Greek mythology has inspired Western culture for centuries. The richness of Antique Greek imagination has long nourished the Western world in the field of arts, philosophy, and even science and continues to do so to this day. Ypsilon Electronics, a boutique brand starting to become a legend of its own in ‘high-end’ world, undoubtedly has more entitlement to this rich source than anyone else: their production is based by the skirts of the Acropolis of Athens, right by the mythical Gods. Calling what they do production is an understatement -they are writing their own myths; overturning accustomed trends of the audio world. Ypsilon is a new brand in Turkey. I will share detailed information about the brand and my observations from a recent visit to Ypsilon Electronics in a separate article.
Phaethon is an important Greek mythological character. He is the son of Sun God Helios and mortal woman Klymene, and his name means “shining”. Helios drives the sun on a chariot across the sky each day. Phaeton lives with mortals alongside his mother. Unable to persuade his friends that he is the son of a God, Phaeton asks his father permission to drive the chariot with the sun to the sky. This, he believes, is the only way to convince his friends. Although hesitant, Helios yields to his son’s plea and gives the chariot to Phaethon to drive. The task though, is more than Phaethon is physically capable of. The horses are so strong and difficult to handle that Phaethon cannot control them; the sun on the out of control chariot causes enormous fires on earth, turning large parts of Africa into desert. Eventually Zeus interferes and ejects Phaeton out of the chariot with a lightening and throws his burning body into the Eridanos river. After his death, Phaethon becomes Saturn (or Jupiter according to some) in the Auriga constellation.
I have started the discussion with mythology because the Phaethon has been born to the marriage of Ypsilon’s 200W monoblocks the Aelius and its legendary pre PST-100 Mk.2. The word Aelius actually means “sun” in ancient Roman and is derived from the sun God Helios’s name. The musical capabilities of this incredible duo, with the exception of its 200W power, have been integrated and incorporated into a single case. As Demetris Backlavas -the brain, creative director and spokesperson of the brand- whispered in my ear, since the musical capability of the Phaeton exceeded that of the Aelius, the monoblocks had to be modified. Simply put, the Phaethon is an amplifier that carries all of the genetic specifications of the Aelius and PST-100 Mk.2. To remind the readers, the Aelius and PST-100 Mk.2 are rated Class A in Stereophile and Michael Fremer cannot sing their praises enough. He has even been quoted as saying, “… the most perfect audio component I have ever heard -or not heard” for PST-100 Mk.2.
The Phaethon, is Ypsilon’s first and only integrated amplifier. It was first launched in High End Munich in 2014. It produces 110W into 8 ohms and 160W into 4 ohms in an unusual band width of 11 Hz-75 kHz. Its output impedance is 0.5 ohm. Looking at these values, it is possible to assume that it can drive majority of speakers on the market; but the audio world is like black magic, technical data on paper is just meaningless until listened to (I will be discussing the listening experience with three different speakers shortly).
The Phaethon, is a hybrid design using three gain stages, with two valves. There is one 6H30 double triode valve for each channel. This means in each valve, there are two triodes for different driver stages. The first triode feeds into the transformer attenuator (wound in-house) working in 31 steps with a single-ended topology. This is actually the pre-amplifier stage, which in my opinion, is the most striking point. This, in fact, is a revolutionary concept. Demetris Backlavas says that no matter what brand or quality the resistor attenuators are, they cause discontinuity in the sound and make it grainier. He first came up with the idea to control sound level with transformer attenuators with the PST-100 and utilised the same technology for the Phaethon. To control the level of sound with this method causes extraordinary transparency and an impressive sound stage. The second triode in the 6H30 makes up the second gain stage. This gain stage is coupled to an inter-stage transformer driving the MOSFET output stage, which actually is a lower powered version of the topology used in Aelius. This is the second striking point. The Phaethon is a single-ended Class-A performer with the power of push-pull designs, merging the magic of this topology in midrange with a strong bass performance and control.
I have gone into circuit design issues in so much detail (disregarding the fact that it may not even be my place to do so) in order to give audiophiles who may have given up on power and control for single-ended class-A designs, some good news. Ypsilon Electronics, seems to have solved the issues and shortcomings of this topology. Listening to their SET 100 Ultimate monoblocks produced with similar principles, but with much more expensive materials and powerful transformers blew my mind and convinced me once again that Ypsilon has come an extraordinarily long way in reaching sound quality closest to live.
The Phaeton comes in a wooden case. There is no power cord in the case (it is recommended to use a power cord in audiophile standards). There is no operating manual either. While setting up, we had to phone Demetris Backlavas to ask which input corresponds to what on the screen. There is volume control, input choice, and on-standby buttons and a led screen on the front panel. You can see the input choice and volume level here. When you turn on the unit, ‘phono’ shows as first input but the amplifier does not have a ‘phono’ stage. This, like the others, is a line level input. The main ‘on-off’ switch is under the unit, by the left front foot. It is completely invisible from the outside; a minimal and aesthetic front panel indeed. There are three vertically placed RCA inputs behind the unit and an unbalanced XLR input right below them. The speaker terminals are in the middle and the power input is on the right. All terminals are of the best quality possible. Thanks to its unexpected – judging by its minimal aesthetics – weight of 35.5 kilograms and superior craftsmanship, it is obviously an heirloom. All of Ypsilon components’ aluminium cases are produced in Germany.
I listened to the Phaethon with three different speakers: the Tannoy Canterbury GR, the Hansen Prince and the Raidho D3. The Canterbury is an easy speaker to drive for the Phaethon with its 96db sensitivity and impedance not falling below 5 ohms. In fact, I could not go above level 10 of its 31 level volume control in a 60 square meter room. The Raidho D3 and the Hansen Prince are not easy speakers to drive. It was not possible to go above level 12 with neither of them in a 30 square meter room.
Not to be fooled by its elegant looks, the Phaethon has impressive driving power. Its performance with the Hansen Prince especially is surprising, given how complicated these speakers are, not the kind that can be driven by any amplifier. Obviously by driving, I do not mean creating sound -I mean playing and making sure every frequency is accounted for, that there is a strong bass performance, incredible speed and impressive dynamics. There is a strong power within this minimal and elegant case that surpasses itself. This is not all: on one hand, it gives exquisite detail over the stage and on the other, it leaves voids almost large enough for you to wander in, with no overlay from any instrument.
Listening to the Phaethon with three completely different speakers, its real capability became more obvious. The Canterbury plays close up microphone recordings near the front surface of the speakers, in fact bringing them forward slightly. It is actually possible to create different stage performances and different tonal balances with the Canterburys by moving them closer or apart, or toeing in our out slightly. Regardless, their performance does not place the music way behind the speakers. Even if the depth they provide is very close to reality, their stage actually elongates the sound inside the room (which I actually personally prefer). The Phaeton especially brings out this characteristic of the Canterbury. In orchestral recordings with close up microphone, the near-stage instruments on the right and left jump into the room, but the cymbals crash meters behind. The vocals are like statues in flesh. Even the most complicated trebles are not cluttered, the extending frequencies from the cymbals float in the air. Lower frequencies are as controlled as they go deep.
The Hansen Prince has a completely different performance and a stage that goes way back. Vocals that appear in the same level as the Canterbrys are about a meter or more behind and the instruments go deeper beyond that. The bass articulation is excellent, low frequencies rattle along perfectly (in fact, maybe slightly more than necessary). The Canterbury extends the lower frequencies towards the room, its blooming effect is strong. On the other hand, with the Hansen, all the lower frequencies are sharply where they need to be, but the blooming effect is weak. The trebles are crystal clear and dynamic.
The Raidho D3 has a world of its own. It is a low decibel design with quite steady impedance. Even if it is not as difficult as the Hansen Prince, it also is not for every amplifier to drive. Raidho D3 is no problem for Phaethon. The bass is so strong, difficult to contain in a 30 square meter room. They are extremely fast speakers, many amplifiers may not be equally fast and may muddle the sound, but I did not witness the slightest blurriness in even the most complicated passages. The vocals do not come as much to the surface as with the Tannoys, but they are not thrown back a lot either. The dimension extends forward and back. The stage is very wide and high (the Canterburys’ stage is also very wide, but in height, the Raidho seems a touch more successful; so much so that and I had to re position the Canterburys). Even in the lowest volume levels, the bass is where it should be and is heard in proportion. The trebles seemed a tad excessive and felt as if buzzing in my ears, but the pair I had been listening to were new speakers, not yet ‘burnt in’ and I do not want to make any misleading comments, so will not comment on high frequencies for now. As with the D3, ‘burn in’ period of ribbon tweeters are quite long, so would be better to listen again in a few months and comment then. When I listened to the same speakers in Munich High End, they did not give me that feeling.
I was able to make another interesting comparison: I also listened to the Raidho D3 with the PST-100 Mk.2-Aelius combination. To be fair, I did not observe a noticeable difference from the musicality point of view. Raidhos relaxed a bit more, which naturally affected the stage and detail positively. I would expect the Aelius to perform with bigger authority in a larger room. Backlavas had claimed in Athens for the Phaeton, “99% of the Aelius, with less power, with the same topology of pre stage as PSt-100 Mk.2”, he was not wrong at all. In fact, I could add that the Phaethon can be a better choice for high sensitivity speakers like the Canterburys.
The Phaethon laid bare all the characteristics of three speakers with completely different performances, with their virtues and sins. When I look back on what I have written, it felt like I reviewed the three different speakers rather than the Phaethon. This is actually positive, because the Phaethon is an integrated amplifier that does not have any audible character, is very dynamic, transparent in the true meaning of the word and one that performs without interfering with the music. Its controlled bass performance is of a quality that can set example to many amplifiers and it can go way deeper than its size may suggest. It is obvious that Demetris Backlavas, has not only toppled the accustomed audio trends but also the myth of Phaethon who could not control the wild horses of the sun chariot.
The extraordinary staging ability, relaying the actual spaces between the instruments, bringing out the dynamic contrasts with an exciting authority, emotion and musicality that are customary to all Ypsilon products, also exist in Phaethon. Coming to the most important issue for me, in portraying the true timbres of instruments, I believe only a few products can challenge the Phaethon (and any other Ypsilon product that I have listened to so far).
Time for a few negatives: Firstly, there is need for a very good power cord. I have used Sablon Audio’s Corona Reserva for the majority of listening sessions in my home. I witnessed a striking difference when I listened to a different system with StageIII Kraken. Corona Reserva is a very good cable for its price but the Kraken is clearly a different animal. It is also priced accordingly, at more than four times that of the Reserva (on the other hand, probably related to the synergy created by the fact that the entire cabling at my home is Sablon Audio, I do not hear most of the weaknesses against Kraken with my own system). Phaeton needs 600 hours to ‘burn in’. The bright trebles and slightly strained lower frequencies may upset you during the first 50 hours, but after 200 hours, things start to fall in place and continue to get better thereafter. It is best to leave it in standby mode, it takes quite a bit of time to warm up and show its true performance. There is also the issue of price. It is in a price category which is quite high for a lot of people, but after having witnessed its performance it would be shame to call it expensive. The main issue is to do away with ‘pre-power’ prejudice. In fact, there is no reason why a well designed integrated amplifier should perform worse than a ‘pre-power’ combination. In addition, it also eliminates the interconnect effects and costs. But by far the most dangerous characteristic of the Phaethon is that it is addictive. In fact, all Ypsilon products pose this threat. If you do not have a ‘pre-power’ obsession and if you dream of owning an integrated amplifier one day which simply serves music with all of its frequencies and one which you will passionately love for many years to come, you should definitely listen to the Phaethon. And oh, if you are ready to face any weakness of your speakers.
The Phaethon is a star born by the skirts of the Acropolis of Athens. It is a component that reflects the light of music which brightens our spirit as it actually is, an artisan product which topples customary beliefs. One of the many products of Demetris Backlavas’s creative intelligence which transforms electronics into art.
PS: I am aware that I have written a rather technical review where I have not discussed music at all. Nevertheless, I did not want to miss this chance when I got the opportunity of listening to the same amplifier with different speakers. If I started discussing albums, it would be a very long article. I will make up for this in my article about the review of Ypsilon CD player.
Text: Ahmet Kip
Price: 18.000 Euro (Ex VAT)
Output Power Before Clıppıng: 110ms @ 8 Ohm 160ms @4 Ohm Bandwıdth: 11hz -75Khz -3db
Output: Impedance: 0,5ohm
Input: Impedance: 47 Kohm
Inputs: 3 Rca +1 Xlr Unbalanced Power
Consumptıon: 125w @ İdle
Dımensıons: 400x185x425 (W X H X D)Mm
Weıght: 35 Kgr
8 AG. ATHANASIOY St,
PEANIA - 19002
tel: +30 210 66 44 588
fax: +30 210 66 44 812