On the surface, the news sounds shocking: Zesto Audio has built its first component without a tube. But rest easy. President and designer George Counnas hasn’t forsaken his strategy of mixing 1930s valve concepts with modern technology. He’s merely augmenting another of his products — the kind with the glowing filaments.
Counnas and his wife, Carolyn, chose the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest as the location to debut their new step-up transformer, called the Allasso ($2,995 – all prices in USD). While many such devices are intended to be used with a specific cartridge, the Allasso offers 40 adjustments in mono and another 40 for a stereo MC cartridge.
“I wanted to design a step-up transformer that is very flexible, easy to use and which can work on any standard phono preamplifier with a 47K MM input,” George Counnas said. “I made the Allasso with enough adjustments to tailor it specifically to your cartridge or your next one, and the one after that.”
Counnas said he selected an extra-quiet transformer, and added heavy-duty shielding. The Allasso has four gain settings of 17dB, 21dB, 23dB and 26dB. The step-up ratios are 1:4, 1:6, 1:8 and 1:12, with 10 load positions for each setting.
The designer said he started working on the project while he was finishing the recently introduced Andros Tessera phono stage ($12,000). The Tessera, which has four gold-pin JJ ECC83S/12AX7 tubes and two gold-pin JJ ECC82/12AU7 tubes, can handle outputs from four separate tonearms. The Allasso is a matching accessory some Tessera owners may need.
While some step-up transformers visually bring to mind a kit project that got squeezed too hard in a vise, Carolyn Counnas carefully sculpted the Allasso’s exterior to match Zesto’s existing components.
“If someone is paying $3,000 for a transformer, it should look good,” she told me.
At RMAF, George and Carolyn had the Allasso sitting near other Zesto gear, such as the Leto 1.5 preamp ($7,500), Eros 300 monoblocks ($19,900/pair) and the Andros Tessera. It indeed blended right in.
Other equipment included a pair of Marten Django L loudspeakers ($9,000) and a Merrill-Williams Audio REAL 101.2 turntable ($7,200), outfitted with two Tri-Planar U2 tonearms ($7,200 each). Cartridges were a Benz Micro Gullwing SLR MC ($3,600) and an Ortofon Cadenza Mono MC ($1,280). Cable and power cords were from Fono Acoustica’s Armonico line, working with the company’s Sinfo power distribution unit.
My RMAF audition began with a few cuts from tenor sax man Jimmy Forrest’s Out of the Forrest LP. The loping groove on the lead track, “Bolo Blues,” was infectious, as was the expressive playing of the leader. Forrest’s instrument had just the right combination of bite and sheen, while Joe Zawinul’s piano conveyed the strength and inventiveness of the sideman’s playing.
Next was “Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan. The Zesto rig did a good job with the prominent bass line, even though the Marten Django L was at the other end of the ladder from the $80,000 (USD) Marten Coltrane Tenor speakers the tube company used at AXPONA last spring. Donald Fagen’s vocals also were well rendered. You could tell that engineer Roger Nichols preferred to sink Fagen down into the mix and use a lot of echo.
The final song was Henry Mancini’s theme to the Pink Panther movie, which I also heard in Chicago. Here, it still sounded wonderful, with Larry Bunker’s vibes ringing out clearly on the song’s memorable hook.
Zesto’s Allasso adds another attractive product as the company intensifies its appeal to serious vinyl junkies. Whether your home system has four tonearms or merely one, Zesto’s gear warrants an audition.