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    Review - SP13 preamp with PH-12 phono board

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    rustybutt

    Posts : 30
    Join date : 2015-01-12
    Location : Alameda, California

    Review - SP13 preamp with PH-12 phono board

    Post by rustybutt on Wed Feb 11, 2015 2:42 am

    I recently took delivery of an SP13 preamp with the PH-12 phono board, build to order by Troy Madden.  As you may notice in the images below, it has a traditional balance control instead of separate level controls for left/right channel as is standard for the SP13.  Troy did this at my request.  The preamp also has standard Alps pots instead of stepped attenuators.

    My previous preamp was a Bryston .5B solid state preamp.  Bryston builds equipment to LAST.  Their standard warranty is for 20 years and is transferrable.  So if you buy a 19 year old Bryston amp and it needs work, they'll fix it for free, no questions asked.  Wow...

    Besides the pramp, my system consists of the following gear:


    • Ubuntu Linux laptop w/Banshee music server
      Peachtree DAC
      Tascam CD-200 (digital feed to the Peachtree)
      Linn LP-12 turntable
      Rega RB300 tonearm
      Rega Elys cartridge
      Linkwith Orion tri-amped Loudspeaker System
      B&K AV1260, 60 wpc MOSFET amp, using 8 channels of 12


    I've listened to the Bryston compared to other solid state preamps and find the only real differences I ever heard were in the low end.  The Bryston is a solid performer and has given me good service for many years.   I've listened to some other tube gear - Mac C22, CJ PV2 and a Shure M-65 phono preamp.  The Mac C22 was the best of the bunch and had that nice sweet sound you expect from tube gear.  It was quite different from the Bryston.  There was a real difference in the timbre of voices and horns.  Very pleasing.  Kind of like comparing vinyl to digital.

    Listening to the SP13 was very different from what I remember from the Mac C22.  The SP13 actually has a better defined low end than the solid state Bryston.  That wasn't what I expected.

    The Linkwitz Orions image as well as any loudspeaker I've ever heard, at any price.  But the SP13 took imaging to a whole new level for me.  I've never heard imaging this well defined, front to back.  Wonderful.

    But the thing that really surprised me was how voices just seem to come alive.  In fact, everything just comes alive.  The Bryston is a good piece of gear and was considered a good performer in its day.  It certainly stacks up well against any other solid state preamp I've heard.  But the SP13 has done things I never knew were possible.  

    The thing which surprised me the most was that the improvement of the line stage was even more dramatic than the phono stage.  My digital sources are vastly improved.

    From what I remember about the Mac C22, it had that traditional tube sweetness, which honestly was a little fuzzy.  There's no fuzziness with the SP13, but there is certainly LIFE.  Amazing.  Frankly words fail me.

    I have to confess to a lot of trepedation in dropping $1500 on a preamp without having a chance to hear it first.  Fortunately this has been everything I had hoped for and more.

    For those of you who are DIY guys, have heard of the Linkwitz Orions and would like to hear them, there's a whole list of Orion owners who have offered people to come take a listen.  

    http://www.linkwitzlab.com/orion_challenge.htm

    The full Linkwitz system will run you about $5k (including the cost of amplification) or so depending on how much you build yourself.  You can get them already built, but at considerably more expense.  Linkwitz also has a MUCH less expensive system called the LXmini, which will run you about $1100 or so (including amplification). I'd stack the Linkwitz systems up against ANY loudspeaker at ANY price. Wilson Audio, whoever. Even the little LXmini, within it's limitations, is at the ultimate Hi-End to my ears.










    tubes4hifi
    Admin

    Posts : 1261
    Join date : 2008-11-30

    Re: Review - SP13 preamp with PH-12 phono board

    Post by tubes4hifi on Wed Feb 11, 2015 1:10 pm

    thanks for the great review and the great photos, I'm glad David convinced you to take the leap!
    I could certainly understand your feelings when you said you "didn't want to spend $1500 on a blind date"
    but I think you can agree now that you got at least twice the value of that.
    You'll be the envy of all your "ORION" friends.
    And another thanks to Troy for the great workmanship on the preamp.
    Roy

    colin86325

    Posts : 40
    Join date : 2014-04-01

    Re: Review - SP13 preamp with PH-12 phono board

    Post by colin86325 on Wed Feb 11, 2015 1:21 pm

    Nice, write-up.  Thanks for taking the time to post this!

    deepee99

    Posts : 1260
    Join date : 2012-05-23
    Location : Wallace, Idaho

    Re: Review - SP13 preamp with PH-12 phono board

    Post by deepee99 on Wed Feb 11, 2015 2:02 pm

    Rusty,
    Guess my offer to buy that -13 from you if you didn't like it is no longer in the offing . . .
    Laughing
    Glad yer happy. And that's a sweet build, what you'd expect from Troy. You've got the best of the best.
    I'm thinking of putting my Vandersteen 5Acs on the market but will need replacements, of course. I'll investigate the Linkwith.
    Cheerio,
    David




    rustybutt

    Posts : 30
    Join date : 2015-01-12
    Location : Alameda, California

    Re: Review - SP13 preamp with PH-12 phono board

    Post by rustybutt on Wed Feb 11, 2015 3:14 pm

    deepee99 wrote:Rusty,
    Guess my offer to buy that -13 from you if you didn't like it is no longer in the offing . . .
    Laughing
    Glad yer happy. And that's a sweet build, what you'd expect from Troy. You've got the best of the best.
    I'm thinking of putting my Vandersteen 5Acs on the market but will need replacements, of course. I'll investigate the Linkwith.
    Cheerio,
    David





    David,

    I'm as much a fan of Linkwitz as you are of Roy and Troy.  Siegfried is now retired and pursues his passion in audio engineering with his loudspeaker designs.  This is a guy who is legendary and knows his stuff as much as anyone on the planet.

    Depending on your sound level requirements and your ability to DIY, you have a number of choices.  If you need to have your loudspeakers play at higher levels, as you'd require for a lot of rock, big band jazz or large orchestral recordings, then you'd really want to do either the Orion 3.4 design, or the LX521 design.  Both will cost in the same ballpark.  The finished Orion will look better than the LX521, but the LX521 is Siegfried's latest design and I'm sure he had his reasons for it.  Both designs call for 8 channels of amplification at 60 wpc, which pretty much eliminates tube amplifiers unless you have a lot more money than I do.  I run a B&K AV1260 MOSFET amp, which has 12 channels at 60wpc.  Linkwitz recommends an amp made by ATI, which costs a bit more than the B&K.  I think they're likely equivalent.  I found my B&K on EBay for $500.  They retail new for about $1200.

    You'll save yourself a fair amount if you are able to build his active crossover yourself.  Siegfried will sell you the bare circuit board and design for you to roll your own.  I'm a coward and dropped about $750 or so for mine, pre-assembled and tested by a local builder.

    if you listen to music which requires a lower level of sound - voices, acoustic guitar, classical chamber music, etc, then the LXmini is the ticket.  The cost of the plans from Linkwitz plus the parts kit from Madisound is under $700 and can be assembled in a lazy weekend.   This design calls for 4 channels of amplification at a minimum of 50wpc.  I think it would be very interesting to hear it powered by two VTA ST70 amps...   This loudspeaker was presented at the Rocky Mountain audio show not long ago and was showing better than a $50k+ system across the hall.  And it was being driven by a $400 solid state amp.

    As I recall, you're somewhere in Idaho or something.  There are a couple of guys in your neighboring state of Washington who welcome visitors to hear their Orions. You could probably get there/back in a long day's drive.  I was able to visit Siegfried Linkwitz at his home here in the San Francisco area and hear his Orions before making the commitment.   Buying the SP13 really was like a $1500 blind date.  Looks like I got lucky once again!

    rustybutt

    Posts : 30
    Join date : 2015-01-12
    Location : Alameda, California

    Re: Review - SP13 preamp with PH-12 phono board

    Post by rustybutt on Wed Feb 11, 2015 5:18 pm

    https://www.madisoundspeakerstore.com/2-way-speaker-kits/lxmini-linkwitz-lab-speaker-kit-pair/?mobile=0

    http://www.hometheatershack.com/forums/gtg-clubs-associations-audio-fests/96313-rocky-mountain-audio-fest-rmaf-2014-show-coverage.html#post953457

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