Listening #88 / Tempo Electric Arthur Loesch 1.1 Control Preamplifier Page 3

All of those changes coaxed the system further from egregious brightness toward simply sounding extended, wide-open . . . and detailed. With the Arthur Loesch 1.1, not only could I pinpoint the exact moment when organist Benmont Tench switched his Leslie rotating speaker from fast to slow toward the end of every chorus of "Echo," from the Tom Petty album of that title (CD, Warner Bros, 47294-2), I could clearly hear it decelerate. And the 1.1 was perfect for cataloging the differences between the well-known stereo mix of The Beatles (CD, 1987 remastering, Parlophone CDP 7 46443/4 2) and that album's newly re-released mono mix, from The Beatles in Mono (CD, Apple 5099969945120000). A good example: In selecting tracks for "Long, Long, Long," the stereo mixdown engineers disregarded the first measure or two of George Harrison's harmony vocal track, whereas the whole of the harmony track was used in the mono mix. That wasn't too terribly obscure, of course, but the Loesch preamp did show how much higher Ringo's hi-hat is in the mono mix, during those measures when he uses the pedal to keep time between his more dramatic drum flourishes. And it clearly revealed Alistair Taylor's last spoken words—he mutters "Cheeky bitch" under his breath—before the music starts in "Revolution 9."

The 1.1's performance was just as impressive in more musically fundamental ways. With good stereo records, the new preamp equaled my Shindo's knack for letting voices and instruments sound believably scaled and physical, the latter being something else I can't help but associate with Dr. Loesch's SET métier. Perhaps even more to the point, the 1.1 allowed recorded music to retain those subtle and altogether uncatalogable nuances that spell the difference between flat and convincing. I spent an engaging hour one winter morning listening to Grateful Dead, that group's 1971 live album (AIFF/CD, Warner Bros. 1935-2). On "Me and My Uncle"—I'd forgotten how much I like that song, and the fact that it was written by the late and much maligned John Phillips—the interplay between Bill Kreutzmann's drum kit and Phil Lesh's nimble electric bass line had a convincingly loose, live feel.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given all the above, instrumental tone and texture were disc-dependent. The 1.1 was capable of portraying the luscious, colorful string sounds on such fare as the recording of Bruch's Kol Nidrei with cellist Pieter Wispelwey, conductor Daniel Sepec, and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen (AIFF/CD, Channel Classic CCS SA 16501), and the similarly beautiful sounds of the massed voices in the penultimate movement of Mahler's Symphony 3, performed by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (AIFF/CD, San Francisco Symphony 821936-0003-2). But weaker recordings, such as the relentlessly glarey but moving and historically crucial CD of Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic performing Strauss's Metamorphosen in 1947 (AIFF/CD, Allegro CDO 1040), were exposed, ruthlessly, as brutal.

Just as interesting: Although endowed with a single pair of line-level inputs, my review sample of the Arthur Loesch 1.1 also had two pairs of passive inputs, which allowed me to compare it with the active line stage. I consistently found that the active stage made digital recordings slightly but definitely easier on the ear (after compensating for the considerable difference in loudness, of course). The only drawback to the active line inputs: Whatever source was connected to them had to be turned off before switching over to the phono inputs, since the former bled into the latter quite audibly.

More is more
In its most basic form, the Tempo Electric Arthur Loesch 1.1 Control Preamplifier sells for $7100, direct from the factory in upstate New York—where, I'm told, auditions are available by appointment. Seethe if you will, but I don't think that's a whole hell of a lot for a limited-edition, handmade piece of gear.

With its Western Electric input tubes, upgraded capacitors, dual-mono power supplies, 60dB phono-gain configuration (45dB can also be had, by using a 6C4 tube in place of the 6GK5 in the second stage), mono switch, extra pair of loading resistors, and custom Tempo Electric AC power cords (as yet untried in my system), my review sample of the 1.1 was priced at $11,143. That's getting up there, and is in fact close to the price of my Shindo Masseto preamp ($11,995). By comparison, my one-box Shindo has onboard solid-state rectification (footnote 3), a switch for true mono on the phono source, and so many vintage parts that I can't imagine upgrades being possible.

Speaking of options, Tempo Electric also offers a mono-only version of the Arthur Loesch, specifically for lovers of 78rpm shellac records. With its 12 different bass-turnover settings and 12 different treble-rolloff settings, the Arthur Loesch Universal EQ Monaural Preamplifier offers a total of 144 EQ combinations, some of which may in fact suit early mono LPs, as well. In its most basic configuration, with an onboard solid-state power supply, that unit sells for $2200: crazy-cheap, if you ask me.

I do prefer the unambiguously tubey and consistently, richly colorful sound of my Shindo Masseto preamp, which is where I'm at these days (man). But Arthur Loesch's preamp needs no excuses: It's had a following since long before I heard my first SET, and continues to attract newcomers from all corners of the globe. I can think of no better adjective than legendary.



Footnote 3: There are tubes in the Shindo's power supply, but both are simple diodes, used for ramping up the rail.
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