This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Sliding scale - form/function
: On to the most ingenious mechanical design, the sliding door on the top panel. Held firmly in place by four tiny magnets, the PREference engraving on top of the door provides enough friction to push open. Alternatively you can push on the lower edge. Once opened, select MM or MC and adjust resistance and capacitance for your phono cartridge by sliding up or down the paired mini-switches (for left and right channels) with a mini screw driver. The resistance and capacitance table is silk-screened right there so you don’t have to worry about misplacing an owner’s manual (except you still need your MC cartridge manual if you can’t remember its impedance.)

To change phono settings on my Restek Sector preamp, I have to turn it upside down to flip the dip switches. With my Ensemble PhonoMaster, I have to unscrew three screws and remove the cover to get at the jumpers. With the PREference, I simply slide open the top to switch settings under signal (I simply select another input during the change). This is an absolute talking point and scores top marks for both form and function.

During the past seven months of running in, the PREference slowly but surely demonstrated its creator’s understated ambition. In the beginning, it sounded a little lightweight and bright over my NuForce Reference 9 V2 SE. It was good with KingRex’s own T20U though. Perhaps this preamp was specially designed to carve out more resolution from the tube-reminiscent Tripath amp? But in audioland, monogamy is rare. As months went by, the piece mellowed out and the lower octaves kicked in. Organic bloom began to loom but articulation didn’t vacate the building. Then I hooked it back to the NuForce amps driving the Dynaudio Facette speakers one day, spun some vinyl, cued up my Denon DL-302 MC cartridge and never wanted to unplug it again. From memory, I’ve never had such a moving performance from any of my LP setups so I decided to pen my Stravinsky Ballets review based on that combination.

The synergy was perfect in every regard. Dynamics, fortitude, nuance, colors, timbres, everything was flawless. Listening to Stravinsky’s energetic rhythms, I couldn’t help but think of the amusing article “Don’t judge me by my tights” by Sascha Radetsky: I constantly expand the borders of my physical capabilities and I hone my mind to a quick-learning focused edge. Come 8 p.m., I'll fuse dynamic movement and storytelling with the grandeur of a full live orchestra. Like the male ballet dancer in tights, the PREference has the thick (aluminum) skin to face off skewed perceptions. This is no sissy even if it looks girly to you on its tiny spiky high heels. It’s surely a femme fatale.

Originally my plan was to do the phono section last since it’s a $250 optional feature that might not be for everybody. But the Stravinsky discovery changed everything. I loaded more LPs and was hooked. I had to let nature take its course. So back to the sliding door and its user options: High or low gain, MM or MC, 47KΩ, 220Ω, 100Ω, 100P+47KΩ, 100P+220Ω, 100P+100Ω.

While most phono preamplifiers offer plenty of resistive loading options for MC, the PREference has comparatively few. That seems to be the downside but is still far better than the Musical Fidelity V-LPS which offers only two choices: MM (47Kohm) or MC (100ohm). The interesting part here is the less common +100P capacitance setting (P for picofarad). It’s common practice for reviewers to list the specs and then report on the audition findings but I want to do the reverse this time. It’s partly because that’s how I did it for myself. I listened first not knowing what to expect, then looked at the specs for cross reference or to explain what I heard. Apart from the Stravinsky Ballets, other titles that served as good appraisal software included:

Rossini: Complete Sonatas for Strings/Deutsche Streichersolisten, Berlin [Camerata CMT-2001~2] for its unusual double formation with eight string players instead of four, providing sonic challenges in balancing instrumental articulation and timbral coherence.
Rossini: Album de Chaumière, Album de Château/Dino Ciani, pianoforte [Fonit Cetra LAR 34] for its pianistic virtuosity off beaten paths on a period instrument that provides an excellent test for timbre accuracy and imaging focus.
Smetana: Má Vlast/Rafael Kubelik/Boston Symphony Orchestra [DGG 2707 054] for its dynamic contrasts, bass-rich instrumentation, soundstage reconstruction and orchestral layering.
Wagner: The Flying Dutchman/George London/Leonie Rysanek/Giorgio Tozzi/Antal Dorati/Royal Opera House, Convent Garden [Decca 2BB 109/11] for its tensioned arcs, stage activity details and dramatic soprano role that often ventures into the midrange most sensitive to human ears and brings out either the best or  worst in cartridges. Critical acclaim concurred that Rysanek virtually owned this role for two decades.