Nagra VPS phono preamplifier Page 3
Amazing sonic sleight-of-hand
Some phono preamps seem to encourage the listener to select recordings that complement the preamp's own sonic signature. The Nagra VPS made switching among different sorts of musicfrom solo piano to piano and violin concertos to symphonic recordings to Elvis Costello, the Clash, Air, or Cat Powerabout as effortless and free of compromise as I've experienced. Everything sounded enticing and fully developed. I don't think I've ever heard Elvis Costello's excellent-sounding Trust (LP, F-Beat XXLP11) sound quite this spacious or tonally perfect, especially the piano and drum kit.
The VPS did have a distinctive sonic character, an identifiable personalitybut its sleight-of-hand was so seamless, and so carefully tailored in every respect, that I never noticed what was going on until I switched to a different familiar recording. The VPS's midrange was ripe, warm, and fully developed. The bottom was somewhat slow and sticky, the top end slightly less than forthcoming, the air somewhat high-altitude in quantity, and the transient sparkle a little truncated. Everything was shaved with surgical precision at the margins and delicately enriched in the middle, to produce a subtle overall impression of comfort-food warmth.
That went for dynamics as well. I've heard wider dynamics from a number of other phono preamps, but not by a wide enough margin to make it an issue. As for transparency, the VPS need make no apologies.
Although the Nagra VPS had more personality and color than some other, I suspect more "accurate," phono preamps, its overall sound was one of overflowing harmonic structures, deliberate but not sluggish pace, meaty but not obscured textures, chewy but well-structured bass, and an overall vividness that was enticing, mesmerizing, addicting, revealing, and absolutely convincing. Go figure.
No audio product can attain true neutrality, but the best ones achieve a sense of completeness that can fool you into thinking that that's exactly what you're hearing. The Nagra VPS is such a product.
This doesn't mean that it doesn't have a distinct sonic personality that places it at the warm, rich end of the spectrum, with perhaps a slightly recessed upper-mid/lower-treble region and perhaps a bit of midbass boost. Nor would I recommend it for use in a system that's already too warm and soft. But the VPS's overall balance, and especially its seamlessness in every parameter, makes it among the most captivating and enticing phono preamps I've heard.
Like an exquisitely complex recipe that results in a meal whose flavors reveal none of the tastes of the original ingredients, the VPS manages to so carefully and precisely blend all of the elements of its sound that all I hear is musicnone of the usual audio parameters matter, every instrument sounding fundamentally correct and properly blended into the entire aural picture. The VPS is clearly a product born of both engineering and listening acumen.
I'll leave it to others to debate whether, in a world of inaccurate-sounding recordings (no mike-feed sounds like the real thing in my experience and most recordings are too bright), an audio product's job is to be accurate to the incoming signal or is to attempt to produce a final result that sounds "real" from imperfect source material. All I can say is that the Nagra VPS was an utterly silent performer literally and figuratively. It had no obvious errors of commissionno audible noise, grain, grit or edgeand whatever it might have omitted wasn't missed and was in the service of one of the most enticing, addictive, listenable and believable phono preamps I've been fortunate to hear. You need to hear it.