by Anthony Kershaw
Collaboration between Ron Sutherland (of Sutherland Engineering — maker of very expensive and beautiful looking high end amps and preamps) and Chad Kassem (proprietor of Acoustic Sounds, Bluelight studios and other high end ventures) has produced the AcousTech PH-1 Stereophonic Phono Preamplifier. It was born from a desire to produce the exquisite sound capable from the highest end in phono amps, housed in an inexpensive package, with the capability to satisfy the fastidious tastes and inquisitive nature present in most lovers of analogue.
The sturdy, well-made box weighs in at 20lbs, measuring a substantial 18 1/4″ wide x 2 1/2″ high x 12 3/4″ deep. The paperwork notes:’ There are jumpers located inside the unit so that you can adjust for a gain of 61.5 db for any low output cartridges and a gain of 42 db for any high output cartridges. The R loading may also be adjusted for 47 K ohms or 100 ohms. If you have a unique R loading, there is an option that costs US$10.00 for any other type of R loading that you may need. The C loading can also be adjusted for 10,000 pF or 220 pF.’ Making a change to these settings is straightforward and documented in the paperwork — the inside layout is very organized, giving the most ham fisted a clear path to load changes. As such, the AcousTech can be set to adapt to the most esoteric of cartridges. For the review, I used a low output Benz Glider moving coil cartridge and Rega’s new Super Elys moving magnet. Both seemed very comfortable with the PH-1 as partner.
My favourite sounds came via the venerable Glider, but Rega’s newest cartridge did the moving magnet crowd proud — Rega seems to have eliminated the little fizziness that betrayed the basic Elys’ upper octave. For serious listening, I tried just about everything — classical and jazz, stadium rock, piano, vocals, vocals, and more vocals. The unit handled everything without constraint.
Some very fine reissues were used to test the waters and see if the PH-1 would stand the test of time. Nothing in this audiophile world of ours is more disappointing than a piece briefly loved outstaying its welcome in a short period of time - ‘…sell the thing, and as soon as possible!’. The fickle nature of our group should be assuaged with such a piece in the vinyl chain. It exhibited a neutral sound; no sonic signature unique to its design emerged. The tonal quality of each recording was axiomatic and this cleared the way for even the most complex passages on fine recordings to emerge unscathed.
Decca treasures such as Varese played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta (Speakers Corner ADEC 6550) highlighted the excellent dynamic nature of the AcousTech. Arcana, a seminal work, receives a benchmark performance and the changes in dynamics from whisper-like to lightning strike were conveyed easily. No sluggishness in transient attack or decay degraded the effect this magnificent document has on listeners. Power, power and more power was taken in stride. The Super Elys did a great job on the loudest outbursts but was outshone by the Glider in its ability to add a gilded cage around the quietest of moments. Truly beautiful stuff, here.
Janis Ian’s great work, Breaking Silence (Analogue Productions AAPP 027), in its equally great reissue, was also impressive. The sound of nylon guitar strings in accompaniment were detailed and this sound nearly matched the gorgeous tone the Mullard tube replicated in the phono stage of the Audio Research SP 9 Mk. III. Ian’s wonderfully expressive instrument was there to behold - in turn heartbreaking, joyous, and ultimately uplifting. Not much more you can ask for from a circuit board, really.
I used an older album to hear how the AcousTech handled (and detailed) groove noise and distortion. Well, it seems. The wonderful John Bingham recording of Schubert Songs, arranged for piano by Liszt demonstrated the PH-1’s ability to precisely place a solo instrument - the Meridian recording (E77019) is particularly helpful in this regard. The cartridges, in harmony with the phono stage, kept the unwanted groove noise well away from the melodic line but allowed this listener to hear clearly the inner groove distortion (well earned, I might add, after many, many plays).
The PH-1 offers excellent true-life timbre and adds a healthy dose of solid construction and reliability (not a hiccup for nearly two months in my system — the unit is set to be powered up at all times). It did enhance the listening experience with an ultra quiet background and dynamics from very soft to very loud with little or no distortion to the soundstage or imaging. With the variability in vinyl quality in most collections, this is a real advantage. Yet, some of you folks may want your hair mussed a little and would like to live on the wild side of neutral. For those folks, you’ll look elsewhere, and probably through a phalanx of tubes. For audiophiles looking for a good audio partnership with no foreseeable for sale signs, I encourage you to hear a PH-1 in your system. It may just be the soul mate to your treasured vinyl collection.
The AcousTech PH-1 Stereophonic Phono Preamplifier
Manufactured by AcousTech Electronics
Acoustic Sounds, Inc. P.O. Box 1905 1000 W. Elm Street Salina, KS, 67401-1905
phone: 1-888-9 A N A L O G , fax:1-785-825-0156
Source of review sample: Canadian Distributor