Shindo Aurieges Equalizer Amplifier
To say I was impressed by the Aurieges would be an understatement. As with other products that prove, in the present or in retrospect, their greater-than-average importance, the Aurieges changed my point of view and made me reconsider my priorities regarding the relative importance of various performance characteristics, among them tone, touch, drive, scale, texture, and detail. The Aurieges also set me on a path along which, just a couple of months later, I purchased for my own use a Shindo Masseto preamplifier (serial no. 003), which remains my reference: Musically beguiling though the high-value Aurieges was, its highish output impedance (5k ohms) restricted my interconnect choices, and its phono section lacked a moving-coil stageshortcomings addressed in the Masseto by the addition of custom-wound output and input transformers.
But if my livelihood didn't depend, in part, on continually swapping different products in and out of my audio system, I think the Shindo Aurieges would have suited me for the duration.
At some point within the last few years of his life, the late Ken Shindo designed an outboard phono preamplifiera decision perhaps made inevitable by his earlier decision to answer popular demand with line-only versions of the Aurieges and the more upmarket Vosne-Romanee preamps. He built it into an Aurieges case: a somewhat natural choice, given the case's compact size and its built-in isolation between signal paths and power supply. One has to look closely to see the difference: The two front-mounted controls on each product are labeled differently (more on that in a moment), and the phono-only version bears a slightly different name: the Aurieges Equalizer Amplifier ($7895).
The power supply of the newer Aurieges is laid out somewhat differentlyand is shielded by slightly larger partitionsthan in the unit I reviewed and photographed in 2007. But the basics remain the same: a sizable Denki E-core mains transformer, with a (Philips) 6X4 rectifier tube for the rail and solid-state rectifiers for other DC requirements. The power supply is as beautifully constructed as in other Shindo components of my experience, and connects to the signal-processing circuitry by means of a 17"-long umbilical.
The preamplifier box contains four new old stock (NOS) tubes: pairs of Sylvania 6072 dual-triodes and Telefunken EF83 pentodes. Given the use of the 6072s, I wondered at first if this phono-preamp circuit might be the same as the phono stage of the similarly equipped Shindo Vosne-Romanee full-function preamplifier, but that now seems unlikely: In the latter, each channel's phono input signal goes straight to one of the 6072 tubesa low-noise dual triode that, within the past five years, has become difficult to findwhile, in the Aurieges Equalizer Amplifier, the input is directed to the signal grid of an EF83 pentode.
Differences in circuit layout and parts values also abound, although parts choices are very much in keeping with the V-R and other Shindo products: Most of the resistors and capacitors are NOS, the latter including Sprague Vitamin Qs and Orange Drops and those 1970s-era RCA film capacitors that pop up in other Ken Shindo designs. Also included are three custom-wound Lundahl step-up transformers: On the back of this Aurieges, a miniature toggle switch allows the user to select between a stereo pair of RCA jacks and a single RCA jack labeled Mono. Specs are not published for the Lundahls, although the one connected to the mono input looked slightly different from the other two, with additional terminals that seem to betray the existence of additional secondary windings.
Ken Shindo took advantage of the Aurieges Equalizer Amplifier's status as a standalone product to endow it with two controls that have not, as far as I know, appeared on any of his full-function preamplifiers: a two-position rotary switch for selecting between Stereo and Mono, and a three-position rotary switch for selecting among three different de-emphasis curves: RIAA, Columbia, and 78. Both controls are effective at all times, regardless of which inputs have been selected by means of that rear-panel switch.
The latter setting on the de-emphasis control is a rough average of the many different playback curves that roamed the Earth in the years before 1954: an approximation intended to offer better-than-RIAA sound quality to owners of 78rpm records who care about such things, but not enough to chase down the precisely correct settings for each individual disc in their collections. The reason for bothering at all: The RIAA de-emphasis curve, which has been the ostensible industry-wide standard since 1954, includes a treble rolloff to compensate for the treble boost used as a pre-emphasis curve during the disc-mastering stage. But because early electrical 78s were mastered without a treble boost, a concomitant treble cut during playback renders them dark and dull.
The key word appears to be early, and the prospective user must keep in mind that virtually every manufacturer of 78s did things a little differently from its competitors. Thus my own experiences with the ostensibly shellac-friendly curve of the Aurieges Equalizer Amplifier: A wonderful Decca recording of Siegfried Wagner leading the Philharmonic Orchestra in excerpts from his father's Die Walküre (American Decca 25208) was very much improved by the Shindo's 78 setting, as was a recording of Walter Gieseking playing Chopin's Barcarolle in F-sharp (Columbia 71026-D). But another Columbia 78, of Count Basie and his All American Rhythm Section playing "St. Louis Blues" (Columbia 36711), sounded best through the Shindo's Columbia settingI'm not reading too much into thatand one of my favorite records of all time, Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra performing "You're Driving Me Crazy" (Parlophone R. 866), sounded way too bright when the Aurieges was switched to 78. Trial and error ruled the day; my reward was frequent but by no means universal leaps in sound quality.
No less real but arguably less urgent is the need for a separate playback curve for Columbia LPs mastered between 1948the year the company introduced the long-playing recordand 1955. In accordance with the Columbia pre-emphasis curve, high frequencies above 1.6kHz were boosted during the mastering stage, whereas the RIAA specifications call for the pre-emphasis boost to begin at 2.12kHz. Thus, during playback, a treble range that was boosted during the making of early Columbia LPs receives insufficient rolloff, leaving that range to stick out in a manner that even the most complacent observer would liken to a turd in a punchbowl.
During my experiences with the Aurieges Equalizer Amplifier, no greater argument for its Columbia setting was made than when I used it to enjoy Duke Ellington's 1952 LP Ellington Uptown (Columbia ML 4639). The Shindo's Columbia de-emphasis curve made the very loud trumpet glissando in "A Tone Parallel to Harlem" much less shrilland detracted not one iota from the record's sensationally good impact, presence, and timbral color. In fact, that record through that setting of this phono preamp supplied one of the most pleasurable listening experiences I'd had in weeks.
But I suspect a majority of readers would be most interested in this phono preamp's RIAA performance: the primary focus of my attention during the time the Aurieges has been in my system. My review sample arrived with its stereo pair of Lundahl step-up transformers physically in place but electrically disconnected; because I typically use my Masseto without its own input transformers, I was able to fairly compare the two Shindos by preceding both with my outboard Hommage T2 step-up transformer (except, of course, when using the single mono jack, whose single transformer is good but not great, being neither as punchy nor as vivid as the T2). Shindo doesn't publish gain specifications, but it seemed to me that the Aurieges Equalizer Amplifier, thus set up for use in moving-magnet mode, offered slightly higher gain than the similarly configured Masseto.
Listening with this new phono preamp feeding the line stage of my Shindo Masseto preamplifier, the first words that crossed my mind were chunky, solid, and colorfulbut mostly chunky. The first LP I tried was the recording by cellist Paul Tortelier, Sir Adrian Boult, and the London Philharmonic of Elgar's Cello Concerto (EMI ASD 2906); the Masseto's own phono stage is no slouch at putting across the intensity of Tortelier's thickly textured attackbut imagine my surprise at hearing the Aurieges take that quality a very satisfying step further. The cello's timbral colors were also more saturated through the Auriegessomething that was also apparent in the sounds of many instrumental groups in the orchestra, especially the brassand Shindo's outboard phono preamp had no less musical thrust and drive than the full line-plus-phono Masseto.
Those strengths were repeated with literally every record I tried; so, too, was a quality that was neither strength nor weakness, but rather a characteristic on which the prospective owner must reckon: The overall tonal balance of the Aurieges was a bit darker than that of the Masseto's phono stageor, for that matter, of the average outboard phono preamp of my recent experience. Through the Aurieges, bass response was slightly more generous and trebles very slightly attenuated. The result was that the Aurieges Equalizer Amplifier, though superior to the phono stage of the Masseto in its ability to uncover sonic and musical details, also sounded just a bit richer.
One might reasonably ask: Is the Aurieges Equalizer Amplifier "better" than the phono section of the Masseto? In light not only of the above but also of the Aurieges's talent for releasing from recordings a consistently strong, convincing sense of musical drivethe Aurieges was at least the equal of the Masseto's own phono preamp in that regard, and often seemed to play music with even greater temporal realismmy answer would be yes. The Aurieges sounded a bit different overall, but at least as musically accomplished. And the appeal of its extra controls and settings is undeniable, if limited to a relatively small proportion of audiophiles.
As an extremely happy Masseto ownerover eight years' worth of happy!I'm nonetheless mildly tempted to save up for an Aurieges Equalizer Amplifier of my own, owing as much to its promise of enhanced flexibility as to its superior sound quality; but for now, other system upgrades have priority. On the other hand, were I the owner of a lesser full-function preamplifier, or virtually any line-only preamp, the new Aurieges would be at the top of my list. In its sound, its musicality, and its distinction as a handmade, artisanal component of exceptional quality and consequently high value, it is every inch a Shindo.