SPL Phonitor X DAC/AMP - Official Thread

Short of winning the lotto or having some obscure relative leave me an inheritance, gear like this is not really in the planning. But I love the reviews and greatly appreciate learning more about an intense hobby. The feedback/discussion also helps me understand and learn more of the fine points which also a bonus. Thanks folks.


Ok, a couple more hours into it, with multiple different Headphones…

This thing is less fatigue inducing than the THX-AAA 789. Has as good if not slightly blacker background than the THX-AAA, and just seems to be smoother overall. Also source matters, this hides nothing.

Other interesting thing I’ve noticed is it almost seems to match the headphones being used and only puts out the power needed to move them just right…(this is just my feeling on the matter not a statement of fact) I can crank the HD800 way up and not feel like I’m blowing my eardrums out. Then switch to the Clears and do almost the same thing, and the whole time everything is delivered silky smooth. Another side note I keep a Decibel reader on hand and ensure that I’m staying in the 75-85db range with spikes into the high 80s.

It’s a good job my keboard is waterproof! :drooling_face:

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I’m listening to effectively the same setup right now as @DarthPool.

RME ADI-2 DAC going into the SPL Phonitor XE.

This is an almost-surprisingly-pleasant experience.


It is rather nice, @Torq gave me a good pointer, in that you can turn auto-reference on and turn the volume to 0db and it goes from mild mannered setup to powerhouse, still the same sound it just gives you a lot of volume to play with! At least in my experience :grin:

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This is the best string bite I’ve heard from a solid state amplifier. That tends to be a big killer for me; either it’s too subdued, or it’s artificially enhanced.

Violins and cellos sound great.

Future reference for my comments:

Optimized PC -> Sonnet Allegro Pro USB card -> RME ADI-2 DAC -> SPL Phonitor XE -> Sennheiser HD650 w/ PRT and a few mods

Cables are customs that I made, but not with anything particularly exotic.

Power is cleaned up by an Emotiva CMX-6 for all of my audio devices and PC.

I have other headphones and DACs I’ll check it with for review purposes, but that’ll be almost all of my listening right there.


Day 2

This is an outstandingly clean amplifier. Excellent blackground, tremendously capable with large power swings, and exceedingly neutral.

It’s not explicitly dry or lifeless like some amps described like the above tend to be.

The biggest drawback I’ve heard so far is with plucked strings. While bowed strings sound outstanding with a visceral bite to them, plucked strings seem to lack a certain sparkle and shimmer I expect from them. Perhaps the decay is faster than I’d expect? It’s hard to pinpoint at the moment, but I prefer the sound of acoustic guitar (one of my most frequent listens) from the Garage1217 Project Sunrise III, for example.


I’ll have to check this out when I get home (throw on some Rodrigo y Gabriela) I’ll use MacMini (2018) -> RME ADI-2DAC -> Phonitor XE -> Focal Clear / HD800 / Audeze LCD-X
then same chain but switch to Cayin HA-1A MKII for tubey gooey wooey yeah! lol


Try adding an iFi iTube 2 to the chain. I did, out of curiosity. I don’t like it with everything but with acoustic guitar, such as John Fahey, I find that the notes have a longer decay, are rounder, meatier and have a bit more air around them. With the iFi there are three tube settings to choose from and using the “classic” setting adds the most tube-like qualities, which I am not keen on for pieces that involve faster picking; for that I prefer the push-pull setting. The SET setting just renders everything flat and lifeless, IMO.


I also find that when using the iFi in classic tube mode, I really enjoy the Phonitor’s crossfeed features while listening to John Fahey, more so than when not using the iFi. It seems like there is less of a loss in the upper bass lower mids region.

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Those VU Meters really come in handy for auditory comparisons. I engaged DIP Switch 2 to push the RCA inputs to studio levels and connected the RME to the Phonitor via XLR and to the Sunrise via RCA (then the Sunrise to the Phonitor via RCA as well). I’m reversing phase with the RME on the right channel (then it reverses again at the XLR on my headphones).

On the Garage1217 Project Sunrise III, the following setup was used:

  • Input capacitors are bypassed
  • Attenuation module is bypassed
  • Electro-Harmonix 12BH7 gold pin (new production)
  • For this first test, I’m not using a linear power supply or atomicbob Noise Nuke (both of which will improve it sonically)

Levels were matched precisely with a sine wave sweep. I first biased the tube in the Sunrise with a multimeter, then matched volume on the right channel to the point that the needle didn’t move on the VU meter when swapping between XLR/RCA, then biased the other tube channel to make the other side’s needle not move. That led to an almost 0.5V difference in the left channel’s bias from the norm, but the volume was right at that point.

I vastly prefer the sound of plucked strings using the Sunrise as a preamp. Soundstage depth is notably deeper as well, and bass impact is more pronounced. My favorite acoustic guitar album is Tommy Emmanuel - Live! at the Ryman if you want to go apples to apples with a similar comparison.

The RCA cables are better than the XLR, so that might make a small difference. The XLR are Mogami W2534 Neglex with Neutrik NC3MXX (and F) connectors. The RCA are made with Gotham GAC-1UltraPro cable with KLE Copper Harmony connectors.

Later today or this weekend, I’ll do the same comparison with an LPSU and/or Noise Nuke and a nicer NOS tube.

Edit 1: I double-checked the levels on the VU meters again in case there was some drift in tube bias (there wasn’t–the amp has been on for hours).

Then I recruited my wife to switch the XLR/RCA while listening.

It’s 100% clear which is which. The Phonitor XE alone is thicker sounding overall with a slightly compacted stage depth (the front stage is at roughly the same spot, but it doesn’t pull as far back… if that makes sense) when compared to the Sunrise preamp. I could tell with 100% accuracy which was which.

However, I was far less confident in which was preferable. I said I vastly preferred plucked strings with the Sunrise used as a preamp, but that gulf isn’t nearly as wide as yielded by my sighted impressions.

Before I knew which was which, I liked the Phonitor better for one song and the Sunrise better for another, despite being confident that I was choosing a different input for each.

Ah, the joy of audio testing.

I’ve not yet gone deep into looking for micro stuff yet. My guess is that some of that is lost by using the Sunrise preamp, but we’ll see.


The Phonitor X. Where to start.

First, I’m going to start by saying I purchased it from headphones.com as an open box unit. Due to a small mix up, they didn’t have an open box unit, so they shipped me a new one. There is more to the story than just that, but I’ll keep it simple. Needless to say I was floored by the customer service and friendliness. Taron personally took care of me and set things straight. That means more to me than I can say, and he’s earned a customer, and I’ll go out of my way to purchase from him again.

Second, I’ve chosen to return it. I feel like shit doing that after all Taron did for me, but I can’t just soak $2K+.

I’ve spent 7-10 hours a day at work listening to this, then carefully hauling it home for weekend use. The entire time, I kept trying to figure out what was wrong. It has driven my ZMF Auteur and loaner Verite, HD650, as well as my JBL LSR308 monitors.

I think the amp is extremely clean, neutral, and powerful. It has every option you could wish for on an amp - crossfeed, preamp on/off, mute, etc. I also think It looks amazing in red, and the VU meters are mesmerizing. It’s revealing of the source, be it good or bad. By this I mean if your DAC and source files are crap, it’s going to reveal that to you. This is one of the hallmarks of a great amp, imo. It’s truly getting out of the way - wire with gain kind of thing.

So… What was wrong about it that made me return it? Honestly, I don’t know. Every time I compared the Phonitor to another of my amps, I preferred the other sound to the X. I could easily identify that the X was doing things better than those amps in detail, clarity, black-ground, and tone as well, in many cases. Maybe it was too clean? Too resolving? I honestly can’t say, because I can’t put my finger on it. It’s not a sterile or lifeless sounding amp. It has musicality. I want desperately to love this thing.

It just doesn’t jive with my brain. Call it preference if you want. Like I said, I don’t know. I feel like it is a perfectly matched transplant organ that my body just rejected somehow.

I’m sorry Taron.


Sad to hear it, I will say I prefer my tubes to Solid state, but the Phonitor XE, for me is probably current endgame for me with the solid states. You are gift about it revealing everything in your chain, good and bad, part of why I love it! I’m sure @taronlissimore will find yours a good home.

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This is a really next-level synergy.

The only change from my previous post is that I hooked up a linear power supply to the Project Sunrise I’m using as a preamp. It’s a Power Designs 5015D.

It pushes the entire combo with headphones up to around $4000, so it’s not budget-friendly at all.

Even at my normal modest listening volume (much lower than most people), this setup has tremendous clarity, air, and sparkle without a shred of fatigue.

The Sunrise alone doesn’t even come close to the sound achieved here. The Phonitor XE is an incredible headphone amp. But, the Phonitor doesn’t get here by itself either. It’s a little rounder, slightly dulled and muted in comparison to using the Sunrise as a preamp.


This is my main concern about acquiring the Phonitor X/XE. I would love to listen to either one of them before dropping $2k+ to find out that it’s “incompatible” with my ears.


currently listening to the phonitor Xe and a couple drams deep of whiskey and bourbon… and honestly this thing is amazing… it is steps above the Massdrop x THX 789… in my opinion that is. I have the THX 789 sitting here and now that I have the Phonitor XE I have no desire to plug the 789 back in and will be selling it…time to get back to the emotional feeling of music and myself I think… if I don’t enjoy something time to get rid of it lol and that is how I feel about the THX 789 now that I have the Phonitor XE.


Your posts are doing nothing to help me from wanting to get one :smile:


How does the black SPL Phonitor XE look in person when stacked with the RME ADI-2 DAC?

The silver looks okay but I tend to prefer black. Maybe I should just grab the red one because it’s the most handsome (the contrast of the controls makes it look better to me).

Something like this.

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In person, do they match? From that pic, it looks like the Phonitor is almost a lighter color or brushed or something, but it could be lighting angles.

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