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The JPS Labs: Abyss AB-1266 Impressions Thread

Discussion in 'High-end Audio Forum' started by scolaiw, Jun 5, 2013.
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  1. simorag
    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.
    STR-1, ineztia, ciukas and 14 others like this.
  2. Mikey99
    It was great to meet you at the shop! Good luck in your quest
  3. astrostar59
    Interesting. Well if the Air tight is 15-18K I would dare it to A/B with the Genus. I would pitch the Genus v a Kondo SET for example. 25W SET with big bottle tubes do amazing things...

    I would try some 211 speaker amps if possible, and look at the Ayon range. May come up used as been around for a long time. The 300B has that nice midrange, agree, but does it have the bass control? That is the question.
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2019
  4. Hoegaardener70
    Interesting report. I actually own the Empys and do like them a lot, so I’d encourage you to give them a second chance. You seemed to have been intrigued by the RAAL quite a bit. My question is ... is listening to music with so little bass any fun? Because that is the biggest plus of the ab-1266, this amazing bass while still being fast. The RAAL only seems to have one ability of the two.
  5. simorag
    Subjectively, I did not find any lack of bass control with the ATM300. Rather, a tight and extended response.
    At 47ohm it should have a damping factor of about 40, not bad for a zero feedback SET.
    I am no expert, but I would assume a speaker amp should have no issues at controlling light drivers as headphones.
    Am I missing something? Are planars specially critical for any reason?
    Always interested in learning!

    I listened to the Empy very briefly, indeed. I could come back to them in the future if chance comes, as a complementary headphone for the Abyss.

    As for the SR1a, they are pretty special, but for the very reason you mentioned (bass) I could not see them as a replacement for the Abyss.

    More details here:

    I am intoxicated by the AB1266 overall presentation, and with the TC drivers they have come very close to the sound I am after, especially when driven with a synergistic amp (AIC10, Enyo for my personal tastes are two great examples)
    Hoegaardener70 likes this.
  6. jlbrach

    I think this is an interesting presentation but i will be honest in that I still do not understand the allure of huge bulky enormously heavy speaker amps that cost a fortune for a HP setup...I personally own a Mcintosh 452 which weighs about 200 pounds and sits in my living room attached to my loudspeaker system....my HP setup which includes the TC along with the dave/blu2 and the formula s /powerman is in my bedroom where i relax and listen to music.....I suppose if somebody only listens to their music in a living room area a speaker amp could be attached to the chord dave etc but somehow it seems like such inconvenience and overkill....the cost is yet another consideration of course....I certainly do not fault anyone for curiosity and testing of a speaker amp but to me it is like the car that can drive 200 MPH but of course you can never find a place to go 200 mph lol.....just my 2 cents and god bless all those who are willing to do all involved to use the speaker amps
  7. cj3209
    It's just the extreme ways people go to, to try to get that last 5% of perceived sound quality. I enjoy reading about their efforts though-its entertaining.

    I should be the one to talk as I'm contemplating getting the super conductor cable for my 1266 phi, trying to get that last oomph quality sound...

    God help me...

  8. jlbrach
    I agree and also try to squeeze the last ounce of performance I can as well but the speaker amp is for me a case of such inconvenience and over the top effort of course it is only my personal opinion
  9. Zhanming057
    300b is going to be softer around the edges than price-no-object 845. But as 300b's go the ATM300 is far and above the most well sorted of the bunch. It's not really that tubelike because performance is so high that it doesn't have flaws that people usually associate with 300b amps (softness, darkness, etc.). I haven't heard the Genus but it's a step above the Egoista in terms of most objectives and not lagging in bass control.
  10. Zhanming057
    The SR1a's bass is more 2-channel like, reminiscent of a conventional system without specific bass range amplification, there isn't that final bit of power that's coming through the cups itself. But it's not bass light so much as the Abyss is bass heavy. But it's a matter of preference - I know people who run 2 channels with a sub and that's a solution if you have speakers and want that last bit of oof.

    I do appreciate both presentations - the Phi's bass, when properly driven, isn't drowning out anything else, and there is enough bass on the SR1a for almost any genre you'd care to listen to on a TOTL system.
  11. astrostar59
    ATM300 can be tube rolled I would think? Genus is not tubby, rather big dynamics and accurate timbre. Classic SET micro detail and realistic, BUT real world bass and bass control, no flabby 300B going on here.
  12. Zhanming057
    You could, but the latest configuration already comes with Takatsuki TA300's in the box. I would say that anything in production is going be a downgrade from those.
  13. szymonsays
    I heard Z reviews mention on one of his newest videos regarding RMAF that Abyss is planning to show a system that would rival the Orpheus? Sounds interesting
  14. Zhanming057
    If you want to rival the HE1, you don't need a new system...just put the TC on that ATM300 and you have a system that far exceeds the technical ability of the HE1, the HE1's (pretty terrible) DAC not withstanding.
  15. popof94
    Great and impressive return Simone.
    I am exactly in the opposite way. I like so much the Empyrean with a full silver cable from Norne audio on the Viva 845, it is actually my best headphone with the D8000 and the 009S from Stax.
    As you know, I am not a big fan of the Abyss TC on the formula S or on the 845. Except the excellent soundstage I find the abyss a very rude and uncomfortable headphone.
    Not a big fan of the Susvara too, I sold it after less than 1 month.
    Very interested by the Raal. I tried the Mysphere 3.2 but i founded it uncomfortable with distorsion at high volume and a big loss of bass.

    C1FCF609-2911-46AD-9ECF-023659AEB081.jpeg AEF259B0-3C41-4F3F-ADB7-D2FE944DC7D5.jpeg 66FAB46F-7D5C-4D61-B933-CFF71DF4C332.jpeg 6CAD3555-FCC8-4325-82A4-E5DE6F08FCA1.jpeg
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2019
    ciukas, erik701, koven and 2 others like this.
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