I remember when I bought my first CD player in 1984, it was like winning a popularity contest. Armed with the Yamaha CD-X1 player which carried a price tag of $600, I was no longer just another teenage audiophile; I was an audiophile with a CD player. On that very day, the salesman reluctantly sold me a Luxman PD-284 turntable for $ 200 including cartridge with an attached warning. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. In two years’ time, you will not buy any LPs anymore, the Snap Pop and Crackle format will be dead”. Luckily, his bold prophecy remained true for only about 10 to 15 years. I cannot pinpoint the exact year, but somewhere around the turn of the century, the audio world suddenly entered the age of Analog Aquarius.
In 2008, Kristina Dell of Time magazine declared that “Vinyl records, especially the full-length LPs that helped define the golden era of rock in the 1960s and ’70s, are suddenly cool again. Reuters reported in 2009 that “Vinyl has been making a strong comeback.”, And again in 2012, an article in The Wall Street Journal stated that “Long after the eulogies (of the digital format) had been delivered, the vinyl LP has been revived.” Indeed it has, vinyl is coming back stronger than ever.
Simply attend an audio show anywhere in the world to witness the abundance of choices we now have for analog equipment. It is probably not a mere coincidence that my current writing chores are divided amongst components which are all analog related (one tonearm, one cartridge, and two additional phono stages on top of this one). In the complex labyrinth of the phono preamplifier market space, the abundance of choice is often as much a nuisance as the lack thereof. Make no mistake about it, the decision-making process can be difficult. Within the category of phono stages between the $ 5,000 and $10,000, I can name a number of them just off the top of my head, all of which were in my possession for a brief period: The Manley Steelhead ($7,300), the Audia Flight ($6,100), the Rossner & Sohn Canofer-S ($7,200), the Ensemble Fonobrio ($7,000), the Aesthetix Rhea Signature ($7,000), the Audio Research PH-7 ($5,995), the ASR Exclusive ($6,500).
Just when you think we have enough choices in that crowded space, enter the Audio Exklusiv P2 ($ 7,500) phono stage from Germany, which I first encountered at Charisma Audio’s room during the 2012 TAVES. From the exquisitely finished granite face plate, to chrome control knobs, it just looks and feels like a luxury item. The convenience which comes with front panel gain and loading adjustments is reminiscent of the Rossner & Sohn Canofer-S and the Manley Steelhead; I simply could not resist not asking for a review sample. Bernard Li of Charisma Audio, the distributor for Audio Exklusiv in North America, kindly obliged to my request, and even hand delivered it to my residence. What followed was a four month intensive affair with this German-made phono stage, which at the end led me to conclude that the P2 is one of the most versatile and lively sounding phono stages I have encountered.
My review sample of the P2 sports an elegant black box where form follows function. The 19” wide face plate is made entirely out of solid granite with a color pattern that resembles the Spanish Black Alcantara granite countertop found in my kitchen; Audio Exklusiv calls this granite pattern “Nero Assoluto.” The chassis case is made from standard sheet metal. The front panel rotary controls, from left to right, includes an ON/OFF power switch, an MM selector for capacitance, and a source switch between MM and MC, a 3 position switch for MC gain with a choice of 10dB, 20dB, and 30dB. The numbers represent the amount of gain in decibels above the unit’s default 46dB of gain for the MM stage. Next is a rotary switch which provides six MC loading choices (100Ω, 250Ω, 500Ω, 1kΩ, and 47kΩ), followed by a mute button at the end. Knobs are chrome plated and feel “cold” to the touch which suggests they are solid metal rather than plastic.
According to Bernard Li, there is a choice of six different types of granite for the front panel (From Left to Right: Nero Assoluto, Slate, Carrara Marble, Star Galaxy, Estremoz, and Labrador), likewise the control knobs are available in 5 choices (Glossy Gold, Chrome Silver, Glossy Chrome Black, Matt Black and Glossy Copper) and the letterings with four (Black, Silver, Gold and Copper).
The back panel is clean and simple, with one set of output and two sets of inputs (one MC and one MM) selectable through the front panel. The third set of RCA inlets are not inputs, but are connections for additional resistance settings should you require an exact loading resistance which is different from the six choices on the front panel. The precise value can be derived from the formula (R1xR2)/ (R1+R2). For example, if you choose a 1kΩ on the front panel combined with inserting a 500Ω resistor (soldered onto a male RCA plug I suppose), the formula will yield a load of 333 ohm. And if you are mathematically challenged like I am, you can contact the factory and they’ll gladly ship to you a “load” adapter of your choice.
A typical MC cartridge will come with a factory resistive loading recommendation; if unspecified, the proper choice is usually approximately 10 to 20x the cartridge’s internal impedance (also called coil impedance). If the value is set too high, the sound will be bright and edgy; if set too low, the top end becomes rolled off and the bottom becomes fat and woolly. I usually play a vinyl track with which I am familiar, and compare it to the same recording on a CD. Experience tells me the optimal setting is usually within 30-50 ohms from the factory recommended setting, depending on the length and capacitance of your cable.
Once the unit is plugged to an AC source, a red LED beside the IEC inlet will tell you whether the phase of the incoming AC signal has been reversed. If the red LED comes on, users are advised to reserve the plug. With the 3 prong grounded plug we use in North America, I do not see how a reversal is possible unless if the wiring in the wall has somehow been wired incorrectly.
With the P2, everything is accessible through the front panel except for two switches to turn on the subsonic filter which reduces the frequency response below 20Hz by 3 decibels. Audio Exklusiv does not recommend the use of the subsonic filter unless absolutely necessary, which is why the switch is placed inside the unit. If you happen to have a tonearm that was improperly matched with the cartridge’s compliance value, the subsonic filter may be used to reduce the resultant resonant frequencies. Unwanted subsonic frequencies can also be generated by warped records or even feedback from a turntable which is placed too closed the speakers.
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