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AXPONA 2016: The Mola Mola Makua – digital control over an analog realm

Makua-2

All the loading, and industry-standard equalization curves at your fingertips.

axponaThis is less of a room review, and more a small write-up on an interesting piece of hardware/software I sort of stumbled across at AXPONA in Chicago: The Mola Mola Makua pre-amp with phono stage (starting at $10,450 USD approx., depending on configuration).  As far as I can tell, Mola Mola is a small operation located in the Netherlands, that produces less than a handful of high-end audio products which are designed by Bruno Putzeys. The Makua features five balanced (XLR), and unbalanced (RCA) inputs that can be routed via a software controller which you can manage from a tablet PC, a smartphone, iPad, etc. Each input could be assigned to a separate turntable (Insanity, right? Who’s got six turntables? Or… who wants six turntables?), and I personally haven’t seen anything available along these lines, (I guess a Devialet Expert’s phono stage would be the closest, but that unit also converts all incoming analog signals to high-res digital, not so with the Makua).
From Mola Mola’s website:
MC/MM input stages are optimized for current noise and voltage noise respectively. Unlike the more common arrangement of an MC head amp feeding into the MM stage, the two stages are fully independent, realising an equally short signal path for both. Input gain is switchable in 5dB steps over a 40dB range. Input resistance and capacitance are individually switchable. Available EQ settings cover practically all known cutting curves ever used, including most for 78 RPM.
All settings are software controllable, either on the fly using a PC or tablet computer or directly stored under the preset buttons. And since the preamp can route any input through the phono stage, only one is needed even if you have multiple turntables and elements connected.
The basic Makua is an extremely transparent gain stage and a programmable routing matrix. The 6 preset buttons on the unit’s faceplate are programmable via USB or Bluetooth to access any combination of channel, processing and routing. In a system with mainly digital sources, the preset buttons would be programmed to select between them. Vinyl lovers on the other hand might want to use several buttons to select the same turntable but with different EQ settings to suit their large collection of historic LP’s. All five inputs are switchable between XLR and floating RCA connections, and all can be assigned as either phono or line.
All stages in the Makua use discrete amplifier modules in a little known topology called “single-ended driven differential.” Compared to doubly executed signal paths, this structure prevents noise from propagating all the way through. The Makua is amazingly immune to influences like mains quality and choice of interlinks. The relay-based volume control directly controls the gain of the output stage. Dynamic range and linearity of this arrangement is much greater than those of stepped attenuators. Operation is smooth and entirely glitch free.
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Inputs and outputs:
Five balanced and five unbalanced inputs, all routable through optional processor boards like the phono stage.
Two parallel outputs for bi-amping.
Four programmable trigger outputs.
Processing:
Balance and input gain offset.
Phase invert and mono sum.
Optional tone control.
Full software control of routing and processing.
Performance:
Maximum input/output level: 20 dBu (7.75 Vrms)
Unweighted noise voltage at unity gain: 1.9 uV
Input impedance: 100 ohm
Output impedance: 44 ohm
Distortion at maximum signal level (THD, IMD): not measurable, estimated around -150dB.
Bandwidth >200 kHz
Gain range: -70 dB to +15 dB.
Dimensions and Weight:
420mm(W) x 110mm (H) x 345mm (D). Depth includes volume knob and connectors.
11kg
Makua-3

No lightweight at 11 KG, and the possibility of six turntable inputs is pretty sweet.

I could only listen for about 10 minutes, but I liked what I heard quite a bit. A clean, clear, precise top end that was utterly grainless, with true tone midrange on horns and piano, nice extended bass, and an incredibly low noise floor, in fact I was kind of stunned at how quiet the unit was between LP tracks, and while some of that was definitely courtesy of the Air Tight PC-1 Supreme LOMC cartridge’s variation on a line-contact stylus ($10,995 USD – review HERE), it’s the pre-amp, and phono stage’s job to get those infinitesimally puny electronic signals ramped-up to line level with as little fanfare as possible. And the PC-1 has certain requirements, it’s one Ohm internal impedance, and .4 mV output require some finesse from a phono stage, and luckliy the Makua seems to have the chops to deal with the PC-1s needs, and then some. I’ve used a number of excellent phono stages that offer a galaxy of loading options, but the only problem was always having to get up off my lazy ass to make the adjustments (Gah… I just sat down!)… with the Makua, that problem seems to be solved. Sign me up for a review model please.

Makua-1

“It’s gold Jerry… GOLD!”

About Rafe Arnott (292 Articles)
Editor and Creative Director for Part-Time Audiophile & The Occasional Magazine by Part-Time Audiophile

2 Comments on AXPONA 2016: The Mola Mola Makua – digital control over an analog realm

  1. Alan Nordoc // May 20, 2016 at 1:18 PM //

    An 11K cartridge and you’re commenting on how quiet the phono stage is? Really? Doesn’t it have to be fed noise to reproduce it?

    • Rafe Arnott // May 21, 2016 at 2:46 PM //

      It wouldn’t matter if it was a $25,000 USD cartridge if the phono stage isn’t designed, and implemented properly you cannot hear what the cart is capable of.
      I’m familiar with the PC-1, so listening to what the Makua was doing with it was impressive.
      A crap gain-stage design is going to produce noise, grain, distortion, hiss, hum, and numerous other sonic artifacts.
      The many variations of phono-stage circuit design (JFET inputs, inter-stage coupling, zero-feedback or single-ended topology are just a few examples) all play a critical role in determining how it is “fed noise.”
      The signal from the cartridge gets amplified by several orders of magnitude before being passed along to the line stage.
      To be able to achieve an incredibly-low noise floor, remain true to tone, handle big dynamic swings, and portray micro-detail accurately to the recording, is what separates poor phono-stage designs from good, or great ones.

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