Melody Valve HiFi Pure Black 101 Preamplifier
Setting a new standard few can match at this price.
Review By Ron Nagle
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Melody Valve HiFi
United States Distributor
Angel City Audio
Rancho Cucamonga Cal.
Exclusive North American Distributor.
Onix Audio and Melody Audio components.
Voice: (909) 262-8450