The Lab12 Melto2 phono preamplifier reminded me of how I sometimes get really excited about trying new outboard phono stages—and this is from a guy whose first article about phono preamps was dismissively titled “Little Black Boxes.” I find that a good phono pre is something that makes an immediate impression, a component that, in the first few minutes of operation, hands you its calling card and quickly informs you “this is what I’m about.”
This has happened three times in my life. The first was many years ago, when I reviewed almost a dozen phono preamplifiers in the $800 to $1200 range and was so impressed with the sound quality of the Lehmann Audio Black Cube SE that I bought it. (It’s still around here, somewhere, waiting for the day when I feel the urge to hook up my old lime green Rega P3-24.) The second time was when I evaluated the Pureaudio Vinyl phono pre back in 2012 so we could determine whether we wanted to be the US importer and distributor. After just two hours, my mind was made up and I represented that New Zealand brand for many years.
The third time, obviously, was with the Lab12 Melto 2. I received the Melto2 from Scot Hull with very little knowledge about Lab12, the company, which is based in Greece. My only experience with Greek high-end audio products is Ypsilon, and those amps are among the finest I’ve heard. When I traveled to Sydney a few years ago, Ypsilon was an integral part of high-end audio dealer Jeff Knox’s so-called Million Dollar System. Every time I hear Ypsilon amplifiers in an audio system, I know I’m listening to the highest echelon of high-end audio. So the Greek angle was intriguing.
The Lab Melto2
The Lab12 Melto2 phono preamplifier arrived at the Part-Time Audiophile headquarters through the guidance of our own Dr. Panagiotis Karavitis, who also lives in Greece. Scot informed me of this, quietly adding that “Dr. K thinks it’s really good, which means it’s really good.”
Lab12 started out, like many high-end audio companies, as a one-man operation. That man is Stratos Vichos. As the owner’s manual states on the first page, Lab12 is the result of Vichos and his “enthusiastic and tireless endeavors,” which helped the company grow into a “state of the art high-end audio manufacturer with the wide production range.” Indeed, Lab12 offers a line of amplifiers that includes the Integre4 65wpc tubed integrated that can use EL34s, KT88s, 6550s and KT120s (Lab12 includes KT150s), the Suono and Mighty Class A tube power amplifiers, the Pre1 tubed preamplifier, the DAC1 DAC, the HPA headphone amplifier, the True passive attenuator and various power distribution devices and power cords. Most of this tube gear shares a common aesthetic—simple, compact and well-built.
The Melto2 is an exceptionally versatile MM/MC phono preamplifier, with many features. It’s a tube design that uses two E88CC and two 6n2p dual triodes and offers three inputs so you can hook up multiple analog rigs. You also get a remote control and a wide variety of settings for impedance, capacitance, gain (the MC section provides 64 dB) and three separate equalization choices—RIAA, Decca, and Columbia. High-quality parts are used throughout such as Lundahl step-up transformers, toroidal power transformers, gold-plated tube sockets and gold-plated Teflon RCA connectors.
I heard from the folks at Lab12 and they told me, “We believe that it worth a mention to Melto2’s innovative features, such as the fact that all the parameters can be set in real-time from the listening position through the remote control.” That’s always a feature that means a lot to me since it’s easier to set loading when you don’t have to get up and adjust clips, pins or open up the unit.
Is It Magic?
What impressed me so deeply about the Lab12 Melto2 phono preamplifier? Let me explain. Inserting a new phono pre involves planning. Your analog rig, especially your phono cartridge, has to be properly optimized with any given phono stage. You have to set loading, gain and whatever parameters that are important to you. You have to play around a bit to get the sound that’s right for your system.
When I installed the Melto2 into the system, I didn’t consult the owner’s manual. I just sorta hooked everything up. I cued up the first LP on my Technics SL-1200G turntable with the ZYX Bloom 3 cartridge I’m reviewing for the nest issue of The Occasional and sat down and started listening. Everything sounded absolutely perfecto right out of the gate, at least to my ears.
The Melto2, for some reason, was already preset for use with the ZYX Bloom 3—MC, 100 ohms. For a minute I thought the impossible—did the Lab12 sense what cartridge I was using? Does that technology even exist yet? The answer, of course, is no, but I can imagine a day when that might be a feature for phono preamplifiers. That will be totally cool when it happens.
The answer is probably more mundane—Scot was playing with the Melto2 before I took it from him, and he always uses moving coil cartridges. 100 ohms is a rather common load setting for such cartridges. For a minute, though, the Lab12 seriously messed with my head.
Still, it was apparent that the Lab12 Melto2 was a fantastic partner for the Technics SL-1200G. In the Summer 2019 Issue of The Occasional Magazine, I went on and on about why I loved the Technics. It’s easy to set-up, easy to use, and the sound quality surpasses my expectations. The Melto2 is cut from the same cloth. It wasn’t until I had it in the system for a few months that I really started playing around with the copious features. The Melto2 impressed the heck out of me on Day One. Hour One, really.
Sound and the Melto2
As I just mentioned, I used the Melto2 primarily with the Technics SL1200G/ZYX Bloom/Acoustical Systems Arché 5D headshell. There was a brief overlap with the Palmer 2.5 turntable that just arrived a couple of weeks ago, but my impressions are mostly confined to the Melto2’s pairing with the Technics.
Right before the Melto2 arrived, there was much upheaval in my analog rig due to numerous reviews over a relatively short period of time. Headshells and cartridges came and went, as did phono stages. I was generally pleased with the results I was getting—I had already fallen hard for the 1200G by then, but I kept feeling that more performance could be extracted from this engaging and precise direct-drive turntable. When the ZYX Bloom was installed, I knew I was getting close, but the final piece of the puzzle was the Lab12.
In my review of the Technics in The Occasional, I obsess over the idea of rightness, that every parameter has been optimized without a great deal of fuss. Once the Lab12 was installed, the entire musical presentation stepped up a notch. The Melto2 is one of those tube amplifiers that sound nothing like the tube phono preamplifiers from just a few years ago. First of all, it’s dead silent. When I reviewed Lyn Stanley’s London with a Twist: Live at Bernie’s direct-to-disc recording, I remarked that I’ve never heard dead wax so quiet, with only the slightest bump far in the background. The Melto2 was in the system at the time.
A low noise floor is certainly one key ingredient to that feeling of rightness. Another is very typical of that classic analog sound, that feeling of effortlessness combined with detail. It’s about having a very relaxed and open and warm sound, and at the same time hearing absolutely everything that’s going on in a recording. I just had this discussion with a speaker manufacturer about this the other day—twenty years ago we were describing high-end audio components as being either musical or revealing, colored or analytical, warm or cool, neutral or not. With the finest gear, you don’t have to pick one over the other. You can have it all—warmth and inner detail can live in complete harmony.
The Lab12 Melto2 fit this description. I was constantly amazed at the silky, beautiful high frequencies that were so extended, but I never felt that certain fatigue that comes from being overloaded with detail. I struggled to find LPs that taxed my patience, the feeling that the meters have been pegged during crescendos or when I’m tempted to turn up the volume a little too high. My analog rig continued to deliver a clear, satisfying sound that rarely seemed to flag during the review period.
More than once I felt that this was it, this was all I ever needed, okay I’m done. I know that’s a ridiculous feeling because we’re all eventually proven wrong as time and technology marches on. But it’s a genuine feeling, one that should not be discounted.
I have only one caveat about the Lab12 Melto2 phono preamplifier. As of this writing, it’s not yet being distributed in the US (there is an importer up in Canada, Audio Alliance, handling most of the North American action, but I know from experience that it can be a challenge to distribute across international borders). I can’t even tell you the US MSRP on it. The closest I can come to that is looking at Stuart Smith’s extremely positive review of the Melto2 in HiFi Pig. He lists the UK price as 3750 euros which was confirmed by Lab12 as the price across the EU. Using my old distribution formula from my days as an importer, I assume that the US price of this wonderful phono stage will be somewhere between $4000 and $5000. That’s an incredible bargain in my book.
Here’s another thing. When I posted photos of the Melto2 in my system on social media, I received several inquiries from audiophiles, not to mention a handful of my former dealers. How much is it? Where did you get it? How can I get one? Are you going to distribute it, Marc? Lab12 is generating some serious buzz, and someone in the US needs to get off the pot and start making phone calls to Greece. Also, Lab12 features an entire line of amps and preamps. If they’re anywhere as good as the Melto2, this very special company has a bright future in high-end audio.
As for me, I’m sorry to see it go—a tune I’ve been singing quite frequently since I came aboard Part-Time Audiophile as a full-time reviewer. More phono preamplifiers are on the way, and I have to see about getting this unit back to Scot. But I don’t want to.
Just like the Technics SL-1200G, the Lab12 Melto2 phono preamplifier is incredibly easy to own and use, and its music-making abilities border on the effortless. So start bugging your favorite high-end audio dealer and tell them that Lab12 is the real deal, and they’re missing out by not carrying this fascinating product.
For more information, visit Lab12 at https://www.lab12.gr/.
(Note: I’ve just heard from Sam at Audio Alliance, the North American distributor, and he says: “We are trying our best to get Lab12 off the ground in North America and have been supplying US dealers and customers alike as the requests come in. As well, the Melto2 is $3899 USD and we are happy to send a price-list to any interested US dealer.”)