Einstein Audio Components The Tube Mk.II preamplifier Page 4
Against the MF Primo
The Tube Mk.II reminded me most of the Musical Fidelity Primo. It costs $6400 more, not including The Remote, but for that money you get another level of sonic refinement: a step up in transparency, and a more appropriately compact, solid, and densely populated soundstage. The Einstein and Musical Fidelity are two of the most neutral-sounding tube preamps I've heard, although, based on the sketchy specs provided by Einstein Audio, I'm not sure The Tube Mk.II will match the Primo's excellent measured performance.
Like the Musical Fidelity Primo, Einstein's The Tube Mk.II came at me somewhat, pushing the soundstage forward. However, it did so less forcefully than the Primo, and the images it produced were more compact and more precisely rendered. In my review of the Primo in the May 2010 issue, I said that, to adequately express itself, it needed a bigger room than mine. The Einstein didn't crowd my room, but filled it most pleasantly. Having The Tube Mk.II in my system was never less than fully pleasurable or musically convincing.
While the textural and harmonic aspects of the Einstein's sound could be dramatically changed by replacing its input tubes, The Tube Mk.II's overall performance was consistent in the ways that count most. The Tube Mk.II was among a handful of the quietest preamplifiers I've heard, tubed or solid-state. The backgrounds were velvet-black.
The Tube Mk.II was subjectively linear, with an ultrawide bandwidth, and perhaps a slight lower-midbass push that fleshed out standup bass, kick drums, timpani, and male voicesbut so modestly that I could never identify it as an obvious coloration or noticeable thickness or congestion in that region.
Though the Einstein's top end sounded fully extended, some solid-state preamps might offer more air and resolution, which detractors of transistors would no doubt call brightness and/or clang. At the same time, The Tube Mk.II's top end was somewhat forward in the narrow band where cymbals and sibilants reside, particularly with its stock tubesbut it was never hard or harsh or grainy. That forwardness was there regardless of volume, but if the rest of your system sounds smooth, you'll probably become quickly addicted to itor you can try some mellower tubes.
If, as I think it is, a preamp's job is to pass along the signal without adding to or subtracting from it anything at all, then Einstein's The Tube Mk.II comes as close to that ideal as any tube preamp I've heardalthough, like every other audio component designed and built by mortals, it has a personality. If The Tube Mk.II adds anything, it's that bit of narrowband midbass emphasis, and perhaps the slightly forward but smooth and grain-free top-end, which I hesitate to call brightness. If it subtracts anything, it's some extension at the very bottomsomething only a full-range speaker will revealand the last bit of macrodynamic explosiveness.
Those criticisms leveled, The Tube Mk.II's overall sound was so smooth, svelte, and even-handed that I never felt anything was missing. It wasn't dark or congealed, like some tube preamps, or overly pretty (except with the NOS Telefunken tubes), and the bottom end was anything but bloated, weak, or indistinct. So while The Tube Mk.II subtracted nothing critical from the sources feeding it that I could hear over a long audition period, it did add one thing I noticed: an extraordinarily high level of listening pleasure.
I enjoyed every listening session with The Tube Mk.II regardless of musical genre, though it was particularly effective reproducing classical music and jazz. I still prefer the darTZeel NHB-18NS, which costs about $10,000 more, but I'm sure many listeners will prefer having The Tube Mk.II (less "clang"), and leaving that 10 grand in the bank.