Creek Audio Destiny integrated amplifier Phono Stage, January 2008
When I reviewed the Destiny integrated amplifier in January 2007, Creek Audio had not yet released that model's plug-in moving-magnet and moving-coil phono-stage boards, now available for $500 each. I've since received the MM board and have put it through my usual battery of tests. As you'd expect from the price, these plug-in boards are more elaborate and complex than those available with other Creek products.
The MM board uses a split-rail (±15V) power supply with twice the usual number of pins, to allow for separate left and right connectors with both positive and negative phase. All active circuitry is dual-mono. In the first amplification stage, the unbalanced signal is amplified by a precision monolithic amplifier that, according to Creek, combines a high signal/noise ratio with a high dynamic range and slew rate. The stage provides 28.5dB of amplification at 47k ohms input impedance and 100pF damping. (The MC version is identical except for 50dB of gain, 200 ohm impedance, and 600pF damping.)
RIAA equalization is split into three sections. First, the high frequencies are passively filtered. The next active stage boosts low-frequency signals until a flat response is attained. A third gain stage of 12.5dB is used to raise the signal level to drive the Destiny's power amplifier via the integrated's passive volume control. This final gain stage is DC coupled, with potential DC offsets controlled by a DC servo circuit similar to that used in the power-amp section. Creek informed me that the gain resistor in the first amplification stage of their future phono boards will be adjustable via the Destiny's front-panel input selector.
Over a period of many years, I've become very familiar with the sound of the plug-in MM board in my Creek 5350SE, now called the Creek Classic. (See my comparison of the Creek 5350SE with other phono stages in my review of the Graham Slee phono stage in January 2005, ). I compared the Destiny MM board with the 5350SE by running a pair of interconnects from the 5350's Tape Monitor output into the Destiny's Aux input.
I wasn't prepared for the order-of-magnitude improvement in the Destiny's phono-stage performance. The Creek Classic's MM board sounds detailed, neutral, and dynamic. But the Destiny's board removed several veils from the music, and sounded much less electronic and more pristine than the Classic. The Destiny's midrange resolved much more inner detail, although its low-level dynamics were comparable to the Classic's. The Destiny sounded so natural and organic that the Classic now sounded slightly more electronic, with highs that weren't quite as extended. The Destiny also seemed to go deeper in the bass, with more forceful high-level dynamics. This revealed to me that my record-playing rig of Rega Planar 3 turntable, Syrinx PU-3 tonearm, and Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood cartridge is capable of deeper, more convincing bass than I'd been aware of. Overall, the performance of the Virtuoso Wood was even better than I'd claimed for it in my review in the December 2002 Stereophile (Vol.25 No.12).
Gary Burton's New Vibe Man in Town (LP, RCA LSP 2470) revealed his vibes to be dynamic and shimmering, with extended, delicate, airy highs emanating from each thwack of a mallet. The Destiny phono board made it quite clear where drummer Joe Morello was hitting the snare with his brushes, and perfectly reproduced his bass drum, without overhang.
Cassandra Wilson's voice was big, voluptuous, and overblown on her New Moon Daughter (LP, Blue Note 8 37181 1), but I found myself focusing more on the oddball plunks of Chris Whitley's resophonic guitar, every transient, high-frequency twirl, and twiddle decaying with perfect upper-harmonic verisimilitude. Massed strings aren't easy to reproduce with an inexpensive phono stage, but I found myself listening to multiple sides of Ravel's Orchestral Works (LP, UK EMI SAX 2478). Every searingly sweet rapture of the strings tricked me into thinking I was listening to an expensive MC cartridge through a far more expensive stage.
Finally, I dug out my British pressing of King Crimson's Larks' Tongues in Aspic (LP, Island ILPS 9230) and, listening to "Easy Money," followed each percussion and "allsort" ignited by percussionist Jamie Muir. The highlight was the clanging, shimmering deacon chimes cutting through the deep mix in the left channel. They scared me when they arrived, but were never harsh.
If Creek Audio offered this phono stage as a standalone product with an outboard power supply, I'd love to hear Michael Fremer would have to say about it after he'd compared it with the other phono stages he's recently reviewed. I ran this idea by Creek importer Roy Hall, who said that while Mike Creek was indeed planning to release a standalone stage, he didn't know when. Let's hope we won't have to wait much longer before every audiophile can hear this masterful design.—Robert J. Reina