Audio Research SP9 preamplifier Manufacturer's Comment
Editor: The overwhelmingly positive response of the world marketplace to the Audio Research SP9 preamplifier makes Gordon Holt's reaction more than a little puzzling. In response, Audio Research Corporation would offer the following considerations.
Our experience and working knowledge of the SP9, both during development and as a current production model, as well as the experience of more than 1000 SP9 owners to date (happy owners, they tell us), make us confident that the SP9 is both highly accurate and musically appealing. Indeed, we would have no interest in attempting to market a product which sounds like the one Holt describes. And, since we must assume Gordon in fact heard what he described hearing, we are led to the question of why such a discrepancy exists.
According to our quality-assurance and sonic-evaluation records, the SP9 sample that had been shipped to Stereophile was a normal production unit in every respect; furthermore, upon return to the factory (after the review was written), the unit measured and sounded entirely within normal specifications. We can only conclude that the unit in question was neither defective nor atypical.
It is possible that an unidentified system-compatibility problem may have caused the less than outstanding results that Holt experienced. In this light, it is worth noting that Holt had occasion to use a step-up transformer for the SP9 phono input, which may have introduced some aberrations like those he describes. We are investigating this possibility, and should this particular step-up transformer exhibit an impedance characteristic that limits the performance of the SP9, Audio Research will make every effort to restore full compatibility.
Barring a system incompatibilty, we must then assume that subjective differences of opinion prevail. Given Holt's surprise at the wide discrepancy between his response and that of other respected reviewers, we are puzzled that no one from Stereophile contacted Audio Research to ask a question or two about what they were experiencing, or even to request another sample.
A futher note of interest is provided by our Importing Distributor for Audio Research products in Great Britain, Ricardo Franassovicci, of Absolute Sounds (no relation to the American publication). Franassovicci, a leading figure in the UK's audiophile community, reports that following the recent Penta Hi Fi Show in London, Stereophile staff members Gordon Holt, John Atkinson, and Larry Archibald attended a demonstration and comparison of the SP11 and SP9 using a system set up by Absolute Sounds. The system was comprised of a Goldmund turntable, Kinergetics CD-30 CD player, SP11/SP9 preamps, Randall Research Interconnects, Goldmund Mimesis power amplifier, MIT Shotgun speaker cables, and Magnepan 2.5 speakers.
Franassovicci reports that after listening to both the SP11 and SP9 line sections in sequence (a comparison of phono stages was not requested), with the products in view, the Stereophile staff felt the SP11 was clearly superior to the SP9, being more accurate musically. (Audio Research has never minimized the very real differences between the two products.) Yet a short while later, in an informal single-blind test consisting of four trials, with levels matched to within 0.1dB, Gordon Holt failed in every case to correctly identify whether the SP11 or SP9 was playing; when the SP11 was playing he believed it to be the SP9, and vice-versa.
Now, while we are not champions of blind testing, it is nonetheless puzzling that a reviewer who claims the SP9 sounds "...so completely different from the SP11" is quite unable to identify which preamp is which in a relaxed, informal setting using high-quality gear. Even though the system may have been unfamiliar, it was certainly competent enough to reveal important differences. We understand that John Atkinson fared somewhat better in this test, while Larry Archibald refused to take part.
In conclusion, there is one point made by John Atkinson with which we heartily agree: Stereophile readers interested in the SP9 should take neither his nor Holt's words as gospel. Instead, go to your nearest Audio Research dealer, who will happily and unflinchingly demonstrate for you the real musical merits and genuine price-to-performance value of the SP9. Then, simply decide for yourself who has told you more of the truth—your own ears, or Stereophile.—Terry Dorn, US Sales Manager, Audio Research Corporation