This is the spot to discuss the SPL Phonitor X (with or without the optional DAC)
A couple of teaser shots for some proper commentary/review coming next week (with better pictures).
The review of the SPL Phonitor X will include both coverage of it as a pure amplifier as well as the performance of the internal DAC board.
And then one of the other combinations I’m listening to it in is this little trio (excuse all the radio/morse paraphenalia … this is just where I have it running at the moment). The Obligatory Syrah lurking to the side is, well, obligatory:
Wow that’s some beautiful gear.
Really like the look of that.
Looking forward to the review! I’m usually one that likes smaller form factor (not always by choice…I’m looking at my wife lol), but that to me just looks awesome, I almost want to put it next to a Aviation sim rig lol.
It’s not that big front-on.
It’s pretty close to full-depth (about 12", plus allowance for cables) though.
Definitely see the aviation-gear resemblance.
Looking at it, with your comms gear in the background, I think it would fit just as easily in a communications room. Looks like some old Telecommunications gear I used to play with when I was in the USCG doing telecommunications.
Excepting the morse key and auto-keyer, it’s actually all current stuff.
Don’t have as much time for it as I used to, so it’s mostly for fun … living on the waterfront, across from Alki, makes for some very interesting listening on the service bands (w/ trunking, naturally), and the shipping channels, right outside my window, are also quite interesting.
I retired early as a GS running the USCG command center in Seattle as a Command Duty Officer, and Search and Rescue coordinator. Prior to that I was Active duty USCG on a 378’ cutter and then later I was a part of a Law Enforcement team in Seattle, before getting out and getting the GS job =) so needless to say I know your view quite well =)
Hugo 2 -> Phonitor x -> HD800S … another unusually synergistic chain.
This is a super-transparent and un-colored amp.
Proper write-up coming in the next day or so …
The color disparity between 1/4" and 1/8" jacks on the ADI-2 DAC is a “C3P0’s leg” thing …
Torq you’ve some wonderful gear, is your job audio related? Plus you’re insights are very helpful too. Thanks. Every day’s a learning day for me with regards audio equipment and more recently music and its ever expanding genres. I’ve come across a whole host of different tastes whilst perusing this forum. It’s a great place to learn.
Dude, I am beginning to think you’re some kind of secret agent. Hehehehehe.
No, I don’t work in the audio field at all; I’m in the technology world.
Music/gear wise I’m just an enthusiastic music-first audiophile, who occasionally creates his own music.
SPL Phonitor x - Review
Earlier in this thread I said I’d post a proper review of the SPL Phonitor x - kindly loaned to me as part of this forum’s “Community Review Program” (I think it’s well worth qualifying for the “Core Team” to get access to this program).
Anyway, I thought that’d take a week … to get this review posted, that is … but it’s now been a month (to the day) … so it’s high time to get that done!
This will be a summary or TL;DR; version - if you want more information then I have a much more comprehensive and detailed full review posted on the main headphone.com site. That “full” review includes more detailed impressions on how the unit sounds, it’s features and how they work (in particular the “Matrix” feature), coverage of the optional DAC module and some thoughts on how it works with other gear.
So, without further ado …
What is the Phonitor x ?
The “SPL Phonitor x” is a premium, feature-rich, headphone amplifier and pre-amp, billed as having features and performance that lend it equal facility in professional/studio settings as well as in the role of an audiophile headphone system.
The unit provides both balanced and single-ended source inputs and headphone outputs. A configurable cross-feed/speaker simulation “Matrix” feature, a granular balance/stereo/mono control, VU meters with configurable sensitivity and enough power to drive almost any headphone with power to spare.
In addition to “classic black”, the Phonitor x can also be had (along with the rest of the matching line of SPL components), in two additional colors … a classy looking silver and, perhaps my (guilty) favorite, a metallic red finish.
An optional DAC module, the “DAC192” can be added to the unit (at time of purchase) for all-in-one operation. The unit I am reviewing is equipped with this module, details and impressions for which are contained in the full review.
The Phonitor x has a very solid feel to it; all of the switchgear is wonderfully tactile and engages firmly and positively with a satisfyingly solid “thunk”. The large, central, illuminated volume dial is buttery-smooth. All sockets mate solidly with both input and headphone connectors. Labels are clear and concise, with the functions they indicate being entirely unambiguous. The overall impression is that this is a very high-quality and entirely “premium” device.
The $2,499 question is, of course, “How does the SPL Phonitor x sound?”
In a word … fantastic!
For a start it is clearly both an entirely neutral and highly transparent performer. Using a variety of sources and headphones there’s no tonal shift beyond what those components impart by themselves.
Much of my listening was performed using a Chord DAVE DAC as the source. The Phonitor x is the only solid-state amplifier I’ve paired with/compared to DAVE that does NOT result in a noticeable loss in transparency or resolution.
It covers up nothing, makes excuses for nothing, and lets the source show its true colors without omission or editorialization.
It is, for all intents and purposes, the proverbial “wire with gain”.
Lots of gain, if you want it …
There is an addictive sense of lurking power, absolutely effortless delivery and this is accompanied by an impression of “scale” to music that I’m not used to outside of either very-capable speaker systems or state-of-the-art tube-based headphone rigs.
Huge dynamic swings in the most powerful musical performances don’t even begin to phase this thing, while micro-dynamic nuances are fully resolved, even when they’re occurring together.
Transient response, perhaps mostly subtly exemplified by plucked strings and most vividly by rapid-fire electronic percussion is, to say the least, first class. Paired with Focal Utopia, HD800S or Abyss AB-1266 Phi, transients are lightning fast, and that remains the case with somewhat more laid back cans like the Audeze LCD-4.
Listening to one of my favorite instruments, the piano, both from commercial and my own recordings (of my own instrument), illustrates a pure, unwavering tonality. No emphasis, no bias, just a pure and honest reproduction of what the unit is being fed.
Treble is delightfully smooth, but without any loss of detail and maintains an excellent sense of air, space and, where called for, delivers any sparkle present in the source material - with no rough spots nor glare at all.
Bass is reproduced with excellent drive, slam and control and yet retains its texture. Tunes played in the lowest bass registers are ably communicated. Some of this is no doubt due to the significant available power, combined with larger than typical voltage drive.
Both upper and lower registers blend perfectly, seamlessly, into a fully detailed and present midrange. Once again I was struck by how transparent the performance of the Phonitor x was, even compared to the direct outputs of the DACs I’ve been feeding it with.
Detail and resolution are superlative; where brush strokes on cymbals or drum-skins are so well rendered that you can hear when the wire bundle is split or part of it clips the rim of the drum head. The inadvertent twisting of a bow as a violinist seems to shift the hold mid-note, minor utterances, odd, tiny, shifts in a vocalist’s tone, changes in the depth and pace of the artists breathing, environmental noises (chairs moving, pages turning in music, other sounds common to live recordings) are all clearly audible(fn).
Complex layering is easy to hear through and excellent separation make focusing on a given instrument, or voice, amazingly easy … either spatially (especially with the right headphones and the “Matrix” function in play) or by being able to isolate that one performer/instrument via its sound and how it is being played. If you want to pick a mix apart, or focus on part of an orchestra, the Phonitor x is an excellent tool.
Overall, music is portrayed with a distinct sense of “substance” and notes carry an interesting feeling of “weight”, despite the result never feeling anything other than realistic, natural and transparent.
This is set against a dead-silent, carbon-black, background. At no point, in normal operation, was the background anything other than completely silent. And it is, perhaps, in part due to the absolute void against which the music is delivered that results in the presentation being one of absolute clarity and vividity.
Simply put, the SPL Phonitor x is the best “sounding” solid-state headphone amplifier I’ve heard.
It maintains a neutral, accurate, extremely transparent rendering while providing ample drive to the most demanding headphones I own. It yields a huge sense of scale and power with effortless delivery, has excellent tonality AND tonal weight, transient response is superb and it plies it’s trade against a dead-silent, void-black, background.
Its features, and sonic performance, make it easy to integrate into studio scenarios and still able to satisfy audiophile sensibilities.
The optional DAC module is a useful convenience feature, but I’d reserve it’s use for monitoring purposes - when listening for pleasure I would be looking elsewhere for a source.
If you’re looking at high-end headphone amplification, then the SPL Phonitor x really deserves to be on your audition list.
I am sufficiently enamored with the Phonitor x that I have decided to buy one; which is the highest recommendation I can give any component.
What a wonderful review. Very informative and great to read.
brilliant review, as always, @Torq.
typo alert : in your full review on headphone.com, there’s a typo (nothing instead of noting) that (perhaps) inverts your intended meaning: “For purists, it is worth nothing that a) you can completely disable this feature…”
I found a couple of others too … will get them fixed here in a bit.
This is a lovely review, @Torq! You’re so thorough with your analysis of the SPL Phonitor x, yet, your review remains admirably concise. Two thumbs up!
This one was a pleasure to do … listening via the Phonitor x is a delightful experience and one I could do not just for the auditioning part but also when it comes to writing up those notes into something more coherent.
I’m hoping more people are going to get involved with, and take advantage of, the “Community Review Program” and put together their own reviews or impressions. Doing so not only expands one’s exposure to gear it tends to help you focus on what to listen for and how to do that and, I’ve found, also helps deepen ones appreciation for music.