Last year it was Phono Preamplifier Central over here, with me being spoiled with one product after another while testing out the Brinkmann Taurus turntable. While I never quite picked a favorite—there were far too many variables (i.e. system configurations)—one of those phono stages did stand out as the one I’d be most likely to buy for myself. That phono pre was none other than the Allnic Audio H-5500, which ran near the top of the field while costing less than half the price of some of those big dogs. Now, thanks to Kevalin Audio, I’ve upped the ante with the Allnic Audio H-6500 phono preamplifier which almost doubles the price of the H-5500.
I’ve been falling under the spell of too many pieces of gear lately, products like the Qln Signature loudspeakers, the Lab12 Integre4 integrated amplifier, and the Pear Audio Blue Kid Howard turntable. These are the products that earn my highest recommendation, which is generally expressed as “if I was in the market, I would buy it.” (In the case of the Kid Howard, I was and I did.) The H-5500 certainly qualified as one of those review pieces I would have purchased if I had an available spot among my references. I loved the sound of the Koetsu Urushi Black cartridge with the Koetsu Stepup Transformer through the MM input of the Allnic while hooked up to the Technics SL-1210GAE turntable. I could have stuck with that indefinitely.
Why didn’t I buy the H-5500? As I implied, I already own a phono pre at the same exact MSRP as the Allnic, and I love it, too. The difference is one of tonality–my Pureaudio Vinyl is solid-state pure class A, so it’s warmer than neutral without sounding tube-like. The H-5500, on the other hand, wasn’t the type of phono stage that’s so neutral it can trick you into think it’s SS. It sounds like a tube phono stage in all the best ways, lush and warm but not so much that it obscures detail. It’s close enough to neutrality to impress me, but it also soothed my soul while it visited. It sounds different than the Pureaudio, but in an equally compelling way.
The question, of course, is how the Allnic Audio H-6500 betters the H-5500. The outboard power supply is an obvious tell, and there are certainly more tubes in the ‘6500 than in the ‘5500. I also remember those days with the H-5500 and the Allnic Audio T-2000 30th Anniversary integrated amplifier (which wound up a very close second place as 2021 Product of the Year) and I wondered how much better it could possibly get. Here’s my chance to find out.
Inside the Allnic Audio H-6500
The Allnic Audio H-6500 phono preamplifier, at $9,900, is the third of four models in the line-up, just after the magnificent $39,000 H-8000 DHT and the big and serious-looking H-7000 at $16,500. The H-5500, just below the H-6500, has now gone up to $5,700. (It’s still a killer bargain.) There’s also an SUT in the line, the AUT-2000, which retails for $3,000. Considering the success I’ve had using the Koetsu SUT with both the H-5500 and the H-6500, this step-up transformer sounds like a product worth exploring in the future.
The Allnic Audio H-6500 features the same inboard MC step-up transformers as the H-7000 phono pre, and the same Permalloy output transformers you’ll find all across this South Korean company’s product lines. There’s a hefty, solid-looking external power supply with umbilical connection, as I mentioned. Here’s a factoid: the much larger H-6500 phono pre weighs 8 kg, while the much smaller power supply weighs 8.1 kg. The H-6500 also sports high-speed tube voltage regulation with nifty analog tube monitor meters on the front panel. On the back panel you’ll find dual MC and MM inputs and one pair of RCA outputs.
The tube complement, as I mentioned, is a doozy, and it’s all NOS. There are eight 5842s for signal gain, two 7233s for series voltage regulation, two 5654s for automatic voltage regulation and a single 5AR4 rectifier tube, which is in a somewhat novel location–the external power supply.
That’s right–there’s a rectifier tube for the external power supply of the Allnic Audio H-6500 that must be installed by the user. Yeah, that sounded a bit strange to me at first too. I’ve never had to open up an external power supply before, and it just seems like one of those things that can lead to a high-end audio tragedy. I went ahead and performed the installation myself without a hitch–the only thing I touched was the tube, and that was with a micro-fiber cloth. If this gives you pause, make your dealer come out and plug in the tube for you. Just know that your audio buddies will tease you for the rest of your days if you do.
The Allnic Audio H-6500 was hooked up to only one turntable during its stay–the Pear Audio Blue Kid Howard, which is now officially my “workhorse” table. I managed, however, to use a wide variety of stellar cartridges such as my reference ZYX Ultimate Airy X, the ZYX Bloom 3, the Van den Hul Crimson XGW Stradivarius, and the Koetsu Urushi Black (with and without the SUT).
I assembled three distinctly different systems during the Allnic’s stay. One was more tube-oriented, using the Lab12 Integre4 integrated amplifier and the Qln Signature loudspeakers and hooked up with Furutech, Cardas and AudioQuest cabling. The second system was comprised of mostly Audio Group Denmark components such as the Aavik U-280 integrated amplifier/DAC and Børresen Z1 Cryo loudspeakers, Ansuz cables and the quite incredible Ansuz Mainz8 D-TC3 power distribution block, which retails for a cool $26K. The latter was the more revealing system, more neutral, and I suspected it might tell me more about the Allnic Audio H-6500 and its true character.
As you can see in the image below, the Allnic Audio H-6500 was also hooked up to a third system where I used both my Pureaudio Control preamplifier and a borrowed sort-of-vintage Ayre V-3 power amplifier that sounds pretty darned good to my ears. That system occupied the middle ground between the others in terms of sound along the tube/SS spectrum.
Finally, I’ll remind you of the unconventional markings for the impedance and gain
turrets knobs on the chassis. The dB settings mark the amount of gain added, not the total amounts. Those 22dB-32dB markings will throw you off at first, like they did when I first reviewed the H-5500.
Allnic Audio ZL Zero Loss Mu-8R Interconnects
Other than the Allnic Audio H-6500 phono preamplifer and the Kid Howard, all the systems also shared one thing–Allnic Audio’s new ZL Zero Loss Mu-8R RCA interconnect cables, which retail for $3,995 each for a 1m pair, and $300 more for each additional 0.5 meter. John Ketcham provided me with two 1.5m pairs of the ZLs. I used one, obviously, between the Allnic and the preamp. The second one was swapped around a bit–between power amps and preamps, or as the extra connection needed to include the SUT.
Here’s the lowdown on the Mu-8Rs from the Kevalin Audio website:
“Unlike the MU-7R cables, which are all copper, the MU-8RS cables utilize both copper and silver conductors, and both types are solid; there is no plating or coating involved. In addition, we are told that Allnic’s unique EMI/RFI blocking MU-metal shielding on the MU-8RS has been doubled relative to that in the MU-7R. These differences slightly increase the diameter of the MU-8RS relative to the MU-7R cables, but flexibility is essentially the same. Both versions bend well, though can’t be considered “cooked spaghetti”: you do need a few inches behind your gear.
“All the other elements of Allnic’s ZL Technology are maintained in the MU-8RS, too, including the custom-made beryllium copper connectors with their quartered split pins for tight coupling that won’t work loose, and the use of 1000 degree Centigrade super-hot welding to join the conductors and the connectors.”
I’ll admit that the ZLs are perhaps the most expensive RCA interconnects I’ve used in my system so far, but most of the others I use regularly aren’t that far behind. I will say this–once I put the ZLs in the system with the H-6500, I heard a change in the tonality that I can only describe as more confident. I had a sense that the ZLs helped the H-6500 to realize its potential, since the overall musical balance was clearer, more relaxed, and quiet. I put them in, took them out, and immediately put them back in and left them for the duration.
These are beautiful cables, as you can tell. They also come in the most elaborate packaging I’ve seen for a set of interconnects, all boxes and bags and velvet sacks and carrying cases.
Allnic Audio H-6500 Sound
It wasn’t until I re-read my reviews on the Allnic Audio H-5500 phono pre and the T-2000 integrated amplifier that I realized the direction in which the H-6500 was taking my system. I originally described the H-5500 this way:
“The Allnic Audio H-5500, however, provided just a hint of that tube sound I crave with vinyl. While close to neutral in so many aspects, the H-5500 also reminded me periodically that this was a tube phono stage. No, it wasn’t soft or rolled off at the frequency extremes, but rather it gave me all the information and detail I require while still featuring that subtle and effortless hint that this was, indeed a tube amplification. It wasn’t a patina, but an individual flavor in a complex dish.”
Now, read this excerpt from my review of the Allnic Audio T-2000 30th Anniversary integrated amplifier:
“I’ve heard only a handful of integrated amplifiers that I’ve reviewed that come anywhere close to the sonic performance of the Allnic Audio T-2000. They’re all in the same ballpark pricewise. It’s a mix of valves and resistors among these champions, to be sure, but none of them sound like solid-state nor tubes. They’re merely so close to that ultimate truth, and so linear in response, and so meticulous about the frequency extremes, that they just exist in harmony with your favorite music.”
The T-2000 allowed you to shift from tetrode to triode operation on-the-fly, so it’s clear I’m talking about the ultralinear mode in this quote. The triode mode, however, was more closely aligned to the sound I was hearing from the H-5500–rich and tube-like while avoiding obvious colorations. The tetrode mode, however, reminds me of the Allnic H-6500. We’re talking about a sound that edges toward the linear, toward neutrality, toward that pinnacle of “perfect sound” where solid-state and valve gear meet and you can’t really tell the difference because it’s just so real.
With the Lab12 Integre4 running the show, the Allnic Audio H-6500 succeeded at airing out the warmth of the amp and providing much more space for the music to develop and bloom. That increased size, especially in terms of soundstage depth, immediately lifted the performance of the system as a whole. Sure, that warmth that I find so alluring in the Lab12 was still preserved, but the ease of the Allnic’s sonic presentation made the Lab12 feel as if someone doubled the power. Bass became tighter and more focused, but able to cross further distances.
Of course I performed the “Yulunga” test with the Allnic Audio H-6500 phono preamplifier in the system, perhaps repeatedly. What’s interesting to me is this: I think that as long as the Allnic was plugged in, I was getting maximum Yulunga. The speakers didn’t matter, nor did the other amplification. Each time I was getting as much of that soft yet truly deep bass drum strike in the first song on Dead Can Dance’s Into the Labyrinth as I possibly could. Everything was there, all the reflections, all the bloom expanding toward the edges of the soundstage, all of that deep and rounded tone that continually evolves as it floats away into space.
Okay, so the Allnic Audio H-6500 consistently scored straight tens in the Yulunga test. But here’s the interesting part–I recently visited our own Mohammed Samji up in Seattle and we performed the Yulunga test with a far more accomplished system than mine, one made up of names such as Wilson Audio, Dan D’Agostino, dCS, Transparent, AMG and Lyra. I felt like both systems earned a perfect score, but how can that be? Am I saying that my system is just as outrageously awesome as Mo’s? Of course not.
My theory, and I’m sticking to it, is that the Yulunga Test has a finite top score. In other words, there’s only so much there to capture. Both of our systems captured all of it. Cue Peggy Lee.
What’s truly interesting is that I’ve only heard this allegedly perfect capture of that drum beat at Mo’s house, and now I’ve heard it consistently whenever the Allnic Audio H-6500 is in the system. But as we all know, there is more to a great phono preamplifier than its ability to produce a single beat.
I don’t know if you’ve figured this out yet, but violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn is single-handedly saving classical music in this country. That sounds like hyperbole, but have you seen the buzz around her new album Eclipse? It’s popping up on unexpectedly mainstream Top 10 lists, and I’ve heard people actually discussing it out in public. A new classical music release on LP. IN PUBLIC.
I flipped over Hilary Hahn’s last LP for Deutsch Grammophon, Paris, which covered my favorite violin concerto of all time–Prokofiev’s First. Eclipse provides the same attention to the Dvorak Violin Concerto, and her charm and poise cast their spell once more. I chose Paris as my favorite album of 2021, and I chose Eclipse as my second favorite album of the year in 2022, just barely behind Barry Coates, Jim Haslip and Jerry Kalaf’s New Dreams. Eclipse, in other words, has been spinning on the Kid Howard for the last few weeks with no other LPs in sight.
With the Allnic, I was truly swept up with this performance on several levels simultaneously. I could clearly delineate all the small movements, especially of the strings section, that created both beauty and tension in the music. At the same time Hahn could make my heart race with her combination of pluck and perfection. (If you haven’t seen the video of her promoting the album from her living room while she’s holding her pet guinea pig named Popcorn, here’s your Christmas gift from me.)
I think that’s why she’s become so popular–she’s such a complete artist while still remaining sweet and playful and human, and that comes out in her music. The Allnic Audio H-6500 preserved so much of that sweetness, that kind of dreamy yet complex layering that lets you interpret the music in both macro and micro terms. Again, that’s the tremendous ease of this incredible phono stage creating more space, and an endlessly clear and organized presentation.
If the Allnic Audio H-6500 doesn’t elevate your spirits, improve your mood, increase your appreciation of the beauty all around us, then I just don’t think we can hang out anymore. The H-6500 is one of the finest phono stages I’ve heard when it comes to examining real beauty in the music, and how we should be mesmerized more often in this hobby than we are.
Allnic Audio H-6500 Conclusion
Fortunately, John Ketcham is going to let me keep the Allnic Audio H-6500 phono preamplifier around on a long-term loan. I think that’s a great idea, since I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a phono pre more than this one. Together with the Pear Audio Blue Kid Howard turntable with the Cornet2 tonearm, the ZYX Ultimate Airy X cartridge (with the ZYX Bloom 3 as back-up) and the Allnic Audio ZL Zero Loss interconnects, the Allnic Audio H-6500 will comprise my reference analog rig for as long as possible.
The H-6500 is beautifully made as well. This is a $10,000 two-chassis phono preamplifier that completely swerves away from looking like another anonymous metal box on your equipment rack. Even the external power supply looks special. If you’ve seen any Allnic Audio component in the flesh before, super up close, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
In addition, the H-6500 has an incredible number of features and conveniences. I really love having an MM input that sounds this good, especially when I break out something like the Koetsu Urushi Black and Koetsu Stepup Transformer. I noticed that as well with the H-5500–even with a high-output MM cartridge, the Allnic Audio H-6500 still adds that mixture of warmth and detail to cartridges such as the Ortofon 2M line or even my old Clearaudio-based Unison Research UN1–which I still have after all these years.
That’s all fine and dandy, but the Allnic Audio H-6500 is about the sound. In a mostly tube-based system controlled by the Lab12 Integre4 integrated amplifier, the H-6500 maintains that superb balance between warmth and endless detail while offering a palpable sense of control when it comes to the noise floor. With a system that already has an astonishingly low amount of noise, such as the system I assembled with Aavik, Ansuz and Borresen, the Allnic rediscovers that warm, rounded and textured tone that a great tubed phono pre adds to systems that are mostly solid-state and/or class D.
If your system starts to sound a little too shiny and glossy for your tastes, the Allnic Audio H-6500 will remind you that the world feels better when you can feel it back, with every ounce of your being. This may be my new favorite phono stage, and I’m going to hold onto it for as long as I can. Highly recommended.