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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. Zhanming057
    HoloSpice likes this.
  2. Bill13
    Appreciate Zhanming057's review. As an owner of the SR1A, I can see where he is coming from. I feel that this is a definitely an audiophile - not so much a commercial - headphone --- I will attempt to explain as follows.

    If DIY mods of the 5.6 ohm adapter box were allowed without voiding the warranty, I could add R-C components to passively roll off the treble a bit, slightly boost the low bass & even consider bringing up the midrange a bit - I wouldn't call adding midrange EQ = 'adding a bit of midrange coloring'. I think that if Alex ever decided to sell such an optional adapter box, he could add on/off switches to allow the user to cancel, or modify some, or all, of the optional headphone 'hi fi tunings' - and so forth.
    After playing around with EQ for these headphones, I am convinced they can satisfy most audiophiles with do-able changes. In an earlier post I mentioned that I felt that EQ can even transform the SR1A into a more forgiving euphonic "Ether 2 on steroids" - if that's what the listener wants.. Alternatively, I can design a simple passive R-C line-level EQ circuit that would be easily connected to the amp, or pre-amp input.

    IMO, The apparent bright treble and perceived midrange problems need not prevent audiophiles from buying this headphone.

    A neutral amp is best. IMO, amplifier selection is not the way to 'tame' or make these headphones sound better. .

    I feel that the choice of power amp is not critical. The SR1A presents an easy-to-drive resistive load to a power amp. My measurements show the SR1A needs little power (under 2 watts) at what I personally consider to be moderately loud listening levels. I have yet to see my Hypex Ncore 400wpc 2ch amp draw more than only 23 watts power {22 watts idle - with no signal) from the 120 VAC outlet (used a power meter).
    Unless the amp draws a lot of power just idling, like for example, class-A high-power tubes, the electric bill shouldn't be a big concern.. Way I see it, a good 100 to 150 watt amp is plenty.

    Regarding the headphone's sound signature, or 'tuning' I feel that it's unfortunate that Alex has implied that one should just get used to it. Somehow, I think Alex really intended his SR1A engineering design for audiophiles - not primarily the commercial market. Sorry, but there's some recordings that I just can't get used to. Rather than get a more forgiving, lower performance headphone, I prefer to simply adjust the SR1A's response to my subjective preferences instead.
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2019
  3. protoss
    Your review is great. And your love for these cans is fascinating!

    From your point of view it seems like Staxs and planar are outdated old tech. And the SR1A is a true 21st century headphone? Your remarks on these cans making every other headphone 'sound' to be sub-par next to this monster (SR1A).

    I wonder if other companies will adopt this ribbon tech or just let it slide in the coming future?
    HoloSpice likes this.
  4. Zhanming057
    I guess we're coming from different places - I don't like digital EQ, and I know that there's no good reason why it can't work just as well as physical EQ, but I personally prefer to moderate my systems physically, through the amp and DAC, instead of digitally adjusting the sound. If I can't get the right sound through amp swapping, I buy another pair of cans.

    At my listening volumes (and the position on which I use the SR1A's) I routinely hit 80w+ power output peaks as monitored on my amp's (Nagra Classic INT) output. Average consumption is less than 10w, though. But if you like loud listening and use an open position and have the drivers further forward of your ears, average draw of 30w+ is quite possible - but mileage may vary depending on the amount of current from your amp. Some amps are much more efficient at delivering current than others.

    Either way, it's a fantastic professional tool and I do think that this is the kind of signature a professional sound designer (I used to be one, at least on every other week) would appreciate.

    There are a lot of design constraints here - the power requirement is a really big issue, whether most other headphones are extremely loud at <1w. We're talking about 50-100x the power envelope for regular headphones. If you're a speaker guy, you still might not have an amp that's strong enough for those, and if you're a headphone guy you almost certainly will need a new amp, speaker cables (although there's a short set in the box), and the kind of environment to handle the headphones. If you need isolation, I imagine it's pretty difficult to build the ribbons into a closed design, if that's even possible at all.

    I have owned a good number of TOTL cans (Utopia, 1266 phi, Diana Phi's, to name a couple) and while I wouldn't call planar and dynamic tech outdated, I agree that ribbon tech brings some much needed differentiation to the industry. My last big headphone "wow" moment before the SR1A's was the Abyss 1266 Phi on the Viva 845. The one before that was the HE6 on the Dark Star. And while the Abyss TC is fantastic in many ways, technically it's still not on par with the SR1A on resolution, dynamics and transparency, and it feels to me that there are some fundamental design limitations of planar drivers that are starting to come into play. And there simply isn't that much R&D into dynamic drivers these days - the Mysphere's square driver is the most interesting thing I've seen in that regard since the Utopia.

    The analogy of the rotary engine comes to mind. You have a lot of theoretically really good things about rotaries, some people swear by them, Mazda showed that they can make rotary engine supercars that crush competitors in high level racing events, but they always came with big compromises and eventually didn't catch on. I definitely hope that ribbons have better luck than rotaries, the question is whether enough people will be willing to work with the compromises for uncompromising sound quality.
    lambdastorm and HoloSpice like this.
  5. protoss
    Yes, this looks like the biggest disadvantage for this headphone.

    The investment for a brand new Speaker Amp, wires, Pre-amps and even a dedicated Dac to just to drive this headphone might be too much for a average person.

    And the electricity problem will also be a problem! I can imagine wearing the headphone for 2-6 hours a day and having all those gears I mention on top on and running.
    HoloSpice likes this.
  6. Aleksandar R.
    Right! I enjoy the era in which the recording is made, the differences in sound of each label, enjoying to see their understanding of good sound back then...even if it sounds fairly bad in modern terms. This approach is not unfortunate to me and I enjoy having a window into the past.
    That is, if we're talking about the same thing.

    Anyhow, I'm all for having several EQ presets that make certain things more enjoyable, if creating them and flipping between them isn't a hassle for you as it is for me. Remember that I liked your EQ post! SR1a is very easy to EQ as there are no issues in sound that might jump out to bite you.
    HoloSpice and Bill13 like this.
  7. Aleksandar R.
    Zhanming057, this is a great review, thank you!

    I hear your and Bill13's suggestion of maybe having an adjustable, passive, interface unit...

    It does sound nice at a first glance, but the real extent of adjustments is limited to 1st order shelving slopes. To put things in perspective, a Baxandall shelving tone controls are vastly more capable and more usable than what could be done passively, if we're going to have a benign impedance curve that won't torture the amplifiers.

    I'll give it some serious thought, and maybe do some trials in a foreseeable future.
    bambamfc, HoloSpice, llamaluv and 2 others like this.
  8. Zhanming057
    Hypothetically, there isn't anything the Baxandall does that digital EQ can't do - but a lot of processing is involved. I'm skeptical about Smyth specifically, but audio DSP is going through some exciting times, and now we have the processing power to do really high level processing of music in real time. When our group worked on GPU computing topics, we had a quick demo where we used robust principle component extraction to filter out background talking from a simple violin track in 64kpbs, in real time, trained from a single violin clip. This does require some $2,000 worth of GPU's, but costs are getting cheaper every day. Pushing that to 24 bit DSD perfectly will probably require an entire room of hardware.

    I would still feel better about the physical adapter box, but I don't know the extent to which playing with the box can alter the FR gracefully. Do the headphones have to be neutral by design? How much tuning is done by the box and does it have tolerance to, for example, roll off the treble?

    One thing I do want to point out is that at price parity, speaker amps are, on average, basically better devices than headphone amps. The 2 channel market is larger and there are a lot of big players with big R&D budgets, as opposed to the headphone market where mom-and-pop shops are the majority.

    Not to say that small companies can't build excellent products, but when you open up a $8,000 Wells Headtrip and compare that to, say, a Nagra Classic AMP or something from Accuphase that's (very roughly) the same price, you really see how far that R&D difference goes and the degree to which high end speaker amps are overengineered. The Headtrip I tried (mk1) has perceptible noise with the AK T5p, my Nagra Classic INT is whisper quiet with balance armature IEMs. Another example is the Woo WA5, an excellent amp in its own right, but no match for reference 300b power amp designs (Airtight comes to mind).

    In a sense, if you are new to summit-fi headphones and starting fresh, the SR1A's allow you to use a system with better engineering and components than a system with a comparably priced headphone amp. And once you get past the $1,500 mark, I would probably recommend a used speaker amp over a headphone amp for something like the Abyss 1266 or HE6, so you do have some coverage on developing the system down the road.
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2019
    bambamfc, HoloSpice and lambdastorm like this.
  9. Bill13
    Alex, agree that active EQ is better - I like using Redscape computer program - can create, and rapidly select stored EQ settings on the fly - Good for YouTube stuff.
    However, there are self-contained multi-band equalizers on the market (guess that goes without saying).

    However, I have constructed DIY simple 1st order line-level EQ circuits (placed at amp input, or preamp input) that boosted the deep bass frequencies and alleviated bright trebles - IMO, without degrading overall sound quality. Yes, such passive circuits seriously lack adjustment capability. Can only do so much without compromising the sound quality.

    Incidentally, I have a many decades old R-L-C based Soundcraftsmen 20-12 Stereo Frequency Equalizer. Was fun to play with. Uses toroidal and ferrite core inductor passive components & up to 24dB (+ or - 12 dB) range of equalization for each of the 10 octave bands per channel. As I recall, a reviewer (maybe it was in Stereophile ?) claimed he could not hear a difference after inserting this equalizer into his chain when all of the ten octave bands were set to '0 dB'.

    I think that because the SR1A has a 5.6 ohm to 6 ohm resistive interface box, perhaps some simple R-C 1st order EQ components could be added without adversely loading the power amp - but yes, such 1st order approaches are likely inadequate anyway.
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2019
  10. rickles
    Really enjoyed the review Zhanming057! Also really enjoy listening to your Raal setup! :)
    llamaluv, HoloSpice and Zhanming057 like this.
  11. llamaluv
    I've been thoroughly enjoying my evening -- with these guys:

    20190228_230815 raal cropped.jpg

    I don't know that anyone's mentioned the B-word yet, but from what I've just experienced, it seems very real (Burn-in). Just two hours in, the bass came in -- quite a lot. Treble too, to a lesser extent. I think after 5 hours now, the tonality has evened out a bit more still. Brain burn-in too, no doubt, but still...

    At the moment, I'm using a low-shelf of 4dB with a low-Q, sloping gradually into the lower-mids.

    On fit, the headphones angle outward a little rather than dropping straight down off my head, so for now I use a thin velcro strip to join the two headphones wires and pull it up under my chin (like as if it was a chin strap), which brings them in and gives me an even pressure of the two vertical pads in front of my ears. This evens out the frequency response and brings in the lower-end as it should be.*

    * I should mention at this point that I may have done @WilliamWykeham's Luxman amp a disservice by describing it as too bright earlier. In hindsight, I think the SR1a was too loose and the bottom was too far from my lower jaw, negatively affecting low-end response.

    But yea, they're very comfortable, easily trumping your garden variety full-sized cans.

    I don't want to comment much on SQ this early on, and also being unsure if they will continue to change with burn-in. But I'm very much enjoying things so far.

    One thing I will say, however, is that I'm continuously fighting the temptation to turn up the volume past where I would normally allow myself to. One, because I like how they're sounding turned up (duh). But two, because of what's described in "Observation 1" on this page of the 6moons review, which I thought was a pretty perceptive point.

    I did want to return to something I mentioned earlier, about possibly hearing the driver bottoming out with some super-compressed bass on @cradon's setup with the preproduction unit. I played the same track this evening at an equally loud volume and didn't hear anything remotely like what I heard on the pre-production unit; the track sounded like I would have expected.
  12. HoloSpice
    Hahahahahaha, " we're coming for you Hifiman, Sennheiser, Stax, Audeze, Focal, Meze, Abyss, MrSpeakers, Sony,etc

  13. doyouknowSBmean
    Anyone knows where I can have a test drive on them near NJ/NY area?
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2019
    HoloSpice likes this.
  14. Aleksandar R.
    Gee, aren't we all ugly! Bad camera!

    Well, if we could belong in the company of the likes you mentioned, I'd be the happiest of them all!
    HoloSpice likes this.
  15. Aleksandar R.
    I'm not sure, but it would be best to talk to Danny about that, as early as 7AM Pacific time.
    Danny McKinney : 818-437-0779
    doyouknowSBmean likes this.
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