New Preamps from Ron Sutherland

Ron Sutherland had a rack of his components at CES to drive Vandersteen Quatro floorstanding loudspeakers. The rack consisted of the two monophonic Phono Block phono preamplifiers, recently reviewed by Brian Damkroger in Stereophile; the $15,000 Destination Line Stage (one non-audio signal carrying control unit with Nixie tubes, and one audio chassis for each channel); and the $10,000/pair, 200W monoblock power amplifiers. Except for the amplifier and control chassis, most of these units are configured into two side-by-side subunits—one for power supply and one for audio signal—attached only by front and rear panels.

Having assembled this multiple chassis audio system, Ron redesigned the $25,000 five-box phono stage and line stage units into one (thus "N-1", pun intended) $10,000 preamplifier. This preamplifier retained many of the five-chassis system, including the plug-in loading and gain cards, custom wound, 1% polystyrene capacitors in the RIAA network, DC servos to eliminate coupling capacitors in signal path, built-in white noise generator for system break-in, and a very well thought-on remote with a minimum of buttons—one for mute, the other for selection.

Ron repeated talked of his great satisfaction for circuit board design. "I love to fuss over the details," he said. Tidying up to achieve the neatest appearance is the goal here. Certainly, the circuit boards I saw in the N-1 that Ron walked me through were fastidiously laid out, as shown in the photo.