Klyne Audio Arts SK-5A preamplifier Page 2
With every gain adjustment set for maximum, there was plenty of gain to drive the power amps to full output, but the hiss level was just intolerable. This simply confirms my past experience: there isn't a preamp around that can successfully amplify the tiny output of the Ortofon. I sincerely doubt that background hiss would ever be a problem with a conventional MC cartridge having more than 0.1mV of output. (I have always maintained that the Ortofon MC-2000 must be used with its own T-2000 step-up transformer, and have yet to find a preamp or head amp that would prompt me to qualify that admonition.)
Low-frequency performance from discs was outstanding, although a little on the lean side. Only once before have I heard such deep, detailed bass from my Ortofon/Well-Tempered Arm combination, and that from a preamp with, in my system, such intractable hum problems—even with average-output MM cartridges—as to be unusable.
Soundstaging too was excellent, with quite remarkable depth, but not the best rendition of perspective that I have heard. Imaging was stable and very specific, but the real surprise was the SK-5A's soundstage breadth, which, considering the power supply common to both channels, was greater than I felt it had any right to be! Klyne claims to provide lots of power-supply isolation between channels—but so do a lot of other manufacturers whose products demonstrate definite lateral compression of soundstage. From the SK-5A, recordings which normally image slightly beyond the outer placement limits of the loudspeakers were definitely and solidly located farther beyond those limits than I had ever before heard them. Yet there was no false broadening of the images between the speakers, as would be the case were the widened soundstage merely the side-effect of an intra-channel phasing anomaly. I would be interested to know the techniques that Klyne uses to obtain this kind of performance, which I would have expected only from completely separate mono preamps.
Inner detailing was amazing! This preamp separates and delineates the voices in complex material as well as, if not better than, any preamp I have auditioned. Complex orchestral tutti were so well resolved that it was often possible to follow the lines of the individual instruments in each choir, and the envelope of each sound seemed etched against its background. This preamp almost redefines the concept of clarity, but does so without giving the impression of clinical coldness which I had felt to be the only major shortcoming of the previous-model Klyne preamp, the SK-5.
I felt compelled to compare the SK-5A with Audio Research's SP-11, my current reference preamp, and one of the two best available preamps by expert consensus, in spite of the $1750 price difference between them. The SK-5A and SP-11 are not similar. The SP-11's colorations—a slight thinness in the deep bass and warmth in the midbass region on phono—were not shared at all by the Klyne. By comparison, the Klyne sounded almost thin in the midbass, but seemed to have no effective low-end limit. It had far more LF impact than the ARC, and noticeably better detail and pitch delineation. (Interestingly, there was less audible difference between their LF performance on bypass tests using an inverse-RIAA equalizer into their respective preamp stages. I can't explain this.)
By comparison with the Klyne's extraordinary detailing, the SP-11 almost sounded muddy. That's an exaggeration, but the difference was not very subtle. In other areas, I felt the ARC had the competitive edge, although in ways that are a little difficult to describe. To say, simply, that the SP-11 sounded "more musical" to me is a cop-out, but I'll say it anyway. I just found the SP-11 to be more seductive and emotionally involving than the Klyne. The SP-11's high-level section does better on bypass tests than the Klyne's, but its phono section is a bit weak at the extreme low end, and doesn't quite have the Klyne's definition. In all other areas, though, the SP-11 is, for all intents and purposes, a straight wire with gain: I cannot attribute my preference for it to a mere taste for "euphonic coloration." The ARC is sweeter and—here we go again!—more musical at the extreme top, more "alive" and immediate-sounding than the Klyne, and somehow makes instruments sound a bit more like they do in the flesh. Having said that, I shall now waffle.
My present power-amp/loudspeaker system has been carefully chosen to produce what is, in my opinion at least (footnote 2), the most musically natural sound it is possible to get from what I believe to be the most sonically neutral signal sources (footnote 3), taking into account my preference for a rather warm sound over a cooler but more etched sound. My system is rather less than forward in perspective to begin with, so it is understandable that it might not be very flattering to any electronics component (like a preamp) which is itself a little recessed. Consider also that my speakers do not have the slightest tendency to soften or round off extreme highs, and you will see why I am not prepared to give an unequivocal figure of merit to the SK-5A or the SP-11.
My point is that the Klyne SK-5A will almost certainly produce more musical naturalness from other systems (brighter in the upper mids and softer at the extreme top) than it did from mine, without any loss of the preamp's remarkable definition and soundstaging performance. (On the other hand, it meshed so poorly with my system when I substituted the Mirror Image 1.1 amplifier for the Thresholds that I didn't care to listen to that combination for more than a few minutes. The sound was thin, dead, and uninvolving.)
There is no doubt in my mind that the SK-5A is, in many respects, a world-class preamplifier, whose attractiveness is little diminished by the fact that it costs about $1750 less than the acknowledged world leader, the SP-11. The degree to which the Klyne approaches perfection in your system will depend entirely on the peculiarities of that system and on what you are looking for in reproduced sound.
Regardless, then, of any personal reservations on my part, the Klyne SK-5A deserves a strong recommendation. And gets it.
Footnote 2: JA: Feel free to footnote a disagreement if you see fit.—J. Gordon Holt
Footnote 3: I wouldn't presume to, JGH. My only disagreement with your choice of components is that it is less than forgiving of the recording faults typical of modern rock recording. But, with nearly all present-day artists, who would care anyway?—John Atkinson