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January 2009
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
World Premiere
Juicy Music's Peach II Linestage Tube Preamplifier
A hand-built tube preamplifier with some unique functions.
Review By Anthony Nicosia
Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

Juicy Music's Peach II Linestage Tube Preamplifier  Mark Deneen is a self-proclaimed "one-man cottage industry". He is not only the founder and designer of Juicy Music products but he personally builds them all by hand. As he so proudly states on his website. When you call he is the one answering the phone, and if you send it in for repair he fixes it for you. When you place an order, Mark builds it for you. There are no assembly lines, no dealers or distributors to go through. Mark handles everything on a person-to-person basis. When I e-mailed him complementing him on his new website's layout and design his response was the following,

Hi Anthony ---

Thanks for the comments on the web redesign -- I just sat down one
weekend and worked for about 60 hours and 40 cups of coffee to do it!
I appreciate the comments.

 

As you can see he truly is a one-man operation who even designs and maintains his own website.

In 1974 Mark Deneen started a company called Paragon Audio, which featured the Paragon Model 12A preamplifier. This preamplifier was well received by the audio press and he lately sold the company to BSR/ADC. In the late 1970's he returned to California to work in the emerging new PC industry where he proceeded to work for the next twenty-some years. Feeling that he wanted to get back to the Audio business he started his own company in 2002. His products then and now still revolve around tubes. He spent about a year designing his first product called the "BlueBerry" which launched in March of 2003. Shortly afterwards he came out with an expanded line of products and the rest is Juicy Music history.

 

Just What Is "Juicy Music"?
Speaking of "Juicy" just what is it that Mark Deneen is referring to when he talks of his equipment having that "Juicy" sound and hence the name of his company Juicy Music? For a moment just think of the juicy flavors you discover when you bite into a fresh apple or grape that tells you that what you are eating is natural and not manmade. It is that dynamic natural sound he is after when creating his products rather than having a cold sterile effect. I suppose that is one reason he uses tubes because, if done correctly, they can bring that "you are there effect" to the musical experience. Being a small, actually one-man company, he can use his own "inner ear" to judge what is right for his products to determine what is musical. He has only himself to answer to when determining what sound is correct for the gear he builds and markets, as there is no board of directors or committees. Mark Deneen does all this and yet still finds a way to keep his products at prices that are affordable for the average audiophile. Looking at his website you will see the BlueBerry Xtreme II, a full function preamplifier starting at $1895, the Tercel II phono preamplifier starting at $495 in kit form $595 factory assembled, and the Peach II linestage with a beginning price of only $1695. Only the pCAT Lynx Power Mono Block amplifiers, at $4995 a pair, seem to be somewhat pricey in comparison to his other gear yet definitely not out of line with the market place today. If you keep in mind that all his products are tube oriented you will than realize what bargain pricing these really are.

 

A Look Inside The Peach II
Juicy Music's Peach II Linestage Tube PreamplifierToday we are going to look at the Juicy Music Peach II linestage tube preamplifier. This version of the Peach has Class A Triode circuitry that incorporates the use of three tubes, two 6922's and one 6H30 super tube. The rectifier tube is a 12X4 type. Usually the tubes that will be sent with the Peach II will come from Electro Harmonix, EI or Sovtek while the rectifier tube will be a choice of mixed NOS. My review unit came with two JAN Philips ECG 6922 tubes, one 6H30 Sovtek super tube and the 12X4 rectifier tube was labeled Westinghouse. All tubes come factory installed so there is no need to open up the unit to install them yourself. The Peach II uses AuriCap coupling capacitors and a large unregulated power supply of over 2800uf. A remote control unit (with batteries included) are standard, thank you Mr. Deneen as I am getting lazier as I age.

 

And On The Outside
Juicy Music's Peach II Linestage Tube PreamplifierLooking at the front controls of the Peach II I noticed an often-omitted stereo/mono switch. The Peach also has a forty-five second warm up delay built in, so when you first turn it on please do not think it is not functioning properly. Just be a little patience as it is worth the small wait. The Peach II's input selector is setup to handle up to four different devices. I used two for CD playback, one for my phono stage, in order to play my Oracle Delphi Mk1 turntable, and one for my tuner. The Peach not only has a volume control but also to its left and right are two knobs that adjust channel balance and sensitivity or gain control one for each channel. Make sure you read the owner's manual, which is always recommended before inserting any device into your system, for directions on how to set up the balance and gain for your new Peach II. The process is simple but should be followed in order to achieve correct playback balance, volume and dynamics. The power switch is conveniently located on the front panel as is the standby/play knob. As for the remote control it is claimed to be capable of use for up to twenty-five feet. The functions on the remote are simple as they control only volume, up or down, and a button for play or mute. The Peach is also setup with a HT input for use with a Home Theater processor or other HT equipment and there is also a "TAPE IN" and "TAPE OUT" control knob. My particular review unit came with the optional solid wood dovetail cabinet and a silver faceplate with black knobs. You may also get the black faceplate with silver knobs at no additional cost. The dovetail cabinet was beautiful and I would not hesitate to pay the extra $195 to purchase it. It does though take up extra space and so I put the Peach II on top of my equipment rack rather than inside it. This was actually preferable because I felt that the beauty of the Peach with its cabinet should not be hidden behind screen doors anyway. Moving to the rear of the unit the input and outputs are lined up in a straight row in front of us with each one clearly marked. The fuse and IEC connector are also located on the rear of the unit and those with power cords to spare (I certainly am one of those) may experiment to your hearts delight.

 

Tri-Mode Output Function And The Ground Switch
There are two things that you should be particularly aware of about the Peach II. First there is a ground switch located on the rear of the unit, near the IEC cord connector, with three settings on it. The factory recommends the "DC Ground" setting for most applications in order to get the lowest noise in your system. I sometimes found that switching to "AC" worked better for me depending on the amplifier and source used, check the owner's manual for complete details. Another point of interest, and one Mark Deneen explained to me was a key and unique selling feature of the Peach II, is the "tri-mode" output function. Mr. Deneen told me that this is not to be found on other tube preamplifiers. Looking closely you will see a knob on the front of the preamplifier labeled, "Lo", "Hi" and "HT and I must admit to overlooking it at first glance. Mark Deneen suggests using this output function in order to get the very best out of the amplifier you are using. For high impedance vacuum tube power amplifiers the HiZ mode is recommended. For solid-state amplifiers that usually have low input impedance the SuperLoz mode can be used as it introduces a second drive stage for driving multiple low impedance amplifiers and for fifty feet or more of cable. For connecting the Peach II to a home theatre system just use the HTBypass mode. I did not try the HTBypass function but using the Lo and Hi switches provided a benefit to the sound depending on the type of amplifier used. This is definitely a plus and something not to be overlooked by anyone. After I discovered this, I stayed up late playing with different tube and solid-state amplifiers.

 

The Setup
My normal system would consist of a Samsung HD-841 universal player (used as a transport) with a Monarchy Audio Dual 20-Bit D/A Converter. A Placette passive preamplifier would then be mated to a pair of Monarchy Audio SM-70 Pro Class-A amplifiers (run in mono) and attached to a pair of Legacy Focus 20/20 loudspeakers. Then of course I have an Oracle Delphi MK 1 turntable setup for when the LP mood overcomes me. With equipment for review constantly moving in and out of my room there is however no such a thing as normal for me. Happily I still have with me the exceptional Yamamoto YDA-01 DA Converter, from the December issue of "Enjoy the Music", to be used for this review. Later substitutions were my McIntosh MC275 tube amplifier, an original 1960's version, and a pair of Klipsch Klipschorn loudspeakers.

 

Music To Listen By
What was particularly nice about the Peach was that whatever musical selections I played the sound remained "Juicy". That is to say that CD glare was less evident while music seemed both natural and dynamic. Eric Clapton has always been one of my favorites and I just never seem to tire of hearing Eric Clapton Unplugged (Reprise 9 45024-2). I remember a time when whatever audio salon or show you attended the song "Signe" would be playing. The Peach allowed it to sound expansive yet I never lost track of the individual performers within the soundstage. The opening guitar players, including Eric Clapton, sounded soft and fluid, as they should. I could feel the warmth of the tubes having a positive effect on the performance, giving a nice intimate depth to it. From the same CD "Malted Milk" was a song that Eric Clapton seemed destined to sing. Again the Peach gave the song a soft blues type of feel that seemed as if you were in a small nightclub for a private after hour's session. The Peach with its tubes gives you that spacious yet intimate sense to songs.

Staying with that intimate setting I next turned to Songs of Joy & Peach [Sony Classical 88697-24414-2] with Yo-Yo Ma & Friends. This CD features the song, "You Couldn't Be Cuter" with Yo-Yo Ma on Cello, Diana Krall vocals and piano, joined by John Clayton on acoustic bass. I normally have the solid-state Placette preamplifier in my system and the Peach gave it that little extra space around individual instruments and vocals. This and the little bit longer decay time, with the cello, at the end of the song was just enough of a difference to make this song something special.  Those of you familiar with Five For Fighting will remember the CD American Town [Aware/Columbia CK63759], with the hit song "Superman (It's Not Easy). I have always been a big Superman fan, having grown up with the comics and TV shows in the 1950's and beyond. John Ondrasik does an excellent job of connected to the emotional content behind this song and the Peach lets you know it. Especially when he sings, "It's not easy to be me", at the end of the song, in a slow thoughtful reminiscing way, you can almost feel his pain. Soft, quiet passages with vocals or individual instruments bring out the strong points of the Peach II with its ability to bring both listener and performer closer together.

Having not heard Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark [Asylum 1001-2] CD in a long while, I thought this might just be the time to revisit the song, "Down to You". The Peach gives a nice layering effect with Joni Mitchell and the background chorus, while nicely capturing the texture of the piano notes playing constantly throughout the song. Not to be missed also is the song "Twisted" from the same CD. Here the Peach does a good job with an accurate representation of the timbre of the trumpet, which both starts and finishes the song. Wrapping up my CD experience is the album Rod Stewart Unplugged [Warner Bros. 9 45289-2] that features Rod Stewart live in concert. The album always has exerts from the audience as they applaud before and after various selections. With the Peach II, I was able to get a great 3-dimensional effect from the audience that allowed me to visualize individual rows of people as they applauded as well as the people within the rows. Of particular merit was the song "People Get Ready" where this effect with the audience was quiet evident. Listening to the violins at the beginning, they sounded very smooth yet were lacking in the high-pitched edge (that can sometimes accompany them). This was quite nice with the Peach. Lastly, the guitar solo towards the end had that live sound, which I have mentioned, was a strong point with this preamplifier.

 

And Then Enters Both McIntosh And Klipsch
I just could not resist trying the Peach II with my McIntosh MC275 tube amplifier and Klipsch Klipschorn speakers. Tube amplifiers and preamplifiers coupled with horn speakers and a few well-chosen LP's, I definitely could do this. Putting on Bob Dylan's The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan LP [Columbia/Sundazed LP 5115], the sound was oh so very clean and very smooth. Lacking any digital artifacts this mono recording reissued by Sundazed was a true pleasure to hear. Luckily I had the mono knob on the Peach II, set it from S (stereo) to M (mono) and you are all set to go. I think I will go a little further back in time now and listen to Buddy Holly/The Crickets 20 Golden Greats [MCA 37244] that was released in 1978. The songs of course had been previously released way before this. The nice thing about my systems combination is that I could hear deep into the soundstage front to back as it gave me good depth to the music. Buddy Holly's voice was prominent in "Peggy Sue" but the band also sounded clear as the Juicy Music/McIntosh/Klipsch setup captured a nice layering effect between those in the band and Buddy Holly.

 

Now For The Triple Layered Tube Effect
Just a brief note here, I happened to also own a McIntosh MR-67 tube tuner. This MR-67 had just been fully serviced, realigned and so in top form about one week before. Since I had a tube preamplifier in the Peach II and a tube amplifier with the Mc275, I figured I should also do a short audition with the MR-67 tuner so that I would have a three-piece tube gear system setup. The effect I must say was way smooth and extra Juicy. Giving the sound just a little more tube magic made even listening to commercials a joy. Bass was still faithfully reproduced and I listened for hours, without tiring of the sound. The Peach fit in nicely with the Klipsch/McIntosh amplifier/McIntosh tuner combination.

 

Final Thoughts
It was not so much the Peach II's ability to bring out details, which it could do, but instead its way of allowing you to connect to the emotional content of a song that impressed me. The Peach II brought musicality and liveliness to the listening experience that blended with just the right amount of detail to made everything more enjoyable overall. There are preamplifiers that can bring too much detail and forget the magic of the performance, leaving one feeling like you are missing something from the event. The Juicy Music Peach II captures just the right amount of balance to enhance the experience and not overwhelm it with any one aspect of its presentation. Those seeking to get a little closer to the "performer's stage" and get a sense of being more intimate with the songs should audition the Peach II as I felt it delivered these qualities in my review system. Because of this it was difficult for me to package the Peach up and deliver it back to Mark Deneen at Juicy Music and I am grateful for the time I was allowed to spend with it. . When you think about it $1695 for a tube preamplifier that comes with, among other things, a remote control, selectable ground switch and the Tri-Mode output function, certainly makes the Juicy Music Peach II a terrific buy.

 

My Ratings
Please take into consideration that the equipment under review is being measured in my room, with my equipment and heard through my ears. As always you should be the final judge as to what works for you in your environment and measured against what traits you value most. The following was how I rated the equipment based on a rating system that does not take in to consideration the cost of the product, until the very last question, "Value For The Money". Before that all products are rated against others in its category, regardless of financial considerations.

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear  
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Vacuum tube stereo preamplifier
Line Stage:
Gain: 16.7dB in Hi Mode; 16dB in Lo Mode; 0 dB in HT BYPASS
Frequency Response: 5Hz - 90kHz
Hum and Noise: -85dB
THD:0. 15% 20Hz - 20kHz ref. 2V out
Input impedance: 47k ohms
Output impedance: SuperLoZ Mode: 90 ohms; HiZ Mode: 3.5k ohms
Max Output: 30Vrms 47k ohms load

Inputs/Outputs:
AUX Inputs (high level):4 relay switched
Tape Loop: 1 in, 1 out with monitor switch
Main Output: 1 RCA

Tri-Mode Operation:
The Mode Switch on the front panel has 3 positions: 
LO: This is the SuperLoZ Mode with an output impedance of 90 ohms. In this mode the 6H30 gain stage is connected to a compound 6922 buffer stage to create the very low impedance output needed by some Solid State power amplifiers. In this mode the Peach will easily drive a 5k ohms load, or an extra long cable run. 
HI: This is the HiZ Mode with an output impedance of 3.5k ohms. This is the shortest, most elegant signal path using only the 6H30 Class A gain stage and one capacitor to the output of the preamp. This mode is intended to be used with amplifiers that have an input impedance > 100k ohms, such as typical tubed amplifiers. We often refer to this as "BlueBerry Mode" as this is the same line out as the BlueBerry Xtreme.
HT: This is the HT bypass mode, or Unity Gain mode. In this mode the HT INPUT is switched directly to the output jacks as a "straight wire" bypassing all internal Peach circuitry including the volume controls. If you connect the FRONT outputs of your HT pre/pro to these inputs, you can put the Peach in HT BYPASS and control your front amplifiers from the HT Pre/Pro, making it very easy to use a premium amplifier for the front channels of your HT system as well as your music system. NOTE: The Peach must be ON to use the HT mode.

Outputs: Stereo via RCA plus
Tube Compliment: one 12X4,  two JAN Philips ECG 6922 and, one 6H30
Dimensions: 19 x 6 x 12 (WxHxD in inches)
Weight: 18 lbs.

Options:
Front Panel: Silver with black knobs; Black with silver knobs
Case: Solid walnut dovetailed case

Price: $1695 with silver or black front panel (add $195 for optional solid wood dovetail cabinet)

 

Company Information
JuicyMusic
5450 Meyers Ave.
Eureka, CA. 95503

Voice: (707) 832-7363
E-mail: info@juicymusicaudio.com
Website: www.juicymusicaudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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