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February 2016
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
World Premiere!
Tavish Design Adagio Vacuum Tube Phono Stage
So grasshopper, what have you learned?
Review By Ron Nagle

 

Tavish Design Adagio Vacuum Tube Phono Stage Review

  The New York Audio Show in November 2015 was a great place to network with audiophiles and secure this review of the Tavish Design Adagio Vacuum Tube Phono Stage. Audio people usually display a genuine interest in my audio trials and tribulations. Posit this, to my significant other who views my slightly eccentric audio pastime with sympathetic indulgence. In this vein, let me move on to a recent Saturday evening. This is where you will find me weighed down with an arm full of the flea market vinyl that I never stopped collecting. My black plastic acquisition represents a wonderful escapist afternoon spent flipping through stacks of old dusty record albums. It was a time spent oblivious of all my cares. Consider that there is always the tantalizing possibility that you might uncover something of real value. Or at the very least you may rediscover a fond nearly forgotten memory. So or course you need something like the Tavish Design Adagio Vacuum Tube Phono Stage to go with your turntable.

 

Etymology
It was August 17, 1982, when the first compact disk was made thereby ushering in "Perfect Sound Forever". Obviously it was the death knell for black vinyl. Thirty three years have passed since silver perfection transported us to a higher plane. But for the few, the cognoscente there was always another way. I can remember the advice of the Master:

"For there is yet joy to be found following the spiral path, Grasshopper."

 

Happy I am to report that the knowledge of the ancient ones has not been lost.

 

The Adagio Passage
Let me introduce you to another way, the Adagio Vacuum Tube Phono Stage. This is a product born from the creative mind of Scott Reynolds a Stanford University Ph.D. Mr. Reynolds started his company Tavish Design in 2011 in Amawalk New York. His Adagio phono stage was shown at the 2015 New York Audio show. I have a sample of the manufactures latest design, the projected price being $1490. Entering the Tavish Audio room my attention was drawn to the sight of six miniature dual triode tubes sticking out of the top of the Adagio amplifier. Unusual to say the least. Consider that if you use a Class 2 wall wart power supply and DIP chips you could probably build a phono stage that would fit in a matchbox. I could not help but wonder that this was a very different mindset. And in light of all the alternatives this something seemed extravagant. Once again I remember a voice from another time. It was the advice of my old mentor: "Grasshopper, the path to enlightenment begins as a journey from within".

 

Within
The Adagio Phono Stage is an amplifier contained inside two separate chassis. Both enclosures measure 8.6" wide by 11" deep and 2.5" high. The amplifier section holds the six tubes. The tubes comprise three 5751, two EF86 and one 12AU7. The Adagio input stage uses three selected low-noise 5751 tubes at the input. The 5751 vacuum tube is a low-gain variant of the 12AX7. It was selected because it has the best combination of low noise and low microphonics. The manufacture informs me that a 12AX7 may be substituted for the 5751 triodes. The second stage consists of two 6267/EF86, a 12AU7A, plus a pair of Jensen moving coil transformers. Active RIAA equalization is applied in the second stage. The second stage is single ended but the output is compatible with both unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR output connectors (pin 2 hot). As a matter of fact both halves of the phono stage the input and output sections will accommodate both balanced and unbalanced cables.

 

 

Within a separate chassis there is the regulated linear power supply. The linear power supply provides 320 Direct Current Plate Volts and 6.3 Volts DC for the first stage heater supply and 12.6 Volts DC for the second stage heater supply. The front panel of the power supply has an on/off switch and three LED function lights. They are, 120 Volts applied (red) Warm up (yellow) and (blue) High Voltage. The two sections are interconnected by a nine pin umbilical power cord. The Adagio amplifier provides adjustable resistive and capacitance loading options for Moving Magnet or Moving Coil cartridges. For someone new to Vinyl recordings and Phono Cartridges there are two widely used cartridge types, Moving Magnet and Moving coil. There are other types of phono cartridges but they are less common.  At the left side of the front face you will see a power on/off toggle switch and a pilot light then a detented six position rotary switch used to set moving magnet cartridge loading. The capacitive switch setting values are in pico-farads, Min, 50,100,150,220,330. At the center panel is another indicator light that is turned on if you choose the moving coil option. Just to the right of that is another two position toggle style switch that provides an option to choose either Moving Magnet or Moving Coil amplification. There is one more two position toggle switch that can be used to mute the amplifiers output. Now last but not least we have a variable resistor option to adjust Moving Coil cartridge loading. Again this is a six position rotary switch. The resistive loading is scaled in Ohms and can be set to 100, 150, 200, 300, 400, and Max (whatever resistive value Max is).

 

 

Built into the moving coil input there are two left and right channel Jensen JT-44-DX moving coil step up transformers each has a 1 to10 step up turns ratio. The transformers provide an additional 20 dB of gain for moving coil cartridges. There is a statement suggesting that the power supply section be turned on and left on, and so that's what I did.

 

Method
Plucked at random from the rack is the album "Another Page" by Christopher Cross [Warner Brothers 1-23757]  In order to limit all the possible variables in a Phono Stage audition I decided to refer to only this one record album. The test than is a shootout between two Phono stage amplifiers The Adagio and my Creek Wyndsor Phono Preamp both set with matching cartridge loading values. Using carefully set up moving magnet and moving coil cartridges the test will sample both micro volt and milliVolt cartridge signals. They are the ubiquitous Denon 103 Moving Coil with a 0.3milliVolts output and the Shure V15 V-MR 3.5milliVolt Moving Magnet.

 

The Sound
The very first cut on the album Another Page, is the song "All Right" this is a dynamic many layered studio recording. Christopher Cross's backing vocals are scored in an exceptionally complex and many layered arrangement. The songs title words becomes a repeating phrase in the lyric. "It's all right, I think we're gonna make it". This passage is a double tracked (overdubbed) voice centered in the space between the speakers. The selection All Right was lifted from the grooves on the first focused evaluation with a Shure V15 Type V-MR cartridge fed into the Adagio. The cartridge loading was set exactly as the manufacturer specified, 47 kilo Ohms in parallel with 400 picofarad. After this album and a few other albums I placed my reference Creek Wyndsor Phono Preamp ($2000) alongside the Adagio. The Creek was adjusted to the same 47kOhms and 400 picofarad.  With the Shure cartridge feeding into the Creek amplifier. The sound was just fine, after all I had been listening to this amplifier in my system for five years. At this point, any sane man should just be content to lean back, close his eyes and enjoy.  But for the few, the Audiophile, the path toward enlightenment is defined by subtle vibrations of the sonic fabric, the space around a voice, the silence between the notes.  I remember the words of the old one and his teaching, it shows me the way.

"Learn to listen grasshopper for the unknown".

At the most fundamental level of reasoning the major audible difference between these two fine amplifiers highlights a classic dichotomy. It is posited by the characteristic sound of tubes and the sound of generic solid state devices. As it turns out the depiction of a three dimensional performance space is still the domain of glass audio. The Adagio is a very modern tube amplifier it is not too warm in the classic sense. In fact it is extended at high frequencies and the bass is full and deep. Half way into this audition I learned that the Designer Scott Reynolds used a Denon 103 Moving Coil cartridge when he designed the Adagio Phono Stage. So another very interesting permutation will be listening to, Another Page but this time swapping out the Shure cartridge and substituting a Denon 103 Moving Coil cartridge. The Denon can be a difficult load, it generates a small 0.3 mV, this is even less than some other moving coil cartridges. The difficulty is the need to vastly increase the cartridge amplification. But at the same time any noise inherent in the amplifier will be amplified along with the cartridge signal.

 

Tavish Design Adagio Vacuum Tube Phono Stage

 

With the Creek and the Adagio placed side by side. I fed both of the unbalanced outputs into my Parasound P5 preamplifier. Sitting up close between the speakers while playing Christopher Cross enabled me to quickly A/B the phono amplifiers. This proved to be a bad idea. I had forgotten a basic stereo system characteristic as you move very close to the speakers the sound stage collapses to mono. Yes even then there were differences between these phono amplifiers and they by a small margin favored the Adagio performance. However the Creek had better transient speed and dynamic shifts these were depicted in great detail. Moving myself eight feet further back completely illustrated my folly. From that distance the Adagio opened up into another dimension. The sound field between my speakers expanded and the players within now had a palpable body. More than width and height was a sense of layers of depth. The sound of the keyboards on the track "Alright" now were moved deeper in the center at the wall behind the system. The Adagio opens up a sound stage that can push back the walls of my room and carry me deeper into the performance; this is where I want to go.

 

Bottom Line
Here is an interesting anecdote. In October 2013 I reviewed the EAR/Yoshino 868 preamplifier for Enjoy The Music. Later I listened at length to the George Counnas Zesto Andros 1.2 Phono stage. Both of these devices are capable of reproducing wonderful vinyl sound. Both of these components and the Adagio Phono Stage have something in common. All three combine miniature triodes along with moving coil transformers to amplify the cartridge voltage. The Adagio with Jensen step-up transformers has a 1dB noise figure, which means that the overall noise of the cartridge and phono stage is only 1dB higher than the noise of the cartridge itself. Or to put it another way, an ideal noiseless preamp (which doesn't exist) would have a signal-to-noise ratio only 1dB better. The EAR Yoshino preamplifier with phono stage retails for $7595, whereas the Andros 1.2 is $3900. The initial offering of the Adagio Vacuum Tube Phono Stage is priced at $1490. My experience involving the Adagio step-up transformers combined in a circuit using miniature triodes has been an education in what can be extracted from the grooves of vinyl recordings. Ask yourself what percentage of all the currently made stand alone Phono amplifiers are pure tube? The answer is that they are a relative minority. The main reason is that they are much harder to properly design and to build. Even more difficult the Tavish amplifiers are hand built one by one in America. Every once in a while I am privileged to introduce a high-end audio component that combines exceptional value and performance. This is that time, so go forth and find as I'm keeping the review sample!

 

Epilogue
The long upward climb at last brings me back to the cool dim interior of the monastery.  And the master, though blind has heard my footsteps from afar and knew I'd returned. I sit cross-legged and I wait. He speaks in a dry whisper, "so grasshopper, what have you learned?". I have found master, that music is an ephemeral soundscape superimposed on a background of silence, and that its existence is fragile.

It exists in our hearts, or not at all. He whispers, "It is so".

 

Remember to enjoy the music and from me, Semper Hi-Fi.

 

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: Type: Vacuum tube stereo phonostage
Gain: 44 dB Moving Magnet, 64 dB Moving Coil (switch selected)
RIAA Equalization Accuracy: +/- 0.2 dB
THD: < 0.008% at 0dBu output
SNR: >84 dBA 
Easy front-panel-adjustable cartridge loading
Balanced MC input with Jensen JT-44K-DX step-up transformer
Two box design with external regulated power supplies
Designed and made within the USA
Warranty: Six years
Price: $1490

 

Company Information
Tavish Design, LLC
P.O. Box 129
Amawalk, NY 10501

Voice: (914) 262-6988
E-mail: info@tavishdesign.com 
Website: www.TavishDesign.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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