Page 3 – Phantasy Tech
Phantasy or should I say PHAntasy is the current TOTL offering from PHATlabs. Why the capital PHA, well it stands for Portable Headphone Amp of course, although we will debate that a little later on. While sassy is a hybrid and not a class A one at that, Phantasy brings together all of the PHAT principles that we started off this review with. For a start it is well and truly a tube amp, not an ounce of a transistor to be seen. Considering portable amps that feature tubes in some way or another aren’t the newest thing around, being a solely battery powered pure tube amp is something else. In fact the only other one I know of in existence is Woo Audio’s just released WA8! This really is a crazy design.
Like Sassy this also uses a pair of single ended triodes but opts for a different model. For Phantasy we have the directly heated triode that is the JAN6286, still pretty miniature at about 4cm long. I should add that because both types of Raytheon tubes used in the two PHAT models are made for military use and are driven by a smart filament bias they will last for years, even if they are not user replaceable/rollable. The design of the amp gets really crazy when you realise it uses a transformer coupled output stage! Simply for extra current there is a buffer in-between the tubes and transformers but this is still an insane feat. The transformer is not there just for the sake of being one of a kind either, they actually said it took more designing than the tube stage, as it could potentially limit the rest of the circuitry if not up to scratch. Not only did they need effective transformers at a smaller size and weight, but in opposed to traditional SET stereo amps, they needed to be capable of much higher impedance’s than what is the norm in speakers, 4, 8 & 16 ohms. To do this they decided on a nickel core, and also had a range of secondary windings than a traditional single winding.
Like the PHAT namesake, all circuitry is running in Class A. Quite fortunately even with tubes and being class A I never found this to get particularly hot, the same goes for Sassy!
Lastly I want to add that I am a really big fan of the choice to integrate a battery cell that is capable to be charged as simply as your mobile phone. While this is not hugely unknown for portable amps, no others require as much power as this. You have not idea how frustrating it is finding the special charger cables for amps such as Bakoon’s HPA-01M and VicJohn Audio’s HAV5. It also holds battery for roughly 8 hours, off a 4 hour charge.
At a whopping 750g and made of a solid aluminium brick this is by far the biggest portable amp I am yet to own. It begs the question should it not be called a transportable headphone amplifier, I mean Phantasy and Thantasy would be better I think. Seriously though this is not portable in the sense you listen while moving, unless you are seated in a car and train and count that for being mobile. Its funny because pictures don’t quite do the scale justice. I had seen fancy pictures of it, promo pictures of it and even pictures of it being held but the first time me and Josh laid eyes on it at the Munich High End Show we just said….woah, this thing is a beast.
It looks stunning as well although if you didn’t read the text on top you would have not the faintest of clues this was a tube based product because unlike Sassy it has no viewing windows, which you can take as a positive or negative. It has angles that may find their way onto a toned down Astell & Kern DAP, which gives it flare over a simple rectangle box and the combination of brushed aluminium and tight construction make this a perfectly built amp.
Of course though we still have microphonics. While aware of the problem it is evident, PHATlabs have made at attempts at solving this problem as much as possible. Talking about the vacuum tubes they say…
“They are well damped on the PCB and the whole enclosure provides solid chassis to isolate them from external vibration that causes microphonics.”
They are even soldered down to minimise this as much a possible but the bitter truth is that they exist. On start up, on inserting a headphone and even when pressing the metal Z switch. This only solidifies what I have said already about this amp and that is you’re not running around while listening to it. Find a nice spot wherever, settle it in position, plug everything in, then you will listen, uninterrupted by the potential whines the inclusion of tubes can make. Once settled, it is dead quiet!
I do have to take one last bit of time to talk about the magically stable volume pot. The knob feel you may or may not like. The grippy surface of it moves with little persuasion and is oh so smooth in movement. I have always been a sucker for those mechanical stepped pots but still find it hard not to have soft spot for this phantasy!
Lets Finish off by Putting Phantasy in Action!