SPL Phonitor X DAC/AMP - Official Thread

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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They’re not identical in finish.

Neither are half the Schiit, Massdrop or Chord products I have. Close enough that you probably couldn’t tell outside of pictures or particular viewing angles, but they certainly wouldn’t match on a colorimeter.

Not really surprising given they’re from different manufacturers.


I’m only concerned with whether they match in a dimly lit room. Sounds like I’m good to go there. I’ll probably end up swapping to a black one if (probably when) I buy one. I’m just rocking a review loaner right now.

One lovely benefit of these is that it’s pretty easy to compare either XLR/RCA outputs from a DAC or even two different DACs. I have the RME ADI-2 DAC feeding the XLR and LH Labs GO2A Infinity feeding the RCA.

JRiver is outputing both as linked zones at exactly the same time, and I level matched with the VU meters.

The amp is so transparent that it makes DAC changes really* obvious (* really in the scheme of things. DAC changes are hard to identify unless their wildly different types).


I’m a big fan of the combo myself! I’m going to dig into the A/B capabilities of the XE next week (headphone outs in the back and the switch on the front, will make it very easy)

The picture in my post is using Google night sight, the original picture without it you couldn’t see the comics or Zines because it was too dark.


I’m really close to buying this thing after demoing it for review. I’m going to let it marinate for at least a couple of weeks, but right now I’m looking at yep. I’ll probably get a black one, though. The silver looks good, but pretty much everything else I have is black.

It’s so effortlessly powerful. Clean, neutral, transparent. It’s what I was aiming for back in the day when I got sucked into the hype around the O2 during its development. Plus, I like its bells and whistles.

Initially, I kept using a tube preamp, but I’m starting to appreciate how clean it is on its own and don’t generally use the tube amp in front of it most of the time.

I’m curious what you guys think about leaving the amplifier on. Anecdotally, I think I’m hearing improvements by leaving the RME ADI-2 DAC and SPL Phonitor XE powered up even when not in use.

I usually don’t advocate for leaving things powered on like that, and I’m hoping it’s either psychosomatic or just the result of break-in (this unit was brand new when it arrived).


I don’t leave either the SPL Phonitor X or the RME ADI-2 DAC on when not in use.

Typically there will be about a five minute window between when I do fire them up and when I actually sit and hit “play”, and that seems to be enough to get them to a point where I can’t tell any difference between that post-five-minute-point and hours later. That’s just me though.

There are really only two devices I habitually leave powered up these days, one is the Yggdrasil Analog 2, and the other is the Chord Hugo M-Scaler - and the M-Scaler is only “on” because it doesn’t have a power switch.

Everything else sits in “stand-by” mode until used.


Word. That helps me chalk it up to burn-in (either of the electronics or the brain).


I do a similar thing to what @Torq does, when I get home from work I’ll go turn on my tube amps, Phonitor XE, and RME ADI-2DAC, then put stuff away and get my daughter settled before throwing on some headphones.


With how powerful this is, I was reluctant to try IEMs with it. Surprisingly, it works great with them! I’m using my Future Sonics MG5HX customs with it right now and it has a perfectly silent background. Is it better than the IEM output of the RME ADI-2 DAC? Not sure yet.