In the first part of “Pushing the Art of Listening to Vinyl” I shared with you about the remarkably lifelike sounding Shindo 301 Vinyl Playback System. It’s my goal to share with you in this three-part series of articles the system I have found to play vinyl in an incredibly lifelike manner. This has been a very rewarding journey, and I feel this system advances the art of hearing what’s down in the groves of those LPs to a new level of emotional and musical involvement for the listener.
This second article shares with you the sound of Shindo’s Giscours preamp when used with the Shindo 301. According to what I could find on the internet, “Giscours Wines are elegant, medium-bodied wines, with good acidity and level of minerality expressing the delicate style of Margaux appellation.” Now I hope non-audiophiles have somewhat more of an idea what I’m talking about in this review than I do about what I assume is a very fine French wine. Mr. Shindo is quite a wine connoisseur, but my desire is to try and let you know what is so special about the Giscours preamp.
Four years ago, I fell in a big way for the sound of Ken Shindo’s preamps. Mr. Shindo lives in Kawoge, Japan. He is nearly seventy, and as I mentioned a wine connoisseur. Most of all, though, he is both a genius and an artist when it comes to taking NOS tubes and turning them into preamps that make recorded music sound real. He has a rather unique way of doing this, however once he discovered that certain tubes have a potential to make this special sound, he begins to stockpile them. He uses tubes from the big names, like Mullard, Western Electric, RCA, Siemens, and Telefunken, but he also stockpiles tubes I’d never heard of.
This most likely will be my last review of a Shindo preamp unless my “ship comes in”. Shindo preamps are so special I want to be sure I get it right in this review, so be patient with me dear reader. If you’re not patient I’ll go ahead and tell you this is by far the best preamp I have ever heard in my system. It is a bigger step up in the Shindo line of preamps than I have taken before, and the differences are more significant as well. I’ll get into all that later; I just want to make every effort to tell you why it’s better and how it’s better in this article.
One thing you need to know about Shindo products is that the power amps all sound different. It’s not so much that one of the amp is a higher quality than the other, but more like a different vintage, to use an analogy from Mr. Shindo’s favorite world. The preamps on the other hand seem to all be cut from the same fabric. From the Auriges Phono up through the Giscours I’m listening to now, they all sound very much alike, but every time you move up the line, you just get more. You get more involved in the performance; you hear more harmonic textures, more lifelike musical timbres. Simply put, you get more of all the things that allow Shindo preamps to transcend the electronic listening experience.
Ken Shindo originally released the Giscours in 1986. It has been through several updates since then, but basically it still has the same sonic signature; thus no name change. It is remarkable how visually stunning it is considering it is basically a plain green box with a window. Here in the Bay Area, you pay a lot for a big window with the right vista, and I’m here to tell you the window in the Giscours has quite a fetching vista. Through that glass front plate you are invited to look deep into the preamp to see the wonderful glow of the NOS tubes. This vista lets you see deep within its chassis, it’s beautiful anytime the amp is on, but at night it is really something special.
Mr. Shindo hand-makes the Giscours and like all his products it is completely point-to-point wired. It uses twin tube rectification and full dual mono circuit topology, with each channel having separate output transformers. The newest Giscours replaces the striking Western Electric 349A valves with NOS CV391 beam tetrode. Like all of Shindo’s tube gear, the Giscours tubes are run extremely conservatively. This greatly enhances tube life, and probably sound quality, too. The Giscours also incorporates custom moving coil amorphous core step-up transformers that work with a wide range of cartridges. It has provisions for MM phono input for use with high output cartridges. In my case, I ordered mine with two moving magnet inputs so I could use the Auditorium 23 Homage T1 MC step-up-transformer with the Shindo SPU cartridge and the Auditorium 23 Standard SUT with my EMT mono cartridge. I also ordered mine with both the XLR outputs, RCA outputs, and a mono input. This is one of the special things about buying a Shindo; you can get some customization when you order it.
Four years ago when I reviewed my first Shindo preamp the wonderful, little Auriges L, I said, “this 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.” Well, this is even truer in this review. How do I describe a preamp that in its very essence sounds like a “Shindo preamp”, and still sound substantially better than any other I have heard in my system? I think I should start by sharing what makes all Shindo preamps so special. It is best described by talking about the performance and the music, instead of the sound. Still, this is a review so let’s get on with it and talk about…
How the Giscours Sounds
I had just finished my review of the Shindo 301 Vinyl Playback System when the Giscours preamp arrived. I’ve written three reviews already that talk about the sound of Shindo preamps. This time I want to center our thoughts around the music. Yes, the Giscours is faster, fuller, has more texture than the Shindo Masseto, but the Giscours is not about that. It helps my system to play music like music. Guitars were right in the room. You can easily tell the difference in one guitar from another. Likewise, play a piano recording and they let you enjoy the emotions of the performance. You would have to be a hardcore audiophile to think about things like detail, speed, soundstage, and stuff when listening to my system with the Shindo 301 and the Shindo Giscours in my system. People who came to hear the system are much more likely to talk about how the drums sounded, or what a voice the singer had. My son and I spent an evening listening to different Johnny Cash albums from different times in his life, and we talked about how the quality of his voice and guitar playing changed with time.
With the Giscours in my system, recorded music is transformed in a completely natural way. The system seems introduce fewer distractions in the space between myself and the performers than anything I have heard to date. I’ll be honest, it’s a sensual, and emotional experience that draws me into the performance.
I know I’m expected to talk about the midrange and soundstage, but I bet you that’s not what you’d think about if you were listening to this system with the Giscours in it. So I’m going to do this review in a way I’ve only done once before. I’m going to talk about how my system with the Giscours sounds when playing a few important instruments.
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