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What’s in the box
: The distributor hand-delivered his Scorpio in a labeled white box. Normally the product would arrive with full double boxing. The 11kg (24.3 lb) preamp was surrounded by 1 inch thick ply foam, substantial manual included but no power cord. The purchaser is expected to provide a quality aftermarket cable. There are three inputs named SACD, CD and AUX. Since this is a line stage, there is no phono stage. Although Acousticbuoy’s companion 2488 DAC has single-ended and balanced outputs, the preamplifier offers solely single-ended inputs. Output is limited to one pair of RCA. There is no provision for a home-theater bypass. Connectors are quality gold-plated RCA.

Control functions are simple and solidly executed. The balance control is unique, being comprised of two toggle switches with a 1dB range in either direction. This will allow for precision fine tuning but not compensate gross errors. There is a mono toggle to accommodate those who prefer their archival mono material in true mono; and a toggle on/off switch. The stepped resistor attenuator has excellent gradation for fine adjustments of volume.

The chassis is constructed with the precision of art and the solidity of a vault. Panels interlock into the four corner pillars in an intricate and clever arrangement. Top and bottom plates are fastened via Allen screws. An unusual feature is the use of three instead of the traditional four feet. This is done for stability, optimum weight distribution and resonance control. The texture of the faceplate is unusually intricate with fine detail that changes appearance according to lighting conditions. Company name, logo and preamplifier functions are engraved into the fascia. One blue LED indicates power status and a row of three blue LEDs source selection.  The overall aesthetic is one of subdued refinement. Operationally, the preamplifier worked flawlessly throughout the review.

The preamplifier was tested in multiple stages. First it was compared in a bypass evaluation to the direct feed of CD source to amplifier. Then the preamplifier was tested with different cables and outboard isolation devices to see how those would affect the performance.

Tests were done with the subwoofer in and out of the circuit to evaluate low bass performance and pinpoint anomalies in the crossover range. An outboard DAC (the company’s own DAC 2488 which was on hand for an upcoming review) also featured at different points to examine a broader spectrum of source compatibility.

The Scorpio may be relatively minimalist in terms of i/o socketry but the fact that SACD is engraved on the front panel is clear indication of the designer’s expectation of high-caliber source material. For this evaluation however, only CDs were used. Below is a small sample of the music played.

"Woods Rocks and Mountains" from The English Lute Song [Julianne Baird DOR-90109]. Simple material but the soaring vocals have tremendous dynamics and illuminate the hall with sympathetic reverberation. Delicacy and power.

"Gloomy Sunday" from Sarah McLachlan Rarities, B-sides and Other Stuff [Netwerk 06700.30105-28]. This cut has wonderful dynamics ranging from delicate inflections to powerful swells. There is good capture of hall and good differentiation between original sound and secondary hall reflection.

"Suite From The Menagerie" by Alexander Courage from Symphonic Star Trek Kunzel/Cincinnati Pops Orchestra [Telarc CD-80383]. Good rendition of Alexander Courage’s complex music for the original television pilot. Excellent soundstaging and transparency with precise localization of instruments. Wide dynamic range. Wide frequency range with clean highs.

"Banana Jam" and "Killer Bees" from Airto Moreira & the Gods of Jazz Killer Bees  [B&W Music BW041]. Proving B&W can create as well as reproduce good recordings, they brought together jazz musicians Airto Moreira, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, Mark Egan, Gary Meek, Hiram Bullock and Flora Purim for a jam session. Certainly "off the wall", the music ranges from melodic to cacophony. Recording quality is exceptionally transparent, with excellent rendition of space, a wealth of fine detail and very wide dynamics.

Villa Lobos String Quartets Volume 1 - Cuarteto Latinoamericano [Dorian DOR-90205] captures a very warm delicate string tone and rich acoustic with a 3D presentation. Dorian’s minimalist approach with no compression results in an engaging window on the performance.

"Appalachian Spring - Allegro: Solo Dance of the Bride" and "Billy the Kid - Gun Battle" from Dorati Conducts Copland [Mercury 434 301-2] demonstrate the magic of the Mercury Living Presence 35MM recordings. Physically palpable with phenomenal dynamic range, punch and unflinching attack.

The Super Extended Resolution Sound of TBM  [FIM XRCD 018] is a high-quality compilation from Winston Ma of Three Blind Mice Japanese Jazz recordings. Warmth, sweetness, delicacy and power with great dimensionality.

"Roll’ Em - Harry James" from Prime Cuts: Gourmet Selections from Sheffield Lab [Sheffield Lab CD-PC1] is a good example of Sheffield Labs’ trademark sound. Big, bold, dynamic and "in your face" recorded with an open-window sense of transparency.

"Manhattan Skyline" from a-ha Headlines and Deadlines [Warner Brothers 7599-26773-2] is a compilation of hits from the Norwegian group a-ha. Included to see how equipment fares with the classic "euro-pop" sound. The 80s produced dense punchy recordings with articulation, midrange transparency and artificial depth but also often added upper mid emphasis and lower mid leanness. If a system is set up correctly, the sound will simply be lean rather than thin or harsh.

: The Acousticbuoy Scorpio fared extremely well in the bypass test. It was quite faithful to the original source, neither adding coloration nor subtracting any significant information. Whether running the CD player direct with onboard nonsampling DAC or via the Acousticbuoy 2488 very high-sampling DAC, the Scorpio reflected the unique sonic characteristics of the two very different designs. Isolation devices proved to contribute minor improvements but nothing to make major note of. Changing cables reflected the differences in character between the cables on hand but there were no interaction problems of any kind. The performance with and without subwoofer crossover insertion was consistent and crossover blend and phase adjustments were simple to achieve and painless. In short, the preamp proved easy to set up without any quirks or problems.

The following is a breakdown of how the Scorpio performed.