Audiophiles and music lovers cannot ignore anymore the high-end headphone movement and associated products. Its a big bang of our industry. Like it or not.
My exploration of headphones and headphone amplifiers date back some twenty plus years. I was heavily involved and spend small fortune in the late 90’s on different headphones, amplifiers and other associated paraphernalia. In early 2000 things were already getting in the major league with headphone offerings, but last decade impact is quite mind-boggling. Everything exploded to the rocket highs and many brands joined in the highly competitive game.
High-end and hi-fi audio companies seen this uprising trend as grand opportunity and put the pedal to the metal. They push forward their the development of their own high-priced, high performing products and many renowned brands joined in.
So what is so special about headphone listening and what’s worthy to explore for audiophiles and music lovers? The story unveils…
Intriguingly many people, even stepped down from their high-performance two channel speaker systems and dedicated their own listening time strictly to headphone based high-end systems. What!?
As a fact, a proper two channel speaker based system demands its own, demanding sets of the rules. Speaker positioning, proper amplification for driving the loudspeakers, fine tuned room acoustics, wide array of suitable cables etc. And let us not forget about the system synergy between all the components. Combining a balanced high-performance high-end audio system is a highly complex and highly costly task to perform. For some it takes a life time to achieve close perfection or desired result.
THE REAL EMOTION
Cembalo’s philosophy explore and implements unique vision and technology called “Real Emotion.” The Spring1 headphone amplifier is meticulously designed according to the highest standard and by the means of the “Listen, Design, Listen again” design process and Signal-Express technology Cembalo Lab team firmly believe that one will never have experienced such real and stirring sounds through a headphone system before.
So what is so special about it. According to Cembalo Spring 1 doesn’t have any board to board connector, switch, relay or fuse in its signal path, and the application of “Signal-Express” technology reduces signal distortion to a minimum. In that way no matter whether the sound is the softest of whispers or a soaring symphony, a truly incredible sound quality will be produced.
But it doesn’t end with this. Cembalo Lab further elaborate how Spring 1 also possesses a unique class a output circuit design which can be matched with nearly any high-end headphones, and fully exploit the limit of them. It can support 3 headphones at the same time, and also includes XLR-4 sockets for ease of use.
SIGNAL EXPRESS TECHNOLOGY
Cembalo lab has meticulously designed and optimized all the processes that can influence the sound quality, such as the complex circuit structure, the quality of the components, timbre difference, the anti-vibration performance, the RF interference etc. As explorative researchers in the art of playback, we constantly ponder: in what way can we make the music sound closer to our ideal of “Real Emotion”?
Cembalo's response is Signal-Express technology, to reduce signal loss during the transmission process, and to enable the music-bearing signal to be transmitted perfectly within the equipment.
The transmission of the audio signal is, essentially, the bearing signal’s electron flow, through short or long wires, among the components. But, in fact, even in the case of very expensive equipment, the interior connecting wires and the wires on the circuit board are not at all “expensive”; they often contain impurities and are insufficiently smooth, meanwhile the impedance as transmission line is barely matched. The impurities and rough surface seriously impede the transmission of these weak signals; the sound signals will be reflected at all the impedance mismatch points.
To illustrate this further, the audio signals inputted into the equipment can be viewed as a long string of electron balls which jump along with the music; they have to go through a small, maze-like path, where these impurities are the stumbling blocks along these small paths, the rough, uneven sites are valleys, and the impedance mismatch sites are the energy-sapping hurdles blocking the way. Now try and think what will happen when these tiny audio signals go through such a path? What is worse is that, owing to the skin effect, high-frequency signals are transmitted along the rough surface full of impurities and are also absorbed by the insulating medium covering the wires and the material of the circuit boards (common material: FR4 εr of 4.2-4.7).
Cembalo lab cannot tolerate the loss of any detail in the sound, and Signal-Express technology reduces transmission loss to a minimum, allowing the playback music to be even richer in detail.
1. The layout of all the components along the signal’s path has been calculated and optimized according to the shortest path, with a precision of 0.001mm, thereby ensuring the wiring length on the printed circuit board is strictly the shortest possible.
2. Construct a perfect impedance match network. The impedance matching line (wire) is principally used in the pioneering technology field for reducing transmission loss.
Two-port network showing incident waves and reflected waves
Return Loss=S11=b1/a1, Return Loss is the loss of power in the signal reflected by an impedance mismatch in a transmission line.
Leaving theory to one side, can our ears hear the benefits of the transmission line? When we put it to the test, comparing the sound quality of a standard 50ohm transmission line 50RG142B/U with several much higher priced audio cables, it’s possible to hear more detail, more dynamism and a more authentic sound with the impedance-match structure.
3. At the original design stage, we believed that using high-purity copper could help to achieve a better sound quality, but back then it was impossible for ultra-high-purity copper wiring to be used in the audio field. Thanks to advances in technology, Cembalo – as a music lover with no cost constraint– uses expensive, high purity OCC (Ohno Continuous Cast) copper or silver for our signal lines; it has an extremely smooth surface and comes with the world’s best material for insulation -Teflon, which is used for its insulating layer.
In the playback field, Signal-Express is a real improvement, and led us on a journey that would re-examine ALL current playback devices, and work with Cembalo designers to explore our ideal “Real Emotion”.
The Spring 1 needs some time to warm up itself to an stable and optimum working state. Switching it on the Warm up Led turns green and after 2 to 3 minutes the green will change to red and “switch” to normal work state.
As a rule Class A demands a relatively high level, high resolution, high transparency sound source. For that I’ve used my reference TOTALDAC D-1 Dual DAC, which really reveals any potential of the component in tandem.
Somewhere deeply inside of my inner workings pure A class dealings do tickle my compass and almost as a rule, when implemented right, creates an involving and harmonius musical reproduction. That’s why Cembalo team Ad Hoc embraced this mode of operation. But, thats not all…
• Spring 1 sets the new sound standards of headphone amplifiers
• Signal-Express technology
• No board connector, switch, relay or fuse whatsoever is located in the signal path
• No integrated circuit used for signal
• Class A output stage without negative feedback
• Can be used with up to three dynamic or planar magnetic headphones
• Standby and Mute Functions
• Low DC voltage drift to protect headphones
• High purity OCC (Ohno Continuous Cast) copper or silver signal path
IN THE HEART OF THE MATTER
Pureness and richness of the music in unsurpassed with any other so called emotional lifestyle human activities. Music can touch the human soul beyond them and it reciprocate between two parties on the completely different plane. Intimate interaction between performer and listener becomes an illuminating transfer of subtle energies creating almost a transcending experience. In this way music can touch us profoundly and it can be almost an ethereal experience of the highest considerable note.
Cembalo Lab Spring 1 revealed something different. Spring 1 possess intricate ability to create majestic musical illusion of the grander note, that is rarely achieved in such illusive way. One of the most important things, when it comes to the conveying of the beloved musical catalogue into the perfeto state is at least for me, the lasting, emotional effect. When everything is aligned and subordinate to the music as it, the lasting experience no matter what music being reproduced will be special and hankering return. Spring 1 lay down mesmerizing embodiment of the music. Choices!
Stevie Ray Vaughan falls into my special label or better to call it playlist, that never grew old or lost the inspirational impact. There are many songs I’m thrilled with when Stevie Ray is behind the guitar, yet the most distinguished track title is without a second guessing The Little Wing! Stevie takes the legendary Jimmy Hendrix song and morphs it into a mind blowing mastery. I love the original and the master, but Stevie Ray Vaughan goes beyond and above with his take on this legendary song.
Every part and parcel of this song radiates with a full emotional burst and out-wordly performance. It creates the drug effect, without taking the actual drugs. Stevie pulls out his last atoms in playing and nail it to the perfection. On top of it all, while not being an audiophile recording this recording sounds damn great. You’ll find it on the Essential Stevie Ray Vaughan and The Double Trouble album. A must not only for any blues fan, but all music lover regardless of the music interest.
Letting the energy go via Spring 1 and both Sennehiser and Audeze top players was a highly involving act of surprise. It felt like equestrian heritage ride for the senses. Unique, highly involving and most importantly stand out musical. There are many headphone amplifiers on the market offering their way into the intimate headphone listening, but not many of them pushed the needle as far as Cembalo Lab team did. Let me resolve even more. Along with emotional involving embrace, the presentation of Little wing was detailed, engaging and true to the source. The magic happened! It was not one way trick pony achievement, but Spring 1 has shown this particularity across all the music.
Exploring the classical music and my late favorite discovery of Le Nozze Di Figaro via Teodor Currentzis was again a thrill with Spring 1. Unfettered spatiality, the recognizing tone glow of the vocals and microscopic rendition of parts and parcels of the music brought an lingering satisfying feeling. A stamp of lasting satisfaction and feel good. This happens rarely, but when it does one easily reflects on why high-end reproduction of music is such a quintessential human luxury. Music in its primal source is an empowering medium, that helps us feel not only relax, but positively empowered. It is the finest etheric voyage and the endless music material makes is even more special.
Cembalo headphone amplifier reveals a secret entrance into the vast emotional universe of the music. Araia: La forza dell’amore e dell’odio - "Vado a morir" again reminded me about why Spring 1 differs. Engaging, fluid and lucrative to the senses.
With the expensive and rare Precious Gemstones there is no real competition. Only emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds accounts for such prestigious title. There is no hit and miss. Cembalo team strived for the perfection and managed to transfer their idea of “Real Emotion” into the “physical” form.
Any electronic device carrying the high-end audio product labeling is always in a raw sense a sum of the parts. Yet, the selection of the parts being implemented is crucial. Anything and everything affects the signal on its patch toward the final transducers, be it headphones or loudspeakers. Cembalo took quest for the “Real Emotion” damn serious. By invested time and by refining the circuit they’ve managed to conclude their efforts with a unique and inspiring product. Cembalo Lab DNA is very clear. It’s written deep into their core mindset and music being reproduced via Spring 1 shines with the glorious rendition.
Sennheiser HD 800 headphones creates an impressive illusion of concert-hall-like experience. Of course not on the level of the speakers. Still. The level of anchor points and believability is always impressive.
Cembalo 1 is highly refined and matured product, that was clearly designed by the people who cherish music profoundly, for the people with the same vision of the musical reproduction. Its a unique gemstone among the headphone amplifiers. What entrapped me the most with the Spring 1 was the sweet seducing effect and urge to return into the musical listening via Spring 1.
As a human beings we always strive for the perfection when we love and adore something deeply. And Cembalo Lab Spring 1 is the clear labour of love.
Exact fractal mechanics operating at our aural perceptional HQs are still beyond the reach of our understanding. Our sensory mechanisms are of strange complexity. So much factors play the utmost role and a vital part in the overall picture we’re trying to paint back lucidly.
Discerned headphone listeners will want to know how does Spring 1 stacks with the different headphones. I’ve used quite few from in-ears to dynamic ones, but focused mainly on the HD-800 and both Audeze (LCD XC and LE-8). It was an interesting results with both Aries Cerat Kassandra 2 and TOTALDAC D-1 Dual DAC acting as the front ends. When paired with the new almighty Kassandra 2 DAC, the Spring 1/HD-800 combination seems to work more coherently together while on the other hand my reference digital front end - TOTALDAC D-1 Dual DAC bought seamless integration with this pairing.
Its not an easy plug-in, sit down, take time and forget about the world instantly. Upper league experience must happen where sound differences are not small.
Doing it half way will not ensure the high-end high-performance headphone listening. Cembalo Labs Spring 1 is by itself a very potent headphone amplifier. Yet, when paired with the proper DAC, then reality strikes. I’ve tried quite few of the entry, mid level and costly headphone amplifiers. Results were a true mixed bag. The important point is to always connect connect the best possible source. With Cembalo Spring 2 music started to simply flow when connected to the Aries Cerat and TOTALDAC music. In a quest of high-performance high-end audio headphone listening there is no cut backs as with stereo loudspeakers based system. What you “threw in” you’ll get out. Simple and true to the bone.
Spring 1 showed how well it was designed when stacked to the both high-end upper echelon DAC’s. To often headphones amps, even pricey ones, got “gain” crushed when connected to high performance digital to analog converters, yet Spring 1 handle them as being there in the upper echelon.
Combined with Audeze headphones and fed by the TOTALDAC D-1 Dual DAC intimate headphone escapism has never been more involving. This particular combination especially stood out being rich in texture, transparent in contour, with fast attacks, of engulfing energy and it brought rarely concert life feeling most vividly.
Cembalo Spring 1 makes a headphone listening journey of difference and lasting impact!
Text: Matej Isak
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Cembalo Audio Laboratories. LTD
170-422 Richards St