Conrad Mas, the guru of turntable design and creative force behind Avid HiFi emailed me about a year and a half ago to tell me about his new, “amazing” phono-preamplifier, the Pulsare. Normally, when manufacturers contact me about their new, best in the world gizmo, I’m very skeptical. But, this was Conrad Mas, the creator of a line of superior turntables from England, with a track record of excellence. So, when he enthused so rapturously about this new product I took it seriously, but as any reviewer worth his salt with a good dose of skepticism.
My analogue rig is composed of Avid’s Volvere turntable with SME IV arm and a Shelter 7000 cartridge. I’m using the very fine Aqvox Phono 2 Ci Mk ii phono preamplifier as my reference.
My schedule now allowed me to investigate the Pulsare. I contacted the very cordial Besflores Nievera Jr. at Music Direct and he immediately sent me one for review.
The Pulsare is comprised of twin matching chassis — one contains a large, double regulated, 300va power supply and the other the electronics. The two are connected with the provided umbilical cord about 1m in length. The unit runs fully balanced internally and the front panel has rotary knobs that control input selection (RCA and XLR), Gain, Resistance and Capacitance. One may connect two turntables using the two different inputs. Though I prefer the XLR, the RCA comes very close in performance. Having all the controls on the faceplate gives the user great flexibility and any changes or adjustments can be made on the fly and immediately evaluated. This is a reviewer’s ( and user’s ) dream. Imagine doing this with a remote, from your listening chair. Am I getting lazy? I wonder if Mas is thinking about a remote controlled product for the future?
The aesthetic appears to take its cue from the turntable design and matches it reasonably well. The faceplates are robust and the casework is solid. I have seen heavier gauge casework used in ultra expensive `hi-end’ products or those that machined a case from a solid billet of aluminum but at what additional cost. Perhaps Conrad could offer the PULSARE in finishes that match all off his turntables: an Acutus inspired version with its highly polished chrome look, a clear anodized aluminum look to match the Volvere, etc. Just a thought.
I burned in the Pulsare playing records for 150 hours. Early on in the burn-in period, I tried not to listen, but I was drawn in by a whole new level of musical excitement well before the 150 during burn-in was completed. It soon became impossible to ignore that I was hearing something special.
It was ready for some serious listening and I brought out at least a half dozen of my favorite records and the fun began. My current reference, the Aqvox is a fine performer with many virtues and at the time of my review, it retailed for about $2,000 USD. It performs well above its price point. The Pulsare retails for about $5,000USD. At two and a half times the original price of the AQVOX, how much better could it be? Well, when the first notes on the opening trumpets of ‘Capriccio Italien’ on Telarc exploded from my system, I knew. Yeah, it was worth it. It brought the experience of the living breathing performance into my listening space like never before. The sound was so three dimensional, detailed, penetrating, with front to back depth that I was completely enthralled. The notes hanging in space, fully developed with such natural decay, was a revelation. This was bringing my vinyl to a whole new level of joy.
It was immediately clear, the Pulsare excelled in bass reproduction. That’s not to say it didn’t excel in sound reproduction across the board to an equally stunning degree but the bass lays the foundation for the music. Without really good bass a system doesn’t cut it and bad, overblown, bass reproduction could cause problems by mudding up the mid-range. On Sheffield Labs, Direct to Disc, Dave Grusin’s Discovered Again has Ron Carter playing bass. The quality of the sound is quite extraordinary. The impact and fullness of the bass was visceral, as well as, definition with fingering clearly in evidence. The bass seemed more complete and did not impact the midrange in any negative way.
Voices were glorious and took another step towards reality. The increase in detail and nuance gave you a closer look at what the artist was trying to achieve bringing you a more intimate listening experience. Additionally, a greater sense of a human being, present and alive, was achieved by the Pulsare and every recorded voice had this three dimensional quality. Willie Nelson’s scraggily country voice on his album, Stardust, a half speed mastered CBS Mastersound recording, full of nostalgic classic songs, was so gritty and alive in my living room that I couldn’t stop listening and was truly amazed.
The Pulsare’s ability to separate and clarify orchestral complexities was another area where it performed outstandingly. Not only did the increase in resolution allow one to hear and identify the interplay between various orchestral sections more clearly but it did so without any strident etching or emphasis of the initial attack. Violin sections sounded like individual violins playing together, not some amorphous violin sound. I feel the greater clarity was accompanied by, and maybe due to, the envelope of air around instruments giving you greater separation and an increased perception of instrumental body. This greater separation not only manifested itself two dimensionally, but in greater soundstage depth as well as adding more ‘flesh to the bones’. Imaging was superb and instruments were full bodied with air aplenty. The increased clarity made the overall presentation more lifelike and rewarding because of your ability to now hear more of what the composer created and how well the orchestra performed it.
The units’ $5,000 price is not an outrageous sum, but it is substantial and to many it will be prohibitive. What you get is such outstanding performance that it challenges phonostages costing much more. As such, this unit will remain as my reference for some time to come. It’s not leaving my house. It gets me more involved with the music then ever before and brings me another step closer to the real thing. Thank you, Conrad Mas.
[We are proud to award the The Avid Pulsare Phono Preamplifier an Audiophilia Star Component Award. Congratulations! - Ed]
Amplifiers: 4-Hephaestus HMA-1000 Monoblocks
Speakers: Levy Acoustics
Preamplifier: Marantz SC-7S2
Phono Preamplifier: AQVOX 2 Ci Mk II.
CD source: Marantz SA-7S1
Analogue source: Avid Volvere/SME IV arm/ Cartridge: Shelter 7000
Speaker cables: Acoustic Zen’s Absolute, Wasatch’s Ultama
Power Cords: Kaplan GS Mk II and Acoustic Zen Absolute
Interconnects: Acoustic Zen’s Absolute, Antipodes Audio KOKIRI, KOMAKO and REFERENCE
Accessories: Herbie’s Audio Lab Tenderfeet, Soundcare products, Acme Audio Labs wall outlets
Power Conditioning: Kaplan power conditoner
Processor: DEQX HDP-3