Boiler plate. On it, many things get roasted which otherwise may escape notice. Where the L-10000 is concerned, that's its published S/N ratio of -80dB. It equates to 13 bits of resolution, less than the Redbook standard for CD. Contrast that to a modern DAC like Mola Mola's Tambaqui which rates at -130dB or 21½ bits. A difference of 50dB for signal to noise is serious. It becomes a bottleneck to upstream data which can't ever be recovered. If your notions on the ideal preamplifier are invisible handling of volume and input switching whilst driving potentially long interconnects without loss, today's Allnic will look like a machine from a bygone age. By the same token, it could appeal to those who consider modern hifi as having gone awry and off the cliff. Sometimes referred to as anachrophiles, this group feel that our industry at large has sacrificed the musical soul (whatever that is) at the altar of hi-tech super specs.

The fact that vinyl is back, that tubes refuse to follow the dodo into oblivion, that speaker houses like AER, Cube, Rethm, Voxativ and Zu continue to engineer new wideband drivers, that open baffles are back, that cellulose membranes continue in parallel to beryllium, diamond or graphene… it's proof of an underground resistance to modern sound. Their members have a different relationship to specifications. They first and foremost trust their own ears. They must when the measurement-centric press insists that their kind of hifi is all wrong, then furnishes scathing proof with fancy graphs. No matter where you come down, it's important to acknowledge the divide. It's important to see that if things continue to sell, hence continue to be made, there's demand. Hifi ownership isn't any necessity but a pure luxury. This demand represents people who enjoy the other kind of gear. What other reason is there to buy it? Mass hypnosis?

Agreeing to review such gear requires three things: an open mind; honesty when it backfires; and willingness to experiment. For example, comparing our $3'495 Wyred4Sound STP-SE Stage II to the L-10000, I couldn't fail to notice the inevitable resolution loss involved in the swap. Nor was I oblivious that one Allnic would buy 8½ Wyreds. Stating those facts could be done just reading brochures. A proper review must do more. That includes looking for scenarios which will play to not against a component. Making the effort is a sign of respect to the maker and the target audience. It's also about personal curiosity. About that, I wondered. How would the L-10000 drive our Nord Acoustics nCore 500 monos? How would direct-coupled 300B behave into super-spec class D which to my ears doesn't sound as good as its shiny figures promise?

Rusty figures? To put our earlier '50dB deficit' into perspective, consider how a blessedly quiet room deep in the rural Outback still registers 30dB ambient noise. That's without yet any hifi equipment powered up. In the inner city with its constant background din, you'll consider things quiet when that ambient noise clocks 40dB. On the same scale's far end, much modern music features sub 10dB of recorded range. A software player like PureMusic can display it in real time if you want a reality check. Finally, the farther you sit from a sound source, the more fine detail gets lost for any given SPL. It's why a symphony hall's row 15 center never exhibits the micro detail the conductor hears; or what spot microphones capture in a heavily multi-tracked recording. It's why good headphones will always out-detail equivalently good loudspeakers set up in a standard stereo triangle. Headfi diaphragms shrink your 3-metre listening distance to mere inches, eliminate room losses and lower ambient noise. Now the question becomes, how much final S/N ratio as set by the noisiest component in the chain can we actually exploit?

From Mono&Stereo, "Tim De Paravicini just shared great news about the new Mark Knopfler album: 'Just had a lovely email from Bob Ludwig about how proud he is to master the forthcoming Mark Knopfler album that was mixed to my 1-inch tape and mastered from same type with no compression and hardly any EQ. As he says, 99% of the work he gets is polishing turds." Unless we only own 'audiophile' productions we care to listen to also for their musical values and not just recording quality, all of us listeners are in the same business of polishing turds for recorded dynamic range.

Whilst the 93dB sensitive Cube Audio Nenuphar widebanders still had the floor, I ran the L-10000's quad of 300B into our usual cubist amps, FirstWatt's 10-watt single-ended SIT-1. On a winter lark, I also walked down my upstairs bedroom amp, Bakoon's 15wpc class A/B AMP-12R. Its high 1.68Ω output impedance plays ideally to these highly self-damped drivers without any resistive filter parts. Its DC-coupled truly exploded bandwidth had simply crystallized a tad much with these ultra-responsible drivers when I'd tried it before with our resident preamplifiers. That made the SIT our ultimate Nenuphar handlers though they'd since been bested by the fleeting appearance of Reinhard Thöress' hybrid review loaners. Regardless of SIT or 13R—and irrespective of their balanced drive which cancels 2nd-order THD—Kang Su's big triodes now injected more fleshiness and color intensity than the small triodes of our Nagra with their shiny >125dB S/NR from negative feedback manage. Buffered by these low-power transistor amps, the 300B were perfectly quiet and their remote-actuated volume controller was very responsive across a usefully broad range of steps to never have me feel cheated.

Popular 300B perceptions—mine included—are built upon ample evidence of common transformer-coupled 300B power amplifiers. Allnic's specimens now stayed well clear of the usual business of the opaque, the fuzzy, the dim treble, the portly bass, the somewhat sluggish overall demeanour, the work as unhurried soft-focus beauticians. No output transformers, no coupling caps, balanced operation. This meant far greater bandwidth, thus speed. It meant none of the usual colorations and (vital!), no damper on musical energy. These 300B were just tasked with stable voltage gain, not current-hungry reactive speaker drive. This was an altogether different proposition; sadly far from minimalist and affordable but very effective. In one sentence, it turned our transistor amps into top-class tube hybrids. Having a week prior written up the Thöress EHT monos as actual single-ended hybrids, this wasn't fanciful thinking. This was simple fact. The key difference was the 2nd-order dominant flavour of the Germans amps. If the Allnic preamp had any 2nd-order remnants, they were a lot weaker to exert more grip and separation. It behaved more like a 3rd-order dominant speed meister loaded up with tone.

Just then, Peter Schmitz of Preference Audio introduced himself: "I've been Allnic's German distributor for about 10 years. As with most brands, I cherry-pick. With Allnic, I love their H-1500 and H-3000 phono stages. The L-10000 now is the linestage I waited for. In absolute harmony, it combines attributes often considered mutually exclusive like dynamics + massive soundstaging, finest detail + rich colors, dry bass + smooth treble. The L-10000 combines and merges them all. I am used that if an amplifier offers high detail, speed and dynamics, the sound tends to be analytical, cold and often dry. Dry was the L-5000 DHT; and ultra microphonic. But not this model." Just as Peter found, this Allnic bridges uncorked musical energy with color intensity, so speed + substance. The odd couple of Allnic and Bakoon—a preamp bigger than many a power amp, a Napoleonic amp the size of two Mac Minis—made a truly splendid showing brimming with vitality and detail embedded in enormous scale. Rather than act as bottleneck on an amp I knew very well, this preamp injected intensity which manifested in jumpy dynamics, strong color pop and exposed transient incisiveness. That didn't match the paper figures but there it was.

The Germans have a perfect word for that effect. Strahlkraft. Radiance + power. Against our Wyred4Sound STP-SE II which never applies voltage gain over our SPL range, the L-10000 was anything but passive. It behaved like a very active signal accelerator and dynamic expander. From 300B, that so wasn't what I'd experienced before. With the L-10000, that genie was out of the bottles now. (Actually… the few times I did hear 300B like this was in my friend's Dawid Berning Siegfried amp which replaces conventional output transformers with tiny RF equivalents.) If you're unclear what microphonics are, Peter Schmitz had the perfect explanation from another amp. "I could hear my voice through the speakers when I spoke loudly. When I suddenly stopped a loud CD track, a ringing sound hung over because the anodes of the direct-heated triodes still resonated." With the L-10000, Kang Su had banished those resonances. I had zero noise even with my ear directly on the driver. It's only when I rolled 12AU7 drivers to Mullards which the Dutch distributor had UK retailer Langrex ship directly to Ireland that one channel exhibited microphonics. Now each remote turn on the volume control telegraphed as a loud metallic whine through the right speaker. Reverting to the original driver tubes reinstalled the quiet of the cemetery.