Handmade Refined Supercar
Written by Liu Mingcheng
Audio Art Magazine
It adopts the design of two boxes of power splitters, and the dual-mono design beginning from the power supply, with full-balance amplification but without global feedback. Input impedance: 47kΩ; output impedance: 300kΩ; frequency response: 5Hz – 200kHz; gain: 14dB; input terminal: two sets of XLR and two sets of RCA; the used valve: 6H30×4 and 6922×4. Dimension: 480×140×380mm (main unit) and 480×80×380mm (power supply), weight: 25kg. Import general agency: Dean-Lin (03-2127378).
In the past we always conducted the audition at the place of the audio dealers or the agents, but this time the audition arrangement is quite special in that it’s held at the home of a audio fan and the subject is not a very large machine but a two-piece pre-amplifier. Why we take so much effort to try a pre-amplifier only? Is there any problem to bring it to our place? Actually, there is no. But the question is that this new flagship AudioValve Conductor is truly of hot sale, so such products are always sold out just upon the arrival. It will take quite a long time to wait for the dealers to have some spare machine for display and audition. To convey the information about this machine to the readers as soon as possible, I have no other choice but to appreciate it in the user’s house.
Wait, how does the dealer sell it if no machine for display? That's exact the interesting point. Almost all customers bought it without audition, just due to their confidence in the AudioValve brand. Another question is: what’s matter with this AudioValve company? Can it manufacture the machines at a faster pace, so the dealers are able to have some goods in stock? If you have studied its website, you must have the idea that this company is a “family handicraft” which is under the management of a couple for several years and recently their son has also been involved as an accountant. Think about this: how fast can a company with three people deliver goods to the whole world?
Charm of Blue-Ray Words
The first sight of the Conductor’s appearance makes you hard to believe it is manufactured by AudioValve. The glass panel in the center certainly attracts the focus of attention, because the frosted words AudioValve in the middle, as lighted by the beneath blue LED, turns to be blue words floating in the windows, embodying a quite innovative idea. What surprises me more is that on the right panel there is a color LED with quite high resolution.
Does AudioValve use advanced technologies like digital volume controls and digital logic operations? No.
The operation of Conductor is still an extremely "analog" task, because its volume control still relies on the left wheel, and the signal source switching and output switching are also achieved by lever-type switches. Well, is this beautiful screen merely a gimmick? I have thought so. Later during the audition I accidentally pressed the power switch of its remote control, and as the Conductor was rebooting, I found on the screen the heating status of the valve, with graphical representation showing the temperature increase. When the chart reached the peak, the equipment stepped into the normal operation state. This type of display is also different from those of all traditional valve equipments, from which we can see AudioValve is not a conservative manufacturer that uses only traditional technologies.
Co-existence of Technology and Tradition
Having the courage to embrace new technology, why it still manufactures all the audio-signal-related circuits of Conductor in so traditional way? For instance its volume control adopts the six-section variable resistor for attenuation, which is even installed directly behind the panel and through a long internal wire connected with the circuit board. Why not to use a connecting rod to shorten the signal path? AudioValve gives the following explanation: variable resistor is still the best volume attenuation method that is, in their opinion, of the best sound quality.
Able to present the width of a large stage and the first-class sense of the scene.
Relaxing and charming, without the slightest pressing feeling even for the grand-scene music played in a large system.
Having the unique warm, stereo and thick features of valve equipments.
? Neutral and non-rendered sounds.
There is still room for improvement in details and enhancement on the aspects like signal sources and wiring.
It’s better to work with the speakers with high resolution and open sounds.
It’s safe to work with large systems, without shrinking the sound.
Each album of The Chieftains has wonderful recording effect, often leading fever recommendation lists. This "Tears of Stone" is a result from their cooperation with quite a strong team of artists, with guest performers ranging from Joni Michelle, Bonnie Raitt, The Corrs, Diana Krall to Zhu Zheqin. It can also be seen from such a combination that The Chieftains has transcended the traditional Irish music, and integrated different music genres such as folk, rock, jazz and even world music. More valuable is that though each song is recorded in different conditions, it's still of great acoustic effect. (BMG 09026-63442-2, Sony Music)
Illustration: Twenty Factors of Audio Equipments
The above is a kind of subjective moving index of the reviewer for a single equipment, and the indicated results will vary due to the coupled equipments, spatial conditions and the mental state of the reviewer. It will be biased to use this to compare two equipments.
Five-element Diagram for the Audio Equipment
Metal: open, lively, bright
Wood: warm, modest, amiable
Water: tender, neutral, mild
Fire: swift, passionate, striking
Earth: thick, full, solid
1. The most distinctive feature of Conductor must be the 2.1-inch LCD control panel. Its left lever is responsible for the switch of signal sources, the right lever for output switching or mute operation, and the bottom panel for standby or shutdown switching. The scale of volume will be indicated on the topmost part too. On boot up the display will show the heating status of the filament of the valve. 2 Two gold-plated volume knobs are exclusively added for the special edition in Taiwan. On the back remains a traditional variable resistor, which is regarded by AudioValve the best way to improve sound quality. But you can use remote control and it can memorize the positions of each set of volume control. 3. The AudioValve trademark of the "window" on boot up will generate bright blue light, which seems to be floating in the glass. It is a pity that such special visual effect cannot be revealed from the photos here. 4. On the top left backplane there is written "Special Edition for Taiwan R.O.C". This proves that the edition is specially augmented for Taiwan market. All the metal parts are gold-plated. Why there are two low-cost wires like computer cables on the right? They are used to connect the power supply case. Since the control circuit and amplifier use separate power supply, two cables are needed. 5. Only these components can be seen through the roof window. You can see although AudioValve is in heavy use of hand-made manufacturing, the circuit board layout is very beautiful, and assembly quality and cleanliness are very good. This reflects the essential skills that the high-class valve equipment is supposed to satisfy. AudioValve even customized its own dedicated capacitor for Conductor, so it can be said to be the most luxurious model since the foundation of AudioValve. 6. Baldur 300 now also uses a golden plate in its front, which further underlines the nobleness of the high-power valve equipment.
It is even a little bit more spacious than the house of Liu Ming Cheng, the consultant of our magazine. Genesis loudspeakers still can produce large and solid sounds. The charming of such a large system is what the most audio fans can hardly have a taste of.
The reason for the use of six-set control is: the equalization and amplification need four sets of volume controls, and the additional two sets are used in the server circuits, allowing Conductor to remember the volume of the input of each signal source, and to reach its position automatically after switching. How is the wiring? After the input of signals, Conductor first uses buffer to amplify them, and then apply volume attenuation, so the signal is strong enough to overcome the attenuation even if it traverses along a range of the wire.
Replacing FM Acoustics
The speaker used by this AV fan is Genesis I.1 and the signal sources are MBL 1611/1621 turnplate and digital analog converters. The power amplifier, certainly an AudioValve product, is the Baldur 300 I reported several years ago. I have evaluated some audio equipments before in this audition room, and at that time we also used this pair of speakers which impressed me deeply. The owner must love very much the sound characteristics of valves, because when I made the visit last time, what he used is a 300B valve equipment too. However, this time I saw again in the audition room other idle equipments, which even include the pre-amp and power-amp of FM Acoustics! Although the owner has famous Switzerland equipments, after hearing the news that AudioValve pre-amp and power-amp are introduced to the market, he decided to obtain them too. However, his major audio system has been based on AudioValve equipments, and the pre-amp and power-amp of FM Acoustics are used only when he is at the whim of the equipments. Does it mean the sound of AudioValve pre-amp and power-amp outperform those of FM Acoustics? No, I believe FM Acoustics definitely has its own charm, or it would not enjoy such a high position in the industry. However, it indicates at least that for this set of system AudioValve sound is more attractive and delightful than that of FM Acoustics.
Magnificent and Relaxing Momentum
What is my first impression on Conductor? It is a feeling of magnificence and relaxation. In the past I always thought the feeling of magnificence and relaxation can only be achieved by high-class crystal equipments. Particularly it will be very obvious that the equipment with the 4-set giant speakers cannot produce magnificent and relaxing sound. It’s quite amazing that Conductor can give me a sense of broad space and huge sound that is not bloated. How hard is it to achieve magnificence and relaxation? I can say that after appreciating audio equipments for so many years, I have never heard of any system capable of using inexpensive equipments to produce a characteristic of magnificence and relaxation. Many audio fans probably have no chance to hear in their lifetime so magnificent and relaxing sound I heard here, which is a realm only achievable by large speakers coupled with really expensive equipments, as well as careful adjustment.
Authentic and Rich Sound
At first I played my recent favorite album, “Tears of Stone” of The Chieftains. Its first song, a chorus on the background, has already been very charming, which precisely conveys the gentle stir of the group members and apparently it’s recorded differently from the foreground poem recitation, leading to a very clear expression of the front and rear levels. The second song, an electric guitar blues by Bonnie Raitt, with the company of bass, is also full of charm. The glissando of the pipe casing on his left-hand fingers brings out a strong feeling of metal friction, and the deep, low and plump bass sound is also extremely good. It was my first time to listen to the album in such a large system, and the impression of the huge and plump sound was “temporarily saved” in my mind for several days before I can get rid of it.
With the replacement of the album "Dialogues with Double Bass", at the early beginning a cello and a double bass are staged on both sides, also having the huge audio effect. Even the finger movements, string wiping and the breathing of musicians during the performance are clear to hear. I originally had the concern about the imperfectness of a huge system in reproducing the sound of simple instruments, but at the end I found the set of system still performed quite well. Further play the New Moon Daughter of Cassandra Wilson. The drum at the beginning of its second track is not very low and deep, but it has a huge and flexible form, demonstrating that the sound of Conductor will not drag feet, and has very good transient response and impulsive force.
Co-existence of Truth and Beauty in the Sound
How about playing symphony? Try the selection of Pentatone. In the waltz segment of Tchaikovsky no. 6 as conducted by Seiji Ozawa, .when the string music flows out like a waterfall, beneath there is the demanding pizzicato performance of double bass. With the smooth and sleek playing of the string music, we feel the real proportion. The not particularly exaggerated pizzicato of the double bass is also of great flexibility and is not submerged in the playing of the bass string section. And then when the album is replaced with Leopold Stokowski's "Rhapsody", the orchestral unison at the beginning has a great sense of tone and luster, which also proves that Conductor can very vividly render the original recording. The more I listened to recordings, the more precious I found the natural and non-exaggerated qualities of Conductor. It can not only present the features of recordings in a real and direct way, but also is able to faithfully convey the intrinsic flavor of the music. Its performance capabilities of combining truth with beauty really makes itself live up to the honorable status of a flagship model.
Finally we played the new album "Quiet Nights" of Diana Krall. Since it sounds very plump and grand even in ordinary systems, will it be too huge to keep unbroken in such a system? Fortunately, what I heard was still the performance by a big orchestra, with the sound being very healthy and of a great spacious sense, while the layer and hierarchy of human voices and other instruments are kept with a good sense of separation, without any bloated effect. Many people do not agree with the huge sound, but I always remember what a president of a German manufacturer said to me: the least commendable equipments are those which make the sound shrunk when they are put in the audio system, just "like making people become a Mickey Mouse-like". Please rest assured, Conductor definitely neither produces the "Mickey Mouse effect", nor transforms all into the Hulk.
Be Rich and Patient
Preamplifiers of million-dollar price may be a fantasy a decade ago, but in nowadays audio equipment market, it is not really difficult to find pre-amp of this price level. Is the capability of AudioValve Conductor comparable to these fantastic equipments? I think it has no problem in performance, and in the preciseness of tone and sound quality it is also of a very high achievement. In particular, the characteristic of plump and warm medium frequencies possessed by the valve machine allows it to satisfy the requirement of pleasing sound at the same time achieve high performance, and avoid the issue of producing any annoying sounds. During the telephone conversation with the owner, he also believed that this set of equipment overthrows his traditional impression on valve machines and makes him discover such a valve machine can also achieve such high performance. Hereby he decided to keep it as the major system.
Conductor deserves to be called the flagship pre-amplifier of AudioValve. It has a special design, and implements many advanced technologies that will not adopted by a number of small factories, and produces comfortable and unrestraint sound which can work with huge systems. It's like a handmade super sports car of AudioValve, the possession of which needs a bit more patience in addition to money and vision, because under its strategy of handmade manufacturing in original factories, the number of persons in the world who are lucky to own Conductor is for sure not too many!