Airist Audio Heron 5 Headphone Amplifier
Thank you to Airist Audio for adding my stop to the current tour.
Airist Audio (http://www.airistaudio.com/) is a young company now jumping into the personal audio market with their first piece of gear – the Heron 5 (US$1999) headphone amplifier. The Heron 5 is a solid state amp aimed directly at the higher end. According to their site, both its circuits and cosmetic designs reflect Airists principles – those of purity and subtlety.
In a brief exchange on Head-Fi, co-founder Will Tse commented on this:
“There are many headphone amplifiers currently on the market, many of them tube amplifiers and a large portion of them in a different price range than Heron 5. As a new company composed of people largely unknown to the audio world, we wanted to establish a good reputation in the higher end of the market before extending our reach into more budget-priced devices. We also wanted to test the compatibility of our design philosophies with the audio market, especially our belief in purity and our emphasis on subtlety. Heron 5 embodies these principles in a number of ways, from the sound signature defined by the absence of phase distortion to the aluminum chassis which is designed to have no fasteners on the top, front, or side panels.”
I admit, living solely with tube amps the past couple years, I had in mind how the Heron 5 would perform. Happily, I concede my expectations were only half right. Er, less than half.
The Heron 5 is musical, quiet, powerful, refined (silver-tongued), highly resolving and smooth in its presentation.
I have logged about 40-50 hours with the Heron 5, so while I think we’ve not hit the recommended (per Airists manual) 72+hours of break in, allowing the amp to reach optimum performance, I can safely say I am familiar with its qualities. Limited time with the amp drove me to focus my listening sessions. I built a playlist (4 hours running) covering a wide array of styles and production quality. Jazz, Rock, Hip hop, Electronic, Classical, Americana – my tastes vary.
The Heron 5 is dead quiet – both the signal and operating ambient noise are imperceptible. The exception would be when turning the volume up (no music playing) all the way – there was hiss in the last 3 clicks. I ran the Nighthawks somewhere between 10 and 11 o’clock, depending on source volume.
No slouch in the tone department, the Heron 5 delivers rich tonal colors balanced by a clear midrange. Woodwinds have body and harmonic texture. Snare drums (initially a tad papery) have snap and body. Whock. Not whack. When appropriate, of course.
Well-recorded pianos are satisfying – the complex overtones are presented beautifully. Nils Frahms ‘Solo’ record – the track Chant – the oscillation of the bass piano strings is palpable. Hammer attack is tactile.
Kirk Knuffke: Arms and Hands – on the track Umbrella, we have bowed upright, trumpet, and cymbals and toms played with mallets. Cymbals open up and bloom as they should. Hats have tone – not just snick. The air apparent in the space. A great example of the balanced, linear performance in the mids and upper frequencies.
Nothing’s latest record isn’t a great recording, but I dig the heavy shoegaze style. On the title track, guitars are well represented, and the Heron 5 manages the dense layers of distortion, cymbals and heavily affected vocals with ease. This is one loud band, and confirms the Heron 5s ability to rock balls.
Shudder to Think: Pony Express Record – X-French Tee Shirt
All Them Witches: Dying Surfer Meets His Maker –
I am curious as to how well the amp pairs with high impedance headphones. And, how it compares to other solid state amps of similar quality. I’m hoping some others on the tour will provide that insight.
Not sure if this is the amp for you? If you’re a solid state music lover, looking for linearity and purity, and US$2000 is in your range, the Heron 5 is absolutely worth a spin.
I believe Airist Audio have succeeded in making the amp they set out to make – well done.