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In Reply to: RE: Raal SR1a Ribbon Headphones posted by Jon L on April 25, 2020 at 17:31:37
Do you own a pair? To what have you compared them? Special amplification?
"'Cause when love is gone, there's always justice./And when justice is gone, there's always force./And when force is gone, there's always Mom. Hi Mom!" Laurie Anderson, "O Superman (For Massenet)"
I own these. I find them... stunning.
Re: special amplification
They are not your standard set of headphones. The ribbons used only present a 0.2 ohm load! They do require special amplification. The basic configuration requires the use of a special interface box full of resistors (included with the headphones) to increase the resistance (and modify the response curve to increase the bass) along with a good *speaker* amp (typically at least 100W per channel). RAAL also makes a custom headphone amp, and Schiit has produced a custom headphone amp, both of which eliminate the need for the resistor box (and it's associated veil). I use the Schiit amp.
I have come to believe that *every* transducer (speakers, headphones, turntable cartridges) requires "special amplification". That is, that there is synergy required between transducers and amplifiers to make magic.
I have limited comparisons. I have only owned high impedance headphones from one manufacturer (Sennheiser, HD650 and HD800). I have in the past preferred the HD650 for when I want to rock'n'roll, and the HD800 for classical/jazz/acoustic.
But the RAAL is *special*. There is a clarity and reality to the sound that stuns me. Pianos sound *right*. Stringed instruments sound *right*. Recordings that I thought I knew well have details revealed to me that are exciting. They give me goosebumps.
They are not flawless. The ribbons have limited bass excursion; people who are "bass heads" cannot crank these without hitting their limits. They are also slightly tilted up in the treble region, which, combined with their transient speed, makes them a little relentless. However, the purely resistive load that they present means that they respond nicely to equalization; I use a very minor amount of parametric EQ in ROON that takes the edge off without losing the magic.
They are "open baffle". There is no isolation from the outside world, and the outside world will hear what you are playing. But that also means that they don't have earcups to generate odd resonances.
I find that they are not for "casual" listening. If I want something warm and cozy to fill the background while I read or play on the computer, these are not the headphones. They draw me into the music and soon I am just spinning discs instead. Fair warning. :)
On the downside, the next upgrade amp comes in at $3900. Add the already expensive headphones, and we are talking about some serious money for "only" headphones.
On the upside, the HSA-1a amp also will feature 4-pin XLR jack for normal headphones and have speaker binding posts (class A 10 watts into 8 Ohms).
The unknown. Since HSA-1a has been tuned to synergize with Raal SR1a, early word is that amp adds warmth and smoothness, which may or may not synergize as well with more "neutral" speakers and non-ribbon headphones. We shall see..
Have not heard the RAAL amp, but I have no desire for anything "better" at this point...
If and when new headphone meet-ups start again, I would love to hear what I am "missing". (grin)
IMO, they are worthy of the best DAC you can afford. I had the optional Schiit multi-bit DAC card included with my Jot-R to make it an all-in-one unit, but the Ayre QB-9 and the Schiit Yggdrasil quickly took over conversion duties.
Vendors are offering package deals of (headphones + Jot-R - speaker adapter box) that are discounted from the full retail cost of buying the headphones/adapter box from RAAL and Jot-R from Schiit.
What is remarkable is the nearly universal praise that these "head speakers" get from reviewers. Whether the reviewer is labeled as "objectivist" or "subjectivist" doesn't matter -- they drool. Maybe it is just the honeymoon phase of the product...
in order to squeeze out that last 10%, better headphones cables do make a difference. Unfortunately, Raal is using different pinouts for their connectors than customary, not to mention using female XLR connectors at cable-end instead of male.
This makes it very difficult to use expensive aftermarket headphone cables you already own with Raal.
I had to unsolder the wire from the ring of TRS connector and make/buy 4-pin female XLR to female XLR adapter(different pinout) to use my OCC pure silver litz headphone cable (Hifiman standard) with Raal, but it sure brought significant SQ improvements over stock cables.
Hey Jon, those cables look familiar. Glad that it worked out for you!
Conventional headphones will NOT like being connected to these "direct drive" amps. Using the opposite sex connector keeps you from doing bad things to your other headphones.
Reasonable people disagree on how much difference cables make. I have to wonder how much difference a home-brew adapter makes; it adds two connectors and their associated impedance mismatches to the chain. But if it sounds "better" to you, then who am I to say? Enjoy!
is definitely needed for Raal SR1a. Raal recommends a 100 watt speaker amp with the adapter box, but I would recommend the $799 Schiit Jotunheim R direct drive amp, which was designed to drive the Raal's 0.2 Ohm impedance directly and sounds superb.
I can't really decide what I prefer because they all sound very different from each other, so I rotate among Raal SR1a, Abyss 1266 Phi TC, and Stax SR009...
P.S. The Jotunheim R is a better deal than people realize, because it can drive the Abyss 1266 well via DIY/special 4-pin XLR female-to-female adapter (with baffle step correction turned off on Jot R).
How would you compare the sound of the Raal vs Stax? Are you using a Stax amp? I have an SR1a and Jotunheim on order, but some years ago I had Stax headphones and amp and fondly remember them.
I currently have the Meze Empyreams which are great, but I was very curious about the Raals.
Stuck at home I'm listening to a lot of music these days.
TOTL electrostats will always hold a special place with their unique sound signature. To me, they seem to excel at microdynamics/microdetails, all sort of floating in "wet" harmonic envelope.
Raal/Schiit combo will align more with "studio" type of sound, i.e. extreme detail resolution, clarity, bass definition. With good recordings, Highly impressive SQ. With less ideal recordings, something will need to be added to make them sound more forgiving. I sometimes add ifi itube2 tube buffer in front of Schiit.
The SR1a's are a revelation. I received them today along with the Jotunheim R amp and after a bit of fiddling with the fit I'm dialed in. They are certainly different, but shed an absolutely clear window onto the music. I love it. The Meze Empyreans I was using still sound great, but have a different signature and now sound closed in. The detail in the SR1a's is supremely impressive, but not in a fatiguing way. However, I can see how with bad recordings they may irritate.
They make you want to listen to music!
Jotunheim R is much more of a bargain than we realized because it is a great amplifier for low impedance planar headphones also!
It doesn't have much wattage but is designed to push lots of current into ultra low impedance Raal SR1a (0.2 Ohms), and planar 'phones with low impedance benefit from the current.
Meze Empyrean is 100 dB/1 mW and 31.6 Ohms, so it doesn't need much amplification, but who knows the Jot R may push stout current into it to reveal some new abilities.
Jot R sounds fabulous with hard-to-drive Abyss 1266 Phi TC 88 dB/mW and 47 Ohms.
What one does need is 4-pin female XLR to 4-pin female XLR adapter with special pinout (Raal pinout is very different from usual).
Sorry for jumping on this thread, but found this post about pins wiring very helpful. Can I ask how the pins are enumerated in the Jotenheim R?
According to the pins conversion in your image and the letters in the one I uploaded, is it the below correct?
3 -> 1 (A)
4 -> 2 (B)
1 -> 4 (D)
2 -> 3 (C)
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