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ALLNIC L-1500 preamp - High, Wide and Deep sound stage
My Associate Editor David McCallum turned me on to this import from South Korea, distributed in North America by Hammertone Audio. David Beetles, Hammertone Audio’s owner, was kind enough to have us audition the unit to qualify for an evaluation. Well, it did, and furthermore, I feel that it is an important component with which to step into the world of high performance audio. Allnic Audio has been in business since 2005, although its principal Kang Su Park has been around serious audio for a long time — long enough, in fact, that he has become a well-known audiophile personality in his country as well as in other markets such as Japan and the UK. He designs and tests all parts and components with the help of his employees — all members of his family — to assure the tightest quality control. It seems that KSP is a perfectionist who goes to great length to find the best parts and doesn’t hesitate to manufactures his own should he not find what he is looking for. All of his designs employ premium parts, but his forte, it seems, is the method he employs for vacuum tube voltage regulation to achieve a very low noise floor of low-level circuits, particularly in power transformers and rectifying circuits. In addition, Kang Su Park insists on the proper tube type selection for the intended application and carefully matched circuits to his transformers which use Permalloy-core signal-path technology, said to be almost free of noise. Allnic manufactures power amps, preamps and — its specialty — phono preamplifiers.

Well, this preamplifier isn’t a very modern-looking component and its dimensions are standard and plain with a black enclosure and faceplate. It measures 430mm wide, 300mm deep, 120mm high (17” x 11.8” x 48”) and weighs in at 9kg (19.85 pounds). However, the L-1500 distinguishes itself with a touch of the retro look that includes a small VU meter on the unit’s left side of the faceplate and alludes to the tube-based technology of the design. Five small push buttons and indicator lights across the front are the input selection switches for three unbalanced (single-ended) and two balanced inputs. The volume knob is on the unit’s right and finishes the rather uncomplicated, logical layout of the component. It can be connected in balanced or unbalanced configuration via its two outputs located, of course, on the rear of the unit.

The Sound
The two power amplifiers I used for this evaluation were the powerful Bryston 7B SST Squared monoblocks and the Genesis power amplifier — both synergistic complements with my auditioning speakers, the earlier reviewed Genesis 5.3 and my own Ethera Vitae loudspeakers. Source components included an Esoteric DAC and an Elite transport. The speaker cables and interconnects on hand were the new XLO’s Purple Reign as well as the much lower-priced Argentum cables and Genesis’ own custom speaker cables.

As with any new component in a system, I wanted to acquaint myself with the Allnic’s sonic personality and operated the preamplifier connected to the familiar power amplifiers for a few weeks. When I was sure that the unit had settled well into its new electronic environment, I began to pay attention to all the important particulars. Thus, I listen for the preamplifier’s crucial constituents such as clarity, resolution, frequency reach, detail, sound stage and — the most important — its musicality.

The thing I noticed first was how the Allnic presented a rather lush-sounding though harmonious flow across the entire audible frequency range. Connected to the Brystons, the preamplifier’s all-round musical personality is very pleasing with an involving, subtle effect or contrast, rather than sharp definition. The sound can be likened the soft glow of a lamp, rather than a glare of headlights. In other words, its voice is quiet and gentle. This disposition adds a beautiful glow to the upper midrange and high frequency section without excessively diminishing resolution where and when called for by instruments such as horns, woodwinds etc. Deep bass, such as found on well-recorded CDs featuring the pedal notes of an organ (Dorian’s The great Organ On St Eustache is a great example) sounds realistic and mellifluously, though falls just short of the best achievable resolution. However, the L-1500 still manages to charm listeners, because its musical caliber, in essence, prevents this small imperfection from being known or noticed.

The Allnic presents an amazingly high, wide and deep sound stage and enables the listener to see (or hear) into it. Almost all visitors I had over while I conducted some of my listening tests mentioned that the loudspeakers literally “disappeared”. There were a couple of issues, nevertheless; the L-1500 slightly diminishes the absolute focus on instruments and voices performing around the upper midrange frequencies — in the region between 1,200 Hz to 1,300 Hz. As the preamp holds steadfastly onto frequencies above and below, (inner) detail retrieval is not affected at all. Indeed, I hold that detail with even large orchestral music is as realistic as can be found when listening to live performances — nothing is reproduced with excessive emphasis, just the way it should be. Although I have used the term “inner detail” in the past, I actually think that it isn’t correctly describing what it is or what it is I am looking for. I now believe that a component that allows us to hear inner detail is as a rule a high-resolution design, but does not accentuate. Rather, it recreates the sonic subtleties inside the range of a complex musical program material — thus, I think “detail” is closer in accordance with fact when one compares the performance of a system or a component with a live concert (try to find inner detail in a 55 piece orchestra).

Synopsis & Commentary
The Allnic L-1500 is the type of component that enables listeners to recognize what us audio folks call musicality and, when coupled with great-sounding amplifiers it becomes clear how important a good preamplifier’s functions are. The Allnic does — of course — pre-amplify a low-level signal of a power amplifier to line level; but in addition to this basic function it provides a noise-free switcher for its source component inputs. Most importantly, it provides enough sonic neutrality to hear and recognize instruments and voices by processing and delivering the considerable extent of harmonics in a musical signal. Like all components in an audio system the L-1500 has a sonic signature uniquely its own and, while it falls short of perfection, its “voice” strongly resembles that of the very high-end preamplifiers I have auditioned in the past few years. Its most important strength is its musicality — the coordination of harmony rhythm and timing — and the fair price for such an outstanding instrument. When this preamp is paired with solid-state amplifiers, it will take away some of the “bite” and make the all-round sound a little smoother, although any good vacuum tube amplifier will likely enhance the L-1500’s noise-free performance. Though the budget version of its high-end sibling, the L-3000, it doesn’t sound “budget” at all, and I have no qualms to recommend it to all those who refuse to pay over $10k for a preamplifier.

L-1500 is the budget version of L-3000 and, hopefully, I will have a review of it when I get a hold of one from Hammertone Audio. It is said to be one of the best in the business, which is the reason I rated the L-1500 just short of perfect.
Allnic L-1500 Line-Stage Preamplifier ALLNIC Audio Labs
Hammertone Audio

$5,900.00 (US)

The unit has been designed with attention to signal purity and employs a single gain stage circuit with only one tube in its amplification. This method is said to reproduce cleaner, more detailed sound and is, in fact, quite apparent when listening to a high-resolution audio system. One of the unique methods used here is output transformer coupling, instead of capacitor coupling. Transformer coupling allows more real energy (about 90% of wattage not merely voltage) to drive the power amplifier. However, as the transformer’s quality is of the utmost importance, Allnic designed its own model and customized it to suit their choice of vacuum tubes. The Allnic transformer has unprecedented wide wave response (16Hz ~ 75kHz, -3db) with low distortion. The design assures the unwavering low output impedance of 150 ohms at all frequencies and to complement this the L-1500 used an advanced, ultra high-speed automatic voltage regulation circuit. This protects the amplifying tube(s) from any changes in the AC line and manages sudden internal current demands.

There is a 40 second automatic muting circuit to prevent harmful transients to power amplifier and loud speakers, while warming up the preamplifier. The front-mounted illuminated analog current meter displays the preamp’s status; any sort of malfunction or damage in parts will make the indicator needle move off the point. Allnic also employs its patented "Absorb GEL tube damper" technology, which prevents vibrations or microphonic noise to enter the signal path (this is also quite apparent in listening tests). Although the volume knob seems a bit on the sluggish side when it is rotated, it is a really solid in-house design that practically eliminates all noise and channel imbalance. It utilizes a precision oil clutched, motorized, 41 step silver contact attenuator for precise tracking. It can be operated via a simple remote control. All in all, this preamplifier design is technology based without, however, ignoring the importance of component synergy and system coherency.

The L-1500’s input impedance is 10 10kΩ unbalanced, 20kΩ balanced; frequency range is from 20Hz to 20kHz (FLAT), or from 16Hz to 75kHz (-3dB); voltage gain is +20dB; THD (1kHz) with 0.3V output is 0.06% and 0.15% with 1.0V output 1.0V; S/N ratio is -90dB (CCIR, 1kHz); maximum output is 15V RMS (non clipping); output impedance is 150Ω constant. Tube complement: D3a or equivalent × 2 7233 × 2, 6485 × 2 (Voltage Regulator)
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