Revising My Reference System

Revising My Reference System

February 11, in Features, Hi-Fi Systems Reviews

As an , part of my nature is to tweak my system continually to improve the sound and hence get closer to the music. Until recently my reference system has consisted of a VPI HW-19 MKIV turntable, Audio Research SP16 vacuum tube preamplifier, Conrad Johnson MV60SE vacuum tube amplifier, Primare D30.2 CD player and Paradigm Signature S2 monitors mounted on Target, lead and sand filled stands. Additionally my speaker cables of choice are a 10 foot pair of Discovery Cables Essential speaker cables and I also use Discovery Essence interconnects throughout the system. I have had my turntable set up using a Rega RB600 tone arm and a Benz Ruby 2 MC Cartridge running through a Quicksilver Audio MC step up transformer. My listening room is located in our basement which is 13’ X 18’ with 7’8” H ceilings. I have positioned the speakers out from the rear wall 32” and away from the side walls about a foot, toed in sharply, on axis to the listening position.

A neighbor recently had an Audible Illusions Modulus 3A preamplifier for sale that has been gathering dust in his garage for several years due to the fact he had become more interested in home theater. It needed to be cleaned and re-tubed but other than that it was in good shape. Having heard that the Modulus 3A was extremely musical and involving I decided to purchase it and give it a try in my system. I spent several hours removing the gunk and grime that had accumulated on exterior of the unit. I removed each knob, the top and face plate and cleaned each piece thoroughly with simple green and glass cleaner. Using compressed air I removed 95% of the dust from the interior and then purchased some NOS RCA 6922s vacuum tubes from Antique Electronic Supply.

Once the tubes arrived and were installed I placed the Modulus 3A adjacent to my system and made the connections using the 1 meter Discovery Essence Interconnects I normally use in my system. Fortunately they were just long enough to allow for A-B comparisons with my Audio Research SP16. To say the difference was dramatic would be an understatement! Even though the tubes installed in the Audible Illusion Modulus 3A weren’t broken in, there was a clearer and cleaner picture of the music. The transients were slightly more dynamic; the midrange and highs were smoother but at the same time more detailed. However the most interesting trait I noticed was how individual notes would decay. There was a more natural and slower roll off of each note that sounded more like a recording should sound. As a musician this in particular gave me a reason to celebrate. Every track I played sounded closer to the real thing, the saxophone, the cymbals and in particular vocals sounded much more like an actual performance does. The Audio Research SP16 is a fine preamplifier but it is simply outclassed by the Audible Illusions Modulus 3A. Every one of my Audiophile friends who came to listen agreed that the SP16 was clearly no match for the AI preamplifier. I purchased the Audio Research SP16 in like new condition from the local ARC dealer and I have loved the way it rendered musical performances of my records and CDs. It was hard for me to admit that its time had come.

The only issue I had replacing the ARC SP16 in my system was that my Quicksilver MC step-up transformer was not a good match with the Audible Illusions MM Phono Stage. There was a gain mismatch and records sounded lifeless when compared to the performance with the SP16 phono stage. I attributed this issue to the Quicksilver Audio step-up transformer which only provides 23db of gain.


I decided to look for an outboard phono stage that would be a good match for the Audible Illusions preamplifier. I wanted something dynamic and detailed that would do justice to the high resolution of the Modulus 3A. Additionally I wanted the flexibility to use my VPI turntable with my Sophia Electric Technologies EL34 integrated from time to time. After several weeks of shopping I ended up in Silverdale Washington and the folks at Nuts About Hi-Fi recommended I try a Krell KPE Phono Stage they had just taken in on trade. The nice thing was that I would be able to take it home and try it out and return it if there was a system mismatch.

Just as they had said it would be, the Krell KPE with 65db of gain is an excellent match for my Ruby 2 MC cartridge. The soundstage is huge and well defined with a solid bottom end, a clean clear mid-range and a sweet detailed high end. The Krell KPE and the Audible Illusions work extremely well together. I was absolutely stunned by the music coming forth through my speakers.

The quest for great sound has always been a passion for me, whether when looking for a guitar, guitar amplifier or audio equipment. Although there are those people who love the music first and equipment second, I enjoy experimenting to improve my enjoyment of both. Thankfully there are still dealers out there that will take the time to help with system matching and with a little bit of luck you can turn a diamond in the rough into something that sounds beautiful. I can honestly say that my reference system has improved with these changes and it will enable me to provide a better assessment of all the equipment I review, which in the end is the desired result.

Associated Equipment.

  • Audio Research SP16 Preamplifier
  • Conrad Johnson MV60SE Amplifier
  • Sophia Electric Technologies EL34 Integrated Amplifier
  • Marantz 5001 CD Player
  • Primare D30.2 CD Player
  • Oppo DV970HD Universal Player
  • VPI HW19 MKIV Turntable Rega RB 600 Tonearm Benz Ruby 2 MC Cartridge
  • Paradigm S2 Signiture Monitors
  • Triangle Stella ES Monitors
  • Wharfedale Pacific Evolution 10 Monitors Discovery Essence Interconnects Discovery Essential Speaker Cables Eichmann Express Six Interconnects Zebra ZC SP12SD Speaker Cables
  • Zebra ZC SP14DBI Speaker Cables

from affordableaudio, By Todd Arthur

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