You are reading the older HTML site

Positive Feedback ISSUE 17
january/february 2005


The Silvaweld SWC 450BFA preamplifier and Sonic Euphoria Passive Line Controller - a search for the "right" preamplifier
by Brad Morrical


This review began simply as a critical assessment of a product from a company that was new to me but, as these things often do, became a search for a new preamplifier. The story begins with a trip to Black Forest Audio and one Völker Kuhn. Now Völker is a sort of single ended triode/single driver loudspeaker guru in Germany and takes is one of the only dealers of Audio Note Japan (Kondo) in Europe. A pleasant 3 ½ hour drive from Zürich through, what else, the Black Forest had us (my girlfriend Anna and another couple who just wanted to travel with us in Germany) arriving at Völker's Black Forest Audio studio. What was unusual about his place is that, since it was built along a hillside, it had several stories. As it turned out, only the top floor was actively being lived in while the remaining three floors were devoted to his hifi studio. Völker is possibly the most dedicated audiophile I have personally met and the quality of the gear (as well as its cost) was like dying and going to audiophile heaven. In his hall of delights were amps from KR audio, the full line of Audio Note Japan (Kondo), the miniature gear from 47 labs, and even a pair of huge Futterman OTL monoblocks. 

Ever eager to show off his wares and discuss the most esoteric reaches of audio, Völker had us first listening to his main system. What this turned out to be was nothing less than a complete Audio Note Japan (Kondo) system with his own design, Fertin based, single driver loudspeakers, known as the Helix to Heaven along with two incredibly massive subwoofers also of Völker's design. The system included a Kondo KSL DAC, Kondo KSL M77 preamplifier, Kondo KSL Gaku Oh monoblocks, and a Kondo KSL Kegon. Price??? Think new Ferrari and then some. Needless to say, this is easily the single most expensive system I have ever heard, even compared to some all Accuphase (with Mission Pilastro speakers) and all Burmester systems I have heard. What about the sound? It was staggering in dynamic terms but not, quite frankly, the most neutral I have ever heard. Still, with the right music the sound was riveting and exciting. The subwoofers in particular offered up the most dynamic and tightest bass I think I have ever heard from a speaker system (my formerly owned Infinity IRS Betas included!).

However, this review is not about the (unbelievable!) systems I heard that day at Black Forest Audio. Völker and I had discussed an item for review, which had precipitated the trip there, and as the day wound down he finally revealed what he was going to give me for review. He came back with an unimpressive looking little box from a Korean company called Silvaweld. He told me that I should try this preamplifier as it was very good for the money. I asked how much, and he replied, "1500 euro". Now I know that this is on the low end of what some of you have invested in your preamplifier, its still not peanuts, but I admit to feeling a bit let down by going home with what must have been one of the cheapest pieces of gear in the BFA store. However, I have the gear and I have my duty to report to you how this little beast performed, which will duly commence now.

First a little technical description: As you can see from the picture, the Silvaweld preamplifier comes in a half size case with a 3/8 inch thick aluminum faceplate. The entire chassis is made of aluminum, which said to minimize magnetic interactions with the circuit. The preamplifier uses three 6072WA (12AY7 I believe is the equivalent) nine pin triodes but in a circuit configuration that is unknown to me as a description was not given to me nor was one available on the web. However, I do know that the circuit uses no feedback of any kind and is wired using all silver wire. The circuit board is isolate with elastomer shock absorbers at the four corners, creating a suspension to minimize external vibrations. This seems quite sensible as tubes can be susceptible to vibrations and microphonics. One of the highlights of the construction is the use of an in-house designed 31 step attenuator for volume control. This device seems to be of extremely high quality and uses pure silver in the electrical contacts. This stepped attenuator has a good feel but still not as nice as those on my reference Audible Illusions Modulus 3A. Overall construction quality is good but not spectacular as the source selector switch had a lot of play from side to side that I feel should not be there in a product of this price range. In addition, Mr. Kuhn has made a few modifications of his own, thus giving the preamplifier the BFA moniker. These include adding three feet to the bottom that aid in so called "mechanical" grounding, custom made tube dampers, and some additional damping inside the chassis (to prevent chassis resonance). What improvement these make I cannot comment directly, having not heard an untreated one, but Völker conveyed to me that the untreated preamplifier was a bit too sharp sounding and these mods smoothed out the sound. I suspect, however, that the difference is not dramatic.

Upon getting the Silvaweld home, I first plugged it in and ran it for about 2 days without signal just to get it warmed up (it was not a brand new preamplifier so I assumed it was somewhat broken in already). During this time, I decided which recordings would make up my early listening sessions and re-familiarized myself with them through my Audible Illusions Modulus 3A preamplifier. Once I plugged it into the system came the first shock. The Silvaweld had a dynamic grip on my reference Apogees that truly surprised me. The timing was impeccable and the sound seemed much better organized than it had with the Audible Illusions. In addition, high frequency information that had at times seemed a bit harsh or even a little grainy with the AI opened up and seemed to have much higher harmonic content.

Crash cymbals, which can on many recordings sound quite swishy, were reproduced with a much more complex character where the initial impact, shimmer, and decay were all clearly heard in their own tonal character and space. In the midrange, normally an area where I thought the AI was extremely good/world class, the Silvaweld revealed again a more complex, and hence more realistic portrayal, of all stringed instruments. Anna (my girlfriend and a professional violinist) and I felt that violins and cellos were especially natural sounding through the Silvaweld. It was possible now to hear more clearly the complex woody texture of bowed cellos and basses as well as the lower strings on a violin. This differentiation of tone from the Silvaweld is quite spectacular and made me feel like the AI was reproducing the music with only a 256 color palette as compared to the Silvaweld's 65,000 colors.

One telling effect of the overall sonic picture created by the Silvaweld was that one evening Anna and I were listening to the Alban Berg Quartet plus Heinrich Schiff playing the Schubert string Quintet on EMI classics. We were listening at realistic concert levels with peaks in the high 80s to low 90dB range. This is a very high quality recording with a good sense of natural ambience and wide dynamic range. Also, due to having two cellos in the quintet, it gives a good assessment of lower mid and upper bass tonal resolution and dynamics. During the CD, we made no comment to each other but instead we were glued to the sofa staring in fascination at what we were hearing. When the "concert" was over we looked at each other and simply said, "WOW!"  The immediacy and presence of the reproduction is to date the best I have heard from my Caliper Signatures. In addition, the cellos on this recording sounded more tonally accurate and importantly more rhythmically precise, leading to the piece having a greater sense of "drive".

The Silvaweld gives propulsion to the music that makes it impossible to keep your toes from tapping. I think that this sense of drive has much to do with both the handling of small dynamic shifts as well as relatively uniform dynamics as a function of frequency. With the Silvaweld these types of dynamics are superb and the top to bottom coherence is truly excellent. Music simply makes sense in a way that the AI, for all its strengths, could simply not convey music in this convincing manner. The overall tonal color balance (but not tonal contrast as mentioned above) of the Silvaweld is the only area that I might express reservations. It does lean a bit to the warm side of neutral (like nearly all tube preamplifiers) but has a nice open sound and is anything but dark or closed in sounding. The result may a slight bit of euphony (the jury is still out on this point) but I feel but the end result is a very natural music presentation. I am now wondering if the big brothers of the Silvaweld (substantially more expensive) improve on this bit of perceived euphony. I want to stress though that the Silvaweld is just this side of neutral. It is the kind of warmth you only notice on less than perfect recordings, which no longer sound quite as harsh as you remember them. With top recordings you only notice that things sound correct. Soundstage was very deep and wide and the equal of the AI. Resolution (in terms of perceived detail) was very good but the AI was its equal in this regard. Transparency was also fine and I never once felt that I was not hearing something important due to colorations or lack of low level signal retrieval. Again, I would have to say that the AI was clearly at the same level as the Silvaweld in this regard.

However, it was now clear to me that the Audible Illusions was a bit slow sounding in the bass and definitely lacking the same degree of "liveness" that the Silvaweld possessed in spades. In addition, the AI seems to offer a more fragmented picture of the music while the Silvaweld weaves a tight tapestry, from which details can be easily extracted but are still woven tightly into the whole. Naturally, this left me feeling less than satisfactory about my own Audible Illusions preamplifier as it had just been handily bested by this relative unknown (and significantly less expensive) contender from Korea. This situation of course could not be allowed to stand and in precipitated a decision to replace my AI preamplifier. I felt, however, that if I was going to do replace the AI then I should first evaluate head to head some other options before making my decision.

What follows next was the progress of my search for a new preamplifier and the inevitable comparison amongst my reference Audible Illusions preamplifier and the challengers.

Enter the Sonic Euphoria PLC and Sphinx Project 4MkIII

I had been quite curious about the latest trend in transformer based passive preamps as an alternative to solid state or tube based preamps. There were two that caught my eye, the Bent Audio passive and the Sonic Euphoria PLC (passive line controller). After reading a couple of very positive reviews about the PLC I decided to take the plunge and buy it in the single ended mode and with the remote control option (at full retail price I might add + shipping to Europe). I based my decision on a few reviews where it was pointed out that this preamplifier gave ultimate transparency without the usual penalties in dynamics and impedance matching that has always plagued other stepped attenuator based passives.

In the mean time, while I was waiting for the arrival of the Sonic Euphoria, I spied in a local hifi shop another preamplifier that I thought could possibly provide stiff competition to the Silvaweld. The preamplifier was from the Dutch company Sphinx and the model was the Project 4mkIII. If you look at my associated equipment you will see that I use as my primary amp a Sphinx Project 14MkIII, which I consider to be an extremely fine hybrid amp, and the Project 4 comes from the same time period (mid 1990s) and therefore the same design team. The Sphinx is a tube/transistor hybrid in the line stage and solid state in the MC only phono stage. It is dual mono throughout (even dual transformers) with a variable gain range and relay switched inputs. In addition, the Sphinx is a beautiful piece of gear wrapped like the amp completely in glossy black acrylic. Definitely high end stuff and when new this preamplifier cost around $4000, therefore, I felt that it was certainly qualified to run in this competition. Quite frankly, I expected it to give the Silvaweld a dose of its own medicine. After talking to the store owner I arranged to get the preamplifier on loan for a couple of weeks for evaluation.

When the Sonic Euphoria arrived I was immediately impressed with its appearance (at least from the front). It possesses a very nice looking and hefty ½ inch thick anodized aluminum faceplate. The large solid aluminum volume knob is attached to a stepped attenuator of very high quality and positive feel. Source selector and full-step/half step switch had a smooth and solid feel. The only part of the construction that gives away it's a new company and perhaps not a 100% finished product is the stick-on indicators on the rear indicating inputs and outputs. One other more serious beef with the construction is the quite resonant top cover. Tapping on this cover gives quite a lot of noise and even though there is a damping pad on the inside it does not sufficiently address the issue in my opinion. Overall, the construction quality was of a high level and perhaps somewhat better than the Silvaweld and on par with my AI but definitely below that of the beautiful black acrylic of the Sphinx. Interestingly, the Jolida preamplifier has very good build quality for the price and is actually in the same class as the AI and Sonic Euphoria.

Before doing any direct comparisons, I first put the Sonic Euphoria into the system for a couple of weeks to get a general feeling for the sound of my system with this preamplifier installed. My initial impression was of a very transparent picture full of detail but curiously lacking some energy. Immediacy, especially at lower volumes, was lacking and the sense of "life" that I can get from some recordings was not there. In addition, the lower frequencies seemed somehow disconnected from the rest of the music. I was perplexed because I have owned my Monarchy Audio 22Bse DAC for more than 5 years and never once did I get this impression of the music from it. Nor have I gotten this impression from the other active preamps that have come through my system. In addition, the Monarchy puts out nearly 3 volts (in the low setting!) with very low output impedance so I don't think a lack of drive from the DAC is an issue. Giving the Sonic Euphoria the benefit of the doubt, I connected my PS Audio Phonolink phono preamplifier, which also has an ample output with low impedance. Again there was the initial impression of an increase in transparency and that I was hearing directly what was on the recording, except the music lost some coherence and flow and dynamic contrasts seemed lessened. In addition, the bass again seemed slow and disconnected from the rest of the music. What was going on here? I tried setting the Monarchy to high output (6 volts peak!), which on this setting is specifically designed for passive preamplifiers. I heard no improvement to the problems addressed above it just played louder at a lower volume setting as expected. I was a bit baffled and surprised as I had never heard this effect before with the Apogee speakers, which time as well as any speaker I have heard, nor had I ever had such issues before with either source. It seemed to me that the source of the problem lay at the feet of the preamplifier. However, I wasn't ready to give that verdict without first investigating other possibilities and not before doing a full preamplifier comparison. After all, other reviewers had said that dynamics were not a problem with this particular passive. Unfortunately, that was exactly what I was experiencing with the Sonic Euphoria.  I will return to a more specific discussion on the Sonic Euphoria later in the comparison.

After acquiring the Sphinx preamplifier for a brief (2 week) loan, I spent a week acquainting myself with the preamplifier and then I commenced with the head to head tests in the following manner: 1) all preamps were allowed to play an entire test track before switching between preamps.  As I don't have an A/B switch box I felt that listening to more than just bits of the music would be more telling of a preamps character. 2) Each preamplifier was level matched to 82dBA (within 0.5dB) with a calibrated microphone and pink noise generator. If I needed to adjust the volume upward or downward, as was the case for some recordings with consistently high levels or when stepped attenuators could not be exactly level matched, I used the digital attenuation on the Behringer DEQ 2496 to bring the sound to an appropriate level. 3) All powered preamps (the Sonic Euphoria does not have a power cord at all) were left on continuously during the comparison to ensure they were performing optimally. I primarily listened to jazz and classical music, on CD and LP, as well as some well recorded pop albums and my own recordings of solo violin and violin with cello (my girlfriend Anna ably supplying the virtuoso violin playing).

The first track I used for comparison was "Company" off of the Patricia Barber album Modern Cool. The transparency and bass power on this CD are quite revealing of deficits in bass power and tonality as well as determining grain and texture in Ms. Barber's voice. In addition, there is a powerful drum solo that is very realistic dynamically and tonally. Another track I used was "Asia de Cuba" from the Al Di Meola album The Grande Passion. This is a very transparent album full of sharp transients from guitar and percussion instruments. Additionally, this track is incredibly busy with many instruments playing vigorously at the same time. I have found that easy for speakers and electronics to make a mes s of this track due to its complexity and rhythmic drive. Indeed, the Apogees are one of the few speakers that negotiate this track with relative ease and without lapsing into harshness (a pair of Wilson Watt/puppy 7s also did quite nicely at the Munich show). The album as a whole, however, is quite compressed (almost like a rock album) so I don't think dynamics (macro or micro) can be properly evaluated. The bass quality (with the extremely adept playing from Jon Patatucci) offers superb tonality and plenty of snap on the low end. The third track was my girlfriend Anna playing with a superb cellist friend performing Ravel duo for violin and cello. I recorded this using two small capsule condenser microphones, microphone preamplifier, and DAT tape. This recording stretches the full dynamic range of the DAT tape and no compression at all is used, meaning the dynamic range is quite large (probably more than 30db relative to the background in the music hall). Because of the relatively close microphone position (about 4meters), it is a good test for details in stringed instruments and low level detail. My final test track was on LP from Cannonball Adderly and Milt Jackson called Things are Getting Better on Riverside records. This recording has a near live quality for both the Saxophone and for the Vibraphone. When reproduced correctly, Milt's vibes just shimmer and float while Cannonball's sax has amazing presence that actually comes forward into the room a bit. I also played some additional tracks later in the comparison where I went to some other recordings I know to have high quality and/or specific qualities that I wanted to hear with each preamplifier.

First up was the Audible Illusions preamplifier, which has served me well over the last year and a half, and demonstrated that it could convey the power and drive of the Patricia Barber with aplomb, giving a room filling and relatively tight bass performance. Transparency was good but betrayed a subtle sense of loss in this regard while also revealing some graininess in the lower treble evident on the sharp attacks from the Al Di Meola CD and even a wee bit of harshness in the upper highs. The music hall ambience from my self-made recording was good but slightly darker than reality as are the highest harmonics on Anna's violin playing. The midrange dominated Cannonball Adderly LP sounded very natural with good space and imaging. Top to bottom balance was good with no glaring colorations and only a hint of a closed in darkness that was only obvious when contrasted to the other preamplifiers in this comparison but there nonetheless.

A completely different sonic signature was heard with the Jolida JD3000b. Where the AI was subtly a bit moody and dark, the Jolida was brightly lit and sunny. Transparency was surprisingly superior to the AI and dynamics from the mids up were equal to the AI. Also noticeable was a lack of obvious grain in the highs. All in all its performance was crisp and clean. The bass, however, proved to be the Jolida's major weakness. On both the Patricia Barber and Al Di Meola CDs the Jolida's bass sounded  lighter. Interestingly, it was not the deepest bass that was the problem, being both powerful and controlled, but it was in the midbass where there was a definite lack of heft, which might be a good complement to some tube amplifiers, but was shown up as a weakness with the Sphinx hybrid and Class D amplifiers I have on hand. Because the overall tonal balance is slightly shifted to the upper frequencies, the preamplifier occasionally sounded a bit sharp in the upper mid/lower treble but due to lack of grain possessed a nice airy upper treble rendering the very nice overall string sound. Cello however, due to the midbass lightness, failed to sound as realistic in the lower registers. This midbass lightness also affected the overall balance of piano. Ambient retrieval was also very good but where the AI was slightly dark the Jolida erred a bit to the light or white side. Decay of ambience was very natural and one could hear the back of the concert hall on the self-made recording and with orchestra pieces quite clearly.

The Sphinx Project 4 was more than equal to the challenge of the AI in the bass and superior to AI and Jolida in transparency. Bass dynamics and tone were superb on the Pat and Al CDs with better overall control than the AI and much better tonal balance than the Jolida. Overall timing of the music was excellent. The midrange on the Cannonball LP was scarily accurate and the built in phonostage was superior to my PS Audio phonostage in terms of transparency and drive. Therefore, for the comparison I listened through the PS Audio, using the Sphinx only as a linestage to put the comparison of the preamplifiers on a level playing field.

The Sphinx exhibited two major weaknesses that in the end left it out of contention; the treble and soundstaging. Perhaps it is due to the fact that this preamplifier makes use of transistors in the linestage, but the treble had a somewhat etched quality where it appears that all of the harmonics are not being reproduced properly. On music selections with large ride cymbals the Sphinx, which should have a burnished sort of airiness, sounded too light and a bit tizzy. It was not offensive or especially harsh, but I have heard this type of high frequencies from other preamplifiers using transistors and rarely ever heard this type of sound with tubes. It was also surprising because the Sphinx amplifier that I own has extremely natural highs and I had expected the same from the preamplifier, coming as they do from the same stable.

The other major weakness it exhibited was the soundstage. From left to right the soundstage was beautiful, instruments precisely placed, good ambience retrieval, and tight focus of all performers. Depth, however, was flat. Not just reduced in depth compared to the likes of the AI and Silvaweld, but almost cardboard cutout flat. This was a major surprise given how well this preamplifier performed in most other aspects. This is the first preamplifier I have heard that uses tubes that does not at least soundstage decently with regard to the sensation of depth. Even an old Counterpoint SA 3000 (also a hybrid) I once had did a better job in this aspect.

Placing the Sonic Euphoria into the system, I was again struck by its exceptional transparency and subtle detail retrieval. However, these pluses were again offset by a sudden loss of dynamic energy. This was particularly noticeable when it followed the Sphinx or Silvaweld preamplifiers. It was not too noticeable on some tracks, such as the Cannonball Adderly LP, but the Al Di Meola track is all about pace and dynamic energy and this is where the Sonic Euphoria let the music down. Both an audiophile friend who listened as a second opinion during parts of the comparison and my girlfriend Anna found the sound to lose intensity once the Sonic Euphoria was placed in the signal path and in fact described the sound as being more "boring" than the other preamplifiers. On the self-made recording of Ravel duo for violin and cello, the atmosphere of the recording venue (a small empty music hall) was well captured but the dynamic energy of the performers was not. As I mentioned earlier in the review, the Sonic Euphoria seemed to be much more about capturing the details but missing the wholeness of the performance. The performers, wonderfully resolved in space, nevertheless failed to gel together. I found this effect disconcerting and somewhat unique in my experience. I reviewed my setup and could find no impedance issues (my amplifier used for this test has a 100k Ohm input impedance and both my sources have around 200 ohm output impedances) that could be hindering the performance of the preamplifier.

As I listened more deeply, I believe now that a large part of the issues I have with this preamplifier stem from the sensation of the bass being disconnected from the rest of the music. Why this is occurring I can only speculate but I heard this consistently with different music selections, different sources, and different amps (besides the Sphinx and a Class "D" amp I also used high input impedance, high power, EL34 push-pull amp). Is it a phase shift that is occurring? This is only a guess so I merely offer it up as a possible explanation. I have been experimenting recently with a digital crossover that has the ability to alter the phase for each driver independently. I have found that by deliberately changing the phase relationship between the drivers I can get a somewhat similar effect of disconnectedness (for lack of a better word) in the bass from my DIY speaker system. It seems to me that it also this sense of lagging bass that was perhaps a major factor in making the music sound "boring" in spite of the obvious transparency, detail, and low level information retrieval.

It has occurred to me that perhaps the other reviewers who lavished praise on the obvious strengths of the Sonic Euphoria, are using loudspeakers that lack time coherence. If that is indeed the case then perhaps what is causing the seeming lag in the bass in my system possibly wouldn't be noticed in their systems as the bass, mid, and treble, would not be in phase anyway. Again, I caution the reader to these speculations as only possible explanations for the phenomenon I am hearing with this passive unit. With past passive units I have used I noticed a lack of dynamics but not what I am hearing with regard to the bass from the Sonic Euphoria.

To say that I was surprised by the Sonic Euphoria results is an understatement. I was desperate to make the preamplifier sound like I had read that it should. I thought again, "maybe it's my source components that are still the culprits". So, as a final test, I decided to see if the Sonic Euphoria would affect the sound of the Silvaweld preamplifier. This is not as strange as it sounds. The Silvaweld delivers a real drive and punch to the sound and should also provide much better amp driving capability than either of my sources. Therefore, I treated the Silvaweld as a third source to feed the PLC. If the drive and punch of the Silvaweld were preserved through the PLC then I would have to reevaluate my sources as perhaps being at fault. So again, in went the Sonic Euphoria and I matched the levels to what was the standard level for this comparison. Well, I would really like to report that there was no change to the sound; however a change was present, and yes it was the same problems I had heard with the DAC and phonostage as sources. This leads me inexorably to the conclusion that this preamplifier is not as passive to the signal as one should rightfully expect and at least in my system, having phase/time coherent speakers, exhibited the problems I have described above.

I have saved the best for last and in the overall scheme of this test the Silvaweld SWC450 BFA was the clear champion of the group. I must point out that it was not without some relative weakness. For example, it was not quite as transparent as the Sphinx or Sonic Euphoria, however, it was transparent enough that absolutely no details were missing from the music nor did I feel that I had to put something more transparent in its place. It also was not as quiet as the Audible or of course the Sonic Euphoria but nothing was heard from the speakers beyond a couple of inches from the ribbon.  Finally, it is possible that the Silvaweld was a bit too pretty in the sense that it refused to make bad recordings sound terrible. You could hear the flaws to be sure but they were somehow less distracting than through the Sphinx PJ4, for example. This prettiness I feel was largely due to its high frequency performance, which could be rightfully classified as slightly soft yet with a tonal color that seems utterly natural.

Where the Silvaweld was the champion was in three areas, soundstage, dynamics, and tonal balance.  The soundstage from the Silvaweld is very well defined, both deep and wide, as well as being able to project forward when the material calls for it. Dynamics are fantastic from top to bottom with only a slight bit of constriction in this regard in the highest frequencies and I feel it is here where the Silvaweld's slight softness comes from. As I said before I do not believe this softness is due to a tonal imbalance, which seems totally natural, however, a slight compression in dynamic expression could leave it sounding a bit less powerful than the rest of the spectrum.

Low level detail is retrieved with the proper dynamic scaling, something sorely lacking in the Sonic Euphoria and indeed to some extent, all the other preamplifiers. Its not the same as simply hearing the low level detail, in that respect all the preamplifiers in this comparison were successful. Rather, it had to do with the weighting of the small details with a dynamic scale. This proper scaling of microdynamics I feel is a huge strength of the Silvaweld and one of the primary reasons for its drive and "lifelike" feeling with most music. Complex music is simply more realistic sounding and proper microdynamic scaling allows the music to make sense in a way the others simply cannot muster. Finally, the tonal balance of the Silvaweld simply seems to be more harmonically correct than the others when compared to the real thing. This is evident on the Ravel duo recording, where the tonal colors of the violin and cello are quite close to what was heard live when I made the recording. Cymbals on the Patricia Barber and Cannonball Adderly recordings have a complex character where all phases of their sound are easily unraveled (impact, initial ring, and brassy, shimmering decay.

Wrapping up my findings in this review I have tried to outline the strengths and weakness of all the preamplifiers, not just the two under scrutiny. I feel that I can provide a provisional ranking of them in what I can only term overall musical satisfaction. As I am finishing this review it is the Silvaweld that I continue to listen through and that continues to impress. Will I buy it? I am not sure simply because it may not be in the budget and my current DIY system is not dependent on a preamplifier. Here then is my overall ranking based on preference:

1. Silvaweld SWC450 BFA

2. Sphinx Project 4 MKIII

3. Audible Illusions Modulus 3A

4. Sonic Euphoria PLC

5. Jolida JD3000B

A note about the Jolida and Sonic Euphoria: The Jolida is actually very good for the money and in a somewhat bass heavy system could possibly place above the Audible Illusions and perhaps even the Sphinx. I know that I have been quite critical of the Sonic Euphoria PLC and my findings are running contrary to some of what has been previously reported. I can only say that perhaps with speakers that are not time coherent (the majority of them) the problems I have reported with regard to lagging bass may be reduced to insignificance and its obvious strengths will come to the forefront. In spite of its obvious strengths; transparency, low level detail retrieval, and neutral tonal balance, the apparent lack of drive and "liveness" noted disqualifies the Sonic Euphoria from recommendation. I hope to try other transformer based preamplifiers in the future to see if what I heard in the PLC is endemic to the type or only a problem in this specific case.

I am giving the Silvaweld a very strong recommendation as it performance, both in individual long term listening and in my mini "comparison", showed it to be an excellent performer that is quite sensibly priced. The only slight caveat is that I don't think it should be partnered with extremely warm sounding components or speakers due to the slight softness in the highs that I noted. That said I think that its music making ability is one of the best I have heard to date and given its price it is an exceptional high end value. Brad Morrical

Silvaweld SWC450 BFA
Retail: $1500 (Euros)

web address:

Sonic Euphoria PLC
Retail: $1195 (US)

Sonic Euphoria
web address: