Nirvana Review by Headfonia
REVIEW: AURIS AUDIO NIRVANA – THE SWEET SPOT
In this review we take a close look at the newest and 3rd tube amp of the Auris collection.
Disclaimer: Auris Audio is not related to Headfonia in any way. The Nirvana was sent to me to be featured on Headfonia.com and the local dealer uses our sample to feature at shows.
Only in March of this year we reviewed Auris Audio’s top of the line tube amp, the Headonia, here at Headfonia. Last year we covered their HA2-SE tube amp which won the “Best of 2017” award and so our loyal readers will probably already know all about Auris Audio.
Lately Auris has also been touring with the Head-Fi Canjam shows all over the world and the Serbian brand has become very popular in the personal audio market in a very short time. When I covered the HA2-SE back in 2017, Auris wasn’t as well-known yet in the personal audio segment but after our reviews and Auris’ presence at the different shows, everyone seems to know about Auris Audio. That’s a very good thing and of course if you make great products, word travels quickly.
For those of you who aren’t familiar yet with Auris Audio, make sure to check out the intro in our HA2-SE review first. Auris Audio was founded in 2013. Their mission is to fulfill the desires of the most demanding audiophiles and delight both listener’s ears and visual senses. Auris Audio puts tubes first, and how I like it. Now Auris Audio doesn’t only make headphone amplifiers but they have full product line-up with speaker amps, speakers, pre amps, DACs, and even more.
After Auris developed and launched the TOTL reference tube amp, the Headonia, Auris decided it was time to develop another high-end tube amp with a separate power supply and a lot of power. The Nirvana, which product page you can find here, isn’t the new reference amp but instead it is situated between the HA2-SE and Headonia. That means Auris Audio has three full sized desktop headphone amps in their collection now, but knowing the company’s owner, I’m pretty sure it won’t stop with just these models.
“As its name suggests, is designed to take you to the state of absolute blessedness – nirvana”.
With the Nirvana, Auris wanted to make a premium quality amplifier that enables the user to plug in any headphones they like. From the most easy to drive dynamic headphone to the hardest o drive Planar magnetic headphone, and the other way around. The Nirvana is extremely powerful for a headphone amp and with its 6.5W pure class A per channel it’s an absolute beast.
The Nirvana is based on EL34 power tubes in single ended configuration and the driver tube is the ECC82. We have seen the ECC82 before in Auris’ designs, and with the HA2-SE to be more precise. As before the Auris amps always allow you to set the correct impedance for the headphone you’re listening to but this time we can also find VU-meters which show you the real output power given/used. I will get back to these VU-meters in the “Headphone” section later on.
Also “new” is that the Nirvana now has a dedicated external power supply to deliver the best possible constant (no AC) power to the amp section. From what I understand there will be two version of the power supply: a normal one and the one you can see in the pics, with the same look and feel as the amp. The latter of course makes for the prettiest combo but also the most expensive one. There is no impact on sound between these two models.
The Auris Audio Nirvana sells directly from Auris shop for €5.550 Euro and that does make it a high end amp just looking at the price class alone. The Auris amps seem to be getting more expensive over time with the Headonia selling now for €7.500 Euro and the HA2-SE for €2070 Euro. The Auris amps don’t come cheap but in return you get perfect build quality, exquisite design and superb sound in return. Delivery is included in the price but we’ll get back to the price/quality ratio of the Nirvana later in this article.
The Nirvana, just like its siblings, comes in black or in white but unfortunately the black version wasn’t available at this time, so that leaves me with a white Nirvana, the odd one in the collection. The Nirvana comes delivered with a pair of Auris branded gloves, a user manual, the warranty and the full set of stock tubes. Auris does not ship any power cables but I’m pretty sure that audiophiles at this level will want to use their own power chords. You of course do get the specific cable to hook up the power supply to the amp section (only one power cable is needed). The unit weighs an impressive 19kg. In comparison to the previous Auris headphone amps we’ve looked at, the Nirvana doesn’t come with a remote control, but to me that’s perfectly fine.
As said the Auris Audio Nirvana uses double EL34 power tubes and a single ECC82 input tube.
The ECC82 input tube (which equals to a 12AU7, CV4004, CV491 etc) is a miniature nine-pin (B9A base) medium-gain dual triode vacuum tube. The tube is popular in hi-fi vacuum tube audio as a low-noise line amplifier, driver (especially for tone stacks), and phase-inverter in vacuum tube push-pull amplifier circuits. You can learn everything about this tube type on the following two pages:
The more famous and rare ECC82 tubes can set you back quite a lot when you want to buy them NOS (New old Stock). If you’re not really into tubes or don’t know much about these exact tube types, then I really advise you to read up on them if you’re planning to tube roll the Nirvana. Luckily there is a lot of information available on these tube on the www, and you can spend days reading up on reviews, comparisons, prices, etc. I love doing that but for you it might be different. In that case you can just stick to the stock tubes (see later).
The EL34 power is a thermionic valve of the power pentode type. It has an international octal base and is found mainly in the final output stages of audio amplification circuits. It was designed to be suitable as a series regulator by virtue of its high permissible voltage between heater and cathode and other parameters. The American RETMA tube designation number for this tube is 6CA7. The USSR analog is 6P27S (Cyrillic: 6П27C). You can find out all about the EL34 on the following two pages:
Stock tubes & replacements
The Nirvana of course comes with a set of tubes for both tube types.
For the EL34 Auris has selected newly built Electro-Harmonix tubes from Russia. According to EH, the EL34 is the most common power pentode found in British amplifiers such as Marshall, Hiwatt, Laney, and Sound City. The EL34EH defines the classic British rock sound of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The EL34 sells for about. The Electro-Harmonix EL34EH, according to EH again, is extremely musical and predictable with a sound that is rich, smooth, and detailed without being edgy. It is the perfect EL34 for vintage equipment and a sure way to improve the performance of modern equipment. According to the technical journal, Vacuum Tube Valley, “The Electro-Harmonix EL34EH is balanced throughout the entire music spectrum. Bass goes deep and is tight, mids are sweet and well defined, and highs are detailed and extended.” The EH34 officially sells for about$35USD a piece and the balanced set costs a bit more. A quick Google search however shows these can easily be found for €40 a normal pair and €50 for a matched pair.
The ECC82 that came with the Nirvana actually is a new built Tung-Sol branded 12AU7W (6189) tube from Russia. The Tube’s specs can be found here. If you look around a bit you’ll find them for about just over $20 a piece on the web. It is a 12AU7 tube built to match the performance of the military/industrial original GE 6189 tube. The Tung-Sol name and trademark have been acquired by the New Sensor Corporation. This new production Tungsol tube is manufactured at their Xpo-Pul factory (also known as Reflektor) in Saratov, Russia. New Sensor is an American corporation and since taking ownership of this factory has been steadily improving the quality of current production tubes.
Did I really use the stock tubes? That would be a no, and I sourced an NOS set of matched RFT/Siemens EL34 tubes and used the NOS Philips Holland made/branded ECC82/CV491 tube I sourced for the Auris HA2-SE.
The EL34 RFT made Siemens have dimple tops (like the EH) and they were made in Germany (like most of the NOS RFT/Siemen/etc branded tubes) but their plate structure and top getter are different. These tubes sell between $90 and $100 a piece but they’re quite nice and a guaranteed improvement over the more emotionless stock tubes. The most upgrade in sound comes from the Philips Holland made/branded CV491 tube input tube, as you can expect.
Everyone likes a different type of sound and the beauty of having a tube amp like this, is that you can change the sound with a simple tube roll. There are plenty of affordable tubes available for this amp, so if you do get one, make sure to try out some different combinations as they will let you finetune the sound to your liking. And it’s also fun looking for tubes and trying them out. That being said, the Nirvana does sound really good with the stock tubes already, so if you don’t want to get into tubes too much, the stock setup will do just fine.
Design & Build quality
With the double massive wooden plates and the top quality leather in between, the Nirvana has the same look and feel as the HA2-SE and Headonia headphone amplifiers and basically all of the other Auris Audio units. I really love the designs the Auris CEO comes up with, but I’ve seen pictures of upcoming units and their design is completely different. Like the beautiful Headonia and HA2-SE, this is not only is an amplifier, it’s a piece of art and I am using it in my main living room setup where it’s visible for everyone to see. A beautiful and well sounding amp of this kind deserves the center piece spot, it’s that simple. Personally I prefer the black version over the white one, but my wife doesn’t agree.
The wood, leather, buttons, switches, connectors and VU-meters: everything is beautiful and perfectly integrated. There are no crooked lines, no glue, no loose leather, moving switches or whatever: the build quality is perfect. I don’t have a list of components used on the inside of the amplifier, but I’m sure they’re top quality brands again. The Nirvana weighs a hefty 19kg and both the power supply as well as the amp section are built like a tank. You’ll immediately experience that when you’re unboxing it (don’t forget to use the gloves).
The Power supply and amp section of course share the same dimension in width and depth and their base both is about 10cm, not counting upper amp part.
The nice thing also is that it doesn’t matter to Auris of you’re buying an entry level unit or the reference level one: it has to be perfect both in looks and build. The Nirvana comes in a really big double box (power supply) and it’s extremely well protected so the shipping doesn’t damage the units. Unboxing it took quite some time because of the careful and precise packing but I gladly spend time on this.
Lay-out wise the amplifier – just like before – is very simple, but that’s exactly what makes it so beautiful. A thick wooden plate on top and at the bottom, with in between the gorgeous leather finish. The Nirvana amp and power supply just look great together when stacked on top of each other but if you want the most optimal cooling down air flow, it is best to place both units next to each other. You can still stack the units but you just have to make sure there’s enough aeration in the room you’re using it in.
The power supply lay-out wise is very simple. On the front you have the second power button and on the back you have the main power switch, the power connector, the fuse and the connector going to the amp. On the bottom of the unit you’ll find a soft yellow LED near the front, which turns on when you flick the power switch on the front. There’s no more purple light like in the Headonia and HA2-SE. The top of the power supply (as you can see in the pictures supplied by Auris, has this metal plate with vents. These vents are placed so that they looks like the Auris “A” from their logo. It’s a nice touch but not visible if you’re stacking the units.
The amp itself is rather “full” if I may say so. On the front of the unit you in the middle have the 4 pin XLR output with on both sides a 6.3mm output. These connectors also let you connect two 3-pin XLR connectors. That means you can listen to 3 headphones at the same time at most, but that should be enough for most of you. On both the left and right sides of the front panel, you’ll find the beautiful VU-meters. The VU-meters have the same yellow glow as the LED under the power supply. It’s all in the details, isn’t it.
On top of the amp section you near the front from left to right have the impedance selector, the volume dial and the input selector. Contrary to the Headonia, the impedance selection applies to all the outputs and you have the choice between 30, 80, 150, 300 and 600Ohm. Right above these switches you have the typical Auris grill. I have tried to remove the tube protecting grill but it doesn’t seem possible without opening up the amp. Behind the grill you of course find the ECC82 tube in front, and both of the EL34 tubes behind it creating a triangle. Behind the two power tubes you can’t miss both of the transfos, one for each channel.
On the back of the amp we from left to right find a double RCA input and a set of XLR inputs. Do note the Nirvana is not a balanced amplifier. Next to the XLR input you have the PSU-connector and that’s all, there are no outputs.
Here’s a nice youtube clip where Mr. Paya talks about the Nirvana for his store: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kyz2WjhxpwQ . The most interesting part about he Nirvana is the first part up to 6’12’’.
|Tubes||1 x ECC82, 2 x EL34|
|Amplifier Configuration||Single Ended|
|Power output: max||6.5W|
|Output Impedance||32 Ohm/80 Ohm/150 Ohm/300 Ohm & 600 Ohm|
|Analog Inputs||3 x Line|
|Dimensions (WxLxH) mm||300x390x190|
|Power supply Dimensions (WxLxH) mm||300x390x95|
|Power supply Weight (kg)||7.2|
The DACs used with the Headonia in this review is the Violectric V850. The tube configuration used for the review is the Philips ECC82 in combination with the RFT EL34. The transport is my laptop running ROON.
After a good burn in of the new NOS tube sets, the Nirvana made it clear from the beginning it is another high level amplifier. It is the perfect blend of the Auris Audio HA2-SE and the TOTL Headonia in the way that it takes the best of both. The HA2-SE is a really warm, smooth and incredibly musical sounding amplifier while the Headonia has a reference tuning with superb clarity and great dynamics but the Headonia is also rather neutral sounding (in a good way) and it doesn’t have any real warmth. The Nirvana takes the musicality of the HA2-SE and some of its warmth and smoothness and it combines it with the precision, dynamics and top level transparency of the Headonia. The end result is a musical high end amp with heaps of power. It’s almost impossible not to love Nirvana, and I personally haven’t found anyone who didn’t like it so far.
Warmth-wise, if my Lafigaro 339 is 80°C, the Audiovalve Solaris is around 40°C and the Headonia like 15°C. The Nirvana goes in between the Solaris and Headonia, and I’d put it around 35. Now the end sound and also the warmth of the Nirvana will depend on the tubes you’re using, but for me with this combo of tubes, it hits the sweet spot.
Nirvana is dead silent with the stock tubes and with my actual set, though depending on your tubes there might be some noise. That’s not the amps fault however as the circuitry, components and transfos are dead silent. You get a perfectly black background with a wide and deep sound stage. The layering is really good and the separation is really clear. Nirvana presents you the sound with just the right amount of clarity and air to make it a precise and wise sounding amp, but it never exaggerates. So in the end you get a very natural, pleasing and smooth sound, and that with all of the headphones you can possibly think of.
This in fact is one of its strong points: this amplifier will power everything with ease, and then we’re talking about the hardest o drive headphones such as the Hifiman HE-6, the HE-500 and the Susvara. That last one if fact is the one Auris Audio in general uses to demo the amplifier at the Head-Fi Canjam shows all over the world. Check the show reports if you can, I doubt you’ll find a single bad word of this setup. At the same time this also is a down side, as said the VU-meters show you the real output power of the amp/headphone in use and as it’s so extremely powerful (loud) you will hardly see these nice meters move if you hook up an easier to drive headphone. It’s a bit of a shame to see the nice VU-meters stay stuck in the left corner, and maybe Auris should have made the amp a bit less powerful as it is now with its 6.5W/channel. With my collection of headphones (unless you’re almost deaf or want to get deaf soon) you’ll only see the meters move somewhat with the old HE-500.
The headphones we’ll use to describe the synergy with the Auris Audio Nirvana are the following: The Audeze LCD2C, the LCD-MX4, LCD-XC, the Hifiman Edition X V2, the HE-1000 V2, the old HE-500, The Focal Utopia, the Sennheiser HD800 and the Beyerdynamic DT199OPRO. Unfortunately the Susvara is still on our way to the office and these impressions will be added in later.
In single ended mode you get the old school LCD2 we all know. The LCD-2 was one of the headphones that shook the headphone world but compared to the latest technology headphones, the LCD2 kind of is having a hard time. I also do feel my original Rosewood 2.1 sounds better with more and better quality bass. The original sounds smoother, softer and richer where the new versions sounds more digital and fast. The 2c with the Nirvana sounds fast and clean and especially voices and upper mids really shine. The bass level in quantity and body is on the lighter side yet it’s tight and fast. The LCD-2C still is easy to like and listen to headphone, and it becomes better in balanced mode with a wider sound stage, better layering and a far better decay. The bass levels stay more or less the same but the over sound quality goes a level up in balanced mode. This to me still is a great headphone to listen to rock or dance music with. Ah the good old days.
The Audeze LCD-MX4 is a studio headphone which is tight, fast, precise and neutral with a wide stage and an excellent technical performance. It’s even easier to drive so you’ll have to turn the volume down a little. The Nirvana actually is my fav amp for this headphones as it ads a bits of smoothness and softness to the MX4, and that in combination with the neutral approach and excellent technical capabilities make it a perfect neutral, yet musical, headphone. The MX4 and Nirvana combo has quickly become one of my to go setups even when I’m just listening to enjoy my music in a non review way. The synergy just is really good and the end result is impressive. In balanced mode everything gets a tad better but it’s mostly the layering that improves even more, together with the sound stage width. In SE mode everything sounds a bit more rough while in balanced it is richer with better decay and audible detail. Balanced is the way to go for an excellent sound quality in this combo.
The LCD-XC up to today is still my favourite closed headphone of all time. Its smooth character, impressive bass and rich mids just do it for me and it’s a headphone that gives me a lot of musical enjoyment. With the Nirvana in single ended mode the bass is alive and powerful but not the most tight. The mids, vocals and treble are all energetic and so musical and this is a headphone that easily does all styles of music. Like with the previous Audeze’s I do prefer the XC and Nirvana combo in balanced mode as you just get a wider, smoother and richer sound. Another top quality pairing.
Edition X V2
The Hifiman Edition X V2 won an award from us last year or so and it is a thicker, musical and warmer sounding headphone with great, impressive bass. The Ananda, its successor, is even better sounding but it hasn’t made it to our offices just yet. The V2 and Nirvana sound powerful yet never aggressive or too “hard”. The bass goes deep, has a good rumble down low, it’s presentation is full and the delivery makes impact. The mids are soft, smooth and warm and incredibly musical. Treble is energetic and alive but never offensive. It’s lively enough though to counter the impressive, dare I say big, bass. I’d give the V2 another award right away with this amp, it’s that enjoyable. In balanced mode bass body decreases a little but the sound stage widens with a better separation and decay. If you want bass, go for single ended. If you like a more equal, balanced out sound, the balanced output is the way to go. But oh man, the Edition X V2 and Nirvana are just great together, if you like the V2, the Nirvana will make you like it even more.
The Hifiman HE-1000 V2 was Hifiman’s flagship for a good time and it’s an incredibly good headphone. It’s a true top level headphone with a far more neutral tuning than the Edition V2. It’s fast, precise and detailed. With the Nirvana it doesn’t lose anything from it’s speed and pace. Bass is tight and precise and from bottom to top the layering, separation and clarity is exemplary. The Nirvana in single ended mode gives it a lot of power and it makes the HE-1000 V2 perform the best possible way, with a hint of tube smoothness and that typical warmth. If you’re looking for a balanced, fast sound with a high level of technicalities where bass isn’t as present as in the X V2, than this the headphone for you. In balanced mode I find the bass tightness to improve even more and the sound stage expands while the layering gets even better. The treble in balanced mode is very extended and energetic but it never goes to the harsh and sibilant way.
The good old Hifiman HE-500 is a headphone I’ve always loved and I wish Hifiman would reuse the driver in a new headphone model as it can still compete with the best. With the Nirvana the HE-500 has incredible good vocals and a great sound stage. Treble might be a little too much for some but the Nirvana’s tube keep them perfectly in control. I actually prefer the HE-500 in single ended mode as balanced gives it a too airy presentation for my personal preference.
The Focal Utopia is one of my favorite high end headphones and it very often is the one I end up using at home in a non review context. With the Nirvana it performs exceptionally in both modes but I prefer the balanced mode as it feels less “direct” compared to the SE-mode. The presentation is more effortless, wider and smoother. The Utopia sounds balanced and has expected has a good bass impact, great layering all around, great clarity and a clean presentation. Some people find the Utopia to clean and maybe boring but the tube driven Nirvana makes it very addictive headphone. I actually prefer the Utopia on the Nirvana and not on the Chord Dave which we have in the office as well, and that to me says a lot about this combo.
For some reason I haven’t been very much into the Sennheiser HD800 lately but in general I prefer the HD800 on somewhat warmer sounding amps like the Auris HA2-SE, the Solaris and the solid state Violectric HPA-V281. That meant the Nirvana could be perfect for it and the combination indeed sounds very nice. The HD800’s bass still is on the lighter side when compared to say the V281 and Solaris, but you get a huge sound stage, top level layering and clarity you’ve never heard before. Treble is always under control and it never becomes harsh or sharp with the Nirvana. For me the Nirvana is the perfect amp for the HD800 in case you’re looking for an amp to tame the highs a tad and make the presentation a bit smoother but without sacrificing the strong points of the HD800. Balanced is also the way to go here.
The Beyerdynamic DT1990PRO has a 250Ohm impedance but you just have to flick the impedance switch and it’ll sound just right on the Nirvana. To be honest I prefer it most on the 80Ohm setting, but that’s just my ears, yours might be different. The DT1990PRO still has a more v-shaped presentation but the deep layered bass and super energetic treble are incredibly good, and the Nirvana really brings out the best of it. The Nirvana just makes me want to listen to the DT1990PRO all the time and it just might be the most perfect amp for this headphone for my ears. I’ve been enjoying a full afternoon with this setup listening to previous century classics from Front 242, Insekt and Kraftwerk and I just couldn’t stop listening to more tracks. It’s the best compliment you can give a setup, isn’t it?
And what about earphones?
The Nirvana is extremely powerful and I don’t really know of any IEMs that require 6.5W/channel. Most of the BA armature driven IEMs in my collection are extremely easy to drive as well so there’s no real use for an amp like the Nirvana. Yes sure you can use it for your IEMs but you will need something like the iFi iEmatch to make then listenable without noise, the output just is way too high for monitors.
The only IEM I could think of using the Nirvana with is the Stereopravda Seven as that’s a really tough one to get right. The Seven needs a lot of power and so I hooked it up to the Nirvana out of curiosity. The Seven picks up far less noise compared to the other BA driven monitors and it does a pretty good job but the Seven has never sounded as good as on Stereopravda’s own amp. More on the Seven, next week though.
The Auris Audio Nirvana is one of those amps that performs great with every single headphone you throw at it. It seems to bring out the best of every headphone and especially the balanced output for me is really special.
As said, the Auris Nirvana is the perfect mix of Auris’ previous models and it combines the best of both amps to bring you to Nirvana, a place of perfect peace and happiness. Apart from the fact that it’s maybe too powerful there absolutely isn’t a single thing I don’t like about the amplifier. It again looks stunning and the separate power supply gives it an extra classy look. It sounds like you’re in heaven with a dynamic, wide and very well layered sound with a good amount of warmth and tube smoothness. The Nirvana gets sound (and looks) just right and it simply is impossible not to like.
This is the kind of amplifier that wins awards, and I have no doubt it well get several distinctions in December when the audio world looks back at the units launched in 2018. If you’re in the market for a new headphone tube amp in this price range or if you just want one amp that does it all, then the Auris Audio Nirvana should be the first amp on your list to check out.
An amazing unit all-in-all. To the recommended amplifier list it goes!