Cadence PRE2 Preamp and MA2 Power Amp Reviewed

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Cadence-MA2-Amp-Review.gif

Budding young (and not so young) valve amp manufacturers turn to

me on a regular basis because I was stupid enough to swear
allegiance to tubes in these very pages. The assumption was/is
that KK loves anything which glows in the dark (including his
1940s Vertex RAF wristwatch...), so why not use him as a guinea
pig? Half the battle with selling valve gear -- literally and
metaphorically -- is finding a customer or journalist in sympathy
with the technology, so what could be an easier way to launch a
new product than via the original anachrophile? But I shouldn't
complain, because it's a surefire way to scoop the opposition...

Read Audiophile Preamp Reviews from the likes of Audio Research, Krell, Mark Levinson, Linn, Naim and many others here.

This time around it's a UK-made pre-amp and monoblock power amps
from Primary Acoustics. Having witnessed the hassles which faced
another hi-fi company which had the audacity to use the letters
P-R-I-M-A-R in its name, Primary chose to market the products
under the 'Cadence' banner, which isn't a bad choice if you check
your OED. The Cadence PRE2 pre-amp and MA2 power amps are the
first products, and you don't have to own a complete run of the
Hi-Fi Yearbook back to '56 to recognize these as the offspring of
an audiophile with an historical bent. Indeed, I was warned to
expect sonic similarities to certain classics, and -- snap my
garter -- they were there in spades. But that's jumping the gun
and I don't want to waste at an early stage the drawn-out analogy
I'm going to make between these and the Air-Tight system from
Japan.

A Reader's Digest-style, condensed description will tell you that
this package consists of a minimalist but not Spartan
preamplifier and a pair of power amps designed for speakers with
non-voracious appetites. This means a blend of traditional
virtues/values and modern tweak practices, with such
now-mandatory features as an m-c phono stage, gold socketry and
no tone controls appearing in an overall context which -- 30
years ago -- would have meant 47k Ohm phono, nickel-plated
screw-tags and slopes'n'filters and all manner of circuit
interruptions.

The PRE2 is a clean machine, just four rotary controls sprouting
from the slab-like fascia. The review sample's perspex front
plate will be replaced with machined aluminium when production is
reached, and the volume control will be larger than the others,
but the 'look' will remain intact. From left to right, there's a
three-way mode selector which chooses between 'mute', 'on' and
'monitor', a source selector choosing between four line sources
and m-m or m-c phono inputs, a click-stop balance control and
volume. 'On' status is indicated by a yellow lamp to the right.
At the back of this 380x65x320mm (WHD) box are the necessary
gold-plated phono sockets, the main on/off switch and three sets
of outputs, one for tape and two for driving power amps.
Ergonomically, this is about as straightforward as you can get,
but I'm pleased that a decision has been made to provide legible
legends on the front of the fascia in the production versions.

Smelling not a little bit of the Dynaco PAS3, a genuine classic
valve pre-amp if ever there was one, the PRE2 employs enough
bottles to keep tube freaks glued to their Babanis. The m-c stage
uses two Mullard E88CCs, there are two ECC83s in the m-m and
phono EQ section, two ECC82s for the line section and two more
plus an EL84 in the power supply. As you'd expect, the PRE2 runs
hot -- too hot for my liking -- but most valve fanciers expect
their hi-fi systems to behave like three-bar fires, so why knock
verisimilitude? Beyond that, Primary Acoustics argues that the
quality of the pre-amp is dependent on the quality of the power
supply, so the company produced what they believe to be the best
for the money, with valve regulation and solid-state
rectification. Separate power supplies are used for each channel
of both phono stages.

The phono sections use passive, two-stage RIAA equalization. The
m-m stage is a straight 47k Ohm input, while the m-c stage was
designed for use with healthier cartridges with 2-3mV output; the
impedance is 470 Ohms. The development cartridge was the Kiseki
Agate Ruby, which should give you some idea as to what's
suitable; pre-Mk II Ortofon MC20s, for example, are not. This
makes matching relatively easy for all but those using ultra-low
output designs. Another aspect which addresses technology unknown
in the Dynaco's day is the CD input which feeds straight into the
cathode follower, and CD definitely sounded better through the CD
input than through the other line inputs despite a slight loss of
gain. Interfacing with other amplifiers is no problem, and the
PRE2 uses a cathode follower at the output so you can run long
leads if necessary.

The MA2 monoblock power amplifers are much more in a retro vein
than the quite modern-looking PRE2. Despite the stylish black
perspex chassis, a cluster of valves will 'date' the look of just
about anything unless they're completely hidden. With the MA2,
the tubes are there for all to see, which may prove to be a
problem in homes where there are uncontrollable brats, curious
pets or suicidal tinkerers. The company has announced the
availability of a mesh cage for paranoids and others too thick to
site the items out of harm's way.

The amps are compact, measuring 310x215x150mm (WDH), and lend
themselves to remote placement behind the speakers. As I expect
the Cadences to be used with a certain vintage electrostatic, it
means not having to look at them if such is your idea of ideal
amp positioning. Just be careful not to drag the amp along the
floor, as the company follows the Goldmund philosophy of
mechanical earthing by making one of its three legs a sharp
spike. The mains switch is at the rear, along with a gold phono
socket for signal input and 5-way binding posts. Both Cadence
products, by the way, use detachable, IEC standard mains leads as
well as Kimber Cable for internal wiring, hardwiring throughout
the audio paths and PCBs only in the power supplies.

Rated at 60W each into 8 ohms, the Cadences can be configured for
4 ohm loads at the customer's request. Since I used them with
less than vicious systems -- Celestion SL700i and Sonus Faber
Electa Amators -- I exposed no matching problems. Power is
derived from two 8417 valves per chassis, the last audio output
valve to be designed. This valve is noted for its low anode load
impedance (3k Ohm), so the transformer does less work. For added
longevity, Cadence runs the tubes at about 50% of their
capability. The power supply for the output tubes uses four EY88s
for rectification, also underrun, and is capable of four times
the work that it's asked to perform; the company reckons that it
would be more than adequate for a 200-watter. The rest of the
rectification is solid state, while regulation is via a 6V6
valve. A pair of ECC82s serve as the input valves, one for the
driver stage and one as a voltage amp/phase splitter. The
transformers are made especially for Primary Acoustics by
Majestic; to say that they're not unlike those of the Dynaco Mk
III would be to understate designer Chris Binns' respect for
David Hafler.

With the aforementioned speakers handling the amps' output, the
Cadence package was auditioned with the Oracle Delphi III/SME
Series V/Tsurugi analogue front-end, the CAL Tempest II Special
Edition and Marantz CD-12 CD players and tape decks from
Harman-Kardon and Denon. Because the phono stages proved
problematic, I also ran the complete Roksan turntable/arm/
cartridge set-up and both moving-coils and moving-magnets from
Audio-Technica. Which led to my first observation: The Cadence
PRE2 has the noisiest phono section I've used in this decade.

No, that isn't meant as an early dismissal. Having tried two
samples and messed around with various 'designer' tube
substitutes, I can say quite categorically that this pre-amp (in
current form) should only be used with ultra-high output
cartridges if you don't want to operate in the noise region. The
sound is a whoosh not unlike white (or is that pink?) noise, and
its low level manifestation is masked most of the time. Despite
that, it is unacceptable when this type of valve noise -- only
evident in the SP-14 when you swing the dial around to a rarely
reached 4 o'clock -- makes its presence known at 9 o'clock. And
it's a shame, because the phono section in the PRE2 is musical
and lush in the best vintage valve manner.

Throughout the midband, the PRE2's phono section(s) mimics that
of the Air Tight, which is Japan's idea of vintage hi-fi in
modern togs. It's detailed in a way you just don't expect of a
product which allows warmth and 'romance' to serve as the
dominant characteristics. Limiting myself to low-level listening
to avoid the circuit's noise, I found the PRE2 to be a virtual
clone of the Dynaco PAS3, but with its youth made evident by
decidedly modern bass reproduction. And this is in contrast to a
specifically 'antique' upper register. If you draw a line running
from 20Hz at the left to 20kHz at the right, below it you could
also write '1989, 1988, 1987' on down to '1957' corresponding to
the 20kHz mark. It starts tight and controlled at the bottom,
moves into a midband straight out of the 1960s and ends up with
treble just right for adding authenticity to Billy Cotton LPs. (I
think I've just described a frequency sweep equivalent of Dorian
Gray...)

That's not quite as bizarre as you'd think, especially if you
crave the control and extension of a modern system with the
less-fatiguing upper registers of the past. When you move to the
inputs, though, it's 1989 right down the line. Cadence isn't
kidding when they tagged an input 'CD', because compact discs
played through this shorter path sound audibly cleaner and more
open, although its benefits weren't quite so obvious when fed a
signal from cassette or a rather nice Yamaha TX-500 FM tuner I
had to hand. Because the line stages were so grain- and
grunge-free, it was possible to detect even more low-level
information, which means that this pre-amp favours CD and other
line sources over LP. (I know that Cadence is addressing this
problem, so visitors to the Hi-Fi Show at Heathrow may hear a
system far quiter that the one I tried.)

The MA2 power amplifiers show no such doubts as to which end of
the Time Tunnel they prefer to occupy. Again, it was a real blast
from the past, with the Cadences sounding as much like old Dynaco
amps as they did modern valve 60-watters. Audibly more powerful
and forceful than the Air Tights, the Cadences remained
non-agressive despite the extra oomph. The amplifiers will not
please bass junkies who have experience only of massive
solid-state powerhouses, but they will appear to be a major step
forward for an OAP (Owner of Anachrophilic Paraphernalia) more
accustomed to Quad IIs or ancient Leaks (but not Radfords).
Again, you hear the enticing midband and the sweet top-end, but
it's underscored by bass representative of the Age of Aquarius.

Where the system as a whole really shines is in its open,
convincing, demonstrably 3-D soundstage. I don't know if
dimensionality was a priority, but the Cadence system has it, and
nearly on a par with Audio Research components of recent, but not
current vintage. Which is a damned good thing, because the
Cadence package is not cheap. Which brings me back to the Air
Tight combination at a shade over #3800, and the comparison isn't
based only on price. If ever two different products shared a
design philosophy, it's this duo of pure retro hi-fi components.

The Cadence PRE2 sells for #1495 (only three yards shy of an
SP-9...)and a pair of the MA2s will set you back #2195, so
there's not a lot of difference to customers in this bracket.
Both are endowed with vintage sound, hard-wiring, naked valves.
minimilist circuitry, slimline pre-amp cases and a host of other
twinning characteristics. What the Cadence set offers over the
Air Tight is a shade more power, m-c facility and the status of
owning monoblocks. The Air Tight, on the other hand, offers
aesthetics and construction which the Cadence gear doesn't even
begin to approach, novel facilities like the phono section
by-pass and the direct CD option on the power amp, running
temperatures on the pre-amp which preclude burned fingers and
pride of ownership.

Pride may be one of the Seven Deadly Sins, but it sure does
manifest itself as a positive quality when it's applied to
manufacturing values. Given time, the Cadences may benefit from
this visual and constructional display of ego; a price reduction
wouldn't hurt either. (Remember: the Air Tights' pricing suffers
because they're imported.) Until then, the equipment smacks too
much of 'UK cottage industry' to have the kind of market appeal
which parts a punter from #3670. Here's hoping that Binns & Co
learn from other memories that those early Hi-Fi Yearbooks also
hold: Avantic, Jason and other 'too-British' makes now relegated
to that repair bench in the sky.


Distributed by Presence Audio, The Old Posthouse, Plummers Plain,
Horsham, West Sussex RH13 6NU. Tel (0403) 891777.

Cadence PRE2 Preamp and MA2 Power Amp Reviewed

Budding young (and not so young) valve amp manufacturers turn to
me on a regular basis because I was stupid enough to swear
allegiance to tubes in these very pages. The assumption was/is
that KK loves anything which glows in the dark (including his
1940s Vertex RAF wristwatch...), so why not use him as a guinea
pig? Half the battle with selling valve gear -- literally and
metaphorically -- is finding a customer or journalist in sympathy
with the technology, so what could be an easier way to launch a
new product than via the original anachrophile? But I shouldn't
complain, because it's a surefire way to scoop the opposition...

This time around it's a UK-made pre-amp and monoblock power amps
from Primary Acoustics. Having witnessed the hassles which faced
another hi-fi company which had the audacity to use the letters
P-R-I-M-A-R in its name, Primary chose to market the products
under the 'Cadence' banner, which isn't a bad choice if you check
your OED. The Cadence PRE2 pre-amp and MA2 power amps are the
first products, and you don't have to own a complete run of the
Hi-Fi Yearbook back to '56 to recognize these as the offspring of
an audiophile with an historical bent. Indeed, I was warned to
expect sonic similarities to certain classics, and -- snap my
garter -- they were there in spades. But that's jumping the gun
and I don't want to waste at an early stage the drawn-out analogy
I'm going to make between these and the Air-Tight system from
Japan.

A Reader's Digest-style, condensed description will tell you that
this package consists of a minimalist but not Spartan
preamplifier and a pair of power amps designed for speakers with
non-voracious appetites. This means a blend of traditional
virtues/values and modern tweak practices, with such
now-mandatory features as an m-c phono stage, gold socketry and
no tone controls appearing in an overall context which -- 30
years ago -- would have meant 47k Ohm phono, nickel-plated
screw-tags and slopes'n'filters and all manner of circuit
interruptions.

The PRE2 is a clean machine, just four rotary controls sprouting
from the slab-like fascia. The review sample's perspex front
plate will be replaced with machined aluminium when production is
reached, and the volume control will be larger than the others,
but the 'look' will remain intact. From left to right, there's a
three-way mode selector which chooses between 'mute', 'on' and
'monitor', a source selector choosing between four line sources
and m-m or m-c phono inputs, a click-stop balance control and
volume. 'On' status is indicated by a yellow lamp to the right.
At the back of this 380x65x320mm (WHD) box are the necessary
gold-plated phono sockets, the main on/off switch and three sets
of outputs, one for tape and two for driving power amps.
Ergonomically, this is about as straightforward as you can get,
but I'm pleased that a decision has been made to provide legible
legends on the front of the fascia in the production versions.

Smelling not a little bit of the Dynaco PAS3, a genuine classic
valve pre-amp if ever there was one, the PRE2 employs enough
bottles to keep tube freaks glued to their Babanis. The m-c stage
uses two Mullard E88CCs, there are two ECC83s in the m-m and
phono EQ section, two ECC82s for the line section and two more
plus an EL84 in the power supply. As you'd expect, the PRE2 runs
hot -- too hot for my liking -- but most valve fanciers expect
their hi-fi systems to behave like three-bar fires, so why knock
verisimilitude? Beyond that, Primary Acoustics argues that the
quality of the pre-amp is dependent on the quality of the power
supply, so the company produced what they believe to be the best
for the money, with valve regulation and solid-state
rectification. Separate power supplies are used for each channel
of both phono stages.

The phono sections use passive, two-stage RIAA equalization. The
m-m stage is a straight 47k Ohm input, while the m-c stage was
designed for use with healthier cartridges with 2-3mV output; the
impedance is 470 Ohms. The development cartridge was the Kiseki
Agate Ruby, which should give you some idea as to what's
suitable; pre-Mk II Ortofon MC20s, for example, are not. This
makes matching relatively easy for all but those using ultra-low
output designs. Another aspect which addresses technology unknown
in the Dynaco's day is the CD input which feeds straight into the
cathode follower, and CD definitely sounded better through the CD
input than through the other line inputs despite a slight loss of
gain. Interfacing with other amplifiers is no problem, and the
PRE2 uses a cathode follower at the output so you can run long
leads if necessary.

The MA2 monoblock power amplifers are much more in a retro vein
than the quite modern-looking PRE2. Despite the stylish black
perspex chassis, a cluster of valves will 'date' the look of just
about anything unless they're completely hidden. With the MA2,
the tubes are there for all to see, which may prove to be a
problem in homes where there are uncontrollable brats, curious
pets or suicidal tinkerers. The company has announced the
availability of a mesh cage for paranoids and others too thick to
site the items out of harm's way.

The amps are compact, measuring 310x215x150mm (WDH), and lend
themselves to remote placement behind the speakers. As I expect
the Cadences to be used with a certain vintage electrostatic, it
means not having to look at them if such is your idea of ideal
amp positioning. Just be careful not to drag the amp along the
floor, as the company follows the Goldmund philosophy of
mechanical earthing by making one of its three legs a sharp
spike. The mains switch is at the rear, along with a gold phono
socket for signal input and 5-way binding posts. Both Cadence
products, by the way, use detachable, IEC standard mains leads as
well as Kimber Cable for internal wiring, hardwiring throughout
the audio paths and PCBs only in the power supplies.

Rated at 60W each into 8 ohms, the Cadences can be configured for
4 ohm loads at the customer's request. Since I used them with
less than vicious systems -- Celestion SL700i and Sonus Faber
Electa Amators -- I exposed no matching problems. Power is
derived from two 8417 valves per chassis, the last audio output
valve to be designed. This valve is noted for its low anode load
impedance (3k Ohm), so the transformer does less work. For added
longevity, Cadence runs the tubes at about 50% of their
capability. The power supply for the output tubes uses four EY88s
for rectification, also underrun, and is capable of four times
the work that it's asked to perform; the company reckons that it
would be more than adequate for a 200-watter. The rest of the
rectification is solid state, while regulation is via a 6V6
valve. A pair of ECC82s serve as the input valves, one for the
driver stage and one as a voltage amp/phase splitter. The
transformers are made especially for Primary Acoustics by
Majestic; to say that they're not unlike those of the Dynaco Mk
III would be to understate designer Chris Binns' respect for
David Hafler.

With the aforementioned speakers handling the amps' output, the
Cadence package was auditioned with the Oracle Delphi III/SME
Series V/Tsurugi analogue front-end, the CAL Tempest II Special
Edition and Marantz CD-12 CD players and tape decks from
Harman-Kardon and Denon. Because the phono stages proved
problematic, I also ran the complete Roksan turntable/arm/
cartridge set-up and both moving-coils and moving-magnets from
Audio-Technica. Which led to my first observation: The Cadence
PRE2 has the noisiest phono section I've used in this decade.

No, that isn't meant as an early dismissal. Having tried two
samples and messed around with various 'designer' tube
substitutes, I can say quite categorically that this pre-amp (in
current form) should only be used with ultra-high output
cartridges if you don't want to operate in the noise region. The
sound is a whoosh not unlike white (or is that pink?) noise, and
its low level manifestation is masked most of the time. Despite
that, it is unacceptable when this type of valve noise -- only
evident in the SP-14 when you swing the dial around to a rarely
reached 4 o'clock -- makes its presence known at 9 o'clock. And
it's a shame, because the phono section in the PRE2 is musical
and lush in the best vintage valve manner.

Throughout the midband, the PRE2's phono section(s) mimics that
of the Air Tight, which is Japan's idea of vintage hi-fi in
modern togs. It's detailed in a way you just don't expect of a
product which allows warmth and 'romance' to serve as the
dominant characteristics. Limiting myself to low-level listening
to avoid the circuit's noise, I found the PRE2 to be a virtual
clone of the Dynaco PAS3, but with its youth made evident by
decidedly modern bass reproduction. And this is in contrast to a
specifically 'antique' upper register. If you draw a line running
from 20Hz at the left to 20kHz at the right, below it you could
also write '1989, 1988, 1987' on down to '1957' corresponding to
the 20kHz mark. It starts tight and controlled at the bottom,
moves into a midband straight out of the 1960s and ends up with
treble just right for adding authenticity to Billy Cotton LPs. (I
think I've just described a frequency sweep equivalent of Dorian
Gray...)

That's not quite as bizarre as you'd think, especially if you
crave the control and extension of a modern system with the
less-fatiguing upper registers of the past. When you move to the
inputs, though, it's 1989 right down the line. Cadence isn't
kidding when they tagged an input 'CD', because compact discs
played through this shorter path sound audibly cleaner and more
open, although its benefits weren't quite so obvious when fed a
signal from cassette or a rather nice Yamaha TX-500 FM tuner I
had to hand. Because the line stages were so grain- and
grunge-free, it was possible to detect even more low-level
information, which means that this pre-amp favours CD and other
line sources over LP. (I know that Cadence is addressing this
problem, so visitors to the Hi-Fi Show at Heathrow may hear a
system far quiter that the one I tried.)

The MA2 power amplifiers show no such doubts as to which end of
the Time Tunnel they prefer to occupy. Again, it was a real blast
from the past, with the Cadences sounding as much like old Dynaco
amps as they did modern valve 60-watters. Audibly more powerful
and forceful than the Air Tights, the Cadences remained
non-agressive despite the extra oomph. The amplifiers will not
please bass junkies who have experience only of massive
solid-state powerhouses, but they will appear to be a major step
forward for an OAP (Owner of Anachrophilic Paraphernalia) more
accustomed to Quad IIs or ancient Leaks (but not Radfords).
Again, you hear the enticing midband and the sweet top-end, but
it's underscored by bass representative of the Age of Aquarius.

Read more on Page 2


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HTR Product Rating for Cadence PRE2 Preamp and MA2 Power Amp

Criteria Rating

Performance

3

Value

3

Overall

3

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


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