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March 2011
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
World Premiere!
Melody Valve HiFi Pure Black 101 Preamplifier
Setting a new standard few can match at this price.
Review By Ron Nagle

 

Melody Valve HiFi Pure Black 101 Tubed Preamplifier  This tale begins with a question wrapped in an enigma inside a mystery. The owner's manual that came with the Pure Black 101 was just a Chinese blurb. Some spec's but a lot of warnings for the mentally challenged, like not getting the amplifier wet and a reminder not to pull out the tubes while the amplifier was turned on. Also it came with a problem; one of the two 101D triode tubes was damaged in shipping. So of necessity I had to wait for the Melody Audio distributor to send a replacement tube.

Meanwhile back at my place I started by making some phone calls and searching the Internet for information. All I managed to do was heap a higher pile of confusion upon my previous pile of what I was confused about. An anonymous and obviously previously very pissed individual (in a phone call) related a lurid tale of a dealer (Not the present Melody Audio distributor Angel City Audio) who some years ago simply disappeared and left every one twisting in the wind.

Meantime, staring at the sexily gleaming aptly named Pure Black, a very dead PB101 preamplifier stared back at me. "Ok that's it" let us make for the lifeboats, but just before I swung out the davits the replacement tube arrived via Fed Ex. "Oh what the hell waited, so might as well". About two minutes after plugging in and powering on the very blackly painted PB101 my course was made clear. It would be accurate to say I forgot everything that went before as I was sucked summarily into Jennifer Warnes presence. I bought her wonderful new Gold album, The Well [Impex Records IMP 8302] in Las Vegas while attending the 2011 CES show. And not so incidentally I am a big fan of Jennifer Warnes.

Stumbling descriptive wise even now the best I can come up with is the partial word Liquid. But that descriptive word standing alone doesn't quite tell the story.

The real cliché is the worn phrase; "forgot my (critical) listening cap and simply enjoyed the music." This is first for me; never before have I plugged a review component in my reference system and heard such a dramatic and positive transformation. Before we go any further let's fill in some facts about the transformational subject of this story.

 

The Pure Black 101
There was a Proto Preamplifier that first appeared years ago as the Melody SWH 1688 II. The original SWH 1688 II only had unbalanced RCA connections. However the subject of this story the Melody Pure Black 101 is (I am told) a new product incorporating a parts upgrade of the original preamplifier. The PB101 has cut core transformers made with Z7 Silicon steel sourced from Japan. Wire routing has been upgraded rerouted and shortened. As of today both versions the SWH 1688 II and the PB101 upgrade now have balanced and unbalanced line level input and output connections. In addition there is now a matching black metal hand held remote control supplied with the PB101 preamplifier. Unfortunately the remote is limited and only provides three volume control functions, increase, and decrease and mute.

The origins of the Melody Hi-Fi Valve Company are certainly different but not totally unique. The company was registered in Melbourne Australia in 1999 and the owner and founder is a Mr. Shi He Wang, he is an Australian citizen. The Melody audio components are constructed in a Privately owned O.E.M. manufacturing facility in Shen Zhen. The very same factory manufactures another line of Hi-Fi components re-branded as ONIX brand name in the past. Melody also collaborated on a pair of monos that were branded Genesis.

The preamplifier numerical designation 101reffers to the two globe shaped directly heated Triodes that the amplifier uses. This mesh plate triode amplifier tube is made by Quanzhen Tube Technology in Tianjin China. It is manufactured as the Full Music 101D/n or the 101D. The 101D tube price I found on line was a very variable $115. This classic four pin (RCA 4D base) tube with its spherical glass envelope is reminiscent of the original J.A. Fleming Oscillation Valve of 1904.

This massively overbuilt Line Amplifier is a component that looks very much like an integrated amplifier. The three oversized square shape transformers on the rear chassis hint at the unusually high gain/volume that is input to my Sanders ESL power amplifier. Possibly and because of this you will find two sets of RCA out jacks marked Hi and Low on the back panel. The e-mail answer I received from the istributor tells me that the Hi pair of RCA outputs is for a tube power amplifier and the Low output is used in a system like mine that has a solid state power amplifier. Another explanation is that the two outputs are there for impedance matching. I use the RCA pair marked Low and still I rarely get the volume control knob past the 10 o'clock position.

 

Hardware
Melody Valve HiFi Pure Black 101 PreamplifierPainted with a high gloss piano black lacquer on all surfaces and weighing in at 55 pounds the Pure Black preamplifier measures 17.25 x 7.63 x 15 (WxHxD in inches). With the exception of the aluminum face panel everything is constructed of heavy gauge steel. This type of construction for a current production stereo preamplifier is very unusual. The front panel has three control knobs. They are left side the On/Off switch, middle the volume control and the right side is the four position line input selector, the PB101 does not have a phono stage (Oh rats). Under the removable steel tube cover are seven vacuum tubes: there are four 6SN7 medium Mu twin triodes, in the center is a 5AR4 Full Wave Rectifier and of course the two 101D directly heated filamentary triodes. At the rear or business end of the preamplifier you will find four pairs of extremely well made RCA line input jacks. Next are the left and right channel Balanced XLR input sockets. Moving to the center is a pair of RCA jacks marked Hi Out and next to that another pair marked Low Out. Moving farther right are two XLR Balanced Out jacks and in the right corner are the power cord IEC receptacle and a 3 Ampere line fuse.

 

Under The Hood
Look inside the Pure Black 101 and you will find a bona fide Hi-End candy store chock full of some of the finest specialty circuit components made for high-end audio. I'm more than surprised, and no one would not be very impressed. There are three massive Aerovox U.S.A. 48uf, paper in oil capacitors and four Jensen pure copper foil coupling capacitors plus two German Mundorf 0.47uf Capacitors possibly of the silver/oil variety. All resistors are high quality ceramics and the tube sockets are also ceramic with gold plated pins. The internal wiring is mil spec neatly tied and bundled and some critical wiring is shielded with cooper braid. Additionally the volume control is a motor driven discrete resistor ladder attenuator, Wow!

Last but no least you will not hear turn on or turn off noise because the tubes very gradually heat up and then cool off.

 

My Mindset
My conclusions are tempered by an awareness that some reviewers and many audiophiles have abandoned the sound of live music. However subtly it came about is debatable, but I believe it probable that the last music performance that they listened to at home was a compact disc. It can explain a lot, it can explain the emphasis on lightning fast transient speed, treble frequency extension and iron grip earth quake deep bass. One gigantic problem with this yardstick, it's pretty much superfluous bullshit. At best maybe fifteen percent of music information resides at the frequency extremes. Remember if it ain't in the midrange then it ain't anywhere. The last bumbling phrase is "transient speed" common sense will tell you this is not a measurement of a live performance or your ability to believe it. Then why has sound effects Techno Babble measurement taken over? Maybe it has something to do with, upsampling, oversampling, re-clocking, Jitter reduction, least significant bit, et al: phrases afloat on a sea of misdirection.

 

Listening
The hardest part of a review is getting you in my ears: that is for you to relate to what I am hearing. Let us go back to The Well, Jennifer Warnes wonderful album. This is the first music I heard and played back with the Pure Black in my system. This album is all so very good, and so real that there is one song I can barely listen to. It is track 8 Billy Joel's And So It Goes. The emotion it evokes takes me to a place of hopeless longing and inevitable loss, a place I fear to remember. There is a liquid flowing ease and intimacy in her voice that draws me in, a reality so vivid that quantification and measurements simply no longer matter. The Well proves a perfect source for my primary reference the sound of a human voice. The PB101 tonal envelope is the same for every recording that I played the quality of the recording is the limiting factor.

Reverting to Techno Babble, the treble doesn't sound extended but still no high frequencies are missing. At the other end of the spectrum the bass doesn't stop and start on a dime but the bass is all there. Fingering and bass cord changes resonate naturally as in life. I would like to think the marriage of my powerful Sanders ESL solid state amplifier and a tube preamplifier like the PB101 takes everything about as far as modern material technology and quality construction can go. Could that explain everything? Probably not, that would be too simplistic.

 

Final Thoughts
Ok, so this is a story about a Chinese made tube preamplifier that goes full circle and in the end it serves to remind me that what really matters is the music. To be succinct this is the first component audition in years that has elicited such an emotional connection. The material quality and made by hand construction of this preamplifier sets a standard few can match at this price. Sad day for me because even at the worth it price of $4499 it is still way beyond my meager means. As for you dear reader this preamplifier is a must audition, a very rare recommendation from me to all who love music, that is if you value what I value.

Semper Hi-Fi

 

Associated Equipment
Speakers: Onix Rocket Strata Mini, 4 way and Aurum Cantus Leisure 2Ses monitors. Roger Sanders ESL Power Amplifier, Kimber Kable 12tc 10ft. speaker cables, Nordost Red Dawn I meter RCA interconnect from Pure Black Preamp to Sanders amplifier, Audio Research Litzlink 2 pairs, 1 1/2 meter, 1 meter Chord Silver Siren.

Marantz DV 8400 Universal player, ART DI/O Up sampling D/A and A/D processor, Cambridge Audio Discmagic-1 Transport, Magnum Dynalab FT 101A FM tuner and Dynalab Signal Sleuth, Sangean HDT-1 Digital radio receiver.

Argent Cable Inc. Room Lens System

Richard Gray Sub Station 20 Ampere Isolation Transformer.

Kaplan Cable 10 gauge 6ft. IEC power cord.

 

Specifications
Type: Vacuum tube stereo preamplifier 
Frequency Response: 3 Hz to 100 kHz
Vacuum Tubes: Two 101D, four 6SN7 and one 5AR4
Output: 3V. (Max 28V)
Input Impedance: 250KOhms
T.H.D.: 0.02%
Channel Balance: <0.5 dB (20 Hz to 100 kHz)
Maximum Gain: 20dB S/N :> 90dB
Dimensions: 17.25 x 7.63 x 15 (WxHxD in inches)
Weight: 55 lbs.
Serial Number: 064250
Price: $4499

 

Company Information
Melody Valve HiFi
China
E-mail: info@melodyvalvehifi.com
Website: www.melodyvalvehifi.com



United States Distributor
Angel City Audio
Rancho Cucamonga Cal.
Exclusive North American Distributor.
Onix Audio and Melody Audio components. 

Voice: (909) 262-8450
E-mail: info@angelcityaudio.com
Website: www.angelcityaudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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