Pathos Aurium Headphone Amp Impressions

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by tommytakis, Sep 2, 2019.

  1. tommytakis

    tommytakis Friend

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    Before I start my impression, I just want to thank @E_Schaaf and @ChaChaRealSmooth for making this possible. I’m grateful and feel privileged to be able to audition gears in my setup without committing to expensive purchases. I happen to get both the Pathos and the Euforia delivered to my house on the same day so I had a busy weekend trying to write impressions.

    My setup: Gungnir Multibit A2 Gen 5 > Auris Pathos / ZDT Jr. | Valhalla 2 > ZMF Verite/ HD650
    • Overall tonality seems to be similar to that of other tube hybrids like Lyr 3 and LP. I didn’t hear any glaring faults, but it didn’t amaze me with any outstanding qualities.
    • Aesthetic reminds me of Focal Stellia with those holes (aka trypophobia trigger box), BUT looks more pleasing than LP. LP looks atrocious imo.
    • Unit gets warm but not hot to the touch like valhalla 2 or scorching hot like ZDS.
    • Versatility: you can fine tune the gain level to match your headphones: place the volume knob at the middle and increase/decrease the gain until you’re at the appropriate listening level to properly match each headphone to their respective impedance. Handy dandy amp that takes balanced, 3 RCA (I think) and tape out.
    • Decent macrodynamics but lacks in microdynamics. I don’t find it as engaging at least with my setup. Maybe it’ll be different with planars? I think this is the amp’s biggest weakness if I had to pick.
    • Good clarity. Verite didn’t sound veiled or dark.
    • Treble is well extended with plenty of sparkle and lacks harshness or stridency.
    • Bass is not bad, but didn’t sound as tight and authoritative as Jotunheim. Lacking a bit of slam?
    • I wished the mids were a little more forward. It’s a bit laid back/polite for my taste.
    • HD650:
      • mids are not as forward and aggressive sounding as ZDT Jr.
        Smooth treble.
      • Overall tonality reminds me of lyr 3
      • Lacks a bit of body and warmth.
      • stage is meh. I was hoping for a bit more at this price point.
    • Verite:
      • Valhalla 2 sounds noticeably slower when I listen with the Verite. Fast passages are clearly defined and incisive. No over smoothness
        Headstage is smaller and lacks a little bit of depth compared to Valhalla 2
      • Overall resolution is about right for the price point.
      • Verite pads helped with the macrodynamics but still found it a bit lacking in the microdynamics. Also vocals do not sound as smooth with this pairing.
      • Smoother overall tonality than Val 2. No sharpness or stridency in vocals
      • ZDT Jr. has noticeably better macro/microdynamics. Although the stage is rather smaller, there is more contrast between the quiet and louder passages.
    • Andromeda:
      • Hissssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss. That is all. LOL (even at the lowest gain)
    • I wasn’t able to tube roll since I don’t own any extra tubes that fit this type.
    • S-Booster LPS: oh wow, I like this a lot. Increased sense of immediacy and stage slightly. Music sounds a bit snappier and immediate. Maybe it’s placebo… the change is more apparent when I listen to classical music. Doesn’t sound as constraint as with the stock power supply.
    I spent most of the time listening to this amp with the Verite. I thought the synergy was better than with the HD650, still not amazing or anything. S-booster led to some surprising results, but I feel like I would need more time living with the unit to do a proper evaluation. Overall, I think this is a technically capable amp for the price, but I don’t see myself reaching this for this amp if it was mine. Maybe I just lacked the headphones with the right synergy, but I would rather have the Valhalla 2 or ZDT Jr which is more affordable and engaging to listen to.
     
  2. drgumbybrain

    drgumbybrain Science Nut

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    Thanks friend. Did you remember which tubes this unit had? Mine came with ElectroHarmonics standard. They were noisy, crap and flat compared to others NOS
     
  3. tommytakis

    tommytakis Friend

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    Np! I believe it was also the ElectroHarmonics.
     
  4. fp627

    fp627 Friend

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    Received Pathos loaner today. Started warming up 1hr ago and listened for 1.5 hours.

    Initial Feedback. More detailed feedback to come later.

    Setup:
    PC --> Ygg Gen2 fed by USB5 // Soekris 1421 fed by optical SPDIF --> RCA feed to Pathos --> HD6xx, Ether Flow Open 1.1, and Auteur with (stock) Auteur lambskin pads.

    Not going to use XLR out on Ygg, included SBooster in loaner, or other tubes yet. I want to "understand" this at a baseline / lowest level and then go up from there to see if this scales at all.

    Per instructions: Set volume knob to 12, adjust gain knob on back until it gets to comfortable listening. I was about 90% up on HD6xx when powered by Ygg. This surprised me as it seems like I listen quieter than most people on SBAF. Didn't adjust channel balance knob (it's centered). Only about 60% gain on Ether, about 75-80% on Auteur.

    Sound:
    HD6xx: Start with a live 1981 version of Ozzy's Mr Crowley just for fun, no serious listening yet. Immediately didn't like at all. Bass was bad to the point IMO that I don't even fully know how to describe why I disliked it but I guess roughly it was a big mushy mess with no defined stage or clarity//giant blob sound. It didn't sound real at all. Keyboard into was really bad too. Lower mids were marginally acceptable but still not good. Middle mids and up was much better (this included several other tracks for 30s - 1 min each). Tried to listen to more music for impressions sake but just gave up at after 10 min b/c I disliked it so much. Adjusting gain did not help at all.

    Ether Flow 1.1: Not great or special yet, but much better than HD6xx. Still lacking some definition. Will need to tube roll before more feedback - I think with some tube rolling this could be a very nice combo. For reference, I played the same Mr Crowley recording on Ether and while it didn't sound special in any way at all, it wasn't bad per se (aka it wasn't the track itself). Some other tracks were also repeated, same thing.

    Auteur: Same as Ether, not great or special, but no glaring faults. Not so sure tube rolling will make this much better though. Similarly, will give more/better feedback later.

    With all 3 headphones, OK to good tonality and timbre. Voicing OK. A little (around 2-3/10) fatiguing. Euforia loaner I had before a lot better in this "more subjective tone/sound" department though.

    In conclusion:

    Take this is with a grain of salt if as it was only 1.5 hours. Unless tubes make a night/day difference on this amp, so far I don't like it. It doesn't redeem itself in any one area either - I completely agree with @tommytakis on this. I have no idea how this amp made it onto my "listen to this again later list" when I first heard it. My tastes haven't changed much and I don't think it's b/c I went from level 1 to level 999 audiophile in the course of 2 years to where anything short of unicorn sprinkles won't do now. Maybe it was the tubes or the rest of the chain (although IIRC it was also fed by Ygg the first time I heard it). Or maybe there is a reason the Sbooster was included - first time I heard it a LPS was being used.

    Next up:
    Will roll Telefunken E88CC, Bugle Boys, new prod Gold Lions as well while leaving rest of the chain the same. Need to check with @E_Schaaf if I can roll Matsushita 7DJ8 without issue. After tubes are selected, then I'll switch to Ygg XLR out and use Sbooster. Will try other headphones.

    Other characteristics:

    No fatigue after 1.5 hrs using the above.
    Decently warm, probably LP warm or warmer.

    Other random details about the amp:

    Lots of inputs. Pass through and tape out available.
    Small desktop friendly package, about 8" x 9" and lightweight.
    Fins are cool in that they offer a little protection to tubes but at the same time the sockets grab tightly enough that when I tried pulling out the stock tube (to check for proper seating) I almost banged into the metal several times (read: broken tubes). No way to unlock or temporarily remove fins as far as I can tell.
    Most mfg round the corners slightly - not so much with this amp - I mention this b/c I got a pretty good poke when I picked it up the first time.
    Channel balance not a bad idea (in theory) for potential mismatches in tubes.
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2019
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  5. tommytakis

    tommytakis Friend

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    @fp627 yeah this is one of the few times where I didn't feel the "New gear syndrome." I really wanted to like this amp with plethora of features available. I felt the Euforia was a bit overpriced but very much enjoyed listening to it with the HD650 and saw the potential value in it.

    In contrast, I felt that this amp was just ...meh? The amp, however, made me appreciate Schiit and other more affordably priced amps available in the market. Hopefully you'll hear some improved changes after tube rolling, which I wasn't able to do. Great write up regardless, I'm glad I wasn't the only one that felt this way.
     
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  6. EagleWings

    EagleWings Friend

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    I tried this amp at a headphone meet back in 2018 Spring, with my HD800S. It was being fed by a Modi 2. I was listening to both the Modi 2 and Aurium for the first time, so I couldn’t isolate my impressions to the DAC and Amp separately. In my experience, when you have a good amp in the chain, even with a mediocre DAC, the chain could sound very good. But this chain was quite underwhelming, so I am inclined to blame most of it on the amp.

    I think this amp became popular, because Innerfidelity had it on its Wall of Fame and Tyll featured it in one of his Canjam videos. Perhaps the amp was quite good for the standard about 3-4 years back. But I felt even my Lyr3, which costs less than half the price of Aurium, performed on the same level, if not better. I drove 60 miles to attend this meet, just to listen to this amp. But the drive was worth it, as I got to try a couple of other impressive gears.

    I digress. I really didn’t find any glaring flaws with the Aurium. Everything was just average, and that is not a good thing given the asking price of $1200. I do want to give the benefit of the doubt because, I didn’t know what tubes were in it, nor was I familiar with the performance of the Modi 2. But given that we have hybrids like MCTH, Lyr3 and Monoprice LP that cost way less than the Aurium, I am of the opinion that Aurium is not relevant anymore.

    Highly-Subjective, Personal Verdict: Not Recommended
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2019
  7. drgumbybrain

    drgumbybrain Science Nut

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    Before Our opinion starts to be biased, I would like to give my humble opinion. This pathos responds better to tube rolling than other similar designs. If you don't have some good NOS tubes to match your gear synergy, you won't enjoy its full potential. For me a Tesla ecc88 , Matsushita 7dj8, Phillips SQ ecc88 and Phillips ECG were clear better than stock. Also, Sennheiser high impedance headphones to me don't pair good with this amp. Im looking for a planar nearby for testing. Did try a Sony z1r yesterday and it was quite good. Nevertheless, I think the stock price (1400 euros) its not a good investment, and we have Lyr3 for 500. Maybe its sound quality its equal to Schiit Lyr3. I do have a Lyr2 at office and will compare them in the weekend. A never tried the lyr3 thought. cheers!
    IMG_6148 copy.jpg
     
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  8. dubharmonic

    dubharmonic Friend

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    @David De Lucena I'll be trying it with the HE1000V2 and HE6se when it arrives.
     
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  9. Walderstorn

    Walderstorn Friend

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    I am definitely surprises. It has been several years (6?) but I did enjoy it so much with my Sennheisers at the time but I have no idea which tubes were on it.

    Edit: I do remember now that at that time I had 598 and later got the 600.
     
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  10. fp627

    fp627 Friend

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    Short update:
    Rolled to new production Genalex Gold Lions. No other changes.

    Not only does it sound better, but I don't need to set gain as high to get the volume I want (6xx only about 75-80%, Ether still about 60%). It's possible some of the issues Tommy and I had were related to the tubes... more to come with more listening. For reference, when I used stock EH tubes in CTH and LP, I didn't feel like HD6xx were almost un-listenable.

    However, it's not like I'm listening to a completely different amp. The same problems still exist, just significantly less. I now suspect that 20% of the total dislike factor yesterday may have been marginally functioning tube/s (I have no measurement equipment to confirm, but I have heard stories of bad modern prod EH tubes popping up here and there) and another 20% is this amp reacts more than expected for a hybrid to tube rolling and needs good tubes. I still don't like this amp with HD6xx. For Ether, gold lions are a noticeable improvement. About the same improvements I heard when going from EH to gold lions on LP.
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2019
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  11. fp627

    fp627 Friend

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    Final results:

    Added sbooster before rolling more tubes. Wow. What a huge difference. It's almost like I don't know if this is an ad for the Pathos Aurium or the SBooster. While I haven't heard that many upgraded PSUs into amps before, using Sbooster is a much bigger upgrade in every aspect than I expected. It makes a bigger difference than the other PSU upgrades I've heard before. In combination with tube rolling, this has gone from an amp I dislike to OK maybe I can make this work (tube roll only) to yeah I see why I liked this amp the first time I heard it (as they also had upgraded PSU, probably not sbooster though). I even purposely put the Pathos close to the Sbooster (book on top then Pathos on book) and it didn't create extra noise, etc (aka someone thought this thing through). IMO Sbooster or some other good upgraded PSU is pretty much essential with this amp.

    I see sbooster on upscale audio for $359 and what looks like the mk2 upgrade for $99 (not sure if this upgrade comes with a new sbooster or not). None of the amps I have right now or plan on buying use a separate power supply (I no longer have my LP), but if I ever need one in the future, this is probably the first one I'll look at. My only hesitation so far would be maybe price (as with anything, contact dealer to clarify what is needed, etc.) and possibly having to buy multiple units for multiple output voltages (I get this from the EE side, but as a customer, this feels bad).

    Tube rolled more, amp responsive to rolling (4 sessions, 1 different pair per session).
    Gold Lions, Matsushita 7DJ8, Telefunkens, Bugle Boys - Gold Lions are the best match (wait what??). Gold Lions add some fullness, some warmth yet edginess at the same time like many modern production Russian tubes do, and an oddly somewhat smoother sound. Telefunkens sounded more open and holographic and made the amp more technically proficient in every way... but wait, Telefunken traits don't sound like this amp... so yes, IMO modern production, readily available, <$100 matched pair of tubes were slightly better than rare overpriced (and sometimes faked) Telefunkens. (in b4 conspiracy to lower tube prices - I don't have any amps right now that use 6922).
    Sound signature of each tube comes through as expected but with more of a difference than when I used these same pairs in my LP.

    HD6xx: Is listenable now. Not amazing or that enjoyable, but I don't want to take them off anymore.
    Auteur: Most things/aspects are decent or good overall, but nothing stands out as amazing. Stage doesn't quite sound right, not just too small, but like imagine you are using a mildly distorting fun house mirror to look at the stage. Now imagine that is the actual stage. Some detail, color, depth in stage, depth in the actual tone/sound, and a little color in acoustic instruments (guitar, violin, cello, voice, some percussion, etc.) are still missing.
    Focal Clear: Same thing, most things are decent or good overall, but nothing amazes me. Tames the slight sibilance and metallic sheen sound. Reduces, but doesn't eliminate, the slight fatige factor (for me) of Clears. Male vocals and electric guitar sound slightly boosted for some reason, more so than just normally switching to Clears do. Loses a little musicality (Clears weren't super musical to begin with IMO).
    LCD3: Not bad at all but nothing mind blowing. Some lower/deep bass is still missing. However, I'll say it - I like LCD3 marginally more on this amp more than most "big tube amps" only b/c it sounds properly driven (but you can still tell most of the other big amps are more technically there).
    Ether: Use the right tubes and this is a good pairing. Not Liquid Glass or Liquid Crimson good IMO but close. Lacks that little bit of grunt and bite but not lacking overall.

    With all headphones background was black enough with and without sbooster, didn't do my normal CIEM test as @tommytakis already tried with Andromedas. Specific notes about sound I mostly agree with Tommy about macro/micro, bass, treble, and mids. However, I only find the mids somewhat recessed. Still some unnaturalness in the sound at random spots on all different tracks (not sure why only randomly).

    If there are not enough specifics about the sound with each individual headphone, PM me, I can add more but IMO I've already written too much in this thread.

    In conclusion: I don't like this amp stock and definitely don't think this amp is worth it in stock form for $1400. Not even used at half price for $700 if you run stock tubes and PSU. @Walderstorn @David De Lucena Upgrade the PSU and roll some Gold Lions into the amp though and I'd say it's roughly the same or slightly better overall performance level as the LP (chosen b/c I had one and a lot of people here have or have heard one) but with a different house sound and more money. Components feel more high quality than LP in every way from inputs plugs, tube sockets, chassis, volume knob, etc. Has more features and functions as well. Doesn't have that over-regulated sound of the LP. So maybe worth it over LP if you get a good deal or good used price. LP is better at stage, tonality, and timbre IMO and overall balance. Obviously better value. It's similar (once upgraded) to the LP in the sense that neither amp really excels in any one area but for the most part don't screw up anything in a major way either. Also, if you have LCD2 or LCD3 as main headphone, get this over LP IMO - it drives my LCD3 much better than LP did.


    And thank you to @ChaChaRealSmooth and @E_Schaaf for making this happen.

    Real lesson I got from this loaner: I like the sbooster.

    For reference, my future reviews will not clarify small things as much as this and past reviews have in interest of shorter/more readable reviews. I feel like I've written enough stuff at this point for people to triangulate enough on my thoughts, ideas, and hearing. Of course I will be happy to clarify anything I write as needed.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2019
  12. DEATHxMACHINE

    DEATHxMACHINE Friend

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    First off, thank you @E_Schaaf and @ChaChaRealSmooth for allowing me to join the loaner and give me an opportunity to hear this amp.

    Secondly, sadly did not have a lot of time to listen to this amp as much as I would have liked to. This is a very interesting amp and I would have liked to have performed a proper a/b test with my ampandsound Pendant.

    Simply this is a fun amp that overall I enjoyed for what it is. I tend to shy away from tube hybrids because so far I don't think anyone has been able to meld benefits solid state and tubes. Tend to sound like a warm loose solid state. But there is a couple of traits that I really enjoy about this amp that overcomes some of its flaws.

    My setup comprised of JRiver to Schiit Gungnir d/s to Aurium ( JAN Philips 6922 tubes) to ZMF Atticus and Autuer. Used with the Sbooster. Didn't have time to a/b test the Sbooster.

    I listened to the stock tubes Electro Harmonix tubes for about 10 mins then switched them out for a pair of JAN Philips 6922 tubes. I find it stupid that a $1400 Italian crafted amp uses a pair of cheap $10 tubes. I understand their availability but they make the sound so damn loose. The JAN Philips really tighten up the sound.

    This amp does have the same fault I have found so far with tube hybrids as I mentioned earlier, warm and loose. The bass is elevated slightly, I wouldn't call it bloated. Then it is not nearly as tight and punchy as I would preferred. Luckily It didn't affect the detail retrieval of the mids and highs.

    Highs overall are pleasant and airy. Above average detail retrieval without ever being harsh. I really like the soft presentation of the highs and I had the habit of really jacking up the volume without any fatigue. Dynamics are a little above average.

    Mids are great! I love the sound of female vocals. Listening to Sunflower Bean's Twenty Two at high volumes was amazing. The mids are very engaging with great dynamics and timbre.

    Overall I really like the soft airy presentation of the sound. It has no forwardness or harshness but maintains good detail retrieval. You can listen at high volumes without any fatigue. So I can forgive the loose bass. Imaging is average with above average dynamics. The mids are pretty meaty with good timbre.

    I am very impressed by the build quality which explains the price of the unit. You are paying a lot for quality which might be off putting for some that are comparing it to less expensive amps with similar performance. At this price range I would kinda expect a balance 4 pin xlr output but I have no complaints running it single ended.
     
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  13. DEATHxMACHINE

    DEATHxMACHINE Friend

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    I thought I would give a little part 2 to my impression because I have been thinking about the differences I noticed using my other equipment and how I miss it a little. Over the last week I have actually gained a little more respect for it as a hybrid tube amp using 6922 tubes. It impresses me how much the Pathos was able to pull from those little tubes. From memory it added more air than the Massdrop ZDT jr. and definitely more than the Massdrop CTH. Not able to add stage as much as a ampandsound Pendant nor has the bass control. What I really miss about it was its ability to push the music out a little and remove any forwardness in music. Made for a very pleasant experience. I have amps that are technically better but not as pleasant. But detail retrieval is still very good. So if you are looking for a quality piece of a equipment that is simply pleasant to listen to I give it my recommendation.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2019
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  14. dubharmonic

    dubharmonic Friend

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    The Pathos Aurium gets a thumbs up from me. It’s versatile, small, and doesn’t really do anything wrong. The mids stood out to me as smooth, with a mostly neutral presentation backed by plenty of composure. I wouldn’t mind a little more thickness on the low end.

    As @E_Schaaf mentioned, it even does a decent job powering the HE6. The HE1000V2 pairing is as good as I’ve heard. Utopia, HD650 and Auteur pairings were OK, but they didn’t stand out over the MHA150 or Euphoria.

    I did try both power supplies, though I don’t feel confident that I could tell a difference. It’s tough to A/B test a power supply when letting everything warm up adequately. All of my 6922 tube rolling adventures have been done with the Valli 2, so I didn’t have any matched pairs to try.
     
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  15. Thenewerguy009

    Thenewerguy009 Friend

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    What do the two button on the front do? There are not labeled & there is no instructional manual on Pathos website.
     
  16. dubharmonic

    dubharmonic Friend

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    One is the source selector, the other is on / standby.
     
  17. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    I received the Aurium yesterday, and have been experimenting with tubes/listening since I received it. So these impressions are a bit preliminary.

    As @Thenewerguy009 stated, the tubes included in the loaner were probably going bad and he did included a spare pair of the stock tubes. That being said, I did NOT like the amp at all with the stock tubes; nothing overtly wrong with tonality and timbre, but dynamics, both macro and micro, sucked and it sounded kind of flat, with meh layering for its price, and just okay on decay. In terms of tube hybrids, I'd rather listen to the Lyr 3 (and compared to both those amps I'd take the Asgard 3 over them, even without considering price).

    Then I read @David De Lucena's point about tube rolling, and since I have 2 other sets of compatible NOS tubes, I popped those in. Specifically, the Telefunken PCC88, while probably not ideal for a 6922 circuit, is what I ended up preferring on this amp. On this amp, the Telefunkens increased stage in all dimensions slightly, gave more treble extension, and improved dynamics. The tube roll did not change the amp into "ZOMG amazing," but at least now I felt it had some sonic merit. The Sbooster was a similar story; it went another step or two ahead, but didn't transform it into another amp.

    The Aurium has this laid-back, slightly wet, and relaxed presentation. It's a bit on the slow side of things. That being said, the transient performance is not bad; the front edges of notes are well-defined, more modern and square. Performance on decay, while not its strongest suite, is acceptable.

    Mids and treble is where this amp performs best. Decently resolving, most details are there (but some sins of omission), similar in blackness to Liquid Platinum, and has very good timbre and tone. Smooth and on the wet side of things; wetter than the Starlett. Layering is okay, but for this price I want to hear better performance in this aspect.

    Bass is not spectacular and one where an amp of this price and type needs to do better. It's not that different than a Liquid Platinum here, which isn't bad, but for almost twice the money I don't think this is necessarily acceptable. That being said, it's a little tighter than Liquid Platinum and better controlled (from memory), but certainly not noteworthy.

    Headphone pairings in no particular order:
    • ZMF Verite: Not very synergistic. The Aurium just doesn't do the Verite any favors. That being said, this pairing didn't sound bad; it's just....not the Starlett as unfair as that comparison might be. Point being that there are much better amps for the Verite.
    • Sennheiser HD 6XX: Similar to the Verite; not bad, but not necessarily synergistic.
    • Hifiman HE560: Okay, now this amp makes more sense. Enough power to keep the HE560 happy and the driver controlled. Positive qualities flow through. If you like the Hifiman sound I can recommend this for audition.
    • Verum 1: Also pretty good. I'm not sure about the general availability of this headphone, but if you can get your hands on one it's definitely worthy of consideration.
    In short, it's not that great for dynamics, but seems to work decently well for planars.

    Personally though, I'm not in love with this amp. Alongside its requirement to tube roll to find best performance (not even mentioning the Sbooster), the price is hard to justify. If it does fit a chain, I'd rate it as a specialist piece of gear kind of like Euforia, except I feel the Euforia makes a much better case for itself since its performance with synergistic headphones is damn good and near TOTL if the Euforia's presentation is agreeable to your taste. I just think better amps exist at a cheaper price point.

    Put it this way: I wanted to keep listening to Asgard 3 even with Starlett and Euforia. I didn't feel that urge with Aurium.
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2019

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