Review: Phatlab Audio PHAntasy – Uniquely Phantastic

Disclaimer: Phatlab Audio suppled Phantasy for the purposes of this review, which is now ingloriously late. It goes for roughly 1600$ USD. You can find out all about it here: Phatlab Phantasy SET amp.

Update: RMAA scores for PHAntasy are now online.

At Fujiya Avic’s 2015 Autumn Headphone Festival, I plunked myself down at Phatlab Audio’s booth for a good twenty minutes. Right next door, Verisonix’s Mr. Shen excitedly told explained the technology in the N500 and N501 Electrostatic hybrid headphones. I fondled and fondled Phantasy. 

No battery-powered amp I have tried is as exquisitely a work of art, or as painstakingly built. Which, from one angle, is a shame; Phatlab, the unpunctuated acryonym, isn’t a great-sounding company name.

Portability
Headphone
Class-A
Tube

We’re left with Lab, which is probably short for laboratory, labarum, labia, lablab, or Labrador, in whatever order you espouse. Here’s my guess about Phantasy:

Portability
Headphone
Class-A
Nifty
Terrific
Class-A
Super
Yes!

Marketing and engineering missteps are par for the course. Chord’s Mojo got stuck with an inscrutable interface and alien eyes. Campfire Audio stuck the marvellous Lyra and Jupiter earphones with a springy cables. Astell&Kern’s designs draw blood. And Cowon? If you like their latest player, you’re basically begging for the D.

Phatlabs - Phantasy - volume pot

Not Sound

Phantasy charges over the 5V micro USB bus, or USB mains adapter (not included), meaning that you can use the same cables, AC/DC adapters, etc., that you use for your phones, tablets, and cameras.

This is a huge design win.

But so is just about everything Phantasy besides its name. Because it’s not a pocketable amp, I won’t deride its Korean corners or its general brickishness. Phantasy is milled from a single aluminium block, hollowed out, and fastened with quality, strip-resistant bolts. The gentle divot around its hi-Z and low-Z switch matches almost perfectly, the contours of a finger, and the channels stretching out from the power and battery indicator LEDs are conscious links to the channels around the gorgeous top plate.

Phantasy was designed to be eye-catching.

Phatlabs - Phantasy - logo

Its knob- oh its knob. Damped beautifully like a Zeiss cinema lens: silky and light; the light touch of a single finger rotates it with precision and speed until it glides to a stop. It balances perfectly on its fulcrum, aligned with such precision that the milled stripe forward its fastening bolt remains completely parallel to the chassis when rotated from off to full volume. I haven’t seen its like in the battery-powered world. Come to think of it, I’ve not seen its like in the desktop world, either. When rotated swiftly, its slightly canted diamond pattern resembles the action of a finely cut auger.

Phantasy is designed with intent.

Sound and more follows on page two:

Review: Phatlab Audio PHAntasy – Uniquely Phantastic
4.2 (83.53%) 17 vote[s]

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

12 Comments

  • Reply March 31, 2016

    Barun C

    Very enjoyable images and words as always Nathan. I do agree with you on the last point, one should audition this before purchase, especially considering the price point and the trend going on with cheaper alternatives available these days.

    • Reply March 31, 2016

      ohm image

      It is pretty obvious that Phatlabs spent LOADS designing Phantasy to be used. It sits solid on the desk, the volume pot is unlike anything I’ve used, ever. The machine work on it speaks volumes about Phatlabs’s market. The case work itself was probably very expensive.

      In terms of ergonomics mixed with what I consider the tubiest of valve sounds out there, Phantasy has no rivals.

      • Reply March 31, 2016

        Barun C

        Agreed. The photos clearly indicate that. Pity I won’t be able to hear this sitting in India. Although, I will come to Japan in the foreseeable future and spend a considerable amount of time listening to various gear including this Phatlabs offering.

        • Reply March 31, 2016

          ohm image

          When you make it here, let’s sit down over coffee or something and try Phantasy out.

          • Reply March 31, 2016

            Barun C

            Thanks. Now I have got another reason to come to Japan.

  • Reply March 31, 2016

    Carl

    Very cool review; my favourite of yours so far.
    I’m also very interested in this device. Any clues to availability in Europe? I live in the UK and depending on the price (Hi-Fi+ magazine reckon it’s $1300 for this model?) I likely would spring for this just on the basis of your review.
    Again, thanks for a great read!
    Be well.

    • Reply April 1, 2016

      ohm image

      I responded yesterday but didn’t get past the harsh moderation team. I will post RMAA results that may help you in your decision. I suggest listening first. That said, the sweet spot of around 300Ω should serve as a reference point. If your headphones fall between 150 and 300Ω, Phantasy is one of the most timbrely beautiful amps I’ve heard (my opinion of course), and if it is lower than 100Ω, it is more hit and miss in terms of the impedance matching of amp and headphone. As I said, however, even the 32Ω PS1000 can sound wonderful, despite getting somewhat harsh spikes in both bass and highs.

      YMMV.

      Finally, thank you for the kind words.

  • Reply March 31, 2016

    Jeff

    Very nice! How about the Sassy?

  • Reply March 31, 2016

    dalethorn

    Phatlab is appropriate, i.e. “That’s phat, dogg.”

    • Reply April 1, 2016

      ohm image

      I know where they got the word, but it is my opinion that ‘Phat’ and cleverly-designed, hi-end audio do not good bedfellows make.

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