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This review first appeared in the September 2012 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read it in its original Polish version here. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own articles, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity or Ear Stream. - Ed

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacula
CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air V-edition
Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC
Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory Shilabe & Kansui
Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III Signature with Regenerator power supply
Power amplifier: Soulution 710
Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom
Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic + Acoustic Revive custom speaker stand
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro 600Ω vintage, HifiMan HE6
Interconnects: CD/preamp Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, preamp/power amp Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo
Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx
Power cables (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
Power strip: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate
Stand: Base IV custom under all components
Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under CD player, Audio Revive RAF-48 platform under CD player and preamplifier, Pro Audio Bono PAB SE platform under Leben CS300 XS
Review component retail in Poland: zł5.900

"I am writing this as a fan of the portal and as a fledgling audio manufacturer. I have been interested in hifi basically from primary school when I assembled and ran my first electronic circuits including simple radios and acoustic amplifiers." Thus began an e-mail I found in my inbox last June. The author was Mr. Michał Wyroba who'd decided to turn his passion into a business. Converting a hobby into a profession is an amazing moment. For most manufacturers I know it’s a dream come true. And most of them started much like Mr. Wyroba, taking their first major steps in the world of DIY.

Michał made his first designs for personal use and shared his results with other DIY enthusiasts. The next step was to offer his products for sale. They were manufactured in very short runs housed in standard Hammond enclosures. In the words of Ear Stream’s owner, the intent was to sell the highest sound for the lowest money. He seemingly succeeded since after some time he felt like doing more. However the transition from DIY hobby to marketable product is a big jump which has caused many a potentially good business to go up in flames. One must assume that all DIY products are somewhat ‘working prototypes’ in that there are no two which look and sound exactly alike. Each one is individual and unique. What’s an advantage in DIY becomes unthinkable and flawed in the world of marketable store-sold hifi. The objective still can be to sell the best product for the least amount of money but now there are other aspects that need to be taken into consideration too: operational safety, manufacturing consistency, customer service, attractive industrial design, advertising, ongoing R&D and more, not to mention account for additional costs like dealer/distributor margins.

It seems that at least for now Ear Stream will bypass the latter. Michał has opted for the direct sales model, calculating the final sell price of his products to contain only his own profit margins. What will come of it I have no idea. Each of the two basic sales models of direct and distribution has its own advantages and disadvantages.

When I arranged to meet Mr. Wyroba I did not know any of that. I only knew him from his e-mail. But I saw potential I hoped to explore. We agreed therefore that he would bring me his Sonic Pearl headphone amplifier and interconnect to leash up to my CD player. I expected a lot but already when I saw the amp in my hand I knew immediately that it had landed. It was a fantastically well-crafted device with a really interesting design. There’s little in general to take liberties with in headphone amplifier design. It’s basically a volume knob, headphone jack and possibly some switches and indicators in a box. However the Sonic Pearl is more than just another minor variant of this well-known scheme.

First I need to mention its solid and very lovely casing manufactured from thick aluminium panels. For review I settled on the white version as the hit color of the last two seasons but I saw the black version too and really liked it. The front features the expected volume knob but in an unusual shape with a large level indicator resembling an oversized LED. On either side are the headphone port and a tiny red LED. That’s it. The whole is rounded off with nice lettering including the company logo. The amplifier is completely manufactured in Poland. When you get a chance to see it, you will understand my excitement. As it turned out, this creation was a group collaboration. Mr. Tomasz Szafarczyk of Mill-Tech Pro, Śleszowice 253, 34-210 Zembrzyce was responsible for the artistic design and enclosure made on multi-purpose CNC machines. The Ear Stream logo and Sonic Pearl screen prints, cable labels and website are the work of Mr. Dominik Szrama. As it turns out, another of his customers is headphone specialist White Bird Amplifications whose Virtus-01 amplifier I reviewed earlier. Electronic circuit design and final assembly of the Sonic Pearl as well as Ear Stream cable terminations are handled by Mr. Michał Wyroba.

The Sonic Pearl is not only a headphone amp but also preamplifier. It has only one input and one buffered output. The latter disconnects when headphones plug into their socket. The amplifier can be ordered in white with anthracite feet/lettering and an amber or red LED; charcoal with gold lettering and blue LED; with the pre-out auto-switching or constantly active; and preout gain equal to (default) or less than the 14dB headphone gain, the latter only with disconnect preouts.