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Ypsilon VPS 100 Tube Phono Preamplifier & MC16 Step Up Transformer Review

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Ypsilon VPS 100 Phono PreamplifierIntroduction

For many years I was one of those equipment owners who was driven by owning the latest and greatest equipment. Strangely enough, about the time that I passed the age of 55 and started to think about grandchildren and retirement, I became somewhat less obsessed with the equipment I owned and more focused on listening to music. Now, once I purchase a piece of equipment, it typically stays in my system for an extended period. About two years ago, I began hearing good things about the Ypsilon VPS-100 phonostage and MC16 step-up transformer. While I was intrigued, I was never able to build up sufficient enthusiasm to borrow one for audition. Recently, a good friend whose life partner is in the hospital for an extended stay offered to loan me his Ypsilon gear for an extended audition. Again, I can’t say that I was terribly enthusiastic but he kept pushing. Finally, I gave in. My basis for comparison was limited to units which I had owned in the past, most notably several Audio Research tubed units, a hot-rodded Vendetta Research SCP-2T, a Carl Thompson/ Bob Crump/ John Curl Blowtorch and most recently an Einstein The Turntable’s Choice. Each of these in its time was excellent and each, at least to my ears, was an improvement over its predecessors.

Description

The VPS 100 is a moving magnet valve phono stage which uses passive RIAA equalization incorporating inductors, capacitors and resistors (LCR) in conjunction with two stages of gain. The RIAA network is driven by a custom transformer which is wound in-house. The LCR networks are most commonly used and based on double T filter networks. One T filter forms the 50-500 Hz poles and the second T filter forms the 2123 Hz pole. In the VPS-100, the 2123 Hz pole is formed by an air core inductor with practically no stray capacitance at the first gain stage, and the 50-500 Hz poles are formed in high signal level directly at the output of the second gain stage. So, this is a split RIAA design using two gain stages based on the SIEMENS C3g tube which is very reliable supposedly and specified for 10,000 hours of use.

The power supply uses a 6CA4 tube rectifier and a choke filter. The heaters for the tubes are AC in the second stage and DC passive-regulated for the first stage. The construction uses no printed circuit boards and is point-to-point silver wired using Ypsilon’s proprietary extruded and annealed to-spec silver wire. Special attention is paid to mechanically decouple the first gain stage and 2123 pole coils using a specially designed decoupling system.

The MC16 moving coil step up transformer is used to amplify the low-level output signal coming from your moving coil cartridge to bring it up to the appropriate level to drive the VPS-100. The MC16 uses large size single C core double coil transformers with Ypsilon’s proprietary amorphous core material. Ypsilon developed special winding techniques in order to minimize inter-winding capacitance and maintain wide frequency response. The transformers are shielded with mu-metal and are potted in 10 mm thick soft iron nickel coated enclosures providing immunity to outside magnetic fields and quiet noise free performance. A range of transformers is available to accommodate different cartridges.

System and Listening

The primary source for playing records was a Rockport Sirius turntable with an Ortofon A90 cartridge; a Lurne record clamp was used in addition to the Rockport’s integral vacuum hold-down. Cabling from the turntable to the MC16 was the superb Nordost Odin dedicated phono cable, and from the MC16 to the VPS-100 was the Odin interconnect. The Odin cables were a key to achieving optimal performance from the gear, as was a Jorma Prime power cord. The records played included Steely Dan’s Everything Must Go (Reprise), Anita O’Day’s Big Band Sessions (Verve), Debussy’s Jeux (Columbia SAX F-993) French blue label, the Prokofiev Symphony No. 5 (DGG 139040) tulip pressing, Paul Metheny’s Group life (talking) (Geffen Records) and Weather Report’s Mysterious Traveler (Columbia 1970’s pressing).

The first disk to make it onto the playlist, the Steely Dan, highlighted what were to be some common themes that ran through all the listening sessions for the next two weeks. In comparison to the Einstein, the Ypsilon sounded somewhat softer and sweeter in the treble but without a loss of either detail or air. What was actually missing was edge and a subtle distortion product from mistracking prior to the Ypsilon. Each instrument/ voice was nicely separated from others in the mix. The midrange was harmonically complex and rich. I heard an euphonic warmth to the baritone saxophone that sounds very real. The perspective on the sax is interesting. With the Einstein, the emphasis is on the clicks and clacks of the keys opening and closing; with the Ypsilon those are certainly present but the focus is on the vibrating reed. The snares bloom. You can tell that the heads are tuned tight but you hear not only the head but also the cavity below. With voice, you hear the tonality rather than focusing on the spittle hitting the mike. With the voices, you can better differentiate among the individual voices singing the harmony even though the harmony is dense as is usually the case with Donald Fagin’s arrangements. The soundstage is wider and better integrated. What you really notice is that instruments and voices are more evenly spread across the stage with less of a tendency to buch together. While there is no loss of detail at the frequency extremes, the Ypsilon causes one to focus on the midrange and upper midrange.

The Anita O”Day was also a good test of the Ypsilon. The Jimmy Guiffre arrangements such as “A Lover is Blue” are uniquely voiced. The flute, trombone, bass clarinet, guitar and drums sounded completely integrated, yet clearly delineated. Anita O’Day’s vocal inflections, of which she has many, were clearly enunciated scat singing. Pitch was spot on with a lot of leaps, jumps and unusual rhythms. This was as sexy as I have ever heard her voice on my system. The best thing about the Ypsilon is that with software like this Bob Ludwig remaster, you can frequently fool yourself into forgetting that you are listening to a record.

At this point it was time to take off the gloves and start pulling out the big guns. The first of these was the French Blue label Columbia SAX recording of Cluyten conducting Debussy’s Jeux. Again, there was somewhat less air than on the Einstein. Perhaps this is more a matter of emphasis. Surface noise is certainly less obtrusive, but there is no feeling that you are losing any detail. It is just easier to ignore the noise. Sonics were absolutely spectacular! It is easy for massed strings to become edgy at high listening levels. This was clearly not the case here; however, there was great liquidity. Again, in comparison to the Einstein, the sound was less mechanical and it was far easier to focus on the music.

Another warhorse for demonstration purposes is the DGG Prokofiev Sympmony No. 5 conducted by Karajan. DGG is notorious for their congested, bloated, multi-miked, almost Phil Spectorish wall of sound approach to the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra. However, Karajan’s Prokofiev’s 5th is one of the most powerful renditions of this twentieth century warhorse, so it was with some curiosity that I looked forward to hearing how well the Odin/ Ypsilon combination would penetrate the engineering fog. I am not going to tell you that the result was audio euphoria but I quickly got caught up in the musical argument and left the technicolor presentation behind.

My last two selections for comparative purposes were life (talking) by the Pat Metheny Group and Mysterious Traveler by Weather Report. The really nice thing about the set up in the life (talking) is that it is so easy to forget about the medium or the system on which you are listening and instead just focus on the music. The Weather Report album is one of Columbia’s overly bright pressings from the mid 1970’s and is at times quite saturated. This time, textures were very clear and clean. The music was all there and intensely involving, even if the brightness was never quite tamed. Nonetheless, the listening experience was quite satisfying for the first time.

Conclusions

The Ypsilon VPS-100 is far superior to any other phonostage, tube or solid-state, which I have auditioned by a rather significant margin. I think that I can best communicate this by comparing it to my previous reference, the Einstein Turntable’s Choice. In comparison, The VPS-100: (1) is better able to recreate the space of the recording venue or in some cases the lack of any spatial cues, (2 ) is particularly good in differentiating among different drum heads, (3) highs are clearer and more distinct without any hint of stridency, (4) imaging is better with excellent focus and specificity, particularly when used in combination with the equally superb Odin tone arm cable, (5) dynamics in the mids are better, but the real achievement is that dynamics are consistent throughout the frequency range with no particular frequency band singled out, (6) bass is astonishing in its power and ability to plum the depths and (7) macro dynamics are somewhat better but the Ypsilon truly shines with respect to micro dynamics.

So far my only nits with the unit are that in combination with the MC16 transformer, gain is somewhat less than with the Einstein and the unit is susceptible to hum unless all cables are optimally grounded. Properly grounded, this is an exceptionally quiet unit.

The VPS-100 has punch, definition and subterranean extension in the bottom octaves combined with transparency, speed and limitless extension at the top while never slighting the midrange. It can be improved somewhat by judicious choice of power cord and the use of Finite Element Cerabases underneath it.

I hope that my enthusiasm comes through. In the end, I bought the review sample.

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