Vendetta Research SCP-2 phono preamplifier The Mod Squad Phono Drive Comparison
The fundamental listening tests involving The Mod Squad Line and Phono Drives were carried out in a system consisting of the VTL 100W Compact monoblock amplifiers driving Celestion SL700 and Thiel CS1.2 loudspeakers....For LP replay, the source was the fully loaded Linn LP player (Sondek/Ittok/Troika) sitting on a Sound Organisation table. Very late in the auditioning, the Ittok tonearm was replaced by an early sample of the new Linn Ekos arm ($1995), a fabulous component, in my opinion rivaling the SME V in midrange transparency. The cartridge was loaded with 100 ohms for all auditioning.
I carried out detailed comparisons primarily with the Vendetta Research phono amplifier, which is, its absence of a line stage apart, the Phono Drive's nearest equivalent product. (Levels at 1kHz were matched as carefully as possible between all the preamplifiers by using a test record, and both were connected to the Line Drive with 9" lengths of MIT 330.)
The main audible difference between the two phono preamplifiers was caused by noise. My listening room has, at least when the neighbors are not splitting logs for their fire, a very quiet noise background, well under 40dBA. The John Curl design was as quiet as the grave, even with maximum system gain. The Phono Drive, driven by the Troika and with the Line Drive gain set for average listening levels in the mid 90s, could be heard to have a very slight "rushing noise" in the background.
Compared with the Vendetta, the Phono Drive appeared to have a more solid bass, extending lower and having more weight. The Vendetta's low frequencies were slightly more "rounded," which in themselves was not displeasing, particularly with the Thiel CS1.2s, but the Mod Squad unit's sounded more natural and gave a better foundation to the music with the more tightly controlled Celestions. Up the range, the Phono Drive was a little more forward in its presentation of the midband than the Vendetta, being more akin to the KRS2. High frequencies were very similar from the two phono units, but the Vendetta had slightly more of music's top octave apparent than either the Krell or the Phono Drive.
Both Phono Drive and Vendetta Research presented more detail than the KRS2, but differed in the way detail was differentiated within the overall sound. The Phono Drive seemed to excel in the way it allowed the listener to hear the tonal nature of individual instruments. It was obvious, for example, on the Ry Cooder-produced and naturally recorded Bobby King and Terry Evans album (Live and Let Live!, Rounder 2089), that drummer Jim Keltner was using a snare drum with quite a deep shell. In fact, all percussion instruments were presented with their characters beautifully delineated. The Vendetta Research, however, was just that bit better at presenting the spaces between the instruments in the soundstage (as is the Mark Levinson No.26).
The Vendetta Research soundstage also reproduced with noticeable height information; why this should be I have no idea, but it was a consistent feature through many different recordings (nearly all multi-miked, multi-mono). This was the case with such purist-miked classical recordings as James Boyk's muscular live performance of Beethoven's C-minor piano sonata, Op.111 (Performance Recordings PR-1). The sound of the piano had more weight, and sounded more "real" via the Phono Drive, but the image of the instrument in the acoustic of Caltech's Dabney Lounge was more accurate via the Vendetta phono amplifier. Similarly with the 1982 Hyperion collection of songs by Stanford, Trottin' to the Fair (A66049), where the music was equally enjoyably robust through either preamplifier, but the image of the singer placed within the piano's recess was more delicately and precisely presented with the John Curl design.—John Atkinson