CanJam SoCal 2019: Manley Labs, Focal, RAAL Requisite

I’ve mentioned that I enjoy Manley Labs gear before, but I had a chance to really sit down with the Absolute headamp this CanJam and take a deeper listen.

The push-pull and triode modes offer some very subtle but useful tonal options, and I found the adjustable feedback and EQ super handy for tuning things to taste. These types of tools are slowly becoming more broadly accepted in the personal audio realm, which I think is great.

Another aspect of the Absolute Reference is that it seems to really be capable of driving just about anything. There are some amps that achieve higher degrees of synergy with specific headphones, or hyper-tweaked setups that may achieve greater specific resolution, bass texture, etc.

However, the Manley Absolute seems to simply work with every headphone you plug into it. Planars, dynamics, sensitive, power hungry, they all achieve a similarly high-degree of sound quality that make this a truly flexible option. I discussed getting a review unit in with EveAnna Manley, so I look forward to being able to dig deeper into this and see how it holds up on the review desk.

RAAL Requisite was also showing their SR1A headphone, an intriguing piece, and as far as I know, the only Ribbon-driver headphone in the world. It’s not cheap at $3,000 USD and requires the use of an included transformer box and a two-channel amplifier capable of putting out 100 watts or more. If you haven’t heard the SR1A, let me say that it’s quite unlike any other headphone I’ve heard. Lightning fast, dynamic and punchy, and with a truly out-of-head, if not quite speaker-like phantom image presentation that even AKG K1000s or other ear-speaker type headphones that I’ve heard cannot match.

They’re quite sensitive to amplifier choice, and really do demand a beefy amp, as the extreme detail and transient punch can end up sounding aggressive and harsh with an underpowered or less refined amplifier. On the Benchmark amplifier at the table I was impressed by the speaker, though I didn’t feel it was the most ideal synergy I’ve heard. The Bryston amp was in another league though, with gobs of relaxed detail and massive yet pinpoint imaging transparency. This is another piece I’m looking into putting on the review bench, it really is a special piece of kit.

Focal was of course also here, with their usual superb selection of amps and DACs. I spent a few minutes chatting with Romain, one of the heads of their North American operations, and this guy is just a pleasure, he really gets it. Not just audio but headphones, and his passion, knowledge and patience are really top notch. This is how speaker companies looking to get into headphones should be doing business, with a passionate team who loves the product and their work and are open to feedback.

I listened briefly to the Elegia which I haven’t had much serious head time with before, and though the Stellia was smoother and more neutral, the Elegia is still one heck of a headphone at the price, and probably my second favorite Focal headphone in the lineup. I’d seriously consider picking this headphone up if you need a phenomenal closed-back under $1,000 USD, or just want a hell of a headphone in general. I also got to hear the Focal Listen and Listen wireless for the first time, which struck me as very nice entry-level offerings. The tuning was in-line with the Focal Sphear wireless I’m reviewing currently, and offers a lot of the even-handed tonality and tasteful tuning that may not wow you at first, but reveals it’s true value once you’ve lived with it for a few months. It’s really wonderful to see a big manufacturer like Focal doing so many things right in the picky and sometimes cutthroat headphone hobby.

Likewise, RAAL Requisite and Manley Labs are putting out some very cool and unique high-end products, all proving to other speaker companies just how to do this headphone thing, and do it well. I think it’s telling that all of them had pedigree in the audiophile and pro markets, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of their stuff and getting to review a few of these very cool products.

Up next, a series of tasters, oddities and rare headphones from around the world.


Simply Nobody's picture

Looking forward to the reviews of the Manley Absolute Head phone-amp and the RAAL Requisite headphones :-) .......

luvmusik's picture

oBravo Audio makes 3 headphones so far that are Ribbon plus dynamic, dual drivers, for audiophiles. 3 or 4 years ago they started with model HRIB-1 (meaning hybrid ribbon arrangement) selling now, plus since then also HRIB-2 and HRIB-3. Believe the models range from about $500 to $2000 USD. Interested in a sound comparison review & measurements between HRIB-1 or HRIB-2 with the fine RAAL SR1a headphone. These models have a loyal following of owners.

Grover Neville's picture

A friend of mine just mentioned these to me the other day - they look quite interesting and I recall hearing things about them here and there - I’ll look into them and get more info for sure, thanks for mentioning it!