Allnic Audio H-1202 Phonostage Review (Page Two)
Lift-off was achieved around 15 minutes from getting the H-1202 out of the box, such is the simplicity of setting up and operating this unit. Messing with gain/impedance settings, trying a few different isolation devices and switching in/out different ICs and PCs amused me for the next few hours, whereupon I was ready to sit and actually enjoy some music.
The Allnic H-1202 Versus The Zesto Audio Andros 1.2
It’s pointless IMHO to try and judge a piece of equipment without having a point of reference, and for me, it was the unit that I’d removed to install the Allnic – the Zesto Audio Andros 1.2
The retail price of the Zesto is around $5K and the Allnic around $4K, so these are not streets apart in price and both are likely to garner consideration from anyone shopping for a phonostage with a $5K budget. And, of course, they’re both tubed units and both entry-level within their respective manufacturer’s range of phonostage options. But that’s about it as far as similarities are concerned.
The Zesto Andros is a competent performer with both MC and MM cartridges and nosed out the Manley Labs Chinook in our recent review.
It’s fair to say that the Zesto is more versatile and offers up more things to fiddle with, where the Allnic operates a little closer to ‘factory set’. The Allnic arrives from the dealer/distributor with 4 x E180CC, 1 x 7233 and 1 x 5654 tubes where the Zesto utilizes four 12AX7 tubes, which happen to be more accessible if rolling is your thing. Both units use SUTs to boost gain for Moving Coil cartridges, the Zesto offers more matching options for MC folks and also for those using Moving Magnet.
All of this is fascinating, but what about the sound?
If you’ve read my impressions of the Zesto Andros, you may remember that I preferred the unit over the more tube-like Manley Audio Chinook. Since parting with the Chinook, I’ve been hit once or twice by the nagging thought that perhaps I made the wrong choice. The Chinook was warmer and more musical, where the Zesto is more dynamic and more analytical. The Chinook presented the soundscape as if it were more of a seamless tapestry of instruments and vocalists where the Zesto is better able to pick apart the stitching and separate one piece from the other. The Chinook would please the most avid music lover with its warmth and coherence, where the Zesto is inclined more toward a person who needs the ability to dissect the sound and to evaluate just what’s taking place on the musical stage. So perhaps the Chinook / Zesto summation could be condensed down to “a device for musical enjoyment versus a device for musical assessment.” That’s not to say that music doesn’t shine when presented through the Zesto, it certainly does; it’s just that there’s an element of the way it presents itself that draws one into a mode of evaluation rather than merely eliciting a pure and emotional response to the music, as with the Chinook.
Perhaps the Zesto appeals to the analytical and methodical in me since I’m supposedly left-brain dominant. It’s also significant that I like to write about my experiences with different equipment, and the Zesto Andros is a more useful tool in this regard than the Manley Chinook.
Enter Allnic, Exit Stage Left Zesto
The Allnic Audio H-1202 is almost paradoxical in its ability to cast aside any conflict between left brain and right brain personality traits. To describe its appeal to one’s sensibilities as being slanted either to the analytical side or to the emotional side is wholly unwarranted. Likewise, to say that it captures the best of analytical and the best of emotional, and brings the two hemispheres together as a unified whole, is also unwarranted; since that might imply some degree of compromise. The H-1202 attempts, by virtue of its design, to cede responsibility for imparting any notable character on the sound of your vinyl, to other components in the chain. It doesn’t sound warm or tube-like. Nor does it sound sterile or lean. It doesn’t impede the dynamic capability of your vinyl playback, nor does it accentuate any part of the frequency spectrum to create a false sense of dynamic ability.
But what about the critical 3T’s – Tone, Timbre, and Texture? Without a doubt, this is where all audio components fail, to some degree. The transmission of a delicate signal through brute active electronics universally leads to sins of omission and/or sins of commission, and it’s reliably in the areas of T, T and T where the true nature and competency of less expensive components become exposed.
If this phonostage molests the signal in some way and tips the tonal balance one way or the other, then I wasn’t able to hear it. Or if it fails to capture the true timbral signature of any instrument, or creates a less than believable rendition of texture when recounting the performance of any musical ensemble, then it escaped my attention.
H-1202 has no preference for yin over yang or vice versa. Yes, it’s quite neutral in its sonic presentation.
This aspect of its performance is, to my tastes, a significant virtue, but it might not appeal to everyone. Those who need a slightly tipped-up high frequency to compensate for a dark sounding component elsewhere in the chain, won’t find it with the Allnic. Those needing a more mellow presentation to equalize some hardness or aggression in their system won’t find it with the Allnic. Whatever problem you’re looking to fix in your system, whatever weakness you’re looking to mask, my recommendation would be to fix it first, before auditioning the H-1202.
The sense of analytical prowess I have with the Zesto, and the emotional response I felt toward the Chinook, are both rendered moot with the Allnic. This little phonostage just steps aside from such rhetoric and says, “Hey, if something doesn’t seem quite right to you with what you’re hearing from your vinyl, go check your VTA or your azimuth or whatever, but leave me the f**k alone.”
In fact, that’s exactly what I did.
Coming Up….Analog meltdown.
EQUIPMENT USED IN THIS REVIEW INCLUDED:
Origin Live Resolution Turntable With Full Manufacturer’s Upgrade Package
Origin Live Illustrious Tonearm with silver wire harness upgrade
ZYX Ultimate 100/Z
Music Hall MMF 11 Turntable
Project 9cc Carbon Tonearm with Oracle Audio Damping Kit
Goldring 2200 MM
Zesto Andros 1.2 phono preamp
Thor TA1000 MKII preamp
Thor TPA 60 Monoblocks
Edge NL10.2 Power Amp
Aerial SW-12 Subs (x 3)
Harmonic Technology Pro-Silway III RCA, Bogdan Audio Toto RCA’s, Tara Labs Master Speaker Cables, Anti-Cables 2.1 speaker cables, various isolation accessories etc etc.