Conrad-Johnson PV10 preamplifier Page 4

The C-J seemed to integrate the sounds of the electric and acoustic guitars into more of a swinging rhythm, which reinforced my feelings throughout the comparison that the PV10A had a much better sense of pace and rhythm than the Adcom. While tonally the more neutral of the two preamps, the Adcom wasn't as effective at communicating music with a strong sense of rhythm and drive.

The one area in which the Adcom's phono stage beats the PV10A's is noise. The GFP-565 has one of the most scarily noise-free MM phono stages I've ever heard, while the C-J has a bit more noise than I'm accustomed to from a high-end preamp. Depending on each LP's intrinsic surface noise, the PV10A's own phono-stage hiss was either right below the level of surface noise, or just audible above it. It was never outright annoying, but the C-J's performance in this respect was just on the side of acceptable, and may bother you more than it did me if CD silence has spoiled you for phono-stage noise of any kind.

The Adcom's phono stage was totally silent, enough to send the low-output Linn Klyde MC cartridge in directly with less noise than some highly touted MC stages I've tried. The C-J's phono section will work fine with MM and high-output MCs like the Super Blue Point I used, but was just too noisy to use with the Linn MC. The PV10A is also fairly microphonic, especially in phono mode; finger taps on the chassis and selector-switch clicks could be heard from the speakers at high-gain settings of the volume control. Accordingly, the C-J definitely benefited from some vibration isolation, and both the Sims Navcom pucks and the AudioPrism Iso-Bearings gave the PV10A a tighter, more focused sound. The PV10A's sound was much more improved by these high-tech rubber thangs than that of any other piece of gear I've had through here.

Turning to the line stage, I felt again that the C-J brought me significantly closer to the music than did the Adcom preamp. The Fairfield Four's Standing in the Safety Zone, "My Lord Called Me This Morning" in particular, sounded much closer to what I hear with the Melos when the PV10A was in the chain. The individual vocal lines were much smoother and more clearly defined in space than with the Adcom, while the solid-state preamp bunched the gospel group closer together toward the rear of the room, as well as betraying a bit of upper-midrange grain on the clear-as-a-bell vocals—grain from which the C-J preamp was refreshingly free.

About the only area where I felt the Adcom was superior to the PV10A was in the deep bass. The Adcom's bottom end was tighter and stronger in the bottom octaves, although the tube preamp did have a much better-developed sense of rhythm and warmth than the solid-state Adcom. The Adcom's slightly tighter low end was only really a factor in the He-Man rig, where the mighty Muse Model 18 subwoofer's speed and extension show up even the most minute differences in the low-end performance of gear under review. In my Real World system, which doesn't have nearly the bottom-end extension or clarity of the Muse, the differences between the Adcom's bass and the C-J's were moot.

But it was in the Real World system where the PV10A finally made the best sense. The two sub-$400 solid-state amps I tried—Adcom's GFA-535 II and Rotel's RB-960BX—both retain a bit of the top-end hardness that has traditionally characterized inexpensive solid-state gear. Using a passive preamplifier I built with a Bourns stereo 10k ohm pot did little to alleviate this hardness, while the Adcom preamp slightly reinforced the inexpensive amps' hardness with a bit of similar coloration of its own.

But swapping the PV10A for the passive or the Adcom preamps made for a huge improvement in the listenability of the Real World system. The C-J's warmth and rounded-off character greatly reduced the sense of strain in the affordable system, heavily cutting down the sense of disappointment I sometimes feel when switching over to this setup from the rig in the next room. Inexpensive solid-state-based systems beg for this kind of magic, and the PV10A really did the trick. If this is more like what you've got or are putting together in your own rumpus room, you should definitely check out what the PV10A can do to transform the somewhat fatiguing sound of inexpensive solid-state amps and sources into something more akin to true high-end sound.

Summing up
The $995 PV10A is not a rival for the borderline Class A line-stage sound of the $1095 Melos SHA-1. If you're putting together a CD-only system and don't mind the lack of balance control, tape loop, and more than just a couple of inputs, I definitely recommend that you go with the Melos. For just another hundred clams, it offers line-stage sound as good as, or better, than that of any preamp I've ever heard at any price.

But if you're putting together a Real World system and want to hold onto your turntable, or maybe buy one now and discover what all the excitement is about, the Conrad-Johnson PV10A would be my first choice in a full-featured preamp for under a thousand dollars. It's not perfect, but the $995 PV10A is the perfect partnering preamp to inexpensive solid-state amps, and can really ameliorate some of their more annoying sonic shortcomings. More musically involving than the Adcom GFP-565, the PV10A would be the perfect heart of a killer Real World system.

If you're looking for the most musical-sounding full-featured preamplifier for under $1000, I can easily recommend the Conrad-Johnson PV10A.

2733 Merrilee Dr.
Fairfax, VA 22031
(703) 698-8581