I find it interesting that we curious folk often find ourselves at the limits of our imagination. As we continue to pursue new experiences, there will be a time when something comes along that redefines our understanding of what is possible. I have found this to be true in my experience both with making music and listening to hifi. The Mono Solo project has certainly changed my view of our musical history and the engineering behind its reproduction. This exercise I’ve been working through for several months – comparing three excellent tubed phono preamplifiers – is another example of this. It took me much longer than I’d planned, for one. Life has its’ way with us sometimes.
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Ok, so we have three great phono stages – one each from Manley, Audio Valve, and the focus of this bit of rambling – the PS10 Phono Amplifier (US$4750 in the review unit configuration) from Lyric Audio of Germany. Lyric Audio have been building fine amplifiers for decades, though it was not until 5 or so years ago that they reached the US. Alfred Kainz of HighEnd-Electronics in Apple Valley, CA imports their products. Links for both are at the bottom of the page. Thank you to Alfred for working with me on these reviews.
The PS10 is a Class A tube phono amplifier. It utilizes four 12AX7 tubes, one 12AU7, and its complex circuit uses zero feedback. The brushed aluminum casework is very fine and extremely solid – world class build quality. It’s a flexible unit, allowing for two tonearms if you are fortunate to have them.
Systems and Specs
I’m running my Clearaudio Concept turntable (on a 3″ Maple platform from Butcher Block Acoustics) with the Satisfy tonearm and ZU/DL103 MKII cartridge. The A23 SUT sits between the cart and MM input on the PS10. I also ran all three phono amps using their active MC circuits, prior to adding the A23 Denon step up to the chain. The SUT was added late in the review period, and because it is rad sounding it will stay. In addition I listened to many mono records using the Ortofon 2M Mono SE cartridge. The PS Audio Gain Cell DAC is currently acting as preamp and headphone amplifier for the system. AudioQuest Nightowl headphones and Zu Druid MKIV are providing the voice. All cabling was built by Luna Cables, with exception to the .5m Anticable RCA Ref3 phono wire tying the A23 to the phono amps. AudioQuest PowerQuest3 units provide cleaner power.
The PS10 is a handsome phono amplifier. My review unit is the black version – an understated, brushed aluminum chassis apparently built to last. The rounded edges of the faceplate give the amplifier a subtle sculpted feel – not unlike its well-contoured sound.
The unit provides RCA inputs for two tonearms and ground posts. In the case of my review unit, one input (the lower) was for MM cartridges and the other for low output MC cartridges. Each input has a knob for setting impedance as well. There’s an IEC socket and connection for the umbilical that ties the external power supply to the main chassis.
I’ll get into the details, but here’s the short take:
The PS10 handles macro dynamics with a strong, confident grip while remaining open and uncompressed. There’s an immediacy and convincing presence that performance-wise places the PS10 in between the Audio Valve Sunilda and Manley Chinook. Everything I played, from the Melvin’s 1994 release, Stoner Witch to Nielsen’s Symphony No.4 was presented with a large, especially deep and solid image. The PS10 strikes a very fine balance between earth and air – what I mean is while the image is large and stable, it doesn’t sacrifice gravity or force. Both micro and macro dynamics are excellent.
The low frequency performance is exceptional for a tube preamp, with both satisfying drive and presence. In comparison to the Sunilda, the bass is taut and defined by solid presence. Overall they are quite similar, though the Sunilda delivers a bit more low frequency energy and dynamics. Perhaps the PS10 is a touch more composed.
Listening to Shelly Manne’s Live at the Blackhawk Vol.3 (90s reissue), the tone and timbre were organic and convincing. The harmonic complexities of cymbals were very well represented. In this system high frequency texture was excellent and the highest freqs were not highlighted. Cymbals sounded like the several pounds of hammered alloy that they are. To clarify further, deep extension in the frequency extremes is what we expect from well-designed hifi components in 2021. All three amps deliver in this regard. They may prioritize information differently. To my ears, and within this system, the PS10 prioritizes presence over shimmer, without blurring detail. Dig it.
Classical records revealed the PS10’s impressive depth of stage and image stability. Nielsen’s Symphony No.4 (Blomstedt/San Francisco Symphony/Decca 421 524-1) was more engaging, as solo woodwinds for example, were more fully rendered. The larger ensembles dynamic sweeps were also solidified, making for an intense listening session. Ride that wave. This last idea is something I look for more and more – high resolution? Yes, please. Lifelike dynamics? Heck ya. But more and more I think to myself I might just trade in some microdetail, and maybe ultimate extension for commanding presence and macro dynamics. I’d rather get caught up in a players melody and performance than go glassy-eyed for abyssal low freqs. Weird? I dunno. It’s simply my measuring stick that helps keep me from descending into that abyss. If you’re someone who looks for meaning in all this shiny glass, metal and wood, why not let the music provide it? There’s a universe in there waiting to be amplified.
Class A circuits can bring the noise. Both the PS10 and Sunilda were very quiet. Listening on headphones – how I do a good chunk of my listening, especially when I’m looking for minor variances – the noise was not disturbing even through the quietest passages. Through the Zu Druid MKIV I hardly noticed. Experiences will vary here, driven by individual system configurations, etc. The noise floor of each amp climbed when I switched to their active MC circuits – no surprise. Again, I found both to be very quiet. Of course, adding the A23 SUT helped later on in the review process. My experience with all three amps performance in relation to one another was consistent regardless.
Ok, some additional context. The two Class A amps – Sunilda and PS10 – are quite close in performance. Again, the broad strokes – the PS10 is a bit more composed, and appears to have a more firm grip on the low frequencies. They both offer two inputs and allow for impedance adjustments. I prefer the look of the PS10 – you may not. To know which sound you prefer will require some listening.
The Lyric Audio PS10 is one fantastic component and if Class A tube circuits and multiple inputs are what you need, it should be on your list for audition. The high quality hand-built chassis and circuit reflect Lyric Audio’s decades of experience and dedication to making world class components at affordable prices.