Schiit Freya+ Preamplifier $949 Review

May 19, 2022 § Leave a comment

Eventually, as my reviewing interests expanded, I realized that I must get a proper preamplifier in order to easily and efficiently compare two or more similar devices by using different lines in and just switching the lines on a remote. I first tried using a passive preamp with more than one input; they were touted as clean and transparent, generally do not require external power, and are much less expensive in general than active ones. But alas, I was not satisfied. I began to notice at audio shows and at other audiophile homes where active preamps were widely used, they offered a sound quality my system lacked; something more satisfying beyond just clean and transparent. I could not put my finger on what exactly was lacking, but I decided to hunt about for a proper preamp (and one with many inputs, not just two). My choice was the PS Audio BHK Signature ($6000)—with a tube front end. It remains my reference preamplifier. And I learned what had been missing: more body, textures, openness, separation of instruments, and warmth in varying degrees; additions that yielded a considerably more musical presentation. I have also heard solid state preamps that hit these marks in varying degrees, so, I am not concluding here that tubes are always necessary/best. But, as some say, a preamplifier is the heart of a fine audio system; I became and still am a believer in that

Wells Audio Commander Level II Preamplifier $9000 Review

May 13, 2022 § Leave a comment

The Commander Level II at this price point is not short on competition, but the only competition I can think of is more expensive than the Commander Level II. Specifically, the Mola Mola Makua and the now discontinued MC1100 are the only preamps that I can think of that I would compare performance wise to the Commander Level II. Both of these preamps are at least 25% more expensive, but they do offer different value propositions that may make their additional cost justifiable, depending on your personal priorities. For example, both of these preamps are end to end balanced designs, and the Mola Mola offers an incredible control experience.

Ultimately, if you are looking for a tube-based linestage, made with state-of-the-art technology, that is completely customizable during the build process, then as far as I know the Commander is in a club of one. It is truly enjoyable to listen to, and will serve as the Command and Control module of your stereo system for many years to come. Thank you, Jeff and the Wells Audio team, for allowing me to review the Commander Level II.

D’Agostino Relentless Preamp Preamplifier Review

April 30, 2022 § Leave a comment

‘From there, I couldn’t resist trying it in a preamplifier circuit. The Momentum Preamplifier was the first one to benefit from this FET input stage, becoming the Momentum HD in the process [HFN Apr ’20]. However, I knew we could achieve more starting with a blank slate and additional real estate to fully exploit the benefits of our FET concept.’

So will we see this FET circuit exploited in other line stage applications? ‘Certainly’, declares Dan, ‘we’ve already inserted an additional FET stage between the DAC output and the Relentless Preamplifier circuitry in our forthcoming Streaming Module’.

Dan’s outboard Phono Preamp (‘I haven’t had time to think of another name yet’, he admits) will be the next component in the Relentless series, powered off the back of the Preamplifier. RIAA equalisation will be all-passive, sandwiched between two ‘Relentless’ FET stages and offering a total +70dB gain. ‘It’ll be MC only’, says Dan. ‘And more to come?’, I ask. Dan pauses.

Audio Note UK M1 Phono preamp & Empress Silver parallel single-ended triode monoblocks Review

April 29, 2022 § Leave a comment

I have fielded e-mails from audiophiles asking me about which power amp to get and I can’t answer that except to say that if you listen to a lot of rock and pop the Empress is more exciting to listen to than comparable Quest 300Bs in my experience. If you want that lusher, softer, valve-like presentation you may want the 300B or even Audio Note Paladin 45 output tube, which I like but is limited to just 2 watts per channel.

With the M1 warmed up and ears now used to the sound of its presentation, I was impressed by the preamp’s low noise floor and its ability to get along with not only the Empress Silver monoblocks but also my KingKo KA101 Pro EL84 integrated (used as a power amp) and, perhaps most surprisingly, my Wyred 4 Sound mAmp monoblocks. This is important because a good preamp gives the listener a choice of power amps. A lot of audiophiles on forums own speakers that are “borderline” in terms of efficiency and sensitivity. Yes, a low-powered SET amp will drive an 87dB sensitive speaker rated at 4 ohms but the amplifier won’t want to play AC/DC or large-scale classical music. When you want to play and be truly beguiled by Eva Cassidy, then the Empress will give you that added bit of magic 

AVM INSPIRATION CS 2.3 Compact Streaming CD Receiver

April 24, 2022 § Leave a comment

This appears to be her most ambitious and creative album thus far. For a while I thought Roon Radio was choosing all kinds of music for me after track 1—‘Wuthering Heights’, which begins with an exotic religious sounding sean-nós style in which you can vividly hear the natural echos of the church venue, but, I was wrong. It was Salvant each time on the same album—as if changing costumes. A singular talent. Just as a world-class actress can play any role, Salvant can sing any style. And she composed most of the album tracks herself. The track, ‘I lost My Mind’, with electronic voice, is reminiscent of Kraftwerk, and it contains some deep, shaking church organ as well. The musicians backing her up (bass, banjo, flute, piano, percussion, guitar), creativity, and recording quality are truly outstanding. The CS 2.3 displayed all with aplomb.

  Audio Note UK M1 Phono preamp & Empress Silver parallel single-ended triode monoblocks Review $3,394 Review

April 19, 2022 § Leave a comment

The more costly Audio Note M3 preamp and models above it use two stepped attenuators, one for each channel, and they have the most solid feel of all. The in-house-made Audio Note stepped attenuators are superb but they require more user attention to ensure setting both channels to the same volume level. And because they are stepped, they can become somewhat noisy if dust gets onto them when making volume adjustments. It does not affect sound quality mind you, but it will require some effort to keep the volume pots clean if you live in a dusty environment.

I had been using the M3 Phono as my reference preamp for a couple of years when I decided to upgrade to the M6. Audio Note largely builds to order with the higher-level items in their product range. With the pandemic, the wait time was to be around 5-6 months for the M6 Phono. My M3 was an older version that used twenty-three resistors while current versions use thirty-six steps. This, if you were wondering, is why I did not review the M3 as it is no longer a current model.

Simaudio Moon 740P Preamplifier and Moon 820S External Power Supply Review

April 11, 2022 § Leave a comment

Allnic Audio L-10000 OTL/OCL Preamplifier Review

April 8, 2022 § Leave a comment

The flute whistle tones (a very delicate effect and very quiet; it takes great skill from the player to get the tones steady and pitch centred) on The Constant Gardner soundtrack is a test I use frequently. The delicacy and overtones (the note is all overtones and harmonics) are equally difficult to unravel. No problems for the L-10000. By far, the clearest I’ve heard them. 

It goes without saying, the uptick in timbral accuracy as we go more expensive was profoundly beautiful. Allnic examples 2, 3 and 4 are all pretty spectacular at timbral beauty, the DHT, especially, but the accuracy played through the L-10000 was intoxicating. I could tell my intent on several recordings I’ve made over the years, even the to and fro between Bede Hanley’s fabulous oboe (Principal, Auckland Philharmonia) and my solo in Scheherezade. Any quality preamp will give you quality tone, but only the very best preamplifiers like the L-10000 place you in the hands of the performer. Here, their are no secrets, no fixing it in the mix, etc. If it’s on the original tape, you’ll be hearing it. 

MBL Noble Line N11/N15 Preamp & Monoblock Power Amps Review

March 27, 2022 § Leave a comment

Even with the woozy period production values of David Bowie’s Toy album, once thought to be mythical but now revealed as part of the Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001) boxset [Parlophone/ISO DBX 5], MBL’s Noble amplifiers deliver a sound of very fine clarity. They clearly reveal the singer’s vocals have less of Anthony Newley’s vaudevillian influence than the originals as he revisits the likes of ‘The London Boys’ and ‘Let Me Sleep Beside You’.

Similarly, the 2000 live set from the BBC Radio Theatre, also in this boxset, retains real spirit and vivacity, with both Bowie and his band on top form. Here the MBL N11/N15s drove the Wilson Alexx Vs with palpable confidence, revealing a sound of excellent presence and ambience across the eclectic set-list. It’s a thrilling, enveloping sound, with generosity and impact served up in equal measure.

Pass Laboratories XP-22 Line Pre & XP-27 Phono Pre Review

March 25, 2022 § Leave a comment

Regardless, the Pass Labs XP-27 didn’t magically transform this album into a live-in-the-studio recording. Much of the music on this album is the musical equivalent of CGI, yet they had no internet or computers when recording this album. The creativity dripped from the turntable as if it were a half-used candle. The gated reverb on the drums on “Intruder” and “Biko” passed through my body not because the bass frequencies were powerful and infinitely deep, as they shook my gut and the window frames in my listening room. But I mostly mean that they went through me emotionally, as the music on this album disregarded the laws of physics, and my music brain followed suit. Yes, the midrange of the XP-27 was scarily transparent. Even though I’ve been listening to this album all my adult life, I would still lean forward in an attempt to hear every nanosecond of, for example, the reverb trail of Gabriel’s voice on “Biko,” the last track on the LP.

For this album, Peter Gabriel instructed drummers Phil Collins and Jerry Marotta not to use their cymbals on their drum kits. This left space for the treble energy of other instruments. On this cymbal-free album, the XP-27 reproduced the highs as if they were magical, regardless of the instrument, voice, or sound effect it was reproducing.

The treble sounds from every instrument and voice would fill the enormous soundstage with sparkling, reflected sound waves that sonically resembled embers rising from a campfire – the paths of the individual embers presumably random but in actuality determined by air currents.

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