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.
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 90‘s he returned to his passion – electronics and audio design –
joining forces with a company called Silvaweld as chief audio designer.
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
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
The H-3000V LCR
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.
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
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).
There 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
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.
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
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.
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