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REVIEW: First Sound Presence Deluxe Mk II Preamplifier (Tube)

Model: Presence Deluxe Mk II
Category: Preamplifier (Tube)
Suggested Retail Price: $ 4,000
Description: Class A vacuum tube dual mono active linestage
Manufacturer URL: First Sound
Model Picture: View

Review by Matthew G. (A) on May 19, 2002 at 20:26:34
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for the Presence Deluxe Mk II

For those who have read the Soundstage review and were wondering if the reviewer's ravings about this product were justified, I can assure you, they are. This is the first piece of gear that has impressed and moved me as much as I'd hoped it would and the first that I feel may be worth even more than its retail cost, from a cost-to-performance perspective. I bought my Presence Deluxe as a dealer demo. It is one of the hotrod versions with only one line level input--no switching, no nothing. Some skeptics may scratch their head at the idea of having an expensive active pre-amp that doesn't do half of the job that pre-amps are supposed to do, namely, select between different sources. I bought this one because the price was right, and because all my sources except my phono stage have volume controls. I don't mind swapping cables now and then--it makes me feel technically competent. That said, I do plan to have the other parts put on the pre-amp, along with some upgrades, when the time is right.

To say this pre-amp is built like a tank is to pay a high compliment to tanks. The appearance is not especially artful, but it does have an unpretentious grace to it. The insides contain a Redwood forests of huge capacitors, plus a grand total of 4 tubes, 2 6922's and 2 OA2's (the former can be rolled, the latter cannot). The pre-amp works best plugged directly into the wall, as opposed to using a power conditioner (I discovered this on my own, and the designer confirmed my theory on the phone).

The sound of this thing is, in fact, amazing. Rather than go over its sonic attributes piece by piece, I will compare the sound to the sound of no pre-amp at all. There is, of course, no cleaner or more honest signal than connecting a source component directly to an amp. The next most honest alternative is a passive attenuator. The First Sound, essentially, sounds like a passive pre-amp, but with added (potential) benefits of an active--bigger soundstage, fuller bass, greater dynamics. I was able to test what, precisely, this pre-amp does to the signal by listening to different components through my Creek headphone amp with and without the First Sound in the chain. Listening to records through an Audiomat Phono 1, sans First Sound, the sound is somewhat leaner, the midrange is more detailed and a tiny bit quicker, and there is more high frequency information, much of it undesirable (clicks and pops, for instance). With the First Sound in the chain, the sound is fuller, bass has much more impact, and the overall sound is smoother. Although the signal I'm getting is not quite as "pure" this way, overall, it sounds just as natural and just as convincing. Since I am a listener who finds much of the power in many performances, regardless of style, in the lower frequencies, I am happy to trade a bit of high frequency detail for low frequency completeness. In other words, unlike any other pre-amp I've tried, including the excellent FT Audio passive, music sounds better with the pre-amp than without it. While my irrational desire to hear every tube amplifier on the planet makes it hard to commit to one, I feel no need to hear any other pre-amps. It's the First Sound, or nothing.

Product Weakness: None, unless you want something small and easy to move.
Product Strengths: Phenomenal transparency, dynamics and, especially, bass. Designer/company owner offers good advice and support via telephone.

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: VAC PA 100/100, Blue Circle BC-6, Creek OBH-12
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): see review
Sources (CDP/Turntable): VPI Aries, Audiomat Phono 1, Birdland Audio DAC
Speakers: Meadowlark Shearwaters, Sennheiser HD600
Cables/Interconnects: Silver Audio
Music Used (Genre/Selections): some of everything
Room Size (LxWxH): 20 x 12 x 10
Time Period/Length of Audition: about 4 months
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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Topic - REVIEW: First Sound Presence Deluxe Mk II Preamplifier (Tube) - Matthew G. 20:26:34 05/19/02 (5)

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