Auris Audio Nirvana Headphone Amplifier Page 2

Forcing myself not to be seduced by the gorgeous looks alone, the Nirvana reminded me of two of my favourite, less expensive, DAC-equipped rivals: the Unison Research SH [HFN Jul '16] and Quad PA-One [HFN Feb '15], but with more punch. They're not mutually exclusive because of the differing facilities, the Nirvana's analogue, line-level-only form being the most obvious, but all three share the same approach to warmth and bloom. What the Nirvana adds is an uncanny sense of scale.

This was noted especially with the soundstage of the original Broadway cast recording of Fiddler On The Roof [RCA FTO-5032; reel-to-reel tape] and Living Brass' A Taste Of Honey [RCA Camden CTR949; reel-to-reel tape]. As ludicrous as it may seem – describing the soundstage when, effectively, it's inside one's head – the playback through the Nirvana somehow appeared more three-dimensional. I am at a loss to describe it as more than a sensation, but it's there. And it worked even with the sealed-back models that, by their very nature, are less airy-sounding.

Silky Gauze
With the former tape, the vocals were chillingly real, especially Zero Mostel's wry asides, his exclamatory displays in 'If I Were A Rich Man' and his breathy 'Oy-y-y-y…' with its delicious fade. All of it was enveloped in a silky gauze, so to speak, waving a banner that declared it to be analogue in excelsis. There was, despite this kitsch-painting-on-velvet sensation, no loss of detail, no sense of artifice – just countless BTUs of warmth.

This amp is almost dangerous if you need your sleep, because it will have you digging out disc after disc or tape after tape. Turning to the Living Brass was an ear-opener, with all of the speed and punch intact, but with no edginess or spitting or sibilance. It was as uplifting as the Fiddler performance: bold, realistic, more-ish.

As the Nirvana arrived at the same time as the Air Force III Premium, I was more than happy to feed it via the EAT E-Glo phono stage straight in, hearing assorted slabs of vinyl with no distractions. Especially involving and fulfilling was the 45rpm version of The Band's Music From Big Pink [Capitol 0602567480525], from both the sheer mass of Garth Hudson's organ-playing on 'Chest Fever' to the delicious percussion of Levon Helm.

It was the latter that convinced me of the Nirvana's capabilities for weight, speed and impact, Helm's drumming elevating the instrument to a level of expressiveness rarely matched outside of Ringo Starr's work. You could hear the air moving from the bass drum, feel the sizzle of cymbal and snare, while the quantity of bottom octave information was further emphasised by Rick Danko's magnificent bass playing. If this Auris amp proved one thing to me, it's that the bass performance from cans the calibre of the Audezes can match the quality and quantity of bass-via-massive-woofers.

The Kicker
This is not to say that the Nirvana's main value is for bass addicts. A set I cannot recommend highly enough, Lulu's 5CD Decade 1967-1976 [Edsel LULUBOX01], yielded a plethora of assorted sounds to assess – the massed strings of 'A House Is Not A Home', funk backing on the Atco albums, vibes, brass, the guitar of Duane Allman, vocals from a brace of Rascals and much more. The Auris Audio Nirvana handled all the textures, as well as the positioning, with utter authority. The kicker, though, is the voice.

Whatever you think of Lulu – and if you don't realise she's a national treasure, more's the pity – she has one powerful set of pipes. This set covers her post-hit era, when she was, for lack of a better description, growing up musically and finding her feet. As a result, the musicians and songwriters involved – from certain Bee Gees to Mickie Most to Burt Bacharach to John Paul Jones – mean performance standards of five-star levels, with recording quality to match. It was thus perfect fodder for my Auris Audio sessions.

Headphones imply monitoring like the professionals do, and this amp let me listen into the historic sessions that formed this particular decade in her career. Even the corny stuff was rendered palatable, Lulu still having to play the 'star' with the inevitable hokey TV appearances. So, as lame as is the Eurovision portion of the box ('Come September' is particularly egregious, while 'Boom Bang-A-Bang' is a cultural low point), I still managed to survive listening even to the worst tracks just because of the charm of the sound.

None of the cans, not even the Beyers, failed to be driven satisfactorily. All exhibited the big, rich, open nature of the Nirvana. Marginal hum aside, and a sonic balance toward the calorifically rich, this amp is a joy. And thanks to the finish, even better to fondle.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
To the dismay of many, this verdict isn't just about sound. The market is packed with headphone amps, with the late, lamented Oppo residing at the top. This is the romantic, lush, less-clinical alternative, which is my way of saying it is so tube-y that it plays on one's valve-vs-transistor prejudices. The deal-maker, though, is the perceived value, because the Auris Nirvana oozes luxury. Aptly named? Absolutely.

Auris Audio
Supplied by: Elite Audio Ltd, Fife
01334 570 666