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HeadRoom Sessions 2/16/2012: SPL Phonitor and Auditor

Ever since a loyal customer made it a blip on our radar and we watched some product videos on SPL’s website, we’ve been dying to get our hands on the SPL Phonitor headphone amp. Finally a few weeks after Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2011, the Phonitor and little brother the Auditor showed up at HeadRoom. Within moments the headphone geeks had swarmed the shipping room like ravens on road kill! BUT WAIT! We had pre-orders for both amps so we didn’t even get to open the boxes! Worse yet, “management” wasn’t sure we should buy one for internal use (...be sure to say “management” in your most whining ‘I didn’t get what I wanted’ voice). After many extensively formulated reasons/excuses/”pretty pretty pleases” from our sales department, our illustrious leader and newly appointed CEO Ivy finally gave us the go-ahead. HeadRoom’s new Phonitor amp is now nestled snugly next to my HeadRoom UDAC and DPS which are aptly feeding it pristine analog signal. Once we got it set up and gave it some burn-in time, we hooked up our blind A-B rig, turned all available imaging adjustments off, and put the Phonitor, with an internal discreet power supply, against the HeadRoom BUDA and Desktop Power Supply (DPS). We utilized the single-ended output of the BUDA with Crossfeed off to keep the comparison as close as possible.

[caption id="attachment_2379" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Our blind A-B Test Rig, consisting of two sets of RCA inputs with a selector switch and a single headphone output soldered to a circuit board, allows us to connect two sources to one set of headphones and provides the ability to switch between the sources for seamless testing."] Our blind A-B Test Rig, consisting of two sets of RCA inputs with a selector switch and a single headphone output soldered to a circuit board, allows us to connect two sources to one set of headphones and provides the ability to switch between the sources for seamless testing.[/caption]

A/B Testing Rig

We all found ourselves leaning toward the same amp, the one sounding more natural with more body, fuller, tighter bass and more space throughout an effortless presentation. We also found ourselves believing that amp was the Phonitor. When we revealed the amps, it was actually the BUDA that had won over everyone’s ears. The HeadRoom crew walked around with puffed-out chests like a bunch of proud fathers for hours; our beloved little BUDA had held it’s own against a very highly regarded pro-audio manufacturer. Beside the slightly more critical presentation, what sets the Phonitor apart from the BUDA as ‘pro-level’ gear is a robust feature set; including balanced inputs and unaltered balanced outputs, VU and PPM metering, left and right channel solo capabilities, phase control, a mono switch, and the most natural sounding and fully adjustable crossfeed we’ve ever heard. The adjustment parameters of the crossfeed include crossfeed level, speaker angle and center level to most closely simulate your monitor speaker arrangement and soundstage. While the Phonitor does a great job of providing a better sense of space, it still cannot provide the same space as a speaker system. Anyone who’s listened to speakers and headphones knows headphones can provide up-front detail that speakers may struggle with, but no matter how sweet the crossfeed, headphones just can’t offer the spaciousness of speakers.

[caption id="attachment_2381" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="SPL Phonitor"] SPL Phonitor[/caption]

The features are designed to make it a useful tool at an audio mixing station, but they also make the Phonitor the most customizable analog image processing available, giving the audiophile and the audio engineer alike the ability to totally dial-in the soundstage of their headphones. Audiophiles, keep in mind the Phonitor only accepts balanced 3-pin XLR inputs which are a norm in ‘pro-audio’ gear. What really blows our collective HeadRoom mind is the adjustability of the crossfeed and how natural it sounds. If there’s anything we can pick on with the HeadRoom crossfeed it is the warming effect it has on the tone of the amp, and is the reason for the brightness filters on our Desktop line. With the Phonitor there is no audible tonal change with the crossfeed on or off. Where we noticed differences were in comparisons to desktop speaker systems in the office. We noticed as we increased the crossfeed level of the Phonitor to match the speakers, the center channel seemed to become more immediate. By cutting the center level adjustment we were able to make the center channel drop back into the soundstage and better match its location in the speakers’ soundstage. The Phonitor, and the Auditor which is the same amplifier stage without the crossfeed imaging features, are both amazing pieces of gear. While they are likely targeted at the professional studio for mixing purposes, they are just as at-home in the headphone rig of any audiophile seeking more soundstage and more control of that soundstage.

[caption id="attachment_2382" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="SPL Auditor"] SPL Auditor[/caption]

For more information on the Phonitor or Auditor check out the SPL product videos and give us a call at 800-828-8184. A HeadRoom headphone expert is currently fighting for their turn to park the Phonitor on their desk for a while so they can give it to you where it matters most… right between the ears!

SPL Headphone Amps


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