RMAF 2019 Part One: A&K and Rupert Neve Designs

My first stop at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2019 was the headphone area and Astell & Kern’s booth. They were showing the T9ie IEM, an update to the T8ie.

The T9ie is made in collaboration with Beyerdynamic, who produces the IEMs in their factory in Germany using similar technology to their Xelento IEM such as Beyerdynamics miniaturized Tesla IEM driver. Astell & Kern’s team then tunes them specially to work with A&K players. They come in a very snazzy metal housing, with a combination pure silver and OCC copper cable terminated with a 2.5mm 4-pole balanced connector. A 3.5mm adapter is included, along with a wide selection of tips and a small case.

The A&K T9ie should be out the first week of October at $1,299 USD. I tried them on a few of the mobile players at A&K’s booth, such as the SP2000 and KANN Cube. They sounded less dark and bassy to me than the Xelento, though still with a generally warm tilt. They seemed to play both modern pop and acoustic music well, without ever sounding dull, so I’ll definitely be giving these a more extensive listen. The rest of the Astell & Kern booth was a collection of their other Beyerdynamic collaborations and their very nice, and pricey, DAPs. I took a quick listen to the KANN Cube DAP, which is an absolutely monstrous unit. The tonality was fine, clear and punchy, but what most impressed me was the drive on Audeze and other power hungry planar magnetic headphones.

Next up was the Rupert Neve Designs table. Rupert Neve is a legendary name in professional audio, so I was curious to see how this translated into the audiophile world. They were showing three new products, from the new Fidelice line; An all-in-one DAC, Preamp and Headphone amplifier, an update to the RNHP and a small phono preamp. These were named the Precision DAC, the Precision Headphone Amplifier and the Precision Phono Pre-Amplifier. The Rupert Neve representative told me the final price points are still to be decided, but will be around $5,000 USD for the Rupert Neve Precision DAC, $1,000 USD for the Precision Headphone amp and $1,200 for the Precision Phono-Preamplifier.

The Precision DAC uses AKM4497 chips with an in-house designed custom, switchable filter. The amplifier stage puts out about one Watt into 16 Ohms, and inputs include Toslink Optical, Coaxial S/PDIF, analog inputs and outputs, 4.4mm pentacon balanced and quarter-inch and 4-pin XLR headphone outputs. The DAC can run sample rates up to 384khz PCM, as well as DSD 22.4Mhz. I tried the Precision DAC with the ZMF Verite Closed-back headphone. The sound was nice enough, very smooth and inoffensive, but a touch vanilla – there wasn’t a strong sense of character, neutrality or even excess headroom. It was simply… nice.

Next up was the Precision Headamp, which differs from the RNHP in that it has a nicer chassis, larger capacitors and an increased range of usable gain. It shared a very similar sound to the larger Precision DAC, and presented a much more compelling price-to-performance ratio listening experience for me. There was no turntable plugged in, so I didn’t have the opportunity to try the phono stage. Overall, I left the table with mixed impressions. I really enjoyed what I did hear, but the prices seemed a bit steep. I’d be interested in listening more to the Precision headphone amp and seeing what final prices end up being before making any final judgements.

That’s all for today – up next; new headphones and some nifty accessories.

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Booker's picture

Well that’s disappointing on the prices for the Fidelice gear. I was excited when these were announced back in July. Odd that the prices still aren’t finalized, but even based on the ballparks from the show, I’ll probably just pick up an RNHP instead. Sure the capacitors aren’t as good but the published specs are the same and it’s a whole lot cheaper.

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