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Zesto Audio Andros 1.2 Phonostage - The Quiet Wonder

08-11-2015 | By Mark Pearson | Issue 81

The Zesto Audio Andros 1.2 phonostage has been one of my tougher reviews to finish. I know it sounds cliché, but the Andros 1.2 is one of those pieces of gear that makes you want to quit writing and just listen to the music. Even though I consider this a follow-up to the review of the Andros 1.2 written by Robert H. Levi which can be found HERE. I still struggled to keep my pen and notebook in hand because I just wanted to listen to music and I still do. Because Robert has already done a great job of describing all the features of the Andros 1.2 in his review, I'm not going to bother to repeat them all here.

Andros1.2-web-2

Let's get this out of the way first-the Andros 1.2 is the quietest phono stage I have ever heard in my system and that includes the solid state phono preamps I have owned over the years. So what you are not hearing with the Andros 1.2 is noise that may well have been riding on your signal or is still riding on your signal. Because of the very low noise floor of the Andros 1.2, music emerges from a blacker background than I am used to and has more dynamic range than it would if the signal was fighting with a higher noise floor. How quiet the Andros 1.2 is wouldn't really matter to me if the sound was less stellar than what I'm used to hearing in my system. My reference phono stage is the Krell KPE Reference and I'm afraid to say it's simply not in the same league as the Andros 1.2 in terms of low noise and the overall quality of the sound.

 The Andros 1.2 is easy to set up and use thanks to all of the settings being easily accessible from the back panel. Robert mentioned in his review that the Andros 1.2 made a popping sound when you "turn off the entire unit with the gain up." I never tried to turn off the Andros 1.2 while the rest of my electronics were still powered up and my Ref 5SE wasn't muted, so I never heard a popping sound in my system. The only thing the Andros 1.2 does in my system is get out of the way of the music, bring the music to life, and let the music tell the story.

Andros1.2-back-6-X-4-300_croped (1)

My reference system used for this review:

  • Technics SP-10 MKII table in custom plinth
  • SME 312S tonearm with Dynavector XV-1S cartridge
  • Audio Research Ref 5SE linestage
  • Audio Research Ref 75 amp with KT-150 output tubes
  • Nola KO speakers
  • Viero Equilibrio Level 3 speaker cables

I loaded the XV-1S cartridge at 100 ohms and of course had the MC gain set to high. The MC gain switch is the only thing I found to be a bit quirky with the Andros 1.2. Like most audiophiles, I have set up enough systems/components over the years that I think owner's manuals and the accompanying literature are something you read when you are bored. So when I looked at the back of the Andros 1.2 and saw the MC gain switches, I thought I knew exactly what to do.  The gain switch is a two-way switch that is labeled "MC High" and "MC Low." So if you have a low output MC cartridge, which way are you going to flip the switches? "MC High" of course.  Guess what? That's wrong because "MC High" means you have a high output MC cartridge and "MC Low" means you have a low output MC cartridge. That was counterintuitive for me and was not explained in the owner's manual. However, it was explained in detail in the other literature that was packed with the Andros 1.2 that I neglected to read at first.  With the gain switches set correctly, there was plenty of gain for the XV-1S cartridge.

The Andros 1.2 is cut from the same sonic cloth from top to bottom. There is no "one kind of bass, another sort of midrange, and yet another kind of treble" on aural display with the Andros 1.2 in your system. Frankly, I was somewhat leery at first knowing that the Andros 1.2 uses transformers to step up the gain before it is further amplified by the 12AX7 tubes. I haven't been a big fan of step up transformers in the past. When I walked into the Zesto Audio room at RMAF 2014 and was able to have some of the LPs I brought with me played back over their system, any nagging thoughts I had about using step up transformers disappeared along with the noise. I thought the Zesto Audio room at RMAF 2014 was one of the best sounding rooms at the show and the Andros 1.2 was certainly a big part of the sound I was hearing.

I have played tons of LPs through the Andros 1.2 and I haven't found one LP that I thought was lacking in one area or another compared to past memories of listening to those LPs through a variety of changes in my system over the years. On the contrary, I find myself hearing new things in the LPs that I have played a gazillion times and thought I knew every detail they had to offer.

I have listened to mainly jazz, rock, and pop through the Andros 1.2 phonostage and the Andros isn't a phono stage that favors a particular genre of music. The Andros 1.2 makes all genres of music come alive and helps suspend disbelief that you are listening to a diamond scratch through a piece of vinyl vice sitting in a performance taking place at a studio or a live venue. Let's take Miles Davis Bags Groove (QRP pressing of Prestige 7109) for example. "Bags Groove (take 1)" is an excellent example of what you can expect from the Andros 1.2. You can hear Miles Davis as he breathes into his trumpet. The walking bass line that is playing under Miles' trumpet is clean with lots of definition. Acoustic bass is easy to get wrong from the beginning to the end of your system. If the rest of your system is up to it, the Andros 1.2 is going to pull its weight and it won't drag the resolution of your system downward.

The dynamics of the Zesto are exciting to hear. I had previously heard some buzz that the Andros 1.2 might lack dynamics and I'm here to put that rumor to rest.  When I heard the Andros 1.2 for the first time at RMAF with records I brought, I was confident that dynamics or lack thereof was not going to be an issue. I was correct. Monk's piano is clear, dynamic, and discordant as ever.  The way you can hear the sound of the chords hitting the lid of the piano and resonating off into space adds more realism to an already great recording.

Neil Young Live at the Cellar Door (180 gram reissue of Reprise 535854-1) is another spectacular recording that anyone who likes Neil Young needs to own. Massey Hall rightfully gets lots of praise as an outstanding live recording (and it is), but the sound of Live at the Cellar Door is in another league in basically all parameters and the Andros 1.2 will let you clearly hear that.

Neil Young is one of those guitarists that can play lead and rhythm at the same time. Neil's playing style is very dynamic and percussive. The way that Neil uses his guitar as a percussion instrument brings the dynamics to another level. The Andros 1.2 gets the dynamics of Neil's guitar and his voice just right. It is my opinion that the Andros 1.2 is capable of thunderous dynamics and this recording can bring them out. Oh, did I say that I think this recording of Neil Young just may be one of the best examples of his voice while he was in his prime? I think it might be so.

Let's take Charles Mingus Mingus at the Bohemia. This is a live recording made in 1955 and it sounds live. The top end of this recording sounds like it is blown open and the resolution just goes on forever. The horns are so dynamic that you could almost be fooled that you are in the presence of the real thing. Did I say the Andros 1.2 is quiet and dynamic? The tenor sax has gorgeous tonal color and the cymbals have tons of air emanating from them.

John Coltrane ol'e is one more example of an LP that will knock your socks off through the Andros 1.2.  John Coltrane is front and center in the mix and you could be excused if the sound is so real that you almost thought John Coltrane was in your room blowing his sax right in front of you. And then you have the sticks on the cymbals keeping time with Coltrane and it's simply marvelous sounding.

The-Who-Live-At-Leeds---C-258391

To switch gears here, how about The Who Live at Leeds? I think Live at Leeds is one of the best sounding live rock recordings existent. "Young Man" is a rocking song and the kick drum is tight, clean, and deep. The tom toms sound like real tom toms. There is no mistaking the sound of Pete Townshend's guitar playing. John Entwistle and Keith Moon are tied together in lock step with the bass beat as great drummers and bass players are in great bands. The Andros 1.2 cleanly separates everything out so you understand what is going on in the music and it all makes sense while sounding very real. 

I could go on and on, but I hope you get the picture by now. I have had lots of phono sections in my system(s) over the years, but I have never had one this good or this quiet. I realize that I have not had the privilege of having the mega-buck phono sections in my system, but there is no doubt this is the finest phono preamp I have ever had the pleasure of listening to in my system. I couldn't stand the thought of hearing my LPs without the Andros 1.2 in my system after spending time with it. Yes, that means I put my money where my mouth is and I bought the review sample.  I don't know what higher praise I can give the Andros 1.2. If the rest of your system is up to the quality of the Andros 1.2, you are in for a treat. The fact that the 1.2 is well made (in the U.S. by the way), beautiful to look at, highly flexible with all of the loading options, gain options, and will accept MM cartridges for those so inclined, I'm stunned you can buy this package for $4,700 and I feel confident you will feel the same way.

Andros 1.2 Phonostage Preamplifier
MSRP USD $4700

Zesto Audio
www.zestoaudio.com
805-807-1840 
george@zestoaudio.com

Carolyn for Sales and Marketing

805-807-1841 
carolyn@zestoaudio.com

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