Juicy Music Tercel Phono Preamplifier

Juicy Music Tercel Phono Preamplifier

August 2, in Hi-Fi Systems Reviews

Specifications

Phono Stage

  • Topology:3-stage Class A Triode with passive

RIAA filters, zero feedback

  • Tubes:2 x 12AT7 Dual Triodes; 1 x 12AX7

Dual Triode

  • Gain:42dB in MM; 62dB with optional LOMC

installed

  • RIAA:+/- 0.2dB 20Hz – 20kHz
  • Hum and Noise:75dB
  • Input impedance:MM= 22k – 68k ohms adjustable + 0pF – 50pF loading; LOMC = 90 ohms
  • Output Impedance:160 ohms
  • Max Output Voltage:2.5V rms @ 1kHz

Inputs/Outputs

  • Phono Inputs:2 MM std; 1MM + 1 LOMC Opt.
  • Main Output:1 RCA Power Supply
  • Primary Voltage:120VAC std. 240VAC opt.
  • Line Cord:IEC Connector/6-foot cord
  • B+ Supply:Unregulated C-L-C with 1,380uF

storage

  • Filaments:Regulated 6.30VDC Physical
  • Dimensions:14-1/2″W x 3″H x 10″D
  • Weight:12lbs
  • Packed:16″W x 16″L x 10″H Options
  • LOMC:Optional LOMC transformers with 20dB additional gain

Kit Construction

  • Experience Level:Intermediate/Advanced
  • Construction Time:About 12 hours

Available in Kit form or factory assembled:

  • Tercel kit with 2 MM inputs: $495.00
  • Adding the LOMC (low output moving coil) to that kit is $345.

Without even looking at their website if someone were to say juicy, I would think peach. First thing you see product wise when you look at their website is the Peach II Line Stage Preamplifier. This is an excellent marketing idea, and also lots of fun. This review however is not about the Peach II.

Today I would love to introduce you to the all-new redesigned Tercel Tube Phono stage preamplifier. The Tercel is a phono only preamp for use with an integrated amplifier or line section preamp (AUX level). This is the same exact phono circuit used in their top of the line full function BlueBerry Xtreme II preamp that has gotten such great reviews. I mated this with my Oracle Delphi MK I turntable with Grace 707 tonearm and Denon 301 II MC cartridge. Since the Denon is a low output Moving Coil cartridge the Tercel needed to be fitted with the LOMC option for an additional cost of only $345. LOMC stands for low output moving coil also referred to by Mark as the “cream”. When I inquired to know further details about this LOMC option Mark Deneen sent me the following note:

“Our LOMC option consists of a pair of premium Jensen transformers as the front end which then feeds the regular MM phono stage. So, the MM stage has 42dB gain, and the transformers add 20dB ahead of that for a total of 62dB. The output of the phono stage is buffered with a low impedance driver so that you can have no worries about what cable you use, or how it will interface to your linestage.”

Mark Deneen the founder of Juicy Music is my type of person. He states, in his website, that his personal goals in founding the company are as follows; to have fun doing his work, create products that please people and to make an honest living doing the above. This is a refreshing approach and one I firmly believe is well worth pursuing.

Mark has been active in the world of audio since 1974 when he started a company called Paragon Audio, which he later sold to BSR/ADC. After switching over to the micro-computer industry after 20-some years he finally returned to what he calls, “those lovely tubes”. I for one am glad he did, as I too am a lover of tubes. If you notice all his products are tube oriented. Please do not miss out on Mark’s FAQ about,” The Common Questions We Get About Tubes” as it is very insightful and fun.

So what is this Juicy Music Mark is referring to in his company name? Mark is seeking to create products with transparency, clarity and spaciousness. When his product creates this sensation of lively music with all of its naturalness and dynamics he refers to as “juicy music”.

Juicy Music Tercel Phono Preamplifier back

All Juicy Music products are designed and built in California, which is something I believe Mark should be proud of. Every product they make is actually broken-in for 24 hours prior to shipping to the ultimate consumer. Therefore any further break-in is just your ears getting used to the Juicy Music sound. Perhaps he is right as it took only about ½ of listening to the Tercel for a large smile to begin forming on my face.

Juicy Music Tercel review

For this review I asked Mark to send me a factory assembled unit rather than chance anything but a perfect sample for my review. If you have the technical know how and the equipment the kit version will save you $100 at only $495 for the basic model without the “cream” option.

The Tercel comes equipped with two 12AT7 and one 12AX7 dual triode tubes. These tubes are quite common and easy to replace if necessary. The three tubes are placed on top of the unit where it is easy to see them. This is a good thing because I just love watching tubes glow in a dark room while I listen to music enjoying a glass of Cabernet. I prefer this to hiding the tubes away inside the unit where I am not allowed to enjoy the “glow”. To the left of the tubes is the transformer and below that the on/off button. There are also two buttons, one labeled ph1 and the other ph2. They stand for Phono 1 and Phono 2 respectfully. If the LOMC option is installed, like mine was, the Phono 1 is for low output moving coil cartridges. Phono 2 would then be for MM (moving magnet) cartridges. Everything is nicely packaged in a wooden case supplied for Mark by an outside vendor. This wooden chassis is quite solid and adds an elegant appearance to the Tercel. To the rear is an IEC outlet where you may play with difference power cords to your hearts delight. Please note that the Tercel does come with a 6’ power cord as standard equipment. I think that is a nice touch, as it is very convenience if you want to plug and play right out of the box. Especially nice is that fact that the power cord is a full six feet long. I don’t like those three foot ones, as it is difficult to plan where to place your equipment with such a limited amount of movement at your disposal.

The Tercel is quite elegant looking mounted in its beautiful wooden chassis, with three Ceramic Tube Sockets installed onto its black top. Also of note is the white lettering used on the top as it adds a nice elegant touch against this soft black background. Six gold plated jacks and more white lettering adorn the back of the Tercel further enhancing its beauty.

It would be a good idea to read the manual first as it has some important information in it. For example the manual warns:

“DO NOT plug the output of the Tercel into a connection marked” PHONO” or “RIAA”.”

Further details about this can be found in the manual and should be read before installing the Tercel in your system. Of course I always recommend reading any manual first, it makes more sense than to just blindly start connecting equipment. Remember the manufacturer has written the manual, at their expense, for a reason.

When I asked Mark about the use of the Tercel with my Passive preamp and how to connect them together he emailed me the following response:

Hi–

Ok, in a PASSIVE preamp, you would use the phono input-just like your Whest. The quote was meant to apply to active preamps. Best Regards, Mark

Which brings up one more important point, always read the manual first but when in doubt consult your friendly and knowledgeable manufacturer.

I removed my Whest PhonoStage.20 + MsU.20 power supply and installed the Tercel in my system. The Whest retailed for $2595 when new, considerably more than the Tercel. The Whest PhonoStage also has a MC and MM setup so the user can select either type of cartridge. My Tercel, factory assembled with LOMC option lists for only $940 for a difference of $1655 when compared to the Whest. I initially feared that this might not be a fair comparison because of the price discrepancy and the fact that the Whest did get great reviews even at its own higher price point.

Juicy Music Tercel Phono Preamplifier

The Tercel manual (which as I said I always read) however claims,

“The Tercel phono stage kit is a superior sounding phono stage that will compare to the world’s best and most favored phono stages in spite of the low cost of the kit.”

Ok the challenge has been made so lets see what happens next. Since my Whest has been in my system for about two years and I am sure it is fully broken-in, I will give the Tercel a little break-in time. I know the manual says it is not necessary (expect for our ears only to adjust) but I will give it 24 hours of non-stop music playing anyway just to satisfy myself. I used the stock 6’ power cord that was supplied as standard equipment with the unit. Connecting the Tercel to my Placette passive preamp was a pair of very thin interconnects that came standard with the Whest Phono Stage and which are actually quite good. I will also use them as my phono interconnects when listening to either phono stage so that they are both on the same even playing field.

Later in the review I can discuss the opportunities available to users who opt to upgrade to more expensive power cords and even tubes. For now though lets try and keep it affordable. Although keep in mind that a world of high end, used and now affordable, cables and tubes do exist out there for the sharp buyer to purchase. Do be careful though as Mark has carefully chosen the operating points for each tube and therefore tube substitutions must be restricted to using different tube brands but not different types. Again if you have questions consult the tube guru, Mark.

The one thing I love about reviewing a phono preamplifier is that I now get to listen to my vinyl collection without having to slip in some CD’s. Oh I still like my CD’s but they certainly are not as fun as dusting off some vinyl, smelling those old cardboard jackets, then taking the vinyl in hand to do the ritual cleaning before you play the records.

First off I pulled out my Miles Davis, Kind of Blue album, and played “So what”. When you first hear the Tercel you will notice that the soundstage is just right. Not monstrous rather more in line of a small club setting. It makes the performance feel quite intimate. Miles Davis on trumpet, John Coltrane on tenor saxophone and Julian Adderly on alto sax all sounded clear and distinct yet soulful. When Evans played the piano you could clearly hear the individual piano keys being played. Tubes and jazz are a great combination and the Tercel did not disappoint.

Moving next to, Colors of the Day: The Best of Judy Collins, and the hit song “Suzanne” the soundstage once again proved to be a strong point. You could easily listen to Judy playing the guitar, as she sings, and hear the subtle resonance from her guitar. If you play this album please do not miss the song “Farewell to Tarwathie”. Here Judy is singing against a backdrop of Whales playfully calling to each other as they swim. Judy shows the full range of her voice and the Tercel has no problem following right along to the enjoyment of all. Even the whales sounded in harmony.

Not forgetting to audition a male vocal I next turned to Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding album. With “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” the Tercel seemed to take the slight edge off Dylan’s voice, making it that much more listenable. Of course that is what tubes do when compared to solid-state devices. Drums, bass guitar, vocals, harmonica were all clear yet smoother and less forward with the Tercel then when played through the Whest.

Rock and Roll however is more difficult for tubes as it challenges its weaknesses in the lower bass regions and ability to bring out individual instruments played together in a large group. The Tercel however seemed not bothered at all by the Who’s Live at Leeds album. When playing the hit song, “Summertime Blues” I noticed excellent detail with the ability to separate both individual instruments and background vocals. The beautiful guitar solos on the opening of “The Magic Bus” also came across without a hitch and when the vocals chimed in they added a nice layer to the music. Even the drum work that followed and quickly receded did not complicate things for the Tercel that seemed more than up for any challenge, both complex and simple.

Of course a review of vinyl would not be complete without a listen to the Eagles famous, Hotel California album. “Life in the Fast Lane” was dynamic and clear. Stereo separation and soundstage was again a strong suit for the Tercel.

“Hotel California” had nice warmth to it when paired with the Tercel and managed to achieve a holographic depth to the sound that I found a joy to hear.

Juicy Music Tercel Phono Preamplifier2

When comparing the $2595 Whest to the $940 Juicy Music Tercel let us put aside price for the moment. The Whest being a good solidstate design had a more forward attack on musical passages while the Tercel’s all tube-design was more relaxed and at ease with things. The Tercel managed a more 3-D depth to music while giving away some slight high-end sparkle and lower bass strength. Tubes have a way with vocals that people find mesmerizing and the Tercel certainly was strong in that department. Now lets talk about the obvious difference in price, $1655 in favor of the Tercel. So what do you do with that $1655 savings that might improve upon an already excellent design?

Here is where the Tercel took a big step forward and I thought moved ahead of the Whest. Being that I had plenty of power cords and tubes to play with, I decided to toy with the Tercel but little did I know she would take me so serious.

I tried different power cords and they all worked better than the supplied factory cord, which though was not a bad match up to begin with. I finally settled on a one meter PS Audio Lab II power cable that I found used about two years ago for only $149 (retail when new was $399). When using this same cord with the Whest only a slight difference could be noticed. However when attached to the Tercel the PS cable’s effect was much more dramatic as the bass became tighter and lower. Dynamics were surprisingly better and I could not believe how much more fun the listening became. Changing power cords with the Tercel is a must do option and one Mark has allowed the user to easily try with the insert of the IEC connector on the back.

Juicy Music Tercel Phono Preamplifier3

Ok, that was a change for the better, but what about the tubes? I happened to have Amperex Bugle Boy, Phillips and Telefunken 12AX7 tubes in my magic box of spare tubes to fiddle with, so lets go. The stock tube is an Electro Harmonix 12AX7 tube, which is a good choice by Juicy Music. It is inexpensive, easy to find in quantity when replacements are necessary and in general sounds quite good. However you can do much better for not too much more money, remember you only need one, not a pair. Whenever I replaced the stock tube with any one of the above-mentioned tubes it brought more sparkle and high-end extension into play. The one I fell in love with immediately though was the Amperex Bugle Boy 12AX7. I looked online and saw some selling used and testing strong for $50-$100 each. The Bugle Boy mated well with the Tercel as voices became more 3-dimensional and distinct. Microphonics can be a problem with vintage tubes but never did they present any kind of problem with my combination of Tercel and Bugle Boy 12AX7 or with any of the other tubes I tried in the Tercel as well.

Pairing the Bugle Boy tube with the PS Audio power cord enhanced the lower end and added welcome extended magic to the mid and upper range regions. This combination in my system transformed the Tercel into a top-notch Phono Preamplifier that I felt surpassed the Whest, which still costs considerably more even when taking the extra expense of these options into consideration. Add the outer price range of the Bugle Boy tube at $100 to the $149 I paid for the PS Audio power cord and you get $249. So here we have the Whest at $2595 and the Juicy Music Tercel at $940 with “cream” option, plus the $249, which still comes to only $1189, equating to a $1406 savings. This is a combination, which I could live with in my main system for a long time. With the Tercel I save $1189, get to watch the glow from the tubes in a beautiful enclosed wooden chassis and retain the ability to swap tubes to change the sound whenever I so desire. For these reason I actually liked the Tercel more than my Whest.

But wait we are not quite done yet, I have one more thing to try, well two actually. Since Juicy Music is, as I have said, a tube-based manufacturer why not mate the Tercel with a tube amp. I inserted my Dignity Audio DA08SE mono amps into the mix along with my Klipsch Klipschorn speakers (1989 version unmodified). Well lo and behold a little more extra magic is still left in the Tercel. With this combination I was able to coax more 3-D depth and some extra shimmer out of the vocals. With the Dignity’s though I did lose some low-end bass extension that the solid-state Monarchy Pro-70’s had provided. Since I have both the Monarchy Pro’s and Dignity Audio amps, as well as Legacy Focus 20/20 and Klipsch Klipschorn speakers, I can change things around to listen to either combination depending on the music I will be playing.

Not limited by its modest price, especially when used with moving magnet cartridges where the cost is only $495 in kit form or $595 factory assembled, the Tercel competes with more costly phono stages and does an excellent job of doing so. In the final analysis it really does not matter which choice you make, whether solid-state or tube amplifiers, to pair with Mark Deneens phono stage. The basic sound of the Tercel is built on a strong foundation and understanding of phono amplification. These personal choices of amps, power cords or tubes will only enhance your enjoyment of the Tercel and not define it.

If this is a taste of Juicy Music, give me more. Now I wonder what the BlueBerry Xtreme II Full Function Preamplifier with Remote ($1695), Peach II Class A Line Stage Preamplifier with Remote ($1,495) pCAT Lynx Class A Triode Mono Block 25W of Pure Class A amps ($3,495/pr.) or Merlin Line Stage Preamplifier ($795) sound like? You have got to think they will be “Juicy”.

Manufacturer’s Response:

Thanks for taking the time and interest to review my Tercel phono preamplifier I enjoyed reading the review. As the designer I am always infinitely curious how others interpret my intentions and execution. The review was very complete, and I think very accurately captures the essence of the Tercel. I wanted to add a few small comments, or clarifications.

Every JuicyMusic product is designed and built by hand entirely in California. Even our beautiful wood cases are made here by local craftspeople. The hand-crafted wood chassis of the Tercel can be bought in mahogany, walnut and maple. The Tercel has two phono inputs that are relay switched allowing easy integration of tables with two arms, or two tables. One of the inputs can be configured for Low Output Moving Coil cartridges. The standard Moving Magnet input has a user adjustable load switch inside for changing the resistance and capacitance of the input by changing a DIP switch. And finally, although the Tercel shares the identical circuit design as our much more expensive BlueBerry, we do use less costly coupling capacitors in the Tercel to accommodate the price difference between the units. In my direct listening comparisons, there is about a “5% difference in sound.”

Sincerely, Mark Deneen JuicyMusic

The listening environment:

My listening room is 18’ 8” long by 13’ wide. The room’s cathedral ceiling starts at 8’ high then slopes upward to 13’ at its peak in the middle. Flooring is a soft hardwood covering with an oriental rug placed dead center in between (but not under) the listener and the audio system. All surfaces are left untreated and there are no doors that open or shut into other rooms.

Review equipment:

  • Dignity Audio DA08SE integrated mono amps (imported by Monarchy Audio) Monarchy Audio SM-70 Pro Amp
  • Oracle Delphi Mk I turntable with custom made interconnects
  • Grace 707 tonearm with Denon 301 II MC cartridge
  • Whest PhonoStage.20 + MsU.20 power supply, Whest Phono Stage Interconnects
  • Legacy Focus 20/20 speakers
  • Klipsch Klipschorn speakers (1989 version unmodified) RTP-2 and RTP-4 ultimate Power supply box
  • PS Audio Power Port Receptacle
  • Blue Circle BC86 MKIII power line pillows (2)
  • Anti-Cable speaker wire 10’ pair, Anti-Jumpers for Legacy speakers
  • Anti-Cable Interconnects
  • PS Audio Lab Cable II power cord one 3’ length
  • Monarchy Audio AC-1 power cord one 6’ length
  • Tek Line PC-8 Signature Power Cords (2) 6’ lengths
  • Mr-Cable Musician power cord 9’ length Black Diamond Racing Cones (#3 & #4) Audio Prism IsoBearing (Isolation Globes

 from affordableaudio, By Anthony Nicosia

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