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

The business end proves a real El Dorado for the hifi tester with an enviable array of socketry. Think 3 XLR and 2 RCA inputs. There's a home-theatre bypass, a fixed output and doubled-up XLR and RCA outputs to account for bi-amping, active subs and sundry. But that's not all. Over the predecessor this German preamp offers AC or DC coupling. The former inserts coupling caps into the signal path. Technically that's the safest mode since it eliminates DC offset and potential oscillations. According to the owner's manual, the maker seems to also sonically favour AC coupling in most instances but also says that the final choice will depend on the listener and his or her ancillaries.

That the signal path relies on top-quality parts is a given. Hence no ubiquitous foil capacitors but 5% MKH caps with purportedly superior sonics. In my rig—I leashed up the MkII to both my Tenor Audio 75Wi valve monos and Audionet Amp I V2 stereo amp—DC coupling won the day by being more open, larger and showing the truer vocal timbres. The AC version felt a bit strained and less spacious but hit hard dynamically. I had no technical snafus either way with my valve monos or the sensible protection circuits of the Audionet. New owners of the Accustic Arts really ought to try both options.

By design a fully balanced circuit needs twice of everything, hence four circuit legs for stereo. This arrangement automatically cancels distortion for a presumably cleaner output signal bought with higher complexity. Accordingly the volume control (here the only remote-controlled element) as the well-known and reliable motorized Alps Blue is a quad-gang affair. Ditto the E83CC twin triodes which double up per channel. Here Accustic Arts eschews NOS ware of dubious availability and cheap Chinese mass production to go after military-grade types of top consistency and current European manufacture. When after 2'000 – 3'000 hours the time for replacement arrives, the company sells perfectly matched quads for less than €200. Pull out, plug in and off she goes. No adjustments required.

The symmetrizing of single-ended input signals and the current gain in the output stage rely on Burr Brown opamps, hence a hybrid circuit. Er... opamps for a top preamp? Accustic Arts aren't snobs and very pragmatic about the parts which technically make the most sense at particular junctions with an open budget. It's no secret that the costliest parts often don't make for the best sound. For Accustic Arts, the final selection has to pass muster with founder Fritz Schunck and his sons and current company managers Martin and Steffen. In the global market the firm has acquired an enviable reputation to serve as the first indicator for top performance. The power supply occupies the majority of the motherboard's left half. The two 75VA toroidal transformers might suggest dual-mono but in fact supply the valve and semiconductor circuits respectively. Particularly the former is more complex to deliver various perfectly stabilized voltages to the twin triodes. Suffice it to say that such material substance reflects on the sticker, here a proud €7'990. Just on coin this parks the MkII in the top range where one expects not just quality parts and build but first and foremost well above average performance.

Whilst Accustic Arts gear undergoes 200 hours of break-in at the factory, another weekend of acclimatizing in one's own digs shouldn't hurt. Here the Tube Preamp II replaced my aging but sonically still immaculate Gryphon Elektra, the former reference of this Danish luxury house then selling for a solid 18'000 Deutsch Marks. The first welcome lap wasn't about focused critical listening but stress free casual consumption for which I often use Young Sun Nah's Lento CD in my Ensemble transport. Great recording, calm to very calm cuts. At first the German preamp acted mostly invisible and the familiar number in essence sounded as it always has. Okay, the stage moved slightly backward to feel a bit less immediate than with the Gryphon. And perhaps Nah's voice on the Nine-Inch Nails' "Hurt" had been a tad harder before and was more femmy now, with sibilants less fiery. Even after a night of deeply inebriated excess Young Sun would never touch Johnny Cash's shocking version of the same song. But an 'only beautiful' reading was just fine by me. Tonally I had no complaints. Everything was as it should have been.