Audible Illusions Modulus 3A preamplifier Page 3
Construction quality, especially the soldering, is superb. Each solder joint is a virtually perfect, round little mirror. Vertically mounted boards, front and rear, connect inputs, outputs and controls to the main circuit card, which also holds the four 6DJ8/6922 tubes—two for the phono section, two for the line-stage. My original Mod 3 came equipped with the Curl-designed gold phono board. More about the circuit design and sundry adjustments later—when we get to the new 3A.
Since there's a new model, why am I obsessing on the old one? Read on!
Finally, i plugged the 3 in!
After many hours of break-in, I started listening with a serious ear. (Remember, the last preamplifier in my system, the Jadis DPL/DPMC, cost $8600.) Okay, the 3 sounded great: the simple signal path yielded a musical purity that was at least as good as the Jadis's, which meant it was at least as good as anything I'd heard at home. In either line- or phono-stage, the unit was totally free of grain and of audibly visible veiling. I felt nothing coming between me and pure musical pleasure—especially in the midrange, which was positively glorious.
The Modulus 3 sounded neither "tubey" nor solid-state "zingy." No matter what I pushed it with, I never detected strain, congestion, or compression. The 3's ability to portray wide dynamic swings and the smaller ones that make music sound real was absolutely superb, as good as anything I've ever heard—and even at the lowest levels of music-making, the background was as velvety quiet as that of the best state preamps.
Except for the deepest bass control, a bit of bass dynamic compression, and a lack of sparkle and resolution at the very top, the 3 beat the SP-11 by a considerable margin—especially in terms of transparency—and despite the few areas where it fell short, I'd pick the Modulus 3 over the older (and much more expensive) Audio Research unit in a New Jersey minute.
Images were sharply drawn and focused, yet totally free of artificial edge; and separation, soundstage width, depth, and height were limited only by the recording. You're waiting for the other shoe to drop?
And yet there was definitely something missing: on reference discs like Belafonte at Carnegie Hall (RCA LS0-6006-2-R before the Classic reissue), the air in the hall wasn't there, top-end extension lacked detail, ambient trails seemed to dry up prematurely. On Bang Baaroom and Harp (RCA LSP 1866) the metallic quality to the percussion—the shimmer—seemed muted and mellow. Pleasant listening, but lacking in brassy bite.
Good as what was there was, what was missing left me dissatisfied. I was not a happy camper. I worried that the combination of the 15' cable run from preamplifier to amplifier and the lack of an output buffer (no cathode follower; more on that later) was rolling-off the high frequencies. I pulled the unit and set it up a foot from the amps. No change, so it wasn't that.
Look, the original 3 was and is a terrific product, clearly one of the best preamplifiers on the market irrespective of price. But I was using it with very revealing and very expensive associated gear, and I had very high expectations, which weren't being met at the extreme top and bottom, where despite outstanding extension, there was a lack of ultimate authority and timbral and textural nuance. Since I knew the rest of my system could deliver the goods, the 3 was the weak link in the chain.
When in doubt: tweak!
There was only one thing to do: dot that sucker! With so many 3s in service and so many obsessive-compulsive audiophiles owning them, the tweaks were plentiful: leave the top cover off (keep nosy fingers away from the lethal voltages), stand the unit on some kind of vibration control device, and stud the innards with Marigo dots, inexpensive little black, green, and white vibration-control stick-ums.