Merrill Audio Christine Reference Stereo Preamplifier
A linestage is one that has no other functions besides providing gain. Of course, both can switch between multiple sources and provide impedance matching between it and the power amp. This means that the Merrill Audio Christine Reference is a linestage, and not a preamplifier, even though that is what Merrill Audio calls it. However, I concede, and admit that this isn't the time to go into this any further. Since Merrill Audio designs and builds the Christine Reference, they can call it anything they wish.
There is a special something that separates the very good from the excellent in high-end audio, and if we're willing to take the word of Merrill Audio, the attention to detail that they lavish on the Christine Reference is the reason why this component is in the excellent category. They claim that they use the "finest" internal components, the PCB layout is hand-routed, they use silver-plated pure copper wire and consider not only the placement of each copper trace, but the length of each trace. The Christine Reference is a fully balanced component, which means that the Christine Reference is balanced from input to output. Each unit is hand-built, and tested, and since the power supply of the preamplifier is connected by an umbilical it allows the power supply to be located far away from the preamplifier's cabinet, the distance is responsible for lowering the component's noise floor, among other sonic benefits. Merrill Audio's multistage Kratos power supply enables one to use any power cable one wants with the Christine Reference – after-market cables make no difference to its sound quality since the unit is impervious to noise on the AC line.
When I first started listening to the Merrill Audio Christine Reference preamplifier, I didn't like not having any controls on its front panel. But I quickly became used to paying attention to the location of the remote, so when, for example, I needed to mute the volume at the end of an LP I could do so without madly searching for the remote to avoid the sound of a loud thump that often occurs when the stylus reaches the last run-out groove. But more important to me was the sound quality of the Christine Reference. In short, when playing music through this preamp, it sounded as if I was hearing a direct connection to the source material. Whether that source was analog or digital, the Christine Reference added little or no sonic character of its own. And what makes this preamp so magnificent is that it's traits combines the best of what both solid-state and tube preamps sonically have to offer, and this leads to it sounding like the I'm hearing only the signal that it is fed. There is an enormous sound stage when the recording is good enough to have an enormous sound stage. The frequency extremes have extremely good specs when the recording has extremely good frequency extreme specs.
An astute reader might have been able to surmise that I was searching for something negative to say about the Merrill Audio Christine Reference. That was quite difficult. The Luxman C-700u that I reviewed led me to believe that it is one of the best preamplifiers that one could buy, and was a relative bargain at $10,000. I am now even more impressed by the excellent sound of the Merrill Audio preamp at $12,400. If I had to choose one over the other... I'd choose the Christine Reference, because its sound quality places it within the category of the best preamplifiers available.
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