ceases to amaze me what a profound effect a preamplifier has on the sound of a
system. Well aware that the ultimate goal of a preamplifier is merely to impart
as little sonic embellishment as possible, that is, one that remains transparent
to the source, the improvement in sound that is attainable can still be
profound. This might be surprising to some, since all a preamp is "supposed"
to do is select between sources, match impedance, and provides a bit of gain.
This must lead some to the conclusion that transparency might be in the ear of
the beholder. As one gains more experience with different types of
preamplifiers, be they solid-state, tubed, or a combination of both, it becomes
more apparent that this level of transparency also comes with a corresponding
amount of realism. By realism, of course, we are inferring parameters such as
dynamics, frequency extension, air, lack of grain, etc. Yet in my experience it
is apparent that the best breed of preamplifiers, while retaining all of these
positive traits, can also sound quite "different" from one another. This is
made even more apparent when one has to consider the importance of system
I thought of starting this review with a discussion about how many audiophiles have often shared their success stories of running a system without a preamplifier, or by using a passive unit with that makes use of nothing but a high quality volume attenuator and a source selector. But these thoughts didn't last long, not only because of my limited experience with passive devices. Those who use passive preamps are surely in the minority (and yet I'm in no position to find fault with their approach), and even though I believe that there are various means to assembling a good system, the few times I've tried, I had little luck with the passive ilk of preamps. I might be a severe case, though, as I'll admit that I'm addicted to gain, not to mention that on any given day the speakers in my main system can easily prove that not only a powerful amp is necessary to drive them, but a preamp with lots of gain helps, too. But as mentioned above, the improvement in the overall quality of the system's sound has proven to be profound when using a high quality, well designed preamp. I'm not one to endorse shaping or otherwise compensating for shortcomings for the rest of a system with a preamplifier, as I in all cases I am a strong proponent for transparency, as well as the maxim that "everything matters". So, even though I've abstrusely (and perhaps unnecessarily) spent a while discussing the need for a high quality preamp, I'll get right to reviewing a perfect example of one of these: the Edge G2 preamplifier.
As with all other Edge products the G2 has all unbalanced RCA inputs and outputs. Edge feels that since their products are not balanced designs, there is no reason to include balanced (XLR) inputs and outputs. Edge also claims that their tests proved that their amps and preamps sound best using unbalanced inputs and outputs, so that's what you will find on all of their products. There are many users that use both an Edge amplifier with a matching Edge preamplifier, so this should not be much of a problem. In my system I usually use balanced XLRs not only to connect the amp and the preamplifier but from a few of the sources as well, but the only hassle I found by using unbalanced cables was hunting around the house for some decent interconnects for the job and changing those cables. Woe is me.
On the right side of the preamplifier's front panel is the source selector, and in the center of the front panel is the un-stepped, very smooth running volume control. This motorized volume can also be controlled on the remote, a heavy aluminum number which sports a volume up and down switch and nothing else. As I'm sure most if not all users would love to see more on this remote such as a mute control, I'm fairly sure Edge's design team would politely explain that their minimalist approach is worth the increase in sound quality so leaving off functions such as mute, mono, source selection, et al was a wise decision. The rear panel of the G2 is also simply laid out, which includes one pair of RCA outputs, four pairs of inputs, a tape monitor output, and an IEC AC power cord output with a fuse holder. The power switch is also located near the AC power cord output, but I only used this once each time the G2 was set up on my Arcici Suspense equipment rack. Edge recommends leaving the preamp powered at all times unless one is not going to listen to the system for an extended period. During breaks and when I stopped listening to the G2 for the day, I left the front panel mode control in the charge position.
As mentioned, the G2 has some family resemblance to the fantastic NL 10.2 power amplifier. This should not be much of a surprise since they were both designed by Edge founder Steven Norber. Although no longer with the company, Mr. Norber's fine designs still grace the Edge catalog. I used the G2 with Edge's NL 10.2 but also with a small variety of other power amplifiers, yet even when mated the much less expensive Krell the G2's personality (and I should add, lack of a personality) was undeniably apparent.
As with the mighty NL 10.2, the G2 has stentorian bass and transient response. It was great on all types of music, but I had a lot of fun with playing hard rock through the G2 to take advantage of these muscular traits. Yet when choosing a rock record, any record, the Edge would let it be known that it was not the type of component that would allow one audiophile trait be heard over another. Yes, it was able to demonstrate its prowess with the skillful reproduction of bass frequencies. But when playing a record such as Rod Stewart's Every Picture Tells A Story, an LP on Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab's new "Silver Series" label, it was easy to hear that this is a stupendous pressing of this classic, not just because the bass response on Mick Waller's kick drum sounded as if present in the studio's control room witnessing a mixdown of the session with the band. Rod Stewart had been playing with Mr. Waller for a while before they laid down these tracks (they even appeared on Jeff Beck's Truth album together), and although the G2 could allow one to dissect the recording in audiophile terms, the recording was made whole though this preamplifier.
One can go back and re-read the review of Edge's much more expensive NL 10.2 power amp and note the same type of comment I had then. The Edge's way with the music was self-contradictory, that is, both of a piece and the whole simultaneously – much as when hearing a live performance – if one a performer is captivating enough to warrant one's attention, even with the listener's eyes closed, this part of the performance makes itself heard above the others in the listener's mind. And music speaks to one's mind and soul, and so when a stereo component can let one have the choice of focusing on the entire performance of a group of musicians and singers, great. But if want's to focus on a particular instrument, this is the choice of the listener, not the component's. As in the review of the Edge NL 10.2 amplifier, the G2 was able to place each instrument and voice of the multi-track recording in a separate space of the soundstage, yet at the same time integrate the music into a complete whole. And as I stated in the NL 10.2 review, I'm aware that this feature isn't really part of the audiophile lexicon -- a term for describing this "separate but whole" concept -- yet this is one of the NL 10.2's most enticing features. The G2 could not perform this feat as well as the NL 10.2, but honestly, no component I've ever heard could come as close to its level of audio perfectionism. But like the NL 10.2 the G2 was able to make each instrument stand out from the others without sounding etched. And like the NL 10.2 the G2 made each instrument on a recording sound real, whether it was an acoustic or electric.
The Silver Series are pressed with as much care as Mobile Fidelity's other LPs, although it is pressed on standard weight vinyl. I'm glad that the term "standard" in the case of MFSL ain't so bad, as the dead silent surfaces of the vinyl isn't standard in any way other than it doesn't weigh in at 180 or 200 grams (and no one should consider standard as a record with the pathetic weight of some vinyl that the record companies were trying to pass off in the mid to late 1970s). The records in this series are mastered on a system designed by Tim de Paravacini and pressed at RTI. But what is obvious when this record was played through the Edge G2 was that in regard to the "silence" of the record surface is, this term is just that, a term, since it is in no way near as inaudible as the dead silence of the G2 when it is in idle in battery powered mode. This battery powered component is scary silent. I'm sure that this silence is at least partially responsible for its explosive dynamic response, and its nuanced response to slight dynamic details of any music that passed through it. Both its macro-dynamics and micro-dynamics are not likely to be bettered by any component that most audiophiles are likely to hear in their lifetime. Every Picture Tells A Story varies between rockin' and more subdued tunes, but even when kicking out the jams on tunes such as the title tune and Rod Stewart's cover of the Temptations hit "(I Know) I'm Losing You" they are all acoustic based, that is, acoustic rather than electric guitar played by Ron Wood dominates the band, along with Ian McLagen's organ. Yes, there is electric bass and the rock drum kit, but since the album is for the most part missing the din of a distorted electric guitar, there is room for the sound to breath. The MFSL pressing allows on to hear into the mix as never before, and the G2 takes full advantage of making the studio recording as natural as possible given its multi-track origins. The soundstage is of course a studio creation, an artifact if you will, but the G2's soundstage is wide, deep, and the number of the layers of the soundstage in all directions is only limited by the number of instruments and voices that are playing at that particular time.
The Edge G2's almost overwhelming amount of detail it releases from its outputs, at the same time never letting any aspect of the music dominate its sound was exhibited on every piece of music that passed through it. Playing recordings of real instruments recorded in a real was quite a treat, not only because of the way it could present all this detail, but the way the G2 was able to render each instrument or group of instruments in a lifelike manner. Matislav Rostropovich leading the London Symphony Orchestra in a live recording of Shostakovitch’s Fifth Symphony on an SACD released by the LSO's own label was and excellent example of the G2's superior abilities. Many might have their favorite disc of this symphony, but if one's requirements include authenticity as well as excellent sound quality, this disc should be at the top of one's list. In fact, as the Edge G2 approaches music as a "whole", Rostropovich makes a case for approaching this symphony in the same way. Instead of merging a bunch of Shostakovitch’s themes, as some conductors are wont to do, he approaches this piece in its entirety. Of course the mood changes from time to time when required, yet there still is a breathtaking unity that pervades.
Lest I forget to mention that this SACD also is able to show off how well the G2 performs reproducing the frequency extremes. The treble shimmers as in life when called for – the upper register of the strings are bright and at the same time lush, cymbal crashes sizzle with life, and the treble of the woodwinds are never strident. The lower strings and winds have a strikingly realistic growl, and the bass drum whacks shake the room's window frames and my gut when called for. Much of the score is both exciting (and sometimes terrifying), which put on exhibit the G2's ability to reproduce the thundering bass on this SACD as well as the preamp's ability to shift from soft to loud without even a hint of audible strain whatsoever put upon its circuitry. But it was the quieter third movement, marked Largo, which was almost more impressive. During this movement it was nearly impossible not to be drawn into Shostakovitch’s world, and the G2's ability to effortlessly reproduce nuanced gradations in the score between very soft (pp) to very, very soft (ppp), often with different instruments playing at different volumes simultaneously. The preamp was able to pass this information to the amp and speakers, not with only airiness but with involvement, was quite impressive, to say the least. And in case you're wondering, the midrange of the G2 possesses three important qualities – transparency, transparency, and transparency. Combined with the unobtrusive detail of the G2, this made for some thrilling listening sessions.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this review transparency might sometimes be judged differently by some listeners when listening to a preamp, or any other audio component. When switching out the Edge G2 for a tubed preamplifier I was not disappointed in the sound, in fact, in some areas I liked the tube unit more. Was one more "correct" than the other? I can't answer that. Some might find the G2 unit a bit more "solid-state" sounding in the treble than a similarly priced tube unit for the simple reason that the G2 is a solid-state component, for better or worse. In its favor the G2's midrange possesses many qualities of a tubed unit, and there is no denying its bass can reach deeper and is certainly more controlled than a tube component. Still, I doubt, at least at this price point, that this preamplifier is going to win over every die-hard tube preamplifier devotee...but I'll get back to you after I try an Edge preamplifier that is higher up in their line, such as their battery operated, more than twice the price Signature 1.1. Judged on my experience with Edge's NL 10.2 power amp, one might have a tough time deciding between that preamp and any other, regardless of how it is powered.
The Edge G2's construction is first-rate, and the G2's thick, brushed aluminum cabinet should also score high marks if cosmetics are a concern. But most importantly, the G2's sound quality is outstanding, and Edge offers this preamplifier at more than a fair price. Highly recommended.
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