Audiovalve Sunilda Phono Amp Reviewed

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One of audio's best-kept secrets is the AudioValve Eklipse pre-amp. All-valve, remote controlled, built to standards that you'd expect of Germans and - above all - a true bargain at £2100, it lacks only one thing: a phono section. OK, so it's toe-curlingly ugly with its black-and-gold, steam-punk-Jules-Verne-reject styling, but the sound is so good and the price so low that you can overlook the aesthetics. (Please, Herr Becker, hire an industrial designer!!!!) For those of you with a taste by-pass, the good news is that the Sunilda phono stage is built into the same chassis.

It is, therefore, physically impressive for a phono stage in terms of bulk and heft, more in keeping with the Audio Research PH5 and other 'full size' units than the typically cigarette-pack-sized offerings. Blessedly, it eschews minimalism because the Sunilda is clearly aimed at the vinyl addict, the sort of audiophile with more than one turntable and a herd/coven/school/flock of cartridges. For this alone, it raised the hairs on my neck. However much I worship the PH5, there are times when I find its lack of facilities limiting. (Then again, I'm a reviewer as well as vinyl addict, and I do change cartridges frequently.)

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Helmut Becker likes wireless assembly, so the guts of the Sunilda rest on a double-sided PC board, laid out in a dual-mono topology, all beautifully assembled. Becker doesn't compromise on the components, and he indulges in hand-selection, so the see-through lid is no conceit: you'll enjoy gazing at its innards. For hours.

He describes the Sunilda as a 'three-stage phono-preamplifier, based on 6922 or ECC88 and 12AX7 or ECC83 frame grid tubes.' The Sunilda - named after the daughter of Siegfried and Brunhilde, so Valkyries can wallow in this one - accommodates both moving magnet and moving-coil cartridges. What inveterate fiddlers will love is that the Sunilda is two complete phono stages in one, with BOTH sets of inputs enjoying the full complement of settings, unlike some that offer either m-m or m-c for one or the other inputs. Where this might prove handy is for A/B'ing arms or turntables when you would need to use the same cartridges in both. And if you had two identical turntable/arm set-ups, you could use it to compare cartridges, including two of the same make and model. (Ask Decca-fiends about sample-to-sample variation...) And if you have two identical turntable/arm/cartridges, well, how about A/B'ing different LP pressings. Like 180g vs 200g or reissue vs original?

Thus, you have, independently for the two inputs, adjustable impedance and capacitive load, which you can do 'on-the-fly' while listening. Across the front, you have four rotaries and four toggle switches. The rotaries, two per input, set capacitance of 0, 100, 220 or 470pf and impedance of 47, 100, 220, 470, 1k and 47k ohms. Note that in moving magnet mode, the gain is 20dB lower than in m-c mode, at a fixed input-impedance of 47k.This means that users who like their m-cs at 47k ohms can employ that value with some added gain. Koetsu users: rejoice!

As for the four toggles, accompanied by various coloured LEDs, they activate, left to right, mute/operate/standby, mm/mc select for input 1, input selector for input 1 or 3, and lastly mm/mc select for input 2. Around the back are the two sets of RCA phono inputs with separate earths, a single pair of RCA phono outputs and the socket for the power supply.

Sunilda's RIAA de-emphasis is passive and split between the first and second stage. According to Becker, 'Dividing the RIAA network over two amplification stages lowers the insertion losses of the passive network dramatically. Furthermore, the design has a total absence of feedback, thus increasing the overall dynamics.' He also opted for solid-state regulated power supplies. 'This is the best way to obtain low noise and a supply line with a very low impedance, to increase the performance in the lower frequency range.'

Other niceties include an outboard power supply, housed in a separate aluminium case and connecting to the main chassis with a computer-grade cable. The main case itself is laser-cut, 4mm thick steel, as mentioned before absolutely identical in size to the Eklipse line-level pre-amplifier. Beside offering the Sunilda in both silver and black, you can also specify silver or gilt knobs, again depending on your stomach for bling-bling. Alas, Sunilda sunglass are not supplied.

This unit arrived in the midst of my most overactive analogue phase in years. In addition to SME 10 and SME 30 turntables, I've recently added a Trio L-07D, and I have a fistful of cartridges to play with, and of every stripe: London Gold and Maroon (the latter mono), Koetsu Black Urushi, Shure V15 V, Lyra (mono) Dorian, Transfiguration Temper V and a few others. With this mix, I was able to assess most of the settings, comparing m-m vs m-c, assorted impedances and other characteristics. First, some observations:

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HTR Product Rating for Audiovalve Sunilda Phono Amp

Criteria Rating

Performance

3

Value

3

Overall

3

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