THIVAN LABS 211SE HPA Integrated
SINGLE-ENDED TRIODE TUBE HEADPHONE & SPEAKER AMPLIFIER
A Lyrical Tale of the Beauty and the Beast
Thivan Labs artfully combines a very distinctive and minimalist, highly functional and bold Bauhaus aesthetic with an unmistakable sonic identity … one that, with disarming honesty, infuses the “system equation” with a rich and lyrical narrative … a sonic narrative that is beguilingly poetic in cadence, such that the more you listen, the more lyrical the musical journey becomes !
THIVAN LABS SWAN 211 SE HPA Integrated
Thivan Labs 211 SE HPA Integrated
211 / VT4-C Integrated Headphone Amplifier
Output power to Headphones :
32 Ohms : 7.0W
50 Ohms : 4.5W
150 Ohms : 1.5W
300 Ohms : 750 mW
600 Ohms : 375 mW
Output power to Loudspeakers : 2x25W
Class of operation : SE (class A)
Tube complement :
2x 211, 1x 12AU7, 1x 6SN7, 2x 6V6
Inputs : 2x RCA , 1x XLR
Outputs / Headphones : 1x 1/4", 1x XLR
Outputs / Loudspeaker : 4,6,8,16 ohm
Input sensitivity : 0.6V rms
Input impedance : 100K
Frequency bandwidth : 15Hz-38KHz (-3dB)
Remote : No
The 211SE HPA Integrated is derived from Thivan Labs' Swan 211SE Integrated amplifier.
The Headphone Amplifier circuit is designed to allow the use of 2 headphones simultaneously, and is compatible with HP loads from 32 ohms to 600 ohms. Power output to Headphones ranges from 7.0W at 32 ohms to 375mW at 600 ohms.
Thivan’s power transformer is specifically manufactured to suit the Driver and Power stages. This solution has maximized the lyrical and smooth sound quality of the 211 tube, and has also resulted in better sound spectrum control, especially when it comes to bass response.
Thivan’s OPT transformers are all substantially up-rated, and as such, they are very large and heavy. Again here, as with the Power Supply circuit, the aim is to ensure delivery of this tube's power output capacity of 25w to your loudspeakers across the entire 20Hz – 20 kHz frequency range.
The components used are de facto of high quality and are guaranteed by Thivan Labs to ensure stable and reliable operation. The Thivan Labs gear Build and Construction Solidity falls into the "extreme" type arena, and this beast of a piece is no exception weighing in at 55kg ... 122 lbs !!
Two 6V6 tubes serve as grid current drivers, and a 12AU7 (ECC82) and 6SN7 share input duties. The balanced inputs are connected to internal unbalancing transformers.
Power consumption : 420VA
Size : 450×500x290mm
Weight : 55kg (122 lbs)
Hardwired Point-to-Point Circuit
... about the tubes ...
... "to roll or not to roll" ...
211 / VT4-C :
211 WE Series
211 HIFI Series
211 ACME Series
211 TII-MK2 Series
LINLAI / SHUGUANG
ELROG / KR
SHUGUANG NS Series
SHUGUANG STD Series
LINLAI GE/WE/HF/T2 Series
FULL MUSIC 211
What they say ...
Amré Ibrahim | June 2020
"As the name suggests, what we dealing with here is a single-ended amplifier with the famous 211 transmitter tubes. Thivan Labs sources these tubes from the Chinese tube manufacturer Psvane. The pair of power triodes are heated directly, and are driven by a pair of Electro-Harmonix 6V6 Beam-Power-Tetrodes. A 6SN7 and a 12AU7 double triode from General Electric also function as voltage amplifiers in the circuit design, which notably does not require any negative feedback.
Consistent with the company's sound philosophy, the “Golden Swan” is completely hard wired. The signal paths that travel via high-purity copper conductors are kept as short as possible. As is well known, the warranty claim is forfeited if you feel compelled to replace the factory equipped tubes with alternatives or equivalents from other manufacturers. But I have to admit that the temptation was too high for me not to replace the preamp and driver tubes with a few “goodies” from my stash.
And since the Swan 211SE Gold regulates the quiescent current independently, i.e. has an auto bias circuit , tube rolling is of course extremely tempting ... and ultimately unavoidable ...
... For example, I would have been tempted to replace the deservedly reputable Psvane 211 with the Elrog ER211. But, I had to admit that the amplifier sounds really good with the tubes provided by Thivan Labs anyway ... and acquiring a pair of Elrogs would no doubt leave a strange aftertaste after having given an almost 7000 euro amp a set of “upgrade tubes” with a relatively high price tag. Nevertheless, I know that I’m not to be trusted to apply common sense when it comes to tube rolling.
After all, I have consistently equipped all my amplifiers with cables that are not exactly cheap. Believe me, at the end of the day the Golden Swan sings more beautifully with good power and speaker cables, than it does with carelessly constructed “hardware store” wire strips. But I will come back to the sonic properties of the amp in a moment. When I asked Thivan Labs why they chose the tubes listed above, I was informed that the voltage-amplifying tubes were responsible for “good linearity” and that the drivers had “good impedance behavior” and were current-potent ... full stop, that was all.
Personally, I think the second part of Thivan’s answer is very cautious : Thivan Labs attach great importance to using tubes that are easily available on the market - a really wise decision when I think about the matched Siemens F2a new-old stock tube quartet that I once flirted with, and for which the owner wanted to see more money than the power amplifiers cost.
Since we are already talking about cost : For the Thivan Labs Swan 211SE Gold, the asking price is a surprisingly moderate 6500 euros. The circuit concept described above, which you get for this price, provides a remarkably good and musical 25 watts of power per channel – and in pure Class A operation it puts out two times 12 watts ! Further, this single-ended integrated amp offers two RCA Line and one XLR input.
The amplifier comes “dressed up” in a palisander-veneered wood cabinet, which owes a certain vintage character to its powder-coated steel plates, and comes in with a fighting weight of almost 55 kilograms ! Finally, one also gets carefully executed hand-work, point-to-point copper wiring with short signal paths, and a circuit without "component ballast". So, for this price range [ ... as well as for a few price classes above ], these features definitely deserve an emphatic exclamation point !
The EI core output transformers alone [ Thivan Labs develops and manufactures all transformers and chokes in-house ] weigh 11 kilograms per piece. The power supply includes an oversized toroidal transformer, an impressive choke, and American paper-in-oil capacitors.
A tubular steel cage, which ensures the legally required operational safety thanks to magnetic fastening, is also included, as is a “practical” volume remote control that nonetheless reliably fulfills its purpose.
Thivan didn't want to tell us more, and are quite aloof when it comes to details. All you get is that they attach great importance to emphasizing that a circuit should be as “simple” as possible in order to be convincing in terms of sound.
As mentioned earlier, the quiescent current of the 211 power tubes does not have to be set manually. An auto-bias circuit with a direct-current filament heater supply ensures that the cathode bias regulates itself.
To bring the Gold Swan up to operating temperature, you should allow it about half an hour to warm up. Thivan Labs, by the way, gives a break-in time of around 100 hours, but the amplifier also plays quite convincingly "out of the box" ...and makes it unmistakably clear that with its enormous dynamics, it is also completely unaffected in terms of performance when facing an impedance from Speakers such as the Boenicke W11 SE + ... this amp will be a loyal companion with a wide range of musical journeys.
The Swan not only drives the Swiss beast effortlessly, but Dmitri Shostakovitch's violin concertos No. 1 and 2 [performed by Vladimir Jurowski and the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia ] can be listened to at levels that are impossible to achieve with many single-ended circuits. The Swan not only conveys Alina Ibrahimova's incomparable violin-playing with its amazing impulses, but also, if necessary, does this with a good amount of punch and with an “always-physically-present” tone. I know from experience that almost all 211 tube circuits risk getting a "fat lip" with this piece of music, and I therefore was not expecting the Thivan 211 amp to serve up such a “carnally voluptuous” presentation. Normally I don't believe in the typical marketing phrases, but in this case I have to agree with Thivan when they describe this amp as being able to convey a “sensual experience”. The stage dimensions that the Swan creates are absolutely believable, and it also knows how to neatly separate the different orchestral sections.
It would be unfair to compare the Swan to the Kondo Overture PM-2 I [~$43K] or the SPEC RSA-M99 [~Euro 11K], and this given the very significant difference in price. Both are currently guests in my listening room. A comparison would likely end up in favor of these Japanese integrated amplifiers. Given their no- compromise “disective signal selectivity”, these two "uber-amps" simply set solitary standards ... but this they do at 5 times and 2 times the price of the Swan, respectively.
Nonetheless, I feel compelled to share that the longer I listened to
music with the Swan 211, the more the usual parameters with which we reviewers like to describe and evaluate audio products, "slowly but surely faded into obscurity". Although its strong dynamics undoubtedly leave a distinctive mark on the amplifier, this is never done at the expense of fine articulation. For instance, I wouldn't want to enter the sacred realm of Nick Drake's songwriting with some of the many other amps I've come across over the decades. But in this “realm”, the Thivan Labs amp has enough sensitivity to “vibrate” Tristan Frys on "Saturday Sun", the final track of the Drake Swan song album ... and to deftly and elegantly express the necessary “lightness of touch”, to navigate the important transients, and to reveal the disarmingly natural decay audible with Danny Thompson's unmistakable double bass ... Enough said !
Although this amplifier works well with many less efficient speakers, and has proven to have a pleasantly good symbiosis with the Boenicke W11 speakers, in practice it is more likely to be used with speakers that are in a similar, or proximate, price range. Benjamin Schmieding from
Bemax Audio kindly provided me with a pair of Living Voice Avatar IBX-R3s. These cost around 8,000 euros, and with their sensitivity of 94 decibels and their modest impedance, these LV Avatar speakers and the Swan immediately became excellent playmates.
On Kevin Scott's Avatar loudspeakers, the Swan initially obliges by fulfilling my wish for "proper" bass : Juicy, agile and round, which is how the low frequencies are portrayed by the Thivan Labs ... Tight enough to put Juan Atkins' analog kick drum in the electro classic “Clear“ in a wonderfully grooving light. And speaking of groove - when it comes to timing and musical flow, the Swan 211 leaves nothing to be desired : “Hallogallo”, the entry track of the KrautRocker Neu album, rhythmically catapults us onto a roller coaster of Klaus Dinger's driving drums and Michael Rother's bass playing ... an ecstatic experience of almost African tribal ritual dimensions.
Back to our interesting comparison :
I know that the Kondo didn't prioritize music genres like heavy metal when developing the Overture PM-2 i. The track "Would?" on the Alice In Chains brilliant grunge album "Dirt" is conveyed quite nicely by the Kondo PM-2i ... but does it make me want to “headbang”? ... Not really. The Swan, on the other hand, compels me to shake my nonexistent mane of hair when it powers-out Jerry Cantrell's guitar riff with full broadside force. If Mike Starr's bass then rolls threateningly towards you, and Sean Kinney's drum kit unfolds with all its force, you will come to the realization that you will not be missing much of the thrill of live festivals ... all sadly cancelled due to Covid.
Finally, with the Swan 211 “doing heavy metal”, you will also quickly realize that you have brought an amplifier into your listening room that is “seriously” capable of simulating big-time physical impact.
Yes, yes, and yes ... this amp is really fun !
Let’s come back to this amp’s price for a moment. Firstly, I don't know of any other amplifier in this price class where, in the truest sense, one literally gets almost 1 kilogram of iron for every 100 euros of price.
The Swan, simply put, is a Massive Beast ... one that sports in-house designed and produced “iron”, that offers carefully selected components, and that is carefully designed around a circuit philosophy that took countless hours to develop ... and, more importantly, to “voice”.
Most tube enthusiasts would have difficulty finding an equally virtuous alternative at this price. So, considering that :
The Swan can drive almost any loudspeaker
Has really universal talents when it comes to music reproduction
Always plays in an emotionally-involving manner
And never presents itself as cool or sterile, as do other circuits with 211 transmitter tubes that I have come to know
... then one has to acknowledge that what Thivan Labs offers here is almost unrivaled.
If I classify the Kondo and SPEC amplifiers in the “Arthouse with blockbuster properties” category, I now have to come up with an altogether new classification for the Thivan Labs Swan 211SE :
Introducing the “Blockbuster with a Thousand Facets” category !