AOM Logo April 1998


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.

When Audiophilia 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]

Anthem Pre 1P Phono Stage

In the box...
The Pre 1P phono stage comes in a classy package. Even the box tape is embossed with the Anthem logo. Viewing the contents will give prospective purchasers a feeling of confidence that Anthem's tube gear will be around for the long haul (the equipment was problem-free during the lengthy review period). Inside the large box are two smaller boxes containing the tubes and sundry installation equipment. This quality of presentation should give the buyer a feeling of pride-of-ownership. The delights contained within include two 6922/6DJ8 and two 12AT7/ECC81 factory-selected dual triode tubes. Gloves are also provided, so not to soil the glass on installation. An industrial quality screwdriver completes the kit.

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.

Associated Components

Analogue: Rega Planar 3 turntable, RB300 tonearm, Benz-Micro Glider phono cartridge (.88mV)
Amplifiers: Arcam Alpha 9 Integrated, Aragon 2004 Mk.II
Loudspeakers: ProAc Tablette 50, Gallo Nucleus Solo
Cables: Audio quest Emerald, Transparent Audio MusicLink Plus, Monster Cable speaker wire.
Accessories: Black Diamond Racing cones, Townshend Seismic Sink, Ringmat Mk.II, Stylast

Sound...
Out of the box, the Pre 1P exhibited a warm and inviting sound, with a particularly good bottom end. I try not to pay close attention to the sound of a piece of equipment during break-in (seventy hours, please). However, with the volume pot turned fairly low, the Pre 1P's invitingly lush presentation was enticing. I began my serious listening with female vocals - for me, the acid test of timbral accuracy. Through the Pre 1P, the female voices were delivered to the ear quite well. My collection of the usual suspects - Joni, Carole, Bonnie and Joan - displayed all the emotion for which they are famous, leaving each of their distinct styles intact. I have found some phono stages homogenize the female voice, with the chest, nose, head and diaphragm portrayed as one large entity. In this case, the Pre 1P did not dissect each voice into equally transparent parts - simply, it went about its business, displaying the virtues of vinyl without a glimpse of the well-known detriments.

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.

Music...
Musically, the Pre 1P gave great pleasure. From Abendroth to Zender, the Anthem sang their praises beautifully. A wonderful example was Sir John Barbirolli's magnificent Sibelius Second Symphony (Chesky Records CR3). Glorious John, as he was known to British orchestral players, tugs gently at rhythms and caresses melodies like few others. Superb playing by the Royal Philharmonic and equally good engineering by Kenneth Wilkinson have been served well by the Chesky pressing. The grain-free sound of the Pre 1P let the music flow, allowing Sibelius' overwhelming climaxes their full effect. Even when playing at very loud volume, the phono stage never sounded strained or allowed its soundstage to collapse.

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.

Conclusions...
I spent a very enjoyable three months with the Anthem Pre 1P. Aside from the one tonal disagreement, it gave me great pleasure. It looks great and made many of my LPs sound wonderful. And when considering the quality of parts and construction, the price is very reasonable. Also, it is a safe bet to last you well into the next millennium. Try to compare the Pre 1P to other phono stages in the same price range and see if its tonal qualities are for you.


Anthem 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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