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Additionally differentiation was remarkable, comparable only to the costlier Soulution 720. On Previne's album, the first track sports a very strong double bass with a lead piano. To the right of center is Joe Pass with his guitar but he plays rather in the background like a rhythm guitar. With other preamplifiers and integrated amps you hear that too but then it takes quite some effort to follow Joe's guitar. It blends into the background as if its lower recorded level paled in richness against the piano and double bass to thus be excluded from the listener’s full attention.

With the PRE this changed dramatically. Now the guitar became equal partner to the two other instruments. Importantly this wasn’t achieved by cutting it out from the background or artificially enriching it as this would have entailed altering what was actually recorded. No, the PRE simply didn’t average the guitar’s timbre nor did it blur its outlines into the background. Every instrument had its own space on stage and arose as though inside its own space bubble. Of course all instruments played together in direct interaction but they also were clearly separate sound sources. On top of that the soundstage exhibited great depth.

This German machine also showed a slight tendency to bringing everything that happens on stage a bit closer to the middle but simultaneously it delivered all anti-phase effects superbly. When certain sounds are supposed to arise behind your head or next to it, they simply do. A great example for this is the  Me Myself And I album filled with many out-of-phase ingredients. Any component capable of showing them properly must have great phase characteristics itself, very low distortion and high dynamics. The PRE is absolutely amazing in that regard. Phantom images are shown around the listener's head as large solid clearly drawn sources. It's not a sonic cloud around the head but well-defined point sources of individuated sounds.

Even so the PRE is a man-made device and as such subject to man-made limitations. It’s not the very best preamplifier I know but gets very close whilst being less expensive than the TAD or Soulution. It’s really user-friendly, build and finish are ingenious yet some sonic aspects could be better still. Some of those are related to particular technology (transformers and power supply), some to its designer's choices. I already mentioned that the soundstage wasn’t as wide as that of some other preamplifiers. Sounds were located behind the speaker line and not on it and they sometimes should go wider sometimes if that's what the recording engineer of a particular album intended.

On timbre I also would gladly see more midrange weight. I said that midbass and midrange were fantastic and stand by it. But somewhere between those two sub ranges the sound was not as rich as that of my Ayon. It's not really richness I missed but some substance which then results in a clearer picture of 3-D instrumentals or vocals. The PRE simplified this a little. It operates more on timbre and tonality than palpability and plasticity. The German preamplifier thus won’t create as palpable images between your speakers as some other top preamplifiers can.

Then there are dynamics. Here in general they are very good but the Avantgarde is no PRaT master (pace, rhythm and timing) as it slightly slows the presentation down. I cannot state with complete conviction that the battery power supply is responsible but I have heard something similar with other battery-powered machines so this could be related. Although it might seem that certain power supply limitations (source impedance) should affect only power amplifiers, I hear it with CD players, phonostages and DACs too - and now with a preamplifier. Maybe there is something to it. Battery power might influence the dynamic behavior of the circuits it supplies power to. When dealing with such devices I always hear a very smooth sound but at the same time it seems slightly slowed down and relaxed. It doesn't mean that such machines offer a poor sound. Not at all! I really liked how Kraftwerk and Portishead sounded over the PRE. Those were very engaging presentations that demonstrated the full advantages of this component. But I also heard some very slight restraints when it came to the very fast presentation of information stored on such recordings.

Summary. €9,900 with the exchange rate at the time of my writing amounted to 42.350 PLN, a lot of money. With it you could buy a small new car, a big second-hand car, a small apartment in a small city or pay for college. Very few people can afford that. But luxury goods are luxury goods for a reason. The PRE is one of them when it comes to build and finish, design and sound.

If you take a look at its competitors, you will realize that by comparison the German is relatively inexpensive. Relatively. That only comes to the fore in such a comparison. It isn’t perfect as certain sonic aspects were delivered better by the Soulution 720, some better by the TAD C-600 and some better by my Ayon Polaris III. Nevertheless the entire concept was so convincing, so good that one has to ask - does it really make sense to pay more? For people who buy nothing short of perfection, the answer is simple. Yes it does. Ditto for those who seek particular sound characteristics offered by other devices. But for the vast majority of audiophiles the answer might be quite different…

Testing methodology. The item under review was compared to my reference device, the Ayon Audio Polaris III and to the other preamplifiers under review at the same time - the ModWright LS 36.5, the Audio Research Ref5 SE, the Soulution 720, the Octave Jubilee plus to my Ancient Audio Lektor Air V-edition driving my Soulution 710 power amplifier directly. The PRE drove two power amps, the Soulution 710 and Leben CS-1000P. I used a Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version power cord on it and the preamp stood directly on a wooden shelf of the Base IV custom version rack. I conducted an A/B test with A and B known. Music samples were 2 minutes long but I also listened to whole albums. I used balanced interconnects between the CD player and preamplifier and between it and the power amplifier.