Pathos Aurium Hybrid Headphone Amplifier Page 2


The Aurium really paired well with the LCD-3. The treble was very clean and nicely extended, and the mids were very clean and clear, with just a touch of romance. I thought the Aurium was just a bit light in the mid bass, which suits the LCD-3 fine, really. And don't get me wrong, there could be some amazing bass when called for. There is a synth note at the end of the Styx song "Queen of Spades" from the Pieces of Eight album that truly made me leap out of my chair and take the LCD-3's off my head. I could not believe there wasn't a speaker on somewhere. The bass was REALLY deep! Nice. But the bass in Porcupine Tree's "The Start of Something Beautiful" from the album Deadwing wasn't as up front as I am used to. I didn't consider this a really big deal for either of my main two headphones. If you have a headphone that's on the bass-light side already, it might be an issue, but even then, it's pretty subtle.

And I want to be clear—that doesn't make the Aurium bright. It's not. If anything, it is just a touch warm. You'd have to really work hard making a 6922/MOSFET amp that wasn't at least a touch warm, and mercifully, Pathos didn't. I would rather have a touch of warmth than a touch of brightness.

The 96/24 version of American Beauty by Grateful Dead was absolutely terrific. I got goose bumps when the acapella intro to "Brokedown Palace" started—something that is unique to this Mickey Hart hi-res remastered version. It's just seven notes from 5 words...but it's seven notes of pure heaven. And via the Aurium, I got all I could want from it. Delicious.

There was definitely something I think of as special about the Aurium's treble. Delicate, extended, and smooth. Sparkle without pain. Not an easy trick, but the Aurium manages it big time. If you are a high frequency fetishist, this is an amp you need to hear. I played a 15 ips Reel tape I have from International Phonograph, which is a copy of a master tape they own of a 1963 jazz recording by Clare Fischer. It's an absurdly good sounding recording, and if you haven't ever heard 15 ips reel tape, you should try someday—it's otherworldly. And the Aurium rendered it for me in all its glory. This was some SERIOUSLY high fidelity.

The Audeze LCD-3 and the Audio Technica W3000ANV are pretty different sounding headphones, and they sounded different via the Aurium—which is good! The W3000ANV were also terrific via the Pathos. They sounded best to me with the rear-panel gain pot at about 50% (whereas the LCD-3 needed the gain pot at max). There was no background noise or hum audible at any rational listening level, even when no music was playing. With the gain and volume control both maxed, there was some audible hum with the high-sensitivity W3000ANV, but god forbid anyone is maxing both of those with these headphones.

It's a pity that I didn't have the Cary HH-1 around for a direct comparison anymore, but from memory at least, I would say these two amps, which are both 6922/MOSFET designs, while both excellent, and a bit different sounding. The Aurium isn't leaned as warm, and strikes me as having a bit more high frequency extension than I recall from the Cary, although without being able to do a side by side, level matched comparison, it's not really fair to make much of this. I will say though that the Aurium is a much more powerful amp than the Cary, and is about the same price. As such, for me personally, I would choose the Aurium for that reason alone. Adding the Aurium's balance control and the externally accessible tubes make this a no-brainer for this reviewer, but that's not to take away from the Cary, which I also very much enjoyed.

I did of course compare the Aurium to my long term reference, the Leben CS300. The Aurium was definitely different sounding! The Leben was a bit meatier, but the Aurium was a bit more delicate, and I admit that delicacy could be very addictive! I'm not ultimately sure I had a clear and strong preference for one or the other, which is saying a LOT, as I hold the Leben in very high regard.

THE FINAL PATHOS first voyage on the good ship Pathos was very enjoyable! The Aurium is a nice looking, great sounding headphone amplifier with some very nice features. I had a few little nits to pick, but overall, I certainly enjoyed it, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to owners of all but the most bass-light headphones. Good stuff!

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: