Pathos Aurium Hybrid Headphone Amplifier

I have seen some nice looking Pathos products reviewed in the pages of Stereophile before, but I have never heard any until now. They always seemed to get enthusiastic reviews, and the pictures looked pretty. When the Aurium ($1495) showed up here, I didn't have any idea what to expect sonically, but I expected and got a nice looking product. The Aurium isn't really lavishly designed, and it's pretty compact, but as long as you like silver as a color for gear, it's an attractive looking product.

It's got some nice features too. It has one balanced and three unbalanced inputs, and one balanced tape output. Good! Multiple inputs are handy. I don't really see the use for a tape output, though, and the Aurium could be a nice little preamp if those had been pre-outs (meaning variable instead of fixed level). Oh well.

Counterbalancing that is that there are gain and balance pots on the rear. Awesome!!!! A balance pot on a headphone amp is a godsend in my opinion, and should be mandatory for all headphone amps that are not in the bargain basement level. Good!

Back to the "not so good"—I don't think it's possible to use this amp without reading the manual. Sure, you could get lucky. But as soon as you plug it in, it goes into a standby mode—lights but no power to the tubes. You press the power button to get it to come on. That's fine—except there are NO labels on the front panel. So you have to guess which of the buttons the power button is. That's a stylistic compromise I do not favor. Labels are good. Manuals are a bummer.

Since I was in the manual anyway, I read it. The Aurium is a pretty powerful little amp, listed at 3.6W output into 32 ohms. I knew immediately this meant it was a hybrid. An amp with a pair of 6922 tubes is not going to produce almost 4 watts into 32 ohms. And indeed, the output devices are MOSFET solid state devices. MOSFETS are often chosen for having a "tube like" sound from a solid state device. Some people don't think they are very transparent sounding, but that hasn't been my experience in general, nor was it with the Aurium. The Aurium was very transparent, and was really not all that "tubey sounding", in the colloquial sense of being super-buttery-smooth. It was smooth enough, and very pleasurable to listen to, but not in any way smoothed-over. There was a high degree of transparency and detail on tap, as well as a nice sense of liquidity.

The ubiquitous Electro-Harmonix 6922 is what was supplied with the Aurium. The amp's chassis design is very tube roller friendly, though, and so of course I did. A post-WWII Sylvania military 6922 did sound a little bit better, but comparatively it wasn't as big a difference as I have heard when rolling tubes in other amps.

I listened to the Aurium via my Vincent Audio DAC, playing lossless and hi-resolution digital audio, and from my TEAC A3340S reel to reel tape deck. Headphones used were the Audeze LCD-3 and the Audio Technica W3000ANV.

On to the sound....

Pathos (Distributed by Audio Plus Services in US)
156 Lawrence Paquette Industrial Drive
Champlain, NY 12919

John Grandberg's picture

That's one good lookin headphone amp. 

timits's picture

Thanks for another great review.  The Pathos website says  "The volume control ... is operated by means of a high precision Burr-Brown device."  Any idea what this means?

John Grandberg's picture

Probably using something like the PGA2311 for volume control. It's a digital controller for analog signals, which sounds kind of strange, but in my experience it works really well. It costs a little more than some of the cheaper analog potentiometers out there, and is probably more difficult to implement, but the results can be quite good. 

mst's picture

What is the target demographic here?   I assume that the average age of readers who use R2R tape players is over 75, and perhaps they're not inclined to drop $1500 on a headphone amp.   

Skylab's picture

The reel deck was only used as one of the sources for the review, so not sure I understand your question/comment. I mostly listened to digital. The fact that I listened to tape doesn't have any bearing on the target market for the headphone amp (frankly, nothing any reviewer says has any bearing on the manufacturer's target market).

 Good reel to reel tape is terrific sounding though and can be a very useful source for auditioning components.

Oh and I'm significantly under 75 I can assure you ;)

AllanMarcus's picture

Based on the marketing text from the Pathos web site, I would say the target audience are hipsters, specifically those with bushy beards and man-buns that want to look cool with an expensive imported tube amp. That said, the amp could still sound good, but how does it compare to a Drop CTH?

Currawong's picture

...when the music makes you jump out of your chair. It is rather like how things were with the HD-600s and 650s way back when people thought they were boring headphones having not heard them with a serious amp. With both those and orthos, getting the amp right the music suddenly comes alive.

Skylab's picture

Very well put!!!!!! I couldn't agree more.

guglia72's picture

There's at least a good reason that makes me proud of being Italian!!!!
I recently bought this amp (second hand, very good deal): it sound great! My setup is still not complete (gotta buy a new dac and a new headphone) but it already shows where it'll bring me... I can't wait!!!

mbze430's picture

this review was back in 2013, and still listed ain the Wall of Fame for Amps. Being a hybrid, do you still consider it being the best amp for the price/performance? I only ask because I have been told the Schiiet Mjolnir 2 is also a great hybrid amp.

I only ask because I am specifically looking for a hybrid amp, where I can roll tubes

doraymon's picture

Four years after the review it seems this amp is still a reference point.
I decided to trust the many good reviews and order one.
Unfortunately couldn't audition one before purchasing.
If you are an owner please post your impressions here: