Einstein Audio Components The Tube Mk.II preamplifier Page 3

A spectacular new three-disc reissue of Elvis Presley's 24 Karat Hits! (45rpm LPs, RCA Victor Living Stereo/Analogue Productions AAPP 2040) was made for the Telefunken tubes. Although Elvis, backup singers the Jordanaires, and guitarist Scotty Moore, et al, sounded eerily in the building through the NOS tubes, and the black backdrops were dead quiet, I thought the intensification of instrumental textures and physical touch were more the pleasing artifacts of even-order harmonic distortion than a greater level of transparency. While switching back to the input with the stock tubes reduced the harmonic intensity and image palpability, it also tightened up the transients and added some time-keeping snap.

I ended up preferring the stock tubes, even though they sounded a bit thin and bleached in comparison to the Telefunkens. I thought the stock tubes sounded more honest, but a few visitors melted for the NOS variety. It's nice to have the choice, and to be able to switch so easily between the two. With The Tube Mk.II you can select the appropriate tubes for each source in your system, if you like doing that sort of thing.

The Tube Mk.II's presentation of both macro- and microdynamics was among its more impressive sonic feats. It passed along more of the source's dynamic content than most preamps you're likely to encounter, tubed or solid-state. Though the darTZeel NHB-18NS was more explosive at the loud end of the scale, The Tube Mk.II wasn't far behind; had I not had the darTZeel on hand, I'd have said the Einstein held nothing back.

And at the other end of the scale, The Tube Mk.II's reproduction of microdynamics was as good as it gets in my experience, regardless of technology. Its ability to portray vanishingly small dynamic shifts, particularly with well-recorded piano and voices, as well as its ability to let sounds naturally and gracefully decay into the black backdrop, helped create an excellent sense of musical flow—something at which, generally, tubes excel.

Against the DarTZeel
The combination of nimble flow against a noise-free backdrop helped produce the sensation of hearing not recordings of but actual audio events. No solid-state preamp I've heard can match that sense of continuousness and flow, though I did prefer the solid-state darTZeel in other ways and in general, especially in terms of the unmatched precision of its transient attack and its ultimate transparency. In direct comparison, The Tube Mk.II could be heard to add a uniform, super-thin veneer of honey that some listeners will no doubt prefer. But I found it subtle and even-handed enough that, once accustomed to it, I didn't notice it.

A system and/or source component that sounds somewhat thin will surely benefit from The Tube Mk.II's character, but not one that's bright. As much as I love Einstein's The Turntable's Choice, which I purchased to use as a reference solid-state phono preamp, its sound can be a bit thin, analytical, and harmonically not fully fleshed out. But through The Tube Mk.II, not surprisingly, it sounded like the ideal choice.

When, at a recent luncheon, I expressed to a group of writers on high-performance audio my preference for solid-state because I objected to the endless warmth of tubes, and one tube fan said, "Well then, you have to live with 'clangy'," I couldn't disagree. After all, it's all recorded music—in the end, you have to mix and match to come up with a sound that satisfies you. One man's clang is another man's clarity. One man's natural richness is another's oil slick.

The best tubed or solid-state products minimize and balance the negatives while emphasizing the positives, which is what both the solid-state darTZeel and the tubed Einstein do very well. It's kind of ironic that you pay a lot to get a whole lot of nothing from a preamplifier; generally, the more you pay, the less you get—and the less you want!

Compared to the darTZeel NHB-18NS, Einstein's The Tube Mk.II had slightly less bottom-end extension, while at the same time exhibiting more low-end heft without sounding thick and/or sluggish. Which you might prefer will be system- and/or tube-dependent, but there was no denying the Einstein's low-end drive. It wasn't shy about pushing its weight around with complete control.

Listen to Gil Scott-Heron's stupendously moving and powerful I'm New Here (LP/CD, XL Recordings XLLP 471, footnote 1) through the Einstein and you'll hear how full, rich, yet well-controlled it is in reproducing the singer-poet's powerful lower register, and how smooth and continuous his voice sounds. Listening to this album through the darTZeel didn't produce a completely different experience, just one that somewhat changed the perspective. There was more air on top, greater transient speed, more precision in and emphasis of reverb tails, and slightly more bass extension though a bit less bass weight, and a less continuous transition from the lower midbass up through the midrange. Kick drums had more skin through the Einstein, a faster "pop" through the darTZeel.

Footnote 1: You'll love what Scott-Heron writes on this album's inner sleeve: "Listen to it for the first time under optimum conditions. Not in your car or on a portable player through a headset. Take it home. Get rid of all distractions (even her or him). . . . Turn off everything that rings or beeps or rattles or whistles. Make yourself comfortable. Play your LP. . . . Listen all the way through. Think about what you got." You'll get your money's worth from I'm New Here even if you play it only once (you'll play it more), but particularly if you listen to it as Scott-Heron suggests. It's sad that people even need such instructions, but they do. (Not you, of course.) But even if all you've got is a boombox, listen to this album.
Einstein Audio Components
US distributor: Aaudio Imports
4871 Raintree Drive
Parker, CO 80134
(720) 851-2525