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Melody Valve P2688 Vacuum Tube Preamplifier Review

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The entire package has a refreshingly warm look of elegant vintage-meets-modern.

P2688-in-Rack

Ergonomics are very simple if sparse and uncomplicated. In an effort to minimize parts use and keep the signal path clean and simple, there are just two knobs that control function. The left knob serves as input selector, 1 through 4, and mute. The right knob, which is motorized, controls the stepped volume control. A heavy machined aluminum remote control is included with the P2688. It controls volume and mute only.

A single rocker switch that is mounted on the right-side wood panel turns the unit on and off.

Installation and Configuration

The Melody Valve P2688 did not require any sort of break-in period since the review sample was a veteran performer at shows and demos. Therefore I was quite eager to get the listening sessions started. There were however a few hurdles that needed to be cleared. Since my reference system is all balanced, I did not have any premium single-ended RCA-type cables on hand for the rather long 5 meter run from line stage to power amp(s). As luck would have it, Dave Kleinbeck from Enklein cables had just reached out to me about a new statement interconnect and power cord that he and his brother Tom have developed and were introducing at the upcoming CES. They offered me a preview of the cables and I emphatically agreed and requested that the interconnects have single-ended RCA terminations.

In the meantime, I familiarized myself with the sound of the Melody Valve P2688 preamp and MN-845 150 watt mono block amplifiers (look for much more on these in a future article). A week later, their latest creations, the “David” inter connect and “T-Rex” power cords appeared at my doorstep. Problem solved!

In the beginning

The stipulation regarding receipt of the David interconnect and T-Rex power cords was that they had a very short fuse and needed to be returned in January for their CES debut. With that in mind, I decided that the best way to tackle the many moving pieces was to tie them all together and give a listen, then sort out the individual “contributions” later. So, just before Thanksgiving break, I found myself listening to a largely alien reference system consisting of:
Merrill-Williams REAL 101 / Technics EPA-501M / ZYX Yatra record playback system
Zesto Audio Andros PS1 Phono Amp
Conrad Johnson UDP1 deluxe universal player
Melody Valve P2688 linestage
Melody Valve MN845 Mono Block 150w Class A power amplifiers
Eficion F300 full range AMT speakers
Enklein “David” interconnects on the analog source through to power amplifier
Enklein “T-Rex” power cords on the mono blocks and the linestage
Enklein “Taurus” interconnect for digital source
Enklein “Titan” speaker cables

This system is the first I have had the pleasure of having in my home in which the entire amplification stage end-to-end is all-tube. Vacuum tube line stages are no stranger to me however. In fact, prior to the Pass Labs XP-20 entering the picture, every single system I assembled consisted of vacuum tube line stages and phono and solid state power amplifiers. This combination I found to be ideal for electrostatic speakers with their troublesome loads. Prior to the largely easy-going Eficion F300 full range AMT’s, I had several generations of Martin Logan electrostatics in my home that spanned roughly 20 or so years. So, having the Melody Valve P2688 linestage in for a visit was a bit of a homecoming.

With a long road trip accompanied by a huge cooler carrying a couple of freshly killed turkeys looming in just a few days, I decided to have several very extended listening sessions to get a sense of what the assembled bits sounded like before I had to vacate.

What ensued were hours and hours of listening sessions. LP’s leaning against every available wall space, CD jewel boxes stacked high and surrounding the equipment racks. Yes, it was one of those times. First let me start off by saying that I write these impressions from notes taken on those particular days. I had yet to have any context as to why I was hearing what I was hearing since there were so many new and alien actors inserted into the audio chain at the same time.

I played everything from PIL (Public Image Limited) to Katie Melua. The results were clear. This system was conveying information I simply was not privy to before on many recordings. The P2688 line stage proved to be very quiet and highly resolved. So much so, that the attributes of the cables were known in an instant. On recordings that are not “messed with” such as The Roches self-titled debut album, Eric Clapton’s live LP “E.C. Was Here” and parts of the McCartney unofficial(official) bootleg MTV LP, there emerged those magical moments where the sound truly enveloped the seating position, providing a surround-like quality that was so detailed a soundfield that I was convinced of the validity of what I was hearing. Digging deep into the ancient prog LP’s (and perhaps influenced by an autobiography I was reading at the time) I pulled out the original British pressing of Rick Wakeman’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “King Arthur and the Knight of the Roundtable.” These had not been freed from their innersleeves for at least three household moves, but they provided immensely enjoyable and instructional moments. Later this led to a raft of prog and rock LP’s including the latest remasters of “Close to the Edge” and “Fragile” by Yes, “In a Glass House” by Gentle Giant, Wings “At the Speed of Sound” and Elvis Costello “Armed Forces” These were not necessarily huge “audiophile” moments to be sure, but just the same provided me with the information I needed to learn the true nature of the assembled system. By this time, I was enjoying myself so much that my selections were not for review purpose but rather, just to satisfy the stream of whims as these sessions progressed. By this time, the conclusions were unmistakable: This system was the most resolved and engaging system I had yet to have in my room. In some ways, it brought back the fondest of memories I have of the best system I ever heard which was some 12 or so years ago. Images were rendered so clearly, and layered so naturally, that even what I would consider to be the worst of recordings during these sessions not only sounded tolerable but also wonderful in their own way. It’s like getting a closer and more accurate view of the intention of the recording engineer. Through all of this the Melody Valve P2688 stood out as being an extremely quiet and highly resolved preamplifier. Its bandwidth was good as I have heard in the depths as well as the extreme highs with an absolutely intoxicating and grain-free midrange. At this point I began to strongly suspect that this was the preamplifier that my beloved and sorely missed old Melos MA-333R6 had always aspired to become.

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