Sutherland, Vandersteen, Arcici, EnKlein

Ron Sutherland was extremely excited about his versatile, new preamplifier.

“Want to know what it’s called?” he asked.


“The N1.”


“Get it?”




“It’s all-in-one!”

I still didn’t know what he was talking about, but I did my best to hide my ignorance—a technique that I’ve mastered over years of attending hi-fi shows. I nodded and smiled. “Oh.”

I admire Sutherland products for their apparent simplicity and their elegant design. The N1 ($10,000) combines a line stage and phono preamp in a single chassis and uses those super-cool Nixie tubes.

I pointed at them and went, “Ah.”

“They’re Nixie tubes!”


“Do you know what they are?”


Sutherland explained that Nixie tubes were first used in 1955. Their large, bright digits were not only captivating, but proved easy to read from far across the demo room. Each glass tube contains a wire-mesh anode and a cathode for each number. Cathodes are arranges one behind another, so that each number appears at a different depth. So cool.

“Do you like it?”

“So cool,” I said.

The N1 takes its phono circuitry from Sutherland’s Reference PhonoBlocks, while the line stage is derived from the company’s Reference LineBlocks. The phono section uses custom-wound polystyrene capacitors, a DC servo, and Dale/Vishay RN55 metal-film resistors. The line section boasts extensive power supply storage and filtering and has a built-in white-noise generator for system break-in. Sutherland demonstrated this for me, and I was again wowed.

We listened to a system comprising Vandersteen Quattro loudspeakers, Merrill-Williams turntable, EnKlein Cables, and a beautiful Arcici equipment rack. We listened to a bit of Gary Karr’s Adagio d’Albinoni, and the system easily communicated the emotional intensity and impact of the music. But I’m a sucker for strings.

EnKlein Cables made their debut at RMAF. The company’s Dave Kleinbeck explained that he believes in protecting the music signal from the environment. EnKlein offers three levels of interconnects: the flagship Zephyr silver interconnect ($2795/m pair), Prairie Fire premium copper ($1795/m pair), and Aura entry-level copper ($795/m pair). Power cables are available at prices of $450 and $795; the company’s hybrid silver/copper Titan speaker cables cost $6000/8ft.