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Shindo Aurieges L Tube Preamplifier Review

Jack Roberts: the way of Shindo Aurieges L line stage tube preamplifier

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Shindo Aurieges L line stage tube preamplifierThis is a review I struggled with. For I feared I would not have the right audio vocabulary to convey the sound of the Aurieges’ to you. I wish I could tell you that my system had a wider or deeper soundstage with the Shindo, or that music seemed more transparent when the Shindo arrived. The true magic of the Aurieges is not even that it is more dynamic; although it is.

What I can tell you is that with the Aurieges, it is all about texture, harmonics, how the decay sounds, how the music blooms, and how much like real music it sounds and feels. It’s about experiencing the sounds and feelings of music in a way that transcends the electronic listening experience, especially the digital experience.

For example on Elvis’ version of “Fever” (from the CD, Elvis is Back), prior to the Shindo I could already hear the decay, the reverb, and how close he is to the mic. Yet, with the Aurieges, these nuances take on a lifelike quality. You can hear layers of decay. You can tell he’s in a small studio; it’s as if the Aurieges breathes life into it. I have no idea how an active line stage can do this or theoretically if it even should, but music is art and I think at Shindo Labs, like Audio Note and a few others, the reproduction of music is seen as more art than science.

One other interesting thing is, at just about the time you think, “well, this thing just has it’s own sound,” you put in a new disc and it reminds you that it can only sound like the recording. For example, if you play the Diana Krall disc Love Scenes on cut 10, you can hear a lot of the mic noise and room noise; but it sounds nothing like the much older analogue recording techniques of the Elvis disc.

Another aspect on the Aurieges is reproduction of the acoustic bass on either the DK or Elvis cut. With the Shindo, it is deeper, and yet you can also hear the wood and harmonics of the instrument much better. Now on a quick AB you might think it is quicker and tighter on the WAVAC without the Aurieges (audiophile terms by the way); but you will surprise yourself and find yourself trying to figure out why you like it better with the preamp. It’s not that the preamp is slow or loose, not at all. In fact, it is just the opposite without the preamp, as you wouldn’t be hearing the beauty of the instrument as well rendered, it’s like you hear the plucking of the strings, but not the body of the bass.

One word of warning: if a recording tends toward the dull or the rolled-off side of the spectrum, the Aurieges will not add extra sparkle for you; and if the recordings are bright, it will not cover that up either. Now, I guess it’s time we cover some audiophile things.

Let’s start with the bass.

I am very pleased with what it did for the bass in my system. It goes considerably deeper, and has more impact. At the same time it seems warmer, more textured, and to have beautiful breath around and within the acoustic instruments. With drums, you get the impact, but on some recordings you also hear the air that moves with the mighty strikes of big drums. The mid-bass has the same qualities and stays tight and never seems loose.

The longer I listen to the Aurieges’ bass the more I like it, but I feel compelled to tell you that if slam is the only or most important thing to you about bass, then the Aurieges, or for that matter any of the Shindo equipment I’ve heard, is not for you. I do remember from listening to mine, as well as a full Shindo system, that bass in a few recordings had actually startled me and made me sit up and take notice, and most often the bass just sounds powerful and musical.

The midrange is of course the glory of tubes done right, especially SETs, and the Aurieges and WAVAC together play voices that are scary real. They sure give the Audio Note AN/Es a chance to show how transparent and lifelike they are. The only place I have ever heard better voices was on the all Shindo and Latour system where just the speakers cost more than my entire system. This includes systems I listened to daily that had the Audio Note AN/E SEC Silvers and nearly $100K worth of Audio Note or Goldmund Electronics.

It is the midrange that I have the most trouble describing. For it is here that the Aurieges does its magic that 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; instruments have rich harmonic structure. On solo piano, it is much easier to hear the difference from one piano to the other. I wish I could be like some reviewers who can tell you the brand of piano when they hear it, but heck I can’t do that with live music, although I can sure tell the difference between two different pianos with this preamp.

I’m still not saying enough about the midrange or midbass. They are magical, and cannot be easily described. Another word of warning though: the Aurieges is neither dark nor bright, so if you are looking to correct an overly bright system, I don’t think the Aurieges will. Neither will it bring sparkle and speed to a dull sounding system. I repeat: I find it neither dark nor bright but amazingly beautiful to listen to.

Last, the top end is very open, sweet, and to me just plain pretty. I do not hear any rolling off of the upper octaves. Again, the Aurieges does not add sparkle at the top to dull recordings but it sure allows the beautiful sparkle of instruments to come through when it’s there on the recording.

What I can say about the top end is that it never seemed bright or dry. It’s never analytical and if it ever errs, it always errs on the side of beauty. I think this would be a safe statement about the total sound of the Aurieges.

I know we should talk about soundstage and imaging, but I would rather talk about scale, depth, and space. I know how much fun it is to listen for pinpoint imaging, and how exciting it is to hear a voice or an instrument coming from a foot or two outside the speakers; but that never happens with my Audio Note speakers positioned in the corners. The truth is, I go to hear live Jazz at Yoshi’s in Oakland often and I never hear a soundstage, or pinpoint imaging. In fact, often it sounds more like a good mono recording.

What I do hear is life size to bigger than life instruments. I don’t know why musicians love to walk over and stick their horns right into the mic, but they do and it’s part of a live Jazz performance. That’s what I mean by scale. I want to hear a vocal or a trumpet start soft and small then swell in volume and size as they reach back and let it go. This, the Aurieges does in spades after it breaks in.

I also want to hear the space around, and even within an instrument. I don’t want strings floating around in some black velvet space like some modern painting that show strings and notes but no instrument or musician. I want to hear the body of the guitar, I want to hear the floor under the bass, I want to hear the sound of the strings inside a piano. This the Aurieges does better than any preamp I’ve ever heard in my system. To tell the truth, I had no idea my system could even do some of this.

Lastly, I want my system to let me hear deep into the music. Again, this is something that is so important in live music; it has to do with both emotion and actual depth. It has nothing to do with music being way back behind the speakers.

For example, can you hear the difference in textures, and harmonics when Frank sings a song verses Harry Connick singing it? Can you hear and feel the difference in the emotions of a Miles Davis ensemble playing a number and a Wynton Marsalis ensemble? This is what I mean by listening deep into music, it’s layers, timbers, harmonics, and feelings. All of this is much easier with the Aurieges in the system than without it. Like all the Shindo products I have heard, you are brought deep into the emotions of the music through small nuances that they let you hear, but this is nothing like razor sharp detail and imaging – it’s almost just the opposite. It’s hearing all the details and within the context of the musical event.

In conclusion, the Shindo Aurieges has amazed me and bewildered me, in that adding this line level preamp to my system has brought such a significant improvement to a system I already considered one of the best I had ever heard. It is even harder to believe it does this for only 3K. If I listen to vinyl, I would want the Monbrison at nearly 8K, but for my system I have found a small miracle for less than half that.

Second, I have no idea why it makes such a difference or if it should. It sort of blows away the idea of straight wire with gain, that’s what I thought I had with the passive volume on the WAVAC. It will not matter and you’re not getting my Aurieges away from me even if you tell me it colors my system, which I don’t believe, but if it does, it colors my music beautifully, making it lifelike, full of emotions and it makes me just keep on wanting to listen.

One Last Word after several days of listen without any A/Bing I took the Aurieges out of the system to see how it sounded. This is usually the acid test for me and often I have been surprised when I did this. Not this time, it took less than two cuts for me to say breath the life back in, and back in went the Aurieges. I guess you could say I like it and that’s from someone who has argued the case of no preamp or at least a passive.

Jack Robert’s system (also see info in our Staff Bio page):

Source: Sony 777ES SACD player with both Kern mods and the VSEI 4.5 mod
Amplification: WAVAC MD300B
Speakers: Audio Note AN/E SEs
Cabling: All audience au24
Power conditioner: Two of the ISOs built for JC Audio AMP and SACD player are on Systrum stands set on a heavy solid maple table.

The Aurieges was set directly on the maple table as recommended by Shindo, and I used the strange-looking power cord that came with it that again was recommended by Shindo.

Shindo Laboratory
U.S. Distributor’s Comment:

Dear Mr. Roberts,

Thank you very much for taking the time to review the Shindo Laboratory Aurieges L pre-amplifier.

As you can imagine, its very difficult for a manufacturer (or distributor in my case), to have his/her products reviewed. We fear that the reviewer just may not get the message the designer is trying to deliver.

Let’s just say I’m thrilled that you not only got the message, but you delivered it as well. It’s about the music.

Best regards,

Jonathan Halpern
Tone Imports LLC

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