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