Aries Cerat Genus: King of the hill headphone amplifier

#1
Hi Guys

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As promised, here is my mini review of the Genus amplifier using the Abyss Phi (borrowed) and my LCD4 200 ohm headphones.

I got the Aries Cerat Genus Integrated SET speaker amplifier 2 weeks ago and have been enjoying it on my horn speakers. Really enjoying it. But that is not why I have started this thread.

I am a bit of a headphone nut, and for many years have owned quite a few different headphones and headphone ampliifers. my last system was the Stax 009 and a nice (commissioned) DIY KGSShv Carbon amplifier.

In January 2018 I sold that system and jumped onto Planars with the LCD2-C, later the LCD4 as well. The reason I jumped the electrostatic camp was my visit to Can-Jam in London in mid 2017. I took some favourite tracks along and pitched my system against various HPs and amplifiers, including the Susvara, Shangri-La and amplifier, Focal Utopia, Abyss, LCD4 and then the Sennheiser HE-1.

The HE-1 was the system that made me change direction. It had everything but was obviously ridiculously expensive / out of reach. To my ears the LCD4 out of the GSX MK2 was the closest to that sound.

I then tried quite a few headphone amplifiers with the LCD4 and choose the Violectric V281 as the best balance, close to my ideal. It is easily powerful enough, is very smooth and transparent enough without heading towards the Stax direction, which I now felt was too analytical and unnatural to my ears. I have had great fun with the V281 for 12 months.

All was cool, until the Genus landed.
This Aries Cerat monster amplifier is actually the 'baby' of the range, but still measures 53cm x 52 cm and 67 kilos. It has just two gain stages, the final stage using the big bottle 813 tubes. I got it to primarily power my Zingali horn speakers. That kept me busy for 2 weeks or so.

Today, I hooked up the LCD4s. There is a true headphone output on the back of the amplifier, a SE 6.3mm jack, with Low and High setting. So I set that up, selected a track and.....
Jaw On Floor time.

Track swopping was halted as I listened to one of my albums straight through. Holly Molly this thing rocks. And the detail, information is immense, yet it is super smooth, very realistic, like a layer has been pealed back. I am now looking at the original Rembrandt, brush strokes, colours, textures, depth. Wow. I never got it before, well I did hear it, roughly the same FR and such, but a photocopy version. So this is what is sounds like.

The Soundstage blew my mind, it is huge. Individual instruments are well spaced, I can hear minute detail even when everything else is playing at the same time, it really is impossible to take it all in. It is just so natural, hard to describe. I guess it is the tubes and SET amplification meets the perfect match - the LCD4. Some say the LCD4 needs a sharpish and fast SS headphone amplifier like the GSX MK2. I disagree. It the amp is up to the job, the LCD4 will deliver it all, including the treble regions which some think are the Audeze weak spot. I don't hear that at all here. I believe the Genus has no coupling capacitors in the signal path, which can slow things down in the treble regions.

And it has huge transformers both in the power supply and output stage, really huge. There are also 3 enormous capacitors in the power supply for energy storage. The amplifier has no sag or delay, superb bass response and drive. It really shames the other SETs I have tried to date IMO.

I have owned SETs before, so I expected the midrange to amaze me, but never expected the speed, control and sheer directness of the music to be so there, it sounds like a cliché but it really is a superb thing. Once you hear it, there is no going back.

One last thing often overlooked on headphone amplifiers - the Balance control. This is important in headphone listening and to me as well, as my right ear is about 5-8% down on the left. I can manage on speakers, but headphones, it drives you nuts. The Genus has relay controlled attenuation and can swing left or right to a very accurate amount, perfect. Note, the V281 has a balance pit as well.

I'll post more in a few days. Here is some backup to my Headphone journey and some of the amps I have heard along the way. The Genus is an insane headphone amplifier, really huge, but if we consider it is primarily a speaker amplifier the headphone output cannot be discounted here, it is just much too good to overlook it. In fact, I would have bought the amp just for the headphone quality to be honest.
But I admit I do like headphones. It is a bun fight as to which I prefer, late night listening, no contest, headphones all the way.

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Headamp BHSE EL34 (last stage, rest SS) heard many times

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Violkectric V281 3W SS amplifier (bought January 2017)
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Hifi-Man Shangri-La 300B (heard at Can-Jam 2017)

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Sennheiser HE-1 (heard at Can-Jam 2017)

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Viva Egoista 845 8W (heard at Can-Jam)
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Auris Headonia 2A3 3W (heard at Can-Jam 2017)

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My KGSShv Carbon (DIY commissioned build). Stax 009. Sold January 2018. Aries_Cerat_Genus_09.jpg

The headphone socket is on the back to the left of the black speaker taps. I run a 6.3mm to 4 pin XLR cable from the back and sit it on my desk. Then plug in the Norne Draug All Silver cable and voila.
 
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#3
you may want to have a look at this.........amazing build quality....

www.tron-electric.co.uk/headphone-amplifiers/antares
I know of this amp, and not impressed. It struggles to power the LCD4 and the Susvara even more. It has low output. My other SS amp the Violectric has close to 4W into 200 ohms.

TBH I have yet to hear any SS amp that gets close to the Genus on headphone use, no contest.
 
#4
I know of this amp, and not impressed. It struggles to power the LCD4 and the Susvara even more. It has low output. My other SS amp the Violectric has close to 4W into 200 ohms.

TBH I have yet to hear any SS amp that gets close to the Genus on headphone use, no contest.
Have you actually heard a Tron Antares? If you know about audio amplifiers then you should know it is not all about power that provides a great sound...
As a designer of high-end tube amplifiers, there is a very good reason why the Antares is solid-state not that you would know you were listening to a solid state amplifier. The Antares has been sold into the USA and to owners that can afford any type of headphone and headphone amplifier, yet they chose the Antares. That speaks volumes...

 
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#5
Have you actually heard a Tron Antares? If you know about audio amplifiers then you should know it is not all about power that provides a great sound...
As a designer of high-end tube amplifiers, there is a very good reason why the Antares is solid-state not that you would know you were listening to a solid state amplifier. The Antares has been sold into the USA and to owners that can afford any type of headphone and headphone amplifier, yet they chose the Antares. That speaks volumes...
Yes I heard it at Can-Jam London with the Focal Utopia, I am sure it was this amplifier, looked the same. I heard so any that day, and this amp was not anything special. IMO, and YMMV. Ones that stuck out were the Felix amps on the Focal Utopia, GSX MK2 on the LCD4, DAVE and LCD4, Auris and Headonia with the Susvara, and Sennheiser HE-1 system.
 
#6
Just your opinion at the end of the day. I have heard most of today's high-end headphone amps and have been very underwhelmed which is why we made the Antares. The trouble with tube amps driving headphones is that you need to carefully match the output impedance to each headphone type and this is practically impossible with transformer coupling. The Antares being solid-state has nearly 3 watts in pure class A starts at £3000 so that has to be taken into account also. What's the price of the Shangri-La? £30,000...
 
#7
Just your opinion at the end of the day. I have heard most of today's high-end headphone amps and have been very underwhelmed which is why we made the Antares. The trouble with tube amps driving headphones is that you need to carefully match the output impedance to each headphone type and this is practically impossible with transformer coupling. The Antares being solid-state has nearly 3 watts in pure class A starts at £3000 so that has to be taken into account also. What's the price of the Shangri-La? £30,000...
Fair enough. But I heard the Auris Headonia that same day on the Susvara and the Grados, widely different drive requirements, and it sounded magical on both. Sorry, your amp was well down the list IMO.
 
#8
As I said earlier it's just your opinion. Others clearly liked it as we got some orders as a result of that show.

The company who used the Antares at CanJam (London) was the high-end record label Chasing the Dragon Audiophile Recordings and they specifically asked to use the Antares because they wanted to get the best from the Utopias for their recordings...
 

Aries Cerat

Industry Expert
May 30, 2015
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#9
Just your opinion at the end of the day. I have heard most of today's high-end headphone amps and have been very underwhelmed which is why we made the Antares. The trouble with tube amps driving headphones is that you need to carefully match the output impedance to each headphone type and this is practically impossible with transformer coupling. The Antares being solid-state has nearly 3 watts in pure class A starts at £3000 so that has to be taken into account also. What's the price of the Shangri-La? £30,000...
Hello Sir
How did you come up with this generalization? Genus can drive 1ohm speakers (Class A being SE) ,from driving multi-driver 88db speakers in exhibitions and at the same time drive any headphone from same output. You have to be careful with these generalizations being a designer .

Cheers
Stavros
 
#10
Hello Sir
How did you come up with this generalization? Genus can drive 1ohm speakers (Class A being SE) ,from driving multi-driver 88db speakers in exhibitions and at the same time drive any headphone from same output. You have to be careful with these generalizations being a designer .

Cheers
Stavros

Headphones range in impedance from 8ohms all the way up to 600ohms. Example: the Final IV headphones are 8ohms and the Beyer Dynamic T1's are 600ohms. To design a tube headphone amplifier so it will optimally drive the headphone (i.e. correctly matching the headphone impedance to the load impedance of the tube) is not ideal using an output transformer because there is such a wide range of impedances to cover. An output transformer to do this would need a very wide range of secondary taps (8ohm to 600ohm) to cater for the wide range of headphone impedances. An output transformer of this type would be very heavily compromised in performance. Therefore it would be better to have several different options of the output transformer to cover for specific ranges of impedance. This was my point, maybe "impossible" was too strong a word but clearly, it is not ideal unless you design for specific headphones or a specific range of headphone impedance.
 

Aries Cerat

Industry Expert
May 30, 2015
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#11
Hello Graham

I appreciate your take and they way you describe is the way most tube head amps are designed when using OTP.
An output tube has absolutely no problem driving higher impedance loads,as long as there is enough swing on the primary to compensate the higher step down ratio.
Reason multi secondary windings OPT are usually used is because the small tubes usually used , run out of swing ,as the step down ratio of the 8ohm is very high.So they need different step down ratio for different HP impedances.

When you have voltage and current swing to spare in our case ( 600Vrms primary swing) and with top notch design on opt the ,result speaks on it's own.
With output impedance low enough to drive 8-4-2-1 ohm speakers,the headphones appreciate the drive.Even though there is impedance out selection switch for hp which like higher impedance amplifiers.Julian i think you tried it and like the lower setting i think.
 
#12
Hi Stavros,

Indeed. The ability to drive loads in your amplifiers case is not an issue as it is primarily designed as an integrated amplifier to drive loudspeakers. However, when you have headphones right on your ears in most situations only a few milliwatts is all that is needed to provide enough sound not to be offensive on your ears, so I have always designed around this, as well as making sure there is enough power to drive the most difficult of headphones to what I considered a sensible level that would not cause any harm to people's ears. I designed the Tron Antares specifically to drive headphones as it is a dedicated headphone amplifier.
 
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Aries Cerat

Industry Expert
May 30, 2015
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#13
Agreed,low level signal quality is crucial.
When we developed our Genus we used the big horn speakers,which at 112db horn sections means that when low level information is reproduced,signal level is comparable to HP level signal.It is one of the reasons why it does perform as is does when driving HP,as it bettered five figure $$$ dedicated HP amps. Big unexpected plus since we design this to be integrated amplifier first,with the HP feature as bonus.
Seems it surpassed expectations of many in that regard.

Wish you the best with Antares, Graham

Cheers
Stavros
 
#14
I can confirm this on a sonics level, I leave the technical to Stavros.

I have heard many of the best headphone amplifiers, some as home demo, and some at Can-Jam, others in friends systems. In those cases I have heard them on the HD800s, LCD4s, Abyss Phi. Focal Utopia, Grade, Kennerton, Susvara, and the electrostatics Stax 009 and 007 MK2 and MK2, the Sennheiser HE-1, Hifi-Man Shangri-La. I can hand on heart say the sound out of the Genus to my ears is the best I have heard to date, in that case using the LCD4 200 ohm HPs.

I don't hear any issue with driving the LCD4s on the Genus. I also own the Violectric V281 which can drive pretty much any headphone with it's 5W+ output, re- and post gain settings. It can even drive the HE-6. But the Genus soundly beats the V281 in all areas, drive, dynamics, bass, detail, timbre.

The Genus has tons of power, current, drive. It is a big SET 25W class A amplifier with a headphone output. It is my new reference on how good headphones can actually perform when well driven. If the output impedance of the driving amplifier is low, and it has plenty of current, I don't see there will be (technically) an issue. The settings on my V281 for various headphone impedances is more to control the volume steps, to give enough control over attenuation.
 
#15
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Getting this thread back on the OP.
Last night I was listening to some Pink Floyd remasters on the Aries Cerat Kassandra DAC and Genus integrated speaker / headphone amplifier. The sound is the absolute highest level I have heard, and I am 100% sure it is beyond the levels of any other headphone amplifier I have used or heard at shows. It is more natural than the Sennheiser HE-1 for example, and equals the system for soundstage, one of it's best traits. Other electrostatic headphones and electrostatic amplifiers I have heard are behind that level IMO, even the BHSE and 009s, which are detailed and fast but lack body and realism and bass drive, dynamics.

The Viva Egoista is fairly close from my memory, but I would put the Genus ahead of that amplifier on dynamics again and timbre. The Egoista oddly also got very hot for a headphone amp.

The HiFi-Man Shangri-La, I heard that at Can-Jam i 2017 on my own 3 test tracks and it was not nice. It had a brittle and bass light FR to it, as though it was tipped up. The DAC used was the DAVE, so I put the FR imbalance on the amp or HP in that system. It was 50K as well, so a failure IMO to catch the HE-1 yet asking the same money. Odd it was bright, as it uses 300B tubes?

The Auris Headonia was nice, but a smaller scale kind of presentation, nothing particularly wrong with it, but it sounds like a smaller brother (much smaller) than the Genus to my ears.

The Mal-Valve I heard at Munich both on the Stax 009s and LCD4s was good, but not at this level. It was also way to complex with 18 valves in it. And not cheap either at 15K.

So my tortuous journey through the head-fi maze over the last 10 years has finally been resolved. This is the destination piece for me, really I can't fault it. The LCD4s are seriously fast and detailed on this amplifier, yet retain their famous bass and creamy mid range, smoothness on vocals and violins.

A dedicated headphone amplifier from Aries Cerat may be possible to build, but probably would still be big in size. Aries Cerat refuse to compromise the sound with size or weight constraints. I have no issue with that, as the sound is so good. The Genus is so good on the headphone output, and you get amazing performance obviously on speakers, this is after all a big bottle 25W SET.

So the Genus might be possibly the most powerful headphone amplifier on the planet, I feel very lucky to own it.

More to follow....
 
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Thieliste

Active Member
Aug 31, 2014
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France
#16
Would it be possible to have a headphone output on the Impera II/Concero 65 combo ?
I own Kennerton Odin driven by my Chord Hugo 2 at the moment as i don't have any headphone amp.
I ask this question because if it is possible to have top level headphone output on Aries Cerat pre or power then i might purchase the Susvara or HE100se.
 
#17
Would it be possible to have a headphone output on the Impera II/Concero 65 combo ?
I own Kennerton Odin driven by my Chord Hugo 2 at the moment as i don't have any headphone amp.
I ask this question because if it is possible to have top level headphone output on Aries Cerat pre or power then i might purchase the Susvara or HE100se.
Best to ask Stavros this question. Technically I would say yes but it would need a tap on the OPTs to feed a 6.2mm jack, and you would use a Y splitter cable. I know a great cable company who made my all silver Audeze cables.

On HP I would look at the Audeze LCD4, Abyss Phi as well as the Susvara.
 
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Aries Cerat

Industry Expert
May 30, 2015
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#18
Would it be possible to have a headphone output on the Impera II/Concero 65 combo ?
I own Kennerton Odin driven by my Chord Hugo 2 at the moment as i don't have any headphone amp.
I ask this question because if it is possible to have top level headphone output on Aries Cerat pre or power then i might purchase the Susvara or HE100se.

Hello Thieliste
Yes a Y -cable would be needed, we are making one such cable for our Achilleas amplifier as the owner has some serious HP.

Cheers
S
 

Thieliste

Active Member
Aug 31, 2014
285
26
28
France
#19
Hello Thieliste
Yes a Y -cable would be needed, we are making one such cable for our Achilleas amplifier as the owner has some serious HP.

Cheers
S
Thanks Stavros good news:)
 

Thieliste

Active Member
Aug 31, 2014
285
26
28
France
#20
Best to ask Stavros this question. Technically I would say yes but it would need a tap on the OPTs to feed a 6.2mm jack, and you would use a Y splitter cable. I know a great cable company who made my all silver Audeze cables.

On HP I would look at the Audeze LCD4, Abyss Phi as well as the Susvara.
Thanks for your HP suggestion, i have listened to just about all top HP on the market today as i live next to the best HP dealer in the country.
My favorite ones today are the Kennerton Odin and Thror, the Hifiman Susvara and HE1000se.
 

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