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Shindo Masseto Tube Preamplifier Review

Jack Roberts' 4th incursion into the world of Shindo

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Shindo Masseto tube preamplifier


The Masseto is the newest preamplifier from Ken Shindo, falls right in between the $7,900 Monbrison and the $16,000 Vosne-Romanee. It’s designed around a special Telefunken LCP86 triode/pentode vacuum tube, and it uses one such tube per channel in the line stage, and they are mounted in a quaint little arched window in the front panel. The phono section has one Philips 6189W and one 12AT7 tube per channel. The Masseto has a dual power supply based on a pair of Philips 6X4WA rectifier tubes. There are also lots of other new old-stock parts like oil caps, and the like.

At the same time, it uses the very best Tocos carbon composite volume control. The moving coil section has a pair of Shindo’s amorphous step-up transformers. The Masseto also buffers the output, both line and phono with a pair of their own output transformers. As with all Shindo gear, the build quality is just impeccable. Each one is hand built for the customer, and of course it is “Shindo Green” inside and out. Admittedly, on first glance one could easily mistake it for the current Shindo Monbrison. It is just a hair taller and the green LEDs that illuminate the Telefunken LCP86 tubes thankfully aren’t as bright as they are on the Monbrison.

The Sound

It doesn’t just look a lot like the Monbrison, it also sounds a lot like a Monbrison. One of the descriptions I have seen on the web is that the Masseto is a Monbrison on steroids. I don’t know if that’s a fair description, but I can see where they’re coming from.

I had the Aurieges, the Monbrison, and the Masseto all in my system in the same week. I want to tell you: I love all three of these preamps. I would even say I can easily imagine any one of them in my state-of-the-art reference system. They are all cut from the same sonic fabric, but they are all easy to tell from one another. That sonic fabric they are cut from is Ken Shindo’s obsession to get the tone right. That tone that lets you imagine a real sax, piano, or person is there with you.

If you have not read my reviews of the Aurieges L and the Monbrison, I suggest you do, because I could say everything in those two reviews again; but I’m not going to.

When I was reviewing the Monbrison, I said, “The sense that real people and real instruments were in the room was even more apparent than with the Aurieges-L. I wouldn’t have believed this possible by the way. It also seems to breathe air into the room.” Then, I went on to say, “I could almost say read the review of the Aurieges-L and just let me add that the Monbrison sounds the same except it lets you hear more of everything.”

Well, I feel a bit redundant and I hate to say it again, but the truth is I can’t believe it again. The Masseto lets you hear a lot more. It lets you hear more of the hall, the club, or wherever it’s recorded. It doesn’t just let you hear more than you can ever imagine, it also lets you experience LPs in a way that makes me react to them more as if they were live music. In fact, I bet you’ll be disappointed in most studio recordings, after hearing audiophile-grade recordings through the Masseto that convey a sense of real space.

It also lets you hear more natural air in the recording when it’s present than I had ever known was possible. I’m not talking about some “phasey” or hissy sound. I’m talking about real honest-to-goodness breathing of people, instruments, and acoustical space.

Sometimes the Masseto almost lets you hear more than you may want to hear. If strings are miked too close, you will hear more vibration than you’ve ever realized was there before. If a horn player sticks his horn right over the mic, it may startle you so much you almost come right out of your chair.

The Sound of Music, That is Real Music Right There in the Room with You!

I’m not going to break this review down into things like detail, soundstage, midrange, bass, etc. I hope you get my point and understand that to do so somehow belittles what the Masseto does so well. If you want to know things like that, read the review of the Monbrison and just know the Masseto does all of that, and it does it better.

No – with the Masseto we have to talk about experience, that is experiencing a musical performance right there in your room.

What we need to talk about is how you can enjoy the music more; how much more likely you are to clap at the end of a great performance; how easy it is to hear the variations in the plucking of string instruments; in the end just how much more alive and real music sounds in my room with the Masseto. I think you will find that you emotionally and physically react to recorded music more like live music than you ever have before with the Masseto.

The difference between Shindo preamps and other great preamps is more about the differences in how you react to the music than it is about the sound in audiophile terms. When you have reached the level of the Masseto this is even more so. You will find performances more rewarding; you will find the differences in instruments now add to the texture of the musical performance; you will hear more of the colors of the music; and I’m absolutely sure you will find it much easier to follow the flow of the performance.

Don’t misunderstand me now and think I’m saying it makes bad performances sound good. It doesn’t. I listen to the Guess Who’s album American Woman, and while very emotionally involving, it’s still easy to tell that someone in the recording or remastering chain had a heavy hand in rolling off the top-end. No, it’s not forgiving but it does allow less-than-stellar recordings to be emotionally satisfying. Of course, it can do nothing to help less-than-stellar performances. It’s kind of paradoxical in the way it is so revealing and so satisfying at the same time.

Another quality that I have found with the Shindo preamps in combination with really great SET amps using Western Electric 300Bs, is a scarily real quality to human voices. The Masseto takes this to a whole new level. It doesn’t matter if it is a female vocal, a male vocal, a choir, or spoken voice, somehow the Masseto breaths life and soul into those voices. One night I was listening to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Evita; all of a sudden Becky comes down from upstairs singing along to one of the songs. She says, “Sorry, I couldn’t resist, I just had to come down and listen”, but she couldn’t just listen, she kept singing along. This illustrates so well what I’m talking about when I say the Masseto is all about how you react to the music.

I know many people hate it when a reviewer talks about PRaT, but the Shindo Masseto defined a whole new level of musical flow for me. In fact, music just flows so naturally that it fools me sometimes and I forget I’m listening to recorded music. I can’t remember this happening before in my life. For example, I spent all this afternoon at a small party with a very good jazz band and I spent last night at Yoshi’s hearing Jane Monheit. Yet, when I got home tonight I put on K.D. Lane’s “Shadow Land” and I did not feel the usual withdrawal of going from good live music to my system. I think a big part of that is the way the music flows, and how natural the PRaT is. I should add I don’t quite get this with digital sources.

In my first review of a Shindo product, the Aurieges-L, I said:

“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 versus 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, its layers, timbers, harmonics, and feelings. All of this is much easier with the Aurieges in the system than without it.”

Now, I’m saying that all of that is true of every Shindo preamp I have heard regardless of price, but the Masseto does it in a way that is a significant measure beyond the Aurieges or the Monbrison. It is also the basic characteristic that sets Shindo preamps apart from all other preamps I have heard.

After spending many, many hours in the last year and a half listening to different Shindo preamps, it is my humble, but informed opinion that there is something about them that sets them above the rest if your goal is to emotionally experience music in your home. The question of which one is simple. Buy the best one you can afford. The Aurieges is plenty good enough to let you build an outstanding system around it. After you get the other equipment you want, then the sky or the wallet’s the limit.

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