Airist Audio Heron 5

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by velvetx, Nov 17, 2015.

  1. sphinxvc

    sphinxvc Gear Master (retired)

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    @Shaffer, the company’s name is Airist Audio. Only the product is named Heron.

    LOL @ “stealth” shielding.

    I think the skepticism is justified here. Reminds me of the Abyss debut. Typically we headphone idiots are only too happy to be separated from our money for diminishing returns, but flowery prose and lack of detail don’t inspire confidence. And while we spend stupid amounts of money on gear, value is still a consideration, so this thing is reaching for a very high bar.

    On the other hand, these guys are bravely asking for honest feedback, despite the reputation I’m sure this place has inherited from CS. To me that’s respectable. Hopefully some of you guys can put it through its paces against Ragnarok or other amps from the leader board. We can help these kids figure out whether or not this thing means Christmas presents till the end of time.
     
  2. joeq70

    joeq70 Rando

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    Hahah this thread is hilarious. I'm on the loaner list at HF. I'll be happy to report my findings when my turn comes.
     
  3. Luckbad

    Luckbad Traded in a unicorn for a Corolla

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    That's actually not a bad thing. High end PSUs often do exactly that to isolate components. It looks ugly, but it has a purpose.
     
  4. Hrodulf

    Hrodulf Prohibited from acting as an MOT until year 2050

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    Depends on what they wanted to achieve. If one can whip up a high voltage amp with SMD components without any magic gunk... Also stacked resistors reek of poor optimisation. I don't see stuff like this on Schiit amps.
     
  5. thegunner100

    thegunner100 Hentai Master Chief

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    First impressions from a EC BA Owner:

    http://www.head-fi.org/t/787946/air...rogram-and-black-friday-sale/15#post_12088572

    Oh and it looks like the amp has balanced inputs from the picture of the innards that he posted.
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2015
  6. HitmanFluffy

    HitmanFluffy Hoping to see real genitals someday!

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    The nice looking pot seems to be from this Chinese company called EIZZ.
     
  7. The Alchemist

    The Alchemist MOT: Schiit - Here to help!

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  8. Senorx12562

    Senorx12562 Case of the mondays

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    It seems to me that to release a product in this segment/price point as their first product is certainly ballsy but fraught with peril. I guess at this point i'd rather invest 2k in the amp than in the company. The number of proven performers at this price point (and considerably below) makes the survival of this company problematic at best, no matter how good it ends up sounding. The model in the ad looks pretty ok though.
     
  9. thegunner100

    thegunner100 Hentai Master Chief

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    So I brought up the Heron 5 to a friend of mine who has some experience with modding amps. He thinks that the amp was originally meant to be fully balanced with a balanced output but for some reason, they decided to make it only SE. From how the board is laid out, it does seem like it is a balanced design and even has balanced inputs. However, he pointed out to me that if you look at the volume knob (Golden thing on top left), one set of wires is soldered in place and the other set is shorted (see teal ovals). In addition, there are markings on the PCB for additional caps (purple ovals) but only two of those are being used. Any ideas based on the board layout if only half the amp circuitry is being used, or if the signal is actually being summed for the SE output.

    Thoughts? This could explain why the amp is severely lacking in power to even drive the hd650 to moderate-loud levels when playing classical music. I'm currently using the SE out from the Yggdrasil, so the amp is receiving 2V correct? When I get a pair of XLR cables, then the amp will be receiving 4V. This will mean that there will be more volume to play with right?

    heron5_MG_92371.jpg
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2015
  10. thegunner100

    thegunner100 Hentai Master Chief

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    We both heard the same amp at the meet, and of course we have the pictures here as well. I think it's appropriate to question the design of a $2000 amp when it possibly doesnt even meet specifications. I'm not too familiar with the technicalities but 533mw into 300 ohm (based off the 5W into 32 ohm spec) with 12.5 (22db) gain should be able to get pretty loud. However, the Valhalla 2 gets a bit louder with the hd650s at 800mw into 300ohm and 7 (16.9db) gain.

    I'm hoping someone with more knowledge can chime in.
     
  11. velvetx

    velvetx Gear Master West/Vendor Spotlight Moderator

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    Great comments I have sent on your questions and thoughts to my contact at Airist.
     
  12. kapanak

    kapanak Canucklehead - Friend

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    Are the people that designed this amp qualified? It seems like the company is made up by a bunch if Ivy League graduates who may THINK they are qualified in amp design for the purpose of audio. Certainly @thegunner100's friend makes very valid points based on the PCB layout alone, and we have high resolution enough photos to be able to trace and judge the amp design. More than a few of us here are qualified for that purpose.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2015
  13. purr1n

    purr1n On vacation

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    When is this coming my way again?
     
  14. thegunner100

    thegunner100 Hentai Master Chief

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    I'll have it out by the end of the week, to whoever's next on the list. I'll be gathering my thoughts together and posting impressions shortly.
     
  15. velvetx

    velvetx Gear Master West/Vendor Spotlight Moderator

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    I think with upcoming meets and whatnot that it will come to me next and then I will hand it off to you @purrin or send it right after the meet down to you and the socal crew.
     
  16. thegunner100

    thegunner100 Hentai Master Chief

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    Airist Audio Heron 5 review
    DSC_8590.JPG

    The Heron 5 is a $2000 amp by a new company based in NYC called Airist Audio. With only flowery language, metaphors, and buzzwords on their website, I didn't have any high expectations for their first amp. I first heard the Heron 5 along with their prototype r2r dac at the NY Head-fi meet last month. With only a limited selection of music and meet conditions, I couldn't get a solid impression of how the amp sounded. By request of the SBAF gear masters and Airist, I reluctantly signed up for the loaner amp to get some real impressions on it. The loaner thread can be found here.

    Build quality and design

    Overall the unit looks very well built and solid feeling. As advertised, the unit is only a tad bit warm to the touch after being left on for hours. It comes with an audiophool cable that may or may not contribute to how the amp sounds.

    DSC_8579.JPG

    The volume knob is very nice feeling and satisfying to use. Each twist and volume shift is represented by a click on the pot. There's perfect channel matching right from the first click (using UERMs), and each click sounds like a linear increase in volume to me. It goes all the way from 6 o'clock all the way around to 5 o'clock.

    However… there is a severe problem with the design of the amp: there is only one gain setting of 12.5 (22db). From what I gather, this would be considered high gain on most amps. Combined with the 533 mw into 300 ohms, one would expect there to be plenty of power for the hd650s. This is unfortunately not the case. The amp quickly runs out of volume for classical music and really anything that's not loudly mastered. Like I said earlier, each click is a linear increase in volume. The last click is significantly louder than the click before it, and introduces distortion. I don't have any reliable means to measure it, but it sounds like more than a 6dB difference. In addition, there is a quiet pop in my headphones when I move to the last click.

    I'll have a pair of XLR cables to use with the balanced inputs of the Heron 5 soon. This could possibly help with the volume problem that I'm experiencing with the hd650s, and address the soft dynamics. Ill update the review if it turns out to be of any significance.

    DSC_8593.JPG DSC_8595.JPG DSC_8594.JPG

    There is also some ongoing discussion about the amp's design in my previous posts in this thread. To sum it up, it seems apparent from the amp's PCB that it was meant for balanced output but it's possible that only half the amp is being utilized. It may explain the low power output of the Heron 5, but we will have to see what Airist Audio has to say about it.

    DSC_8586.JPG

    Sound impressions
    Setup: Yggdrasil (SE out) -> Heron 5 (with audiophool power cable) -> HD650/UERMs

    HD650 + High Z out: The high Z out on the Heron 5 simply just sucks for the hd650s. I don't know what the actual value is, but it's not done as tastefully as on the DNA Sonett (120ohm) or properly as on the Valhalla 2 (12ohm). Bass gets bloomy, and bleeds a bit into the mids. The treble is soft, and doesn't have any bite when it's called for. Heck, the overall sound is soft and lacking any real sense of impact or dynamics. It is very smooth sounding and may be more appropriate for brighter headphones like the HD800 or Beyers. But you're definitely getting that smoothness at a compromise.

    HD650 + Low Z out: The low Z out is a bit better than the high Z out for the hd650s. The bass bloom is gone, and the treble is back to appropriate levels. The frequency response is more balanced, and dynamics are a bit better with this setting as well. Cleaner sounding too.

    With both settings, the amp is absolutely quiet with the hd650s throughout the whole volume pot. I would have liked to have actual numbers for the impedances of the two outputs.

    Compared to the Valhalla 2, the Heron 5 is an inferior amp. The Heron 5 is too smooth and uninvolving with the high Z out, and still lacking in most areas with the low Z out. Macro dynamics are considerably better with the V2, possibly due to it have more gain and power to work with when the huge volume shifts are called for. On Saint-Saen's Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso Op.28, I always get scared by the huge volume swing when the violin section all draw their violin, even when I'm expecting it (sorry… I don't know the proper music term). Not so much with the Heron 5 though. That burst is much louder and impactful on the V2 than on the Heron 5.

    Transients and attacks are also weaker on the Heron 5. Guitar plucks sound duller compared to the V2. Bass impact is a bit weaker and the treble is still lacking in bite. However, it does seem like the treble is a tad bit less grainy on the Heron 5. Something to that effect. The difference in soundstage size between the V2 and the Heron 5 doesn't seem too significant but the V2 does have better imaging capabilities and sense of space. The V2 is also better at detail retrieval than the Heron 5.

    UERMS: There is a bit of hiss and hum on low Z out but a good amount of volume to work with at the low end of the pot, with perfect channel matching. The hissing doesn't change at all throughout the pot. On high Z out, the hum is strangely gone but there is severe treble roll off due to the impedance factors with BA drivers and crossovers.

    The Heron 5 sounds almost as good as the leckerton UHA-6s mk ii (ADA 4627-1A) with the UERMs. The Leck with high gain sounds more dynamic and hisses about as much as the Heron 5. On low gain, the leck is much quieter and cleaner sounding than the Heron 5. There's also a little bit of treble roll off with the Heron 5 on low Z out. I didn't compare too much more, as listening fatigue was setting in at this point.

    Conclusions/TLDR
    I'm not sure what airist audio is trying to accomplish by putting out a $2000 amp that isn't even worth the $750 that it was sold for at the NY meet auction. While it is a nice looking and well-built amp on the outside, it has a questionable design on the inside. At $2000, I'd expect an amp to deliver either very high sound quality and or a nice set of features. The Heron 5 doesn't get either of those right. On the SQ front, it isn't nearly as good as the Valhalla 2 for the hd650s. I'll probably get flamed for saying this but to be honest, the Heron 5 competes more along the lines of a Magni 2/uber or Vali when it comes to certain areas. On the features front, it's nice that it has both balanced and SE inputs but it doesn't have a balanced output. The two impedance outputs is a nice addition, but the high impedance doesn't do anything positive for the hd650s. The volume knob is satisfying to use, but could have been implemented better. For $1700, you could get a Ragnarok with 3 gain settings, multiple SE and balanced inputs and outputs, and the option to drive speakers.

    In the meantime, I hope that Heron 5 answers some of the questions and concerns that I have with the design. As mentioned before, they are currently working on a discrete r2r ladder dac designed to go along with the Heron 5. With the disappointment that is the Heron 5, I'd like for them to read Jason Stoddard's book if they hope to stand a chance in the audio industry.

    Update:
    I THINK the balanced input sounds just a tiny bit better. Like 3%. I'm not sure if I'm actually reliable hearing anything though. I know it's not the most reliable method but I'm just doing quick A/Bs using the switch on the back. It may just be due to the balanced outputs on the Yggdrasil sounding a tiny bit better since the signal doesn't have to be summed inside the dac. Either way, it's nothing to fuss over with this amp. It doesn't change my evaluation of the amp in any way,
     
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2015
  17. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    That review is almost as disappointing as the number of people playing Battlefront on PC right now. Namely, almost none.
     
  18. velvetx

    velvetx Gear Master West/Vendor Spotlight Moderator

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    Just to clarify a few things and hopefully this will shed some light:

    The circuit is designed to be single ended. The confusion about the circuit layout is probably because we have an active power regulation for each channel that might resemble an amplification circuit. The "missing" capacitors include coupling capacitors that were not necessary after optimization, and so are not on the board.

    There are a few other things which I am awaiting clarification on and will post more once I get it.
     
  19. thegunner100

    thegunner100 Hentai Master Chief

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    To be fair, the amp doesn't sound bad as long as you don't compare it to anything else. There's nothing specifically bad about it (putting the volume issue aside), especially with using the low impedance output. It's very easy to listen to.

    @velvetx, thanks for clarifying that!
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2015
  20. Maxx134

    Maxx134 Dunning–Kruger effect poster boy

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    I'm sorry but on board what is either shunted or missing are 220uf electrolytics.
    I find that hard to believe that there are coupling caps here as even the website stated the design was not having coupling caps.
    The fact remains that the amp is very weak and does not perform at rated power.

    The power supply does look the part.
    And I don't understand the need for two impedance headphone jacks, when a well designed circuit of 5watt should push higher impedance without need for separate jack.
    A more practical usage of having two jacks is to have an XLR out and a single ended.
    The problem here is there is not clarity on what is actually going on with this amp.

    Sorry but I feel the design has been compromised from original intendid state.

    Edit :
    Those are my personal opinion so my apologies if they end up being wrong, but still the amp output is much to weak and needs attention.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2015

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