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REVIEW: Hagerman Clarinet Preamplifier (Tube)

Model: Clarinet
Category: Preamplifier (Tube)
Suggested Retail Price: $500 stock $1000 as reviewed
Description: Clarinet SRPP Line Stage
Manufacturer URL: Hagerman
Model Picture: View

Review by tubesforever on April 13, 2008 at 01:19:19
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for the Clarinet

This review is rather long and for good reason. I apologize about the length but if you want to know more about how and what goes into a DIY project then this will be worth the time and effort.

I decided to post a review about a line stage here at the Vinyl Asylum because the Hagerman Clarinet shares the same lineage as the Hagerman Coronet2 phono stage that I built and also recommend.

Second, other than speakers, your line stage is going to define what and how you will hear your sources. Get the line stage right and you are off to a terrific start.

Third, the Hagerman Clarinet is a stand out piece in my mind. I have sold other highly regarded line stages that make people go silly weak when they hear top flight equipment deliver the goods. The Hagerman Clarinet can sound this good and better.

For more than 10 years now I have been utilizing a passive buffered preamp or fully passive preamp in my stereo system. Some of the benefits of passive preamps is that you hear enhanced detail, clarity, and less residual noise by completely eliminating an additional gain stage in your set up.

However on some recent trips to visit other inmates I have come to the conclusion that this level of purely passive clarity also carries a price tag.

After building my Hagerman Coronet2 phono stage, I decided almost immediately that I would like to modify it. I decided to embark on the Hagerman Clarinet line stage in order to test some passive components that I planned to use in the Coronet2 upgrade.

The Clarinet line stage shares the identical transformer and most of the power supply of the C2 while sporting a simple and elegant series resistance push pull circuit.

Building a Clarinet made sense. I could evaluate whether a powered line stage would be good for my system while helping decide on what parts to upgrade on the C2.

If I hated the Clarinet it should be easy to sell.

At the very beginning, I decided my overall goal should be to configure the Clarinet with passive parts recognized as having the ability to convey speed, clarity, and detail. My goal is to get as close to a purely passive sound quality as possible.

I am willing to pay a little more to get to this level of performance. I also have a strict budget of 1,000 dollars US.

I also defined some non-negotiable requirements. First, I needed to utilize full size racks for my project. I plan on using a professional studio rack in the future. Half racks are not conducive to what I need to accomplish.

Second, I need all the on/off and control switches right up front. Third I wanted to standardize on Vampires direct gold plated oxygen free copper RCA chassis pieces. These eliminate brass and I consider this a good thing if you want to achieve the highest quality sound reproduction possible.

It has been extremely easy to accomplish all of the above by utilizing a full rack Lansing box. I recommend this highly if space is not your foremost requirement.

I queried a variety of manufacturer people I know as well as designers and DIY junkies like myself. I was looking for parts and pieces to research and evaluate for the project. I found quite a few with exactly the same recommendations. This gave me better than a guess-timate about what to expect from my build.

After ordering the full size Lansing casework I put together orders with Digikey, with a Taiwan stepped attenuator source, with Antique Electronics, and with Percy Audio to obtain the parts and pieces to build the Clarinet.

Everything arrived within 8 days time. Later I would order some Teflon caps from Russia and some Mundorf caps from Canada. The Canadian pieces cam through in 7 days but the Russian pieces require a 28 day lead time. Keep this in mind should you decide to build your own Clarinet following my receipe.

Step one in my Clarinet build was to utilize Mills wire wound resistors in all the B+ and heater power supplies. In retrospect I would simply use Kiwami resistors with the exception of the main H+ 5 volt resistor.

I also upgraded the H+ caps to Panasonic TSHA 10,000uf 16 volt pieces. These are fatter and shorter than the specified pieces. I had to solder on lugs and then solder these through the PCB holes. They fit but it takes up some time and effort to get them secured.

I upgraded the 47uf B+ power supply caps with Panasonic ED caps. This was based on a recommendation from a couple folks over in tubes DIY. They were spot on in their praise. The Panasonics exhibit an exceptionally quiet noise floor and a grain less quality that has to be heard to be appreciated. Only Blackgates are quieter and they are not available anymore--or not available in these values.

For the resistors in the main circuit I selected Vishay S102 nudes because at least 3 designers told me these were basically in a classification all of their own. Think pure signal with the least possible distortion and that is exactly how these things are designed and built. Their distortion values are the lowest on the planet for both electrical and mechanical distortion.

There are 10 resistors in the direct signal path for a Clarinet. There are also a pair of 47k phono loading resistors and a pair of 330k final loading resistors that should also be upgraded. Vishay does not have a 330k nude, so I ran a Kiwami for this position. The Vishays cost 11.95 at Percy Audio and are worth every penny. You can get a discount for buying 10 of a specific value, so if you plan to build a Clarinet and a C2 then buy these together and save. That's what I did!

The Clarinet uses three pairs of main film caps. Two pairs are in the direct circuit pathway. There is a 0.10uf cap position that can be eliminated. I tried two different Paper in Oil caps, a Teflon cap, an AuriCap and a Dynamicap in this position and found the sound to be dramatically better simply bypassed with some wire. Jim Hagerman put this cap there just in case your sources do not have DC offset provisions. If you have sources with DC output you need this cap. If your gear has DC offset provisions then you can bypass as I have done.

A pair of 1.0uf film caps are used to bypass the B+ 47uf caps. I am using a Dynamicap in this postion. I am bypassing the Dynamicap with a Russian Teflon 0.10uf with excellent results.

A final pair of 1.0uf film caps are used to prevent DC from reaching your amplifier. I originally used some Dynamicaps in this spot bypassed with the Russian FT-3 Teflon capacitors mentioned above. However as good as it sounded, I eventually upgraded this to a Silver in Oil cap I will mention later.

In my build, the Russian Teflon 0.10uf caps saved the day for me. I was hearing too much high end roll off without these caps. I heard too much even when using other paper in oil caps that are highly regarded by other DIY experts.

The Russian FT-3 caps are rated at 600 volts. They are aluminum foil and teflon caps. Because of the voltage ratings these things are huge. I call them soda cans but they are actually workable pieces especially with the larger Lansing case work.

The larger surface area allows the circuit to deliver a great deal more slam and dynamics than PIO or film type caps. How much better? Cymbals, horns, drums, and any other instrument with dynamic punch sound much more life like and even as a passage gets really tough the sound stage never collapses or constricts. This is a very rare thing for an under 1000 dollar line stage.

The Russian Teflon FT-3 caps run me a whopping 6 dollars each. There are 5 in my Clarinet and 9 in the Coronet2. I wouldn't build a Hagerman without these exceptional capacitors.

Even more important to me than simple dynamics, I also value a deep dark background. The Teflons are a magnitude quieter than the PIO that I evalauated for several months. It is the highs and the deep bass where the Teflons really reign supreme. They allow a triangle, bell, or glock to simply sound life like. No white noise or grain. I have not heard more accurate high frequencies from any capacitor at any price.

Just a few weeks back I replace the final Dynamicap 1.0 signal cap with a Mundorf Silver Supreme capacitor. While the Dynamicap costs 19.95 each, the Mundorf Silver in Oil capacitor sets you back 37.95 each. Almost twice. I tried these because I needed to hear more depth, width and height from my sound stage. Everything sounded too central in my soundstage. I needed effortless space and the Mundorfs deliver this in spades. They also roll off the highs. So consider the Russian FT-3 caps as essential bypass caps for the Mundorfs.

What else do the Mundorfs accomplish. As well as enhancing space they also have incredible midrange detail. You hear more space around individual instruments. You hear each instrument more precisely focused on the stage. Most importantly to me, you hear enhanced vocals and this alone is worth the price of admission.

How does it all sound today? First off I have to tell you that this Hagerman hotrodded Clarinet sounds better than anything I have ever owned, sold, or rotated through my listening rooms. The simple fact that it cost me less than 1000 dollars and sounds like 6k dollars is simple reason enough for me to pinch myself. The Clarinet is simply amazing in every way. It plays quiet very well, it sounds expressive at natural levels and it plays especially clean when driven hard.

In my system, I prefer slam and growl to pristine and polite. Real music is percussive and dynamic. Way more so than we can capture in reproductive methods like LP, SACD or DVD-A. With my purely passive preamp I got some great sounds at high volumes. Now I get the growl with teeth and claws at normal realistic volume.

The last two days I have been spinning Yello's "Oh Yeah" and Janet Jackson's "In Control" on 33 and 45 rpm singles. It is the very best I have ever heard these dance cuts.

On a trip to Sacramento last year, Steve Parry took me record shopping and recommended Grace Jone's "Slave to the Rhythem" 45 single. Steve I have to give you a big thank you for that recommendation. Grace sounds sweet on the Clarinet.

Right after slam and percussion what I like to hear most is the inner detail of the music. I like to hear the sound from the singer's mouth and tongue to deliver the phrasing for their performance. I could hear that clearly on my old Precision Fidelity hotrodded C7 preamp. I can hear it clearly on my Clarinet as well.

Classical now has a more engrossing life like presentation. The Teflons and Vishays give me a clarity that allows me to hear the difference in reflections from the top, side and back walls. It allows me to hear the room or space much better than anything I have ever heard.

During Easter I played three of my favorite Handel recordings. What blew me away is how much clearer and more distinct every singer sounded on the stage. Some performances I thought were decent were now shown to be a bit poorly recorded in comparison to the others. This is great stuff. You can hear everything on the stage clear and precise but without being an analytical nightmare.

For me posting this review of the Hagerman Clarinet before I review the Coronet2 makes perfect sense. The Coronet2 sounds better because the line stage can deliver with room to spare.

I have to take my hat off to Jim Hagerman. First of all his design is simple, elegant and affordable. Second his printed circuit boards are easy to work and allowed me to spin sometimes 5 to 6 options without lifting a trace or damaging the board. Third, I encountered a few bumps along my journey and Jim was great about responding right away and giving me tips for where to look and what to consider for upgrades.

Jim is tops with me. I cannot think of a more responsive and supportive kit manufacturer. I can see why he is so highly respected. He has earned my respect.

Looking over my build here are some close approximations to my cost.

Lansing Casework 165 dollars. Vampire direct gold plated oxygen free copper chassis RCA pieces 140.00. Vishay nude resistors 141.00. Mundorf Silver Supreme caps 75.90. Dynamicaps 39.90. Russian Teflon FT-3 caps 30 dollars. Mils wire wound resistors 39.00. Kiwami resistors 15.00. DigiKey items about 67 dollars. Antique Electronic Supply 121 dollars including knobs and tubes. Taiwan source for Dale Vishay stepped attenuator 65 dollars.

I also paid about 50 dollars for solder and supplies and 70 dollars for a nice soldering station. I used A-M systems pure silver teflon coated wire for the internals. This would cost about 65 dollars for 25 ft and you will have wire left over for other projects.

For under 1,000 dollars I have a line stage that sings better than many top dollar pieces out there.

Roll your favorite tubes and you can tailor make the sound to be exactly what you like best in your listening room.

The Clarinet exceeded every one of my goals with lots of room to spare. If you are in Reno Nevada look me up. These Hagerman's are definitely worth a listen.

Product Weakness: The casework takes some shop tools to get right. My requirements required customization and this makes the project a little more expensive and requires attention to detail. If you build it stock it will be a simple and elegant build.
Product Strengths: Even stock the Clarinet will outplay anything up to 1,500 dollars and modified with the right parts it simply kicks.

Associated Equipment for this Review:

Amplifier: Bedini 150 MK II
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Hagerman Clarinet, or DIY passive preamp
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Rek O Kut thread drive and idler drive tables with Magnepan Unitrac tonearm and VDH MC-10/ ADC TRX-2/ Grado Ref Master
Speakers: DIY
Cables/Interconnects: DIY
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Classical, Jazz and Rock
Room Size (LxWxH): 40 x 13 x 15
Room Comments/Treatments: A frame style living room
Time Period/Length of Audition: 4 months
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): PowerVar 10.0
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner
Your System (if other than home audition): Designed to sound like a live musical event.

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Topic - REVIEW: Hagerman Clarinet Preamplifier (Tube) - tubesforever 01:19:19 04/13/08 (1)


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