Soulution preamp, KR VA 200, Brinkmann Balance, Allnic, Dalby

Avalon Compass

Please note above LPs are in VG condition and will have clicks and pops. The Decca London cart particularly picks up noise as well. The difference between VG and NM for the Mendelssohn is over 700 quid and if I had one I would not be using it for travel. 

This article covers compares of

1. KR VA 200 to Vitus Signature 50w SS010 and the Edge NL while driving Avalon Compass Diamonds with Brinkmann Balance, Allnic H3000 Phono and Allnic L3000 pre. Also compared to the Allnic A6000  (60w) with KR 300b tubes which is the stock amp driving this system, and to the Kronzilla 45w

2. Comparing the Soulution 720 pre to the Allnic L3000 pre in the above Avalon system

3. We compared various carts over the last year from Koetsu Jade with Diamond Cantilever, Urushi with ESCO paratrace, Decca London reference, various SPUs, FR 7Fz, FR 7fc, and FR 7 PW1 (professional world). All were easily swappable with headshells on his FR 66s

 

We also got to try Etsuro urushi and AN IO Gold but since they were not his they were not optimally set up. Quite musical though. 

KR Va 200

But before we head there, a bit of a background about how I chanced upon the KR VA 200. I was visiting my Lampi distributor Greg of Gpoint Audio to compare my Golden Gate with the Pacific. He had recently taken on KR, and when I reached there, he had a new pair of speakers called Emmespeakers, with various amps from KR, Thoress, and cube audio, with the lower model of the Sikora TT, Kuzma 4p, and Art 1000.

Emme Speakers

These are speakers that retail at 9k GBP, and were excellent. The sound seemed coherent as if it came from a single driver, there was no bass boom as with other well known cone brands, and there was plenty of clean bass, deep and wide stage. The differences in the Lampi models and the valves were pretty clear, and the vinyl play back was excellent. However, what caught my attention was the loads of ease with power and flow in the room, that came from the KR VA 200. None of the other amps in the room had the same wattage, and frankly, the speakers did not require them. They sounded excellent with the Cube EL 84 (agile and faster in the mids, but a bit underpowered in the bass), quiet with a large stage with the Thoress 48w amps, but with the KR VA 200, they sounded magical. Though the money at over 40k euros was a lot.

I now itched to compare these amps on tougher to run speakers. I therefore checked with a friend in London if it was ok to try them at his. I had met him during my Brinkmann Balance journey, and below is an excerpt from the article describing his system

Brinkmann BalanceAvalon Compass

Avalon Compass

“Howard’s system is set in a 30*16 ish room. He has pulled the speakers 2/3rd (14 feet) into the room, sits extremely close, and crosses over to B&W DB1D subs at 40 Hz, one sub in front, one at the back. He sits extremely nearfield, getting his room reflections out of the equation, and the stage gets thrown back, with an excellent, smooth bass response. No crossover confusion, no bass boom or lack of bass, no disparity between tops and bottom as often with cones. Howard listens to a fair amount of classical, moved up from the Lagrange (preferred the BB much more). We played my LPs, followed by some choral work using Howard’s LPs. I was surprised to note how easily the Allnic was driving the Avalon. Possibly because we were near field. Also, I cannot say what would happen if we drove them with VTL or Vitus. “

Well I did not have a VTL or Vitus, but I now had found a 200w KR to confirm what I had politely left out of the above write-up, that the Allnic was underpowering the Avalon. So we agreed to try the KR VA 200, and the Kronzilla, at Howard’s. Initially, we compared the Allnic to the kronzilla, as they were both of a similar wattage. Not much of a difference. If anything, the Allnic though more colored was more enjoyable, in a Jadis sort of way.

So we hooked up the 200w monster. Each mono has 8 valves, and the retail of the valves itself adds to 5k Euro. As soon as we plugged it in, boom, the soundstage exploded, and the system started galloping. Henryk Szeryng and the CSO now seemed much more like a concert, filling up a substantial part of the room that had previously been uncovered. The flow of Rubinstein, and the strike of the notes on the piano, was much better. With Oistrakh’s Bruch Scottish Fantasia, there is a part which has a quiet rise and fall of the orchestra, which is magical. With the Allnic, even if we looked for it, we could not notice it…it was flat. On Wagner’s Gotterdammerung (I have, btw, watched the Ring Cycle the Royal Opera House. The Gotterdammerung and the Valkyrie are worth going for. Siegfried and Rheingold are meh), the vocalist had much more drive with the KR, more chest. And the orchestra in the background unraveled more…while with Allnic, the focus was on the vocalist, while the orchestra was flat, in one layer. With Monte Verdi Vesper’s the decay and concert hall was more with the KR, while the Allnic kept the focus on the odd instrument. All differences were highlighted more with the Decca London Reference, than with the Koetsu Jade with the Diamond Cantilever.

The amps were left at Howard’s place for a few days, and Howard had now realized, like many owners who get comfortable with their own systems, that the Allnic was underpowering, and that his system was capable of much more. He now wanted to try other amps, and my recommended amps as always, among those available in London, were Vitus, Berning Quads, and a push pull like CAT to see which best suits. David Berning has now shut down, so Howard did not want to consider a product that might be tougher to repair if required. Howard was able to get a Vitus Signature SS 010 for demo. Unfortunately, the Vitus did not sound good in this system at all. Too slow and sluggish. I normally like Vitus, so apart from this model possibly not being as good as the SM 102 or SS 101-3, it was possible that the Allnic pre was not driving the amp properly.

Next, Howard got for demo The Edge NL. This amp had a much higher dynamic range, ability to layer and to resolve complexity, and loads of drive, as compared to the Allnic, but it was sterile. We just could not enjoy it like the Allnic or the KR. The decay and tonal differences were not there. And the KR was doing what the Edge did on drive and on resolving complexity. A friend of Howard’s also left him a Soulution 720 for trial. We were able to compare the Edge with the Allnic pre and the Soulution pre, but that did not change our findings.

The other thing was, whenever I got up to change the LP, I could enjoy the music with the KR as I stepped i between the speakers. Hell, it was also great almost 14 feet behind the speakers at the other wall. But with the Vitus and the Edge, the stage collapsed as soon as you got up.

While the KR was excellent, I could see what Howard liked about the Allnic. It had addictive highs, and a nice and beautiful decay. If I ever get the hORNs Universum or Devore Orangutans or such speakers, I would love trying Allnic amps on them. However, as someone who listened mostly to classical, for me the inability to drive the Avalons properly was too much of a compromise. But monetarily, the KR was just too expensive. If someone has an all out spendability and wants to drive Wilsons, Focals, Avalons, this amp is highly recommended.

Howard did ask me about Lamm hybrids. I had no idea, and these are not available easily in the UK for a compare. However, we did find article comparing Lamm hybrids to another KR, which is a 120w amp, not as good as the VA 200. http://www.theaudiobeat.com/equipment/kr_audio_va910.htm

I was interested in further comparing these KR amps on Tannoys and Martin Logans, but unfortunately they have now gone back to Czech.

Soulution 720 preamp

There was a twist in the tale though. The Soulution 720 preamp. OB, well known in the UK for being a dealer who runs Winter’s Audio, and a Thai restaurant,  and is an avid audiophile picking up gems, had provided Howard this Soulution pre to try out.

As soon as we paired the Allnic with the Soulution, we noticed tremendous drive. There  was a massive room been built behind the speakers, providing much more space. The Allnic was now adding layers to the Wagner that it did not with the Allnic pre, on the orchestral stuff, on the Monteverdi Vespers, just like the more powerful amps did, and the system retained that Allnic beauty, and the decay in the highs and the mids. I was expecting the Soulution to sound like the Edge, but here, sandwiched between the Allnic phono and the power amp, it was endearingly musical. The noise floor had dropped considerably, and even at low volumes, there was ease and flow. As you increased the volume, it scaled admirably without hurting your ears, because there was…zero distortion. The tone and decay from the recordings was fantastic. I have never seen a preamp I could so freely increase the volume on, and without any pressure, it would improve the sound in all directions. 

I have never before on my journeys, ever swapped a piece of gear, that taught me what transparency to source was as well as the Soulution did. Yes, I have heard transparent systems, and colored ones, and know which speakers color more than others, but have not had a box swap provide this kind of epiphany.

I was convinced about this pre right away, but it was not my money. Howard spent a month with it, then bought it. The preamp is the older model, and available at attractive prices. It can be upgraded to the 725.

Howard’s 1 quid Tallis Scholars Stabat Mater was bouncing off the concert walls with admirable decay. When we cleaned the LP with his Audiodesk, I could not notice much difference with the Allnic pre. Now, with Soulution pre, the difference was mahoosive. You could hear the resonance of the instruments and the walls of the hall. Previously, though I had liked my Dalby record weight on his Brinkmann, he hadn’t, but now, with the Soulution, he preferred it. He has many carts, from FR carts, SPUs, Koetsu Jade with Diamond Cantilever, Koetsu Urushi Vermillion, and the Decca London reference. Carts started showing more of a difference.

Interestingly, the Urushi which did not sound anywhere as good as the others with the Allnic pre, was now sounding the best. This is not a stock Urushi, it has been retipped by Expert Stylus of UK with the paratrace. It sounds different to other Urushis that I have heard and not liked. The Jade with the Diamond cantilever sounded colored making recordings sound similar. The Decca still sounded good, but is a tough animal. It can fatigue easily, unless the set up is spot on. When all the VTA, SRA, and stars align, it is like a musical version of Lyra. It is also not an easy tracker on older LPs. 

We then began to enjoy comparing LPs before and after cleaning. The resonances of piano and violin were incredible. Normally, I just audition a part of the Bach Partitas, but now, I let it slip into Chaconne. Once it goes to Chaconne, it becomes difficult to stop. I checked for dryness, there is none. Liquidity, flow, it is all there. Will it work with a horn? I do not know. But this is currently my favorite preamp, and is excellent with valve power amps. If you have amps from AR, Lamm, CJ, CAT, Berning Quads, with a cone or a planar, get yourself an audition of this preamp. Get rid of your muddiness and grain from the valve pre. Ian (Madfloyd on the forums) did have it with the CAT, and moved to Dartzeel (and yes, he has compared Ypsilon, Aries Cerat, CAT, CJ preamps). Yes, when I first heard the Soulution pre, Mike Lavigne’s Dartzeel sound came to mind – the familiar transparency to source, and tone and decay coming out of a low noise, zero distortion background. It comes with a built in phono stage, though this is a lower level Soulution phono. But it is always good to have an additional phono, back up to your main phono, especially if your main phono is valve.

There is no hard or sterile sound from this pre. In fact it is warm-neutral, possibly because of the valve sandwich. It will allow you to drive speakers with lower watts than you would need normally. It will possibly provide one of the best layering you can hear. The FM cannot do this. I have not compared CH to check if it can. AR Ref 10, VTL 7.5, don’t compare. So CH and Darts can be possible contenders to Soulution, but the discontinued models of Soulution have excellent pricing.

You heard a lusher sounding Decca violin above. Here is Ginette Neveu on a harder not so well pressed record. 

I took that from behind the seating area. Since the Soulution was installed, the speaker position has not changed. I would love to experiment with change in seating position now. 

The other thing we noticed, and which I have noticed consistently before, is that the Dalby clamp tremendously improves performance on unsuspended TTs, especially if they do not have a Vacuum hold-down. With suspension it is usually negative. With Vacuum hold down difference is minimal, slightly positive. TTs like Bergmann and Brinkmann benefit the most. 

All that you heard above is the system in the final state, with my Dalby on top. 

Here you can hear a LP that was a very hard pressing from Columbia of Claudio Arrau playing Beethoven piano concerto 3. We compared it with Annie Fischer mono and stereo DGG, Clara Haskil on Dutch Philips, and Richter on DGG Red Tulip. The Arrau with the stillpoints clamp was unlistenable, not organized, and we had to switch it off immediately. We put the Dalby on, and this was our reaction – still hard, but we heard most of the first movement straight through

For those wondering, yes I did compare Soulution pre with the Grandinote pre at Wohramstudio in Leipzig

And the amps with the AVM. I found the preamp, and not the amps, to be the magic so far

The Brinkmann Balance continues to be one of my favorite tables. The tonal weight, the linearity through the midbass is superior to any table I know of. I think as a table it is much superior to most tables on this site.

Overall, The Brinkmann, Soulution 720, KR VA 200, Decca London, the Urushi in this very specific case, and the Allnic phono and poweramps are all winners. The Avalons are fantastic cones as well. While on a fresh system I would start with horns, if I had this system, I would not change it. That said, till Howard had the Allnic pre in there, it was quite meh. The Soulution pre transformed it. Can the headroom be improved further by getting amps more powerful than the Allnic? Yes definitely. But to do that and to retain the musicality would require a lot of R&D and money.

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