Artemis Labs PH-1 phono preamplifier Page 2
Thus my comments are distilled from a variety of experiences, not only with four different MC cartridges—the Linn Akiva, Miyabi 47, Brinkmann EMT Titanium, and Lyra Helikon Mono—but from using the Artemis PH-1 both with and without a standalone transformer, my Tamura TKS-83, in front of it. I think I have a handle on it now.
One of my first PH-1 experiences was with the Perlman-Ozawa recording of the Berg Violin Concerto, Dem Andenken eines Engels (Deutsche Grammophon 2531 110). Within just a few dozen measures, I thought: Bassoons are big damn instruments, aren't they? The cellos sounded big, too—but scaled realistically in relation to everything else. And the plucked strings sounded louder than when they were bowed. Thus were the ways in which the Artemis drew my attention to the music making, more than just the sound. I liked that quality of it from the start.
The sound was also quite nice. Not only did instruments have a good sense of scale, but the PH-1's stereo imaging was excellent as well. On Musica Antiqua Vienna's 1977 recording of the Branle d'Escosse and other short works by Renaissance composer Pierre Attaignant (Supraphon 1 11 2126), a percussion instrument that sounds like a very small tambourine appears from deep in the center stage. Not only did the Artemis preamp convey the sense of distance between that instrument and my listening seat, but it allowed the sound to retain its perspective, even as the player gave it a loud flourish at the end of the piece. Neat. That LP also showed off the PH-1's very good sense of texture, with believably reedy dulcians and the like (they're big bastards, too), and recorders that sounded like wood, not metal.
The PH-1 was at least as timbrally neutral and uncolored as the Linn Linto, and more so than the less expensive EAR—especially in the bottom octaves, where the Artemis, by comparison, plainly and obviously tightened up the sound of such things as string basses and the lowest-pitched drums in orchestral and pop music alike. For example, the sound of the floor tom accents in the chorus of "No Wonder," from Neil Young's Prairie Wind (Reprise/Classic Records 49593-1), had a good deal less overhang through the Artemis. Also like the Linn, the Artemis phono preamp played melodies without distorting pitches or pitch relationships. The solo horn that opens Schubert's Symphony 9, as performed by Josef Krips and the London Symphony (Decca/Speakers Corner SXL 2045) was serenely perfect—more so than usual, I think—and I was able to note the passing of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf by playing her fine recording of Strauss's Four Last Songs (Angel S 36347) without fatigue.
As to the question of active device vs trannie, I don't imagine that'll be resolved any time soon. Notwithstanding its comparatively colored bass registers, the EAR still found more musical drama in otherwise flat-sounding records—such as T. Rex's indispensable 1971 album, Electric Warrior (Reprise RS 6466), and other examples of overcompressed rock from that era. On the other hand: To the extent that a step-up device can affect one's perception of record surface noise, I believe active preamps have a very slight advantage, possibly owing to their relative freedom from ringing-type distortions. In that regard, the Artemis was superb on all of the less-than-perfect records I tried, stereo and mono alike: I've never heard better. In fact, its performance locked in with that of the Lyra Helikon Mono to provide an uncannily quiet ride.
A specific observation: For whatever reason, changes in resistive loading had a much less drastic effect on the sound with the Artemis PH-1 than I expected—or, indeed, than I'm used to with other products. Darned if I know why.
It would be disturbing to think that, after 10 years, I could still be heard carping about products that I resent. That would say more about me than it would about them.
So I've changed. I don't hate phono preamps any more.
The last leg of my transformation took place while I was writing this review: How can I help but love something this attractive, this well built, and this effective at helping me enjoy the domestic playback media that Mikey Fremer and I still think is the best?
I don't think the Artemis PH-1 offers a tremendous level of value for the money—not when you can buy a lovely, musical phono preamplifier like the EAR 834P ($1195) or the Linn Linto ($1700) for significantly less money, not to mention the altogether brilliant Art Audio Vinyl One for $2395—but neither is it a poor value. Its build quality is excellent, and the PH-1 ranks easily among the best such products that I've heard.
I wouldn't plunk down the cash without a good audition, but the Artemis PH-1 definitely deserves that much, and it signals the arrival of an American electronics company that's well worth watching.