other directions.
    This is a major differentiator from headphones experience, together with the fact that sound waves hit your entire body instead of your eardrums / skull only.

    The SR1a can indeed produce some out-of-your-head illusion where the perceived soundscape extends outside your ears and even produces some hints of frontal image with the right recording, but they are no way 'creating speakers in the room' or 'replacing' listening to loudspeakers.

    Rather, they fall into the best possible headphone-like soundstage / imaging experience, with the advantage (with respect to most headphones) of not having the pads sealing around your ears, and this, by the mere fact that your ears are in free air, helps the illusion of not wearing headphones.
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2019
  14. Sound Eq
    well i heard the mysphere and was not impressed at all, bass distorts especially with songs with sub bass, well I know maybe mysphere was not designed to handle sub bass well but for me for such a price tag i would not accept short comings, and I did not feel the rest of the listening experience was better in mids or high or even sound stage to my hifiman 1000 SE at least i get great bass, mids highs and a big sound stage as well

    wonder how how the Raal compares to mysphere, and if my ifi ican pro would be able to drive the Raal, also i have peechtree Nova 300 would that be a good amp for the raal
  15. biscottino
    I had mysphere for a few months and I played it with Chord Hugo2 and Riviera Aic10, and I can confirm that the low range when listening to quite high volumes and with musical genres that weren't classical music or small jazz ensembles, the driver arrived at the end of the course.
    I have an old k1000 in my house and the driver does not suffer from this problem, my thought is that the Mysphere driver is simply too small to work in the air and not in a closed headset.
    The Raal is a completely different game, zero distortion, no limits except those of the amplification to which it is connected.
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