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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
    Keeping the content (mostly) on the SR1a's:

    - First, I would have no issues whatsoever with throwing the SR1a's around in exactly the way I would throw around the V6's. That's a testament to Raal's build quality more than anything else. They are every bit of a professional-grade tool as an AT5047 or a Solaris DAC, and I would have zero issues treating it as such. The build quality might not be as refined as, say, Focal, but they are exceedingly robust and durable.

    - Second, I am not trying to manipulate anyone. If you genuinely believe that "the V6 is all anyone needs for resolution" then power to you. But I - and I suspect most audiophiles - will disagree strongly with that point. And not only do the SR1a's go above and beyond in impulse response, as Alex points out, they excels at an objective level of presentation of information which is entirely orthogonal to the quality of the impulse response. And that is what, I would argue, makes these headphones truly great for professional production. You can't disentangle the appeal of these cans from the fact that they present great information - although I do agree that relative to contemporary flagships, the response speed is the main attraction.

    - Third, while quite impressive and certainly competitive with contemporary offerings, the Orpheus HE90 is deeply overrated - I've had more than one discussion with people who flatly refuse to believe that the HE90's are anything less than God's gift to head-fi enthusiasts. Sennheiser isn't magic. They don't have engineers that are magically better than anyone else. They don't own the no-compromise audio market. And they work with the same constraints of power, control, materials as any other headphone brand. I will tell you, as a matter of fact, that if you put the SR1a's (or the Abyss Phi's or the Susvara, the bar isn't that high) onto one of the stronger speaker amp offerings, you have a system that is objectively more impressive than the HE90 in most, if not all aspects of sound reproduction. And not only do you not need $10k for the setup, you'll actually get a warranty on both the cans and the amp. Ditto for the R10's, but I wouldn't even call those competitive with modern closed-backs such as the Ether C Flow. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Sony engineers and I personally own the XJE-MH2, which is a tribute to Sony audio design more than anything, and I can only imagine how impressive the R10 would have been in 1989. But the world has moved on, and you may as well do the same.

    - Finally, while I have not tried the HE1's, I have recently shared my SR1a's with a few people who have. The consensus seems to be that, if you put them onto a world-class speaker amp, the SR1a's are, at the very least, extremely competitive with the HE1 if not outright besting it on technical grounds. It would not be surprising that you can only push the electrostat design so far in terms of bass extension and bass control - and I did find the Shangri-La's bass not particularly competitive with top planars. The main difference between the SR1a's and something like the Abyss Phi is that the former scales up better with summit-fi 2-channel gear and is capable of fighting summit-fi electrostats on treble speed and treble extension. If I ever get a chance to demo the HE1's, I'll write up a comparison between it and the SR1a's on the DMA400/DMC 30SV, which is the strongest system, if judging on technical merits, that I have ever tried the SR1a's on.

    One thing I want to point out is that in the 25 or so years since the HE90's, IEMs have experienced massive innovation not only in terms of methods of using drivers but also the drivers themselves. A UE7 or ES3 from 2006 shares little in common with a modern 3BA design such as the UM Mirage or the JH Diana. The drivers themselves are smaller, more efficient, and better matched. Flagship IEM's are incomparably better than they were 10,15 years ago not only because of driver count inflation but also because it's easier than ever to design hybrids, incorporate exotic driver technology such as piezoelectrics and open BA's, and utilize difference shell materials as an integral part of the tuning. If you handed me a pair of U18t's in 2005 I would have been absolutely floored by how good they are. They would have sounded like they came straight out of a science fiction novel.

    Why would the same evolutionary process elude big cans? If you handed me a pair of Mysphere 3.2's in 2005, my reaction would not be materially different from the U18t scenario. Just because BA's have existed for nearly 40 years now doesn't mean that BA's from 2005 are the same as BA's from 2019. It's not that people never tried to build planars before the HE5 and HE6 - but they really weren't very good. It has been more than a decade since Hifiman started to seriously invest in planar tech, and If we applied your argument in a literal sense, Alex would not be able to improve on the SR1a's in a decade either, because at that point aluminum ribbons would literally be "old tech" for headphones.

    Anyways, I find it curious that you would exclude the possibility that cans are getting better in terms of resolution while acknowledging that the SR1a's are indeed better at resolution than just about every pair of cans out there. It's like saying that only an EV can have more ponies under the hood than any gasoline car. It's just a really weird argument.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2019
  2. HoloSpice
  3. WilliamWykeham
    Some interesting amp observations during a long listening session with @llamaluv where we compared his Bryston 2.5 SST2 with my Luxman 505u and his Pass Labs x150.8, each one being fed by a Schiit Freya on full solid state mode. To start with our blind test of the Pass Labs 150.8 and the Bryston, I had a clear preference for the Bryston. I loved the bass emphasis / quality of bass, open soundstage, and superb instrument separation compared to the Pass Labs, which sounded smaller and too trebly. I was surprised by how different these amps sounded. @llamaluv shared the exact same opinion, and this is without any indication on his part, prior to my listening, about what he heard in each amp. Differences between the Bryston and the Luxman were smaller but still noticeable, though not nearly as pronounced as differences with the Pass. The Luxman had a pleasing, warm tonality that paired very well with many pop, compressed recordings, whereas the Bryston for me performed exceptionally with well-recorded acoustic music. I am now very much considering complimenting my Luxman with a Bryston.

    We also compared dacs however we weren't able to A/B. I brought my Qutest / mscaler over and compared to his Pavane. I actually really liked the Pavane. Huge instrument separation, very enjoyable to hear. Was a little disappointed going back to the Qutest. @llamaluv was very intrigued by my Qutest and its smooth sound. I feel that part of my slight disappointment in general with the Qutest relates to the fact that I recall how wonderful the Dave was - darker, and smoother.

    We also may have some super interesting observations about burn-in to share soon, but this is going to require another session before we can come to conclusions. @llamaluv, correct me if I've misstated any views.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2019
  4. llamaluv
    Thanks!, that characterizes my impressions well also.

    I'm still puzzled/disappointed by the lack of synergy with the X150.8 and am still trying to come to terms with it. The upside to that is gaining a renewed appreciation for the relatively unimposing, previous-generation Bryston 2.5B SST2, which -- in addition to its sonic merits -- is like 3x lighter, consumes about 3x less power, and generates many many times less heat (!).

    Comparing DACs using the RAAL was really interesting thanks to the SR1a's exceptional transparency and resolution. It made the differences in presentation of the DACs more readily apparent. This is the sort of thing I used to say about the Utopia (over and above any planars I've heard, actually), but the SR1a is of course on another level...
  5. Aleksandar R.
    I also didn't expect the Pass to lag that much behind the Bryston, as I recall it to be a very good amp.
    But especially, that Bryston bass is really what those ribbons like, isn't it!
    That's why we're considering carrying a Bryston instead of a Benchark to the shows.
    llamaluv and HoloSpice like this.
  6. HoloSpice
    jesus alex, you designed a monster that eats alot of power and my wallet :disappointed_relieved:
  7. Aleksandar R.
    I already regretted it! Imagine carrying around a Bryston to do the Show! Should have done the Kynar piezo cans instead! :)
    HoloSpice likes this.
  8. Jerseyboy
    [QUOTE="WilliamWykeham, post: 14844651, member: 449185"

    We also may have some super interesting observations about burn-in to share soon, but this is going to require another session before we can come to conclusions. @llamaluv, correct me if I've misstated any views.[/QUOTE]

    I would be very interested to hear your observations about "burn-in". I have noticed some perceived changes over the past few days but it could be due only to my hearing being "re-tuned" fo the SR1A ?
    HoloSpice likes this.
  9. Zhanming057
    That's surprising to me as well. Was this tested on both the Metrum and the Qutest? Did you allow the Pass to get up to working temperature before doing the a/b (which may be 10-15 minutes as they are generally designed to run quite hot)? Is it possible that the P3 was limiting the dynamics of the less efficient amp?

    That said, I wouldn't be surprised if Bryston did have better synergy with the SR1a, it's just that I recall that the X150.8 is an excellent amp and I wonder why it wouldn't match up against an older bryston design. Perhaps tuning would be more cohesive with a Pass preamp, which is how I've tested their amps in the past. I would say that with something like Spectral you absolutely need to think about them in terms of a pre/power stack. Have you tried running the Pass from a passive pre just to get a sense of what the amp on its own is capable of doing?
    HoloSpice likes this.
  10. ToroFiestaSol
    I would love to hear this headphone but with a Gryphon amp, such as the Diablo 120.
    Reading some impressions here, that headphone is screaming for it! :)
    Bad news, this theorical pairing is, in the luckiest situation, 11k € :frowning2:
    But 240w 4 ohms, zero feedback, first 20w (4 ohm) in class A, awesome bass and tone (it's one of the least "solid state" sounding amp you can buy without being a boomy mess) coupled with that Raal transparency...one can only dream :frowning2:
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2019
    HoloSpice likes this.
  11. tunes
    SR1a vs STAX ST009S?
    BreadMaster and HoloSpice like this.
  12. llamaluv
    All good questions. The X150.8 was plugged directly into the wall and was fully warmed up. We tried it into both XLR and RCA, and both in buffered solid state mode and tube mode using the Freya preamp. All interconnect connections were solid. And as I've been listening to it for a few days now, have tried it it through the P3 regenerator as well.

    I'll probably do a few more rounds of listening and also try out passive mode with the Freya, using my Goldpoint passive RCA preamp, and finally directly from the DAC for good measure.

    It's only had one previous owner who's liked it a lot. I'm really loathe to go down this road, but I may reach out to Pass and see if they think it may be worth sending it in a checkup...
    HoloSpice and Zhanming057 like this.
  13. Zhanming057
    Another question - do you also prefer the Bryston on your Susvara? The INT60 works quite well with the Susvara and LCD4.

    If they have a local dealership, it should be possible to ask them to run some simple tests to see if it's performing within spec. Pass does have an almost tube-like signature on many of their power amps, and their THD ratings are somewhat more conservative as a deliberate choice. If the preamp is muddying up the output because of the higher total distortion, running it straight off the DAC might resolve that issue.

    I haven't heard the 009S but from discussions with friends in Japan, improvements over the 009 seem to be rather limited. Stax has had problems turning a profit for years now, the used market is hurting new sales, and I would not be surprised if they didn't have the funds to substantively improve on the design. If anyone here has spent time with the 009/009S side by side, I would love to get your take on how much they differ.

    When compared to the 009, the SR1a is even faster and the difference in bass quality and extension is huge. The Stax is a bit more intimate but if you match systems (e.g. something like the AHB2 or Bryston 135^3 as a counterpart to the BHSE), the 009 cannot compete with the SR1a's on resolution or imaging.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2019
    HoloSpice likes this.
  14. llamaluv
    Yes, actually. With the limited listening I've done with it on the Susvara, it sounded pretty good, but the Bryston sounds fairly amazing. Also, on the X150.8, the bass was extra big but lacking subtlety.

    Also, good suggestion on the local dealership angle, thanks. They actually have a new guy in NYC who's a long-time audio tech/engineer, so that could work out well for me.
    HoloSpice likes this.
  15. Zhanming057
    That's definitely quite weird - hopefully the Pass guy can sort it our or verify that it's not a hardware issue.

    This might be a while ago, but did you notice any of the weirdness on Cradon's INT150? AFAIK that's mostly the same amp with a built-in pre stage.
    HoloSpice likes this.
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