Issue 100



Product of the Year, Exceptional Value, Publishers Choice…


Old School:

Juan Calvillo looks back at the Marantz 2252

Headphone Art:

Auditioning the Focal Utopia Phones

The Audiophile Apartment:

Jeff Dorgay spends time with the Pathos Logos Mk.II Integrated

Shanon Says:

Our Canadian correspondent tells us about power

Mine: It Should Be Yours

Grenade Launchers

Classic Adidas

More Lego Stuff

and more….


NEW! Product of the Decade

Product of the year
Exceptional Value Awards
Publishers Choice


Playlists:  We share our readers choices from around the world

Future Tense

Gear in our immediate future

Cover Feature: Tubes

Jeff Dorgay reviews JBL L-100 Classic speakers

The PrimaLuna EVO 400 Preamplifier

Thirty years ago, I spent $4,500 on an Audio Research SP-11. Think about that for a second. Granted, it had a really good, built-in phonostage, but that was crazy money for a preamp in 1989.

Fortunately, I keep track of nearly everyone that buys my vintage gear as it passes through, and much like vintage cars, I always feel like, with a great piece of equipment like the SP-11, you’re merely taking care of it for the next owner. So, getting it back for a day to listen to what used to be the top of the heap, comparing it to PrimaLuna’s best, was illuminating, to say the least.

Staring down the barrel of 2020, $4,495 for the PrimaLuna EVO 400 has to be the preamplifier bargain of all time. This is a bit of a gray zone, where it’s not inexpensive, but in a world of $100k boutique preamplifiers, very reasonable indeed. More than likely, you’ve got something you’re trading in/up. Hypothetically if you are trading up to an EVO 400 from any $2k preamplifier out there, and you can still get $1,000 for it on the secondary market, you’ll never hear this much of a difference in your hifi system for what it will cost you to trade up to the EVO 400. I can think of several $10k preamplifiers I’d sell for $6k, buy an EVO and take a road trip with the change. Maybe even drive down to see Kevin and take him to lunch.
When PrimaLuna first hit the scene around 2003, their first integrated amplifier struck a delicate balance between new and old, both visually and sonically. It was reasonably priced, but built and finished like components costing far more. This is a trait that has only improved over the years and given PrimaLuna the reputation they now enjoy.

For a while, the naming conventions were a bit confusing, but they have now standardized on the EVO lineup, with 100, 200, 300 and 400 designations of their integrated, pre and power amplifiers. Going up the range, each model reveals more sonically and has additional functionality. This is in part due to a higher concentration of premium parts (wire, resistors, and capacitors) along with a more massive power supply in the EVO 300 and EVO 400 models. Finally, the EVO 400 includes a balanced input and output – a first for PrimaLuna, which makes it able to drive a broader range of power amplifiers. This also allows for using the EVO 400 with some of the world’s finest DAC’s and phono stages that only offer balanced outputs. You can use adapters to achieve your goals, but going straight balanced to balanced, more often than not, provides a little bit more sonic perfection.

Finally, the EVO 400 is available in a silver or black finish, with a handy, but not overdone remote. We’ve commented in years past on the extraordinary level of finish that PrimaLuna products offer, and the EVO series now has an even more finely machined front panel. The chassis finish remains on par with the world’s finest automobiles. All PrimaLuna components are triple boxed, delicately wrapped, and come with a pair of cotton gloves to help you avoid fingerprints.

What’s in a name?

The EVO series is appropriately named. With nearly 20 years of evolution behind them, all the improvements that have been made from generation to generation add up to something truly spectacular. In the past, some have shied away from PrimaLuna because of the lack of balanced input and output. With that hurdle removed, the only thing stopping you is whether you like the aesthetics or not. That’s a personal decision that only you can answer. But like several iconic brands, PrimaLuna maintains a lineage of design that welcomes the new buyer and remains familiar to the legacy customer, so mixing and matching components, should you choose is easy. Before you underestimate this, a quick scan of your favorite audiophile forum or Facebook user group clearly illustrates how many people love having all one brand on their rack.

Which begs the question, when is PrimaLuna going to release a phono preamplifier to go along with their components? Kevin Deal and Herman Van Den Dungen, the guys behind PrimaLuna, are always coy when I’ve brought this up, but maybe one of these days…

Stacking up

As the quality of capacitors under the hood increases, so does break-in time. In the past, most PrimaLuna components have been rocking out of the box, improving a bit over about 50 hours, tops. The new EVO 400 preamplifier, like the EVO 400 power amplifiers, still sound exceptional at first turn on, but it does improve a bit over about 100 hours. So if you love it when you unbox it, you’ll love it even more after about a month of play.

That out of the way, the EVO400 is straightforward. At 52.8 pounds, it’s substantial, so plan where it’s going to go on your rack. This is a reasonably substantial preamplifier, so make sure that your rack or shelving solution has enough heft to hold one of these without issue.

The rest is easy, connect your sources, plug in your power amplifier (s) and start listening. While a pair of EVO 400 power amplifiers (which are now reference components here at TONEAudio) were on hand, serious listening began with Pass XA200.8 amplifiers to get a feel for just what the preamplifier was contributing in a known environment. The dCS Vivaldi ONE was connected via RCA outputs, and the Boulder 508 phono stage was used via balanced outputs, along with a Luxman PD-171 turntable fitted with a Kiseki Purple Heart cartridge (also available from Upscale Audio). Everything was cabled together with Tellurium-Q Reference cable, and a pair of Sonus faber Stradivaris rounded out the system, so the EVO 400 was indeed in good company.

Again, a miracle from PrimaLuna

Taking as much personal bias out of the equation as possible, the EVO 400 preamplifier delivers a level of sonic performance that is not uncommon in preamplifiers in the $10k – $30k range. As this can be hard to quantify, most premium preamplifiers in this price range simply reveal a level of musical nuance that lesser models do not. There is nothing we’ve heard at anywhere near the cost of the EVO 400 that achieves this level of low-level resolution and delicacy, combined with sheer dynamic swing. That’s what you have to write the five-figure check for, as it is with nearly everything.

Adding further to the dynamic prowess of the EVO 400, thanks to its large, dual-mono design and the utilization of three 12AU7 tubes per channel (for maximum current swing), maximum gain is kept to about 10db. This makes for an incredibly quiet preamplifier, and with today’s’ higher output sources and higher gain amplifiers, you don’t really need a ton of gain anyway.

Even in the context of using the EVO 400 with the Pass XA30.8 amplifier and the Pure Audio Project Horns, which have a sensitivity of about 96db, background noise is non-existent, even pressing your ear right up to the horn driver. Dare I say the EVO 400 is nearly solid-state quiet.

Using the 12AU7 also makes re-tubing simpler and less expensive. Where ultra-premium 12AX7s are getting tougher to come by all the time and pushing the $250-$500 range (each), it’s nice to know that you can re-tube the EVO 400 for the cost of one Telefunken 12AX7. Past experience with PrimaLuna and tube life has always been excellent. Unlike a few current tube brands that run their tubes incredibly hard (requiring new tubes sometimes in the 3000-5000 hour range), I’d be surprised if the EVO 400 needs tubes 10,000 hours down the road.

You can knock yourself out tube rolling if that’s your hobby, but the EVO 400 sounds fantastic right out of the box with the stock tubes. After doing a little bit of this, it was more of a “different” than “better” experience, yet for some, this will offer the last bit of system fine-tuning that you are looking for. And in some cases, it’s just plain fun. Buy your EVO 400 with an extra set of tubes, and you just might pass it down to one of your family members without needing more.

Kevin Deal is quick to mention that they voice the EVO 400 slightly warm, because “that’s how 90% of our customers like it.” You can swap the center two 12AU7s out to the new, re-issued Mullards ($30 each) for a little more bite. Way easier and more consistent than trying to change tonality with a piece of wire.

The final question

Whether you add an EVO 400 to your system or not will boil down to the final question of whether you like the voicing of this component. Vacuum tube components, more often than not, have a slightly to substantially warmer, more sonically saturated sound than solid-state components. This is usually more associated with an “airier” presentation.

The EVO 400 provides this in abundance. Yet, where some tube components take this to an extreme, where it is so lush and romantic, dynamics and resolution suffer, the EVO 400 is a modern tube preamplifier. Most tube families have their own voice – the 6922/6DJ8 based units have one range of sound, those based on the 6H30 another, and the 12AX7/12AU7 still another. There are even a few designs based on the 300B tube.

Without going into an endless playlist of tracks, the EVO 400 is definitely rich in tonal saturation and contrast without over embellishing. Great recordings sound great, yet mediocre recordings sound pretty good, unlike some overly “tubey” preamplifiers, where everything sounds pretty good, yet nothing sounds brilliant. All of your favorite audiophile clichés apply to the sonic landscape painted by the EVO 400: big, broad, three dimensional. This is that “reach out and touch – it” feeling that tubes accomplish with ease.

The top end is clean, clear, and defined. Cymbals have the right amount of sheen to be believable, yet drums sound dynamic and forceful. The bottom end of the EVO 400 is taut and powerful, but slightly softer than what you’d expect from the world’s finest solid-state preamplifiers – and I’m comparing the EVO 400 to my reference Pass XS Pre and the new Boulder 1000 series. ($38,000 and $21,000 respectively)

A ten minute listen with three of your favorite tracks is all you need to see how much performance is packed into the EVO 400 preamplifier, whether it’s at the dealer or in your home system. I think those downsizing from a six-figure system that doesn’t want to give up the performance, or the audiophile on the way up, wanting six-figure system sound, but doesn’t quite have that budget will be equally impressed with this preamplifier. I’d even say that for 95% of you, the EVO 400 could be your destination preamplifier. Period…

High-performance audio is always so much more than wires, tubes, and specs. It’s about emotion and how close a component can bring you to what your idea of musical bliss is. You truly need to experience an EVO 400 to believe it. This is one of the world’s finest vacuum tube preamplifiers at any price. That you can have one for $4,495 is pretty cool. That’s why the PrimaLuna EVO 400 is our Product of the Year in the preamplifier of the Year category.

The PrimaLuna EVO 400 Preamplifier



Analog source AVID Volvere SP/Kiseki Purple Heart/Luxman EQ-500

Digital source dCS Vivaldi ONE

Power amplifiers Pass XA200.8 monos, PrimaLuna EVO 400s, Audio Research REF160M

Cable Cardas Clear

Speakers Focal Stella Utopia

The Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB

With vinyl showing no indication of slowing down whatsoever, more and more people are looking for a place to dip their toe in the pool.

While many seasoned vinylistas might stick their noses in the air at a four-hundred dollar turntable with a built-in phono stage, it’s a damn good deal.

Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of junk out there for $400. Thanks to their level of vertical manufacturing, Pro-Ject is making a decent turntable at this price, and are giving you the option of a built in phono stage. And, unlike nearly every other belt drive turntable at this price, you can switch between 33 and 45 r.p.m. from the plinth, without having to remove the platter or touch the drive belt. Some tables costing considerably more still make you do this. Not a great idea in the middle of a party, when your hands could contain food residue. Not good for the belt.

Putting it all in perspective, those $99 dollar turntables from Pioneer, Dual, Garrard and a few others back in the late 70s would be about $450 in today’s money. None of those included a cartridge or phono preamplifier handily built in either. Value proposition, check.

60 second setup

After carefully removing the T1 from its box, you need merely attach the drive belt between the pulley and the sub platter (the bigger black pulley), gently lower the platter onto the subplatter, and connect the cable to the output jacks on the rear. Plug in the 15V wall wart power supply and job done.

Because the T1 has a built in phono preamplifier, you can connect it to an aux or line input on your amplifier, receiver, or powered speakers. Should your device have a moving magnet (MM) phono input, order the less expensive model without onboard phono, and take that extra $50 to grab lunch, or some records!

The tracking force is already preset from the factory, and the Ortofon OM-5MM cartridge is already set up properly. A cursory check with our tools confirms that the cartridge was installed with care and the tracking force where it needed to be, right at 1.9 grams. Any tools precise enough to squeak 5% more performance out of the T1 will cost more than the table, so leave well enough alone and enjoy your T1.

The T1 has enough output to drive any line level you’ve got. We used it with a PrimaLuna EVO 100 vacuum tube integrated, and a Cambridge solid state integrated, driving a pair of Paradigm Atom SE speakers, making it the centerpiece of a nice $1,000 – $1,500 system. A perfect spot for this table.

The four hundred dollar question

Going for broke, listening begins with a MoFi one-step version of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. The T1 presents a solid musical foundation on this stellar pressing. That Ortofon OM-5 is a real sleeper and one of the best low key values in audio. Should you want just a bit more performance out of your T1, when the removable stylus needs replacing, you can put the stylus from an OM10 or OM20, it plugs right in.

Tracking through the crate full of classic rock LPs that are in the “party bin” in my living room, the T1 continues to impress. While digital audio converters (especially the ones in the $350-$1,000 range) have improved tremendously, there’s still a level of warmth and continuity to the sound that you won’t get with something like an AudioQuest Dragonfly. Granted, streaming 24/192 via Qobuz might offer a little more ultimate resolution, but the Pro-Ject wins hands down in the organic way it assembles the sound molecules from a vinyl LP. And Vinyl is all about the tactile experience.

An impromptu gathering of a few neighbors, has everyone joining in, playing a few records and marveling at how easy the T1 is to use. While the T1 makes a great start to your vinyl journey, I highly suggest that even seasoned audiophiles have one, for casual listening. And starting out your friends with one of these means that their records won’t get damaged either. Nearly everyone buying those cheapie tables is not doing their records a favor.

Ticks all the boxes

In a world full of $5,000 tonearm cables, a $399 turntable, cartridge and phono preamplifier combo is a pretty refreshing thing. Legacy audiophiles forget that we all started somewhere, and most likely it wasn’t with a megabucks system. I can’t think of a combination that is more user friendly, with such a high level of sound and build quality than the Project T1. Another thing often overlooked, is that an entry level has to deliver compelling enough sound for the user to stay interested. Again, the T1 is a major triumph in this regard.

In addition to the semi matte white finish you see here, it is also available in black and simulated wood finishes, so it should fit in easily anywhere (I personally like the white).

In the end, as easy and fun as vinyl gets, from a name you know and trust.

The SVS PC-4000 Subwoofer

Sometimes, the toughest part of adding a subwoofer to your stereo or theater system can be where to put it.

The SVS PC-4000 makes this easy; its 16-inch in diameter cylinder shape fittsin a corner perfectly. The PC-4000 is only available in black, and that’s my only complaint – white would disappear in the room better, and in the context of my 2.1 system with the powered Totem Kin Play speakers, you’d barely even know it was there. But that didn’t stop me from buying the review sample. We usually watch movies in the dark anyway so who cares?

Moving the PC-4000 out to our living room as the heart of a 5.1 system, featuring SVS Prime Elevation speakers, it works equally well, though in a quest for even more slam, I could fit two in this room. Because hey, you can’t get enough punch when watching action movies or playing games, can you? It has certainly made following this years’ Formula 1 season exciting. Watching the pack roar into turn one is way more engaging with all that low frequency energy. As is everything else.

SVS has built a tremendous reputation on high performance for the dollar and over the top customer service. The PC-4000 will no doubt, strengthen this reputation even further. While the shipping container looks rather imposing, once unboxed, the PC-4000 only weighs 93 pounds, so it should be easy to unpack and place with the help of a friend. Our more buff readers will be able to handle it solo, and our most buff readers will be able to play catch with it. Ha!

The proof is in the listening

The PC-4000 is easy to integrate into your system, once plugged in, download their app and adjust the necessary parameters. You can use the standard presets, or tweak to your heart’s content. The option of using the PC-4000 ported or plugging the three top firing ports makes fine tuning the sound to your room and system a snap. Deep in the corner of the bedroom system, plugging all three ports helped level out the corner gain in the room, and tweaking the EQ with the app takes things to perfection, not to mention perfect integration with my two main speakers. Once set up all the way, it was impossible to hear the subwoofer standing out.

Viewing the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, with the PC-4000 turned off makes it so much more dramatic when the sub is engaged, showing off the full force of this legendary band in action. Awesome! For many, a pair of powered speakers utilizing the sub’s LFT channel might be all you need in a small room. In our 12 x 14 viewing room, we don’t even need to pop the popcorn, just putting the Orville Redenbacher bag on top of the PC-4000 and cranking it up makes the kernels spontaneously pop!

But seriously, having the level of bass extension and slam that the PC-4000 adds, makes you wonder how you ever did without it! Movies and music come alive and this sub is not a one note wonder. At the sound pressure levels that my small room accommodates, clipping or compression wasn’t ever part of the agenda. The level of detail and resolution it offers is tip top.
Moving the PC-4000 back to the living room, and taking advantage of the EQ presets earlier, it’s easier to achieve a bigger sonic picture. While we started our living room test with an Anthem MRX multichannel receiver and a set of SVS Prime Elevation speakers, this time around we made the PC-4000 part of a larger, more audiophile oriented 2.1 audio system with the PrimaLuna EVO400 preamplifier and EVO400 power amplifier with the SVS Prime Pinnacle floorstanding speakers. High res audio files were streamed with Qobuz and ROON via the dCS Bartok.

Thanks to the pluggable ports and the wide range of settings that the SVS app provides, you can easily optimize (and store) the PC-4000 to work with the LF requirements of a theater environment or a strictly music environment. Whether rocking out to AC/DC or listening to Stanley Clark playing acoustic bass, the PC-4000 digs down deep. In a larger room, it was easy to achieve near concert hall levels, and we could not drive the PC-4000 to clipping or exceed the woofers excursion levels. The heartbeat at the beginning of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and Aphex Twin’s SYRO had the windows and the cabinets rattling!

Of course, the deeper your main speakers can go, the easier it will be to achieve perfect integration between sub and mains, yet trying the PC-4000 with a wide range of speakers large and small confirms this subwoofer has excellent upper bass response, with low coloration, making it easy to mate with a wide range of main speakers.

Easy to set up, easy to acquire

One of the smartest things they’ve done at SVS is to make it easy to finance their products. A set of speakers and a sub at $3,000 might not fit in your budget right now, but $125 a month is a lot easier to swallow for great music, gaming and movie sound. Putting it in perspective, that’s less than a foo foo coffee a day. I’d give that up in a heartbeat for rocking sound, how about you?

Those hungry for the full specification sheet, please click here, but SVS claims solid output down to about 16hz. Essentially the equivalent of their big, more traditionally shaped subs, with 1300 watts rms power on tap (close to 4000 watts peak) but in an easier to integrate form factor.

The SVS PC-4000 has no downside. It’s all good. And at $1,799, it fills a niche that no other subwoofer covers. Should you want/need a pair, the price drops to $1,600 for the second one – a nice touch.

If you need bass, and floor space is at a premium, the SVS PC-4000 is the way to go.

The SVS PC-4000 Subwoofer

The Deep Core 1800 Power Conditioner

One of the things we always battle as audio enthusiasts is the effect that power has on our systems.

Whether you look at power as a giant pool that you tap into with your power cord or a stream that’s come a long way to get to you, there is still a fair amount of noise and audible grunge in the AC power that runs your audio system.

Again, some take the perspective that your amplifier’s power supply should effectively filter out whatever’s in the AC line. However, not all power supplies are created equal. Some are more effective than others – it’s no surprise that many of the world’s finest, (most expensive and heaviest,) almost always have massive power supplies, with gigantic mains transformers and banks of enormous filter capacitors.

Are you with me or against me?

If you’re of the mindset that power conditioning doesn’t matter or make a difference, there’s no point in reading any further. But if you’re with me, and you think that your HiFi system is like any other electromechanical device benefitting from fine-tuning, read on.

While the Deep Core is described as a power conditioner and can be used alone as a treatment option for your AC line, the Deep Core website suggests that for best results, it be used in front of your favorite power conditioner. Close listening to a few different conditioners from Clarus, ISO-TEK, Running Springs, and Torus confirm this, though in front of my PS Audio P15, (which actually regenerated a new AC signal) the Deep Core had no discernable effect. However, with all other passive conditioners at my disposal, this is a very worthwhile addition.

Adjusting the Deep Core in this manner is like fine-tuning VTA on a turntable when you hit the perfect spot, the music reaches a higher level of clarity, with more focus and transparency. Go slow, and you’ll know when you hit it.

This will depend on what you are starting with. In my main listening room, which has relatively new wires and a new AC panel, was not quite as grungy as in my living room, with the 60-year-old wiring. Interestingly, the PS Audio P15 in the studio registers about 1.8% distortion on the AC line, where the one in the house registers 3 – 4% on a regular. Garbage in, garbage out directly relates to how transparent your audio system will sound, because your amplifier at its lowest level is essentially modulating the AC power from the wall with a music signal. So the fewer artifacts in that carrier signal result in a more realistic presentation.

Bottom line, it works

I’ve always experienced power line conditioning products to have a more noticeable effect on vacuum tube gear than solid-state, and the Deep Core offers the same result. Interestingly enough, regardless of circuit topology in the source component, the Deep Core had a more profound effect on lower priced gear, no doubt because these components do not have as sophisticated power supplies as those further up the range.

Proof for the snubbing effect took no more than powering up my vintage Dynaco Stereo 70, which always makes a nasty click through the speakers. Via the Deep Core, tweeter destroying clicks are a thing of the past. My mid 80s vintage Linn LP-12 is guilty of the same offense. Again, its crimes pardoned with the Deep Core in place. If you happen to be riddled with noise in your environment from an older furnace or appliance somewhere, the Deep Core may be the only thing that cleanses the artifacts these things produce from your listening environment.

Power products are basic – you either hear the difference they make in your audio system or you don’t. Some change the sound without necessarily improving the presentation or revealing more musical detail.

After trying the Deep Core in a few different system configurations, it unmistakably does reveal more music with no shortcomings. Transients aren’t compromised, and the bottom end is not smeared – another sin that more than one power conditioner has committed during the audition process. Best of all, more musical detail is revealed, without the mid to high range becoming etched, harsh, or overemphasized. This is much harder than it sounds. That’s why most power products ultimately end up being unplugged in favor of the existing devil in the wall socket.

Trying not to go all Darth Vader on you, when you plug a Deep Core into your system, you should hear your soundstage get bigger, and thanks to the noise floor going down, things should sound slightly louder at the same volume level. As always, queue up a few tracks you know intimately. If you already have a power conditioner in your system, insert the Deep Core in front of the existing power conditioner, and as always, use the highest quality power cord between Deep Core and the wall socket.

I started with new and old acoustic tracks from Crosby, Stills and Nash, along with some of my favorite Kurt Vile tunes. Densely packed rock records still sound cleaner, but delicately layered vocal compositions are going to have you smiling faster. Those who’s tastes lean towards female vocal audiophile recordings will freak out instantly.

Once you’re really comfy with Deep Core, having gone back through a few cycles of auditioning it in and out of the system, get ready to fine-tune with the contour control. If you can enlist the help of a friend, this will make the process much more comfortable, because you can be sure of staying in relatively the same listening position. Going in about 5-degree increments slowly will take you to the sweet spot.

With a claimed capacity of 1800 watts, the average to slightly above average system will be good to go with a Deep Core. Plugging a gigantic, high current draw power amplifier will tax the Deep Core, and you will hear a flattening of musical transients at extreme volume. You’ll know when you’ve gone too far. Then you’ll have to decide which part of your system is more important to cleanse or perhaps invest in a second one. At $1,295 the Deep Core is by no means crazy money, and in the context of the improvements it makes, an excellent bargain.

The CORE POWER Deep Core 1800


Analog Source AVID Ingenium Plug N Play

Digital Source Gold Note CD-1000

Amplifier VAC Sigma 170i, Pass INT-60, PrimaLuna EVO400

Cables Tellurium Q Black Diamond

The AVID Ingenium Plug&Play turntable

Listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s classic, Bridge Over Troubled Water, on AVID’s Ingenium Plug&Play table is not only highly satisfying but clearly illustrates how much difference the turntable makes in the analog equation.

Too often, I’ve seen audiophiles put a mega cartridge on a mediocre turntable/tonearm combination expecting excellence. But like a backyard mechanic that thinks merely putting a big engine in a car that is not capable of handling the extra horsepower will guarantee more speed, the same applies to your analog front end. It’s a system and should be treated as such. Too much or too little performance in any area throws off the balance, and in the end, throws away resolution. The AVID Ingenium Plug&Play is perfection in the sense that it all works together optimally.

An often-quoted audiophile truth states the source is the most essential part of your system, because if you don’t have the musical information to begin with, what’s downstream won’t matter, or at least not as much. To that end, AVID’s founder, Conrad Mas believes that the platform provided by the actual turntable as a stable mechanical platform is perhaps the most important. If you’ve visited an AVID demo at a dealer or hifi show, no doubt you’ve experienced his good/better/best demonstration, where he puts a mid-grade tonearm and cartridge on three different turntables in the AVID line. It’s always a straightforward exercise hearing how much more music is revealed as you go up the AVID range, proving that the table does make a massive difference.

Big sound indeed

Coming full circle, the same thing applies here. The Ingenium Plug&Play centers around the Ingenium turntable, which is a fantastic product on its own. For those interested, I own Ingenium #0001, so I’ve had as much seat time with the Ingenium as anyone but Mr. Mas himself. The level of fit and finish here at $1,795 with the Rega sourced arm and cartridge is nothing short of stunning. The key to the success of the Ingenium’s big sound is the main drive/sub-platter/bearing assembly, made to the same high standard as AVID’s flagship tables, with AVID’s inverted bearing design. It also uses the same high quality, machined center clamp equipped with every AVID table.

Having experienced this tonearm on Rega and other tables that are similarly priced illustrates that the much lower mechanical noise floor of the Ingenium extracts more musical information from this arm than anywhere else I’ve heard it used. The machined, minimalist chassis is used with a combination of three elastomer pucks. Not actually suspended in the classic sense, but not firmly coupled in a solid plinth way either.

While discussing various aspects of the Ingenium’s design, Mas mentions that the Ingenium is now only available as a Plug&Play, in both black and white finishes, it is no longer available sans tonearm. The aluminum platter will be forthcoming, so a sequel to this review is already in the works. And those of you that have a standalone Ingenium possess an instant classic.

Skip the setup

Whether you’re new to analog or a seasoned enthusiast, having a turntable optimally set up is critical to getting every bit of performance you’ve paid for. However, if you’re new to the game, it’s easy to get it wrong – no shame to that. As a result, more manufacturers are starting to sell pre-packaged turntable/cartridge combinations that need little more than unboxing, but most of these are budget tables in the $300 to $500 range. That’s great to get started, but as your excitement for spinning records grows, you quickly outgrow the tables in this range.

The Ingenium, a perfect choice for the analog enthusiast craving more performance than the budget tables, offer but isn’t quite ready to jump off the cliff for a much more expensive model. It unboxes in a few minutes – all you need do is install the drive belt, mount the platter, and remove the stylus guard. Double-checking the factory alignment of the cartridge with our Analog Majik tool suite reveals near-perfect alignment. More than good enough for all but the most obsessed. If you’ve spent the money on this level of tools, chances are you’ve moved up the range with your turntable as well. Kudos to AVID for doing a great job with the factory setup.

This reveals another aspect of AVID tables that is a major bonus. Once you set them up, they stay set up. In nearly a dozen years of using AVID tables daily, they are not fiddly turntables at all. It’s also worth noting that when checked, the speed accuracy of the Ingenium is right on the money.

Should you need performance beyond the Ingenium (even with the aluminum platter) this table is resolving enough to accommodate a better phono cartridge. To keep this as “plug and play” as possible, I’d suggest staying in the Rega range of cartridges, or something that has the same stylus tip to top of cartridge body measurement. (I believe about 15mm here) Then you won’t have to resort to spacers and the like to keep VTA where it should be. Or you can just play records and enjoy it!

Returning to the program

Spinning an old copy of Peter Gabriel, a record I’ve listened to thousands of times over the years, I’m taken back at how much nuance this table reveals. All of the care that went into Gabriel’s first solo album is readily available, and the Ingenium does a fantastic job of painting a large, three-dimensional sonic picture. The harmonies at the beginning of “Excuse Me” is absolutely brilliant – this is the kind of thing that draws people to analog in the first place.

Running the gamut, the Ingenium delivers a finely detailed upper register and well-controlled bass. The elastomer pucks supporting the chassis, do an excellent job at insulating the cartridge from the environment. Bass-heavy tracks can be enjoyed at high volume levels without acoustic feedback, and this is a plus.

As with all the other AVID tables I’ve owned and reviewed, the Ingenium shares a signature core sound that is lively, detailed, and never overdamped. The sense of musical pace is easily discernable. It draws you into the music, wondering “what’s different here,” when compared to listening to the same tracks streamed on a similarly priced DAC. As it should be.

Tipping point

$1,795 is a serious investment for most music lovers, so if you’ve come this far, chances are very good that you’re more than just a casual vinyl lover. For many, the Ingenium Plug&Play will be an excellent destination turntable, especially considering that the platter and cartridge can be upgraded further.

There is a point at which analog really draws you in and makes you crave more. I feel getting to this point requires more than the budget tables offer. This is what the Ingenium Plug&Play gives you at a cost that won’t break the bank, yet still provides a reasonable upgrade path should you want even more analog enjoyment. Well done.

And that is what makes the AVID Plug&Play The Audiophile Apartment’s Product of the Year in the Turntable category.