Pathos Aurium Hybrid Headphone Amplifier
THE RIGHT PATHOS
I have seen some nice looking Pathos products reviewed in the pages of Stereophile before, but I have never heard any until now. They always seemed to get enthusiastic reviews, and the pictures looked pretty. When the Aurium ($1495) showed up here, I didn't have any idea what to expect sonically, but I expected and got a nice looking product. The Aurium isn't really lavishly designed, and it's pretty compact, but as long as you like silver as a color for gear, it's an attractive looking product.
It's got some nice features too. It has one balanced and three unbalanced inputs, and one balanced tape output. Good! Multiple inputs are handy. I don't really see the use for a tape output, though, and the Aurium could be a nice little preamp if those had been pre-outs (meaning variable instead of fixed level). Oh well.
Counterbalancing that is that there are gain and balance pots on the rear. Awesome!!!! A balance pot on a headphone amp is a godsend in my opinion, and should be mandatory for all headphone amps that are not in the bargain basement level. Good!
Back to the "not so good"I don't think it's possible to use this amp without reading the manual. Sure, you could get lucky. But as soon as you plug it in, it goes into a standby modelights but no power to the tubes. You press the power button to get it to come on. That's fineexcept there are NO labels on the front panel. So you have to guess which of the buttons the power button is. That's a stylistic compromise I do not favor. Labels are good. Manuals are a bummer.
Since I was in the manual anyway, I read it. The Aurium is a pretty powerful little amp, listed at 3.6W output into 32 ohms. I knew immediately this meant it was a hybrid. An amp with a pair of 6922 tubes is not going to produce almost 4 watts into 32 ohms. And indeed, the output devices are MOSFET solid state devices. MOSFETS are often chosen for having a "tube like" sound from a solid state device. Some people don't think they are very transparent sounding, but that hasn't been my experience in general, nor was it with the Aurium. The Aurium was very transparent, and was really not all that "tubey sounding", in the colloquial sense of being super-buttery-smooth. It was smooth enough, and very pleasurable to listen to, but not in any way smoothed-over. There was a high degree of transparency and detail on tap, as well as a nice sense of liquidity.
The ubiquitous Electro-Harmonix 6922 is what was supplied with the Aurium. The amp's chassis design is very tube roller friendly, though, and so of course I did. A post-WWII Sylvania military 6922 did sound a little bit better, but comparatively it wasn't as big a difference as I have heard when rolling tubes in other amps.
I listened to the Aurium via my Vincent Audio DAC, playing lossless and hi-resolution digital audio, and from my TEAC A3340S reel to reel tape deck. Headphones used were the Audeze LCD-3 and the Audio Technica W3000ANV.
On to the sound....