Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A visit with the Bottlehead Seduction phono preamplifier

Last week I bought a Bottlehead Seduction via Audiogon. This was a 'factory-wired' unit with the C4S upgrades included. Honestly I'm not sure why I bought this other that for the chance to try some tubes in my (now) all solid-state system. Although I love the Graham Slee phono, I was missing a bit of the body I got rolling an all tube system. Could I capture some of the old magic while keeping the transparency and detail of my new system?

So UPS delivered the Seduction in on Friday while I was talking to my fellow audiophile friend on the phone. He was excited because he has a big stash of 6DJ8 types that he never had much of a chance to use. While he is driving over I went downstairs and plug in the Seduction to my Threshold FET-10HL linestage. I used the stock Electro-Harmonix 6922s that came with the Seduction.

I'm impressed right away - it actually reminded me quite a bit of the Slee but maybe with a little less deep bass control. My friend comes over and we spin a few records. He comments that the sound is great but a little harsh in the lower treble. I agree but we both comment on what a great bargain the Bottlehead (with C4S upgrade) is - if you're handy with a soldering iron you can get some great performance for not too much coin.

My friend then takes a pair of NOS Amperex white letter 7308s out from his stash and we plug them in - BIG difference! The treble is very extended and clean now. The mids open right up and the depth becomes amazing. My pal comments that it reminds him of the sound approaches that of an Audio Research SP-10. A few records later (listening to an original Santana 1st LP pressing!) and I'm happy - a definite notch up in the overall system enjoyment. Detail and transparency is fantastic, while the midrange has opened up with a tube like bloom. Bass is taut and the sound never collapses as the dynamics increase. Now I just have to figure out a way to get a pair of those Amperex tubes!

The Bottlehead Seduction with the C4S upgrade can compete with the one thousand dollar and up crowd - provided you have some good 6DJ8s in place. I will next try to replace the coupling capacitors as the stock unit comes with Xicon and Orange drops - not exactly my two favorite couplers - which still managed to perform to an amazing level. Even though I'm blown away by the current sound, perhaps I can squeeze out just a touch more performance with an upgrade.

preamp: Threshold FET-10/HL
amplifier: Threshold S/500
analog: VPI HW19 MkIII - Rega RB300 with Incognito wiring - Ortofon 2M Blue
speakers: UREI 813A loudspeakers
phono preamp: Graham Slee Era Gold V phono
speaker cable: Canare
Interconnects: Cardas Crosslink and Belden


Friday, April 10, 2009

A visit with the Ortofon 2M Blue

The Ortofon 2M Blue is a Moving Magnet phono cartridge that prices in at approximately $200. Designed by MøllerJensen Design, the 2M Blue sports a high output of 5.5mv and a nude elliptical diamond. There are four cartridge models in the 2M line - starting with the budget Red and ending with the highest priced Black. I had a few weeks of experience with the 2M Red and decided to buy the Blue as an entry level catridge to re-start my journey into analog playback. When first installed the 2M Blue sounded very hard - almost like a bad CD player - so make sure to give it a few hours before coming to any conclusions.

Though the 2M Blue is only one step up from the budget Red, I've found it to be an excellent tracker. Inner groove distortion is extremely minimized to the point where I can't tell when an unfamiliar record is coming to an end. This certainly bests some of the admittedly more budget carts I have heard in the past.

With my Graham Slee Era Gold Mk V phono preamplifier and VPI HW19 Mark III turntable, I get extremely deep and low bass that is tightly defined. More so than I have ever heard with any turntable setup before. The midrange is very transparent and clear, but the top end does seem a bit forward. Mind you it never gets glarey or etched, but the upper mids and treble are certainly a little more pronounced. Measurements by other reviewers confirm a rising frequency response so keep this in mind if you already have a forward top-end on your system.

Detail appears to be very good with some nice information retrieval. On Frank Sinatra's marvelous "At the Sands" original two LP set, I get some nice hall reverberation and audience noise. "Will you stop eating and drinking!" was all I could think during some of the instrumentals as you could hear the clatter of plates and glasses being moved about. This is about the closest you can get to hearing Sinatra live these days so make sure to check this LP set out.

Is the 2M Blue the best of breed? - most definitely not - but it certainly is a step in the right direction compared to the carts I've heard in the lower or same price range. I will be looking forward to the day when I upgrade to the 2M Black, but right now I'm enjoying the best analog setup that I've ever owned.