AcousTech Electronics PH-1 phono preamplifier Page 2

The large circuit board is beautifully laid out—there's a lot of physical space separating the power supply from the signal path, and the parts of the pcb containing the audio circuitry—the left and right circuits are physically separate—have a ground plane layer to reduce noise. Loading instructions for moving-magnet and moving-coil cartridges are silk-screened on the board itself—a touch that ensures that the second owner will have them even if the first owner manages to lose the owner's manual.

There are two loading options: Moving four jumpers per channel switches from the MC setting to the MM setting. Gain and capacitive and resistive loading are factory-set for each configuration.

The PH-1 is even cosmetically simpler than the Linto. Since the unit is permanently powered-on, it lacks a mains switch—its only connections are a pair of input RCAs and a pair of RCA outputs, an IEC plug, and a very nice grounding post. A discrete red LED in the lower left of the front panel serves as the power telltale.

From a whisper to a scream
While the unit's heft and its packed innards would seem to make it the Linn's polar opposite, the two just represent different design approaches. The Linn may offer us a glimpse into the future, but the AcousTech personifies a classic high-end design brief: Pack it with good stuff and you'll get good sound.

Which it certainly delivered. In fact, the Linto and the PH-1 sounded far more alike than different. The PH-1 had slightly more steady-state noise than the Linto, but I was not seriously bothered by this. It was less than the surface noise of most records (which is pretty far below the signal itself), and if noise is something you can't tolerate in the slightest, analog probably isn't your cuppa anyway. Still, noise is even more subjective a thing than most differences in performance, so you should listen and judge for yourself. As for me, once I noted its existence, I forgot all about it because the PH-1 was such a compelling musical performer.

The AcousTech was a winner when it came to reproducing dynamic shadings. It could capture the differences in attack in Johnny Cash's guitar playing on "In Your Mind" with the best of them—as well as capture the points where the singer is using his chestiness or higher, clearer head tones.

The PH-1 conceded little to the best in the areas of pace and rhythm—music was brisk where appropriate, slow and deliberate where called for. The AcousTech never imposed its own rhythmic signature on the music—each disc had its own unique identity.

Each recording developed in its own acoustic. The PH-1 threw a tight and tangible soundstage filled with living, breathing space. Listening to Jacqueline Du Pr;ae and Daniel Barenboim play Beethoven's Twelve Variations on Handel's Judas Maccabaeus, I was made conscious of the space within which they played and the space that each of them occupied. The rich, woody cello and the liquid, limpid piano were placed, with great delicacy and detail, between my speakers and beyond my front wall.

Jon Wetton's electric bass guitar, on songs like "The Flex" and "Same Time Next Week" (Phil Manzanera's Diamond Head, Polydor Deluxe 2302 062), sounded warm, taut, and very deep. Wetton's bass is the propulsive instrument on both songs, locking in with Paul Thompson's drums to kick the song along, while Manzanera's swirling guitars create a thick, atmospheric stew. The PH-1 had incredible bass extension and was capable of sorting out details I'd never heard in 20 years of playing this record. It might be going a bit too far to say that I heard the songs as though for the first time, but only a bit.

Two lovers
Naturally, I compared the Linn and the AcousTech. Those of you who like a bloody knockdown, drag-out fight will be disappointed to learn that they really did sound remarkably alike. But those of you who believe in choices, even at relatively modest price-points, will be delighted to learn that the differences were mainly of degree.

AcousTech Electronics
1000 W. Elm Street
Salina, KS 67402
(913) 825-8609