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February / March 2010
Superior Audio Equipment Review

North American Premiere
Rossner & Sohn Canofer-S Phono Preamplifier
Reveling in the natural timbre of ensembles both large and small.
Review By Tom Lyle
Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 

Rossner & Sohn Canofer-S Phono Preamplifier   The first thing that came to mind when I sat down to write this review of the excellent Rossner & Sohn Canofer-S phono preamplifier, was that when it comes to evaluating the sound quality of solid-state equipment at this level, especially when pitting one against the other, it can be a tough sell convincing myself whether one can be considered more "correct" sounding than the other. Yes, there are differences, but I'm more comfortable stating that they represent different versions of coming close to the elusive sonic truth. Of course there are other differences that are less intangible, such as features, and of course, the asking price (and inevitably the law of diminishing returns). At $7300 the Rossner & Sohn Canofer-S is not in the "affordable" category for most listeners, but with this phono preamplifier one gets top-notch sound, convenient front panel controls, and a superbly constructed unit that is designed, built, and imported from Germany.

I located the Canofer-S for the duration of the review period on its own shelf on an Arcici Suspense equipment rack. The turntable was a Basis Debut V with a Lyra Helikon cartridge mounted on a Tri-Planar VII U tonearm. The preamplifiers was either a tubed Balanced Audio Technology (BAT) VK-3iX or Acousticbuoy Scorpion, or a solid-state Burson Audio PPE-160, and the power amplifiers either a Krell KAV-250a or Emotiva XPA-2. Speakers were the Sound Lab DynaStat electrostatic/dynamic hybrids, augmented by a Velodyne HGS-15b subwoofer. The tonearm is hardwired with Cardas, but the rest of the system uses a mix of Virtual Dynamics and MIT interconnects and speaker cable. Front end's power cords, including that of the phono preamp was hooked up to a PS Audio AC regenerator, with a separate PSA regenerator for the turntable, and the Velodyne's power cord was connected to a Chang Lightspeed power conditioner. The dedicated listening room is treated with Echo Buster acoustic panels, and has two dedicated 15 Ampere lines.

 

Main Assets
One of the main assets of the Canofer-S (besides its great sound, of course) is its flexibility. On the front panel of this rather large component with an outboard power supply are three 24-position rotary controls labeled Resistor,  Gain, and  Increase. These 24 position controls with a very high-caliber  feel, enable one to choose a whole slew of loading possibilities that will match just about any phono cartridge on the planet. The Resistor control varies the input resistance from 22 to a whopping -75k Ohms, When I asked the distributor of the Canofer-S for the actual gain and resistance values which correspond to each notched setting, I was told that there are simply too many computations (over 1800 just for the typical MC cartridge) to compute these values. According to the manufacturer, they recommend that the user of the Canofer-S let one's ears be the judge rather than the particular values of each setting and state that their design philosophy is to allow the user to make "adjustments on the fly". The Increase control had me stumped for a while. In the manual it suggests using this control to set this control to vary the amount of bass that is reproduced by the phono preamp, starting with the setting at the neutral 12 o'clock position. So that's what I did. And yes, moving the control did affect the amount of bass, but later learned from the distributor that this control is actually an oft forgotten phase control. I'm not sure if it technologically correct (and there is a good chance that I'm wrong about this) that a phase control can be variable like this one here, rather than just the usual positive or negative positions usually available. I tried adjusting it for each recording for a while, but without some sort of guide I was a bit lost as what was "accurate" other than just trusting my ears, and yes, after a while I realized that the 12 o'clock position was just fine.

Rossner & Sohn have loaded the rather large Canofer-S and its external power supply with "the best" German and Swiss internal parts with recognizable names such as Mundorf Supreme caps, Elma switches with gold plating, and WBT Nextgen connectors. The main circuit board of the Canofer-S is suspended by aluminum columns, then those columns are mounted on a separate aluminum plate, and then the plate is then fixed to a silicone pad. The main circuit board is coated with a "special" resin for damping and shielding, and there are two separate amplifiers for each channel. The Canofer-S has a 2mm thick steel plate for the housing which further reduces electrical and radio interference, and they describe the transformer as a "hand selected" vacuum sealed, two chamber coil. On the rear panel are single-ended RCA inputs and outputs, a connection for the tonearm's ground, and an input for the power supply umbilical.

The owner of Excel Stereo, the importer of Rossner & Sohn was nice enough to drop off the Canofer-S at my home on his way to visit some retailers in my area. After we set up the phono preamplifier, we spun a couple of records, and to be blunt neither of us was impressed. Some of this was probably due to some equipment mismatches due to me playing component-musical-chairs with the system at the time. But the main reason was undoubtedly that while breaking-in this phono preamplifier the sound changed for the better dramatically. I'm not exaggerating here I've never heard an audio product undergo such a radical change from when I first placed it in the system to well after I thought its sound was leveling off. The potential owner of a Canofer-S should keep this in mind and be very, very patient. I'm apologize: I did not log how many LP sides it took, nor do I recall exactly how many calendar days had passed, but I would guess that I spun more than 200 hours of records before I was convinced that I've reached its full potential.

 

Worth
And it was worth the wait. On every decent record that I played took on not only what I believe to be a transparent representation of what was etched into the vinyl, but at the same time real instruments sounded like real instruments, which is the highest praise I could ever bestow on a piece of gear. On the EMI LP of Andre Previn conducting William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, the first half of side one is taken up by the lesser known Improvisations on an Impromptu of Benjamin Britten. Before hearing this piece I assumed it would simply be an homage to Britten, but other than citing the theme it is very Waltonian (I thought I invented this word, but there it was in the liner jacket's liner notes). During many parts of the score the orchestra explodes in tonal bursts, which tested not only the phono preamp's transient response but the system as a whole, and the Canofer-S passed this test with ease. All the while, every instrument in the orchestra on this great recording, engineered and produced by the team of Bishop and Parker, had a natural presence in not only each instrument's tonal character, but in the placement of each instrument (and group of instruments) in the expansive soundstage. I could go on citing all the audiophile-approved aphorisms, but you get the idea there were quite a few times in during the review period that I thought that this phono stage seemed to simply pass on the information passed onto it from the cartridge and amplified the signal with very, very little editorializing or even better, no sonic embellishment.

Side two of Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth LP (sometimes called "IV", sometimes called "Zoso", and sometimes called "Ruins"), thankfully skipping side one's "Stairway To Heaven", is a record that I must have heard about three thousand times during my lifetime. But I can honestly say that through the Canofer-S it sounded the best I've ever heard it from John Bohnam's bone-crushing drums on the slide-guitar driven "Misty Mountain Hop", the acoustic and electric guitar/snareless drum-set/synthesizer overdubbed madness of "Four Sticks", the Anglo-folk mandolin and twelve-string guitar "Going To California", and especially guitarist/producer Jimmy Paige's mondo "bottom of the staircase and up the hallway" drum-intro extravaganza "When The Levee Breaks", which annihilated any stray inert air molecules in the listening room. No, this isn't an audiophile product in the way one usually associates the term because of its recording studio trickery, and although intentional, the sound quality changes from song to song and sometimes even within the same song. John Paul Jones' Fender Jazz bass sounds rather indistinct and Robert Plant's vocals sound (at best) like they've been re-equalized and otherwise processed, but damn, does this album rock through the Canofer-S. This is in large part due to this phono preamp's transparency to the nth power, combined with a devastating delivery of all that is rock 'n' roll by way of this album, transferred to the rest of the system with its three dimensional mad-made soundstage intact. One of the joys as an audiophile is being able to listen to recordings I've heard since my childhood rendered with not only newly discovered details, but such a lifelike sound. I'm rarely bored.

The infinite range of settings that were possible via the Canofer-S's front panel controls was both a curse and a blessing, as you can imagine when such options are offered to the  potentially obsessive personality of an audiophile. For instance, at times the Canofer-S displayed a paradoxical anomaly of having a very typically solid-state ultra-detailed slightly dry sound, and at the same time had an oh, so slightly tipped up mid-bass. This was not evident on every recording I played, so it would be wrong to condemn this phono preamp with such a description, although its character definitely leaned toward the solid-state. I did spend some time futzing with the resistance control more than anything else, and it would would sometimes change the sound rather than improve it, since it was pretty tough making the Canofer-S sound anything other than first-rate. But sometimes after making some adjustments I'd throw on a different recording and find that I preferred it with a setting that I didn't settle on previously. Later I'd come back to that recording, and find that another setting that I'd never tried before, perhaps in conjunction with a slight decrease or increase in the gain, and that would be the ticket to getting sound more to my liking.

Please believe me, I'd rather enjoy the music (sorry) than mess with settings all day. In most cases I'd eventually find a setting I could live with. But since I don't make adjustments for VTA for different record thicknesses (although I have nothing against folks who do), I rarely make make adjustments for to the a phono preamp's controls too often once I've found a setting that I'm happy with. So after the initial period where I would obsess over the settings, I settled down and just reveled in the natural timbre elicited by just about every orchestral and jazz recording by ensembles large and small. And if the sounds were man-made (that is synthesized, EQ'd, or otherwise created in the recording studio) they sounded as if I was coming as close as I ever had to what the recording engineer, producer, mastering engineer, and especially the musicians intended me to hear. The detail that was retrieved by this phono stage was stupendous. I'd also be remiss not to mention the Canofer-S's fine rendering of vocals, both male and female.

 

Resulting
Even though the resulting sound of a component is really what should matter most, as things may raise an eyebrow or two. Most, if not all phono preamplifiers that I've seen in this price category have had more than one input and when I first read about the Canofer-S I assumed that the variable controls on the front panel were to calibrate the unit for different tonearm/cartridge combinations that might be located in one's system. But Rossner & Sohn claims they have not been satisfied with any switches that were available that were good enough for them to use as an input selector. This problem solved, they are now currently designing a new phono preamplifier that will have more than one input and as of this writing are in the prototype stage of development. Secondly, the majority of components in the price range of the Canofer-S have at least a balanced XLR output plus perhaps a balanced input. The tonearm I used has an unbalanced RCA cable, so that didn't bother me, but I would have liked at least a balanced output on the phono preamp to connect an XLR cable to the BAT preamp. Lastly, a mono switch would have been nice, not to mention a remote control. Although I'd rather not assume anything, I have a pretty good idea that Rossner & Sohn would proclaim that adding these features would lessen the fidelity of the unit, and I would agree that the loss of these two controls are worth sacrificing them for sound quality, plus, the price of the unit would undoubtedly be higher. These complaints aside (and they really wouldn't be complaints if this phono preamplifier didn't cost so darn much) I honestly think that the Canofer-S is a phono preamplifier that every vinyl loving audiophile should make a point to audition. If one can afford it, they should consider giving it a permanent place on their equipment rack.

 

 

Specifications
Type: Solid-state phonostage
Frequency Response: 0 Hz - 40 kHz
Input Sensitivity: Moving Magnet -40 dB, Moving Coil -60 dB 
Input Impedance (MM) 50k/90 pF
Maximum Input Voltage: 110 mV 
RIAA Accuracy: greater than +- 0.15 dB
Signal To Noise Ratio: 88 dB relating to 0.775 V
Enclosure Material: Aluminum
Dimensions: 17 x 4 x 10.5 (WxHxD in inches)
Price $7300

 

Company Information
Hans Rossner & Sohn GmbH
Ulmer Str. 11
D-87700 Memmingen

Phone: +49 (0)8331 / 88877
Fax: +49 (0)8331 / 48589
E-Mail: info@rossner-und-sohn.de
Internet: www.rossner-und-sohn.de

 

North American Distributor
Laurenity Marketing
7321 Victoria Park Avenue, Unit 15 
Markham 
Ontario L3R 2Z8 
Canada 

Voice: (416) 847-5011
E-mail: info@laurenity.com
Website: www.laurenity.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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