Disclaimer: The Audiovalve Solaris was sent to us by the Dutch distributor, on request of Audiovalve, right after the Headphone Heaven show in Rotterdam.
The German Audiovalve is the company of Mr. Helmut Becker, a man with a passion for tube technology and a with whole lot of working experience. During his military service, he became a radar technician where, among other things, he learned to understand and operate ‘large tubes’ such as magnetrons, tyratrons and klystrons. After this, he completed his studies in telecommunications technology and developed air warning systems.
In 1979, he started working with medical technology. Becker’s creative mind produced numerous groundbreaking ideas and products. The results of this work can even be seen in numerous patents. As if his workload and success were not already enough, Becker also wanted to leave his mark on the world of audio tube amplifiers. He often drew on technical symbioses between several generations of electronics and electrical engineering. Today, he is over 60 years old and looks back on his fundamental and extensive knowledge and life’s work which go right back to the beginnings of tube technology.
According to Mr. Becker, you can be sure of one thing: much of what our forefathers were familiar with was far better than what is being sold to you today as technical progress because today, the industry is only interested in profit. Audiovalve doesn’t only produce headphone amplifiers, but they also produce DACs, pre amps, power amps and integrated amplifiers. For today’s review we’ll be looking at the Audiovalve Solaris, their Top Of The Line headphone amplifier.
The Audiovalve Solaris was launched early 2016 and it is based on their legendary RKV MARK II (since 1982) and it sports Russian ECL85 (6F5P) tubes and OPA134. While we’re looking at its headphone capability, this amplifier actually also serves as a speaker amp and it even has an integrated phono section. The Audiovalve Solaris does come with a remote that will allow you to set the volume. All the other “settings” have to be done manually on the front.
The Solaris is a very powerful amp (see specs) but a headphone protector reliably protects the headphones from pulses that can occur when switching the amplifier ON or OFF. The outputs of the amplifier are shorted for this time both on power as in both cases. The Solaris puts out between 8W and 12W depending on the output used.
The Solaris is extremely versatile and the number of inputs and outputs is very impressive to say the least. We’ll go into detail on both the in- and outputs in the lay-out section below but how many headphone amplifiers do you know that not only have single ended and a balanced output, but also one for electrostat headphones like Stax. According to Audiovalve, this is the one and only headphone amplifier on the market that is able to drive all standard headphone loads, starting from 3 Ohm up to 145k Ohm. This is a do-it-all amplifier, that’s for sure.
If you’re also looking for a DAC then there’s the option to add an integrated DAC to your Solaris. Our version does not have this option, but know it’s a possibility.
The tubes used inside the Solaris are ECL85 type tubes, and they are also known as 6F5P (Russian). I tried sourcing some of these in my local shops but they seem hard to find where I live. The ECL85 is purpose designed for frame generation in television receivers. The triode provides the oscillator and the pentode is optimized for pulse output operation into the magnetic load of the scanning coils. More info can be found here: http://www.r-type.org/exhib/aaa0427.htm
Several online tube shops do offer these Russian tubes however, and you can even buy spares from Audiovalve directly: https://www.audiovalve.info/presta2016/prestashop_188.8.131.52/prestashop/index.php?id_product=39&controller=product
These aren’t the most sexy looking power tubes but Audiovalve uses 8 of them (4 per channel) on the inside of the amp. With the Solaris design, the eight tubes are visible from the front and they give the amplifier a powerful and impressive look.
The review continues on the NEXT PAGE, click HERE