Those big tubes sticking out the top are the famous 6SN7 octal vacuum tube, a directly heated 5AW4 rectifier tube, 6AH4 triode cathode follower stage.
The physical appearance of the Ultra Verve seems to draw different responses from different people. Mine had a silver faceplate with black lettering. I thought it was very attractive in a retro sort of way. My daughter-in-law thought the same as I did. Both of my adult sons referred to it as that ‘big thing’.
The first response of most audiophiles that see it is almost universal, for those who had not seen a deHavilland preamp, they say, “Man, those are big tubes for a preamp”. To me, that’s what makes it look like a deHavilland.
Regardless of how you feel about its appearance, it looks of high quality. The thick faceplate, the quality of the housing with its rounded edges and precisely cut holes for the tubes, the gold-plated connectors, all say high quality nice and loud. The front is very utilitarian, with an IR receiver for the remote, a small power indicator, and two nicely turned knobs: one for volume, one for the selector. There is no writing on the front other than the very nicely engraved deHavilland logo. The power switch is a rocker on the top plate in the left corner.
The rear panel is nicely laid out, with four sets of gold-plated RCA plugs for inputs, and two sets for output. Next to the receptacle for the power cord is a small toggle switch that allows you to float the ground, which is a very nice touch. On the other side is a ground connection, and underneath the receptacle is the fuse.
Why Another Review Of The deHavilland Ultraverve Linestage Preamp?
I counted over a dozen glowing reviews of this preamp. It has to be one of the most reviewed preamps by a small-scale audio company in history. The first thing that my friend, who has been an audiophile for over 30 years, said when I recommended the deHavilland was, “Who is that?” I said go on line and Google it. He discovers a whole new audiophile press. The fact that so many have even wanted to review it speaks volumes to its quality. So why would I review it at this late date in the product’s history? Two reasons.
First, it all started when my longtime audio bud Steve purchased a VSEI-modified Sony SACD player with its very low output. Steve asked, “What do you recommend in an active linestage with a remote control?” Those last two words really got through me. I had to really think about it. I tried to reason him out of the remote. He wouldn’t budge. Finally, I said, “Well, every show I go to I just love the deHavilland room, it always makes me want to just stay and listen to music.”
Second, it got me thinking that I had never reviewed any of their products. So, I called to see about reviewing the Mercury preamp. Well, that’s in the works, but George Kielczynski, deHavilland’s Director of Sales & Marketing, invited me over for a day of music listening, heck he even grilled organic burgers. He invited me to be the first reviewer to review the UltraVerve with the new remote. So here I am, reviewing the universally praised deHavilland UltraVerve with its new remote volume control.
The New Remote Volume Control is the result of 18 months of design work for achieving a remote/stepped attenuator. Their goal, according to chief designer Kara Chaffee, was “to equal the Goldpoint mechanical attenuator — just automate it — so the design parameters were to keep the simple “shunt” style attenuator circuit, and also keep the design using discrete old-fashioned resistors. The shunt styled circuit has the advantage of a single series resistor –hardwired into the audio circuit, and all you do is to vary the “shunting” resistor that goes to ground. Most common stepped attenuators are series wired, such that many resistors are in the audio path at the same time.
So we decided to create a shunt system that was remote-able without compromising the sound. Now, I did not expect this new design to beat the manual attenuator — since it is really the same critter, just done with relays – -my only explanation is that perhaps our relays with the silver contacts overlaid with gold, are the answer? One interesting footnote is that the life rating on the relays is 100,000,000 operations, where few mechanical switches are rated beyond 50,000 operations.”
The UltraVerve replaced the almost-perfect, $19,000 Vacuum State Electronic preamp in my system, and the first impression was one of absolute amazement. I could not believe how well the UltraVerve held it’s own. Now, don’t misunderstand, I didn’t say it was as good. It was not, but what it brought to the plate was powerful, tuneful, and fun.
From the time you unpack it to the first moment you turn on the UltraVerve, it is obvious that it has substance. It doesn’t take much listening to know it’s responsive, and has a really good startle factor. I think those big tubes really do have a big, robust harmonic structure that is very musical, and at the same time never slow or thick-sounding.
I believe it was Art Dudley when he had Listener and wrote so much about “PRaT”, Pace, Rhythm, and Timing. These are qualities I have discovered that I value very much in music reproduction. The good news is that the UltraVerve not only has big, robust harmonics, it also has “PRaT” in spades. It allows listening to music in your house to be really fun.
Listening To Music
Harry Pearson use to talk about components having a musical character either yin or yang. The UltraVerve’s basic character is yin, warm to dark and very involving; in contrast to a yang character, light to bright and spectacular. I have learned that I almost always prefer the yin character as long as it’s not over-done. I know the ideal would be no character, but I have never heard such a thing, though the Vacuum State was very close.
When I went to the Stereophile show in L.A. last summer, I came home impressed by the large scale some of the better sounding systems had. As I have reviewed different electronics, I have been surprised to learn that even preamps have a big effect on achieving scale. The UltraVerve helps you achieve as lifelike a scale as well as any preamp I have ever heard. It allows the soundstage to extend vertically as well as front to back, and side-to-side.
Well, let’s start with the UltraVerve’s bass. The bass is startling with its solidity and power. It provides a foundation in the bass and midbass that gives recorded music substance, and a powerful drive that lends a lifelike quality to the recordings. The bass sounds big and powerful, but it is always well integrated with the music. The weight of the bass is very natural; just listen to the sound of a live upright bass or the bass on a really good piano recording. Without a doubt ,the bass of this preamp defies its modest cost.
The Midrange And Top-End
The UltraVerve, to my ears, has a very extended and refined sounding top-end. I thought it was sweet, not rolled off, detailed but never etched, clear but not bright. The midrange is what tube preamps are all about, and the midrange of the UltraVerve lets you hear why people love tube preamps. It gets the timbre and harmonics of the music right. It has as rich a harmonic structure as I have heard, and while it is a robust sounding preamp, I never found it overly lush or overly romantic.
I loved the way voices came to life in my listening room. They had a stunning presence with the UltraVerve in my system. It may not be the ultimate, last word in transparency, but for the price it is exceptional, and I never thought about it when I was just listening. By the way, it is very easy to forget reviewing and just listen with this preamp.
Soundstaging And Imaging is very wide and deeper than average with the UltraVerve.
I would call it downright expansive. As I mentioned above, it also allows the soundstage to extend up and down, a trait I really enjoy. With the UltraVerve it is easy to hear the spatial cues in a recording. I like that it has a very expansive soundstage that does not draw attention to itself.
I would be remiss if I didn’t reiterate about the rich and musical harmonics this preamp allows one to hear. There is just something in the reproduction of the harmonic structure of music that moves a music system beyond being just an ensemble of good equipment. It’s an intangible element that lets you enjoy the music more. Put simply, it let’s you be part of the musical experience right there in your room. These harmonics and experience of the music seem to be hallmarks of all the deHavilland equipment I have heard.
A Comparison And Contrast
I have now reviewed two outstanding $3000 preamps; the $2,995 Shindo Aurieges was my first review for Dagogo, and now I have been privileged to spend a couple of enjoyable months with the deHavilland UltraVerve Remote. You don’t get the remote with the Shindo, which was a big deal to my friend Steve, but not to me. I think these two preamps offer a true choice between them. It’s not a choice between remote or no remote, nor is it a choice between a warm tubey sound and lean preamp. No, these two preamps both have a similar tonal balance, and they are both slightly on the Yin side of things. The choice is instead between what they both do that you usually don’t get until you reach around the $8,000 price point. So for $3000 to get either is a great value for the owner.
What are these two things? In the review of the Aurieges, I said, “It is the midrange . . . where the Aurieges does its magic I have not heard in other components in my system; it’s something to do with breathing life into the system. Small differences can be heard in voices and breathing . . .”
Steve refers to this as the ability of a preamp to unravel all the music. The Aurieges does this at a level I don’t think you can match for less than $8,000, and let’s be honest, a lot of preamps over $8,000 can’t do this to the extent of the little Shindo.
By comparison, the deHavilland UltraVerve comes close, but does not quite demonstrate the same ability in this unraveling of the music. Don’t mistake this as a shortcoming of the UltraVerve, for I don’t know a single preamp under $8,000 beside the Aurieges that can do this.
Instead, the UltraVerve has it’s own specialty that neither have I heard in a preamp under $8,000. In fact, it is this ability in the $8,500 Shindo Monbrison that lead me to step up to the Monbrison from the Aurieges. It has to do with recreating realistic scale. I think this is accomplished trough harmonic richness and the ability to get a certain weight in the mid bass without ever seeming overly warm or slow.
This leaves you with a real choice between two real bargains in the entry level of high-end audio. This is a pleasant surprise, because so much of what is marketed, as entry-level high-end is just not up to the standard of letting you experience music in your home. So, to have two units which are reasonably priced and whose sound is clearly high-end is wonderful. Your choice will depend on your system and your own priorities.
In conclusion, there is a reason there are so many glowing reviews of this preamp. It is a preamp that is priced like an entry-level preamp and sounds like a true high-end preamp. This is truly a product that offers value in the high-end market. It holds its own with the very best, it’s fun to listen to and has a big robust sound but not at the cost of tonality or detail. I didn’t have the UltraVerve without remote control to listen to, but as good as this thing sounds, I’ll take Kara’s word for it. The UltraVerve has really whetted my appetite to hear the Mercury with the new remote when it comes out.
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