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April / May 2010
Superior Audio Equipment Review

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Coincident Statement Line Stage
Glorious music from this Statement Line Stage.
Review By Rick Becker
Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 

Coincident Statement Vaccum Tube Line Stage  Within the first minute of listening to the Coincident Statement I realized that this is a very special preamplifier and that I would have to own the review sample. It took the remaining two months to figure out how to make that happen. My rig has recently experienced large improvements in transparency and resolution with the addition of the open baffle Tekton OB4.5 monitors and S12 subwoofers, both patent pending new technology, as well as the insertion of the PS Audio Power Port Premier at the outlet of my dedicated power line. But these merely set the stage for Israel Blume's all out assault on the state of the art to create the most transparent and purest line stage available today. Moreover, he climbed the mountain from both sides, not only with the line stage reviewed here, but with the phono preamplifier, using different tubes, as well. These were both "cost no object" designs aimed at the loftiest goal. That said, you're probably thinking "Oh, no. Not another $79,000 product review?" Not hardly. The Statement Line Stage goes for $5000, the Phono preamplifier for $5500. Both products fall in the heartland of High End audio and represent extraordinary value for products designed essentially without compromise. I speak here from my experience with the Line Stage, but I have little reason to doubt the Phono preamplifier is much, if any, less spectacular.

 

Identity Crisis?
Some might question whether I'm simply infatuated with the Coincident line. I've had the great pleasure of reviewing three of their speakers (one of which is still in my video rig) as well as their Frankenstein Mk II Monoblock amplifiers. All of these products are still currently in their lineup. In my opinion Coincident makes some of the best and most honestly priced equipment in the High End industry. I've know Israel to drop a very successful speaker in favor of a newer model that cost less. While such integrity is not unheard of in the high-end, it is certainly not ubiquitous. Although I was not baptized in the high-end with early Marantz tube gear at a young age, I've covered the Montreal show for more than a decade so I've heard and written about a lot of gear in recent times.

It has been many years since Coincident has shown at Montreal but the trajectory of their products has always been upward with increasing sonic excellence. They have relatively few, but high quality dealers, and their network spreads around the globe. Much of their product is sold factory direct. This makes them more dependent upon reviews in the print and internet press. As a writer, I am certainly a known entity to Israel but from my side of the fence I will no doubt say some things here that he would prefer I not mention. So let's get on with The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

 

The Ugly
Let us start with The Ugly. Usually I save the verbiage about design and aesthetics until near the end but this preamp has shaken up the status quo. It is no secret that Silver, Black and Chrome are the holy trinity of the High End. And my rig is certainly a hodgepodge of black and silver. But chrome? Just this preamp and it's actually polished stainless steel, so you won't have to worry about it rusting. Chrome goes with everything, reflecting the plants and colors of the room in daylight and the warm mood lighting of late night listening sessions. Plus, it is often considered sexy and flaunting in the right setting. Coincident, in growing from a loudspeaker company into almost a full system manufacturer has chosen to take the chrome route for their electronic components, thereby offering a touch of bling to your home. But fortunately, they haven't over done it. The forms of their various components are relatively simple. This keeps the presentation tasteful and classic assuring that you will not likely regret the purchase years down the road.

The polished stainless steel on the review sample was not as highly polished as some I have seen, but from a standing position it is certainly very attractive and it will garner the attention of all who enter the room. Most likely, you will appreciate the extra $1000 in your bank account for not having it polished to the nth degree. The two large 101D tubes, about the size and shape of a standard incandescent light bulb, will not give you the glow you might hope for, although you can certainly ascertain that they are functioning when viewed from above. These rarely used tubes are the signature of this design. Most, but not all tube preamplifiers house their tubes inside the chassis, and usually there are a lot more than two tubes in a preamplifier. If you thought it looked like a power amplifier, you are readily forgiven.

Coincident Statement Line StageIn both daylight and artificial light the gleaming chassis provides a target for the necessary functions of adjusting volume and switching sources, both tasks requiring the physical exercise of getting out of the listening chair as there is no remote control on this purist design. Personally, I like it that way, as standing up between the music gets the blood flowing and deeper breathing heightens my sensory perception for the next piece of music.

The low faceplate on the front porch of the control center is 3/8" thick brushed aluminum and provides a subtle contrast to the polished stainless steel. Fortunately the Coincident name plate is silk screened in their logo black and gold lettering, rather than being back-lighted glass or plastic. It is classy and sized just right. The 101D socket is the same size and configuration as a 300B socket, though the tubes are not interchangeable. The turned aluminum collar around the base of each tube is an elegant touch. Overall the Statement is rich looking, but not overly embellished. I'm not a fan of bling, but after a week in residence, the Statement felt right at home.

 

The Bad
There are problems at the faceplate however. The use of dual volume controls does not bother me. I've seen and used them before. It was the toggle switches between them that first irked me. The story goes as follows...

I had invited my friend Tom Lathrop over to help me remove the CAT SL1 Mk III preamp from my system. Because the CAT is tethered to its power supply with a captured cable it takes two people to safely remove it from the rig without having to dismantle a lot of other equipment. We did this and carefully installed the Statement and its separate power supply, connecting the two with the dedicated Coincident cable with military style screw-down collars much easier than the CAT. After making the signal cable connections and then connecting the JPS Labs AC+ power cord, we fired it up with the switch at the back of the power supply. The power supply rested on two large "bricks" of flat architectural slate on the floor, requiring me to bend down to turn it on and off just as I did when using the CAT. The control center was at hip level on a stand and sat next to my digital front end allowing the use of short interconnects.

Coincident Statement Line StageAfter a couple of frustrating minutes we learned how many audiophiles it takes to take this preamplifier out of "mute". The right hand toggle switch is labeled "Input Selector" with up being "Aux" and down being "CD". Easy enough. The left hand toggle switch is labeled "Mute" with up being "on" and down being "off". When the mute switch is "on", you get no music. When it is "off" you do get music. The CAT preamp and most every other one I've used is labeled "mute" in one direction (to disrupt the circuit) and "play" in the other direction to play music, a more intuitive approach. I bandaged the bruise on my ego with a "Tubes Rule" sticker from Manley Labs. The mute switch became part of the ritual when shutting down and firing up the rig and in practice it became as natural as mounting my bicycle from the left side.

There is a third input, which is a balanced input on the back of the control center. A switch on the back switches between the unbalanced RCA line inputs and the balanced XLR input. Having this switch on the faceplate would have been more convenient, but at the cost of sonic degradation by the wiring needed to traverse the chassis. And this, Israel says, would be antithetical to the uncompromising purist approach of his design goal. I used the two RCA inputs for my CD and tuner but this being a line stage my turntable and record collection was left out in the cold. You can be sure I was looking closely at phono stages and DACs with balanced outputs at the Montreal salon.

On the other hand, as I mentioned at the beginning, Coincident also offers their Statement Phono Preamplifier with an optional line input for those with vinyl as their sole or primary source. Since the Statement Phono Preamplifier uses different tubes and circuitry, it should not be equated with the line stage being reviewed here. Israel tells me he used the same uncompromising design approach with the Statement Phono Preamplifier and that it comes very, very close to the transparency of his line stage. I have no reason to disbelieve him. Both preamplifiers offer dual single ended outputs for bi-amp'ing as is required for the Tekton monitor/subwoofer combination I used for this review. The line stage also has a balanced output which affords me additional opportunities as a reviewer which I did not have with the CAT. You will have your own priorities, for sure, but the use of balanced interconnects will minimize the side effects if have to use a long run of cable.

The volume controls were problematic in a couple of ways. First the step indicator on the knob is a small indented dot on the face of the knob. Being the same color and finish as the knob itself, it is difficult to see its position at a distance in daylight and impossible in dimly lit listening sessions at night. (The unit is about 11' from my listening position.) A notched knob, a painted dot, an inset rubber tip on the circumference of the knob all would have given a better visual and/or tactile reference point to facilitate adjusting the volume or balancing the loudspeakers. In keeping with his purist approach, there is no balance knob.

Secondly, these stepped attenuators have 22 steps, but with the high efficiency loudspeakers tube lovers tend to use, only the first eight or ten are useful before the neighbors start to knock at the door. I rarely went as high as the 10 o'clock position. The consequence of this is large jumps in volume between notches. With loudspeakers of medium or low efficiency, this will be less of a problem. I found that even though the volume might appear too loud or too soft after making a change, within a minute or so the brain adjusts with its own re-calibration.

 

The Good
Unlike the CAT, whose power supply was lighter than the control center, the Statement's power supply weighs 40 pounds and the control center about 31 pounds. This was a significant clue, as was the fact that the CAT uses printed circuit boards and the Coincident is configured with point to point wiring. I don't mean to beat up on CAT. They make a great preamplifier, but it is an entirely different design approach from the Coincident. In fact, most preamps are different from the Statement. The most visible evidence of this is the pair of 101D tubes. Most tube preamps hide the tube inside where it is both shielded from EMI and RFI as well as protected from airborne noise. Perhaps Israel stuck a microphone inside a traditional preamp and discovered it wasn't really all that quiet in there? This was the first I had ever seen or heard the 101D tube, so I asked him about it. He wrote:

"The 101D was developed by Western Electric in the early 30s. It is a directly heated triode, very similar to 300Bs but with very low output capability. It was designed for low level amplification and intended to provide the greatest fidelity and linearity at all frequencies. Western Electric refused to license its use to any other company and consequently, despite it being the most accurate tube in existence it was not widely used. After patents expired, the only companies manufacturing the tube currently are Shuguang and TJ Full Music, which produces a mesh plate version of it. The Shuguang 101D is the tube of choice as the mesh plate has a very fragile internal structure and is consequently prone to microphonics, an issue not applicable to the Shuguang."

Of note, Enjoy the Music.com's editor, Steven R. Rochlin, toured the Shuguang vacuum tube factory and his tour can be seen at this link.

In listening, the increase in transparency grabbed my attention immediately, even before the preamp warmed up. It is quite simply, the most transparent preamp I have ever heard. The focus is also greatly improved over the CAT and the music came across with greater ease and smoothness, no doubt a result of the huge power supply, which looks vaguely like a chrome plated nuclear power plant minus the cooling tower. Israel claims it is powerful enough to serve a 100 watt power amp. My stereo Plinius SA-100 weighs about 70 pounds, including the massive heat sinks that are necessary for its Class A operation, so his claim is believable. His own 75 watt Dragon Mono Amp weighs in at 56 pounds per channel. Obviously he is paying a lot of attention to power supplies and transformers.

In my listening, the noise level certainly seemed very low, allowing microdynamics and tonal colors to blossom where none had appeared before.But to check this, without music playing I cranked up the volume up to Step 22. Only a faint white noise was audible when my ear was less than a foot from the driver. And who knows if that might have come from the power amps? Had I hit the Play button at that setting there would have been another "shot heard round the world." The frequency extension was another strong point of the Statement. I utilized the dual single ended outputs to feed the BASH 300S digital amplifiers in the Tekton S12 subwoofers and the Tekton OB4.5 open baffle monitors with their full range drivers. While I prefer tube amplifiers, there is no question the BASH amp had terrific control over the subwoofer. The combination of the dual concentric 12" drivers in each subwoofer and the musical signal from the Coincident preamp combined for exceptional representation of timbre and room tone. And yes, the bass had slam. As much as you'd care to dial in with the adjustable BASH amplifier.

While some might discredit digital amps, it seemed to do minimal, if any damage in the bass with the Tekton S12 sub. Most of the time I left it cranked pretty high which produced the smoothest measured response curve, but sounded stronger than what I am accustomed to and slightly discontinuous with the lower midrange kind of like too much dark chocolate. Turning the BASH amp down a bit smoothed it out, but rolled off the bass response a little sooner. Choose your own poison. None of this was the fault of the Statement. It is just a matter of integrating the subwoofer correctly, or to your own preference.

In the Tekton OB4.5 monitors the treble is limited by the 4.5 inch Fostex 127E full range driver. The addition of an external crossover to better integrate the subwoofer allows the combination to play louder and the monitors reached higher into the treble, falling off significantly after about 12 kHz. My aging ears don't do much better than that, but what I heard was sweet, smooth and open for as high as it went. The treble was also more detailed and revealing of timbre with better focus as evidenced by brushes on the drum kit and small bells. Someone with more knowledge than I have could easily distinguish the mark of vintage violins.

In the midrange the same qualitative improvements could be identified when I could stop enjoying the music in order to analyze it. Sure, the soundstage receded a bit when I installed the Statement, but it also moved forward a bit when I moved the speakers further apart. With any system you have to make adjustments when you make changes. A plug n play mindset will not get you the kind of quality I have experienced in my home. Tweaks abound. Which reminds me that I had read that initially the Statement utilized special tube dampers, but none came with the review sample.

I'll say! For all the glorious music the Statement puts forth I thought I had finally found a component that didn't need some sort of vibration absorbing footers. It was that good. And Israel 's solution to the vulnerability of the 101D seemed to add credibility to my theory that the closer you can place a tweak to the signal path, the cheaper and more successful it will be. Suspending or damping the tube sockets is getting pretty close to that path. But since I've never met a major component that could not be improved with anti-vibration devices or treatment, I decided to try my favorite footers a combination of the Boston Audio TuneBlocks with either their TunePlates or the similar Sound Dead Steel IsoFeet. This was the same combination I used under the CAT preamp, but I wasn't expecting much, if any improvement with the Statement. How much more perfect could it get? The answer was "lots". Mostly in speed, but with the subsequent impact speed had on transparency, focus, and particularly dynamics. The attack of notes was sharper which led to greater authenticity to the sound of piano in particular. Likewise the decay was smoother and more realistic, fading into an even darker background. Whereas before I was listening with rapt attention to the music, now my eyes were glued to the music as goose bumps danced on my body. This was a rush without irritation or pain.

This got me thinking about the 101D tube again. I never heard any ringing when music was playing, but to satisfy my curiosity I lightly tapped on the tube with a pencil with the volume set at a normal level, but the music off. It chimed softly like a very fine bell. I was struck with another "What if...?" I had only used the footers under the control center. What if I also put a set under the power supply? I fired up the amps once again with a similar set of footers placed beneath the power supply. The effect was a mixed blessing. Inner detail and tonal colors became richer and the noise floor seemed to lower but dynamics diminished, pace rhythm and timing seemed to slow down. Or was it just getting close to 2am? Next I thought to paint the glass on the fuse with AVM, but this Blue Tube Goop needs 24 hours to cure. The next night the Statement played at an even higher level. To check out the pace, rhythm and timing I put on "Oh, Pretty Woman" with Roy Orbison and friends from Black & White Night. The driving beat went on and on as the guitars dueled with even more subtle tonal colorations. PRAT was spot on. The applause was so tactile you could see the smiles on the people's faces.

 

The Amps
The Manley Mahi monoblocks, similarly tweaked, have long been in my audio aquarium and were used primarily for the first two months of this review. They performed well and gave a lot of pleasure in combination with the CAT preamp and the Tekton loudspeakers, at least at moderate playback levels. On occasion during loud passages I would hear an embarrassing fart which I thought was either the driver bottoming out or the amplifier clipping. When I put the Statement into the rig this happened less frequently. To try to eliminate this annoyance completely, I pulled up the Tube Magic monoblocks from mothballs in the basement. At about $6000 per pair this amplifier was a more fitting partner for the Statement. In fact it is sonically in the same league as the Coincident Frankenstein Mark II monoblocks that I reviewed a year ago in this journal, yet even more powerful with parallel 300B tubes in each one. With the Tube Magic monoblocks between the Statement and the Tektons there was an instant improvement in jump factor, bass slam, micro dynamics and tonal shading of the music. I felt like I had finally reached the very top echelon of the High End. Instead of being limited to 90dB to 92dB peaks, the music played with 95dB to 97dB peaks and only rarely encountered a passage that caused the amplifier to choke.

 

Summary
When I first heard the Statement Line Stage I knew it was a very special piece. But it took some playing and tweaking to learn how good it really is. You can't build a world class system with a plug 'n' play mentality. As a replacement for a full function preamp it will force you to re-think your front end, yet it also offers flexibility for bi-amplifying as well as a balanced source and balanced amplifier. The seldom seen (but not outrageously priced) 101D tube is the crown jewel of this design and it will give you a high degree of exclusivity in audiophile circles. Sonically, the Statement is a thoroughbred with Triple Crown potential, a serious assault on the state-of-the-art at a price that should recalibrate "value" in the high-end. It may very well be the finest piece ever to have come from the mind of Israel Blume. I expect it will remain my reference for many years to come.

 

Specifications
Type: Vacuum tube stereo linestage
Frequency Response: 10 Hz to 30 kHz (+/- 0.2dB)
Gain: 20dB
Output Impedance: 500 Ohms
Output Voltage: Greater than 30V
Features: Dual Mono Transformer Coupled Volume Pots
Inputs: Balanced inputs via XLR and unbalanced via RCA
Outputs: Two pairs of RCA outputs for bi-amp'ing; 
             One pair of balanced outputs on XLR
AC ground lift permits AC ground lift to eliminate hum caused by ground loops.
Dimensions: 203 x 260 x 390 (HxWxD in mm) 
Weight: Power supply is 40.7 lbs. and linestage is 30.8 lbs.
AC Voltage: User selectable- 115v, 230V
Price: $4999

 

Company Information
Coincident Speaker Technology
19 Strauss Road
Thornhill, Ontario
Canada L4J 8Z6

Voice: (905) 660-0800
Fax.(905) 660-1114
e-mail: iblume@coincidentspeaker.com
Website: www.coincidentspeaker.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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