SPL Phonitor X DAC/AMP - Official Thread

If the whole unit was red, then I’d have bought it in red originally. It’s just the faceplate though, so no … I’d still do black - even if the red is very pretty and very tempting.

While the THX AAA 789 is the best “technical” amplifier I know of for the price - and is, in real terms, probably underpriced vs. competition, when it comes to actually listening for pleasure I just don’t find that I use it very much. When I do it tends to be for rather shorter sessions than with the Phonitor X.

The SPL unit remains the only solid-state amplifier I’ve heard that doesn’t audibly sacrifice transparency vs. the direct output of my DAVE. And it has a more effortless sense to its delivery, better stage (even with all the features disabled), is more resolving and is smoother from top to bottom.

Not that the differences are big, but they’re there.

Put in other ways …

I would take the THX AAA 789 over the Phonitor X and spend the difference on headphones if I didn’t already have flagship/TOTL cans (or, at least, hadn’t settled on my end-game headphones regardless of what they were).

The THX AAA 789 it the best $350 headphone amplifier I know of.

It very likely beats the Lyr 3 from a measurements perspective, but I’d rather listen via a Lyr 3 (unless I was using IEMs). Though for reviewing purposes the THX AAA 789 is preferable.


Thank you, I have the spending bug…and I’m being impatient… I should look at headphones more at this stage… but the ones I want, aren’t currently available (HE-XX). I may look around and see if anything grabs my attention…

Thank you again for the information, I’ll come back to the SPL at a later point in time… off to look at headphones lol

Edit: I’ve emailed @zach915m about the Verite… oh dear goodness, the slippery slope…
This vary well may be my most expensive piece of art…I mean headphones I’ve ever purchased… don’t tell my wife lol


So, to counterpoint my own advice, In general I’m a fan of buying what I want rather than what I need or what makes sense. If I buy what I think I should, and it isn’t what I want, I invariably wind up buying what I wanted shortly thereafter anyway.

This has happened with audio gear, cars, watches, lenses, pens and firearms …

Usually when I buy what I want I stop looking around at other things and just enjoy it. If I buy something else, I’ll just sit wondering … and three weeks later, buy it anyway.

Your Clears and HD800 will absolutely let the Phonitor X shine. They’re both more than capable of illustrating the difference between the THX AAA 789 and the SPL unit. The HD800(SDR) will likely suit the Phonitor X better than the THX AAA 789 (the SPL/HD800S combination is awesome, the THX/HD800S somewhat less so).

As for the Vérité … I moved them from my tube amp to the Phonitor X today, for a bit, and they’re magnificent there too …

I’m only three days and change in with my pair … but the more I listen the more I like them.


Thank you, for the response, I think I’ll look at my options some more, I am corresponding with ZMF, I also was looking at the Aeolus…but want to see what kind of options there are. I might also look at the Phonitor XE as I am not a speaker guy.

I might also be going cabin fever crazy with being snowed in…I’m pretty sure if my wife had any say she would bemoan what I was contemplating buying this weekend… she just doesn’t understand lol. I also have this problem of “once something is in my sights, I can’t stop until I have it”… within reason…to some degree =)

I think financial responsibility would be to go with the Aeolus, and the Phonitor…I’ll see what ZMF says about the options I asked about…moving cash from spending pile to savings pile…that way I will be more responsible with the more limited spending expenditure.

Edit: or depending on the state of things…I might be looking to get a higher end planar…then wait a couple weeks/months for a deal on the Phonitor x/xe


I concur with what @Torq has written as regards the Phonitor X and THX AAA 789. I own the Phonitor X and did own the THX AAA 789 for a few months. I sold the the 789 because I found it fatiguing to listen to after about 30 - 40 minutes using my Focal Clear. With the Phonitor X I can listen to it for extended periods without fatigue and without feeling as though I am having to compromise on other qualities in order to do so.

At the time that I had the THX AAA 789 in my possession I also owned the Gilmore Lite MK2 and while it was not quite as transparent as the 789 I found it more enjoyable while technically very proficient. With an amplifier budget under $1000, the Gilmore Lite MK2 at $500 is worth an audition. In an email exchange with Zach at ZMF he told me that he very much liked it and Dan Clark of Mr.Speakers has posted his very positive review of it on his website.


You guys are not making my wallet safe… I will resist as I want a better set of Planars next…but I’ll start prepping my brain to spend this kind of cash on an amp lol. I also have a problem where I will try and find the best possible deal on things…so I will start searching the internets! I’ll also keep my eyeball on the deals at headphone.com


I had my finger on the buy button so many times when the ZMF Verité Pheasantwood (the same ones @Torq purchased) were being offered at a lower pre-order price. I would have had to sell my Focal Clear and forgo my Phonitor X amp upgrade in order to afford them. My reasoning at the time was that because of the Phonitor’s transparency, neutrality, power and build quality, it could be considered a long term purchase that can accommodate whatever state of headphone capriciousness I might be experiencing.

Having said that, used ZMF headphones are not easy to come by so I probably should have gone with my gut instead of my head!


There’s definitely a place for that sort of “strategic buying”!

Cost-wise, assuming one has the ability to get proper auditions of gear (not always the case), its usually best to have as few steps between where one starts out in a gear-centric hobby and where one winds up as possible. It saves on taking losses on selling gear that you upgrade beyond for one thing.

So if there are things you know/want in advance, prioritizing those and removing intermediate steps, as you did, makes all the sense in the world.

Sure, you lose out on some of the “fun” of progressive upgrades, but sometimes the end-result is more important than the journey. Especially if making a more progressive journey was something that could result in you not reaching your optimal end-result.

I’ve seen a lot of perpetual side-graders or “tweakers” over the years (not just in audio), who are impatient for an “upgrade” (and usually only get a “change”) and constantly flit to the next “flavor of the month” model all around the level they’re already invested in. Their budget gets consumed with the losses incurred in making each change and they never amass enough of a budget to take a genuine “next step up” (not that it’s always about more expensive being better, by any means).

So going for a major upgrade for one component, that’ll see you through many upgrades in other areas without needing to be touched, can be the smartest move one makes in any progressive hobby.


Well, I concur, Phonitor XE purchased! I’ll be happy to share my thoughts and pictures once it comes in… assuming this dreadful snow melts soon.


Congrats! I’d love to own a XE!

For everybody else who is toying with the idea to get a Phonitor but doesn’t like the price tag don’t forget the “e”, which slots in at about 1200 street price and gives you the 120V sound without the additional features of the big units.
I like the Phonitor with HD650/600 so much that I don’t feel any urge to update to a more pricey headphone, it’s just amazing how much magic the SPL units manage get out of the Senns.


Ooo I’m so jealous. This is such a stunningly beautiful piece of equipment. As well as TOTL performance.

You sure are accruing some stunning hardware. Good luck with your purchase.


Been listening to the X. :smile:

It’s a big departure from the Jotunheim. I figure I’ll give it 40 - 100 hours of burn in time before I pass judgement. Hehehe


How do you describe it based on the first time you listened to it, thin or powerful transparent sounding? Regardless of burning in, did you feel any buyers remorse based on your first impressions? I would like to know what you felt when you heard it for the first time.


I went into the X blind. I keep telling myself not to do that, but I still do from time to time. Having pulled the trigger mainly based on Torq’s review of it, I can say it did surprise me in a few ways - both good and bad.

There are things I agree with about his review, and others I don’t. For example, I detect some pretty big FR shifts when the Matrix crossfeed system is used, and I’m not a fan. The lower frequencies get neutered. It also seems to kill the “atmosphere” or sense of space in most recordings. I have never been a big crossfeed user, mainly because most of my gear hasn’t had it. I did have it on my Ifi black label nano amp thing, and I thought that system was crap as well, to be honest. I may just be allergic to crossfeed. I dunno.

About the sound of the amp itself - I think it sounds pretty good. I was surprised by the more reserved quantity of bass it brings. The bass is very tight and controlled. Is it simply more neutral than your typical SS amp? Arguments could go either way, depending on what’s being compared. My BW2 does bass quantity better than the X, imo, and based on my limited listening time, I’d say the two are on par for quality. Despite the differences in bass presentation, the richness the mids that the X presents me is fantastic. Clear, detailed, layered, nuanced. There’s nothing here that I can pick nits about. Treble has been clear and detailed, speedy, and just a touch on the airy side compared to what I’ve been listening to recently. Very nice blackground. I wanted a more neutral amp when I bought the X, and I think that’s what I got.

So, one other thing I have had problem with was the drivers for the built in DAC - both device and ASIO. They absolutely refuse to work with Win10 1803. I installed the drivers, connected the dac, and 5 blue screens of death later decided this wasn’t a hill I was going to die on.

I can say this about the amp - it definitely, without a doubt, will cast a spotlight on the characteristics of your DAC. Modi MB: not my favorite DAC for this amp. Gungnir MB A2, so so so much better.

The VU meters are mesmerizing to watch while you’re listening. Hypnotic.

I think that’s all I have to say for now.

All listening done so far on ZMF Verite through balanced XLR connection.


Thanks for your impressions. Now I’m a bit hesitant about going after the X… I tend to like a little bass quantity to give that sense of body to the music and I don’t use EQ at all so I don’t know if I’m going to get what I’m looking for from the X.

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I’ll have to try using the Matrix functions with my Vérité, which is not something I’ve done so far. With the Utopia and HD800S, there was some fall-off in bass presence, so it wouldn’t surprise me that it was a more pronounced shift with a can that has more bass to begin with.

When doing reviews of headphones via the Phonitor I have all that stuff turned off.

I’ve found the BW2 results in an emphasized perception of bass quantity when I’ve had one in my system. It certainly sounds more pronounced in the bottom end than the direct output of my DAVE - which is a useful test as DAVE doesn’t really have an internal amp in the normal sense.

I wanted my solid-state amp to be as neutral and transparent as possible, since it is mostly for review purposes that I have one at all. Otherwise I’d have stuck with the Pro iCAN or gone with a BW2 myself (such a lovely listen … I was sorely tempted anyway …).

The built-in DAC has some issues on macOS as well (pretty sure I mentioned them in my review). It doesn’t need drivers, and is recognized correctly, but via USB it has issues with automatic/on-the-fly sample rate changes.

I didn’t try it on Windows 10 because … well, I’m not much for masochism and there was no one around to hold a gun to my head. But since you’re having issues, I’ll try it and either post a resolution (if it works for me) or update the review with a note on there being problems with Windows as well.

I should note that the S/PDIF inputs work fine for on-the-fly rate-switches … but obviously require you have a TOSLINK or COAX output available to utilize.


The Phonitor X is neutral. I don’t find it adds or subtracts from the natural bass present from my source. That can be a difficult thing to assess directly, as most DACs can’t be heard directly as you need an amp - which makes it hard to tease apart which component is contributing to what aspects of the ultimate signature.

If you want your amplifier to emphasize bass , the Phonitor X is the wrong way to go.


I’m still excited to get my Phonitor XE without a DAC…actually glad I requested no DAC after reading this though…especially since I wouldn’t be using the onboard DAC even if I did have one.


Actually, since I’ve yet to measure the Vérité (too busy burning them in and then enjoying them), I should do a pass of measurements with them via the Phonitor X with the Matrix function enabled, and disabled, and with various settings engaged.

As well as both Universe and Vérité pads.


Thanks @Torq. I don’t want an amp that emphasizes bass but I want to feel some power and body to the music to keep me engaged instead of making me fatigued. The THX-AAA-789 is a perfect example of what I don’t want. It’s transparent, clean but it sounds a tad too thin for my taste. I was hoping (well I still am) that the Phonitor X would present the same level of transparency as the THX but with “more musicality” or “body” per say. Pardon my lack of audiophile terms to describe what I’m going after.