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.
- 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:
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
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”
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.
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.
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.
My 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.