Jadis RC JP80 MC Mk.II preamplifier Page Twoeth

I remembered a garage-sale purchase from a few years back that I'd never auditioned: Jascha Heifetz in Concert (Columbia M2 33444), recorded at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 1972, when Heifetz was over 70. Without comparison to what any other preamp or phono section could do with it, there was that same thrilling sense of nonrecorded, convincing transparency—of being transported to the time and space of the event as Heifetz pulls the bow across the strings. In case you've missed it, the Jadis got the midrange as fundamentally correct as I've heard from an audio component.

One of my favorite live recordings, Nat King Cole at the Sands (Capitol SMAS 2434), sounded more three-dimensional, more harmonically and spatially complete, and just plain more real through the JP80 than through any other preamp I've auditioned at home.

I could cite a laundry list of small-ensemble acoustic recordings of folk, jazz, and classical music (including both male and female vocals) that the JP80 reproduced more convincingly and with less artifice attached than I've previously experienced—but I'll spare you. If you must have it, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope...

While the JP80 handled large-scale orchestral works equally well in terms of rhythm, harmonics, and tonality, it didn't quite have the large-scale dynamic "slam" of some other preamps and phono sections I've auditioned. Orchestral crescendos felt slightly scaled-back in intensity, but not to the point where the loss robbed music of vitality and excitement. The JP80 did a much better job at the other end of the dynamic scale, where tiny gestures and fine details of timbre and texture were served up in just the right proportion. That, more than the ability to scale the occasional giant crescendo, is what helps give recorded music a "live" sense of tonality and space.

Extreme games
As right as the JP80 was for acoustic music is as wrong as it was for rock. It didn't rock, sounding sluggish with rock music. Transients were softened, the top octave smoothed-over, and the lower midbass somewhat distended, seemingly in another dimension (but the transition from upper midbass to midrange was seamless). Deep-bass fundamentals were there, but they put on an overly grandiose performance.

When you can put on a British pressing of The Clash's London Calling or Elvis Costello's Trust and say "So what?," something's rhythmically wrong. When you put on guaranteed ear-bleeders like Bryan Ferry's Boys and Girls, Prince's Purple Rain, or Shirley Bassey's Live at Carnegie Hall, and the top sounds reasonably smooth and pleasant, can that be right?

Clearly the JP80 was slightly dark on top, a darkness that affected tonality and, to a greater degree, the resolution of air and space. With classical music it never seemed to be a problem—I never felt that brass was softened or robbed of its fundamental metallic edge. But if you like a speedy, crystalline percussive sparkle to snare drums and tubular bells, or if you like hearing reverberant trails ricocheting and crackling off of hall walls, you might not be satisfied. My conclusion: At least for classical music on vinyl, the JP80 sounded as close to "live" on most great recordings as I've heard a preamp sound.

The JP80's line section also seemed subtly dark and homogenized on top, making hard-sounding classical CDs smooth and pleasing, yet leaving better-sounding discs somehow unscathed, if not fully resolved. Unfortunately, rock CDs—good-sounding or not—all ended up sounding too good: too polite, and too often snooze-inducing. A music lover's delight, a music and equipment reviewer's no-no. I don't think it would be possible to accurately review an outboard phono section using the JP80's seductive-sounding line section.

There seems to be a logical inconsistency here. After all, if Laurindo Almeida's acoustic guitar sounded right, why didn't Jimmy Page's? If Connie Kay's cymbals satisfied on Modern Jazz Quartet records—and they did—why didn't John Bonham's on Led Zep records?

I'm not sure I have an answer, but I think it's a matter of subtle tonal and transient shadings that have been carefully "voiced" into the JP80 to favor the reproduction of classical and other acoustic music, given the less than perfect state of the recording art. I'm betting that the JP80's measured performance in both the line and phono sections will show a slight rolloff on top, relatively high levels of even-order harmonic distortion, and squarewave response that's less than exemplary.

But even if those shortcomings do show up in the measurements, do any of them really matter? If your goal is to accurately reproduce what's on the record or CD, yes. If your goal is to replicate the sound and feel of live acoustic music, given the shortcomings of most recorded media, who cares? The JP80 may not be the last word in transient speed, the delineation of air and space, or the reproduction of amplified bass dynamics, but it delivers the sound of live, unamplified music convincingly—better than any other preamplifier I've ever heard.

At $20,190, the Jadis RC JP80 MC Mk.II is one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, full-featured preamplifier currently available. Build quality and sheer physical beauty (dependent on taste, of course) are commensurate with the price, though the original nonremote version sold for about $15,000 as recently as five years ago. One therefore has to ask: How does Jadis justify an almost one-fourth increase in price in so short a period of time?

With its rich-sounding, ultra-high-gain, surprisingly quiet phono section, the JP80 Mk.II can handle any cartridge. Part of the JP80's magic is probably due to its massive power supply, which, along with multiple independent voltage regulation, includes, I suspect, sophisticated power-line conditioning that provides an ultrapure signal for the phono EQ and gain stages.

In a perfect world, a perfect preamp would be able to reproduce all kinds of music perfectly—but that's not the world we live in. During the review process, after having reviewed the Ayre K-3, I had the more expensive Ayre K-1 preamp ($7100) sent to me for possible purchase, then went back and forth between the K-1 and the JP80. Each had strengths and weaknesses. Just as the Jadis didn't sound soft and rolled-off, or "tubey," the Ayre never sounded hard and metallic, or "transistorized." Still, the Ayre was always a bit disappointing in comparison on classical music, as the Jadis was with rock, pop, and some jazz.

The Ayre couldn't reproduce rich, rounded orchestral overtones as well as the Jadis, and the Jadis couldn't deliver the taut rhythms of pop and rock as well as the Ayre, which also, generally, resolved more low-level musical and spatial detail. I ended up buying the Ayre—not that I could have afforded the Jadis, even at an accommodation price. I would have bought the Ayre in any case, because it better suits my musical and sonic tastes: It does pop and rock much better than the Jadis, and renders classical music with a purity and sophistication that satisfy me.

Clearly, the Jadis JP80 Mk.II is one of the finest preamplifiers currently available. However, not having heard such contenders as the Conrad-Johnson ART or the Audio Research Reference One/PH3 SE combo—or any of the other top-shelf choices—in my system, I can't rank it in absolute terms. In any case, if you're considering spending this kind of money on a preamplifier, you'd better hear it for yourself!

US distributor: North Star Leading The Way
185 Suttle Street
Durango, CO 81301
(970) 259-6722