by Roy Harris
During 2009, I received the Jaton Operetta 250 watt class A amp for review, which weighed close to 100 pounds. While reviewing the amp, I was informed that they were introducing changes to the amp , and that a “revised” version would be available sometime during 2010.
Recently, I received an e-mail from the company, inquiring as to my interest in reviewing the revised Operetta amp and companion preamp, the RC 2000P. Recalling the experience of toting a heavy component, while carrying it carefully over wires and other objects in my listening room, I decided not to review the amp. Curiosity got the better of me and I consented to review the solid state preamp.
My decision to review the preamp (retail price of $1300), was partly based upon the value of getting out of my comfort zone, as most of the electronics I have previously reviewed have contained at least one tube.
While I have owned solid state preamps, including products from Rowland, Klyne, Musatex, Levinson and Classe, I have not auditioned a solid state preamp in my own stereo system for over 15 years. I own tube preamps and a passive preamp, respectively.
The opportunity to review a solid state preamp presented a challenge. I intended to be open minded and apply my approach of reporting what I heard, unhindered by personal preference.
Wima capacitors are in the signal path. They are also used as output capacitors , while Mundorf capacitors were used in the power supply section, powered by a toroidal power supply. National Semi Conductor transistors were used but were not in the signal path.
The op-amps were also made by National Semi Conductor. On the board, Fiarchild model KA 7805, KA 7905 and National Semi Conductor regulators were present, serving either as power or DC voltage regulation. A digital volume control with remote, included Alps resistors. Copper wire was used between the volume control and the high level inputs.
I placed a CD player on “repeat” for two weeks prior to evaluating the preamp.
Close-miked female voice provides an opportunity to investigate upper midrange/lower treble frequency response. Often, solid state gear exhibits imbalances in frequency response in the aforementioned region.
I selected my favorite CD for this purpose, namely, Holly Cole, DON’T SMOKE IN BED, Alert ZZ 81020, track 1. Sibilance was audible. It was not subjectively annoying. I have experienced greater and less emphasis upon “s” consonants using other preamps. Some tube preamps create a veil which masks sibilance, while others exaggerate it. I have heard both effects, but neither were typical with the RC 2000P. In absence of attending the recording session for this performance, I cannot attest to the extent of inaccuracy of reproduction. I say this because all components are inaccurate. The salient consideration is the capability of tolerating aspects of a recording which may be experienced as unpleasant. In this case,the preamp did not render any aspect of Holly Cole’s voice unpleasant.
The acoustic bass sounded full-bodied with a reasonable balance between articulation of the strings and resonance of the wood body.
Another stereo-typical aspect of solid state components is their ability to present a wide sound stage and to create separation between instruments. The Classe DR-6 comes to mind in this respect. I remember , as an owner, that the DR-6 presented a wide lateral soundstage and was adept at separating instruments.
A CD which is a useful tool for testing staging and separation is SLOW MOTION, Hip Pocket HD 105, track 2. A percussion instrument, probably a wood block, seemed to emanate further behind the left speaker and with greater separation from other instruments than I experienced with other preamps. In addition there was more mid bass presence than experienced with other preamps.
A surprise occurred when listening to Sophie Yates, solo harpsichordist play a Scarlatti sonata, taken from the CD FANDANGO, Chandos 0635, track 1. The attack and release of the strings was somewhat understated, reminiscent of some tube preamps. In addition, less surprising was the slight lack of presence of the wood body of the instrument, which in my recollection was more present when listening to some tube preamps. Overall, in spite of a possible dip in the lower midrange, the sound of the harpsichord was pleasant.
Another attribute of solid state components, which I believe is entrenched in the minds of audiophiles is the capability of such equipment to be more resolving than tube gear. There are many CDs which will serve as suitable sources to examine such a hypothesis.
Musically and sonically, Offenbach’s “Gaite Parisienne” is sufficient for this purpose. I chose Arthur Fiedler’s interpretation recorded on the JVC label (JVCXR 0224), track 1. The sections of the orchestra were more cleanly delineated using the RC200P than heard through several tube preamps and a passive preamp. There was no significant change in dynamics or smoothness I observed, in comparison to other preamps. The wood block and triangle displayed their typical separation, while the triangle was less timbrally inaccurate without having an etched quality.
A review would not be complete without including Steely Dan AJA, “Deacon Blues”, MCAD-37214. I noticed a change in balance, in that, the kick drum and acoustic bass had greater emphasis than I recall using other preamps.
Yet, at the same time, there was greater vocal clarity. It would seem that the frequency response was more balanced than I heard using other preamps. The tenor sax sounded more realistic—timbrally speaking. The sound of the tenor was more balanced with respect to the lowest and highest registers.
Summary and Further Thoughts
The RC 2000P does not sound like a tube preamp. However, many of the attributes that Audiophiles find objectionable, are hardly noticeable. As I have stated many times, no component is perfect and that applies to the RC2000P, as well. I noticed a slight dip in the lower midrange and a tendency, typical of many solid state products, to sound aggressive when listening at levels exceeding 84 db. I did not notice any peak in the upper midrange/lower treble, nor experience a situation which detracted from the enjoyment of any musical selection.
In general, my listening range was within 70 to 82 db. I find sound pressure exceeding 70 db, sufficiently loud, and when spl exceeds 84 db , it’s too loud. Obviously, loudness is perceived subjectively, as there is no objective definition of the term, only a measurement of sound pressure level.
The preamp is sensitive to cabling—power cords and interconnect cable. As far as solid state preamps I have owned, or auditioned in the context of other stereo systems, the RC2000P was the smoothest and least annoying of the lot. It was the most pleasant of the sample of those which I have owned in the past, given the other components in my current stereo system.
Considering the fact that many modern tube preamps don’t sound like “tube” products, the RC2000P, gives tube preamps serious competition.
CD Player: Oppo 83 SE
Preamp: ACL Innovation Bent TVC passive
Amplifiers: VTL Deluxe 120
Speaker: Magnepan 1.6, Quad 57
Interconnect: Cryoset Vampire copper wire with Cardas gold connectors
Speaker Cable: Ear to Ear
AC Cords: Soundstring, Ear to Ear, Clarity Audio, Distech, Pangea Cable
Power Conditioning: PS Audio Noise Harvesters,PS Audio Juice Bar, Chang, Iso 6400, Nirvana Audio isolation transformer, IDOS, Bob Young line filter
Anti Resonant Devices: Room Tunes, Corner Tunes, egg crate mattresses, Sound Fusion Sound Boosters, cocobolo wood blocks , Enacom Filters, Millenium weight, lead weight
The Jaton RC 2000P Preamplifier
Source: Manufacturer loan