In most every
high quality, audio system the preamplifier is the most important link in the
musical chain; it is the conduit through which every source flows. And if it
speaks with a definable accent then everything downstream will adopt the same
tonal inflections. Neutrality is the most important consideration when designing
what is in essence an audio switchboard. If in fact you do succeed then you will have a
length of wire with no voice of its own. Therein lies the reviewers rub.
Sheng in Chinese means Sound and Ya means
Elegant. The English translation is, Elegant Sound CV-1 Tube Preamplifier. Alas,
perfection has yet to be found, perchance, a voice pleasing to the ear? This is
what I aspire to inquire.
Let me tell you about Ian and Rachel of Grant Fidelity. Speaking with them at audio events over a period of years, I believe I understand their marketing skills. Grant functions with an intimate knowledge of quality audio products and the Chinese manufacturers who make them. They select only a few high-end components to import and direct distribute in North America. In addition, this Canadian Company has its own line of Original Equipment Manufacture (OEM) products. I will have to admit what initially captured my attention was Grant Fidelity’s pricing policy. On their web page, they list the manufacturers suggested retail price along with their marked down price. Our review subject is the Shengya CV-1 preamplifier. The CV-1 is $3000 yet Grant Fidelity sells it direct on their web site for $2200 including shipping.
Nine vacuum tubes, a mix of two 12AX7 and seven 12AU7
dual triodes, power the CV-1. There is no schematic or circuit description provided
with the preamplifier and the owner’s manual is very basic. With some
difficulty, I removed the eighteen Allan head machine screws holding the top
cover in place. Inside only two vacuum tubes were stamped with the tube type and
the word, China, all were no brand clear glass. However tube rolling
/substitution is still possible because the main circuit board is labeled with
the tube locations. My exploration of the CV-1 interior revealed high quality
wiring and construction plus high quality parts. A neatly laid out two sided
main circuit board housed many German made WIMA metal film capacitors, two
M’Cap capacitors and nine very nice gold pin ceramic tube sockets. The top of
the preamplifier has ten round openings that provide ventilation for these
tubes. A separate raised center front panel supports two large control knobs.
The left side knob will switch to one of the six input sources and on the right
side there is a motor driven Alps volume control. At the bottom of the faceplate
are six silver colored source select push buttons. The input sources are
designated numerically and numbered from one to six, with the S-6 position
switching to the single XLR input. Centered just above these six buttons is the
on/off power button.
The handheld remote control designated SRC-22 is an oversized
oval shape and is milled from thick aluminum stock. The remote control mimics
the functions of the six front panel source select push buttons. In addition it
controls volume and adds a mute function along with a gain button for system
matching. This function can switch between two voltage output levels. At
the Grant Fidelity site, I found this listed feature: "A
30 volt pure Class A tube output to match almost
any power amps". Manufactures features and specifications will be
listed at the end of this story.
The CV-1 sounds surprisingly clean and clear to the point that
I struggled to find a hook to hang a description on. I decided to listen to the
preamplifier with my little Aurum Cantus Leisure 2 SE speakers and once again,
they helped to fill in many of the answers. The ACL 2 SE speaker’s great
strength is a revealing ribbon tweeter that can reach 40 kHz. For a nine-tube
preamplifier this is the most untube sounding tube powered component I have
experienced. My Audio Research SP-9 MK3 tube preamplifier has been in my system
for many years. I had not realized it was speaking with any tube coloration
until I compared it with the CV-1. To find out more we need to move on to my
ultimate reference the sound of a human voice.
"-- J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone, 1997.
Not a new album but a revelation to me. This is a very
superior recording of Joan Baez singing the title song, Diamonds
& Rust [A&M Records CD3233]. Not really, a fan of her work
until I heard this beautiful rendition. She makes me realize just how bad the
art of phrasing and lyric interpretation has become. What was made clear to me
is she is not just another one-octave female clone shouting to be heard over
some amplified backup. This musical arrangement is exceptional; the airy
swirling musical accompaniment paints the perfect background to her wistful
emotional vibrato. The Shengya CV-1 provides me with a clear pristine conduit
full of meaning. You can hear it all in microscopic detail, the longing, the
breathy sadness. To me this exactly what a high-end preamplifier must do.
At one of the audio line shows someone gave me a demo disc it
is a compilation of 14 different female vocalists. It is: Best
Audiophile Voices Selection on
the Premium Records label [PR27905]. The following are two excerpts from this
album I use as a musical barometer.
Track 13 is titled "When You Say Nothing At All" from the
album Alison Krause & Union Station.
Alison Krause is what I call a "Head Singer". By that I mean she has crystal
clear high pitch but the effect is that she sounds a bit cold and slightly
disembodied within her one octave range. Emotional interpretation is lessened
because Krause sings mostly off the bridge of her nose. This is not to say that
she has a nasal quality. Rather if she would sing using more of her body and
diaphragm, she could convey more of the songs emotional meaning. (Think Basia
Trezetrzellewska) Another way to say it is she still could hit all the notes and
tell us the emotional consequences. There are far to many female singers with a
one octave range who sound similar to her. Having said that I still enjoyed this
performance. The dual vocal segments the clear lead vocal and back up along with
the crisp steel transients of the lead guitar are a testament to the speed and
pitch delineation of the CV-1. Through the CV-1, treble extension goes out
seemingly without limits defying any stereotypical notions of what vacuum tube
Because most everything I have told you so far resides mainly
in the midrange and treble once again I need to refer to one of my mid/bass
reference discs. It is an excerpt from a demo
CD given to me at the last Las Vegas CES.
What Is This All About?
Accessories: Islatrol industrial 20amp main system line conditioner, also a one-ampere Islatrol transformer in series with a Triad isolation transformer supplying power to all digital components. Richard Gray’s RPG Substation, Alpha Core Balanced power transformer, Audio Power PE-1 Power Enhancer, Ferrite blocks on interconnects and line cords, Room Tunes corner/ceiling panels, and trio of Argent RoomLens, Gryphon diffusion panels, VPI Magic Bricks. Cables, Kimber Kable 12 TC Speaker Cables, Two pairs Monster interconnect cables, Nordost Red Dawn, Audio Research Litzline, Wireworld Eclipse-2, Chord Silver Siren interconnects, Audiobahn 0.5 meter digital, Eichmann series 2 interconnects with "Bullet" RCA plug’s, Wireworld 10 gauge AC power cord, Radio Shack SPL meter, Rives Audio Test CD, and a comfortable chair.
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