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L2 Signature Preamp redux

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo boost, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz Hifi, Tidal Hifi, COS Engineering D1, Denafrips Terminator, Soundaware D300Ref,  AURALiC Vega, Jay's Audio CDT 2 MkII & DAC-2 SE
Preamplifier: Nagra Classic, Wyred4Sound STP-SE Stage II, Vinnie Rossi LIO (AVT module)
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1 monos, SIT-3, F5, F6, F7; Goldmund/Job 225; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics NC500 monos; LinnenberG Audio Liszt monos; SAG AIO; Gold Note PA-1175 MkII x 2 [on review]
Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; Cube Audio Nenuphar; Kroma Audio Mimí; Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V & VI & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence; Fram Midi 150; sound|kaos Vox 3f [on review]
Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL3000 and Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Black Cat Cable redlevel Lupo; Ocellia OCC Silver
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps/sub
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands 
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: 4 x 6m with high gabled beam ceiling opening into 4 x 8m kitchen and 5 x 8m living room, hence no wall behind the listening chairs
Review component retail: $16'995

The Vinnie Rossi flagship L2 DHT linestage is an extraordinary achievement and a world's-first implementation. Its direct-heated triodes are neither diluted by driver tubes, fattened up by additional gain tubes nor dulled, phase-shifted, bandwidth limited or slowed down by output transformers or coupling caps. And, my feature review concluding in a Lunar Eclipse award already told that story. My Swiss friend Dan who bought the review sample followed up with some very interesting tube alternates. That's because the L2's bias voltage toggles between 2.5, 4 and 5 volts to take an uncommonly expansive view on having very many glowing affairs. 

When Vinnie subsequently added this silver finish option for his flagship L2 models, my dislike of black hifi could follow Dan's carefully considered example. I could get my own unit. By then Anthony Kershaw's review for Audiophilia had bowed to add data points also with the optional phono module and DAC. By winning their Star Component distinction, for the L2 Signature preamplifier that was two reviews, two awards already. Michael Lavorgna's fully loaded-up unit accompanied by the matching amps for Twittering Machines became the next sighting and contained similar enthusiasm.

Actual ownership in casa 6moons would make for long-term use well past typical review etiquette. That could only generate further data points from very specific hardware combinations and tube rolling. As Dan put it weeks after his original writeup, "I tried dozens of different tubes by now. The unique L2 advantage is that one can micro fine-tune the sound character of the loudspeaker/amplifier interaction." That's a most salient point sbecause options here go far beyond sticking to just one type of tube. Or as Dan described it:

"A: If one needs a bit more resolution, more clarity, less "velvet and honey", go PX4, SV811, 183/483 (5V 45) or TAK 300B (last being borderline between A and C).
B: If one needs a bit more soul and sexiness, 300B is the soul-ution (TAK, Elrog, Sophia Electric).
C: If one is already balanced but longs for a bit more meat on the bones and presence, 2A3 and 6A3 are clear winners for me, with the JJ 40 coming out on top.

"The L2 ⇒ Berning VT52 amplifier ⇒ Nenuphar widebander combo in my room is really magical. The best sound you and I heard together back in the old room was less than 75% of what I'm hearing now. I purposely didn't mention speed as an individual character point for the Vinnie Rossi because the OTL amp supersedes any such influence, being OTL-ightspeed itself."

Tube rolling is an obvious key attraction of L2 Signature Preamplifier ownership beyond short-term review or loaner dalliances. In my original writeup, I could only contrast stock ElectroHarmonix 300B and Vinnie's personal pair of Japanese Takatsuki 300B. With this open-ended Redux feature, neither time is of the essence nor that anecdotal evidence come from just one writer. It's my intention to use this space as a form of diary to which I'll add bits and pieces as they occur. This will give prospective buyers and current users more information to work with. As such, anyone who already has formed clear-cut opinions and observations to share is most welcome to contribute.

Vinnie: "I love the Takatsuki. For a little more tonal richness and bass impact without losing too much of the TAK's resolution and crystalline purity, I really like the KR Audio T-100 which is big but fits. Before the T-100, their PX-4 took its place but the T-100 has more detail and extension. When I want a more relaxed top end and thicker bass with a warmer midrange, I still go for the thoriated tungsten Svetlana SV811-10."

Because Vinnie kitted out my unit with his special-order 6.3mm/XLR4 headphone jacks preceded by an upgraded Lio-type purist driver passing on DHT sonics—the headfi sockets replace the two rear-panel trigger ports and XLR has 6dB more gain than ¼"— headfi commentary will feature as well.

Finally, Vinnie's two 100-watt L2 Series integrated amplifiers had launched: the L2i Special Edition with the preamp's grounded-grid DHT gain stage; and the L2i with two 6SN7 instead. Both mate to versions of the monoblocks' high-speed Mosfet current buffer to become hybrids. Both are available with the same DAC and/or phono options as the Signature preamplifier. The L2 pool was getting deep so more people could make the jump.

With the brand announcing exclusive dealer sales as of July 22nd 2019 for their North American home market by working with Mark Sossa of Well Pleased AV as domestic distributor, more US customers will become exposed to these goods outside of trade shows.

Checking in with Dan on what bottles I should try for a best-of in his three categories according to his trials until then—he knows my taste in music—he pointed me at the KR PX4, Elrog 300B and KR 4A3, offering to send me samples of the first two. That became my initial road map for tube rolling adventures. I also contacted Definitive Audio in the UK who had their very own run of 300B from Eunice Kron modeled on the original Western Electric and branded Living Voice. The reference in these comparisons would be Vinnie's stock ElectroHarmonix Gold 300B since those will also be what his customers hear first.