As my search for my next AB-1266 Phi TC + loudspeakers amp continues, I visited this awesome shop in Amsterdam, where I booked a private listening session, which then transformed itself in an extremely fascinating 4h trip in the head-phile Land of Oz. Stefan, the shop owner, was a fantastic host and a most competent help throughout my audition. Also, I was happy to meet in person @Mikey99 after exchanging several messages here! The private listening sessions are held after the shop closing time for a maximum of 3 persons, and the cost of the service (150Euro) is refunded in full for purchases over 1kEuro. I find that this kind of opportunities are pure gold in a time where chances of listening to high end head-fi gear with adequate time and limited or no pressure to buy is so rare (read: impossible in the country where I live in). The main reason I decided to visit Headphoneauditions was because I could replicate my home setup (see signature) there, and, based on that, try some of the amps I am considering, plus some potential further upgrades / complimentary headphones to my Phi TC, as Stefan has nearly all the flagship HP's available for audition at his shop! My strategy was to: 1. try a maxed out Phi TC + speaker amp set-up and see where it gets me; 2. compare it to a similar set-up with the other two headphones I am most interested in, i.e. the Susvara and RAAL SR1a; 3. decide the direction to take for my next amp purchase. All auditioning was done with a playlist of tracks I normally use to assess new items or changes in my audio system. They are - mainly - a mix of classical music pieces (orchestra, piano, baroque, organ), instrumental and vocal jazz. They include music I listen very often plus some torture-test tracks like Berlin – Louis Capart (Stockfisch Records) for sibilance/treble harshness, Gnomus – from Pictures at an Exhibition – played on organ (Dorian Sampler) for ambience and extreme bass depth and Funeral March for Rikard Nordraak (Reference Recording) for explosive dynamics and bass impact. a) High end speaker amps for the Abyss Phi TC Quick notes: - Air Tight ATM 300R (8W, list price 15-18kEuro depending on tubes): - 'untubey' sound signature, with sharp bass transients and great dynamics - fast, transparent, great extension at both ends - high clarity vocals - not euphonic / saturated as I expected - precise imaging - Thrax Enyo (50W, list price 10.5kEuro): - great grip on the lowest end - thicker, denser, darker midrange - slightly rolled off treble - precise imaging together with massive soundstage size Technically the ATM was probably the better amp, but I personally liked the Enyo coloration more with the Phi TC. I find the Abyss benefited from its increased midrange density, and the huge 3D soundstage rendition matched very well one of the main strengths of the AB-1266. Both amps exhibited no background noise and a superior level of imaging, soundstage size and midrange / upper treble refinement with respect to my previous XI Audio Formula S / Powerman combo, while at a significantly higher price. b) RAAL Requisite SR1a (w/ Chord Etude and w/ Thrax Enyo) Quick notes: - extremely comfortable - presentation and fit (drivers 'far' from you ears) are even more speaker-like than the Phi TC - incredibly resolving, you dig into the music far beyond the TC or anything else I have heard - lightning fast, lots of air - very realistic vocals, both female and male (better than Abyss), with no harshness - very open sounding with seemingly endless high frequency extension - great instrument separation - leanish presentation on both tested amps, compared to TC and Susvara - good bass extension, while way below the TC in terms of sub bass volume and reach I tried several adjustments of the earpieces, and followed Stefan's advices about how to fine tune them, but I acknowledge that I might have not had the time of finding the best fit. Also, based on other's impressions the SR1a like even more powerful amps than those I had the chance of trying. Etude (100W/8Ohm) had clearly more headroom than the Enyo (50W/8Ohm), but I did not feel the Enyo was underpowered at my typical listening levels, even when playing demanding orchestral pieces. Etude was more direct and fast, while the Enyo provided some little more elasticity and velvety midrange. I would need more time with the SR1a and these two amps to decide which pairing I like better. Overall I liked the SR1a 'experience' very much, but I overall keep liking the AB-1266 Phi TC more due to their more fleshed out presentation and bass / sub-bass reproduction (with my weak spot for romantic orchestral music I feel that sub-bass is a huge plus for this genre, when it comes to atmospherics, physical involvement, sense of scale, 3D layering). Also, the headstage of the TC, while being not larger - possibly a tad smaller - it was more cohesive to my ears and the rendering of a full orchestral mass was more similar to my aural memory of the real thing. Finally, I appreciated the extreme analytical skills of the SR1a on a technical basis, but they tend to present the music in an hyper-realistic fashion to my ears, like looking with a microscope into the score, which I felt as quite distant from live listening sessions in a real venue. c) HiFiMan Susvara I did only a few A/B tests of Susvara vs. Phi TC on the same amps (ATM-300R and Enyo). I found the Susvara sweeter sounding in the midrange - in a pleasant way - but consistently less transparent and resolving with respect to the TC, so I did not feel motivated to dedicate more time to them. Not a candidate for a TC replacement or complement to my ears, based on this short audition. Perhaps I will come back to auditioning Susvara if I have another chance in the future. d) Meze Empyrean I was attracted by the Empyrean as a potential secondary HP to be used directly connected to the DAVE, for a more 'easy-listening' oriented approach. The audition of the Empyrean lasted only few seconds. I started Rebecca Pidgeon's Spanish Harlem and the opening double bass line was rendered in such a boomy and unnatural way that I decided to stop it there, as I had to manage my limited time at Stefan's shop in a very careful way. Conclusion and Next Steps My visit to headphoneauditions has been at the same time a lot of fun and a huge help for clearing my mind in view of my next steps. With unlimited budget and time available to listen to music, I would enjoy having an SR1a in my collection as it is indeed a special thing. However, in my situation, I felt reinforced on my personal preference for the Phi TC among the current TOTL headphones, hence on my initial strategy of maxing out my Phi TC setup. Also, putting together my reactions to latest auditions (including the Riviera AIC-10) I believe I have a soft spot for a mild euphonic coloration in the midrange area, which brings me to warmer sounding amps as opposed to utterly transparent ones. The Thrax Enyo has definitely entered my short-list, together with the Riviera AIC-10. My next steps will be in the direction of further exploring high-quality yet warm-ish speaker amps, like Pass Labs XA-25 and Accuphase E-650, and some other SET options if I have the chance.