Holo Serene vs Denafrips Athena (anyone compared these preamps?)

Holo Serene vs Denafrips Athena (anyone compared these preamps?). They are in the same ballpark price, both look well made.
I am also interested in the Holo Serene preamp, as I have the May KTE DAC.  Except the one YouTube video review by GoldenSound, there just isn't much info available online yet.
Nonoise, as it relates to the first video, my initial experience with Athena is similar fronting a Benchmark Dac3-L into a Denafrips Hyperion.  Inserting Athena between the two is a mind bending experience.  Everything is better, bigger, sharper, more textured.  Lows have depth, separation, and allow easily followed focus on individual instrument timber’s that dac direct only hints at.  The highs go on forever yet are never aggressive.  Both low and highs just have this long lasting, see into, quality.  Everything, including vocals and backgrounds, are ust in its place such that when the music gets really busy it’s like a panorama of sounds, a bit psychedelic, in a good way.  With Athena in the loop, the Dac3 sounds as if a much, much better dac than when run direct.  Go figure as Athena shares many of the design considerations of the Wyred and Holo.  Whatever Athena is doing, it’s wickedly good fronting some Zu DW’s… 
" Here are two reviews on the Holo Serene that may help in making a decision:

I wouldn't put a lot of stock into either of those two reviews. 

As someone who owns the Serene, I'm just saying.
@jnds1 - so what is your take on the Serene if you disagree with the reviews?

I wouldn't put a lot of stock into either of those two reviews.

As someone who owns the Serene, I'm just saying.

@jnds As someone interested in either the Serene or Athena I'm very interested to hear what you didn't like about the Serene, where you felt the two reviews listed above were incorrect and whether your thoughts have changed with more playing time on the Serene. 

There doesn't seem to be a lot of feedback on either of these pre-amps yet. From Srajaen's reviews he seems to like a very fast, detailed "Swiss  sound" even at the expense of body, weight, organicness etc. For this reason he slightly prefers the Kinki pre-amp over the Athena. He also slightly preferred the W4S STP-SE 2 over the Athena, saying that the Athena was slightly less overtly detailed and fast but had more body.

I've not been able to hear any of these pre-amps yet but reading between the lines my hunch is that the Serene's character would be closer to the Kinki and that I may prefer the extra body of the Athena. I am coming from a fairly neutral, non-tubey sounding tube pre-amp that is single ended only. I'm looking to move to a fully balanced pre-amp (as the Holo Spring DACs are known to sound better from their balanced output and my power amp is supposedly more dynamic from its balanced input) and also to reduce the amount of gain in the system (the Athena is unity gain). 

Although my tube pre-amp does not sound "tubey" in the sense of being lush, euphonic etc, it does have a wonderful 3D, organic sound with great presence. I'm hoping not to lose these traits but to perhaps gain a lower noise floor with the attendant increase in detail and dynamics but not a cool, lean, analytical, super fast type sound or lacking drive and dynamics. 

For these reasons I currently feel that the Athena may best suit my preferences/goals and have not pursued a fully passive pre-amp/attenuator or the Benchmark LA4,  Topping Pre90 or W4S STP-SE. I've noted that some people purchasing these options have missed their tube pre-amps and returned to them.

Serene is almost transparent (as if you connected your DAC directly to your amplifier).

Suits if:
1. You have a good DAC
2. You do other stuff to improve the signal.

I use it with the Holo May L2 and upsample with HQPlayer + NAA.
Athena has become the ‘heart’ of my audio system.  Feeds a Hyperion and a Mystere PA11.  I’ve three or four sets of speakers I roll thru w/either amp.  It’s definitely a ‘quality’ piece of audio gear.  The other night, playing vinyl and using the Mystere feeding my ProAc 1sc, I came close to that ‘forever sound’.  Transparent, musical, open, deep, spacious.  The kind of session you don’t want to stop, as each slab of licorice made me wonder why I’d spent so much, time, effort, and money on digital playback.  And, I really enjoy digital!  Some of the recordings were just sublime.  That’s hard to do in digital, that feeling of really listening to something special, rare even.  It’s what makes the hobby so much fun, vs chasing snipes in the grass.  This thru a modest vinyl setup, nothing extraordinary, just well sorted.  I wish Athena had another rca input or two, but would be hesitant to give up the numerous balanced connections.  I wish the 4th, optimized balanced input, didn’t over ride, disable, the other inputs.  The things a beast.  The remote is as solid as the unit itself.  The matching power amps, if Hyperion is an indication, bring a powerful, richly textured, confident, smooth, deeply musical ‘body’ to both digital and vinyl playback.  Music has color and texture, deep tones, and rhythmic drive.  Not as see thru transparent as your SET, valve amps, but very good depth, a spacious warmth, tonal color and body that shows off good recordings but doesn’t shred your ears, ever.  It may take a bit of time for the Denafrips to show its best, it’s a seductress not a dazzler.  Built for the long run, it can rock, or unravel.  It may teach you what ‘breakin’ is all about, be patient.  When it all ‘opens up’, it is very, very, good.  It’s got its own sound and it is seductive, it doesn’t hit you over the head with the ‘hey look at me’, but it will thump you and get the bod a boppin.  Look forward to hearing how you set her up.  Good luck…

@regismc   Have you compared the Athena to the Serene or Kinki EX-P27 by any chance?

dkerr, sorry no.  In fact I just swapped Athena for her little sister Hestia.  Using both the balanced and rca outs to bi-amp my Pro-Ac 1sc, fed by the Rotel Tribute CD player.

Tried something a bit different, using Hyperion only on the ‘tweets’, and the 6CA7 Mystere PA11 off the 8ohm taps on the mods and am just floored by the big phat juicy soundstage I’m getting playing ‘a gift to pops’, the wonderful world of Louis Armstrong all stars.  Superb music and sound.

I got a pr. of Audio Envy’s newest speaker cables.  SP 11’s I think, so while breaking them in I’m ‘toying’ about.  The little Hyperion up high, the tubes down low is really open and super clear.  Richly textured, great piano, vocals and brass, huge sounding.  I suppose Athena would ‘open and separate’ even more, but this is ridiculus good sound from the little ProAcs. The Rel T9 may need some fine tuning but this is really filling up a big room.  The little Hestia sounds excellent.  Even works with the same remote.  Riveting.  Track down that cd, or stream it.  Good stuff.

I’m sure the May and Kinki r top notch.  Would love to hear both.  Athena is a beast and may outclass what any of my speakers are capable of.  The Denafrips preamps ‘don’t do gain’, but they do add body.  Perhaps more than the other two, but I get the sense that speaker matching will be critical.  I do think they pass what they r fed.  They don’t homogenize your music, they have their own gestalt.  I’ve yet to hear one of their dacs, or any ‘ladder’ dac for that matter.  

Just a note Re. AB test, May KTE DAC balanced vs. unbalanced output. All cables ultra-premium Clarity Cable including ca. $2500/pr "Natural" (DAC to preamp) balanced and unbalanced cables.

Preamp: Atma-Sphere fully balanced differential MP-3.3 current model with stock Chinese tubes (Hexfred rectifier) the best preamp I have had at home by huge margin (ca. 2 clear steps beyond my good DIY 5842 tube preamp with Magnequest output transformers which outperformed a good commercial 300B preamp and good commercial 6SN7 preamp.)

MP-3.3 unbalanced output > Pass designed 140W AB stereo amp > AudioKinesis Gina main speaker parallel wired with discrete high-impedance Space Generator reverberant field speakers. Two kilowatt sub amps in Dr. David Greisinger’s phase quad tuning > four AK Tall Subs in distributed array.  Large, symmetrical lightly treated moderately lively room.

Both balanced and unbalanced output of the May KTE simultaneously drove two MP-3.3 inputs, allowing instant switching. I estimate the balanced connection ca. 20% better. In this specific application it was no contest, balanced was absolutely better throughout, esp. quieter, blacker silence, more explosive, natural, etc.

Someone borrows my regular balanced input mono blocks: $5200/pr Atma-Sphere new patented class D GaN which outperform my backup amp by huge margin. I must presume my regular amps would magnify the difference in my AB test.

Prior to hearing MP-3.3 I discounted the cost to performance ratio for balanced connections; no more!

MP-3.3 user manual states input is more sensitivie to cable quality than its output. I generally suffer very little noise/RF problems.

I have a horribly moronic (potentially) question, but would I be able to use an XLR to RCA dongle for the inputs? Like The Athena looks amazing but I run all single ended.


Also, I'd like to hear more of your thoughts on the Serene @jnds 

@smodtactical  it has a single set in and I’d need 2 sets (DAC and phono) but I guess I may get a balanced DAC in the future so it’s probably moot.


still curious about both of these preamps. What little I’ve read about each has been overwhelming positive.

@gochurchgo so you were thinking about running a phono premp through the Athena? I was thinking of doing the same but have been told that because the Athena has unity gain... I'll be making my life more difficult that it has to be. I dont clearly understand unity gain.  

@tmac1700  yes through the single ended. Since the Athena only has 1 set of RCA’s I upgraded my DAC to something balanced.

As for me, I listen at roughly 80-85db and that’s at 27 on the Athena’s dial (out of 60). My power amp has 31db of gain and my speakers are 99db efficient and I can rock the house.


as for what unity gain actually is, as I understand it the inputs and outputs have transformers that connect the voltage from the input (2v) to the output voltage (2v I think) and so listening under 60 on the dial means you’re cutting voltage rather than say tubes amps that push the input signal down so that I can add volume/gain though it’s own circuits and this influencing the sound. I may not be completely correct but that’s how I understand it.


as for the Athena, I love it. I can see how most won’t like the sound but I concur with 6moons review. It’s fast and very detailed but doesn’t flaunt it. 

If you live in AZ, DM me if you want to hear it. 👍🏼