Audiolics Anonymous Chapter 22
Antique Sound Lab AQ 2004
Final Labs Daruma-3II and Aurios
Review By Bill Gaw
Spring has finally made it to New Hampshire, and I've actually spent some time out in the yard away from my equipment. Of course, not last weekend, which I spent at the Stereophile Home Entertainment Show, the report of which can be
seen by clicking here. And this being New Hampshire, one day was 93
degrees Fahrenheit and the next 51 degrees, which is what makes New Hampshire interesting. At least it didn't snow.
First thing this month I have to apologize for a mis-statement from my discussion of turntable setup from
Chapter 20. There, I described how I used the backside of a Classics 45 RPM release, which has no grooves on it, to adjust anti-skating for my tonearm. A reader, Richard
Gordan, astutely noted that this is inappropriate for standard tangential tracking tonearms, and I agree.
Happily, with my Walker Proscenium turntable with linear tracking tonearm, this works great. Thanks Richard for the correction.
As I said in my last article... Trust No One, not even me.
Today I wish to discuss a product I've had for the past two months, which falls into the very high value for the money category. I was going to also review another piece this month, the Smart amplifier, but had some trouble with the first unit, which was sent back, did not receive the second unit until shortly before the Stereophile show, and
therefore I'll try to do it for next month's column.
Antique Sound Labs AQ 2004Pre-Amplifier
I first became familiar with their equipment at this year's CES, where they had two small rooms, one for display and one for playback. The equipment is made in China, probably by convict labor, ( only kidding), all primarily tube equipment on nondescript black chassis, none of them being full sized rack mount types, but rather compact and utilitarian. But there is certainly heft to them, signifying at least heavy transformers. And all were significantly less expensive for a complete system than most single pieces of high end equipment. And the sound they were getting from this really cheap stuff, was very good for CES standards, beating out many high priced rooms. This obviously intrigued me. Unhappily, they didn't understand much English, but were very gracious and let me know that they didn't have a US distributor but were certainly looking for one.
Then, Steve R. Rochlin called me a couple of months ago to let me know that their Canadian distributor, Divergent
Technologies, wanted a review done of some of their products. I jumped at the opportunity to see just how much value there was. About a week later a small package arrived at my door, looking a little bigger than the one containing three new DVD's. Opening it, I found the most compact tube preamp I've
seen. It consists of a black chassis, 6x6x9 inches, weighing 2.5 Kg. with a volume
control. It also offers a three position switcher, three tubes, two caps and one large input transformer protruding from the top. There are three inputs and one output per
channel via gold-plated RCA's. An IEC plug for AC is used for those who enjoy experimenting
with various power cables. Specs include Class A operation with a maximum
of 10 Volts output. The frequency response is claimed as 10-100,000 Hz. with a distortion
of less than 0.1% at 1 volt out. Signal to noise ratio of 95 dB is also claimed. The unit uses
one 12AX7 and two 12AU7's (Yugoslavia)... which surprised the hell out of me as this is a Chinese made
pre-amplifier and on would feel they would include Chinese made tubes.
Opening the base, I found that it was a beautifully constructed on two Teflon circuit boards, with good but not exceptional
parts including Multicaps and good grade resistors All of it was nicely soldered.
Not expecting much I placed it in my system controlling the rear channels of my surround system. After warm-up, I turned on my EAD rear
amps and heard nothing. Oh well I thought, another product broken out of the box. But I turned up the volume pot all the way and heard minimal tube rush. So at least it was working, with an amazingly low noise floor for an inexpensive product.
Then I turned the volume control, which is of the detented variety but appears to be a simple volume pot down to the first
notch. An appropriate volume was found with the volume pot at about 11 o'clock at 0 gain.
Surprise! Out of the box the pre-amplifier sounded very good. The channels were dead
quiet and the sound was as good as I've heard from the speakers. Taught bass, clean highs, and a smooth and open mid-range.
While not up to "high-end" pre-amplifier standards, the sound was very
good and I think this unit would be perfect for a budding music lover, a second
system, or for your teenager. It is dead quiet, allows the emotion of the music
through and has only a few faults.
First, the volume pot is ganged, thus not allowing for separate control of the
channels and there is no balance control. Second, there are only 20 steps for
volume that seems to give an average of 2-3 dB per step. Therefore sometimes the music was not quite
at the right volume for me. This is a problem with detented volume controls, although they
seem to give the feeling that they are more accurate. Third, people will laugh at the utilitarian site of it until they hear it.
I checked out the tubes on my Kaye Audio Labs small tube tester and found all three to be the best reading 12ax7 and
12au7 tubes I've measured... including my stash of British mil-spec types! These things produce the lowest noise measurements I have
seen. Now I can understand why they are used in this pre-amplifier over the typical Chinese brands. There was almost no reading for residual
noise and after warm-up, no tinkles, whistles, groans, etc. I have been using them every night for two months
now and they still measure the same.
Now for the best part. Price. Total price is a crushing $299 plus about $20 shipping. How's that for a
deal! I wrote the distributor asking how they get such quality for so little price. His answer? All of their products and parts are made in the same factory in
China... chassis, knobs, electronics, transformers, etc.. This provides the same scale of savings that the large corporations use for their low end equipment, and that they use for their best. Of
course at $0.20 per hour for labor, there is a slight production savings also.
Antique Sound Labs also produces higher priced pre-amplifiers and
amplifiers. After hearing this beauty I'd love to review some of their better products. Go to their web site and take a look. You certainly can't go wrong for the
Way back in Chapter XI I had discussed the Daruma
3-II feet, which are two metal cups, one with a depression, separated by a steel ball bearing, which work very well under mechanical equipment ,like CD transports and turntables, for isolation. Problem was, there was no known distributor for them in the USA. Well now there is.
Venus Hi-Fi out of Indiana! You can reach them through their e-mail address at email@example.com
and buy these for only $99 per set plus shipping.
I have come up with a new use for them though. Under your smaller speakers. At the Stereophile show, I saw a similar but larger product called Aurios Speaker Feet, which sell for 6 for $1000. These are much more elaborate than the
Daruma's, and support significantly more weight, and are made specifically for loud speakers. It seems counterintuitive that feet that are made to allow speakers to move, and decouple from the floor, should work better than spikes, but at the Show, this room had the best sound, with especially tight deep bass, so I don't think the Aurios degraded it.
Not being able to use the Darumas with my bass horns, I decided to experiment by using them under my mid-tweeter round horns, and guess what. They didn't tighten the bass, which was intuitive, but they certainly did tighten up somewhat the mid range. Roy Orbison's voice could now be heard to come from a mike separate from all of the background, which, while probably more accurate that the diffuse sound I had heard previously, somewhat distracted from the illusion. But on single
mic'ed, Blumlein, etc., recording, there was a definite improvement in tightness of the soundstage, especially in the center where sounds of individual instruments are normally diffuse. If you can find some Aurios for larger speakers, or the Daruma's for bookshelf types, try them. How do they work at tightening up the imaging when they theoretically should be allowing the speakers to move and thus cause Doppler aberrations, I don't know. Like so much in audio, this finding's cause is still unknown. But I do hear it.
That's it for today. Until next month, and my 24th column, Adios.
Antique Sound Labs AQ-2004
Frequency response at 1V
Frequency response @ full power
Distortion at 1V
Distortion at full power
S/N Ratio / Noise level
S/N Ratio with A weighting
Power cord - Detachable /Fixed
Front Panel Finish
Dimension WxD xH in mm
Shipping Dimension WxDxH in mm
10Hz - 100KHz
10Hz - 50KHz
mV 83 db /0.8mV
95 db (0.03mV)
RCA Gold Plate
RCA Gold Plate
Aluminum, Gold, Silver or Black Anodizing
12AX7 x 1,12AU7 x 2
160 x 230 x 160
210 x 270 x 195
342 Frederick Street
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Fax: (519) 749 2863