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Top solid-state preamplification & Triple Ascensions

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Dagogo is approaching its 5th Anniversary of providing some of the most insightful and useful reviews for its loyal readers.

Because of the consistent quality of Dagogo Reviewers’ writing, with the many hundreds of hours of auditioning, experimenting, and careful thinking that were evident in their writing, Dagogo has progressed into the online high-end audio review magazine that it is today.

If you have been following their writing, you would have experienced some of the most illustrious examples in review authorship. I am a big fan of their writing, and I find their insights highly relevant to what we want in our system, striking right at the core of what makes our hobby so much fun. Case in point: In Ed’s review of the Pass Labs X0.2 preamplifier system, he wrote that the X0.2 “is an extremely good preamp, and might even be considered a bargain” under the sub-heading “Sounds Great – And It’s Not Overly Filling!”. I had been using Wadia’s $29,000, 3-chassis Reference Series 9 Decoding Computer System since late 2007 and did not require a preamplifier per se. Ed’s words stroke my fancy as to the current state-of-the-art in solid-state preamplification design.

So, I mustered a review sample from Joe Sammut of Pass Laboratories, and I auditioned it with the 47 Lab PiTracer CD transport as coupled to the Wadia RS9, along with an armada of amplifiers that came my way, including 6 makes of vacuum tube and solid-state models in stereo and monoblock varieties, plus 5 pairs of loudspeakers and a host of cabling. Jack Roberts knows what my listening room looks like nowadays. I never used the word neutrality or transparency in any of my own reviews, because I never experienced any equipment and system that is capable of reproducing a single instrument as if it were right in my living room.

That said, despite it being a solid-state design, the X0.2 revealed tonal variances between the $38,000 Audio Note DAC5 Special and the $29,000 Wadia RS9, as well as changes in digital cables more explicitly than I’ve experienced in any solid-state preamplifier, and the manner in which it mitigated signals from the DACs was the most comprehensive and unobtrusive I know of, relaying all the spectral coherencies, dynamic variances and tonal subtleties of the DACs without a single trace of sonic contamination. Enough said, the X0.2 is the most neutral and transparent preamplifier I’ve ever experienced; case closed.

Frankly, with the insights and skills that have gone into the design of the top Pas Labs preamplifier, I think it is unthinkable that in today’s audio marketplace that one can own a 3-piece Nelson Pass top preamplification system for under $10,000; and I know of no current top preamplification design retailing under US$30,000 in today’s currency that can approach the fidelity and neutrality of the X0.2.

I eventually bought the X0.2 for my own reference. True, with the Wadia Reference Series 9, I have no need for a preamplifier; but my ongoing reviewing projects will involve writing about DACs, preamplifiers and power amplifiers, and until the day comes when I can afford Audio Note’s M8 and higher preamplification systems, the Pass Labs X0.2 is the steal of the century and I shall rely on it as the preamplification benchmark.

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In our last Issue (June 2008), Ed also had an object of desire to report on. He owns a pair of the $20,000 B&W Nautilus 800D loudspeakers, driven by either the Electrocompanient Nemo monoblocks or the Pass Labs X600.5 monoblocks. Last month, he reviewed a pair of medium-sized monitors from Italy: Eventus Audio Lysithea. The Lysithea costs $28,000 the pair. Ed is ok, having reviewed the $38,000 YG Acoustic Kipod Studio in February 2008, his nerve is now not too frail as we speak. After all, knowing his previous preference for no preamplifiers, I subjected him to incessant bombardments of top preamplifiers reviews in 2006 and 2007. Check out the $9,500 Sphinx Project Eight (June 2006), the $5,000 XLH XL-11XS (December 2006), the Pass Labs X0.2 (February 2008) and the MBL 5011 (March 2008).

Doug Schroeder also had his share of excitement, having recently reviewed the Tannoy Glenair in the January 2008 Issue and then the Legacy Focus HD in the February 2008 Issue. Each of us has his own set of priorities and prejudices, so while you may not agree with Doug’s assessments of each design’s strengths and weaknesses, I know you will find his writing eminently worthy of reference purposes. To me, his review of the $1,499 Cambridge Audio Azur 840C CD player in our June 2008 Issue, together with Jack Roberts’ review of the $1,999 Slim Devices Transporter hard-drive music server in the same Issue, provided powerful insights into the current state-of-affair of the digital audio landscape, and offered invaluable knowledge in what all of us can expect in the near future.

Jack Roberts is Dagogo’s vinyl-guru, having produced reviews on several spanking-hot analog equipment, such as the Clearaudio Ambient turntable with the matching Satisfy tonearm, the Merrill-Scillia MS21 turntable, the Benz-Micro of Switzerland Series 3 Ebony L MC cartridge and the Ebony TR S tiny-output MC cartridge, the London Decca Reference cartridge, etc. To many readers, Jack may actually be better-known for his “Flight of the Mini-Monitor” and “Beatnik’s Journey” series of articles.

The three of them generated nearly 100 articles to date since the first of them joined Dagogo in October 2005. Ed was the earliest, he joined in October 05, and has written 15 articles as of June 2008 and counting; Jack followed in February 2006, and since then he has written 33 reviews, plus 12 articles for his column “Beatnik’s Journey”, and counting; Doug came onboard in June 2006, and has already written 27 reviews, and counting. These men have earned their next position as Dagogo’s Senior Reviewers.

My congratulations to Ed, Jack, and Doug for their ascension in the Dagogo Reviewers’ Group.

In celebration of this milestone Dagogo development, we are featuring three new exciting reviews by Jack Roberts this month in our top-of-the-month Issue: Teresonic Clarison Cables, Clearaudio Anniversary turntable and Lowther Alerion loudspeaker. Next month, we shall look at Doug’s high-end audio incursions, followed by Ed’s in September. Also to be published at any time now is a Summary of my auditions of 6 amplification designs, followed by individual reports. Not to be overlooked also is a report of my 2nd visit at Brian Ackerman of Aaudio Imports’ Parker, CO headquarters. Remember those $170,500 Acapella Triolon Excaliburs that I reported in Dagogo’s September 2007 SPOTLIGHT article? More surprises to come in this very Issue of Dagogo.

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