Allnic Audio H-1202 Phonostage Review (Page Three)
I hadn’t been 100% happy in the way I’d set up the Origin Live Illustrious tonearm with my ZYX Ultimate 100/Z cartridge some weeks ago, and after a day or so with the Allnic I felt the need to drop everything and ‘fix’ it.
Not that there was anything less than harmonious with the introduction of the new Allnic, or that the music playing through my system didn’t sound pretty darn good, (it did), it’s simply that the H-1202 was hinting at the possibility that something touching the signal elsewhere in my system wasn’t quite right.
Finally Tuning The Finely Tuned
I gave thought to this reaction some days later while looking for ammunition to use against the Allnic phono in this review and concluded reluctantly that it was my brain’s way of handling the logical/emotional conflict mentioned earlier. I was hearing something that provided both analytical and emotional gratification in equal measures and my feeble brain couldn’t figure out how to react. So the dominant left hemisphere forced me out of my trance and into the tool-shed where I emerged moments later with wrenches, levels, hex keys, digital scales, and various alignment tools. I then spent a day stripping down the turntable and arm to pretty much the same state they had originally arrived in, and rebuilt everything with painstaking attention to detail.
During the rebuild, I fashioned a new headshell weight from a solid silver bar and fettled the fecker until it weighed exactly 2 grams. This placed my counterweight slightly farther from the arm yolk and allowed me to install the fine adjuster which I’d removed due to the low mass of the ZYX cartridge.
After aligning everything I tightened up tolerances on the turntable rack, checked and rechecked everything then repowered the system, late, late evening.
The time spent dismantling and rebuilding my analog setup wasn’t time wasted. If nothing else I was now able to relax into the music with the certainty of knowing that nothing in the analog chain was impeding the abilities of the Allnic H-1202.
All of this is fascinating but what about the sound – Revisited!
You’ve hopefully read my impressions of Tone, Timbre and Texture in part two of this review, so here are some thoughts on other aspects of the Allnic H-1202’s performance.
I’ve tried to avoid using too many common audiophile cliches to this point, but eventually one runs out of new ways to describe things succinctly without resorting to well known vernacular.
Transparency: I think this word is commonly used as a catch-all when we’re trying to describe things going on with the sound but we can’t quite pin it down to a specific nuance. There’s an easy visual analogy I refer to when thinking about the term transparency, and it’s to imagine oneself in the mixing room of a recording studio looking through multiple layers of glass at the recording artists on the stage. The glass seems clear, but unbeknown to us each of the panes has a slight color tint and some even have the tiniest amount of opacity. As each pane is removed one at a time the image on the other side becomes clearer, more in focus, less colored, until eventually, the final pane of glass is removed and there’s nothing between your eyes and the performers in the other room.
Each component in the audio chain acts like one of the panes of glass in the analogy above. We often fail to recognize to what extent the sound is colored until we change a component to something of greater clarity. Sometimes, the combination of two ‘colored’ components appears to give us what we want, in the way a slightly blue pane of glass paired with a slightly yellow pane would give us a shade of green. So oftentimes we change a component and things fall apart or improve in ways that we didn’t expect.
My take on the Allnic H-1202 is that none of its panes are color-tinted, but one or more have a slight opacity. Though I find the unit beautifully uncolored in its presentation of tone, timbre, and texture, there’s an ever so slight veiling, a slightly opaque window between me and the sound. I’m talking small degrees here and I’m willing to trade this impurity for the wonderful way in which the Allnic presents T, T and T. It’s quite possible that those of you with a higher quality source and much more invested into your system in general, might find this more of an issue, (or perhaps even less of an issue); but for you, I suspect that stepping up the Allnic phonostage line would provide a simple solution.
Listening to the half-speed remastered version of the seminal album “Solid Air”, from the late great John Martyn (Remastered at Abby Road Studios, UK – code ARHSLP003), the title track always elicits an emotional reaction in me, regardless of the quality of the system in which I hear it. Those familiar with Martyn’s work may already know that the title track “Solid Air” was written for and dedicated to Nick Drake, a close friend of Martyn who succumbed to the vagary of life 18 months or so following the song’s release. On this track and others, Martyn’s vocal and guitar are presented with accurate tonality, an impressive degree of realism, and emerging from a recording space the boundaries of which can be clearly defined.
Frequency extension, high/low: I find the high-frequency presentation of the Allnic to be without any flaw that I can detect. I’m pushing the envelope in terms of age, and my HF limits are surely much lower than those of you with youth on your side. But the sound is airy and extended and I hear all of the detail I expect to hear from my vinyl and some that I never expected. Listening to the cut “November 99” from Manu Katché‘s excellent “Neighborhood”, on ECM; the relaxed groove of Katché’s drumming is both punctuated and driven by the interplay between ride and crash cymbals, with the floor tom leading the way as we’re pulled into the rhythm of the track. The crash cymbal explodes incandescently, blooming out into its own space within the mix as the shimmer of ride cymbal hovers airily and elongates the sustain.
As for low frequency, I would rate as ‘very good’ for its class but not exceptional. It’s at least as extended as the Zesto Andros but the Andros has a slight dryer quality which makes lower bass notes a little more taught and defined. I was absolutely blown away by the bass performance of the Allnic L-5000DHT linestage when I added it to my system some weeks ago. It was so much more extended, taught, defined and musical than any other preamp, tubed or solid-state, that I’ve had in my system; so having a slightly soft bass shouldn’t always be accepted as an artifact of having tubes in the circuit. Still, I’m really nitpicking here, the performance of this unit is simply excellent and the few niggles noted here are very minor indeed.
Vocal Articulation: I talked about a paradox earlier, referring to the way this unit seems to dispense with the notion that musicality and analytical character traits are somehow mutually exclusive. This comes to the fore when you listen to the degree of clarity and the level of intelligibility with the reproduction of human voice by the Allnic. Single voices can be picked up and followed with ease through dense choral works such as Johann Sebastian Bach’s – Chor: Kommt, Ihr Töchter, Helft Mir Klagen, from “St. Matthew Passion” -(Deutsche Grammophon – 2531 317), but at no time do you ever drift unwittingly into a mode of analysis. Hearing distinct voices where once you heard a synthesized chorus is quite an epiphany moment and something that I’ll have a hard time living without when I have to part company with the Allnic.
Trying to recall similar epiphany moments over my many years as an audiophile proved difficult. Twenty-five years ago I experienced what happens when you completely remove the window you’ve been looking through this whole time and can suddenly reach out and touch the performers on the stage. That experience came courtesy of the wonderful Quad ESL 57, and though I prefer not to tarnish my memory of the experience with thoughts of the speaker’s weaknesses, they were obvious and multiple.
A few years before owning the Quads I attended a HiFi show in Manchester, England, and was fortunate enough to hear the dynamics and scale of a full symphony orchestra reproduced right there in the room. (At least this is how I care to recall it 🙂 The room was large, perhaps in excess of 40’x40′ and the Linn Isobarik PMS had no problems rising to the occasion while being driven actively, tri-amped by the infamous Naim six-pack setup.
Album after album I was presented with subtle new insights into works I’d heard many times before. Switching back to the Zesto just further elevated my positive impressions of the Allnic, and it was hard to replay music with the Zesto knowing there was more enjoyment available and on-hand.
I’ve already made clear that the Allnic H-1202 has minor imperfections. I’ve compared its bass to that of the Zesto and noted that it is slightly less taught and defined. I would add that the sense of dynamic ability, the ease and effortlessness with which notes are able to start and stop on a dime, is just a fraction less impressive than that of the Zesto. I’m certain that improving the equipment in to and out from this marvelous little phonostage might reveal additional minor character flaws, but, we’re operating at a point in price where a component isn’t expected to bring perfection, or anything close to it, this thing is less than $4K, damn it!
Which brings me to my biggest issue with the Allnic, and that’s the term “entry-level”, as found on the distributor’s website. Obviously, the inference is that stepping up the Allnic line to something like the $16,900 H-7000 will bring an improvement in the quality of sound that can justify the additional coin over the H-1202. Yet when I listen to the H-1202, it doesn’t sound like there’s that much more to be had, the lemon feels like it’s been squeezed pretty dry.
The standard set by this unit ought to be all you’ll ever need, but I’m not naive enough to think that spending only $3,750 on a phonostage would please but a small fraction of the audiophile community, fools that we are.
Look down for associated gear.
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
PRE / POWER
Allnic Audio L-5000 DHT 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.