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the LP2.0 phono stage
as reviewed by Lester J. Mertz
The Jasmine LP2.0 is a two-box phono preamp for both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges. One box is the phono stage, the other is the power supply. The handsome gray boxes are nearly identical in size, with thick, rounded metal plates on the top and bottom of each unit. The phono stage has a rotary switch for impedance loading of 30, 100, 1000, and 2500 ohms, and a toggle switch for selecting either mm or mc cartridge. The power supply connects to the preamp by an umbilical cord with screw locks on each end. Once the units are connected and the power cord is plugged in, the unit is always on—which is a good thing, because the sound improves noticeably over time. The units supplied to me did not have the same graphics—the power supply had a block-letter logo on the rear panel, while the preamp had Jasmine's distinctive cursive logo. Both units had a back-illuminated blue Jasmine logo on the front panel.
The owner's manual suggests that the units not be stacked. The previous reviewer apparently did not read the manual, as the preamp had marks made by the power supply on its top plate. I placed the units horizontally, as recommended, and did not experiment with stacking them to see if it would change the sound. I should note that the feet (like those of the Jasmine Piano integrated tube amp) left marks on my wooden shelf. You may wish to guard against this, as I did, by using a business card or something similar under the feet.
My turntable is a 1975 Linn Sondek LP12 with Grace 707 arm. Everything sits on a short, English-style turntable rack. There are cones under the turntable, which sits on a one-and-three-quarter-inch rock maple cutting board, which sits on a custom rubberized cork and maple block, which sits on the dedicated rack. Mapleshade's brass carpet piercing spikes anchor the whole thing. I've spelled all this out because my experience is that everything affects the sound. For more than fifteen years, I used a Target stand that had a top shelf specifically made for turntables. I thought that this was the way to do it, and most of my audiophile friends still use something similar. Perhaps they would rather let sleeping dogs lie, but after reading many articles about placing your turntable on a separate stand, I finally tried it, and WOW! What was I waiting for? If you are a record lover, and can afford it, order a separate turntable stand immediately. It may make more of a change in your analog sound than a new cartridge!
My cartridge is a Signet (Audio Technica) 100E, a low-output moving coil that is unusual because it has a user-replaceable stylus. I'm on only my second stylus, but don't play LPs as much as I used to—I've gotten spoiled by the convenience of CDs. The main reasons for keeping this cartridge are its great sound (especially with piano and guitar music, which I love) and its extremely low surface noise. One of my audio friends has six cartridges that he uses on a tonearm with a removable headshell. When he heard the Signet, he said, "Don't change a thing, especially the cartridge." The prices of the best cartridges are beyond my means, so I continue with the Signet. (By the way, I use a VPI 16.5 record cleaning machine religiously.)
My phono gear may be passé, but most of my now-ancient LPs sound excellent. Many sound better than CDs, particularly those special audiophile records and the ones that I have not worn out or abused. I make it a policy to play a record only once a day, with absolutely NO repeated playing of the records I think are special. I use CDs to repeat tracks when I want to compare gear. The reason for this is the cartridge down force, which works out to thousands of pounds per square inch! The down force generates heat, and actually deforms the grooves. After a short time, this process begins to permanently deform the grooves, destroying micro-details like the sustain of a note or chord. Treat your records kindly and they will reward you for a lifetime.
Audio Technica recommends a 10-ohm load, and I experimented with both the 30- and the 100-ohm settings on the Jasmine. The 100-ohm selection gave a weighty and slightly bloated bass sound, and slightly more surface noise than the 30-ohm setting. The lower impedance gave slightly less bass emphasis but a better overall balance. The first recording I listened to was an old favorite—Saint Saens' compete piano concertos played by Aldo Ciccolini with the Orchestre De Paris conducted by Serge Baudo (Seraphim). Since this is a four-record set, I changed phono stages with each record, comparing the Jasmine to the Monolithic phono stage. The Jasmine has much more gain (70 dB), which was a real plus in some ways, but made it necessary for me to adjust the sound levels every time I switched units. The Jasmine had a bigger bottom end, but lacked some of the definition of the tighter-sounding Monolithic.
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli is my favorite pianist, so I pulled out his performance of Debussy's Children's Corner (Deutsche Grammophon 2530196). This is a beautiful recording that captures the pedal sustain that CDs never seem to get right. Michelangeli's recordings appeal to me because his subtle touch on the keys draws me into the music. The piano was rendered beautifully by both phono stages, with the Jasmine sounding slightly more forceful and dynamic compared to the Monolithic's sweeter, more polite midrange.
Tracy Chapman's first album on Electra is a sensational album with studio-quality sound. The almost overwhelming bass of the first cut, "Talkin' ‘bout a Revolution," is a good workout for your woofers. The Jasmine had more bass, but it was not as defined. The soundstage was a little constrained, and lacked the explosive kick that I am used to, but the unit's high gain allowed it to put out party-time sound levels with this toe-tapping masterpiece. Later that week, after a continuous warm up of both phono stages, I pulled out some other pop classics, including Lyle Lovett's Pontiac and Bonnie Raitt's In the Nick of Time. The sound of the Jasmine had improved noticeably, but the midrange lacked the creaminess and sweetness of the similarly priced Monolithic. The Jasmine's slightly rolled off top end may be an advantage for those who own one of the hot-sounding cartridges made today.
The Jasmine sounded just fine with my older records, but lost out to the Monolithic. The LP2.0's harsher midrange was especially noticeable on modern, super-clean recordings. I was originally told that the price for the LP2.0 was in the $600-to-$800 range, but a recent review in a "tree-wasting" audio magazine stated that the list price was $1500! (The actual retail on the LP2.0 is $900 US - Dave Clark). That price puts the Jasmine into a much more competitive class, and I wonder how it would make out against the E.A.R. or Linn phono preamps, which would be very stiff competition. Les Mertz