POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 38
as reviewed by Robert H. Levi
Built of thick steel and aluminum and weighing in at a hefty 29 lbs., the ModWright Vacuum Tube LS36.5 Linestage is a real contender. At $4995, it is simply the best under $5000 linestage I have auditioned to date. It has more macro dynamic range and fleshier imaging than the ARC Ref.3 at twice the price. Its one box design looks and feels like the real McCoy with no outboard tubes or weird cages to avoid. Its signal to noise ratio at -125dB is awesome truly enhancing enjoyment. Fully balanced, the 36.5 is flexible to the max and the first preamp I would call “Reference Grade” at this price point. The 36.5 demonstrates a sonic leap for ModWright over their previous efforts and a leapfrog of performance/technology over the competition.
The 36.5 has killer features many available from the slick remote. All balanced and single ended inputs and outputs are not switchable from the remote. But phase, volume, and mute are remotely switchable. The remote is very responsive, too. It has a well designed theater bypass setting and a set of fixed output jacks as well. With 12 dB gain, it will drive anything robustly and did a splendid job of driving my E.A.R. 890 Monoblocks. I wired it in all Kubala-Sosna Emotion Interconnects and Emotion AC Cord for best performance. This is a superb combination with the 36.5 and the best I found from my extensive cable supply. I used the ModWright Sony 9100 Tube CD/SACD Player with Outboard tube power supply and the E.A.R. Acute Tube CD Player.
On board are two 6H30 twin triodes from Sovtek, the newest and most powerful small signal tubes around and a favorite of CJ, ARC, BAT, and many others. The power supply sports a Mullard 5AR4 Rectifier plus FETs and this is quite beneficial to its sublime musicality. I did not do any tube rolling as no substitutes will improve here. The output stage contains a pair of custom wound transformers which add that magic perfection to the sound and is my favorite way to terminate a preamp's output. The input stage is choke input current regulated. The circuit is laid out elegantly with all parts wired to circuit boards of very high quality. I see why this baby is so very quiet. It does not invert phase unless you activate inversion from the remote.
The test unit was broken in at the factory and I added 48 more hours before reviewing began.
Slick, smooth, accurate, elegant, and highly detailed, the highband is near spot on perfect.
I noticed zero etch and ultra low grain structure. Cymbals have just the right amount of silver and bronze. Decay is lovely. The 36.5 is so quiet on top that definition just pops. It sounds overall like outstanding solid state with slight tube sweetening. Its lack of smear or thickness shows the great thought and engineering that went into perfecting just the right balance and sonic signature. This is a highband without fatigue that you could take home to mother.
Where my reference E.A.R. 912 wrings every iota of reality from the source, the 36.5, at less than half the cost, does between 80-85% of the overall job. After a while, it's hard to tell just exactly what the flaws may be in the 36.5, it's that good! With oodles of uncolored, lively definition, images are beautifully fleshed out and reality is so very close at hand. The 36.5 is nearly lifelike and always superbly musical and entertaining. Soundstaging, ambience retrieval, truthfulness, and dynamics are right up there with the best preamps I've heard. Maybe it's a tiny bit thinner than the best. But folks, there is nothing less expensive on the market that gives the 36.5 one minute of competition. This is one harmonious musical piece that involves the listener from the first note. Plus, its dynamics are world class. Piano, vocals, jazz …all sound delicious and realistic.
I want to divide the bass into mid and deep. The mid bass is excellent and highly detailed. Terrific textural cues are present here with lots and lots of dynamic oomph. I hear the woodiness of bass fiddles and all the delectable and emotional slam of instruments in this important range. Maybe a bit short in total definition compared to the very best, but close enough for government work. Chances are you will be thrilled to the core. For the price it is a steal of a deal.
Deep bass is certainly good, slightly better on the single ended inputs than the balanced ones. The 36.5 is somewhat less dynamic and detailed below 40-50Hz and is missing some low band definition and slam below 30Hz. I hear it with my reference preamp. I don't with the 36.5. I doubt if this is intentional rolling, though it does keep your woofers steadier. Nevertheless, the 36.5 is very enjoyable in the mid bass overall and decent in the lower ranges. If your speakers roll off in the 30-40Hz range you may not notice this. Note: I tried reversing the phase, but bass decreased out of phase in my system. I continued to listen in phase.
ModWright's LS36.5 Linestage is a true reference component, the first linestage deserving of the moniker at this price point in my opinion. It receives my nomination for the best of the best under $5000! With the hallmarks of reference level detail, harmonious musical nuance, a smooth and involving presentation, and dynamic splendor, the 36.5 will more than give you solid Mercedes performance for a Buick price tag. Its signal to noise ratio is world class as is its fit and finish. Its use of tubes and solid-state components is brilliantly conceived. ModWright has done it again. Only this time, they built the LS36.5 from the ground up and gave it outstanding performance as well as super high value. Well done ModWright! Robert H. Levi