Spin Doctor 2: CH Precision P1 phono preamplifier Page 2

Connecting the P1 was straightforward. Kevin showed me how to switch between the P1 with the X1 power supply and the P1 solo (with its built-in power supply) while leaving the X1 connected. This made it easy to compare the two configurations.

One of the fiddliest jobs when connecting a tonearm cable is hooking up that pesky ground wire, but CH Precision has come up with a simple but brilliant solution. A pair of banana plug sockets on the P1's back panel comes equipped with banana plugs topped with wing nuts, under which you can connect the ground wire. Because the plug can be removed from its socket, you can make the ground-wire connection in an accessible place instead of groping behind your equipment rack. Then simply push the banana plug, with the ground wire connected, into the socket on the rear panel. Easy peasy.

I tried the P1 with four cartridges: a standard Lyra Etna (4.2 ohms internal impedance), a Dynavector DRT XV-1s (approx. 6 ohms), a Miyajima Kotetu mono cartridge (approx. 4 ohms), and a Grado Epoch moving iron. The Grado can be a tricky cartridge to match with a phono stage because it has a relatively low output for a moving iron design, at 1mV, while its 95 ohm internal resistance demands a relatively high-impedance load. I used Input 3 for the Grado, and, after running the setup wizard with the Grado, selected 65k ohms of loading resistance, which the wizard said would deliver the most accurate frequency balance (footnote 3), with 65dB of gain. For the other three cartridges, I used the P1's current-mode amplifier; for the Lyra Etna, I also used the voltage-mode amplifier and did a comparison, about which, more below.

The hills are alive
Herb Reichert and I have occasionally discussed how audio equipment tends to sound like the country where it was designed and built. The CH Precision P1 provides further evidence in support of that hypothesis. I don't mean that CH gear sounds like yodeling and Alphorns—although I'm sure it would do a very fine job reproducing either—but that the Swiss national character is reflected in the sound of the equipment made there. When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I lived in Switzerland, less than an hour drive from the CH Precision factory. That was a long time ago, but I still have at least a little insight into how the Swiss think and listen, and the P1 reflects those values perfectly.

For starters, the P1 is supremely quiet, whether you're using the current-mode or voltage-mode inputs. It is the first phono preamp I've heard in my system whose lack of noise beats the legendary Vendetta, long considered the benchmark for utter silence in vinyl playback—and this was without the X1 power supply. Adding the X1 enhanced this effect further; with nothing playing and the volume turned up way past any normal listening level, the low-level hiss I could hear with my ear pressed up next to the speaker was mostly from my line stage and power amplifier and not the P1.

Apart from its silence, the P1's characteristic quality was its uncanny ability to unravel densely packed music and present it with utter clarity; this was laid bare when I played the track "Missed" from my 1993 German pressing of PJ Harvey's album Rid of Me (Island ILPS 8002). Steve Albini's stripped-down recording style is well served by the P1's "just the facts" presentation. This is loud and aggressive music, but with the P1's ability to deliver deep layers of fine-grained detail, it never became objectionable or sonically challenging.

The P1 is not a warm blanket wrapped around your music that makes everything sound pretty. If the music is ugly, it will still sound ugly through the P1, but in a way that lets you understand why it's ugly, a refreshingly honest take that jibes well with my priorities. Sometimes more information is the key to enjoyment, and the P1 delivered.

While the P1's unfailingly neutral and matter-of-fact presentation means that ugly records sound like their ugly selves, it also means that luscious and beautiful records deliver all their beauty with vividness and color. The opening of Philip Glass's Mishima soundtrack (Nonesuch 79113) is a good example; the rich spread of tonal colors from the various bells, wind chimes, and tuned percussion instruments is starkly exposed before the dynamic crash of the timpani marks the transition into the next section. This recording's dynamic swings go from a barely audible rustle to amp-crushing fortissimos in just a few bars, and the P1 kept it all in stark relief, with no softening.

Comparing the voltage- and current-mode inputs using the same cartridge was illuminating. Using the Lyra Etna (original 4.2 ohm internal impedance), I ran through the gain wizard twice, once using the voltage gain input, where the wizard determined that 70dB of gain was ideal, then using the current gain input, where the display indicated 15dB of "gain" to achieve approximately the same output level from the P1 (footnote 4). For the voltage input, Lyra proposes a wide but oddly specific range of resistive loads, ranging from 104 to 887 ohms. What's cool about the P1's resistive-load wizard is that you can specify the loading range that you want the wizard to measure, then it will divide that range into 20 steps and run the test at each one. Once the test is complete, it allows you to scroll through a frequency-response plot for each load including a flatness score, and it will tell you how much the load is lowering the output. This is important for avoiding the dynamically constrained effect you get when the load is set too aggressively. Best of all, you can step through the loading options while listening by just clicking a single button—and make your decision by listening.

Cheaper than a Maserati
Aspirational audio products like those made by CH Precision inevitably spark lively discussions about value and cost, but to me it's a question of personal priorities. A new P1 costs about the same as a midlevel Toyota Camry (footnote 5), and when you think about it that way, it no longer seems an outrageous extravagance. Nobody would bat an eye if you came home with a nice new car, but if you buy a nice hi-fi while driving a cheap car, they're ready to call in the men in the white coats. That makes little sense to me.

Despite having been around for a few years, the P1 remains one of the finest phono stages I have ever experienced and very likely one of the finest ever offered, with resolution and transparency that belies its apparent complexity. It doesn't offer a rose-tinted view of your record collection. What it offers instead is a directness and clarity that makes for a listening experience that's ultimately more enjoyable. I plan to use this amazing tool to dig through as many of my records as I can until the sad day arrives when I get a call requesting its return.

Revolution: The History Of Turntable Design
No audio format has a longer, richer history than the record player. Even radio didn't come along until about 30 years after the first record players, and dozens of other music carriers have come and gone in the century plus that records and record players have been around.

Author Gideon Schwartz, a New York City–based high-end audio distributor and retailer with a particular personal passion for turntables, has followed up his 2019 book Hi-Fi: The History of High-End Audio Design with a similar book with a narrower scope: Revolution: The History of Turntable Design (Phaidon Press, 2022. 264pp. hardcover, $89.95). As with the prior book, Schwartz hasn't set out to write a definitive history of the turntable; rather, as its title suggests, the focus is on the turntable as art. Revolution covers Schwartz's infatuation with turntables, providing an engaging, brief history and hundreds of beautifully reproduced photographs and other images.

Schwartz tells the story chronologically, beginning in the 19th century with Edison's cylinder players and progressing chapter by chapter up to the present day. The early chapters are heavier on the history of record player development, with images of period advertising and ephemera for context. Later chapters cover the post–World War II era, with a few pages of pure text to set the scene followed by many photographs of the gear, supported by captions that tell who the manufacturer was and explaining each 'table's place in history.

Within each era, Schwartz's focus is primarily on whatever was considered top of the line in its day—so, for example, while there is plenty of discussion and several stunning photos of high-end moving coil cartridges from Koetsu and Supex, there's barely any mention of Shure, arguably the most influential cartridge manufacturer in history. Considering Schwartz's ambitions for the book, that's reasonable.

Revolution skillfully straddles the line between a heavy history stuffed full of facts and a straight-up coffee table book with plenty of turntable porn. Schwartz has struck the balance well, delivering enough history to feel substantive and providing plenty of gorgeous photos to drool over.

Christmas may be a few months away, but Revolution would make a fine gift for the vinyl-loving audiophile in your life.

Footnote 3: Grado recommends 10k–47k ohms.

Footnote 4: "Gain," here, is not rigorously defined—see footnote 2. 15dB is not the total gain but the extra gain beyond that intrinsic to the cartridge's internal resistance. For a 1 ohm cartridge, for example, the intrinsic "gain" is "70," but the P1 can add more in multiples of 5dB. For the Etna's 4.2 ohm load, the wizard recommends adding an extra 15dB to the intrinsic "gain."—Jim Austin

Footnote 5: With a base price of $31,520, the Camry XSE falls almost exactly in the middle of the Camry lineup.


Ortofan's picture

... JVS have a "nice hi-fi while driving a cheap car"?

marconiNL's picture

Transimpedance Phono Preamp was...: Goldmund! Remember the fabulous Mimesis Phono 2? It was just out of production, when I joined Goldmund in 1995 and not much later had both the C and the H in my team. Still on all accounts a killer Phono Preamp.