Another instalment in the never-ending search for sound improvement
Welcoming a new addition to the LJC family: the custom built World Designs Pre 3 valve pre-amplifier
Evolution of a system
My music system has been built on Linn for over 25 years. What built Linn’s position in the branded hifi separates market is founder Ivor Teifenbrun’s conviction that everything in the signal path degrades the signal, the hierarchy of the sound chain starting with the turntable, and the destructive consequences of vibration on sound quality
Decades ago, when mainly Japanese consumer electronics were bristling with the illusion of control, offering the ability to customise sound to your preferences, Linn hi-fi offered no tone controls, no graphic equalizer displays, no inessential components, just one on/off switch. How could you improve on the original music with tone controls? Linn had to make sense. However in more recent years another battleground opened up. Customers began to demand more and more functionality and connectivity: multi-room, multi-media, multi interface. The result, a precarious balance between engineering and marketing, and a losing battle for audio performance. All that connectivity – HDMI, Ethernet, SPDIF, 5.1, IR, TOSLINK, OPTICAL may be essential to run a multimedia multi-room home entertainment hub but it does the music no favours.
Running a separate preamplifier and main power amplifier was also a well proven sound quality strategy compared with integrated amplifiers so the decision was made early on to follow that path with Linn equipment. And it also seemed to make sense at the time of building the system to partner the pre and main amplifier from the same manufacturer.
However, to support the new Dynavector TKR cartridge, bypassing the Linn preamplifier with a valve phono stage had paid handsome dividends . What now was the purpose the solid state pre-amplifier, apart from acting as a large and very expensive volume control? Might a minimalist valve preamplifier, replacing the solid state circuitry and redundant connectivity of Linn’s pre-amp, allow yet further improvement from valves?
People told me valves and solid state power amps wouldn’t work together. Lots of shaking of wise heads but a practical demonstration showed conventional wisdom to be not very wise. A loan valve pre-amp showed, to the contrary, a valve pre-amp gets on very well with a large solid state power amplifier. There was an immediate and significant step up in sound quality. All that expensive connectivity had been suffocating the signal. The idea of common manufacturer equipment “designed to work together”- turns out to be just another marketing myth.
So true to the original principle that less is more, the time came for LJC hi-fi consultant man-in-a-shed to design a custom component preamplifier based on the excellent World Design Pre3 kit.
What’s inside the box?
I am indebted to Man-in-a-Shed for the selection of many of the all important ingredients. These include:
Stepped attenuator using Takman metal film resistors and Elma 24 step stereo switch
Charcroft ‘Z’ foil resistors in the signal path
Audio Note copper in foil capacitors in the signal path
Audio Note resistors for the anode resistor of the valves
Elna Cerafines for the cathode bypass capacitors
Takman metal film for the cathode bypass resistors
Silver wire and silver solder
TJ full Music ECC82 valves
No, I didn’t understand any of it either. Apparently it has very few components, but of very high quality, which is why it sounds so much better than what it replaced, at a fifth of the cost.
Deep inside, its got components.
I’m told this is the really important component.The big round thing that looks like a giant gatling gun . Or may be it’s that copper hot water cylinder behind it. Or possibly that retro-looking glass thing. Oh dear, I don’t know my Rs from my Elnas
Another step towards the dark side – introducing further valves into the audio chain in place of solid state circuitry, though still dependent on the main four-channel Linn power amp, which I figure basically, “does as its told”. So now its a Gang of Three in charge of the early stages of amplification, closest to the precious signal.
The Linn Pre-amp was taking up a whole stage, which is freed up to take the three custom-build components.
That’s it. Phew. What a journey. What does it sound like? Need you ask? Still needs time to settle, components time to burn in, but in a word, jaw-dropping.
My thanks to Mathew Snell’s World Designs for skilful assembly, John Caswell for testing, and amplifier designer Andy Grove, and Man-in-a-Shed for sourcing extra-special ingredients. Me? I just do the listening.