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Accustic Arts I Mk3 Preamplifier Review

Constantine Soo examines the $5,500 preamplifier.

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Accustic Arts I Mk3 Preamplifier

The Mk3 version of the German Accustic Arts’ Preamp I represents the highest level of design convergence ever from the company in functionality and performance; and yet it retails for only $5,500 in the U.S.

The Preamp I MK3 is an op-amp-based design, utilizing two of Burr Brown®’s more advanced chipsets, namely the OPA627 and OPA2107, further fortified by a magnetically-shielded and encapsulated 75VA toroidal transformer. Although quite midrange in pricing, this German wonder also features 3 pairs of XLR inputs and 2 pairs of RCA, with 2 pairs of XLR outputs and 1 pair of RCA. It even accommodates home theater application with a pair of SURROUND BYPASS RCA throughputs.

The company claims the circuit topology designed for this machine is fully-balanced and optimized to realize very short signal paths, and that the INPUT SELECTION knob incorporates premium quality relays and gold-plated silver contacts. Even the VOLUME potentiometer is encapsulated for shielding purpose. Add a dandy VOLUME remote control to it, plus the fact that the type of chassis chosen for housing all these amenities is beautifully classy and of full metal, then this fascia begins to accrue worth. And we haven’t even considered its performance aspects yet.

In assembling a high-end audio system, choice of source equipment should have first priority, followed by type of loudspeakers to be used. These two criteria are the ultimate determinants of the caliber and character of a sound system. For the higher the caliber of the source equipment, the more enabled you are in capturing a higher level of the magic of music in your home. The choice of loudspeakers, on the other hand, reflects your opinion on the characteristics that music ought to sound like to your ears.

Then, your choice of preamplifier will serve as a testament to your ability in advancing your system’s potential of recreating the perfect sound of your heart. There are audiophiles who do not require the intervention of a preamplifier in their systems to attain their goal in sound, as long as sufficient gain is present in the signal as seen by the power amplifier driving the loudspeakers.

With the $27k, 47 Laboratory 4704 PiTracer CD transport and the $35k, Audio Note DAC5 Special, I have used Audio Note’s $34,000 M8 Phono preamplifier, as well as the company’s 3-chassis, $50,000 M10, and regardless of loudspeakers used, whether it was the 95dB/8Ω, $20,000 Tannoy Churchill Wideband, or the 91dB/6Ω $25,000 Bosendorfer VC 7, or the 100dB/8Ω, $12,500 MaxxHorn Immersion, or the 82dB/8Ω, $10,000 Murata ES301, my system progressed consistently to emanating colossal refinement in performance because of the AN preamplifiers.

But more importantly, the aforementioned AN’s were in possession of such caliber in power management and signal propagation, they defied the simplistic categorization of their performance envelope in the operational mode of vacuum tube. Had you listened to their effects on music, you would have doubts in categorizing them in the conventional fashion, too.

One of the most distinguished traits of the Audio Note megabuck preamplifiers was the unworldly balancing act of preservations of the dynamics and tonal distinction, and that was what the Accustic Arts Preamp I Mk3 was about, an aspect of this solid-state design that is worthy of attention.

Though not having AN’s overwhelmingly fortified and stable Galahad-class power regulations, this $5,500 German solid-state preamplifier offered a smaller share of the aforementioned AN’s spectral extension and dynamic agility. Yet, putting aside the tremendous price difference between the two, the Accustic Arts possessed an unusual degree of refinement at the price.

In the company of high-efficiency loudspeaker systems, as in the case of the $25k Bösendorfer VC 7, driven by the $25k Harmonix Reimyo PAT-777 SET stereo amplifier, the Accustic Arts imparted a most colossal dynamic transient into the audio chain, one so expeditious and potent that expansive brass passages in Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 (Deutsche Grammophon CD 439 0372) retained their power and scale through the Bösendorfer’s.

The German preamp’s competency in creating dynamic contrast was another performance aspect of the design that deserved recognition. In recreating the lone Japanese flute and taiko (Dotou Banri, JVC XRCD2 SVCD-1027), the Accustic Arts projected a virtual quietness and stillness in space, contrasting the reverberating background of the performance, into which both the woodwind and drum were finally reenacted with convincing dimensionality and individuality. In addition to providing for an enormous, tranquil stage on which the instruments would converge, the preamp was completely devoid of transistor sterility, and accorded a most layered tonal differentiation in portraying the distinctiveness of the instruments’ tones, providing for some of the most discreet disposition in solid-state designs I’ve auditioned to date.

In the company of inefficient speakers, high-gain stages in amplification are essential measure in inducing the most from such speakers. Coupling the Accustic Arts to such inefficient speakers as Murata’s latest $10,000, 82dB/8Ω ES301 loudspeaker system, with Luminance Audio’s latest $6,000, KST-350DM digital monoblock amplifiers, provided valuable insights.

Whereas both my 84dB/4Ω Apogee Duetta Signature and 82dB/8Ω Celestion SL700 benefited from the dynamics and tonality of Audio Note’s $7,500 M5 tube preamplifier over solid-state preamps, the Luminance Audio DM-driven Murata speakers were nevertheless not deprived of dynamic and tonal prominence with the Accustic Arts Preamp I Mk3.

The Preamp I Mk3’s most un-transistor disposition gave the Luminance Audio/Murata none of the flatness and indifference in tone as manifested by conventional solid-state designs; in fact, the partnership of the German preamp and the digital monoblocks conveyed a most fluidic and sophisticated tonal essence to the Murata’s. Choirs and piano solos sounded spatially reverberating and tonally meticulous with the Accustic Arts, reminiscent of a sound from the best of tube preamps.

Summary

In a most cost-effective and impressive manner, Accustic Arts proved once more the technological viability of solid-state designs with a un-transistor disposition in the midst of comparably priced solid-state and tube preamps.

For in the company of the $25k Harmonix Reimyo PAT-777 SET stereo amplifier and the $25k Bösendorfer VC 7 loudspeaker system, the Accustic Arts in single-ended RCA connections surprised me by not truncating the dynamic enormity of full orchestras, nor did it inflict equalizing effect in reproducing the differentiating dynamics of a Japanese flute and taiko drum.

The Accustic Arts’ liberating dynamics were also underscored by its interaction with Murata’s 82dB/8W ES301 loudspeaker system, as driven by Luminance Audio’s KST-350 DM. While the Luminance Audio DM’s were delivering 350Wpc into an 8W impedance, the Accustic Arts Preamp I Mk3 provided the pristine and much needed intermediate and intermediary signal strength for the Luminance Audio DM’s, quickly asserting itself as a rare bargain in its price category.

The only companies that are able to create a design that is not merely competent in performance but also beautiful enough to be showcased in the living room are usually those with sufficient financial resources. Accustic Arts’ lines of product is a clear testimony to the company’s ambition and resources to excel; but it was the company’s professional background in studio productions that accords its operations with an additional edge that is rare in the industry.

There are quite a few established names in the high-end audio industry that are armed with high-profiled professional affiliations; but the level of efforts that Accustic Arts allocated into the consumer high-end sector, as embodied in just the Preamp I Mk3, already sets the company apart from most every other companies.

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