SparkoS Aries headphone amp
Oct 30, 2020 at 12:48 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 323

project86

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I spent some time with the SparkoS Labs Aries headphone amp recently, and wanted to get a discussion going since I was highly impressed by the performance. I don't see much info around here so I figured a new thread would be a good idea.

dscf1250.jpg

The Aries goes for $2499 in "base" form or $2999 for the pre-amp capable version. They are the same aside from the feature set, and I like that users can save money if they have no need for those extra inputs/outputs. The amp has just a single-ended 1/4" output and thus may seem overly simple to some users... but when you hear it, you'll understand. This thing is strikingly clear, transparent, and supremely FAST. I can count on one hand the amps out there which display this level of incisiveness. Amongst that group, many feel overly analytical and dry, while Aries just feels natural. I can't believe how great this thing sounds!

dscf1254.jpg

Now, $2.5k or $3k is not at all cheap but in terms of top-caliber headphone amplification it actually comes across as rather affordable. And again, performance is up there with some of the best around.

More thoughts can be found in my article at Darko.Audio if you'd like to know more.

Has anyone else heard this thing? I know plenty of people using the SparkoS discrete opamps but haven't heard much discussion of the Aries, which is a shame considering how great it sounds.
 
Nov 1, 2020 at 9:04 AM Post #2 of 323

Nostoi

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Thanks very much for this. I read your review with great interest, and the amp sounds about perfect for my needs. I'm looking for a highly resolving, neutral, and transparent amp to pair with my Hugo 2, which would be driving the ZMF Verite Closed alongside Audio-Technica AWKT and AWAS.

I wonder if you have also heard the SPL Phonitor Xe and are in a position to offer a brief comparison, especially in terms of their transparency and speed?

Thanks again.
 
Nov 2, 2020 at 2:37 PM Post #3 of 323

Pastwa

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Thanks for sharing!

How would you compare the Sparkos against Niimbus that I believe you also have had a pleasure to spend some time with? From the brief description of Sparkos it seems to me that both amps might have very similar traits (very good sound definition, overall transparency and dynamics).
 
Nov 2, 2020 at 2:58 PM Post #4 of 323

project86

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Thanks very much for this. I read your review with great interest, and the amp sounds about perfect for my needs. I'm looking for a highly resolving, neutral, and transparent amp to pair with my Hugo 2, which would be driving the ZMF Verite Closed alongside Audio-Technica AWKT and AWAS.

I wonder if you have also heard the SPL Phonitor Xe and are in a position to offer a brief comparison, especially in terms of their transparency and speed?

Thanks again.

First off, I neglected to mention that Zach at ZMF uses the SparkoS Aries as his solid-state reference when tuning his headphone designs. He also owns a HeadAmp GSX mk2, but tells me he uses the Aries over it "9 times out of 10". That's certainly high praise from a respected 3rd party who has no skin in the game (if anything, it's a competitor for his Pendant amp).

I add that just to give you an idea that your Verite probably makes a superb match with the Aries. I have not checked out those latest AT woodies but your mention of "highly resolving, neutral, and transparent" is pretty much the exact description of this amp.

I've heard the Phonitor X somewhat briefly, but not the XE. Honestly I don't even know what the differences are. As has pretty much always been my experience with SPL products, I liked but didn't love the Phonitor X. My quick impression is that it's just a good general performer with a slightly warm, vague presentation, good for most headphones and genres without any particular standout trait. Not a bad choice by any means but also not as compelling as some others in that price range. You;ll note I did not include it in my recent Darko roundup of 4 higher-end headphone amps, despite it fitting perfectly in terms of price. That should tell you something.
 
Nov 2, 2020 at 3:23 PM Post #5 of 323

Nostoi

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First off, I neglected to mention that Zach at ZMF uses the SparkoS Aries as his solid-state reference when tuning his headphone designs. He also owns a HeadAmp GSX mk2, but tells me he uses the Aries over it "9 times out of 10". That's certainly high praise from a respected 3rd party who has no skin in the game (if anything, it's a competitor for his Pendant amp).

I add that just to give you an idea that your Verite probably makes a superb match with the Aries. I have not checked out those latest AT woodies but your mention of "highly resolving, neutral, and transparent" is pretty much the exact description of this amp.

I've heard the Phonitor X somewhat briefly, but not the XE. Honestly I don't even know what the differences are. As has pretty much always been my experience with SPL products, I liked but didn't love the Phonitor X. My quick impression is that it's just a good general performer with a slightly warm, vague presentation, good for most headphones and genres without any particular standout trait. Not a bad choice by any means but also not as compelling as some others in that price range. You;ll note I did not include it in my recent Darko roundup of 4 higher-end headphone amps, despite it fitting perfectly in terms of price. That should tell you something.
Marvellous, thank you.:pray: The SparkoS Aries it is, then!
 
Nov 2, 2020 at 3:34 PM Post #6 of 323

427546

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Most reviews of this amp seem (yours and others) to be focused around pairings with dynamic headphones. Curious as to if there's any reason for this, and how you found it paired with harder to drive planars like your Susvara?
 
Nov 2, 2020 at 7:28 PM Post #7 of 323

project86

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Thanks for sharing!

How would you compare the Sparkos against Niimbus that I believe you also have had a pleasure to spend some time with? From the brief description of Sparkos it seems to me that both amps might have very similar traits (very good sound definition, overall transparency and dynamics).

Good point, the Niimbus US4+ is actually quite similar to the Aries in a lot of ways. If forced to point out differences, I'd call the Aries more focused on leading edges of transients, with faster decay and thus perhaps even more perceived detail retrieval, or more immediacy if that terms makes more sense. Meanwhile the US4+ digs a little deeper down low, producing a greater sense of dynamic impact and scale. Niimbus has a richer tonality, Aries gives more sparkle and air up top. It's just a slightly different focus. Obviously the SparkoS amp is far less expensive, which is a big benefit. The US4+ is better at driving tough loads like Susvara and Abyss though, so I'd definitely choose it when building a system around one of those headphones. Meanwhile both do a superb job with IEMs, so it's a tie in that regard. Ultimately the tonality difference, as mild as it may be, is the biggest differentiator between the two.

Bottom line - I'd call the US4+ the "better" amp for my preferences more often than not. But the margins are not huge. SparkoS Aries offers much of the performance of the mighty Niimbus amp for a drastically lower price.


Marvellous, thank you.:pray: The SparkoS Aries it is, then!

Enjoy, and let us know your thoughts once you get it all set up!


Most reviews of this amp seem (yours and others) to be focused around pairings with dynamic headphones. Curious as to if there's any reason for this, and how you found it paired with harder to drive planars like your Susvara?

It does well enough with Susvara and HE6-SE etc. Perhaps not completely ideal but still very, very good. As in, only a handful of potent amps out there like Niimbus, Formula S, or speaker amps would get better results. Meanwhile more "reasonable" planars like LCD-3 or LCD-4, HE-1000, Empyrean, Kennerton Thekk, all do extremely well with the Aries.
 
Nov 25, 2020 at 6:52 PM Post #8 of 323

Sam Spade

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Looks like I'm getting a sparko aries for my home office which is where i do most of my listening. Ive bought a chord Qutest to go with it. It will just be a headamp for the time being. I have an integrated marantz PM80 driving my dynaudio bookshelf speakers on my desk. It's a beautiful amp 20 rms in class A switchable to 100 rms in class AB. I have a burson conductor 3X reference in my main system as a headamp/preamp. It is astonishingly good. It will be really interesting to compare the CX3ref and Aries as head amps. I'll also compare the DAC in the burson with the Qutest
 
Nov 26, 2020 at 3:34 AM Post #9 of 323

Nostoi

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Looks like I'm getting a sparko aries for my home office which is where i do most of my listening. Ive bought a chord Qutest to go with it. It will just be a headamp for the time being. I have an integrated marantz PM80 driving my dynaudio bookshelf speakers on my desk. It's a beautiful amp 20 rms in class A switchable to 100 rms in class AB. I have a burson conductor 3X reference in my main system as a headamp/preamp. It is astonishingly good. It will be really interesting to compare the CX3ref and Aries as head amps. I'll also compare the DAC in the burson with the Qutest
Keep us posted. I'm on the verge of getting an Aries myself, as indicated above. My only one quibble at this point is the size. It would just about fit on my desk, but it's a squeeze. I'm also keeping an eye o the HPA V550, though I understand it won't quite have the speed of the Aries.

I must say that @project86 has given such a compelling account of the Aries, that I will almost certainly go for it even if it does dominate my desk.
 
Nov 26, 2020 at 3:46 AM Post #10 of 323

Sam Spade

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Keep us posted. I'm on the verge of getting an Aries myself, as indicated above. My only one quibble at this point is the size. It would just about fit on my desk, but it's a squeeze. I'm also keeping an eye o the HPA V550, though I understand it won't quite have the speed of the Aries.

I must say that @project86 has given such a compelling account of the Aries, that I will almost certainly go for it even if it does dominate my desk.
I have a large desk. And it already has a circa 1990 marantz PM80 amp and CD80 cd player which are big. And a pair of dynaudio bookshelf speakers. And a pc case. My monitor sits on the amp. The Aries can sit on the CD80.
 
Nov 26, 2020 at 3:48 AM Post #11 of 323

Sam Spade

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Keep us posted. I'm on the verge of getting an Aries myself, as indicated above. My only one quibble at this point is the size. It would just about fit on my desk, but it's a squeeze. I'm also keeping an eye o the HPA V550, though I understand it won't quite have the speed of the Aries.

I must say that @project86 has given such a compelling account of the Aries, that I will almost certainly go for it even if it does dominate my desk.
Oh and lachlan from passion from sound loved it too. Check his youtube review. And its 25% off at the moment.
 
Nov 26, 2020 at 3:52 AM Post #12 of 323

Nostoi

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Oh and lachlan from passion from sound loved it too. Check his youtube review. And its 25% off at the moment.
Indeed, I've watched his review several times. Very detailed and incisive review.

Putting my monitor on the amp would definitely resolve my issue, but I'm not sure I'd want to apply so much weight to it. If I can find a tall monitor stand where the Sparkos can fit under, that would also work.

When do you receive yours? I'm pairing with Hugo 2, so especially interested in your impressions.
 
Nov 26, 2020 at 4:16 AM Post #13 of 323

Sam Spade

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Indeed, I've watched his review several times. Very detailed and incisive review.

Putting my monitor on the amp would definitely resolve my issue, but I'm not sure I'd want to apply so much weight to it. If I can find a tall monitor stand where the Sparkos can fit under, that would also work.

When do you receive yours? I'm pairing with Hugo 2, so especially interested in your impressions.
We're still working on delivery options. Andrew is really helpful. Im in OZ. Ive just bought a chord qutest to go with it. I might get it by xmas.
 
Nov 26, 2020 at 4:34 AM Post #14 of 323

Sam Spade

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Indeed, I've watched his review several times. Very detailed and incisive review.

Putting my monitor on the amp would definitely resolve my issue, but I'm not sure I'd want to apply so much weight to it. If I can find a tall monitor stand where the Sparkos can fit under, that would also work.

When do you receive yours? I'm pairing with Hugo 2, so especially interested in your impressions.
And im really interested to see how it compares with my burson conductor 3x ref. Although ive ordered some sparko pro op amps to try in the burson
 
Nov 26, 2020 at 4:38 AM Post #15 of 323

Nostoi

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We're still working on delivery options. Andrew is really helpful. Im in OZ. Ive just bought a chord qutest to go with it. I might get it by xmas.
Excellent. I may also receive by Xmas. Currently working with a UK dealer who also tells me Andrew is great to deal with.
 

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