by Darryl Lindberg
It wasn’t that long ago that my dedication to vinyl was considered an eccentricity. I was a Luddite outcast who couldn’t see the (laser) light, someone from whom you wanted to protect your children (“Poor man, avert your eyes!”), a dangling tassel on the lunatic fringe. But I soldiered on. The fact is I didn’t have much choice, since I was so heavily invested in the black plastic biscuits that it didn’t make much sense — certainly not sonic sense — to reformat, so to speak. Thankfully, times have really changed. Vinyl, if not absolutely “mainstream” has at least reestablished itself as an important tributary to the churning audio format waters.
Of course, the reason that the vinyl renaissance is still in full blossom is that the state of the art of phono reproduction has continually advanced. In addition to the expanding availability of LPs, designers and manufacturers are producing better and better gear at all price points. From turntables to arms to cartridges to phono amplification to useful — and dubious — tweaks and accessories, there’s pretty much something for everyone no matter how little (within reason) or how much (reason does not apply) you want to spend. And, in most cases, you’re not just limited to a couple of choices. If you’re on a budget — and who isn’t? — there’s a lot of excellent analog gear available, so you can achieve a generous dollop of analog magic without mortgaging your possessions or, more importantly, straining (or further straining) the relationship with your significant other.
That brings me to the primary topic under consideration here: the Lehmann Audio Black Cube SE phono preamp. It’s a compact, two piece (preamp and power supply) solid state unit that lists for $929. More specifically, to quote from Lehmann Audio’s website, the Black Cube features an “entirely passive RIAA equalization network is realized with high precision MKP capacitors. All resistors are of the low noise metal film variety. The switches for gain and load settings have gold plated connectors. The low noise regulated external power supply is connected with Neutrik XLR connectors to the dedicated DC power supply.” And what makes a Black Cube a Black Cube SE? I’m glad you asked, because the answer is an upgraded power supply, the PMX, which features “a special 30 VA toroidal transformer”.
Despite its diminutive dimensions, the Black Cube SE is provides a good deal of flexibility in terms of gain (up to 66 dB) and cartridge loading; there’s even a low bass “Soft Roll-off Filter” that you can switch in if you feel the urge. In addition to the external dip-switch settable choices for cartridge loading (47k Ohms, 1k Ohms, and 100 Ohms), there’s a provision for custom loads via the internal spaces for resistor mounting. The bottom line is that the Cube will accommodate any moving magnet (high output) and all but the lowest output moving coils (i.e., < 250 µV)—without putting too big a dent in your own bottom line. Continue reading