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January 2014
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Enjoy the Music.com's Top 20 Best Gear Of 2014
Allnic H-1201 Vacuum Tube Phonostage
A fine tubed phono amplifier for analog enthusiasts.
Review By David McCallum

 

Allnic H-1201 Vacuum Tube Phonostage  Allnic Audio produces some of the finest analogue audio equipment available today, and phono amplification products are the touchstone of their equipment line up. I've spent the past four months with two models in the Allnic Audio phono amplifier line; their newest and most affordable H-1201, and their current standard bearer, the H-3000V LCR. What I've discovered is a company that invests passion into their designs at every price-point. Follow with me as I explore the brand, the designer, and the sound of Allnic Audio.

In order to fully appreciate the electronics of Allnic Audio, one needs to be familiar with founder, designer and audio visionary, Mr. Kang Su Park. After spending four months with his phono amplifiers, I spoke to Mr. Park this past November. In that conversation he explained that he has dedicated most of his life to the craft of fine audio electronics design, and takes great pride in both following and honoring the work of the great Japanese electronics designers who came before him, including Mr. Ito, Mr. Atarashi, Mr. Watanabe, Mr. Morikawa, and others. Park refers to these engineers and audio electronics designers as "The Masters", and his self-proclaimed passion is to both honor and complete their work with his own electronics designs.

Mr. Kang Su ParkK.S. Park's entry into audio electronics didn't follow a traditional path, however. Born in 1955, in his teenage years Park showed both a love of music and a fascination with electronics. Coincidently, both of Park's other brothers were practicing electricians who fueled his curiosity, and taught him basic electronic skills. Park began experimenting with electronics designs for audio equipment at a young age, but, as Park explained, "at that time in Asian culture, being an electrician was considered a low-grade position," and his family desired greater opportunities for Kang Su. So rather than follow his early passion in audio, Park sought an education in the humanities, studying French and English languages at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, South Korea, earning a degree in French Studies.

Upon graduation Park entered the corporate workforce, spending five years with various corporate offices in South Korea. However, Park explained, the office work proved unsatisfying, and so in the early 90s he returned to his passion electronics and audio design joining forces with a company called Silvaweld as chief audio designer. Like Allnic Audio, Silvaweld was a valve-based consumer electronics manufacturer. Park told me that his first company enjoyed success in both the Asian and European Hi-Fi market. After ten years at Silvaweld, Park sold his stake in the corporation, choosing to start again with a smaller, more personal company that he called Allnic Audio.

Allnic stands for All-Nickel-Core, in reference to the Nickel-Iron compound Permalloy, invented by G. W. Elmen of Western Electric, which all Allnic phono amplifiers utilize in their custom wound output transformers. The first Allnic Audio product, the H-1500 valve phono amplifier, was introduced in 2002. The H-1500 utilized Park's Permalloy output transformers, proprietary LCR RIAA filters, and his sophisticated tube selection skills, laying the foundation for Allnic Audio's subsequent development of an exceptional collection of phono amplification products that currently includes the entry level H-1201, the H-1500 II SE Plus, the highly regarded H-3000V LCR and Park's statement product, the H-5000 DHT Direct Heated Triode phono amplifier, ranging in price from $2,950 to $32,900.

 

My Experience With Allnic
Allnic Audio T-2000I was first introduced to Allnic Audio six years ago, by Kelowna BC-based global distributor David Beetles of Hammertone Audio. Although Allnic's phono amplifier lineup is likely their most highly regarded collection of products, I first experienced the brand through samples of the L-1500 and L-3000 line amplifiers as well as the T-2000 integrated amplifier (pictured). I didn't write about the L1500 or L3000, but I was thoroughly impressed with their build quality and sound.

The L-1500 is a very solid piece. It sits in a very competitive $5000 to $6000 price category; there are numerous exceptional sounding, high value valve line-amplifiers at this price point. In the time that I sampled the L-1500 I felt it more than held its own amongst the other similarly priced line-amplifiers I'd heard.

The L-3000 and T-2000, however, are, in my opinion, a part of the upper echelon of Hi-Fi electronics. Exceptional in construction quality, parts selection and sound, both pieces sit at or near the top of their respective amplifier categories, both in terms of sound and value. I enjoyed them so much that after completing an article on the T-2000 amplifier for The Inner Ear in Canada, I bought it (it remains a part of my own amplifier collection) and would have purchased the L-3000 also, except that, sadly, at $11,900 it was beyond my budget.

This past summer David Beetles approached me about writing an article on the H-3000V LCR. He knew I had invested significant time writing about analogue audio and was interested in what I might say about his most successful phono amplifier model. I knew that the $12,900 H-3000V had already received substantial coverage in the Hi-Fi press, however, so I pitched a different idea to Mr. Steve Rochlin here at Enjoy The Music. I suggested that I write an article about Allnic Audio's entry level H-1201 model rather than the H-3000V. I would use the H-3000V as a reference, but focus my attention on Allnic's newest model. At $2995 the H-1201 phono amplifier is also the most affordable product in Allnic's equipment line up, and serves as a good entry Into Allnic.

 

The H-3000V LCR
Allnic Audio H-3000V LCRNearly six years after my first encounter with Allnic, the H-3000V LCR, standard-bearer of the Allnic phono amplifier line, arrived at my door. I was certainly aware of its history and the praise the unit had garnered. The H-3000V has been lauded as one of the finest phono amplifiers in the world. The review sample arrived via Harry Pearson and Joey Weiss (colleagues of mine at HPSoundings). Harry and Joey spent six successful months with the H-3000V, and commented that at first listen, this component "knocked them flat." Their description of the unit?"Straight up analog heaven."

Press for the amplifier has been universally positive. The hallmark of the H-3000V is Park's implementation of a complex all-transformer-coupled LCR RIAA filter. An LCR (coils-capacitors-resistors) utilizes a linear reactor (a kind of choke coil) with a precise CR-type passive filter (capacitor filter) for RIAA equalization. Allnic's LCR filter is thoroughly coupled by custom Allnic Permalloy transformers, which should all have a perfectly flat frequency range (20 Hz to 20 kHz) and very low winding resistance to reduce the power loss in order to obtain a good RIAA curve, especially at low frequencies.

Allnic points out that LCR RIAA filters do have drawbacks, primarily high cost and difficulty of impedance matching, which have been the primary hindrances to the commercialization of LCR RIAA-type filters.  Allnic feels they have successfully addressed these issues. Their custom manufactured LCR filters have a constant 600 Ohm impedance, and the filters series resistance is less than 13 ohms, which allows for more dynamic sound reproduction, better bass response and speed.

Allnic Audio H-3000V

Because it has received so much attention already, I will try to keep my comments on the performance of the H-3000V brief. I've consistently found that Allnic products produce a warm, nuanced sound that is rich and full. They excel at producing detail in musical texture and are spatially strong while staying tonally gentle, "tube-like" for want of a better phrase. Allnic equipment rarely produces an unattractive, edgy sound, unless the musical recording contains that quality.

I offer these thoughts about Allnic because the H-3000V doesn't sound like the other products I've experienced; it's better. The H-3000V is remarkably revealing, offering incredibly levels of detail in all frequency ranges. Its sound is open, bold and dynamic with remarkable detail in the high frequency range while maintaining strong midrange presence. Rich with technical features, the H-3000V is also flexible enough to work with any cartridge in the world.

I've listened to this record numerous times over the past year and a half, whether for pleasure or as part of a test. The H-3000V revealed details I had not perceived previously, subtle things such as the internal dynamic range as a result of subtle changes in intensity during Peterson's performance on piano and Brown's on bass. These small details were audible during both gentle and louder passages. The H3000V created an overall musical experience I hadn't had before. I was truly mesmerized by what I heard. The H-3000V is a remarkable product that, I believe, defines valve-based phono amplification.

 

Allnic Audio H-1201
Allnic Audio H-1201 Vacuum Tube PhonostageThe H-1201 is Allnic's new entry-level phono amplifier and is a direct replacement for the previous H-1200 model. According to Park, the design for the H-1201 started with the same basic objectives as the original H-1200, namely, to build a small scale but high quality phono amplifier. When designing the H-1200, Park had chosen tiny pencil tubes, which allowed him to construct the amplifier inside a small enclosure. However, Park found that the pencil tubes had longevity issues. So after a successful production run, he decided Allnic's entry-level phono amplifier required a re-design.

Beetles describes Park as having encyclopedic knowledge of vacuum tubes, both of their technical characteristics and how they sound in various applications. Park demonstrated this knowledge in the newly designed H-1201, when he chose a tube not normally associated with audio, a NOS Mullard E180CC twin triode (which, as Beetles points out, was, in fact, an early computer tube). Parks told me that the E180CC is "a very good tube," and that he "loves this tube." The H-1201 utilizes four of them.

According to Park, the primary technical objectives for the H-1201 were to keep microphonics as low as possible; to have zero negative feedback; to work with a dynamic signal-to-noise ratio measurement (which Park says is "much more practical for audio listening" than a more traditional static signal to noise measurement); and of course to build an exceptional sounding, low cost phono amplifier.

The H-1201 possesses some, but not all of the technical features found in the H-3000V. The H-1201 uses Allnic's proprietary Permalloy transformer cores within its step-up transformers (the same transformer cores are used in all Allnic phono amplifiers), there is no negative feedback, and it operates in pure Class-A mode. However, the elaborate LCR RIAA type filter has been replaced with a simpler, more cost effective CR type filter (one that is precisely compensated to within +/- 0.3dB.), while voltage regulation and the power supply are transistor based (rather than tube-based as with the H-3000V LCR).

Allnic Audio H-1201 RearThere are two unbalanced RCA inputs (one MC input and one MM input), and one set of unbalanced RCA outputs. With the simpler CR RIAA filter there are no impedance adjustment options, but the MC input has four variable gain settings (+22dB, +26dB, +28dB, +32dB (1kHz), while the MM input has a single +38bd gain setting (1 kHz).

The H-1201 possesses the familiar Allnic sonic signature present in the L-1500 and L-3000 line amplifiers and T-2000 power amplifier it is a warm, tonally rich and detailed phono amplifier. Using the H-3000V as a reference, however, it is also easy to observe what the H-1201 doesn't do compared to the larger model. For example, going back to the earlier example of the Oscar Peterson Trio album "We Get Requests", in a comparative listening session the H-1201 performed well in the midrange. Peterson's piano notes sounded crisp (if not slightly more recessed) while Brown's bass felt nicely forward (along with the vocal additions he adds while playing). Detail within Brown's performance remained strong, while Thigpen's drums were a bit reserved, set back behind the piano and bass.

What was missing, however, was the extra extension of the high frequencies - where the air around the instruments and reverb sit - which the H-3000V manages so well. Subtle internal dynamics were also lacking, such as audible variations in the intensity of Peterson's piano playing, an area of reproduction the H-3000V masters. Low bass reproduction was another obvious area of difference. The H-3000V is in its own league in this regard, and by comparison the H-1201 feels subdued. The H-1201 does have some of the midrange elegance of the H-3000V, but the notes disappear just a tad sooner.

Am well-aware aware that it is simply unfair to define the H-1201 by what it lacks in comparison to its big brother. If it were the sonic equal of an amplifier significantly more sophisticated in design and construction, there would be little point investing further in the beautiful hobby of Hi-Fi. But there is a lot to enjoy about the most affordable audio product in the Allnic line up, a position that the H-1201 holds with conviction.

I was particularly impressed with the opening three tracks (side one) of Dead Can Dance duo Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry's album Into The Labyrinth. A very well produced and engineered album (Perry), "Into The Labyrinth" provides the listener with an elaborate cross section of musical attributes that are a good test for any high fidelity audio system. "Yulunga", a particularly dynamic opening track, begins with Garrard's vocal front and center. As the track progresses, multiple layers of deep bass and percussion instruments slowly surround the main vocal and the track builds simultaneously in intensity and dynamic range.

Track two, "The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove" sounded spacious and full. The H-1201 presented the track with a good amount of intensity without the overall sonic presentation becoming overwhelming or bloated. The dynamics evident within Perry's voice later in the song stood out to my ear, and at this point in my note taking I wrote, "Impressive."

Lastly, from side one of "Into The Labyrinth", the glorious a cappella closing track "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" was as good as the H-1201 had sounded. Perhaps the frequency range of Garrard's vocal performance was right in the wheelhouse of what The H-1201 does well midrange presence for it may have been as good as I heard the H-1201 sound.

During my sessions with the H-1201 I spent quite a bit of time listening to three new box set reissues of the Nick Drake albums Pink Moon, Bryter Layter and 5 Leaves Left. I think I've said this before, but these reissues dramatically re-invent Drake's music on vinyl (and in digital format). The reissues (mastered by Adam Nunn at Abbey Road Studios in London) are so well produced that I've become addicted to listening to them.

On "Cello Song" from 5 Leaves Left the H-1201 revealed great texture in the guitar. Dynamics were good, Drake's voice sounded very good, and the cello sounded clear and strong. Listening to the title track from Pink Moon I wrote one word: "outstanding." And hearing "Northern Sky" from "Bryter Layter"(my favorite Drake song) I was impressed by both its bloom and texture. Referencing my notes again, my final comment on the Drake set was "damn, this is good!"

My final sample was from the Alison Krauss and Union Station's album Live. I probably use this track as a test piece too often, but side three, track one, "Ghost in the House", is a beautiful piece of music, and it was, in fact, one of the best overall songs I heard with the H-1201. Krauss' vocals were almost perfect, with no hint of system overload or distortion. The bass and percussion were gentle and rich, while top end extension and air were more evident than on other tracks I sampled.

Listening to the Krauss album, I noted for the first time a certain coherence in the music. I actually went back and listened to "We Get Requests" afterward to observe the same attribute on that album. All of these characteristics are in the "Live" album recording it's probably why I go back to it so often but they have to be re-produced by the vinyl equipment.  With the H-1201 nothing felt held back. On the second track from side three, "Forget About It", I noted the sound of the guitars and crowd immediately. Krauss' voice sounded lovely once again, and the balance between string instruments and bass / percussion was very good. I wrote down "coherence!"

Over almost three months with the H-1201 I listened to many more albums and numerous musical genres, from Radiohead and Led Zeppelin to Miles Davis and Ernest Ansermet. The descriptions above are examples of moments when the H-1201 excelled. In summary, I feel that its strengths are obvious and consistent. It has very good midrange performance. It has decent dynamics, although not in the same class as the H-3000V. It's quiet. Park has succeeded in building a small phono amp with low microphonics. It is coherent, musical and warm. It sits comfortably in the Allnic Audio family of fine audio products and is, in its own right, a very good phono amplifier.

 

Allnic Audio's Full Spectrum H-5000 DHT
Allnic Audio H-5000 DHTOne of the most interesting things about the H-1201 is that at the same time that Allnic released the $2950 phono amplifier, the company also brought to market Park's long-in-development statement design, the H-5000 DHT Direct Heated Triode phono amplifier. It is a testament to Park's passion that Allnic would undertake the complexity of designing and building both an entry level phono amplifier while simultaneously building a statement unit that literally costs ten times that of the smaller model. The DHT project was extremely complicated, requiring the design and commission of custom-made tubes for Allnic and a complete re-think of the phono amplifier circuit in order to keep those tubes quiet. When I spoke with Park in November, however, the conversation moved equally between the H-1201 and his H-5000 DHT project.

I find in high fidelity audio that we so often put emphasis on the most expensive products, filling show rooms with the biggest and best, and often most intimidating, products, that we forget how important the entry-level is to bring new music lovers and audio enthusiasts to this great hobby of Hi-Fi. I haven't heard the $32,000 H-5000 DHT; that's for another day. But in Park I discovered a humble, thoughtful man who has a true love of audio and who takes great pride in his work. After listening to the H-1201, it's clear to me that while the most affordable phono amplifier from Allnic doesn't possess all of the attributes of those further up the line, success in its design reveals that performance is of tantamount importance to Park in every project.

 

Closing Thoughts
In the past year I've spent time with the Allnic H-3000V LCR, Nagra's lovely VPS phono amplifier, my own Tom Evans Groove +SRX phono amp and now Allnic Audio's H-1201 entry-level model. Following these great phono amplifiers, the H-1201 was in very tough company. But I'm quite aware that it is unreasonable to expect a product priced below $3000 to compete on level terms with those costing two to four times its price, and in that context the H-1201 is not a giant killer. But it is a fine phono amplifier, and serves as a perfect piece to get a new analogue enthusiast started, for someone interested in valves or in Allnic Audio who can't afford a $6000 or $13,000 phono amp, or for more seasoned audio enthusiasts who simply want a flexible, modestly priced valve phono amplifier. The H-1201 is an excellent product and would excel in almost any level high fidelity audio system.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to, and can highly recommend Allnic Audio's H-1201 phono amplifier. At $2950 it offers exceptional value and performance quality, and also happens to be one of the most attractive phono amplifiers I've seen. A great choice for someone looking for an entry into Allnic.

 

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 MM/MC phonostage
Tubes: E180CC new old stock, electrically equivalent CV8431, 7062, 5965, 12AV7, 6414, 6829
Output: One pair unbalanced RCA
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz (0.3dB)
Voltage Gain: MM: +38dB (1kHz)
MC Variable: +22dB, +26dB, +28dB, +32dB (1kHz)
Input Impedance: MC up to 280 Ohm and MM 47 kOhm
Maximum Input Voltage (MM, non-clipping): 20Hz / 30mV, 100Hz / 60mV, 1kHz / 300mV and 10kHz / 500mV
THD: Less than 0.3% (1kHz, Output 1V)
Output Impedance: 1.2 kOhm
SNR: -68dB
Dimensions: 12.3" x 9.1" x 5.6" (WxDxH)
Weight: 9.9 lbs.
Price: $2950

 

Company Information
Allnic Audio
Korea

Voice: +31 777-9447
E-mail: allnicaudio@naver.com
Website: www.AllnicAudio.com

 

United States Distributor
Hammertone Audio 
252 Magic Drive
Kelowna, BC
Canada V1V 1N2 

Voice: (250) 862-9037
Fax: (250) 862-9039
E-mail: david@hammertoneaudio.com
Website: www.HammertoneAudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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