Rhythm and Blues
Anthony Kershaw discovers the rhythmic and tonal secrets of Anthem's Pre 1P phono stage
The Canadian manufacturer, Sonic Frontiers, markets their Anthem product line as "the key to high end". Although considered the budget side of the company, a recent factory tour revealed that many of the same high quality parts and exacting production values of Sonic Frontiers' showcase gear are used in the Anthem equipment. Observation told us that a very satisfying system could be put together exclusively from Anthem's CD 1 CD changer, Pre 1P phono stage, Pre 1L line stage preamplifier and Amp 1 stereo power amplifier. There is also the Integrated 1 integrated amplifier if your choice is an electronically simpler route.
interviewed Sonic Frontiers' Vice President, Chris Johnson, he stated
that the company is market driven. His Anthem products' price and
quality go a long way in satisfying a section of the market that can
be volatile and quirky in its needs. The Anthem products and
philosophy proved intriguing, initiating us to request some of the
line for review [Look for Anthony Kershaw's review of the CD1 CD
changer in May. Ed]
In the box...
Installation of the tubes was a snap - even a solid-state of mind guy like me accomplished the task with nary a sweat bead in sight. A gentle push into the easily identifiable sockets and voila, you're smokin'! The Pre 1P's tube complement gives off a very gentle warmth, one that will allow rack placement if desired. Just leave the recommended four inches of space above for ventilation and you're set.
The front of the Pre 1P speaks of fine craftsmanship, sporting a large extruded aluminum faceplate (available in silver or black) with power button and LED. The rear panel also tells the same constructive tale. The IEC AC power cord is detachable, and all inputs and outputs are unbalanced on RCA connectors of the gold plated/Teflon variety. Completing the rear panel is a sturdy ground post.
The Pre 1P can accommodate most MC or MM cartridges, .4mV or greater. There is also optional cartridge loading for those who wish to tailor the input loading characteristics of their cartridge. The four stations on the circuit board will make simple work of soldering your particular capacitor or resistor requirement.
The circuit board is laid out simply to preserve signal integrity and employs high-quality parts such as Rel-Cap and ERO custom capacitors; Roderstein, IRC and Holco resistors are also used. Kimber Kable is the hookup wire of choice. The marketing literature makes special mention of the "accurate split of passive/active RIAA equalization to minimize alteration of musical timbre". Whether or not this is wholly accurate, I'm not sure. However, the Pre 1P did render orchestral instruments with uncanny truthfulness, maximizing the involvement of this listener. And with 48dB of gain, only the most insensitive of systems need not apply.
The noise floor was impressively low, a quality I admire in fine phono equipment. In this regard, the Pre 1P out-performed the phono stage of my Arcam Alpha Nine integrated amplifier. This was a good thing because, for all its magic, the Rega Planar 3/RB300 analogue front-end I used was more translucent than transparent. Also noted was the Pre 1P's inviting smoothness, characteristic of well-selected tubes. But after a while, I found the smoothness began to rob a little life from the music. This effect was very subtle and took time in affecting my listening sensibilities. Sadly, it left me wondering about long term ownership of the Pre 1P. I know audiophiles who crave this type of presentation, and if truth be told, it is singularly beautiful. However, I need a little more dynamism, and to find it, I had to return to the Arcam's inexpensive, but highly regarded, phono stage.
The cold month of February put me in a Tchaikovsky mood. The emotional feeling he musters can be intense. So, out came his symphonies, from the underrated No.1 (Winter Dreams) to the shattering No.6 (Pathetique), while not forgetting his greatest, the Manfred Symphony. The tonal balance of the Pre 1P helped considerably in smoothing out the vagaries of my Deutsche Gramophone pressings, especially the symphonies conducted by Herbert von Karajan and Claudio Abbado. When listening to these LPs through the Arcam's phono stage, I am attacked with constant glare. Happily, it was with this type of pressing that the Pre 1P's effulgent nature helped the most. The performances became involving and allowed me to experience the magnificence of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Usually, I try to ignore the DGG vinyl tone and make great efforts to hear (or imagine) Karajan's considerable interpretive powers.
Jazz made its way onto the platter regularly. One of my all-time favourite albums is Power of Three (Bluenote BTC 85133), a live set from Montreux (1986). It showcases Michel Petrucciani on piano and features Wayne Shorter on tenor sax and Jim Hall on guitar. The combined musical ability on this album is staggering. It has everything: great improvisation, power and subtlety, all captured on a fine recording. I have heard this record recently through phono stages by Classé, Audible Illusions, Joule Electra and Benz-Lukaschek. Most illustrated the great performances exceptionally well. The Pre 1P's presentation was admirable rather than exciting. The first track, Limbo, is splendid in its communicative power. The piano and guitar play as rhythm section while Shorter blows his original chart through the roof. His technique and breathy tone swung easily, but did not dance. Dynamism returned to Montreux with a quick switch to the Arcam.
Pre 1P Phono Stage
Manufactured by Sonic Frontiers Inc.
2790 Brighton Road, Oakville, Ontario, Canada, L6H 5T4
phone: (905) 829-3838, fax: (905) 829-3033,
e-mail:SFI@sonicfrontiers.com, web: http://www.sonicfrontiers.com
Source of review sample: Manufacturer loan
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