R&R. No, not M&Ms. Renner and Ryback. If you are a headphone connoisseur, surely you will have heard of these two gents. You haven’t? Well then, here is a quick dive into history and just why these two clever Austrians are forever tied to headphones, ehem, ear speakers. You see, the story begins around 1989, when AKG, Akustische und Kino-Geräte [Acoustic and cinema systems] launched the most unusual looking headphones, the now famous K1000. Costing more than any other pair of headphones at the time, necessitating a dedicated loudspeaker amplifier (you connected them via the supplied speaker cables that attached to the amp’s binding posts), you quickly realized these are no ordinary headphones. Indeed, if I am not mistaken, the K1000 was the first headphone to coin the term “ear speaker” for its application more closely mimicked that of near field loudspeakers than traditional over the ear headphones. Responsible for this completely new concept of having a pair of adjustable drivers, angled at your preferred position, were, as you might have guess by now, Heinz Renner and Helmut Ryback, then senior engineers at AKG in Vienna, Austria.
The ear speakers became an overnight success and the rest as they say is history. Still sought out even today, thirty plus years following their launch, says something about the impact these ‘cans had on the market place. Of course, no one, not even Renner and Ryback, could have foreseen the tremendous growth in personal electronics taking shape in the decades following the K1000’s launch. Today, the personal electronics, headphone driven market has walloped to a several billion dollar a year industry and in real terms, the then outrageous cost factor of the K1000 seems almost mundane by today’s standards. Indeed, one can easily argue that the $2000 to $5000 dollar headphone market place has become quite crowded and nearly everyone wants a piece of that pie. Who can blame them? A little more than a few years ago, long having left AKG to launch other successful audio ventures, Helmut and Heinz started thinking about resetting their now classic standard bearer K1000, built with the latest technological advances and manufacturing capabilities aided by the latest acoustic sciences and computer aided design. Practically overnight, the decision was made to launch a new company and with it, their newest and latest engineering marvel, the Mysphere 3 ear speaker, still built in Vienna, Austria. Bonus? Vienna was my hometown and young-gun place of domicile, so there is always a natural affinity for anything homegrown.
Almost across the southern border, in nearby Serbia, Miki Trosic, founder of Auris Audio, has been quite busy tinkering and building out his company’s product portfolio. Having started with just a couple of pre- and power amplifiers a few years ago, Auris Audio now produces a wide range of products including loudspeakers, all engineered and lovingly built by hand in Serbia. To see a company like Auris thrive in this former communist satellite state, then known as Yugoslavia, is almost unbelievable and since both my parents hail from Belgrade, I get personal satisfaction in witnessing this once rich, intellectual and fertile nation (Tesla!) slowly inching itself back up from under the rubbles so to speak. Kudos to Miki and his team for not abandoning their place of home and steadfastly pressing along, creating some genuinely special products built to the highest standards. A large part of Auris Audio’s ensemble of products are their bespoke, high-end headphone amplifiers which now consist of no less than four different models, ranging in price from around $1700 to $6000. Euterpe, the Greek muse of music, enters the market with a bang, built around an all-in-one, finely tuned and sculpted integrated headphone amplifier. DAC? Check. DSD? Check. High-res PCM? Check. USB? Check. Tubes? Check. Smartly, nay, cunningly, it also can act as a single line level preamp and features selectable high/low impedance switching.
Design wise, Mysphere 3 and Auris Euterpe couldn’t be more of a polar opposite. Mysphere 3 leads with a form follows function design, a definite progression, if far more advanced, of the theme the thirty year old K1000 first pioneered. Modern stylistic elements, clean lines, stainless steel and aluminum with a uniquely tekk-y design, yield ear speakers, nay, headphones, that are sure to spark a conversation or three. Take Andy for example, who’s name has been changed to protect the guilty. “Hey, what are these things?” He quipped as he sat down to listen to some new records whilst on a recent visit to chez K. “Ear speakers these are”, I fired back. “Eh?” Picture a dazzled, otherwise healthy audiophile, my friend seemed to not know what I was speaking of. Well, you can’t blame the lad. Sort of. Mysphere 3 are definitely space-y looking, the very clean, lean lines of the headband and by comparison, small-ish looking and angled drivers provoke a certain sense of I-have-never-seen-anything-like-it sort of moment for the uninitiated. Then, as his eyes gazed a bit to the left of my coffee table, the next shock and awe struck: clearly the goddess of music, Euterpe, looked the part: sculpted, real wood panels embrace the metalwork of the tube amplifier, with a definitive retro styled look and theme. Frankly, these two Ying and Yangs couldn’t be more polar opposite in their design language. Yet, one needs the other to bring out the best of each kind. Axiomatic though it seems, both of these products thrive within their own technological confines.
Now I am not a typical headphone guru. Far from it, headphones really have never been my goto music library joy wheel. Then again, there are moments in time where headphones are in fact all I can really enjoy, especially this past year during Covid, when my better half and I were working side by side so to speak. A WebEx meeting here, a Zoom school session there (for her), it simply proved a bit much trying to run my Wilson XVXs during day break coffee sessions, what with 7th grade kids being exposed to Andrew Hill, Yello or Ravel. So to the Mysphere / Euterpe combo I went quite often. My rooned up music library was leashed via WiFi 6 to my iPad Pro, which in turn went straight to Euterpe’s USB input via my trusted Nordost connection. Voila, immediate access to my 3155 digital albums on deck, about 12TB of which reside natively as copies on my Qnap 8 bay NAS. Fine. Function, control and selection of Euterpe is about as easy-peasy as its gets. The volume control acting as the unit’s on/off switch, provides quick and immediate feedback and short of waiting a moment or two for the tubes to warm up, incidentally, two of the Ei-PL95 and one ECC81 input tube, you are pretty much ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Unlike typical over the ear headphones, Mysphere 3 requires slightly more setup tuning: first, you level the drivers at ear height; next you play with the driver’s angle to or away from your ears, which adjusts the stereo “image” size from more in your head to more outside your head. What is particularly unique about these ‘cans is the completely unique way of how the traditional headband functions. It doesn’t. Well, not in a traditional sense. You see, Mysphere conducted longterm research on headphone comfort and fit and came to the realization that many headphones put entirely too much pressure around the temple area of your head, resulting in fatigue and downright discomfort when headphones are worn for too long a time period. Add generally bulky (and often rather heavy) over the ear driver cups and you can quite easily feel the immediate difference in comfort and wearability. I could. A quick dash to my office to pick up a pair of Audeze LCD-3 and EL-8 titanium, two of my reference legacy headphones that have been with me for several years, immediately and quite dramatically revealed the superior comfort of Mysphere 3, especially so with the more than typical bulk and heft LCD-3. Though by no means uncomfortable - mind you, I am especially sensitive to anything squeezing my temples and head - I have used LCD-3 and EL-8 for many years to great enjoyment and longterm listening sessions.
Meanwhile, Euterpe’s XMOS USB / ESS Sabre DAC acting as official olympic translators produces a distinctly familiar, immediately welcoming sound, rich in tone, scaling nicely wide and open across the frequency spectrum. Where Mysphere is distinctly next-gen looking, Euterpe dazzles with old-school charm and build quality. To boot, when you use Euterpe as your headphone stand (with Mysphere), the artistic design choices become ever more stark. Retro cool. Avant-chique. Neo-classic. Uber-cool. As today’s kids, nay, I’m an adult, would say. Euterpe’s ease of use is exemplary, retro plug-n-play. Remember when computer audio started and USB was the “thing”? Leashed to your computer or tablet, the volume knob turns the unit on/off; an impedance selector switch allows fine tuning to suit your ‘cans. High for greater than 150 Ohm, low for 32-80 Ohm. Check. While I didn’t have any use for the pre-amp functionality of Euterpe, it’s there and works as expected. Minimalists rejoice. Have amp and loudspeakers, will listen. I could easily seeing this as the go-to selling factor that clinches the deal for the apartment dweller, office HiFi nerd or den seeker. Kill two roaches with one Euterpe. Given the care and thought of supplying NOS “Yugoslavia” tubes, you can generally expect quality over quantity. Certainly that was my expectation and Euterpe didn’t disappoint in the least. Clear, tonally rich; dynamic, powerful and revealing; authentic, I jotted down on my iPad’s notes app whilst listening to the first notes of Lorde’s The Louvre. Her follow-up album (a third one is on the way!), exalts the same style of thoughtful super-pop as I have begun to call these acts like Lorde. Andy Stott’s distinctly ambient Luxury Problems offers up another insight into this combo’s strength. Sticking with the electronic theme, I cued up Massive Attack’s penultimate record, 100th Window. Butterly Caught, a 7+ minute spectacle of exceptionally well produced sounds, sparkles with shine, authority and gobs of spatiality. Playing around with Mysphere’s ear pod angles, I quickly discovered the just right space and was rewarded with a genuine outside your head experience not typically associated with headphones, generally my biggest quibble with headphones.
Moving to the acoustic side of the recorded spectrum, I pointed Roon to Fausto Mesolella’s Madama Terra, specifically, La principessa. Here again, Euterpe and Mysphere offered up the full monty of tonal richness, delicate resolution and substantive instrumental authenticity. Fausto’s guitar is rendered in the highest recording quality: you hear every nuance of his masterful playmanship, it’s as though his guitar is rendered in glorious HDR 4K, picking up on all subtleties and cues akin to your favorite reference quality image render. Flim & the BB’s Tricycle, an old school audiophile favorite, long before my time, is full of reference quality recordings. I came to it by way of a Wilson Audio video, where Dave Wilson referenced a few tracks during a setup procedure. Sam’s Samba, a full blown tour de force, shows off Euterpe’s amplification chops, particularly when you get to around the minute and twenty mark, where Bill Berg’s drum solo erupts with force, slam and stunning dynamic realism. As the solo transitions to Flim’s (Jimmy Johnson) 5-string bass, nothing seems lost: from the punch of the percussion to the rip on the 5-string, Euterpe holds the Mysphere drivers in check, offering up genuine speed and resolution all the while nuancing each of the notes Flim riffs across his 5-string.
Quibbles I detected none. It’s been more than a year, likely closer to two, that I’ve now had this combo and I have yet to run into any sort of issues, Euterpe, Mysphere or otherwise. Engineering choices build quality products and here both are definitely super high quality. As I said before, quality trumps quantity any day of the week. Considering that Euterpe and Mysphere set you back around $5k US, your expectations are naturally on the high side. I don’t know that you could build a HiFi rig - even with used components - that would rival this combo’s sound quality. Particularly on the speaker and amp side you’d quickly run into trouble. I have certainly not heard a speaker/amp combo in this price range that could equal Euterpe / Mysphere. When you then consider that this combo is portable, will sound the same regardless of your room and is genuine bona fide high-end, it’s a win-win situation. Individually, these are terrific values - naturally, from a high-end perspective - in combination, these rock and roll. Highly recommended, A+++!!!
Mysphere - https://mysphere.at
Auris Audio - https://www.aurisaudio.shop
Auris Audio Euterpe $1,699
Mysphere 3.2 € 3,400
Tidal playlist for review - Link