- Written by John E. Johnson, Jr.
- Published on 09 September 2009
I tested the USP-1 with a Marantz SA-7S1 SACD player, VPI HR-X turntable with Sumiko Blackbird MC cartridge, McIntosh MC-1201 power amplifiers, and Carver Amazing Mark IV ribbon speakers. Cables were Legenburg.
Frankly, I was amazed at the performace of this < $400 preamplifier. There was plenty of output to drive my power amplifiers as loud as I wanted, and the sound was always clean, without midrange congestion, or being overly sibilant.
Some might wonder if anyone would pair an inexpensive preamp with power monoblocks that cost $8,000 each, but if you have spent that money on the power amps, and $7,000 for the SACD player, mucho dinero on the cables . . . .
Ah, well then, $399 to finish off the system starts to sound pretty good, doesn't it? If the product performs beautifully, why not save some money?
I think we are all at a stage now where we are walking on a fence. On one side is our ego, our pride, that feeling of "mine cost more than yours" sort of thing. On the other side are products sprouting up everywhere that are engineered here and built over there, for about as much money as you might be carrying in your wallet right now (OK, if you are on vacation somewhere).
I enjoyed many of my favorite SACDs (I often play CDs from my media PC, but not this time).
The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (LAGQ) provides almost continual tests for transient demands, as the plucking of a guitar string has such transients at the beginning of the "twang". With its 9 volt swing, the USP-1 gave me everything that was on the recording. I use MC-1201's with their 1,200 watt rms output for a reason. Transients can often cause a 50 watt average suddenly to go to hundreds of watts. The meter needles on the Mc's were really moving around.
The Manhattan Transfer has been around awhile, and you might be labeled a "geezer" if you listen to their recordings, and I'm a geezer, so I listen to them. What I find missing in modern rock music is a melody that you can hum when the track is finished. This is a great SACD, and the USP-1 gave me what I wanted: MUSIC! Never harsh, never too much sibilance, never strained.
Baroque music represents my favorite period of classical music. I use it for background listening when I am reading the newspaper or magazines in the evening. Ironically, it is because most Baroque music doesn't leave you with a melody playing in your head that I like it. There is no distraction from my reading. I really enjoyed the clarity of the period instruments on this disc played through the USP-1.
One of the reasons I like Telarc discs is that they don't compress the music. That's another complaint I have about modern rock recordings. They are so compressed, there are no dynamics. The loudness is the same throughout the disc, and it is always loud. Anyway, Telarc doesn't do that, and it would certainly ruin classical recordings if they did. This orchestral set has the full symphony playing at all levels of dynamics, and the USP-1 was up to the task. The fact that it will output (a.k.a., "swing") 9 volts is important, because you might be using 0.5 volt on average, but along come those darn transients, and "boom", you need the ability to raise that output voltage significantly for a very short time. The USP-1 can do.
I fired up my VPI HR-X turntable with its Blackbird cartridge, set the switch on the USP-1 to MC, put on some John Coltrane, and sat back. I think having the phono stage inside the chassis with the main preamp helps with the noise situation, because with an outboard phono stage, you have an extra set of RCA cables coming from the phono stage output to the preamp. I basically liked what I heard here, but I prefer my outboard Manley Steelhead because I can fine tune the loading impedance which does change the sound a bit.