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Phono Stage Preamplifier
as reviewed by John Zurek
You know that inkling you sometimes get, that intuitive moment, or that feeling in your gut that tells you something is going on? A little psychic are we? That's what happened to me when I was taking the Quicksilver Phono Preamp out of its box. It looked great, and more importantly, it felt great. The Quicksilver had the outward design of a great high-end component: solid, with class; switches that inspired confidence of operation; a simple, yet handsome face; not too many bells and whistles. After shedding the packing material and taking a brief glance at the manual, I connected AC and two sets of RCAs to my VPI Scoutmaster and Cary preamp. I dropped the needle and Van Morrison sang to me. At that moment, I knew this review would be positive.
Without any break in at all, this preamp had my heart singing straight away. But I was unaware of how long it would take to break in. So, I went right to the phone and rang up Mike Sanders, Mr. Quicksilver himself. He said, "'Bout 10 hours, maybe a tad more." The Friday night was young, and I had nothing going on Saturday. Problem is, that week I had picked up about 10 pieces of used vinyl from my favorite record shop in Boulder and they were all screaming at me, "fire up the VPI hw 16.5 you bastard—we need a bath before we break that preamp in." At least that's what I thought I heard. Maybe it was the single malt talking that my neighbor Paul had most generously shared with me earlier. Didn't matter. By Saturday morning, the Quicksilver was broken in.
Quicksilver has been around for a while. After cutting his teeth at Magnepan, Mike Sanders began by designing the hand-built MS190 Power Amplifier in 1981. He's been building tube components ever since, and has quite a cult following using only word-of-mouth to promote his products. No advertising. These components have a reputation. Ever heard of someone dissing a Quicksilver product? Not me.
So let's get into some details. Quicksilver believes that simplicity is the best approach. The all-tube Phono Preamp uses only two triode tube sections (1 - 12AX7, 1 - 6DJ8/6922) per channel. Gain is 44dB at 1kHz. More Specs: Bandwidth: Within +/- 0.25dB of RIAA, 20Hz to 20kHz. Input Impedance: 47K ohm, 20Hz-20kHz. Output Impedance: 3K ohm, 20Hz-20kHz.
Controls are limited to an on/off switch and a high filter.
Mike is adamant about using a short interconnect between his unit and the preamp. He provided a ½-meter length of his new silver interconnect. I tried several types and lengths of interconnects between the Quicksilver and my Cary preamp. Mike's silver wire worked best and competed very favorably against wires that were much, much more expensive. Use this interconnect if you buy the unit. It sounds stellar and is a bargain at $100.
Once I settled on the Quicksilver's pre to preamp connection, I tried several other wires for turntable to phono connection. The Quicksilver was very sensitive to changes in wire. The ultra cheap—but astounding—Phoenix Gold all copper interconnect that Myles Astor turned me on to sounded nice. Mellow, maybe a tad slow. The Acoustic Zen Silver Reference was just the opposite—razor sharp, fast, analytical, every detail present. The Dunlavy Reference (silver over copper) matched the Quicksilver the best, a three-bears just right sort of thing. (Although I do sometimes switch back to the AZ Silver. It's not overly analytical.)
I've listened to several phono preamps in the last year: my little over-achieving Black Cube, the excellent Cary 302, and another cult fave, the Wright 200C. I liked all these phono stages, but like all components, each had strengths and weaknesses. What's different about the Quicksilver? It just gets out of the music's way. I've heard this phrase bandied about in audio circles, but I never really appreciated the cliché until listening to this unit. Overall, the Cary is perhaps more accurate in absolute terms, allowing one to see into the music a teensy bit more than the Quicksilver. Why then do I enjoy listening to the Quicksilver more that the others?
The first thing you notice is the midrange. Lush as you might expect from a 12AX7-based circuit. Lush, but not CJ-fat. Lush as you would hear in a small recital hall with great acoustics. Ahhh.
No sissy bass here, it has a deep, authoritative low end, being fast and to the point. With clean pure pristine highs and a mid range to die for, it has all the goodness of tubes, and none of the bad.
Absolutely accurate? Totally Uncolored? Nah. That's probably why this unit is so much fun.
I'm not going to list examples of vinyl I listened to—I played at least 50 records, baroque chamber, large-scale orchestral, 50s-60s jazz, and rock of every kind. The Quicksilver has no prejudice; it treated all genres with equal respect and dignity.
Flaws? Nits? None. The unit worked perfectly for the three months I listened to it. It is completely easy to use. Talk about value added—this preamp at $895, doesn't need any value added-in—it is all built right in! Requests? I'd like to see a Special Edition version, maybe with more options for different types of cartridges. That's it.
For most of us real-world vinyl enthusiasts—those who enjoy reading about the $75k Rockport 'table and the $30k Boulder phono pre, but in all reality could never really think about buying these products—the Quicksilver could be all you ever need (1).
It's all I need. I'm sending Mike Sanders a check for this unit. I have another feeling. The Quicksilver is going be around for a long, long time.
When you pull up the Quicksilver website the home page states without much fanfare:
Simplicity, Reliability, Value
100% made in the USA
In this day and age, I am so impressed that someone is telling me the truth. This product gets my highest recommendation. John Zurek
Phono Stage Preamplifier
(1) That is, unless, you own an extremely low-output moving coil. In that case, Quicksilver has a step-up transformer all ready and waiting for you at $695.