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REVIEW: Transcendent Sound Grounded Grid Preamplifier (Tube)

Recently, I had the chance to compare my Audible Illusions Modulus 3A preamp to the Transcendent Grounded Grid linestage. Now, at about $2,300, the 3A is one fine tube preamp, as many will attest. The Grid, on the other hand, costs $800 and has received virtually no publicity--save for a nice "Soundstage" review and inclusion in SStage's "product of the year (98)" category. So it wasn't a fair fight, but I figured since the Grid came with a two-week, no-strings-attached trial, it would be good for a laugh. And it was--but not in the way I expected.

The 3A has bells and whistles: two sets of outputs, tape loop, phono input and a half-dozen other inputs, plus dual stepped attenuators to control both volume and channel balance, and an outboard power supply. In contrast, the Grid is the soul of simplicity. One output. Three inputs. A volume pot. A faceplate that would put LED addicts into shock.

The test: two weeks' worth of listening with a variety of music that ranged from Lyle Lovett's "Joshua Judges Ruth" to Handel's "Water Music". (Associated equipment included CalAudio Labs, DH Labs connects, Belles 150A amp, and Acarian Alon II speakers-not outrageous gear, but decent for the bucks. Nordost Pulsar Power Points were used to isolate both preamps, and the Grid was plugged in with an Audiodyne power cord.)

Here's what I heard: First, the 3A is a very quiet preamp with NOS tubes. But the Grid is noticeably quieter, almost dead silent right out of the box. The 3A has a wonderfully clear high-end. But the Grid 's mid- and upper-range performance was just as good. Soundstage's reviewer gave the Grid a slight ding for bass response, but I found no fault there-if anything, the Grid bass was just tighter. The 3A displays a warmth that is quite pleasant, but artificial. I never realized that until I heard the Grid. With it, some vocals became just a bit more distinct and tonally realistic. In fact, the Grid makes vocals and instruments absolutely lifelike. The 3A could throw a slightly wider sound stage, but the Grid held a decided edge on stage depth. The most striking difference was the Grid's transient speed - a term I've often run across in reviews but never really understood, until I heard the Grid. Is the Grid quick? Ever seen lightning?

I did encounter one problem with both the Grid and the 3A. The CalAudio CD changer has an unusually high output, which made adjusting the volume difficult at low settings. When I consulted Bruce Rozenblit at Transcendent, he offered to install a buffer on one input at no charge. I don't know what Audible Illusions would have suggested, since they failed to return three e-mails and a phone call.

So what's the catch with the Grid, if it equals or tops an audio industry darling at one-third the cost? As I said at the outset, it's a minimalist piece of equipment. The design is both amazing and affordable, and that's also its beauty. If you need a dozen outputs or an HT processor, look elsewhere. (On the other hand, with the money you save on the Grid, you could also put some respectable HT gear on the shelf.) When it comes to two-channel high-fidelity the way it was meant to be heard, the Grid will put a grin on your face.

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Topic - REVIEW: Transcendent Sound Grounded Grid Preamplifier (Tube) Review by GB at Audio Asylum - GB 16:27:56 10/12/99 (2)

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