Dedicated valve pre-amp nirvana

WD-2000-custom-stage

Valve based phono-stage amplifier custom-built to partner the Te Kaitora Rua Dynavector moving coil cartridge. Design and custom component specification by Man-in-a-Shed, assembled by Matthew Snell of World Designs, testing and tuning by John Caswell, audio engineer extraordinaire.

Upgrades

  • Extra-smoothing capacitors – Charcroft Z-foil and Jensen copper-in-oil
  • Soniqs silver-plated stranded copper signal cable
  • JJ ECC83S Valves
  • Front-mounted mono micro-switch
  • Power on-off LEDs

Under the bonnet:

Your Amp

(Search me, I don’t know what they are or what they do.)41jFLg4ARHL

ECC83S – selected for lowest noise and lowest microphonics

An Amazon reviewer wrote of the JJ  ECC83S something that really opened my eyes to what makes these valves something special – “In my opinion these are made the way they have always been made” . So that’s put you on the inside track.

Amplifier and power supply integration with existing staging

WD-amp-and-power-transformer

Always the tricky bit – adding two units to the existing staging, whilst maintaining ease of use with acceptable visual result.  Power supply slipped into the stage below next to the turntable power supply, and the pre-amplifier itself tucked in beside the turntable, with its  front-mounted mono switch falling easily under the left hand whilst cueing in the record with the right. Both components are mounted on three Russ Andrews oak cones to reduce any microphonic case vibration.

Functionality is good, everything to hand, even with the lights down low. Mrs LJC has already given her usual encouraging opinion on the aesthetics: “I don’t like it”

WD-staging-configuration-1800-2

Complete system in situ, makes maximum use of limited space, on Atacama eco staging. I don’t think it looks that bad, if you like hi fi. Puts me in mind of a story told by British northern club comedian Les Dawson.  After working a tough working mens club audience, the young Dawson turned to the club manager after the show and asked what he thought of his act. The dour manager thought a moment.  It’s alright. If you like laughing.

HiFi2013plusPhostage

LJC verdict on the sound

Though Linn amplification is pretty superior, the moving coil stage in the Akurate Kontrol pre-amplifier  is inevitably built to a price, standardised for compatibility to a wide range of inputs, and ultimately, digital. Its handling of the output from the Dynavector TKR was initially impressive but ultimately harsh and constricting. A dedicated valve-based phono stage amplifier has no such constraining effects, though at a price.

Despite needing a hundred or so hours to burn in, first listen simply brings tears to the eyes. The silky smooth dynamics of the TKR opened up like a flower to the sun. As the valves warmed up, each spin of a record – what else would you choose as your first test? Columbia six-eye stereo Kind of Blue.

MilesDavis-KindofBlue-cover-1600 The sound stage is liberated from the speakers, musicians in the room with extraordinary presence. Open and natural, effortlessly follow the music, immersing you in the composition and the moment of spontaneous creation of the music. Coltrane and Adderley as you have never heard them, Davis teasing precious plaintive notes from the horn.

Bass steps forward as a musical instrument  rather than a supporting sound effect, while the presentation of the percussion is totally, for lack of another word, awesome. All the colourings of the different drums and cymbals, the kick of the stick and swish of the brushes emerge clear and present, while the piano has never sounded more, umm,  piano-like, percussive ivory clinking with rumbling dark inner resonances.

The superior control of the bass pushes forward the mid and upper register, and as a result all the instruments of the quintet integrate much better, like they belong together, cohesive, organically whole, the real Miles Davis Quintet. As listener, you become the invisible sixth member of the quintet.

Flipping to slightly “lesser” titles and pressings throws up more surprises. Some Japanese pressings I thought previously rather dull – Victor Japan Dolphy at the Five Spot Volumes 1 and 2, really shine and get a much deserved push forward to the prize-giving stage. Not everything sounds wonderful. Some ropey Bud Powell 1949-51 recordings on Verve (the recording, not the playing!) still sounded ropey, if perhaps less ropey. A dedicated valve phono stage can not work miracles, but it certainly has pushed the whole emotional impact of the music up several levels to never-before experienced heights.

There is no doubt in my mind that valves do something that solid state digital electronics don’t. Some people claim valves makes the sound pleasantly “warm” – not my experience. Natural, open, silky, maybe, but nothing to do with the hot and cold tap, . Worse, they say vinyl/analogue sounds “warm” compared to CD. Vinyl is more engaging, draws you to listen, a closer emotional connection, more musical, anything but “warm”: look in the wrong place and you won’t find the right ideas.

I am assured that, apparently, it’s going to get better over the next hundred hours. I can’t wait. The upgrade has kept LJC busy so blogging has been a little slow. Its tougher than ever to choose between listening and writing.

LJC-superbMy thanks to the dedicated engineers and designers who, unlike me, know what they are doing, and have done it so extraordinarily well. And the evil-eye on courier City Link who did everything wrong, almost  preventing the install-date from happening. It’s always the weakest link. But it all came out right in the end. And that’s the thing with hi fi. Just when you think things can’t get any better, they do.

LJC

smileyvault-jumpy

13 thoughts on “Dedicated valve pre-amp nirvana

    • Thanks for the suggestions. (The Ion product says it is discontinued) The PC and Stereo are one floor and 50 metres apart. I am working on the idea though, using an old laptop. I would dearly like to ditch the Numark though the bundled software easily converts and integrates the rip into iTunes for management on the PC. Pity it is such a rubbish piece of kit.

  1. I’ve no idea what this thing that has LJC wetting himself with pleasure, but my news is that I have just had my ears syringed and now I can actually hear records and believe they’d sound pretty damned good played on anything, but on my modest hi fi they sound terrific — this morning, Anthony Braxton, Ornette, Cecil Taylor and Mingus, amongst others. (I know, some of you are saying: why bother having your ears cleaned.)

    Well, to me it is like new ears — a huge step up from new valves….

    • Aah Alun, the old insert string in one ear, draw carefully out through the other ear, then tilt head gently from side to side, flossing for a few minutes.
      Particularly beneficial before sitting down to advanced harmonics in free jazz.

  2. If you are using a Dynavector TKR, did you not consider trying a Dynavector P75 Mk3, especially designed to get the best out of Dynavector cartridges? From the XX11Mk2 upwards it can be used in “Dr T(ominari – DV’s late cartridge designed) mode – absolutely sensational and only bettered by the P300 phono stage in Dynavector’s L300 pre-amp

    • Hi, its a fair question Mikey, but I was interested in a different route, introducing the dynamics of a valve-based phono stage into an otherwise solid state system.

      I am sure the P-75 sounds great, but then so does my WD custom. Absolutely sensational even, and that’s before I upgrade to Telefunken valves everyone is telling me I should have gone for. (Later, later! Hehehe)

      I’m not saying I’ve made the right choice, that’s not to say the P-75 is better or not as good, I have no way of knowing, but I am very pleased with the effect of tube, and its still early days.

      (The other consideration is whether any model of phono-stage fits on my staging. May be it shouldn’t be an issue, but “if it no fit, it no good”)

  3. Yes, pull the JJs and replace with Telefunkens. This is not audiophile golden ear territory stuff.
    You WILL hear the difference!

  4. Wow! The Envy Rating is definitely off the chart on this one. What an amazing piece of gear!

    I have been investigating switching to all-tube preamp recently, but have become hung up on the need for a step-up transformer to accomodate low-output MC cartridges.

    The problem seems far more complicated than I initially expected:

    http://www.vinylengine.com/step-ups-and-mc-cartridges.shtml

    As for JJ Tubes, I agree whole-heartedly. I currently have the same ECC83S for the output stage in my ProJect Tube Box SE II as well as 4 JJ KT77s in my power amp (an excellent alternative to EL34s). Unfortunately, JJ does not yet make 6SN7s so I am using NOS RCAs for drivers.

    I am also lucky enough to live near one of their largest distributors, Eurotubes, who are extremely passionate about the JJ products and have always gone the extra mile assisting me with matching and biasing.

  5. I can see that they used naked” Z-FOIL RESISTOR. Same as my Cornet 2. Welcome to the world of Tube Audio. Wait until you plug in some Longplate Telefunken ECC83’s. I can’t live without them.

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