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Reviewer: Stephæn
Analogue sources: Nottingham Analogue Studio Space Deck driven by Walker Audio Precision Motor Controller. NAS Space Arm with VTAF from Pete Riggle Audio. Dynavector 17D2MKII, Dynavector 20xl, Denon 103, and Audio Technica OC9 cartridges
Digital sources: Wavelength Audio Cosecant USB DAC fed by iBook G4 with dual 500GB LaCie Firewire drives; and Tube Research Labs fully modified Sony SCD-2000ES (for SACD playback). Secondary: TRL-modified Alesis ML-9600 high-resolution master disk recorder.
Preamps: deHavilland UltraVerve, modified/upgraded Eastern Electric Minimax (larger PS, 12FQ7 ready, gain cut to 9dB), Art Audio Vinyl Reference, Herron Audio VTPH-1MC and Monolithic Sound PS-1/HC-1.
Amplifiers: Art Audio PX-25, AudioSector Patek v2,and Wright Sound Company WPA 3.5 monoblocks. Secondary - Outlaw Audio RetroReceiver.
Speakers: DIY Altec 604 MLTL. Secondary - Zu Audio Druid Mk.4, Sound Dynamics RTS-3 and REL Strata III.
Cables: DIY WM-XTC, Audience Au24 and Zu Audio Libtec cables; Audience Au24 and TG Audio Lab custom copper interconnects. Secondary - Analysis Plus cables and interconnects.
Stands: Two three-tier Grand Prix Audio Monaco units on GPA Apex footers
Isolation: Main: GPA Monaco. Secondary - Acoustic Dreams Dead Ball Isolators and Neuance platform
Powerline conditioning: BPT 3.5 Signature; Cryo'd Pass & Seymour wall outlets; Audience, T.G. Audio Lab SLVR, Analysis Plus Power Oval, and Zu Audio Birth and Bok [both on loan] power cords. Secondary - Brick Wall PW8R15AUD
Sundry accessories: HAL-O® Vacuum Tube Dampers, Herbie's Way Excellent Turntable Mat, VPI 16.5 record cleaner, Shun Mook Valve Resonators, Auric Illuminator, and Walker Audio Vivid CD & DVD Enhancer.
Music makers: Epiphone Dot (Gibson ES-335 knock-off) and Chet Atkins CE (nylon strung classical) electric guitars; Fender Blues Jr. amp; Privia PX-555 keyboard and 1906 Ellington upright piano.
Office system: Soundquest R601 Tube Hi-Fi FM/AM Classic Radio and Gibson Jumbo 100 acoustic guitar.
Room size & treatments: 26' x 19' x 9' (a fractured 'L', nominally 16' x 19' with 12' feet of the 19-foot dimension opening to the 20-foot section of the 20' x 12' kitchen/eat-in area). ASC Tube Traps and Sound Planks, Echo Busters absorbers, Shakti Hallograph Soundfield Optimizers, and Acoustic Revive RR-77 Ultra Low-Frequency Pulse Generator.
Review component retail:

Today I'd like to introduce you to a product worthy of admiration on a number of levels. Although -- and because -- it lacks many of the embellishments familiar to our particular diversion, its matter-of-fact design and appearance, capacity to easily shift gears with custom loading plugs and -- most relevant to most of us -- bang for the buck performance, make for a sagacious gadget in no-frills packaging. Could it be the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing?

Not all sheep are created equal. To left, a painting by Philo, to right a punk sheep by Matta. For more sheepishness, stay tuned for the designer backgrounds coming up...

The phono preamp arrived in basic black and although not ordinary, it looked pretty plain considering it represents Audio Horizon's top of line. As you can see, there's no glut of switches on the front panel. For those who can't live without at least two knobs, or for those who desire the functionality a volume control can offer, another $100 will append that alternative to any of the dozen TP 8.0 models.

The line-up starts with the TP 8.0iMM, a $550 moving magnet edition that can also be put in service with high output moving coils. The unit under review is the TP 8.0sMCpn. This version adds noise suppression, a power supply upgrade, a precise load matching circuit and upgraded Hovland capacitors, bringing the price tag up to $1,690. And for the record -- as if it mattered much to many of us any more, or unless you order through their 30-day Free Audition Program* -- there's not usually a power cord included. For a reasonable rate, Audio Horizons can certainly accommodate your wiring needs but they're not going to send you the same-old-same-old that many companies include with their products and that most fervent hobbyists simply set aside when extracting their news toys from shipping bondage.

* Manufacturer's note: "To insure that TP 8.0s versions are shown to good advantage all free audition units will come supplied for purposes of audition with Transparency ICs and Transparency power cord, which you may buy at a package price or return as you choose."

Included in my shipment was an Audio Horizons Transparency power cord ($285) and a pair of Analog interconnects ($139) designed to match capacitance with the TP 8.0. The TP 8.0, cables and upgraded Siemens E188C tubes ($150) had been burned in for 100 hours and arrived ready to evaluate.

Since meeting Victor Comerchero and Joseph Chow at RMAF 2007, Mr. Comerchero and I chatted quite a bit about the Audio Horizons approach. I'll lay out a few key points and then put the rest of the design philosophy and personnel background into some sidebars, should you wish to know more. In designing the TP 8.0sMC versions, Audio Horizons tested several high-quality step up transformers. Sonic performance was their primary consideration, but in cases where two transformers sounded
very similar or tradeoffs were evident, they relied on specifications, with a primary emphasis on low noise because of Joseph Chow's focus on reducing the noise floor to an absolute minimum. The MCp they selected had an extra layer of shielding and therefore, Victor reports, superior S/N figures. This transformer also had different gain settings that permitted them to adapt the transformer to a wider range of MC cartridge outputs (0.2 mV to 1.0 mV). Flexibility is a plus.

I am told that Victor and Joseph voice the designs over three speaker systems: Joseph's Wilson Sophias; a friend's Coincidence speakers; and Victor's Heil Air Motion Transformer-based speakers. You can learn much more about their gear in the sidebars so labeled.

"Joseph's designs are zero feedback and very transparent. They take on the coloration of the tubes more than any other component I've heard. This is a plus and also a minus: some listeners may think what they have is exclusively a characteristic of the component when a little tube rolling would bring them much closer to the sound they prefer were they to try a different tube."

Enough of the mechanics. It's time for a spin.