Coincident Statement 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.
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
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.
In 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.
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.
After 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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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.