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Never fear, I am done now with the sensory images. Back to the music with a recent Blue Moon award, Furore with the buoyant Joyce DiDonato. Over the AA, Joyce was a little more Mezzo, a little less Legero than I recall from the last concert yet her voice was unmistakable. I just needed to close my eyes to meet her again. What the AA did was enrich her higher notes just a little to make them sweeter and slightly less crystalline. It also adds a generous helping of bass presence to the orchestra. That's a good thing as the recording engineers did not do it much justice. The added weight returns singer and orchestra to a more normal perspective. The human voice is always my first test and the Accustic Arts aced it perhaps not in absolute transparency and honesty but certainly in enjoyability. There's nothing's worse than a whiff of distortion in a soprano's voice and the AA did Joyce's upper registers full and respectful justice.

Switching to another favorite of recent weeks gets us to the SACD reissue of Jordi Saval's reading of Händel's Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks with Le Concert des Nations [Aliavox Heritage AVSA 9860] to confirm first impressions. The brass and horns, which occupy that same critical lower midrange as most male voices took on much greater presence and blattiness; again that richness and whiff of reality. Similarly as on the previous disc, bass gained weight and impact without undermining resolution. That is typically a sign of power supply quality in any given piece of equipment. I felt immersed into the performance at a level of saturation and density from period instruments I was not accustomed to hearing. I also started to take note that the period instruments' typical hint of nasality and acidity was diminished. Arguably the AA preamp sweetened things beyond strictly accurate, certainly no crime from where I stand but probably not to everyone's liking.

To try and ferret out more details I pulled out another recent addition to my SACD collection, the tremendously resolved 2L Divertimenti and on it especially the "Playful Pizzicato" from Britten's Simple Symphony. Pizzicatos are unforgiving indicators of how gear handles transients and decays. Although the AA preamp made no a fool of itself, it couldn't keep up with the Esoteric or NAT on the initial string pluck attack nor the rather long hall decays that follow. The slower attacks and shortened sustains reduced the harmonic complexity on this track and introduced a slight dynamic blur. If there's one area where the AA Preamp I Mk3 trails the very best, it's in how it works this tremendously delicate balance between attack and sustain, leading edge and decay that bestow on music its breath, internal dynamics and life. While it does very well, the pricier preamps in this group performed better yet and did a more credible job on those infernal pizzicatos by removing the last level of fuzz left behind by the AA.

Moving on to other massed strings and large orchestral ensembles, I placed Esoteric's remastered Sir Colin Davis recording of Beethoven's Overtures into the player. Once again the orchestra sounded lush and weighty - weighty as opposed to ephemeral, weighty as in real and physically imposing. I got the sense of an organic sound with brass instruments that stood out in the mix. Compared to Esoteric's C03, the AA did not possess the same resolution and micro dynamics. The AA presented massed strings, the C03 presented individual violins playing together. The C03's ability of staging and imaging is phenomenal and exceeds the AA but here again the German preamplifier came close for significantly less. It did not roll the stage as far into the room corners nor did it separate and delineate the instruments as precisely but its concert presentation was no less credible or enjoyable for that matter.

One last characteristic worth mentioning is a triode-type (but not quite as marked) tendency to showcase voices and to enlarge voices or instruments in the middle range. I mentioned a few times already that French horns in particular sounded intense and with the AA preamplifier, this got a little out of hands on the 2L Call recording of piano and French horn pieces. With the Esoteric, the horn was localized precisely and humanly sized. With the AA, the French horn suddenly occupied the entire stage. The concomitant intensity was delightful, the induced visual effect slightly less so.

For a while I also replaced the Genesis GR360 with the McIntosh MA2275 to see how the AA would handle a tube amplifier (the MA2275's direct input allows bypassing its preamplifier section altogether). The result was superb, adding density and intensity to the midrange which is not necessarily a KT88's best trait. The powerful and weighty bass benefited things as well, as though I'd replaced the KT88s with a quad of 6550s while maintaining the treble refinement of the European tube as a best of both worlds.

Let's wrap up now, having already consumed too much of your reading time. But then music through the German preamp is far too enjoyable to be dispatched with a few stern words. True, other more ambitious designs on review went further still with the usual audiophile tricks and recreated a superior sense of the recorded event. No question about that. Still, the AA is plain musical and lovable. So what if it embellishes now and then or takes it a bit easy on the attack? When it comes to sitting down in your favorite chair and enjoying your daily recommended dose of opera while sipping a 30-year old pure malt, this preamplifier will make you enjoy every single minute of it. And that's what this hobby is all about.

If you think that much of the 'audiophile-approved' gear is too harsh, rigid and lifeless, if you lean more towards 6moons alumni Jeff Day's Music Lover aesthetic (regardless of how much I hate that term) than ceramic drivers and Beryllium tweeters; if your preamplifier ideal is a Leben without tubes but greater depth and control... then put the Accustic Arts Preamp I Mk3 on your very short list. It really deserves it.
Quality of packing: Very good.
Reusability of packing: Multiple times
Ease of unpacking/repacking: No issue.
Condition of component received: Perfect.
Completeness of delivery: No issue.
Website comments: Elegant, functional and informative (German and English versions).
Human interactions: Very responsive and helpful US distributor.
Pricing: In line with competition in the US, tremendous value in Europe.
Final comments & suggestions: Optimize power cord and interconnects to optimize performance. Sensitive to vibration control as well. Will give sensuality and weight to electronics or speakers that are on the cool and analytical side of things.
Accustic Arts website
US importer's website