Preamp shootout: Line Magnetic, Melody Audio, Rogue Audio...

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Richard Austen, Apr 9, 2015.

  1. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Hong Kong
    Finally had the chance to do the long awaited preamp shootout. For the listening session my Line Magnetic 219IA Integrated amplifier was switched into power amp mode for the test. I used an SPL meter at the listening chair to have a baseline such that volume would not impact the results - as slightly louder sound is often mistaken for superior sound.

    I auditioned the same music and the same tracks for each preamplifier as well as playing the tracks through the LM 219IA as an integrated amplifier as a baseline. The speakers used were Zu Audio Omen Def MK.II - Zu Audio has not been my cup of tea but this speaker is considerably better than the previous model and considerably better than the Essence model which is more expensive. This is a full range speaker capable of very solid bass depth and speed and offering 101dB of sensitivity. This is a lot of speaker - I can't find the US list price so I am guessing $4500 but if someone can correct me on this please do.

    Info on the speaker is here

    The albums used were somewhat limited as I didn't have a huge amount of time and had to make it across town before the second dealer I wanted to visit closed - so I used the following albums


    Piano-guitar/male vocal

    Folk-Celtic/Female Vocal
    russk likes this.
  2. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Hong Kong
    The First Preamplifier up was the Line Magnetic 512CA (~$10,000US)


    Right off the bat vocals were denser fuller and absent the slightly thin sibilance on Loreena McKennitt's vocals. This was immediately noticeable and with the the Percussion piece the the overall sound had more weight and depth. Basically the sound was more sophisticated. Overall a noticeable improvement over the 219IA which also had more bass impact while being utilized as just a power amp. I am very pleased by this obviously because I was somewhat using an educated guess on its abilities as a pure power amp and I was roundly not disappointed. Still the sound at times leaned to the safe and less interesting side of the spectrum. I'd score the system with the 512CA a good 8/10

    The Next Amplifier was the Melody Valve Platinum 101D ($7,000)


    This amplifier was immediately more valve sounding that the 512CA and more dense, more rich and more sophisticated on piano with deep texture and a tone monster. On the big percussion piece bass was tighter but also deeper. Some may remember a long while back that I chose the the 219IA over a Melody 211 integrated - but this is not the case this time - this preamp for me was roundly better than the 512CA on piano. It goes to show you that you can't just go by brand but consider each product on its own merit. I'd Score this combination a 9.5/10

    Rogue Audio Athena (~$5,000)
    Rogue Audio always produces solid sound and here it produces solid sound. I would say it had a closer to solid state presentation on vocals and less tone body and depth of the Melody BUT it walked an interesting balance of neutrality and warmth - I suspect it's an easier choice for SS guys who want to dip their to into tubes but want to retain that SS crispness. The Melody is more my cup of tea because while it leans slightly thick it does what it does in an utterly gorgeous manner - The Rogue is more of a straight shooter perhaps but as a result a little less engaging. Still it was excellent.
    I'd score this combination an 8.5/10

    Audio Note M6 ($20,000 US)
    The last comparison was the same music but at the Audio Note Dealer because I wanted to hear the AN M6 Preamp - of course this comparison is dreadful because it is an entirely different room, speakers, gear etc and the price dwarfs the above. The system though was using the J/Spe speakers that i have owned for 10 years and the Jinro Sochu a 20 watt 211 which is at least somewhat in the ballpark of the 219IA 845 24 watts.

    Still the AN room a bit of a disaster at first. I was a bit worried but they have considerably longer warm up time and once settled in the room ultimately sounded better overall but again it should given the cost - I also used the SPL to keep the volume similar. The system here is more sophisticated, resolute and joined together but obviously a lot of variables not accounted for. Putting "Split the Atom" on at the end of the session was phenomenal - bass depth that shook the room tight deep bass - incredible thunder and whack.

    I would like to try the Melody in my own system one day. It appears to be an exceptional value even at the high price.

    For that Matter given the Rogue's price it too might be a killer value in the preamp world. Of course I say killer value about $5000 preamps so one has to assign the usual bit of insanity to all these comments - this is a LOT of money and if I put on the sane person's hat - really the 219IA is really good all by itself. Still the preamps do imprive things enough to warrant the expense.
  3. tomd

    tomd Forum Resident

    Does the Melody Audio use a stepped attenuator or just a good potentiometer ?
  4. inperson

    inperson Forum Resident

    What are those big tubes in the LM preamp?
  5. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Hong Kong
    Stepped Attenuators. There is a black model with lesser parts quality for $4,999 and it also is a stepped attenuator.

    This one in the US is called the P2688. The dealer in HK notes that it uses C-Core transformers.

    Capacitors Supreme Silver-Oil in silver
    Nichicon Gold Tune Capacitors
    Solen Gold Label Capacitors
    Resistors selected at 0,5% of tolerance for the entire circuit
    Melody Power transformers with oversized OCC filament
    Ceramic sockets with terminals in gold OCC
    Connectors Speaker of high-end binding posts
    PIN-RCA Connectors by CMC 816
    Brushed silver aluminium
    Remote control for volume for the regulation of the volume

    Vacume Tubes 101Dx2, WE403x2, 5U4x1
    Output Level 3V (Max 28V)
    Frequency Response 3Hz - 100kHz
    Input Impedance 250K Ohms
    Signal to Noise Ratio >90dB
    THD 0.02%
    Channel Balance <0.5dB (20Hz - 100kHz)
    Total Gain 20dB
    Dimensions 17.3" x 8.5" x 15" (W x H x D)
    Net Weight 62lbs

    Just found that my fellow reviewer reviewed it - Ray Seda - here
  6. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Hong Kong
    The LM 512 uses an Alps Potentiometer and the tubes areaccording to their site: 6KZ8 (thor) 6922 (universal) 22DE4 (RCA)
  7. GoldprintAudio

    GoldprintAudio Forum Resident

    Lexington, NC
    Just found this write up/ review and wanted to make one quick note for anyone reading this.....the Line Magnetic 512ca is $6995 in the US (not $10k).

    Great job on the review! All of these are fantastic options.
    SandAndGlass likes this.
  8. Melody is probably the most underrated builder around. I've heard their stuff 3 times and every time I came away impressed.
    SandAndGlass and jupiterboy like this.
  9. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Hong Kong
    The dealer in HK didn't like the price at $10k and perhaps no one bought them at $10k. I think $7k is more reasonable but the Melody is the same price. Audio Note's M2 is $4,500ish and hearing that not long ago had me seriously consider reaching for my wallet and with a phono stage! And it will actually be worth something second hand.
  10. russk

    russk Forum Resident

    Syracuse NY
    Nice. Thanks for the write up and the pictures.
  11. SandAndGlass

    SandAndGlass Twilight Forum Resident

    I was very curious about the Omen Definition's. A few months back, I scored a pair which happened to be in the center of the state. My pair are the original ones, not the MKII's.

    They have a eerily creepy way of presenting real sounds. Clever of them to use two 10" full range speakers with no crossover, just a cap to protect the tweeter. I have tile floors and that works well with the gap thing at the bottom of the cabinet.

    There are a pair in the red hue, for $2,600 and they are the MKII's on eBay now. Zu sound is not for every taste. Myself, My preferences go with an efficient forward sounding speaker. These Zu's work for me.

    BTW, excellent review, there is some nice equipment out there. It is nice to have simple, concise evaluations.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2016
  12. Radiohead99

    Radiohead99 Member

    I used to have the Melody P2688/101D. I deeply, deeply regret selling it. It transformed my entire music listening experience. My system has become all balanced and I needed to let the Melody go. Looking back, I should have stayed single ended and kept the Melody. :cry:

    Is there any preamp out there which is similar to Melody price and sound wise but is truly balanced?
  13. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Hong Kong
    I'd skip balanced and go with what sounds better.

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