ZESTO ANDROS PS-1 PHONO PREAMPLIFIER
2nd Opinion by
Dr. John Richardson
3rd Opinion by
The Andros PS1 is a MC/MM phonostage using four 12AX7 vacuum tubes. It has 8 position load settings from 1000 to 20 Ohms, step up transformers, balanced inputs and low noise with all adjustments easily accessible on the back, nothing hidden. Each unit is Made in the USA and built by hand.
I usually do not look at a manufacturer’s site until I’m finished with my time with a component. I want my impressions to be my own,; not influenced by looks, price, or specifications. I begin using the information garnered at the site when I am near the end of my listening and note-taking, heading west into the sunset.
Occasionally, however, I HAVE to see what I’m being sent. I should NEVER do it as a beautiful piece of gear can and does influence me if I’m unwary. The Andros PS1 phonostage is a gorgeous, glorious example of the inorganic becoming organic. The trend for most electronics is the chassis, other than various ways to control resonance is that the metal is flat, with right angles; i.e., metal cases are boxy looking, any sense or semblance of style is on the faceplate. The “organic” look can be achieved ONLY with the use of organic substances.
Here is what designer George Counnas, President of Zesto Audio (pictured) says about his Andros:
“Fussy Can Be Good. I’ve loved music all my life – as a musician, record producer and audio engineer. That makes me fussy about sound. That’s a good thing. If you want something done right… Digital technology has its place, but true audiophiles know that for the truest, purest sound, nothing beats analog. As I returned “home” to the warm, wonderful world of vinyl, I looked for the gear that would deliver the highest fidelity. I wasn’t satisfied. So I built my own.
Vacuum tubes: everything old becomes new again
Vacuum tubes faithfully convert the delicate signal from my turntable and bring warmth and harmonic tonality like nothing else can.
As a young man in England, I designed vacuum tube circuits. I worked for DECCA Navigator -- at the time Britain’s largest electronics company -- as part of a research and development team designing airborne navigational systems for the Royal Air Force. So I have many years of experience designing, creating and bringing to market high-end electronic equipment. The difference here is that no one’s life is at stake. My quest for perfection started doing research on past phonostage designs going back to the original RCA circuits of the 1930’s. These guys got a lot of things right, even though their tools were slide rules and trial and error. Their “classic” designs were my starting point.
But I had the advantage of CAD software to simulate electronic circuits. Ah yes, the old and the new. But even with the engineering skill, history, technologies, in the end it’s designed by how it sounds, by ear.
Voila! Here’s my baby!
One year later, after 71 circuit revisions with hundreds of component upgrades, I have a phonostage that I am proud to put my name on. It gives me joy to listen to music.
The Andros PS1 Phonostage is my baby. I compromised on nothing.
The resisters are very quiet, the capacitors are transparent, and the transformers have minimal distortion. To make sure its visual aesthetics lived up to its sound, I had an industrial designer (Musky Mistry) and an artist (Carolyn Counnas) collaborate to create an elegant enclosure that’s built like a tank.
In the end, however, the Andros PS1 is about what you hear. Hearing is believing.”
We usually leave official specs for the end of our reviews, but in this case we thought you might like to see them upfront:
Inputs per channel
• Separate MM and MC inputs
• MM/MC switch
• MM impedance 47K Ohms
• MM capacitance 100pf
• MC Unbalanced ground isolated RCA or Balanced XLR3F
• MC ground on/off switch
• MC load impedance adjustable 1000, 400, 200, 100, 50, 40, 30, 20 Ohms
• MC Internal step up transformers
• MC High/Low switch with -10 dB gain for high output MC cartridges
Outputs per channel
• Impedance 10K ohms
• -10 dB Vu output level
• Four (4) Gold pin JJ ECC83S/12AX7 vacuum tubes with high quality ceramic sockets
• Ground binding post
• Power consumption 27W , 0 drain when off
• Voltage 110/120V AC 60Hz, (optional factory installed 240V AC 50/60Hz)
• Standard 3 pin IEC power connector
• ON/OFF power switch conveniently located on the front side
• Two internal high quality linear regulated power supplies, 250V and 12V
• Gain MM input 45dB
• Gain MC input 65dB
• Noise - 75dBu
• Frequency response complies with the original RIAA curve within +or- 0.5 dB
• RIAA curve is achieved using a passive filter
• 1% metal film resisters throughout
• Polypropylene capacitors throughout the audio path
• "Made in the USA" using US and imported parts
• Each unit is built by hand
• 50 hour factory burn in on all circuits and vacuum tubes
• Dimensions 17" W X 12" D X 5" H
• Weight 20 lbs.
• 16 gauge steel enclosure
• Award winning Isonode anti-vibration feet
• Two year limited warranty
Six months warranty on Vacuum Tubes
As impressive as the specs are, the appearance of the Andros is breathtaking! I got a huge smile on my face (according to the boss, my wife), and YELLED “WOW!” when I saw the picture of the phono stage. More “wows” when I saw the picture of the back of the unit, that which serves adjustability for our cartridges, stable connections for our cables. All that paled when I saw the unit as it ascended out of the box; gorgeous is an understatement. It screams high dollars, ultra high quality, a work of art. All of which belie its mid-price under $4,000 tag.
Stereomojo Publisher James Darby knew something was up with the Andros as he scurried around the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Zestos kept showing up in room after room as the phono pre for several high-end turntable demonstrations. He knew that turntable designers always seek the best phono preamps to showcase the performance of their ‘tables. To do otherwise would be pretty stupid. To see several of them using a brand new phono preamp from a brand new company could only mean one thing: the Zesto Andros must be something special.
Let’s see if he was right.
Thankfully, the PS1 arrived safely, but: It seems, as I read and talk with other ‘philes; including my experiences, that shipping damage is common. Much of what I receive is over-protected, if that’s possible. Damage is rare enough that I don’t sit in a corner, awaiting the arrival of some gear, biting my nails and calling for my Mommy. But I have to admit there are times I think about doing just that. Publisher’s note: Shipping damage is VERY common. About 30% of what we received is damaged to some degree, even when it is packed extremely well. We have even had expensive components completely disappear in route to us with no explanation from either Fedex or UPS. Packing is a very important factor and is becoming moreso.
Opening the carton, case, box, crate, I noticed that the Andros definitely is packed in a well protected manner, which, of course, is fine with me and prospective buyers. This is accomplished by using boxes with parts that could not be damaged (power cord, for instance) to hold everything in place. That type of packaging provides lots of space between the outer box walls and the Andros itself without adding shipping weight.
I’ve used a lot of medium priced phono stages, many of which deliver the goods quite well compared to what one would expect from more expensive units. I’ve been happy with the sound of those components, but if they allowed a wide parameter of adjustments, the difficulty of doing such forced this lazy listener into submission; I don’t want to HAVE to do soldering to change load as 47 ohms load, gain pretty much set at the factory, or maybe an internal “lo to hi” switch…inside the unit!
The Andros makes things easy; no need to flip internal switches or soldering in various resistors. High quality switches are not cheap, you easily feel how high the quality is when you turn the stepped dial to set load, flip a switch for gain…OUTSIDE, on the back of the unit, thus not cluttering that organic look.
High output; low output moving coil inputs, the ability to ground and if needed, the ability to lift the ground with a switch, the Andros allows all and every adjustment the vinylista will ever want or need. All functions of cartridge playback are covered, and all switches are firm, robust so as to handle the owner’s use for many years.
Changing settings on the rear of the chassis is easy, but you might have to set the unit in a spot for experimentation and then move it into its final position depending on your system. If you consider that a down side, then perhaps you want a component without the adjustability of the Andros. You can change loading without turning the Andros off but it is advised if you are flipping any of the switches, that you mute your preamp (or turn the volume down…but your significant other has probably told you to do that already).
One of the first things I noticed was how easy it was to discern different sounds of any kind; similar instruments illuminated; their differences easily discerned. One recording surprised me, as I’d always thought the trumpet sounded very much like a human voice. The PS1 allowed me to make the distinction quite easily. Alas, I remember the sound, but which recording it was escapes me…or at least hid from me because of the jumbled mess the basement had become because of the flood.
A record I used often years ago for evaluating gear, and played using the PS1, was Procul Harum’s Live at Edmonton (my two copies are US A&M issues, 1972, one being an early promo LP). It’s well recorded, but definitely not state of the art (The British copy, and I’m lookin’ fer it, may outclass the US pressings). Because it was so popular, there are many pressings out there, the early ones sounding quite a bit better of course, than any pressed later.
Playing a number of “audiophile” LPs, especially the Ray Brown Solar Energy from Pure Audiophile LPs, was, and I’m trying to avoid the hyperbole, an incredible experience. I love this LP (2 LPs) for its performance and even the most militant of Jazz disparagers would have to admit the sound is exemplary. Listening, I heard nuances I’d never heard, and I’ve listened to this recording perhaps a couple dozen times. You hear (but only with the PS1) Ray Brown as he bends the strings to achieve his sound, the reason he’s been sought after by the best in the music business. His styling and fingering can be heard as clearly as a movie would show that one could grab a bass and go far beyond trying to sound like Ray. He makes it sound easy and I can’t recall any equipment that revealed as much information as the PS1 does with similar ease!
Listening to an RCA reissue of the Bluebird recordings, Lionel Hampton’s vibes never break up in the highest of registers. Vibes are incredibly tough for equipment to control those highest notes. Most phono gear lays down and admits defeat, the sound gets ugly and subsequently, one turns the volume down to control that break-up.
Among so many other startling things I heard with the PS1, Gary Burton in Like Minds with Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Dave Holland and Roy Haynes (another Pure Audiophile set of LPs), shows another example of one instrument mimicking another, hearing each musician playing off each other’s muse. Corea and Burton reveal how close those two instruments’ sound actually can be. Listen to them playing off each other, Burton playing, then Corea, switching and playing each other’s notes; and the PS1 reveals their musical whims about as well as if I’d been there listening to them live!
The sound of applause, 2 hands striking one another, often sounds like loud mush. With the Andros , I heard those separate hand claps quite easily I could almost count the number of people in audience. Brooker’s voice about as smooth as I’ve ever heard it, perhaps a bit more truthful to his limitations as a singer, but as an aside, I can’t imagine any other singer delivering the plaintiff cries that both A Salty Dog and All this and more Brooker delivers and is served by the PS1.
I’d originally set the PS1 up in my office system as my main system and room were drying out from 4 inches of water flowing through the basement. I used a variety of cartridges, a Shure, an Audio Note, and a Grado mono (black). I could not be happier with any moving magnet phono stage, (more on that from John Fritz) the difference in the sound of each of my moving magnet cartridges were easily discerned; the Shure m97xe (w. JICO stylus) was probably the winner with the AudioNote IQ2 being close behind. I’d hoped the Andros would make a man out of the AudioNote, and although it remained the refined, gentleman’s gentleman, the PS1 did give it some bigger cajones.
The Supex SDX1000 moving coil has shown itself to be all that I’ve read about moving coils from yesteryear; slightly warm but quite articulate. I sort of had a feeling of Déjà vu’ while listening to it loaded at 100 ohms; similar to the AudioNote sound, just quicker. The PS1, using that MC cartridge or the MM cartridges, through both of my systems (It took two months, but I finally was able to hook the Andros PS1 up with my “big rig.”
When I switched to the big system, since it was relatively easy to step behind my audio rack and change those settings, I could easily play with different loads with the Win Labs SMC10 Frankencartridge. For those who haven’t read my descriptions concerning this cartridge, the WIN LABS cartridge is housed in a Monster cartridge body with a Soundsmith cantilever and stylus. An absolutely beautiful sounding cartridge if a bit refined. The PS1 again, this time with a moving coil, allowed this cartridge (as well as the AudioNote IQ2) to show their muscles when the music called for them to do just that.
Moving magnet gain is 45dB, the Moving coil is 65dB. A switch on the back allows for -10dB drop in gain for high output moving coils. This allows both high and low output cartridges use of the step-up transformers within the unit.
Seeing pictures of a phono stage with the load options on the front of the chassis I had once thought was a great idea…as stated, the Andros settings and switches are on the back of the unit. I realized that although I might play with different settings, once I’d found which one was best for the WIN, I wouldn’t need those switches so why have them on the front cluttering the sleek looks of the Andros?
I began listening at 100 ohms and felt that the sound was a bit spitty. Checking the VTF, finding it was a bit too low, I raised the weight that had been set at 1.5 grams, found that 1.7 grams worked well and setting the load to 200 ohms. I ended up liking the 30 ohm resistance level the best. The ability to switch loads easily allowed me to put a marker on the load; although the guts of this cartridge are definitely a WIN Labs SMC10, a different body and cantilever/stylus had made it difficult (using the Hagerman Piccolo step-up) to choose the right setting. With the tracking force and the resistance set, I was ready to listen to music with some guts and glory, Telegraph Road from Dire Straits’ Love over Gold was the first LP played with the room set up once again after the flood.
My wife is the Rocker in this house, her husband tends to listen to Jazz and Classical far more often than Rock…but the boss ordered up some “Van the Man” and knowing the boss must always be placated, I played Poetic Champions Compose, Van Morrison’s voice full of that British isle swagger. I believe his voice was softened slightly, not as much growl and gruffness, replacing it with more of a chesty sound, perhaps more truthful to a romantic sound than I’ve heard before (I imagine my wife isn’t the only woman who thinks he’s a hottie).
Listening to piano music, I was forced into whipping out my big 10…record set of Keith Jarrett in Japan, The Sun Bear Concerts. ECM, as always, did a masterful job of engineering. ECM discs are among the quietest and best sounding LPs in my collection. Jarrett’s solo piano is captured with literally gobs of air surrounding the instrument, the sound so pure you can almost watch each string of the piano being struck by the piano’s hammers. For many years I incorrectly interpreted the sounds I’d identified as a woman’s voice as she sang along with Jarrett’s stylings.
As my system coalesced into the discerning instrument it has become, and of course, there is no woman singing; only Jarrett lost within his own muse as he makes his piano sing. Lost in his reverie. The sounds can be bothersome, I believe, in lesser equipment. The Andros allows us to hear that intermingled beauty Jarrett and his piano can be at those times.
While listening to my original (RCA 1934) Bartok, Concerto for Orchestra, Percussion and Celeste, one of my favorite go-to record while listening for soundstage and imaging (I really love this record, and I’ve worn out one copy, working on another). The Andros probably creates one of the blackest of backgrounds I’ve heard in my system, allowing the front of my room become full-staged, from the created Proscenium arch above, to my side walls, the sound was clear, lifelike and exciting. No crushed wall of sound, the Andros placed each instrumentalist and his chosen partner in sound (each instrument itself) with a solid, 3 dimensional portrayal of individual sound. My wife walked into the room just as I was exclaiming to myself, “That’s unbelievable!” There must have been too much fervor in my scream as she sort of giggled and asked if I had another woman hidden in the room. Yep, caught with a lover! “I only love you, dear!”
It really is an extraordinary unit. Trust me, if I had the funds available right now, I’d jump at the chance to own this baby. If you have a significant investment in vinyl and an analog front end that merits the best of the best phono preamps, you should by all means audition the Zesto Andros. At its price, its performance competes with much more expensive units. In appearance and sexiness, there’s nothing that comes close.
Dr. John Richardson
Our Publisher James Darby asked me to do a second opinion of the Zesto Audio Andros phono stage, which I received fresh on the heels of its visit to Mike Peshkin’s house.
Upon my first spin listening to the Andros in my system, two things immediately surged to the forefront: a beautifully natural presentation to the music, much like one would expect to hear from a live performance, and an incredible sense of the music coming from a “dark” background. My immediate thought was that the folks at Zesto Audio are serious about eliminating as much spurious noise as possible from those licorice pizza grooves and the apparatus used to extract music from them.
To test my theory about the noise floor, I did a couple of vinyl rips using the Andros as the analog phono stage in the signal chain. Normally, I just feed the output from the phono cartridge directly into my Metric Halo ULN-2, dial up the gain using the ULN-2’s mic preamps, and do the RIAA equalization in the digital domain using Metric Halo’s excellent MIO interface software. With the Andros present, I merely added a tiny bit of gain (as needed) using the Metric Halo, letting the Andros supply most of the gain, as well as analog RIAA correction. My ears were correct, as I immediately noted as the digital waveforms scrolled across my computer screen that the noise floor associated with the lead-in grooves was much smaller and less modulated than I normally see using the ULN-2 alone. Upon digital playback, the files made using the Andros were every bit as clean and good sounding as those made using the ULN-2 alone, and they required less noise reduction after the fact. I would even go so far as to say that the files were even a bit more “analog” sounding, I’m sure due to the naturally harmonic analog processing done by the Andros.
As I have a low output moving coil cartridge hanging on my tonearm (like Mike’s), I wanted to hear how the Andros would perform using a moving magnet or moving iron cartridge. To this end, I decided to spend an afternoon at my listening buddy John Fritz’s house with the Andros in tow. John has a very revealing and good sounding system consisting of Audio Research amplification and Wilson Audio MAXX speakers. His analog front end is a VPI Classic turntable with a Graham tonearm upon which is mounted a Grado Reference Series moving iron cartridge.
John and I quickly got down to the business of listening with the Andros in the system.
Our first spin was “Duodecima, Music for Two Guitars,” (Opus 3, 8201). John and I both found the presentation of the instruments to be balanced, with rock-solid left to right imaging. Compared to John’s reference Audio Research PH-3 Special Edition phono stage, we found the instruments to be a bit more forward in the soundstage. We also noticed a slight improvement in the body of the guitar sound, as well as an impressive sense of hall ambience and space around the guitars.
On the album “Masques” by Brand X (Passport Records), I was impressed by the attack of Percy Jones’ electric bass, especially on the title cut. Here, also, the imaging was exceptional, both lateral and front-to-back, with sounds seemingly emanating from all positions in the soundstage. Tonally, I also found the bass to be well represented, sounding almost like the real thing.
Next up was Dave Wilson’s excellent recording of “20th Century Masterpieces for Piano and Cello,” featuring Roger Drinkall and Dian Baker on Cello and Piano, respectively (Wilson Audiophile W-9230). The two instruments sounded incredibly lifelike, again placed perfectly into their respective positions in the soundstage, and locked there. Apparent were the rich overtones and harmonics of both instruments, as well as superb attack and decay, which lent to the “you are there” feel of this recording. There were times when the dynamic of the piano reproduced through the Andros was almost scary.
A favorite album of mine is Analogue Production’s re-master of Morton Gould’s “Latin American Symphonette,” (APC 003) which is a rollicking, fun and extremely colorful suite of Latin American traditional dance music. This recording is lovely in its dynamic presentation and vibrant tonality, not to mention its rhythmic complexity. While this is a superb demonstration disc, it’s also a heck of a lot of fun to sit back and enjoy. The Andros made listening to this disc a special event, like eating expensive gourmet chocolate. Exciting it was, but never over the top or excessively syrupy or sweet; the experience was just right. I greatly appreciated the wonderfully “analog” way in which the Andros helped to reproduce this music. John noticed that on this piece, there was a smoothing out of a bit of an upper-midrange “bump” that he has become accustomed to on his Audio Research phono stage. In short, he found the Andros to sound a bit more realistic and lifelike.
It’s interesting to note here that John and I did a direct comparison between my re-issue of the Gould album and the original pressing, which was on Vanguard Classics. Both of us could immediately hear differences between the two pressings, with both of us preferring the bit of upper-midrange/treble energy that lent some added presence and spaciousness on the original pressing. The Andros laid these differences right out before us, making them as plain as sliced bread. I think much of this has to do with the incredibly low noise floor offered by the Andros relative to other phono stages.
I’d say that anyone with the green to spend on a phono stage like this would do well to audition the Andros. It’s physically beautiful, adaptable to many different cartridges by merely accessing the switches on the back panel, and most importantly, it will do real sonic justice to your valuable vinyl collection.
When Dr. John Richardson asked me to evaluate the Andros PS 1 tube phonostage in my system, I admitted total ignorance of Zesto Audio and its inaugural offering. However, I jumped at the opportunity to give it a try as I was interested in comparing this latest thinking in phono stage design to my long in the tooth Audio Research PH-3 Special Edition, a hybrid unit that has served me well for these past 13 years. In fact, I have not had the slightest urge to replace the Audio Research all of this time. That is until now.
Before I delve into my impressions of this remarkable phono stage, a word or two about my system and listening priorities. Starting with the front end, I use another long term stalwart, the VPI HW-IV turntable, with a Graham 1.5 T tonearm supporting a Grado reference phono cartridge (low output). Down stream is the hybrid Audio Research LS-25 MkII linestage, an Audio Research VT-100 MK all tube amplifier, and Wilson Audio MAXX speakers. My acoustically treated listening room is rather large: 18 feet wide, 30 feet long, with an eight foot ceiling. The sound of my system is slightly warm yet detailed. I listen to a wide range of music but I am particularly fond of orchestral music and jazz.
As a semi-professional drummer and percussionist with almost weekly exposure to live acoustic music, what impresses me most in an audio system is the ability to reproduce micro and macro dynamics. Dynamic contrasts play a large part in musical expression. Music at times should caress you and at other times slap you in the face. Any compression or alteration of the dynamics of a recording detracts from our appreciation of the music and the artist. Dynamics also convey the physical impact and weight of live music, something that is often squashed by otherwise fine audio systems. This is not just a matter of sound pressure levels but also a sense of body and bloom – you not only hear the notes, you can physically sense them as they swell from the instrument. Of course, no audio system (or recording) can reproduce the full impact of a 100 piece orchestra a tutti, but the best (and usually large) systems can reproduce some of the weight and excitement of live music making. In my experience, Audio Research electronics and Wilson Audio speakers excel in this regard.
An artist’s technique is often conveyed through subtleties. Therefore, I value a component’s ability to reproduce nuances, which in large part is the result of a component’s lack of noise artifacts that mask low level details. Also, it goes without saying a component (and system) must be free of colorations that alter the natural sound of an instrument heard live. Most, but by no means all, high end systems tend to score well in this regard.
I will leave it to MuzikMike Peshkin and Dr. Richardson to expound upon the features of the Andros. I will say that the Andros is one flexible, sturdy piece of equipment with a most unusual appearance with its curved fascia and top cover. I find it most attractive, but this will be a matter of taste. All of my listening was done with the moving magnet input (the Grado is a moving iron cartridge) so I can’t speak to its performance with moving coils. A separate input for coils is provided which employs step up transformers and eight load settings selected by a conveniently located rotary switch at the back of the unit.
I will start with a few general comments about the sound of the Andros. First, I was immediately struck by the near total absence of noise. With no signal and the gain turned up to what would be a rather loud listening level, I detected only the faintest of white noise with my ear to the tweeter. Indeed, I would place the Andros in the same league as some excellent solid state phono stages I have heard. Noise levels are subjectively lower than in my PH-3 SE, which I consider to be a quiet unit. There should be no problem with noise even when using the lowest output moving coils. This lack of noise allows you hear deep into the mix and perceive crucial low level details.
Next, I detected no anomalies in the spectral balance of the Andros. Phono stages can be quite tricky to execute. After all, in addition to providing gain, a phono stage must equalize a cartridge’s meager output to conform to the RIAA standard. Here, the passive equalization employed by designer George Counnas has resulted in a subjectively balanced presentation with no discernible sonic peaks or valleys.
Finally, throughout my listening sessions, I constantly noted the purity of the sound, especially the mellifluous high frequencies, which were extended and oh so clean and natural.
The late Joe Morello’s magnificent drum solo in Castilian Drums (Dave Brubeck Quartet at Carnegie Hall Columbia C2S-826) can reveal many things about a component’s sound. Joe’s clever use of his hands on the drums in the first part of the solo results in a unique “skin on skin” sound. The Andros captures it perfectly. When Joe switches to sticks, he alternates between pianissimo and fortissimo and everything in between. The Andros allows you to hear the many, sometimes abrupt changes in dynamics as Joe plays his heart out to an appreciative audience. At one point Joe hits the bell of one cymbal and then another. Each has a slightly different metallic “clang”. The Andros reproduces this nuance with stunning clarity. The ultra quiet circuit wrought here pays dividends in allowing the sympathetic acoustic of Carnegie Hall to be evident even during the quietest moments of the solo. All together, the Andros allowed me to appreciate Joe’s solo all the more, which is the name of the game folks.
The Andros’ reproduction of the chorus and orchestra in the Battle on the Ice from Alexander Nevsky (Athena Productions ALSY-10003) was spot on. This is a close up, multi-miked recording in a clear and dry acoustic. A component has no where to hide when reproducing this recording. The Andros did very well indeed in conveying the weight and skin tone of the bass drum, the blat and power of the trombone, and the metallic shimmer of the cymbals. A dramatic passage occurs mid-way through the piece where the chorus and orchestra are in full cry, making the utmost demands of a system. The Andros did not in any way limit the brute, almost barbaric force of the music, and it rendered the chorus and orchestra cleanly and distinctly. The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (Felix Slatkin, Capitol Records reissue SP8373) was recorded in a studio and its dry acoustic lays bare the natural sound of the instruments of an Orchestra. The string tone of the string sections was clearly differentiated by the Andros, the dry acoustic also allowing the percussion to cut through the sound with clarity and presence. This recording brought into focus (weak pun intended) the Andros’ imaging qualities, in particular, its wide and precise lateral imaging. At one point the string sections do a “hand off “of the theme across the stage. Better than I have heard before, the Andros allows you to clearly hear the discrete location and space of each string section as the theme is transferred left to right between the sections.
Switching gears, I threw on Ginestera Sonata No. 1 (Hyperion Knight, Wilson Audio W-9025). This is a close up recording of a 9’ Steinway grand piano. The weight and power of the instrument are reproduced with nearly the same impact I experience when listening to the instrument live. I use this recording to evaluate a component’s dynamic linearity. The Andros did not seem to favor any part of the spectrum dynamically, although at times I thought the Audio Research edged it out slightly in overall dynamic extension. Both the Andros and the Audio Research rendered the notes distinctly, nearly on par with top notch solid sate gear.
Bartok’s Second String Quartet (Bartok- the Six String Quartets, Columbia D3S717) finds the famed Julliard String Quartet alternating between the delicate and the fierce with a technique second to none. The Andros adeptly reproduced the rasp, bite and harmonic structure of the different string instruments. The ebb and flow of the music was there in spades, as well as the incisive and passionate playing of the quartet.
Finally, I cued up the direct disc recording of Harry James and his Big Band (Sheffield Lab 3). I chose the cut More Splutie Please with Harry and the band swinging at full tilt. Tonally and dynamically, Harry’s trumpet here sounds very much like what a trumpet sounds likes live from a close up perspective. I have experienced trumpets playing up close and believe me they can play very loud but they never sound shrill or harsh. Through the Andros, the sensation of a trumpet playing live was well preserved. The same was true for the other instruments in the band, particularly the muscular playing of the drummer. The sound was punchy and never became congested even in the heaviest passages. The Andros was also very effective in portraying the space occupied by the different sections of band.
As you may surmise, I enjoyed my time listening to the Andros in my system. It was an ear opener in many ways. If, like me, you are looking to upgrade your phono section in the near future, you would do well to put the Andros on your short list. Note that I have not heard to any great extent the latest offerings from Audio Research and others, but I can fully imagine the Andros giving them a run for their money, and perhaps more. As for you solid state aficionados, give the Andros a listen. It may win you over with its transparent and grain/noise free presentation. At a reasonable $3,900, and with flexibility to boot, the Andros PS 1 Phonostage is a winner .
Owning a phonostage with state-of-the-art sonics? Wonderful! Owning one with balanced circuits and infinite adjustability? Outstanding! Having those adjustments not be tiny, cheap dip switches but high quality knobs and switches on the BACK so you don't have to open the case to make adjustments in real time? Amazing! Having it look like it belongs in a Museum of Modern Art? Unbelievable! Having it cost LESS than $4,000?
All three Stereomojo reviewers agree: The Andros Phonostage, made in the USA by new company Zesto, is a remarkable achievement both in terms of absolute performance as well as artistic form and function. If you have a significant investment in vinyl and an analog front end that merits the best of the best phono preamps, you should by all means audition the Zesto Andros. At its price, its performance competes with much more expensive units. In appearance and sexiness, there’s nothing that comes close.
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