Allnic H-7000 Vacuum Tube Phono Stereo Preamplifier
I've been lucky enough to be able to review a variety of excellent preamplifiers during the last few years, from the more affordable to the quite extravagant. As with the Allnic H-7000 vacuum tube phono preamplifier, as reviewed here, I'm hoping that these different types of phono preamplifiers that I've reviewed might help some audiophiles make a decision as to which phono preamp might be best for their system's analog set-up. Since not everyone is looking to purchase a new phono preamp, I also hope that audiophiles and maybe even a few non-audiophiles (or soon to be audiophiles), have found that these reviews fun to read!
The Allnic H-7000 reviewed here is a rather large, impressive looking tube phono preamp. Its milled aluminum," open topography chassis" has a cabinet with no top plate, a marvelous array of tube chimneys, anodized transformer casings, and top-mounted moving coil step-up transformers with Permalloy cores that can provide enough gain for just about any MC phono cartridge.
Besides being almost 17" wide, a little more than a foot deep, and almost 7" high, this hefty phono preamp weighs about 35 pounds! But that's not all – it also has an outboard power supply – it isn't nearly as large (or heavy) as the main unit, but it does weigh 18 pounds and is big enough for one to need a decent sized space for it on an adjacent shelf or on the floor near the main phono stage, and one has to keep the power supply relatively accessible because on its front panel is its on/off switch. At times there have been some components I liked to keep powered 24/7, but never with a tube component, and I wasn't about to start doing that with this phono preamp.
Allnic, The Company
This component is one of the most serious phono preamplifiers I've ever had in my system, and so to make sure I'd be getting the most out of it I was lucky enough I was able to procure a phono cartridge worthy of its high performance. My friends at Texas' Believe High Fidelity let me borrow a fabulous Top Wing cartridge that goes by both its Japanese and English names, Suzaku and Red Sparrow. This amazing phono cartridge might have specifications that read as "normal" as any other top-flight phono cartridge, but its superb construction and performance make these specifications practically meaningless. Since this is a review of the Allnic H-7000 and not the Red Sparrow, I'll stop here, but safe to say that a phono cartridge that costs as much as this phono preamplifier that it was connected to better ought to be pretty damn good. It is.
The Red Sparrow was mounted on my reference Tri-Planar 6 tonearm, which was recently calibrated by someone other than myself to make sure that it was affixed to my Basis Debut V's armboard at precisely measured points. The tonearm has an integral cable that is terminated in unbalanced Cardas RCAs, and so I connected to one of the H-7000's RCA Moving Coil (MC) inputs.
The Allnic phono preamp was connected to a tube based Nagra Classic Preamp linestage, which fed into a Pass Laboratories X250.8 250 watt per channel solid-state power amplifier. The power amp fed a pair of Sound Lab Majestic 545 electrostatic speakers. The speakers' low end was reinforced by a pair of SVSound SB-16-Ultra subwoofers. The cables in the system were all made by Kimber Kable, which I reviewed last month, including Carbon 8 interconnects, Carbon 18 XL speaker cables, and Ascent power cables. All the front-end gear, including the Allnic H-7000 phono preamp, plus the electrostats' transformers got their AC power from a Goal Zero Yeti 400 battery power supply. The power amplifier used a Goal Zero Yeti 1000 battery power supply, but only during daylight hours. After 6pm the power amp was plugged directly into the AC wall receptacle. On the walls of the listening room are acoustic treatment panels (and filled LP shelves), and the room has two separate power AC power lines that run directly to our home's electrical panel in the basement.
On the rear of the H-7000 are two pairs of unbalanced RCA Moving Coil (MC) and two pairs of unbalanced RCA Moving Magnet inputs. There is a pair of unbalanced RCAs, and a pair of balanced XLR outputs. And, of course, a ground terminal. I connected the unbalanced RCA cables coming from the tonearm to the MC inputs, and used the balanced XLR outputs to connect to the Nagra Classic Preamp linestage.
On the Allnic H-7000's front panel is a rotary control which one can select between the four inputs. This phono stage is also very flexible, and for each MC input one can choose whether or not to use its on-board step-up transformers. The Allnic manual makes it relatively easy to set up its gain and loading settings which might end up a seemingly infinite number of choices. In the manual it explains that each channel's MC transformer on has gain factors of +22dB, +26dB, +28dB and +32dB. So, combined with the H-7000's 40dB native gain, for MC there is 62dB, 66dB, 68dB and 72dB of gain available. On the H-7000 model there is a control to vary impedance, and the manual provides a chart indicating the relationship of the settings on that control to those on the step-transformers.
Thankfully, Allnic Audio set all the gain and loading options beforehand, and so all I had to do was connect the tonearm's cables into the MC1 input, and I was ready to go. If one wishes to go it alone, the manual explains in detail the procedures one must follow. Lest I make this review much longer than it needs to be, I'll skip those instructions and move on to more important things about this phono preamp.
One of the first things I noticed when first listening to the H-7000 was that it had a very, very black background when playing records. By that I don't mean a very black background for a tube unit. I mean a black background for any phono preamp. (I realize that some readers now expect me to quote the faux-rock documentary Spinal Tap, when guitarist Nigel Tufnel attempts to rationalize the all-black cover of their new albums, "There's something about this that's so black, it's like how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black".
One day during the audition period of the H-7000 I was comparing a Japanese pressing of Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention's One Size Fits All album to one of the new pressings issued by Mr. Zappa's estate on Zappa Records. Even though I assume that the newer 180-gram pressing is digitally mastered, I've found that with other digitally mastered albums that the highly skilled engineers and mastering lab personnel have figured out to make these records sound awfully good, and so it often makes little difference which type of mastering sounds more musically satisfying overall. The Japanese pressing has been my reference for many years, but it should be no surprise to anyone that the reissue sounds better. When supervising this reissue, Frank's wife Gail had access to the original master tape, and worked with some very talented people.
And great this Zappa album did sound through the Allnic H-7000 phono preamplifier. Of course, just as much credit should go to the front-end that was feeding the phono preamp, because as they say, garbage in – garbage out. But in this case, it should be clear that the opposite is true, that a fine source will provide the next component in the chain with a fine sounding signal. And so, the marvelous sounding Basis / Tri-Planar / Topwing turntable set-up had lots to do with why this album sounded so good. This was true even before the Allnic phono preamp showed up. I've been listening to this album through my reference set-up for quite a while. But when I added the Allnic to the mix, replacing my Pass Labs phono preamp, it made a huge improvement to the way it sounded. I was again reminded that this phono preamp sounds amazing. Its weighty, transparent sound was addicting, as I played as many records as I could while preparing for this review.
It wasn't only the increased level of apparent detail that was improved using the Allnic H-7000 phono preamplifier; it was that everything sounded better! I'm not exaggerating. As far as its level of detail was concerned, it sounded as if some sort of sonic contrast knob was turned slightly to the right, and the dialed in just to the correct level, and let me hear things that I never noticed before, such as details surrounding Frank's amazing guitar solo from the track "Inca Roads", that starts off side one. This guitar solo was recorded live in Helsinki, and then dropped into the studio multi-track of the song. Could I hear any edits or other remnants of this edit? No. But I could hear more clearly the ambience of the hall in which the guitar solo took place, and how it differed from the studio's atmosphere in which the rest of the backing instruments were recorded. And as for the sound of the rest of Zappa's large band? Wow! The Allnic H-7000 was somehow able to ignore the limitations of this multi-track technology, and bring me back to Zappa's studio circa 1975.
It was quite obvious that the Allnic's exceptionally black background that had lots to do with this exceptional sound quality. But certainly not all of the Allnic's improvements in the sound of my analog playback chain could be due to this – it is simply an excellent phono preamplifier, and has all the benefits of any audio component that is not only designed exceptionally well, but also uses premium parts. The sheer weightiness of the sound, this increase in the presence of the music that somehow makes it sound more like it was mimicking the original event, an accomplishment that only the best audio components can manage.
I consider Pink Floyd album Soundtrack From The Film "More" that was released in 1969a creative high-point from that era. As a youngster I pictured the band leisurely spending time in the studio playing, writing music, relaxing, getting high, and just doing what they love without ever calling it "work". I realize now that is hardly how they actually recorded an album. And the results speak for themselves. As a bonus, the recording quality on this album is superb, and in my opinion, so is the music!
One of my favorite vinyl copies of this album is the Japanese pressing that was released in 1978. Even before the Allnic H7000 phono preamp was in my system this album had proven itself to be a beautiful pressing, one of the reasons for this is because the Japanese used 100% virgin vinyl, where normally pressings were made with a 50/50 mix of virgin and recycled vinyl. Added to this was the way their meticulous manufacturing methods produced a very silent playing surface. This lack of surface noise makes everything else sound better.
The Allnic phono preamp took full advantage of this excellent pressing. I practically fell out of my listening seat when certain instruments and sounds entered, even though I heard this album so many times before. This was because of the way this phono preamp was able to extract every bit of information from the signal the Topwing cartridge sent it, and then sent this signal on to my preamp. It was a signal that excelled in macro and microdynamics, frequency extension, and recreated the recording with a huge soundstage filled with instruments that sounded scary-real, and the sound of music filled the front portion of my listening room.
I realize that this Pink Floyd album is a multi-track recording, and so it is not what some would like to call real instruments recorded in a real space. But to me, they are real instruments, as I'm very familiar with the sounds of instruments that make up a modern rock band. And it is in a real space, most likely Abbey Road Studios. I'm convinced that the Allnic H-7000 is the closest this album has ever come to mimicking the sound of their master tape being played. While the album spun it was very easy to image myself sitting in the control room listening to album being played back to the band and their hangers on during the final mix. In fact, when I closed my eyes, I thought I smelled a mix of cigarette smoke and hashish during the track "Cymbaline" near the end of side one.
One of the most noticeable sonic traits of this album was not only the way the Allnic H-7000 was able to separate each instrument and sound into a discrete area in the huge soundstage, but the way it was able to take advantage of this excellent pressing. Pink Floyd mixed this album in a very different way than most rock bands of the time used to perform the task. They took advantage of the recording medium, almost treating the studio as a fifth member of the band. The method in which they mixed the drums on certain tracks, lowering the level of the cymbals to almost zero, and then left room for other sounds and instruments that had higher treble energy to occupy this space instead. There are other times where, as in the track I mentioned previously, "Cymbaline", where it is mixed completely different to how a band might sound if you were in the same room, instead making the acoustic guitar and vocals the focus of one's attention.
After a while, though, it came to me almost as an epiphany. After only a short time it became clear that what I was hearing were not the traits of the Allnic phono stage, but the musical selection I was playing. Even though this appears to be a rather obvious fact, when I, and most reviewers describe a component we use terms to describe the traits of it in audiophile terms such as the prowess of its soundstage, frequency response, etc. Yes, the Allnic has a character of its own, but when it came down to the point where I had to describe the sound of the Allnic, this is when I started to realize that I was simply describing the sound of the musical selection. If the recording allowed my system to have a huge soundstage, I would hear a huge soundstage if the album had extreme range of macro- and microdynamic shifts, such as the Pink Floyd soundtrack, that's what I would hear. If the engineers compressed the heck out of the recording, and it had a more in-your-face sound, such as the Mother's album, that's what I would hear.
Another phono preamp I had in my system that one might consider, rather than going for the Allnic phono pre is the Merrill Audio Jens phono stage. Its price is almost identical to the Allnic. But the Merrill Audio Jens phono stage is a solid-state unit. Like the D'Agostino, it was not in my system for a direct comparison. In fact, I never formally reviewed the Jens, but it was part of my system when I was able to borrow it for a short time. I loved the time I spent with the Jens in my system. For reasons that many audiophiles might agree with, an excellent match in my system seems to be to use a high-powered solid-state power amplifier along with a tube linestage. It seems that there is also a synergy between using a tubed phono preamplifiers along with the tube linestage. But that's just my impression. Your mileage may vary.
Frequency (RIAA): 20Hz to 20kHz (+/-0.5db) 30Hz to 15kHz (+/-0.3dB)
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