Product DescriptionPreamp w/phonostage
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Reviews 1 - 2 (2 Reviews Total)
a Audio EnthusiastDate Reviewed:
August 13, 2004Bottom Line:
This Wright Sound 12A pre-amp works perfectly in tandem with my Wright WPA 3.5 monoblocks. The pre-amp is clean, has good dynamics, has good frequency extension,and has good harmonics. Very musical.
Used product for: More than 1 year
Duration Product Used: Audio Enthusiast
Product model year: 2002
Purchased At: wright sound
a an AudiophileDate Reviewed:
September 2, 1999Bottom Line:
The current madness regarding single-ended-triode (SET) amps finally infected me to the point where I just had to evaluate one or I’d need to be strapped to a gurney and shot-up with 50cc of Thorazine-STAT. My new pair of Klipschorns were frolicking in the warm tube-fired guidance of Audio Research Corp but I just knew there was more to life. Oh sure it sounded great but what did everyone else, especially the Japanese, know about the SET/horn combination that I didn’t? And was it really that good? And didn’t I need to spend a Kajillion dollars to close in on Valhalla. I needed answers. So I emailed George and Brenda Wright at www.wright-sound.com. And over the next couple of months I tuned in, dropped out and got lost in a world heretofor only dreamt of—the land of reasonably priced, quality hi-fi...The idea of using real-low- powered tube amps bounced around awhile in my evil head before I schemed enough interesting angles for an article concerning the use of a three-watt amp, oh, excuse me, three-point-five watt amp in conjunction with some big-ass horns.
What kind of headroom are we talking here for one? And what about bass?
The ARC VT60/K-horn bass...you’d need a surfboard to ride that 35hz wave sometimes...Say what you will about the VT60’s black sheep status in the ARC line but that beauty will plumb the depths when called upon to do so.
And what about an amp /preamp combo—with a phono-stage yet—that sells for less than my now-discontinued ARC VT60? What kind of quality are we talking about here anyway? Judged from the pictures on the web-site, the Wright WPA 3.5 and the WPL10V look more like mean and nasty test equipment from a Nazi lab than the graceful ARC stuff in my rack...coal-black cases with industrial switches and ruthlessly efficient 2A3 tubes FROM RED CHINA! What in the sam hell could this stuff possibly sound like? Besides Pat Buchanan would beat the dog sh** out of me if he saw me burning RED CHINESE tubes. And just what about subliminal messages? What kind of communist propaganda would be oozing from these Godless 2A3 output tubes? One day I’d be relaxing with a little Miles or Coltrane and pretty soon I’d start with the “power-sweating.” The phone would ring and Angela Landsbury, on the other end, would suggest I, “Pass the time with a little solitaire.” Before you knew it, we’d have a commie operative in the White House...
The Yin and the Yang of Life
The love of music and the “gee-whiz” of electronics comes together perfectly in hi-fi. It is the ultimate mix of art and science and all that happy crap. But in electronics, as the power and number of features increase so does circuit complexity and the sheer volume of componentry. It cannot be avoided. This is neither good nor bad necessarily. I would rather have a complex driver arrangement/network ala Richard Vandersteen’s Model 5 than a simpler rig that had simplicity as its only virtue. But a simple design that basically gets many important aspects of sound re-creation right, ala Paul Klipsch’s Klipschorns, would seem to have less in the way of the music. (Although, if we were in Texas right now, I’d stake the Klipsch design team to a fire-ant hill and dump a bottle of warm Royal Crown Cola on them for not removing that pointless elliptical filter in the tweeter path of their big three—La Scala, Belle and K-horn. It was put there to protect a delicate driver that Klipsch no longer uses. Snip the lead going to the cap and coil nearest the grill and you get rid of a ton of sibilance. Are you listening Mr. Hunter?)
And what’s true in speakers is even more pronounced in preamps and amps. The Wright Sound Company gear has far fewer components than most. It is the simplest hi-fi amp I’ve ever played with. And because it uses point-to-point wiring instead of the more common circuit board, it is less prone to noise infiltration. To my way of thinking, this means less in between the signal and you.
Couple this with the fact that the K-horn’s crossover network has three capacitors, three coils and an inductor in the signal path wired point-to-point. See a trend? Yes, you cynical types are scoffing already aren’t you? 1930’s technology—horns and SETs. You’re right it is 1930s technology so if you’re looking for a technological showpiece you’ll have to look elsewhere. But after extensive listening sessions with the Wright gear I believe the old ways are perhaps the best ways. Pete Townsend of the WHO once remarked, “Led Zeppelin perfected the sound of the four-piece band. It’s gone downhill since.” And in some ways the same can be said of hi-fi.
The WPA 3.5 is a 3.5-watt-per-channel single-ended-triode, zero-feedback mono amplifier. It uses Magnequest© output transformers and is configured so as to be self-biasing. It has an unusually low sensitivity (2V required for rated output) but worked fine with an ARC LS7. The WPL10V is an extremely simple preamp with a phono stage. Both the amp and preamp feature captive power cords. The power supply of the preamp feeds DC voltage to the preamp via a microphone cord referred to in product literature as an “umbilical cord”
I placed the WPL10V unit on the second shelf of my Standesign Penta rack and its separate power supply on the bottom shelf. The owner’s manual suggests separating the power supply from the preamp by at least 12-inches. I placed the WPA 3.5 Monoblocks side by side on homemade oak stand next to the Penta. Each component had its own Isobar surge suppresser/RFnoise filter connected to a dedicated circuit with an isolated ground receptacle.
Hook up was typical with nothing unusual to report. The selection of ohm taps on the back of the amps was different from most tube amps in that there is only one set of binding posts. Selection of ohm taps requires the user to move a spade lugged wire to the appropriate terminal on a plated terminal block. I quickly settled on the 4 ohm tap and left it there for the rest of the audition. The amps offer no provisions for balanced operation.
The preamp has no tape outs and no tape monitor, no mute, no tone controls, just two volume controls (one for each channel) and a selector. The phono stage is straight forward at 47Kohms shunted at 100 pF. The power switch is located on the power supply unit.
For this and all listening of late sources included a Thorens TD320MKIII with RDC platter/Shure V15VxMR and Pioneer Elite PD65 CD player. Speaker cables were Audio Quest Indigo and interconnects were AQ Turquoise. As I mentioned, I chose to use Klipschorns for this evaluation due to their 104db/w/m sensitivity and because all us horn-loving types know the audio legend about PWK voicing his K-horns with a 2A3 Brown amp.
From the first second of playback I knew I was in for a rare treat. After the first evening was over, I was convinced I was rocketing toward Valhalla.
First off, I have to report that this Wright set-up is quiet. The amps gently buzz a second or two after turning on but this only lasts a second. After that, all is silence when no signal is being supplied. Likewise, Mr. Wright’s preamp is also dead quiet. Even the phono stage remains silent. Klipschorns don’t lie about noise. The sensitivity of K-horns requires extremely quiet electronics and the Wright stuff fits that bill as well as any equipment I’ve heard—tube or solid state. Mr. Wright’s preamp/amp is as quiet as a Clinton cabinet member come Senate hearing time.
You’re probably wondering if 3.5-watts is enough to put the smack down on your ass and I must tell you that 3.5-watts from the Wright amp was plenty even when the decibels reached into the 108db+ range on heavy duty bass-intensive music. There may have been a little flattening or compression at this volume level but I certainly didn’t stay up there for long. For a little louder than normal listening, averaging 98 db, the Wright 3.5s handled every transient perfectly and never even came close to running out of gas. The transient response was truly incredible. Way quick with the proverbial leading edges.
This is not to say that the WPAs pumped out the volume of bass that the VT60 could. It never did. If jackhammer bass is what you’re after stick with an ultralinear design. The strength of the WPA’s bass reproduction was not that it could dilate one’s sphincter valve, but that you could hear every fret and pluck on well recorded software. There is a quality of bass that I’ve not heard before from the K-horns. Magneplanar quickness and articulation.
This leads to the revelatory aspect of the Wright stuff. I had always thought that horns didn’t really sing until they started getting pushed into the 98db range. The Wright combo made even soft listening sessions at 86db average enjoyable (My newest baby, Patrick Joseph, was sleeping upstairs). I could hear a loudness-switch-type fullness to the sound with the WPAs on idle.
The Wright gear combo stripped away all pretense of hi-fi and replaced it with life and sunlight. I know it’s cliché to mention that the zero feedback/SET amps remove electronic haze but it is true in this case. The Wright amps did just that. Fingers on guitars strings and bows across violin strings sounded incredibly lifelike, particularly on Willie Nelson’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow LP (Columbia FC 36883). The entire album is a minimalist’s dream with no electric stuff nor drums and Chesky-like clarity. This album is Willie and some good old boys picking classics in what sounds like live takes and no overdubs. Here the WPA shined like no other amp I’ve had on the big Klipsch. Willie’s voice was presented in such a lush and forward three-dimensionality that he stands in front of you as opposed to the more common “you are there, looking in through a window” non-sense. Willie is here baby, yeah! In the living room. If you’re toes aren’t tapping when Willie and the boys break into “Exactly Like You” check your pulse.
I must also report that the Wright combo images like no other equipment I’ve heard on the K-horns. Perhaps I should say that the combo got the hell out of the way of the image because much like fine optics, I’ve come to think that, as a general rule, the image is always there. It’s just that the more optics/electronics you throw in its way, the worse the image. But whatever the case , these things image like a mo-fo. Not only did the K-horns image well side to side, the Wright combo enabled them to have front to back depth (a common criticism of K-horns is that they don’t image front to back) In fact, if your speakers won’t image with this Wright combo, chop them into firewood ‘cause they ain’t no good as speakers!
The phono preamp is an incredible bargain considering it is part of the $749.00 price of the WPL10V. Because the preamp did not have a tape out I could not truly test the phono stage unto itself. Be that as it may, it proved an excellent match with the much-underrated Shure V15VxMR. Vocals were forward and centered solidly when recorded that way. The lush presentation of female voices, notably Tori Amos’ “Cornflake Girl” from the Under the Pink LP (Warner UK pressing) revealed every breath—and Tori knows how to use her breath, grrrrrrrrrrr—she took and every heretofor unnoticed inflection. As far as I can tell there are no provisions to adjust loading short of soldering in new components. And I did experience a slight hum when turned to the phono input and I touched the volume controls. Grounding problems? I dunno but it occurred only when I touched the volume knobs would never be noticeable on<98db/w/m speaks.
As a linestage the WPL10V offered no surprises. It is not as edgy as the ARC LS-7 can occasionally be but does not seem to sacrifice delicate information in trade. How George Wright pulled this off I really don’t know. Talk between sources (tested by playing a CD and then changing the selector to another input channel) was incredibly low. Again bettering the ARC LS-7. I don’t personally care for dual volume controls and would prefer to see an Alps stereo pot or some such arrangement but I can’t argue with results.
I am having extreme difficulty describing what the Wright combo sounds like because it gets so far out of the way of the sound. In terms of transient response I know of no peers. In terms of getting close to the performers, Leon Redbone’s version of “I Ain’t Got Nobody” from his Whistling in the Wind CD (Private Music P2 2117) got downright spooky what with being able to hear his lips move and subtle groans that I never heard after dozens of times hearing this tune. The Wright stuff presents music in such a live fashion—minus the cyclic compression and fluff of typical hi-fi gear—that it’s almost unfair to call it stereo equipment. It’s more than that.
One phenomenon I noticed with the Wright gear that is worth reporting is a lack of sensitivity of cable choice. I did prefer to use the AQ speaker and interconnect wire but I got satisfactory results with the original Monster Cable running to the speaks and some basic Monster M350 interconnect. Typically I’d hear a great deal of difference, switching between cables but in this case the difference was much less pronounced. I had to call George Wright and ask him about this. He acknowledged it and attributed it to lack of introduced feedback in his circuitry. Roger that!
So is it good stuff?
At this point I need to remind faithful readers that this is relatively inexpensive, hand made gear! I did not make any excuses for it’s price and held it up to some very esteemed products. The question I kept asking myself was not whether this stuff was better for the money, rather was this stuff better period. In many ways the answer was yes. In everyway that is important to me now the Wright gear bettered much more expensive stuff. If I really wanted to “rock” and “punch out the jams booy” I would probably turn to the VT60 for muscle. The VT60 can “hammer” and “slam” in a way the Wright stuff can’t. But for critical listening and for acoustic music bring on the Wright. A properly voiced ultralinear for the bass horn and this 2A3 SET for the mids and highs in a bi-amp configuration on the K-horns-- heaven!
If you buy audio gear for the thick face plates and ten-ounce volume knobs you’ll not consider Wright Sound Company. The Wright equipment uses good stuff like Hovland capacitors and Noble pots but it’s in no danger of winning beauty awards. Maybe a signature edition, eh George? With big-ass iso feet things and Babinga-wood side panels. And as I’ve mentioned, I’m none too fond of the dual volume control arrangement. I would like to see some high-end jacks, lugs, etc., mounted on a bullet-proof plate due to my constant plugging-in and unplugging gear.
Small picks indeed for such wonderful products. I heartily endorse the design skills of George Wright. Wright Sound Company’s WPA 3.5 Monoblocks and the WPL10V combo does for SET amplification what the original NAD 3020 did for entry level gear back in the early ‘80s.
True Audio Reviews
Duration Product Used: an Audiophile
Reviews 1 - 2 (2 Reviews Total)
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