In my review of their speaker cable I said, Auditorium 23 was not “founded”, in the common sense of the word. Rather, it just sort of came into being through the principals’ enjoyment of music in the early 80s. They started with a journey into the past where they learned much about what they were looking for in reproducing music. It became evident to them just how much had been sacrificed on the altar of cost-efficient production, of analytical measuring, and of blind trust in the alleged advantages of modern materials.
The problem was, to say so was considered heresy in the technical-minded Germany and most of the western world. Consequently, in Auditorium 23’s early days, the road for them in Germany was very difficult. They were among the first in Germany to use 300B amplifiers with very efficient and not-so-modern loudspeaker designs. Then they discovered Ken Shindo’s tube amplifiers and brought them to Europe. According to their website, all of these things came too soon for the German market as the company began in the early 80s. It was very difficult to find a truly musical high-efficiency loudspeaker, so Auditorium 23 began to build their own.
Auditorium 23 only makes a few products, but they are a varied group of exceptional products. Currently, they are making the wonderful-sounding and hard-to-obtain Solovox loudspeakers. Last time I checked, the waiting list was over eight months. One of their most revered products is this step-up transformer they make for the Shindo SPU cartridge and other low impedance, low output cartridges. Auditorium 23 says that experiences over many years suggest that very specialized designed transformers with special attention to impedance, voltage, and acceleration produce the best sound. The stated goal was to give more importance, and more impact to the recorded music.
It seems to be agreed by everyone I know that has heard the Homage T1, that it is a step-up transformer of rare quality. It is made for cartridges with low impedance and low output, in particular the Shindo version of the classic Ortofon SPU. It worked beautifully in my system with the Miyabi Standard, the Miyabi 47, and the Benz Micro Ebony TR. I compared it to step-up transformers of the highest reputation including the built-in transformers in my Shindo Masseto, and the Audio Note SN-8.
It is my experience that most step-up transformers are quite sensitive to positioning or hum will occur, but I did not find this to be the case with the Homage. I did not even find it necessary to ground it or the tonearm. There was absolutely no hum with it sitting only a few inches behind my preamp. I had five MC cartridges on hand, but only the Benz Micro Ebony TR, the Miyabi Standard, and the Miyabi 47 were really ideal matches for the Homage T1. The EMT TMD 25N mono and the Allnic Verito Z both sounded very good with it but are at their best with the standard Auditorium 23 SUT that only cost $995.
For this review I used the Homage with my Miyabi Standard cartridge, but it had the same effect on all three of the low output, low impedance cartridges. Music played through the Homage is unbelievable open, dynamically alive, and simply sounds more like music. In comparison to the competitors like the Masseto’s built in transformer or the AN-S8, instruments and voices through the Homage have more of a physical realism, it’s more vivid, expressive, and alive.
This is where the Homage allows reproduced music to simply come alive. This is something that most good SUTs do fairly well, but not to this extent, and head amps don’t even get in the game. Voices sounded oh-so-very human and beautiful. The Homage does an even more amazing job of keeping MC cartridge from ringing than the Audio Note AN-S8. Listening to “My Guitar Weeps for Me” from the Beatles album Love, I was so caught up in how beautiful the guitar sounded that I had to go back and listen to it again and take some notes. The Homage is incredible at letting you hear different layers and timbres of music.
I find the treble of the Homage very extended and natural sounding. It passes my treble test with flying colors. My treble test is simple, does the treble draw attention to itself? If the treble is lacking I’ll always wonder why the music doesn’t sparkle with life, and if it’s too much it draws attention to itself. While I found the treble near perfect, I should mention that the Audio Note AN-S8 did have more sparkle and the top-end was a little more emphasized. I don’t know if you can say which one is more accurate without the context of the system they are used in.
The bass and lower midrange are where I was really shocked at the substantial improvement that both the Auditorium 23 Homage T1 and the Audio Note AN-S8 brought. The Homage has an incredible way with drums, and basses. It allows you to hear this air and warmth of music without even the slightest hint of boom, looseness, or hangover. I loved how it gives you quick fast attacks followed by beautiful full decay that lets you hear different layers of the timber of the instruments. Simply put, it allows the instruments that fall in the bass and lower midrange to sound more alive, more real, and much more exciting than any other way I have played vinyl.
Soundstage, Imaging, and Scale
Like I said in the review of the Audio Note S8, this is the last place I had really expected to hear much difference between SUTs, but the Homage T1 gives you even more weight and scale than the S8. This weight and scale makes recorded music sound more like music.
I was just wrapping up the review of Audio Note’s superb $8,600 S8 step-up transformer when the Homage T1 arrived, so I had a few days to compare them toe-to-toe. I also had on hand the Auditorium 23 Standard which sells for $995. The Auditorium 23 Standard step-up device was designed for use with the Denon 103 cartridges. I use it with my EMT TMD 25N mono cartridge and it works beautifully. I also compared it to my Shindo Masseto ($12,000) preamp’s own amorphous-core step-up transformers designed by Ken Shindo. He has them custom wound in Sweden. They have a 1.1 ohm input resistance and work great with really low output, low impedance MC cartridges.
There is really no comparison between the Masseto’s built-in transformers and the Homage T1. The built-in is excellent but it just does not have the weight, boldness, or ability to reveal the layers of sound and texture of timbre in the music that the Homage T1 has.
In the toe-to-toe comparison with the S8, it’s a different story. The Homage T1 is wound with high quality copper compared to the vast amount of silver used in the AN-S8. I said in the review of the S8 that this difference may sum up the differences I hear as well. The S8 is slightly more lush in the mid-bass and lower midrange. It is also has more sparkle in the treble area, whether this is a plus or minus will be system dependent, but what isn’t? The Homage is fuller, bolder sounding and significantly more exciting to listen to through my Teresonic Ingenium Silver speakers. I can understand if you chose the S8s sound, but for me the Homage T1 is more emotionally involving and just sounds more like real music.
There’s no way that the Auditorium 23 Homage T1 SUT could ever be called inexpensive, but it is the best SUT for low output, low impedance moving coils I have ever heard and it cost nearly $4,000 less than the Audio Note S8, so let us at least say it’s a good deal. One last word: If you use a low output, low impedance moving coil, don’t dare listen to this thing if there is no way you can afford one.
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