YBA 2 preamplifier Page 3

The YBA's MM phono stage didn't have enough gain for the low output of my Linn Arkiv cartridge. This was a shame, as the sound, while quiet, was astonishingly transparent (particularly in Bypass mode). There was also no background electronic hiss audible, despite my having to use the preamp with the volume control all the way up. An LP edition of Mark Isham's fabulous 1983 collection of minimalist sound paintings, Vapor Drawings (Windham Hill WH-1027), that I recently picked up at a garage sale, had every little sonic detail laid out for my inspection, yet without those details being spotlit or unnaturally accentuated. The stage was wide, yet evenly balanced, with excellent depth. A treat—if a quiet one!

Adding the step-up transformer gave enough gain to rock the house, but I was initially a little unsure about whether the overall quality of the sound was preserved. The background was as silent as the grave, I wasn't bothered by hum problems, yet I couldn't be sure that the presentation was as transparent overall. However, comparing the YBA's step-up with the only two others I had available—Tim de Paravicini's Black Head transformer and an antique Denon AU-320 transformer—suggested that it was damn near invisible by their standards. The highs were extended, the bass weighty, the midrange like a polished pane of glass, the soundstage spacious. The noise floor was much lower than that of the Mod Squad Phono Drive EPS that normally sits at the end of my Linn's leads.

And with LPs, my minor complaints of a slight lack of depth and overall palpability via the YBA 2's line stage became moot. It offered pretty much the best sound from LPs I have heard from black disc in my system. New LP arrivals, such as the excellent Doug Sax remastering for Reference Recordings of the Slatkin/St. Louis Rachmaninoff Symphony 2 (RM-1002), the domestic pressing of Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville (Matador OLE 051-1), and the new LP version of Airto Moreira's improvisational Killer Bees (B&W Music BW041—some great Stanley Clarke playing on this album) sonically swept me away. The Liz Phair, in particular, is killer; the CD may be excellent, but the LP rocks like a good'un, with the YBA's ultra-quiet phono-stage background doing a better job of painting the silences black than digital ever does.

Though I can quite happily live with any number of loudspeakers (I have my favorites, of course), I am more fussy about the electronics that grace my system. Perhaps because it acts as a bottleneck on the signal, the quality of an amplifier or preamplifier is far more important than that of a loudspeaker when it comes to preserving or destroying the musical values of that signal. (You can adapt fairly easily to the tonal signature of a loudspeaker; you can't accommodate to a constant layer of electronic grain and hash.) The YBA 2 joins that select group of components that I would live with in the long term, offering a very respectable-sounding line stage coupled with a superb phono section. Highly recommended, particularly for an LP-based system. I shall miss it.

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