This was in reference to their live shows and did not originate with me.
What about the classic Bryston 3B or 4B to drive these? 200w/300w into 8 Ohms, 20 year transferable warranty and there are tons of them on the used market for under $1000. But if you can afford $3500 headphones, you can probably afford a new 4B.
That’s 'cos the roadies kept quitting
From my, so-far-relatively-meagre, experience with the SR1a so far (just 20 hours of listening), I can imagine a good number of well regarded, older/classic, amplifiers will do them justice.
Personally, if I’m going with classic solid-state, I’d be looking at Krell (from the Dan D’Agostino era). A properly restored KSA 100 would be very tempting. But that’s me.
The last couple of hours have been spent piddling around seeing what effect running “under-powered” amplifiers have on them. More data, and experimentation is required, but I will say that a properly rated “cheap” amplifier faired rather better with the SR1a than an under-powered exotic. Volume isn’t the primary issue … I can get them plenty loud out of 50 RMS watts, but they don’t sound right vs. a “lower-quality” 125w.
I am wondering what tracks you’ve thrown in so far. Could you list any specific track that SR1a particularly shined over other well-received totl collections you own?
I got a bad feeling that I might have this headphone in the house in foreseeable future. Must resist…
I’ll cover a few … but before doing so I will say that over my entire first-pass audition playlist they’ve been incredibly impressive. Be it resolving more detail and texture, presenting a properly dimensional stage with actual depth, delivering amazingly open acoustics, or stunning with their sheer speed and immediacy.
It would be easier to say that I haven’t found a track that they didn’t work well with.
But here are some specifics anyway:
One of my bass-test tracks is Beyoncé’s “Partition”. The first segment of that has major bass hits that start at 80 Hz and roll-down to 20 Hz (you can watch them do it on an analyzer, the peak of the bass note moving right to left over the space of about 4 seconds). There is texture to those bass notes that is more evident and well defined with the SR1a than with any of my other headphones.
With the tambourine on Prince’s “Tamborine” you can clearly hear the individual zills jingling. Other highly-resolving headphones will do this too, but it is better delineated and easier to hear with the SR1a.
Cowboy Junkies “Mining for Gold” (The Trinity Session), a track that tends to sort the men from the boys when it comes to conveying the sense of space and ambiance of a venue more vividly dimensional and airy with the SR1a than on anything else I’ve heard it via, excepting properly setup speakers. This remained true regardless of where I set the drivers … even fully “in” it’s still the best reproduction of this I’ve heard.
Björk’s “Hunter” (Homogenic) provides an excellent demonstration of lateral localization and stage width, with the image forming beyond the apparent confines of the drivers and expanding way to the left and right of one’s ears. And once Björk’s voice comes she is clearly placed front and center, in front of other sounds and “instruments”. The Abyss (setup with the drivers canted forward) and the HD800S both offer some semblance of depth here too, but it is a much flatter stage with those, and those are the best headphones I’d heard to this point in that regard.
Holly Cole’s “Train Song” (Temptation) also is distinct in the degree of depth to the image. It is projected in front of the listener and every instrument can be placed in the stage effortlessly. This is, again, a more vivid, stable and expansive projection of stage than I’ve heard with any of my other headphones, even if the HD800S and AB-1266 get some of the way there.
Speed, impact, transient performance (attack) and decay (and the changes in texture as the larger drum skins settle) in “Drum Warfare” (David Felysian, Elimination) is startling. Rapid-fire beats are all distinct and individual, but the presentation remains completely coherent. Only the best dynamic and electrostatic setups I’ve heard even come close here. I’d need to do a side-by-side test with a high-end electrostatic amp and headphone to say for sure, but these might even be faster.
Detail, resolution and micro-dynamics are superlative with any track you can think of (that actually has content that requires such things) … big orchestral pieces, simply-mic’ed acoustic jazz, gruffer male vocals and so on …
The SR1a have electrostatic-like speed, detail and transparency, but without giving up the scale, weight and impact vs. a dynamic can. Bass quality is planar-like but more nuanced and articulate, albeit generally lower in level than the best planar cans - in fact it’s probably the best bass quality I’ve heard outside of high-end, large-woofer, speakers.
So far the only place they’re not natively impressive in is bass-quantity. They’re similar in that regard to the Focal Utopia. Only due to there being no cup or baffle, they roll-off a little earlier. Nominally they’re rated as neutral down to 33 Hz, and then depending on how open you have the drivers set will be -6 dB to -10 dB by 20 Hz. A little EQ brings that right back up, and you can go nuts with it if you want and there is no distortion or strain, it remains super-clean and tight, all the way up to Abyss-like levels of reproduction.
Without EQ they’re basically studio-neutral, which most people will perceive as a bit bass-light and slightly bright.
They’re awesome to listen to without any EQ, but like the Utopia (which when listening to for pleasure I invariably apply some bass lift too as well) a low-shelf lift makes them even more enjoyable and absolutely satisfying even with the most bass-centric pieces I’ve tried.
Bear in mind my impressions so far are all with a basic, relatively inexpensive (<$600) THX (not the AAA technology, just the usual certification) speaker amplifier - which is surprising in itself. I will start exploring other amplifiers this afternoon, beginning with a Schiit Vidar in stereo-mode and working my way up to some high-dollar gear. I’m tempted to try them with a couple of integrated amps as well (maybe the Kinki EX-M1, McIntosh MA252, Krell K-300i and maybe one of SimAudio’s beefier models) just for the heck of it.
And that’s being fed by an RME ADI-2 DAC fs via a Phonitor X. Technically I could take the Phonitor X out of the chain, though it does make comparing the SR1a to other headphones much easier (just flip a switch).
As I recall, you’re a fan of live opera. Perhaps you can tell us about some nice opera recordings with the RAAL.
I’ll certainly be able to do that.
So far, the only opera I’ve listened to with them so far is my Jessye Norman version of Carmen, which was absolutely exquisite. The SR1a really peels back the layers in this recording and while retaining an integrated and coherent delivery, lets you focus on anything you want to and hear it with a level of clarity that is only rivaled, at least in my experience, by more expensive cans and speaker systems.
But there will be more to come …
It has only been three-days-and-change and the SR1a are already presenting me with a couple of interesting conundrums.
The first is obvious - what speaker amplifier to ultimately pair them with.
The second is … which headphones in my collection will survive the SR1a’s arrival. I won’t know for sure until I’ve done all the relevant back-to-back comparisons, but off the top of my head, the only ones I am sure are safe at this point are the Utopia, Stellia and Vérité. Other candidates are the HD820 and either the AB-1266 Phi CC or the LCD-4 … though those are not certain. Everything else is probably toast at this point …
And, yes, the unstated but obvious implication here is that while I have the SR1a for audition I have already decided that they’re keepers.
Thanks for such a kind, detailed and illustrative explanation!
What and how you described was really compelling to me, for a person who loved (I started this doomed hobby by being amazed by SR-Omega) but gave up SR-009 years ago. Damn, I couldn’t fully get rid of my love for electrostat-ish sounding.
I couldn’t bear lack of weight, lean bass, and occasional off timbre in treble. Later found planar better, then Utopia showed me what dynamic headphones are capable of… but you know… that monster has its own nit-picking nature to exclude certain people. According to your assessment, Raal sounds like a worthy consideration.
Still ‘brightness’ (when not eqed – I never consider eq as an option these days) could pull me a bit. But maybe careful amp choice can alleviate it a bit?
They’re studio-neutral when not EQ’d. Which most people will interpret as being a bit bass-light and bright. Which is not to say they’re actually bright. But most will perceive them that way if run as-is.
I could easily listen to them with no EQ, and have done so for a good chunk of my time with them so far. But like the Utopia I enjoy them a bit more with the bass lifted a bit. I don’t find any need to EQ the top-end down at all, so it’s more a case of lower bass-levels than higher-treble levels.
But, at the same time, I find it hard to imagine any competent amplifier having a sufficiently tilted FR to shift the “studio-neutral” presentation.
I used to maintain an absolute “no EQ” approach to audio (and I get that some setups simply don’t allow for it in the first place). And I still review that way. But when it comes to listening to music for pleasure, it has proven to be a much more reliable way to get the results I want across an array of gear than doing “tone control by gear matching/synergy”. If I only had one pair of headphones, it would be a different matter.
To this point, I have been a bit cagey about which power amplifier I was initially running the SR1a with. This was mostly out of a sense of surprise that it sounds so good feeding them.
Because just using it to drive speakers (as a general test … this amplifier was purchased purely to provide a quick, entry-level, reference point for a relatively inexpensive way to drive the SR1a) had “not been the most rewarding experience in the world”. Not terrible, for the price, and certainly decent enough for basic home-theatre use or non-critical listening. But not something I would personally opt for in a 2-channel rig, even with relatively modest speakers - such as the the KEF LS50.
The amplifier in question?
So, again, not something I would recommend for 2-channel speaker rigs, but it had been more than holding it’s own feeding the SR1a. That’s a combination that I’d put above most of the high-end dynamic or planar headphones I’ve heard, in most scenarios. And if you wanted to get into the SR1a, don’t have a suitable amp already and do not break the bank right out of the gate, this is a viable way to do it.
… there is a better way …
… and it’l only cost you $100 (plus shipping) more.
These are initial thoughts with the Schiit amp … but Vidar is definitely a step up/forward.
I could not hear any noise or hiss, at all, out of the Parasound, even with the volume turned all the way up, with just a silent file playing, but still Vidar seems to present an even blacker background. Not really sure how that is possible, but that’s the sense I get.
The delivery is more refined with the “little” (it’s half the size of the Parasound, though is 80% of its weight) Schiit. Stage is deeper, and layering and imaging is more vivid.
Tonally the top end via Vidar is both smoother (and it was already smooth by most headphone standards) and seems less prominent and more natural. And I have backed off my bass EQ lift by about half a decibel.
More to come … but this is an immensely impressive pairing.
Thanks for providing those initial impressions. As usual, very informative. My interest has been stoked!
Being that RAAL is marketing these as “earfield monitors” that deliver " unparalleled accuracy and realism in a soundfield devoid of room acoustics and comb-filtering caused by work surface reflections," would I be correct to assume that isolation was not a consideration in their design and as such they leak quite a bit of sound into the external environment? In that regard how do they compare to other headphones that are known to leak quite a bit, such as the Focal Clear/Utopia? Do you essentially have to be in a room by yourself to use these?
You describe these as being studio-like in terms of neutrality but do they also exhibit other characteristics that one often associates with a studio-like presentation, such as dry and sterile? I also wonder about timber, does a piano sound like a piano, a saxophone a saxophone?
A D’Agostino era Krell would also, as you suggest, be a worthwhile consideration in the used market. Bryston came to mind as they are often associated with Pro gear, which is how RAAL seems to be marketing these.
The SR1a are completely open.
They don’t provide any isolation at all from external sounds, nor to do they keep any sound “in”.
They’re something you can use to get proper (or excessive!) volume levels in an environment where you couldn’t reasonably do so with speakers. But if you played them with someone else in the room, they’d hear everything, clearly. My wife can hear them in the next room, at my normal listening levels. Which is pretty much the same thing I get with the Abyss, for example.
I wouldn’t describe them as dry nor as sterile. They’ve very engaging. Their transparency renders them lifelike and natural sounding, so they reflect the source.
Timbre is as pure as I’ve heard in a headphone. Using my own piano recordings (so I know how those are suppose to sound) its the best I’ve heard them since I made them. Similar, other instruments sound the way I would expect them too, without coloration or other oddities.
Thanks, as I thought. These would be ideal for someone living in an apartment. With a 50 ft. microphone extension cable they would have a killer multi-room system!
Alright @Torq, enough said about the SR1a, I get it - financial crisis inbound once again! Lol.
Thanks for the very detailed first impressions of this masterpiece (I love the look)…I can’t wait to read the full review. Do you know if headphones.com will carry them?
Most importantly @Torq, what does the wife think about the stylish fashionable looks of the SR1a?
These are sounding pretty amazing. I hope I get a chance to listen to these at some point in the near future.
I’m not sure if RAAL-requisite are even considering a dealer-model. They’re just sold direct right now. And I’d expect that, unless they planned to go the dealer-route from the beginning, if they did now then the price would go up to accommodate the dealer’s margin.
Her first comment …
“Those are much less ‘Cyberman’ looking than these [points to the Abyss]. It’s more sort of a ‘Borg’ thing now …”
‘Resistance is futile’. This kind of thing springs to mind every time I see headphones and all its related gear.