Outside of the big CanJam ballroom at RMAF, several manufacturers like iFi Audio, Centrance, and SPL were setup and the extra space there (and proximity to Pint Brothers bar) was welcome. SPL offers some of my favourite headphone amplifiers so I had to stop by. SPL is a German company who seems to be as much, or more popular with the pro-audio community as it is the hifi-enthusiast market. Their Phonitor became a dream piece for me when a friend here in Atlanta bought one and I heard it.
Since then the Phonitor X has arrived. An neat feature is a “laterality” control which provides the ability to change the stereo imaging in your headphones. These amps really allow the sensation of a more natural, speaker like imaging with full-size cans. The Phonitor series also has many inputs and outputs so one can use it as a preamp to control amplifiers or active monitors.
As with other pro-based firms like Benchmark, SPL offers very good measured performance. Distortion is a super low at 0.00091% and dynamic range is a whopping 135.5 db. Power is strong enough to drive anything at 2 x 3.7W and the feature set includes such things as adjustable VU meters, a mono switch, remote control volume, both balanced and unbalances outputs and even an optional DAC card and DAC inputs with USB, SPDIF, and Toslink. The linear power supply uses a beefy toroidal transformer and the casework is excellent with thick front and top aluminum plates. I especially like the black and burgundy-red colour options. A very sharp look with slightly rounded corners on the front. The rear layout as you can see in the photos has lots of space around the connectors, something I always appreciate.
There were several laptop-based listening stations set up and the sound was open and dynamic. I listened to Zeppelin and Dire Straits and the guitars were clear and rich sounding in tone. Bass is powerful as one would expect from such a large amplifier.
New at the show was the even higher performance Phonitor SE. This unit now has lower distortion at 0.00085% and now 136.3db of dynamic range. This also comes with a 24/192 DAC card for $2,799 USD or $2,499 USD without.
But I have saved perhaps the best news for last. The introduction of the more affordable “e” model. A slimmer case than the Phonitor X, it still has the VOLTAIR circuitry of the X but in a small and more affordable package. With the same impressive super low distortion and wide dynamic range as we described above, the “e” comes in a full $1,000 less at just $1,499 USD or $1,799 USD with the DAC card. I had a quick listen and was impressed.
There was also a Phonos on display which is their phono preamplifier with adjustable impedance and capacitance. Phonos offers 71.5db of gain for moving coil cartridges and 50db of gain for moving magnet. Too much? There is also an adjustment to change this gain in -10db, normal (0) and +4db increments. Famous mastering engineer Bob Ludwig uses a Phonos in his mastering studio.
All these components utilize SPL’s VOLTAIR technology whereby the amplification uses 120V rail op amps which enable as much as 140db of dynamic range.
All in all impressive sound, even taking into account the higher prices. I like the enhancements that SPL has made to their Phonitor line and I’m especially excited to see a more affordable but still feature rich amplifier in the new “e” model.