Allnic Audio H-7000 Phono Stage

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No sooner had the review been posted on Audiophilia of the splendid Allnic Audio H-1202 Phono Stage ($3750) when distributor David Beetles called to ask if I wanted to review Allnic’s $14,999 H-7000, the upgraded model of Allnic’s H-3000, all transformer-coupled, LCR phono stage.

Yes! Please.

After reviewing the H-1202 and ZL-5000 Power Cable, I was utterly convinced of designer Kang Su Park’s prowess and looked forward to a deep dive into his upscale analogue device.

Setup and my use

Although the H-7000 has the Allnic Audio product profile with wonderful tube chimneys, slick transformer casings, moving coil step-up transformers with Permalloy cores, and smart casework (but here thicker and more substantial), this is where the aesthetic similarities end. The H-7000 is a two chassis beast—a beefy power supply with a 5U4GB rectifier tube and the main chassis with four E810F tubes in triode mode (used for gain stages, left and right channels), two 7233 tubes (as voltage regulators) and two 5654 tubes, also used as voltage regulators.

The H-7000 measures 430mm x 350mm x 173mm (W x D x H) and the Power Supply 170mm x 275mm x 118mm (W x D x H). Weight is 15.7 kg for the main chassis and 8.1 kg for its power supply.

The H-7000’s substantial power supply ships with a 5U4GB rectifier tube.

The H-7000’s substantial power supply ships with a 5U4GB rectifier tube.

The units were delivered in one large box, professionally packed so no tube damage occurred on the long journey across the Pacific from Korea to the island. The main chassis tubes arrived installed and ready to power up but the power supply’s rectifier tube came boxed, housed within the power supply chassis. A quick unscrew of the power supply’s top plate with the supplied Allen key and you’re ready for a quick tube insert, screw down and power up. As with all new tube components, treat the tube carefully, gingerly, even. Gloves, too. No greasy fingerprints on the virgin glass. With rectifier tube in place, I set both units down, the main chassis on the top of one rack, the power supply with umbilical on the neighbouring rack. A suggestion was made to separate the units a little with lots of ventilation for both. Done.

The H-7000 rear panel has the following ins and outs:

Inputs:

Moving Coil (MC) × two (2) pairs unbalanced (RCA)
Moving Magnet (MM) x two (2) pairs unbalanced (RCA)

Ground: One (1) x screw type terminal

Outputs:
One (1) pair x unbalanced (RCA)
One (1) pair x balanced (XLR)

I connected to MC1 input (with my Rega RP10’s tethered Couple2 gold plated interconnects) and to the RCA outs (with my long-serving Antipodes Reference Interconnects—$2500 for a 1 meter pair). I used the standard IEC power cord that shipped with the unit. I will be swapping cords to an Allnic ZL-3000 Power Cable ($1400) when I receive some different tubes from the mainland for some fun tube rolling. I’ll post a follow up.

The rear of the unit is very well laid out.

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Next, power up for an hour to check all is working. Later, set knobs on both step up transformers to x26, my particular sweet spot. Impedance is controlled by a selector on the chassis with four settings—20, 30, 47 and 75kΩ. I set it originally to 30 then finally to 20 as the best match for my Phasemation PP-2000 MC Phono Pickup Cartridge ($6000).

Then, power up again and play records quietly for a couple of hours—I use an old Karl Bohm/Berliner Philharmoniker/Decca/Bruckner 4 as a perfect break-in LP with a 35 minute Side 1. I didn’t cheat and take a listen. I was assured that Park had cooked the unit about 15 hours. I played Bruckner for a couple of days to ease it along. Serious auditioning began with a total of 30 hours on the tubes and electronics.

FYI, a glimpse into an Audiophilia specific day (no practicing, fluting, conducting. consulting or teaching):

9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Audio research—web,  magazines, YouTube, etc (turn on tube phonostage; turn on turntable)

10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Writing/Editing

That’s lunch (food, phone calls, email, watching MSNBC and yelling at the TV!)

2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Equipment review listening (focus on one component per two hour session)

Makes for a fun, musical day. With only a little ‘Executive Time’!

As such, the H-7000 always had the morning to warm up before serious auditioning. My tube mantra after many years owning Audio Research gear is for at least an hour to warm up. Twenty minutes for the tubes to stabilize, and 40 minutes more because of my audiophilia. Not forgetting, the same for turntable platter rotation. Do you have any audiophile idiosyncrasies? Comment below, please.

Looks stunning in black, too.  The front panel has a large rotary knob to select MC x2 or MM x2, two backlit metres which asses tube health, a mute and a phase button. Power on is via the power supply.

Looks stunning in black, too.

The front panel has a large rotary knob to select MC x2 or MM x2, two backlit metres which asses tube health, a mute and a phase button. Power on is via the power supply.

Features

  • Non negative feedback design with only two active gain stages.

  • For superior signal to noise ratio, the H-7000 is equipped with pure vacuum tube, high speed, automatic voltage regulation circuit for both channels and a power supply unit separate from the phono stage itself.

  • Pure balanced operation; Pure class A operation

Specifications

Frequency (RIAA): 20Hz ~ 20KHz (±0.5db) 30Hz ~ 15kHz (±0.3dB)

Voltage Gains:
MM +40db (1KHz)
MC1 and MC2 +62, +66, +68, +72db (1Khz)

Input Impedance:
MC up to 75kΩ
MM 47kΩ

Maximum Input Voltage:
(MM, non-clipping): 20Hz / 10mV 100Hz / 50mV 1KHz / 220mV 10KHz / 690mV

THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): Less than 0.3% (1KHz, Output 1V)

Output Impedance: 200Ω (Constant)

S/N Ratio: -85db (CCIR, 1KHz)

Power Consumption: 80W – 110/120 / 60Hz

Loading/Gain

The Allnic manual says:

On the top of each channel’s MC transformer there is a rotating control. Turn the control knob to select from four gain factors: +22dB, +26dB, +28dB and +32dB. So, combined with the H-7000V’s 40dB native gain, for MC there is 62dB, 66dB, 68dB and 72dB of gain available.

Each of the second set of indicators on the top of the transformers (eg x13) only marks the impedance tied to the gain setting diagonal to it. The impedance and gain relationships are not user adjustable. Use identical settings for both transformers to avoid channel imbalance.

I highlighted the most important information. As such, cartridge loading has four settings and multiple user impedance adjustments that can be had via the impedance / resistor knob located by the chassis mounted SUTs. With some research and fun trial and error, I think every vinylphile will find a sweet spot for even the lowest power and finickiest moving coil cartridges. As I mentioned, my final Shangri-La was 20kΩ.

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For the record, I contacted Allnic. Below is the correct information regarding transformer gain/loading sent from on high.

According to KS Park, designer:

×13, ×20, ×26 and ×40, equate to 29Ω, 69Ω, 117Ω and 278Ω impedances.

LCR

After I had completed the H-1202 review, a local audiophile asked the distributor if he could borrow the unit for an in home audition (he later purchased the unit). A pleasant fellow, he wanted to tell me all about his system and his fondness for LCR phono stages much like the 7000 and their special qualities. LCR? "‘What’s that?’, I said to myself, while nodding like I knew what he was talking about!

Well, he was right about what a well designed LCR circuit adds to the performance of a phono stage. KS Park explains it this way:

Contrary to the traditional CR or NFB equalization of high impedance (hundred kilo ohms), LCR uses 600 ohms’ constant impedance, a big difference on frequency range and energetic operation.

Two pieces of a linear reactor (a kind of choke coil) comprise the main part of these filters, assisted by precise CR filters, in order to lower impedances and insertion loss. In vacuum tube circuits, active and passive filters usually are operated on one hundred plus kilo ohms of impedance. An LCR RIAA filter's impedance is a constant 600 ohms. Furthermore, an LCR RIAA filter's series resistance is less than 13 ohms (as a comparative, some famous ones are 31 ohms). The lower the impedance, the more dynamic is the sound reproduction, with better bass response and speed.

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Sound

The sound profile of the 7000 was quite easy to judge on my system. I’ve lived with a few equipment upgrades over the past couple of years and they’ve made a huge difference in the quality of sound. Because of the highly revealing system, reviewing two recent high quality phono stages and two superb DACs were also fairly easy to judge.

The macro differences between the previous phono stages in for review and the H-7000 were obvious almost immediately. The 7000 throws a huge soundstage, wide and deep, more akin to Allnic’s family resembling H-1202 than my solid state Sutherland Engineering Duo Phono Preamplifier. Dynamics are of the slam dunk variety. But, even more impressive—and what many listeners mistake as dynamics—are the myriad of subtle marks of expression that never escape its remarkably musical clutches. The lightest accent, a feather touch of pianissimo, forte pianos that sound as such and most definitely not sforzandos, musicians that move like quicksilver at the flick of a baton, and diminuendos and crescendos that have maximum musical impact. 

Imaging from this precision musical instrument is strikingly accurate. It’s always a source of wonder as one realizes just how much audio designers of merit and ingenuity wring out of vinyl grooves.

Backgrounds were inky, LP surfaces were very quiet, and the noise floor was subterranean. These qualities allowed me to hear incredibly layered soundstages beginning in the back of a hall right up to the proscenium. Do you remember hp’s Absolute Sound description of hearing individual LA Phil bass players in Saturn from Mehta’s Decca/LA The Planets? I think the gear was Conrad-Johnson and Genesis. Well, here you go with Jeff Rowland, Alta Audio and Allnic Audio. Island style! 

Bass is impactful and emanates from solid instruments—no boom or bloat. And very low. When listening to the H-1202 I heard bass rumblings heretofore unheard, specifically on Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Argo recordings (especially ZRG 845) from St. John’s Smith Square, London, a diamond of a hall for performing and recording. These rumblings were heard even more clearly on the H-7000. What the hell is that? We’re not in Kingsway—there’s no tube underground (the H-7000 is so good with bass the regular Kingsway Hall rumble loses its novelty very quickly). I’ve played umpteen concerts in St. Johns—it’s in a ‘close’, but still adjacent to the busy, Thames-following A3212, with a traffic light on the corner and close to Parliament. The random rumbles are idling heavy goods vans that populate the road morning, noon and night. It’s so low, I doubt the Argo (Decca) engineers realized it was there. Quite amazing. Nothing escapes.

The performance of many famous vinyl reissues highlighted both the kudos and criticisms of these releases. With lesser equipment, the hot cuts (a major criticism) of these albums sound wonderful, all dynamism and fizz. But those critics and audiophiles with access to the very best analogue gear often tell of the tizz not fizz when compared to originals. 

Thinking deeply about the violins’ brightness and congestion on some of my reissues, I checked the anti skate on my RB2000 arm. S’alright. I asked distributor Beetles for some guidance and he suggested switching the impedance setting to 20kΩ, dropping it down from 30. Much better. I could still tell the reissue from original, but the fiddle heat was less. 

Thinking on purely musical terms, listening to the H-7000 is akin to playing or conducting in a very fine hall like those in Vienna and Amsterdam. Everything is balanced and instrumental (not interpretive) nuances that you worked like a dog to achieve in crap halls like Toronto or London (take your pick of the three duffers) have a naturalness about them that bring smiles to musicians’ faces. It’s here where musicians can begin to work on a cohesive, collaborative interpretation. In my role as audio reviewer, the Allnic Audio H-7000 makes life much easier. No musical stone is left unturned. 

A few aural highlights during long listening hours—a magical halo of light around the muted violins at the beginning of Symphonie Fantastique (Decca/Argenta/Paris Conservatoire Orchestra); other equipment only hints at Berlioz’ Reveries; the tactile delicacy of Tom Jobim’s guitar and Claus Ogerman’s instrumentation on every track of Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim (Reprise Records), with Frank sounding exquisite (‘…quiet walks by quiet streams’); the pressure release of air from Celia Nicklin’s cor anglais as she rises in a slow scale in the aforementioned ZRG 845 during Copland’s Quiet City; the Gamelan inspired percussion on Reiner’s RCA Shaded Dog Iberia by Debussy (the many subtle details I’d not heard before on this much loved album were astonishing)—these, and a thousand other examples, made my daily listening a gloriously musical and educational event.

Conclusion

As it sits, the H-7000 Phono Stage is the most musical and brilliant analogue device I’ve reviewed in my system. It’s also among the most expensive at a dollar short of 15Gs. That said, there are phono stages that cost double that and more. I really liked the two phono stages I reviewed recently ($3750 and $4000), but the H-7000 is a significant advance on both. To be sure, with either, you’re getting superb playback with many of the qualities vinylphiles covet, but if you have the money and you want to take vinyl reproduction to a rarefied level, the H-7000 can fly you there. Once you hear what a superb, advanced design, analogue instrument can do for your vinyl, it’s difficult to take a step back. Very highly recommended.

Further information: Allnic Audio