EDWARDS AUDIO MC1 PHONO PREAMPLIFIER

$495

&

PSU1 POWER SUPPLY

COMBO Price: $849


Review by

Michael Peshkin

First, thanks to Carl James at USA HIFI for supplying us with this Edwards Audio MC1 and MC1 power supply for review.

This is yet another review that falls under our new "Stereo for Cheap Bastards" feature.

You can read the details about S4CB here.

We believe this is only the 2nd review of this product in the world and the very first in North America.

The Edwards Audio MC1 phono preamp, according to the USA Hifi website, is their entry level moving coil and moving magnet RIAA phono stage. It is unique at the price, with its fully RoHs compliant gold plated custom made double sided PCB’s, natural anodized extruded aluminum case and high quality internal parts like it’s use of 1% metal film resistors plus Wima and Vishay polypropylene film capacitors throughout. The RIAA. Equalization accuracy is within 0.5dB across the audio band and signal to noise is very low at -65dB. Their psuedo balanced discrete input technology gives the option to optimize grounding to reduce the possibility of Hum/noise.

The pair is smaller than they appear in the above picture at only 2" tall by 4 1/2" wide and about 6" deep. In fact, the pictures below are almost life sized. The um, "pair" to which I'm referring is the Edwards gear, not the, uh, other pair. They appear to be much larger. I mean...um....let's move on....

The circuit topology has a fully discrete input transconductance gain stage followed by a unique op-amp- based active/passive RIAA filter which is followed by a totally buffered output section with very low output impedance. This helps to reduce cable effects and improve output current and drive. It will easily drive a 600 Ohm load!! It features standard gain for both MM at 36dB and MC adding an additional 22dB; these were chosen so that the MC1 can be used with the majority of normal pre-amps which have at least an addition 6dB of gain.

The MC1 Is enclosed in brushed aluminum; the power supply and the phono stage itself look very similar, and I like the looks of brushed aluminum enclosures; Black is beautiful, but black boxes are boring. The power supply can be purchased separately; the unit can run with the MC1's wall wart but… more on that later.

The units could be said to be "surgically enhanced" though (no reflection on our model, of course) as they are formed from a single chunk of aluminum. How many phono preamps do you think there are at this price that the chassis is cut from a single aluminum billet?

I played quite a few LPs with the Edwards phono stage hooked up. I took it and opened it up to take a look and was shocked to find the chassis is cut from a single block of aluminum. I did not open the power supply since by its looks; it too was cut from one single billet of aluminum. This is one serious piece of equipment! The overall sound is a bit dry; connecting it up to two different preamps and a phono/line stage, the Coincident Technology Statement revealed that sound signature in all set-ups.

The back of the phono supply is quite simple; one set of RCA’s (47 K ohms) in and one out, a ground post and receptacle for the optional power supply. As you can see above, the unit is designed and built in the UK. Just goes to show that quality, inexpensive stereo gear doesn't have to built in China.

Originally I planned to review another phono stage with two very good MC cartridges, the Shelter 901 and the Frankencartridge. That little beast is a Win Labs SMC10 in a Monster alpha II body with a Soundsmith ruby cantilever and nude contact line stylus…a Frankenstein if there ever was one! I’ve nicknamed it (OK, I admit I’m strange) Frankie.

First up was the Shelter as it was the cartridge that was hanging on the JMW10 arm and had been aligned by Brian Walsh of Dedicated Audio in Chicago who was visiting a few months before. He used the incredible Feickert Alignment computer program and the Shelter was sounding very, very good. I later put the Win cartridge onto the arm.

I hooked up the power supply and the MC1 with the supplied umbilical cord. I wanted “good” right away, almost good (the wall wart) could wait. Of course, I had no idea what it would sound like until I began playing LPs. Directly out of the box and ice-cold with no break in, let alone warm-up, the sound of the first record I played peaked my interest. “Attack and skin!” I wrote in my notes as I listened to the well damped drum on the first cut of Allen Toussaint’s Bright Mississippi. “There’s shading and color there.”

That clued me in that I was in for a nice ride. I wanted to proceed and burn in the unit by playing a goodly number of LPs, but I played the Cardas cartridge burn-in LP first to see if it made any changes. I proceeded from that point.

While I’ve heard more expensive phono preamps that present leading transients that are more sharply defined, the Edwards does not fall far behind any of them in that department. I had decided to do a few reviews concentrating upon Rock rather than the Jazz and Classical I usually use for most evaluations. It was fun listening to old friends, hearing things I did not recall hearing when I last played them. My wife commented the system was sounding really good…input that is quite valuable!

Some of those LPs were the best representation of recording Rock has to offer, many others were the typically manipulated sounds I grew up with and became well accustomed to hearing. That’s not to say I did not listen to acoustic music rather than electronic. There were LPs with mandolins as well as ones with synthesizers of various types, electric guitars, etc.

David Grisman’s LPs are all rather well recorded although I think his CDs reveal more of his own control over the sound and likely to be better recordings than LPs he made for other recording companies…it was their dollars and his musicianship, rather than the more recent CDs his company has produced. I believe a strong musician may have some say about recording techniques and reproduction, but I cannot imagine the control equals that when it is their own recording company. If you’re not familiar with Grisman, he is thought to be the world’s best mandolinist, playing and recording with such luminaries as Jerry Garcia, Stephane Grappelli, the Grateful Dead, John Hartford, Del McCoury, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Earl Scruggs, James Taylor, Doc Watson and more.

That aside, his LPs do sound very good. Grisman’s Dawganova is one record I used to determine whether higher string tones are reproduced faithfully. Very nicely recorded, the wood body of Grisman’s mandolin was reproduced well, the image a little large but not by any stretch guitar sized. Grisman has a hard attack when he plays, and I’ve heard that softened with some playback equipment (some tubes I’ve used in my Anthem preamp can do that), but playing through the Anthem’s line stage, the Edwards revealed his sharp attack the way in which I expected. The speed he shows when playing his mandolin can be slurred but the Edwards separated each note quite well, better than my Anthem’s phono stage on its own. I use a Hagerman step-up device which pumps the performance of the Anthem’s phono stage up a good bit. The Edwards edges past the Anthem/Hagerman combination with strings, a very important thing as I love all the strings quite well for both the music and as a reviewer, what strings reveal about equipment.

Listening to a couple of monos, my weakness (I really do need to spend some bucks and get a good mono cartridge), I pulled out a favorite and played a couple sides of the box set (Columbia SL172, early quartets) and one I recently picked up Paganini Concerto in D minor, Francescati, violin/Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra) The Beethoven Quartets are perhaps the only music anyone would ever need if trapped on a desert island. I love the performances, both early and late quartets, by the Budapest Quartet.

Francescati playing Paganinini’s Violin Concerto proved to be wonderful and musically rewarding for this listener. This LP is really a joy. Most importantly, the Edwards phono stage seemed to reject out of phase noise beautifully, but I do need to get that mono cartridge!

I got on a Dire Straits “jag” and played Brothers in Arms and Love Over Gold with the incredible "Telegraph Road" quite a few times, drawing my Rock n’ Roll wife into the room. The Edwards with the Shelter 901 did not do the subterranean thing as well as my Anthem, yet with the SMC10, the floor shook all the way to Nebraska (and I live in Pennsylvania); the Edwards definitely

revealing how great that cartridge is with both detail and tonal color; transients well controlled and scary when intended to be so.

Interesting that both cartridges cost more than the Edwards MC1 and power supply combined!

Playing a couple of the magnificently recorded LPs from Direct Grace, the Edward’s allowed the Frankencartridge to really show why the original SMC10 sold for the big money that it did in the early part of this new century. I have never heard many of the things this cartridge digs out of a groove and the Edwards delivered it tonally intact and with as much of the sway and swoon, the pace and rhythm as anyone would ever expect.

There are details I heard listening to Frisell’s fingers (Direct Grace DG 00104S) on the strings that astounded me. Years ago a common expression was, for violins and other strings, “I could both see and hear the rosin falling off the bow,” a gross exaggeration of course, but a colorful mental picture none the less. It was used far too often.

I could see and hear Frisell’s skin cells falling onto the floor from his guitar. OK, I couldn’t, but there were enough aural cues to fake me into thinking the guitar was in the room; that moment when things sound so real you think you’re either daft or in heaven. The record is a masterpiece of the art of making an LP. The Edwards is surprisingly capable of presenting the great achievements Peter Lederman and his crew made for our enjoyment.

It is he I have to thank for saving Frankie from a land-fill (The Win Labs SMC-10 with Soundsmith’s cantilever and stylus placed into the body of a Monster alpha body is definitely a Frankenstein!).

I grabbed an LP out of one of my cull boxes to see if I really wanted to get rid of Anne Murray’s I’ll Always Love You (Capitol/EMI 500-5121). I found it to be quite listenable, but more importantly here, Murray’s voice has clarity, a method of delivering the sounds of her lyrics that grabbed me. While a totally different singer, her articulation reminds me of Ella Fitzgerald and the Edwards didn’t give her a 38DD chest (there I go again..dang) as some preamps can do.

Soundstage and imaging remained quite similar, as did the cooler, drier presentation of music. I’m not much of an audiophile, I’ve told you people out there I like things a bit warmer than would necessarily be considered as kosher audiophile sound. The difference was nothing that lessened my admiration for the Edwards, music was eminently enjoyable.

Listening to Dire Straits Brothers in Arms and Love Over Gold, I was left wanting for more…not from the Edwards, but from the LPs themselves. I ordered the 2 record 45 RPM sets for both titles. I have only the Edwards to blame for me spending money I could have spent on a sushi dinner for my wife and me. Normally I’d say the devil made me do it. In fact, it was what was revealed by the Edwards that made me wonder, after some talk at the Vinyl Asylum about Brothers in Arms, what might be shortcomings of the original LPs in my collection. As I write this they are traveling from Elusive Disc to me. More later when I’ve played them!

Listening to the MC1 alone without the PS1 power supply after was sort of disappointing, yet expected after spending a lot of time with the separate power supply. Everything that made the Edwards special was somewhat diminished. Not to any large degree, but definitely not the exciting unit(s) it is with that outboard power supply. There is no doubting the importance of a stellar power supply in all forms of electronics.

I played the self-titled Youngbloods LP (Warner WS1878), a live recording that has a good deal of punch and swagger with both the outboard power supply connected and later, with the wall-wart. I won’t spend much time describing what was similar, but less. Transients were a bit softer, attacks a bit lighter. The MC1 is an artist which uses and controls many colors; so if need be, buy the unit with the wall-wart and save your pennies and buy the power supply later, but buy the power supply! While you won’t be sorry if you do, you may be sorry if you don’t.

 

There are several phono stages at this price level, many of them superb. There are less that include BOTH a moving magnet AND moving coil section. The Edwards Audio MC1 is not kind to poor recordings, no government cover-ups here, but it embraces quality LP's like a new mother embraces her child. It delivers music; the sound is good, the musicality (if you allow) is much better. For its Cheap Bastards $495 price, it's a jewel. But adding the the dedicated power supply for an additional $400, which still keeps it well within our S4CB limit of a thousand bucks, is a must do to take the package to a much greater level.

From the most entry level turntable of at around $400 up to, say, $1,500 with either a moving magnet or moving coil, the MC1 & PS is a great fit.

PUBLISHED SPECS

Max Input MC: 6mV Nominal Input: 0.1-1mV
Gain: 56dB THD Distortion: <0.005% 1kHz
Signal to noise: -65dB RIAA: within 0.25dB
Stereo separation better than: 65dB - 20-20kHz
Input Loading MC/MM: 100R with 2n2/47K with 120pF
Output impedance: <10 Ohms
Nominal output: 65mV - 650mV
Max output level: 4.7v depending upon input
Dimensions WxHxL: 114.5mm x 47.5mm x 160mm
Weight: 0.5kg
Power consumption (Max): 2.5W

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