Bill Leebens, my good friend (who now also happens to be PS Audio‘s director of marketing), grabbed Darko and me by the collar and dragged us up the elevator to the spacious PS Audio demo room. I think it was 930, Friday morning. Something like that. It was early, is the point. I had coffee in-hand (praise the Powers), but what I remember most about that moment was that I was bouncing. This was RMAF. My sixth. And it was time to go to work. I was bouncing. I love this stuff! I also have issues.
The first thing to hit me, entering the large and airy room, was how very bright it was. And not the screeching heat of an unwarranted and unpleasant and all-too-soon resurrection, post some (probably typical for me at an audio show, or so my colleagues Mal Kenney and Brian Hunter seem to think) late-evening-into-an-early-morning debauchery, but no — rather, it was the warm, cleansing embrace of a friend. The more photos I take (and retouch), the more I’ve really come to appreciate the way light can lay across a room. And how appallingly bad hotel-room lighting usually is. A well-lit room is a gift. And a sunlit room — that isn’t just backlit — is a treasure. And yes, this was my first thought walking into the room. Like I said. I have issues.
Panning left loomed monoliths, dropped straight out of 2001 A Space Odyssey. Okay, maybe it was YG instead of the hand of the Maker, but “imposing” is a good word. These were the Sonja 1.3 ($107k/pair), and pulled way into the room, with the massive (and flatty-flatterstein) cables from MG Audio Design snaking around behind and through. PS Audio’s top-shelf BHK 300 monoblocks ($15k/pair) were sneaking up on the speakers; Power Plant P10’s ($5k each) flanked them.
On a white credenza (which, along with the bar stools, were made by Rob McGowan at Fin Art Co) in the middle of the big silver-and-black boxes, sat a trio, also from PS Audio, including a PerfectWave Memory Player Transport ($4k) and a PerfectWave DirectStream DSD DAC ($6k). That DAC has certainly made the rounds and I’m a fan — but talking with designer Ted Smith, it occurs to me that the real product there isn’t the chassis: it’s the code. What you buy is a platform; what PS Audio delivers every so often is a wholly new-and-improved product that just happens to sit on/within it. To wit — the jump to Pikes Peak firmware was revelatory. Same hardware. New firmware? Whole new product. I’m told that the latest firmware, Yale, (which was released after my review, sadly) does another “forklift-style upgrade” by tackling jitter — with another big jump in sonic quality as a result. The next firmware, whenever that is released, will target harmonics … and will likely provide yet another bump. And yes, all of those upgrades are free. That’s a whole bucket of awesomesauce, right there.
But the real news was what sat up on top of that stack … the upcoming BHK Signature preamplifer. That was unexpected! Not too long back, I think many of us might remember hearing that a pre wasn’t necessary … that the DirectStream could do all attenuation stuff in the digital domain … yet here we were. A fully analog preamplifier. You die-hard analog guys? You’re welcome. As one of those people, I’m completely gratified. We should be seeing that in the first half of next year, by the way. Pricing and features are still TBD, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t in the $5,000-$6,000 neighborhood. Here’s the details as they stand:
Designed by Bascom King (as were the BHK Signature 250 and 300 amplifiers introduced earlier this year) the BHK Signature Preamplifier is the culmination of a lifetime of research and design work on the art of analog preamplification.
Bascom’s longtime collaborator Arnie Nudell was actively involved in the voicing of the preamp, just as he was with the BHK amps. Arnie was present in the PS room during RMAF.
The preamplifier is a full function line stage, featuring five single ended and balanced inputs, a discrete Class-A MOSFET headphone amplifier, all classic through-hole construction, PRP resistors, assignable home theater bypass, and a fully balanced design. Based on a pair of zero feedback 12AU7 current sourced vacuum tubes feeding a class A MOSFET output stage, the BHK Preamplifier enjoys extreme linearity with a rich and open sound.
Unique to the preamp’s design is its multi-stage stepped attenuator. High voltage analog switches and gold contact relays are incorporated in a two-stage process of linear attenuation. The first stage uses a classic, single element, variable shunt attenuator feeding the vacuum tube input.
Finer adjustments are made through varying the actual gain of the vacuum tube and together, form a sonically-invisible attenuator.