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December 2011
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Dignity Audio's Entry Level PML1 And The Flagship PML2XLR
Two new passive magnetic preamplifiers to rock your world!

Review By Anthony Nicosia


Dignity Audio PML1 And PML2XLR  Dignity Audio is an audio firm based out of Hong Kong which was first known for making high quality output transformers for others. Now they are make quality amplifiers, preamplifiers and even loudspeakers under their name for their own distribution. My first experience with the company came by way of a visit to their US Distributor Monarchy Audio, located not far from me in South San Francisco, California. A few years ago while visiting with C.C. Poon, Monarchy Audio's founder, I first heard a pair of Dignity Audio’s DA-08SE integrated mono amplifiers and was quickly smitten with their beautiful natural sound. With a gain control for volume adjustment this 300B/6SN7 based tubed unit could be used as a mono block integrated amplifier or a mono block power amplifier and connected directly to a separate preamplifier of your own choosing. They so impressed me that a purchase of four quickly ensued and were brought home to drive my Legacy Focus 20/20 loudspeakers in a bi-amplified fashion. This first impression of Dignity Audio stuck with me for years and when C.C. Poon offered to allow me to review not one, but two of their preamplifiers. Naturally I quickly hurried over to pick them up! Today we will visit these two new passive magnetic preamplifiers, the entry PML1 priced at $1260 and the flagship model PML2XLR selling for $2560. Being that Mr. Poon suggested his own Monarchy Audio SM-70 Pro amplifiers run as mono blocks to be a good match for them that was how the review started. Since my pair of SM-70 Pro amplifiers had been sitting on the sideline lately with my tube amplifiers getting most of the attention this was a wonderful excuse for me to put them back into action. Later a more power Threshold amplifier was substituted in as was my McIntosh MC275 with the results also noted.


Dignity Audio Passive Magnetic Line-amp PML1
The concept of using a passive device as a preamplifier is to obtain a neutral sound while imparting very little interference from the unit itself. Passive units connect the music source to the amplifier with minimal functions in-between so as not to interfere with the music. This puts as little as possible between you and the performance making for a cleaner, clearer sounding playback. Now a magnetic passive preamplifier is passive with the use of multi-tapped attenuation transformers instead of a resistive volume control device. The use of these transformers is to aide in the preamplifiers ability to drive longer cables, a passive preamplifiers traditional weakness.

Dignity Audio was not the first to make a magnetic passive preamplifier and it is a route other manufacturers have also recently taken. Two such units that come to mind almost immediately are the Classic preamplifier from Music First Audio and the Silverstone Series preamplifier from Stereo Night. Dignity Audio's own PML1 is a passive unit enhanced with about 9dB of gain. Being passive it naturally lacks a power supply and on/off switch, hence needing no direct contact with an electrical outlet via a power cord. Music just passes straight through from one device to another and in my particular case was used to connect the CD player to an amplifier. On the black front faceplate are input and volume knobs as well as a reverse/normal input phase switch which I found to be a nice touch in this price range. The volume control knob is of the standard variety and different than that found on their flagship PML2XLR, as we shall later see. Looking underneath at the bottom are four very small feet that only slightly raise the unit off the shelf while around back you will find four RCA inputs and two RCA outputs. The unit is simply in appearance, but quite functional.


Listening with the PML1
It has been awhile since there was a Michael Jackson night at my house and whenever this happens my wife seems to love me just a little bit more. Since a happy wife makes for a happy husband this seemed like a great place to start. Right from the moment when "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" started playing, from the Off The Wall Special Edition CD [Epic EK 606070], it was readily apparent this would be a fun review. The energy and magic for which Michael Jackson is known was certainly not lost on the PML1 as it sounded wonderful even when played at a low late night do not wake the others volume setting. Turning the knob from the one to the three positions (the volume knob goes all the way to twenty) was quite satisfying as it filled my room with beautiful sweet music lending extra impact and a more dynamic presentation to each performance. Aside from being an excellent dancer and showman Michael Jackson has such perfect pitch that his songs always continue to mesmerize me with the tonal quality of his voice. “She's Out of My Life" is a song which clearly displayed that vocal talent with the PML1 revealing the appropriate inflections of his voice making for a satisfying and very moving musical event. The opening sequence on "Black and White" from the Dangerous Special Edition CD [Epic EK 66071] is something to experience if only for the banter between a young boy and his father at the songs intro. The PML1 placed the boy's voice within his own room along with the listener (us) as his father is heard appropriately on the doors other side and into the hallway while telling him to turn off the music. The boy then defiantly plays a Michael Jackson song at an elevated volume, all as it then breaks into the song "Black and White”. You have got to love the way he introduces this song within a song drawing the listener into his music on a very personal level.

The PML1 never missed a beat involving me with performance after performance as it got out of the way to let my CD player and amplifier do their respective jobs. Now it was time to play a particular favorite of mine, the Ola Gjeilo Piano SACD [2L48]. This was recorded at the Sofienberg church in Oslo, Norway thanks to the efforts of Lindberg Lyd at 2L who has brought great music to the attention of so many. If you have a chance check out their website (www.2L.no) and be prepared for a musical treat. Here with one of my favorites, "Snow in New York", the PML1 allowed us to feel the sensation of a piano being played within a church setting revealing just the right amount of reverberation and physical size one would expect from a high quality preamplifier. It is always difficult to do a piano justice but the PML1 did well in this regard. There was a nice sense of not only width but depth to this performance leaving me with the feeling of having heard an accurate presentation of this rather large instrument being reproduced within my home environment. Daivd Coucheron's accompanying violin on "Sidewalks" was equally moving as details of his bow moving across the instruments strings had an overall sense of liveliness about it. Here piano and violin combined for a moving performance that was captured very precisely by the PLM1. Individual instruments each retained their own distinct space within the soundscape and a good sense of depth with respect to individual instruments ensued.

Of further note, on "Serenity” the truth of timbre with Tom Barber's flugelhorn was simply beautiful. Of course at this price point compromises must be made and it was with The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Silent Night CD [CBS Masterworks MK 37206] that some of those were revealed. Here on "Carol of the Bells" the choir was not as "expansive" as that when played back through my own Aesthetix Calypso all-tube active linestage. While the sensation of depth with regard to row upon row of choir singers was good, again it did not match my reference player’s abilities in this department. Please understand the Calypso is a linestage knocking on the door of the five-thousand dollar mark and is connected to a power conditioner and power cord which together retail for close to an additional one-thousand dollars. That same power conditioner is run into a wall outlet with yet another power cord, this one priced at around one-hundred dollars. It would appear that the PML1 would be right at home in an entry level, or slightly beyond, high-end audio system. For audiophiles like my friends whose senses have been spoiled listening to audio gear that delivers more, they might not be fully satisfied. It is the search for that extra breath of life, a wider deeper soundscape and a bit more presence that costs us audiophiles so dearly, and so our quest continues. For those who demand more Dignity Audio now gives us the PML2XLR, made with the necessary upgrades that boost the level of performance from very good to much better.

The PML1 surprised me with the natural presence music seemed to take on when played back through it. Its ability to put the joy back into music extended beyond what one might expect at this price point. While it is true there are a good deal of both passive and active preamplifiers out there both priced lower and higher than the PML1 I have not heard one that would embarrass this fine product from Dignity Audio. There were many times during this review where my mind would wander to a place where the music took me, as was the intention of the performers. It was nice to place one musical selection after another on my CD player and to then sit back to just enjoy experiencing the music. Ever since both preamplifiers arrived, checking out their flagship model the PML2XLR has been in the back of my mind and now seemed the perfect moment to insert it into my review system.


Dignity Audio Passive Magnetic Line-amp PML2XLR
Like the PML1 the PML2XLR is a passive design, but here it utilizes about 12dB of gain rather than 9dB. The black front faceplate is very similar to the PML1, as both lacked even the model number to be displayed (that is saved for mentioning on the rear of either unit). Unlike the PML1 with a standard type volume knob the PML2XLR has a very precise step volume selector. On its front faceplate there is an input knob and reverse/normal input phase switch, same as found on the PML1. Turning it upside down you will see four tiny feet that once again barely raise it off the shelf. Around to the back of the unit there are three RCA outputs (not four like on the PML1) and two RCA inputs. Now though is where it gets a little tricky. It comes with only one XLR input and one XLR output (the PML1 lacked any XLR connections at all), therefore to use it with XLR connectors in stereo mode one must buy a second unit. For this review I was provided only one PLM2XLR and so did not test it using my XLR cables. Quite frankly most all of us really have no need for an XLR cable and this should therefore be a non-issue, if you do though be prepared to spend twice the money in order to purchase two units. The flagship model uses Gold contact ELMA step volumes and selectors as well as two transformers with 22 tapping on the output side for attenuation control, all of which naturally drives the cost up over that of the PML1. The question of course is will this extra expense lead to an increase in perceived sonic qualities? After a quick and simple substitution of one preamplifier for another it was time to sit down, relax and enjoy the music. My oh my what a tough job I have.


Enter the flagship model PML2XLR
In my effort to uncover differences between the two Dignity Audio preamplifiers the previously mentioned; Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Silent Night CD (CBS Masterworks MK 37206) was revisited, but this time heard through the PML2XLR. The contrast between the two units was anything but subtle. While the PML1 was a very good preamplifier the PML2XLR proved to be even better. Here listening once more to "Carol of the Bells" the depth of soundscape opened up to reveal a more realistic presentation with respect to the choral arrangement. While soundscape width with the PML1 was good, it excelled with the PML2XLR as vocals spread out better filling the space within the boundaries of my room. Individual choir members were more easily located in relation not only to left to right placement but with regard to soundstage height as well. The voices of the choir tended to rise above the loudspeakers whereas before they were more limited to their actual height. That glare you get when listening through less capable gear was now almost non-existent as music sounded a bit more analog. The sound of the xylophone in "Carol of the Drum (Little Drummer Boy) was not only truer to the original instrument but the decay of notes lasted just a tad longer providing for a greater overall feeling with regard to the musical effect. Now who could listen to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble The Real Deal Greatest HitsVolume2 CD [Epic/Legacy 88697 22629 2] without playing "Love Struck Baby", well certainly not moi. If you think passive preamplifiers have no energy, than try this combination of Dignity Audio preamplifier and Monarchy Audio SM-70 Pro amplifiers. The PML2XLR set free the sound from my CD player to go straight through to my amplifiers seemingly unhindered and at full speed ahead. Slowing things down a bit with "Riviera Paradise" all the subtle nuances of his guitar chords were heard in great detail and with the proper inflections doing justice to the performance. As for PRAT (Pace, Rhythm and Timing), all was abundantly clear as this little preamplifier was quite adept at delivering true audiophile sound. All band members playing together were equally distinct and heard playing at the same tempo making for a very full and cohesive sound.

It always gives me great pleasure listening to R.E.M with its lead singer John Michael Stipe. Sadly of course and after all these year R.E.M. has just recently split up but as long as we own their CD's they will be with us forever. With "Everybody Hurts" from the Diana Princess of Wales Tribute CD's [Sony C2K 69012] disc one, John Stipe is heard singing in the foreground slightly to the right of center stage with the band placed behind and to the left of him. PRAT was once again on target as the songs slower tempo sounded neither too slow nor too fast but rather spot on. The PML2XLR allowed for a natural flow with music without sounding artificial or forced. On disc two we are treated to one of the truly great divas Diana Ross, formerly of Diana Ross and the Supremes. For those old enough to remember she was then and is still now a real show stopper. You could hear inflections in that still magnificent voice as she belts out verse after verse of "Missing You" with all the clarity you would expect from a Diana Ross performance. This song was a 1984 hit on the R & B singles chart, written by Lionel Richie about their mutual friend Marvin Gaye who had sadly died a year earlier. The PML2XLR captured the true emotional content of this song concerning her friendship and admiration of this great R & B vocalist. Turning now to Puff Daddy's I'll be Missing You", the arrangement of background singers and the band was not lost with this preamplifier as it lay out every aspect of the song in great detail within a well-defined soundscape. Finally on "Gone To Soon", featuring the vocal talent of Michael Jackson, there was an added extra bit of air about the singer’s voice of the type one would hope to hear with quality preamplifiers in this price range.

Since midrange magic, an airy feeling in the higher octaves, soundscape presence and PRAT all played out well with the PML2XLR it was now time to check out its bass presentation. For this test out came the Monarchy amplifiers and in stepped my Threshold 800A with its 200-watts of Class A power. Smooth and powerful is how I would describe this ninety plus pound beauty designed back when Nelson Pass was still with Threshold Corporation up in Sacramento California. I must admit to loving this amplifier and was glad that the PML2XLR allowed me to hear it in all its original glory. Using both amplifier and preamplifier together there was an added sense of power and authority to music that felt quite natural. Like with the Monarchy amplifiers the PML2XLR gave a great sense of placement with regard to individual performers within a well-defined three dimensional musical soundscape. To this positive attribute we could now add a greater degree of bass depth to the mix that was both well balanced and full sounding. With the addition of the Threshold there was also a noticeable smoothing out of some upper octave edge. The trade-off though was a slight loss of the smaller Monarchy amplifiers clarity, but life is usually full of some compromises. This Dignity Audio preamplifier fleshed out the lower bass frequencies found on Carlos Santana's Supernatural CD [Arista 07622 19080-2]. Playing behind a full arrangement of assorted musicians to accompany him Carlos Santana led the way with his magical style of play. "Maria, Marie" with The Product G & B went deep into mid-bass territory to dispel the notion that passive preamplifiers are bass shy. What one need do with this preamplifier is to carefully match system components as it imparts little of its own sonic signature and you are left with what you have being fully revealed. Source in source out, that is how the PML2XLR plays it, shooting straight from the hip holding back very little. Give this little gem from Dignity Audio all the best components you can find and likely you will be very happy.

Substituting my solid-state amplifiers for a McIntosh MC275 (vintage 1960's model) amplifier is an upgrade worth considering. My tube amplifier was a pleasure to hear with either of these two passive magnetic preamplifiers from Dignity Audio as music shown through both clear and quiet. Changes in tubes was readily noticeable and the difference between a quad set of McIntosh KT88 tubes, taken from their newer model, and a set of older Genelex KT88’s was more apparent than with other active preamplifiers I have used, making tube substitution as fun and exciting as it should be. The quietness of these preamplifiers made for a nice compliment to my tube amplifier as music emerged from a silent background to the delight of all who listened. So either way you choose to go, tube or solid-state, these pair of Dignity Audio preamplifiers will reward you with beautiful music as good as what you feed it.


Final Thoughts and Comparisons
While my newly purchased active preamplifier has been a happy addition to my home system a lot can be said about these two passive units from Dignity Audio. The lack of a power source, no direct contact with the power grid, an absence of a power cord and 12dB or 9dB of gain (depending on the model) made them a pleasure to have around. The more basic PML1 preamplifier gave me most of what I wanted without breaking the bank and at $1245 seemed like a bargain. It was not until being introduced to their flagship model PML2XLR that the desire for more overcame me. The change in musical presentation between these two preamplifiers was for me worth doubling the price to $2490 and so my preference leaned towards the PML2XLR. For many systems the PML1 will satisfy your needs but if you want that extra bit of magic make no mistake the PML2XLR will deliver the goods. It was a sad day for me when these two units had to be returned following the end of this review but the memory of their presence will linger with me long after they have gone. Bravo Dignity Audio!


The Listening Environment
The review room is eighteen feet eight inches long by thirteen feet wide with loudspeakers and equipment kept on the short wall. The cathedral ceiling starts at eight feet from the short wall slopping upwards to reach a height of thirteen feet in the middle than returning to eight feet at the opposite end. The hardwood floor is partially covered by a nine by six foot oriental rug lying down the long ways facing toward the loudspeakers, placed dead center between but not under the listener or the audio system. The room has no doors but there are two openings. One opening is in front of the right loudspeaker giving access to the hallway while the other is behind the listener’s position opening to a formal dining area. There are three floor standing acoustical panels one in each corner behind the loudspeakers and another in front of the fireplace with numerous AuralexStudiofoam panels placed around the room. All the audio equipment is located in a Synergy Twin S30 Salamander audio rack placed about a foot away from and in the middle of the short wall opposite the listening position. Power conditioners are all located on the hardwood floor behind and to the left of the audio rack with the exception of the Audience Ar2p-T0 which is plugged directly into the socket behind the rack.


Review Equipment
Von Schweikert VR-35 Export Deluxe Loudspeakers
Monarchy Audio SM-70 Pro Amplifiers (two used in mono block configuration)
Threshold 800A Amplifier
McIntosh MC275 Original 1960’s Tube Amplifier
OPPO Digital BDP-95 Universal player
PS Audio UPC 200 Power Conditioner
PS Audio Power Port Receptacle
Blue Circle Audio Mk III Power Line Conditioners (2)
Loudspeaker Cables: Cardas Golden Presence (2 pairs for bi-wiring)
Interconnects: All Cardas Musician RCA Cables from CD player to Preamplifier and Preamplifier to Amplifier
Power Cords: Cardas Cross (1)
                       Cardas Golden (2)
                       Mr. Cable “The Musician
Cherry Synergy Twin S30 Salamander audio rack



Dignity Audio Passive Magnetic Line-amp PML2XLR
Inputs: 3 RCA stereo pairs,1 mono XLR.
Input Phase: Normal / Reverse switchable.
Outputs: 2 RCA stereo pairs, 1 mono XLR.
Output Control: 22 steps.
Attenuation Level: -45db to +12db.
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz
Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.000%
Impedance: 1610 Ohm (Input) 1860 Ohm (Output) at 0db (1.000v).
DC Resistance: 30.8 ohm (Input) 480 ohms (Output).
Max. Output: 12.04 dB (4.001v) at 0db (1.000v) input.
Output Regulation: -0.19db at 10K loading.
-0.11db at 15K loading.
-0.07db at 25K loading.
-0.05db at 35K loading.
-0.04db at 47K loading. 
-0.02db at 100K loading.
Dimension: 230mm (W) x 80mm (H) x 220mm (D).
Weight: 6.75 lbs>
Price: PML2XLR $2560

Dignity Audio Passive Magnetic Line-amp PML1
According to the factory the specifications are basically the same as PML2XLR except there are no balanced XLR inputs or outputs and it has 9dB instead of 12dB of gain.
Inputs jacks: 4 RCA stereo pairs (not 3 like with the PML2XLR)
Input phase: Normal / Reverse switchable.
Output: 2 RCA stereo pairs
Dimension: 230mm (W) x 80mm (H) x 220mm (D).
Weight: 6.75 lbs.
Price: Dignity Audio PML-1 $1260


Company Information
Dignity Audio (H.K) LTD.
Address : Unit B, 7/F, Mai Luenlnd
Bldg., 23-31 Kung Yip Chung, NT
Hong Kong

E-Mail: contact@dignityaudio.com
Website: www.dignityaudio.com


United States Distributor
Monarchy Audio
380 Swift Ave., #21
South San Francisco, CA 94080

Voice: (650) 873-3055
E-mail: monarchy@earthlink.net













































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