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As timing would have it, the delivery of my personal two-box ModWright coincided with Mick Maloney's announcement of Supratek closing its doors. This rendered my planned comparison less relevant than hoped. But my Cabernet Dual had served as a personal marker for the LS 36.5 prior to the upgrade and my reference all along. Hence I'd still use it. For current buyers especially in the US however, the big competitor to the LS/PS 36.5 is likely the Rogue Audio Hera now.

One aspect folks shopping this class could find less than fully trick with the ModWright (but then would also with the Rogue) is the motor-driven pot. Some prefer digitally actuated analog chip controls with their attendant numerical displays. Those allow the precise level repeats in 0.5dB or smaller increments which are impossible with non-stepped non-numerical pots. Likely less repeatable even, my 230V power supply unit reacted to my 240V nominal line which I've measured as high as 257V with some transformer hum. That was exclusively mechanical in nature, i.e. not passed on to the speakers. Dan didn't expect any issues since I didn't have any with the original LS 36.5. And the transformer in the PS 36.5 is exactly the same. There's just two of 'em now. But transformer noise, moon phases and floobie dust always conspire for unpredictables. Dan has since sourced 240V transformers "with headroom" to nip any wonky overseas AC scenarios in the butt. I'll take up the crestfallen man on his tranny upgrade offer in due time. I'm sure it'll do the intended business. There was simply no way for Dan to predict that two trannies instead of one on the same line would buzz a bit. Nothing bad at all, mind you - just not the perfection the man insists on.

Replacing the Supratek with the ModWright after its beauty stay in the US reminded me of the latter's far lower voltage gain. Quite unlike the Aussie monster even on its less potent 101D feed, the LS/PS 36.5 doesn't swing sufficient voltage to produce desired levels over my pure buffer/follower F4 amp/s by FirstWatt even on my highly sensitive Zu Presence loaners - or the resident Rethm Saadhanas also used by Dan in Munich. With my 8-watt Woo Audio and Yamamoto 300B SETs (the former's passive pot fully open), the ModWright runs the Zus and Rethms between 11:30 and 1:00 o'clock. While its very lazy volume control taper is ideal for highly efficient speakers, the attendant low gain places voltage swing duties squarely on your amplifier (for reference, the blanket reco for the highly unconventional zero-voltage-gain F4 is a +/-20V preamp). Most standard amplifiers produce upward of 26dB gain while being driven to full output from normal digital sources without any preamp. Dan Wright's decision for an ultra-quiet low-gain linestage is a sensible antidote to ubiquitous excess gain. It makes the only amps in my digs not copasetic with his preamp the Nelson Pass F4s. Conversely, the Yamamoto A-09S 300B amp has so much gain itself, running it on the Rethms with the Supratek in the chain has the latter jump from mute to nearly too loud over just 2mm of turn - unusable. Moral of the story? Match the gain structure of your system to your speakers' sensitivity, room size, listening distance and desired SPLs.

After running the LS/PS36.5 through its paces in pleasure listening mode, I knew all I needed as a big-grin owner. Then came time for the sharpened pencil comparison to report on details. After careful consideration, the hardware context now became a chain of APL Hifi NWO 3.0-GO into either the Supratek or ModWright pre. Both of those were terminated with identical runs of Stealth Indra and powered up. One fed the Red Wine Audio Signature 30.2 driving the Rethm Saadhanas just as in Munich. The other preamp stood by for a later swap. That just meant briefly powering down the 30.2 to avoid connecting transients. The RWA's stepped DacT attenuator adjusted for the dissimilar gain of the preamps. I could then run both in a sensible range of their pots rather than have the Aussie barely cracked open.

The choice of Saadhanas was predicated upon their extreme low-level resolution. When comparing what you assume are very closely matched components, it helps to have maximum magnification power. In my digs, the mondo magnet and light cone combo of Jacob's heavily tweaked Lowther DX-55s makes them my go-to speakers for such purposes. The Sig 30.2's battery power renders it extremely quiet -- more resolution -- and the luxo Danish attenuator elegantly trimmed excess gain on the Cabernet Dual. I didn't want tubes in the power amp and my Patek SE lacked the necessary attenuator. Thus the system. And?

Lumos as the magical HP would say. The beefed up, mono-ized PS 36.5 isn't just there to take up space, empty your wallet and gild your ego with bragging rights. It's doing exactly what you'd expect when beefing up a Naim amp with a far bigger optional power supply. There's more solidity, more foundation, more scale. Soundstage depth rolls out farther and that sense of ease while complex passages scale to a peak is more potent. Trick pans of micro events -- say a rain of needles rebounding on metal moving about the stage; or Vollenweider-esque rolling stones, water entries, massed demonstrator din and such -- become more precise. While such aural tricks are 'special effects', they do serve to measure the exactitude whereby a system doesn't merely erect an unwavering soundstage with precisely localized performers but also tracks bits and flotsam which move laterally, crisscross, swirl or circle while the majority action remains planted. As particularly the combo of A-09S and DeVore Fidelity Nines proved, bass power too increased significantly - beyond what most would consider 'normal' for an 8-watt no-feedback SET in fact.

ModWright and Supratek
The Aussie's 6SN7-driven 101D direct-heated triode outputs are its special allure. Thus they were used exclusively in this comparison. The 6H30s of the ModWright clearly make more bass. Period. The ModWright also treats the deeper layers of the stage with more equality which has the effect of more - um, lumos 'back there' and in the corners behind the speakers. While actual stage size in fact remained quite unaffected by swapping preamps, the American's soundstage appeared crisper and more defined behind the main upfront action. Subjectively then, it seemed broader and deeper even though based on the markers where each preamp placed the instruments, it wasn't actually bigger. One contributing factor to this effect was the 101Ds' softer transient grip. It doesn't clarify minute tertiary stuff to the same extent as the 6H30s do. The other was enhanced oomph with the 36.5 for lack of a better word. More of that simply sounds bigger.

My focus in particular was on that peculiar upper midrange/treble elegance and elasticity which I've attempted to describe in quite poetic terms in the Supratek review. I'd always laid it at the feet of those bulbous bottles which, at least vis-à-vis the Supra's own 6H30 outputs, was patently called for. Curiously, the ModWright's own 6H30s had now somehow eliminated the 101D advantage, at least so substantially that by comparison, I no longer fixated on it as a distinguishing feature of the Supratek. While Dan hasn't changed his output devices, the more substantial power supply behind them has altered their gestalt. In the Supratek, the 6H30s always seemed coarser, glintier and less refined than the direct-heated triodes. The 101Ds were the far more suave and extraordinary operators though clearly weaker in drive and LF cojones. That compelled the man in Margaret River to dedicate his 6H30s to the bass output of his unusual bi-amp or dual preamp. The super tubes were the beasts of burden really. The globes did the magic.

In the LS/PS 36.5, the Russians have now shed their burden of relative coarseness or glintiness. While arguably more energetic or lit up in the uppermost reaches than TJ's direct heaters, this action no longer involves the common shadow of being edgier or more brittle. The critical presence region wafts and wanes on the breath with fluidity rather than staid mechanicalness. Dan's 6H30s have become more refined - more lyrical without losing articulation. While the masculine thing would be to focus on the PS 36.5's 'macho' contributions -- bass, size, dynamics, impact -- the biggest news to this listener was the 101D-eification of Mr. Wright's 6H30s. Since he hasn't heard the Cabernet Dual, he won't have a clue whereof I speak. It'll be gibberish. But it's really quite simple and practical. His LS 36.5+ (with outboard power supply) combines the Supratek's two distinctly different outputs into one - the poetry of the 101Ds, the linearity, drive and control of the 6H30s.

A scatting Jazz flute has proper fire from emphasized harmonics which the player elicits from accelerated air flow. A muted trumpet riff doing the same scatting with peppery staccato tattoos bites properly but doesn't incur those artificial electronic side effects which, particularly at realistic volumes, would become obnoxious in a hurry. Even blaring bag pipes à la Hevia or femmy Flamenco vocals like Pastora Soler on Cañizares' killer crossover Punto de Encuentro [EMI 7243 5 29169 2 4] remain palatable if you like it honest and spicy rather than tamed down. Sideman for Paco the Lucia for years, Juan Manuel Cañizares is a smoking guitarist in his own right. On the Enrique Morente number "Fragua Yunque y Martillo", he does some amazing, purely manual timbre shifts which have his acoustic guitar go from hooded to glassy, pearlescent to piquant, mysterious to piercing.

The ModWright fully leans into this expanded tonal palette to facilitate nocturnal listening trips into the zone where you perceive more and more out-there subtleties you can't quite repeat in the bright of the following day. Power-popping bass riffs and electro oud outings at near-field levels have proper violence and crunch to prove that the ModWright doesn't damp attitude when it's in the grooves. It's clearly not inherently polite to become a tube preamp you reach for to somehow fix a misbehavin' amp's nastiness. But its layering, giantific soundstage and tone colors will spell out t-u-b-e-s to the connoisseur immediately. The necessary ability to slice 'n' dice on the leading edge is taken care of by those Russian valves. Importantly, this coexists with the ability to fluff 'n 'fluid 'n' fragile rather better than without the add-on power box.

Because I'm at heart a hi-eff man and always reach for such speakers when the listening is for pleasure and not reviewing business, the LS/PS 36.5's low gain and very gradual volume taper coupled to its exceptional noise behavior is simply perfect. The combo with my new A-09S Yamamoto is positively stupendous. The only thing I really wish for -- and also did with my Supratek -- is a BAT- or CJ-type numerical volume arrangement. Mind you, that's primarily for business when I need to precisely match levels and toggle between multiple settings back and forth. Yet the present scheme especially at low volumes seems to enable calibrations finer than 0.5dB. Those tend to be the usual steps of digitally actuated pots. So mentioning this wished-for functionality is a simultaneous admission. It might come at an equally functional cost especially to hi-eff speaker owners.

The wrap
In the universe of fire bottles and low-level signals, Shindo preamps enjoy an amazing rep. I've never had one in my pad. Kondo is another contender for state of the art I've never sampled up close. My ceiling of intimacy topped out with Supratek's best which I rated higher than the Wyetechs I'd heard or own. The ModWright LS/PS 36.5 now dethrones the Cabernet Dual from Oz to reset the ceiling of what I think a premium valve preamp should be and do. Is there room above? I'd certainly hope so. Just c
onsider all those units which sell for significantly more than the ModWright's not at all insignificant coin. Where my pocket book is concerned and how that affects my hifi notions, Dan Wright's finest peaks with a big bang. Later this year, I'm promised an encounter with the $28,000 Essence by Greek outfit TruLife Audio. I'll reserve final judgment on where I think the ModWright sits in the bigger picture until I have done the dirty with a contender essentially quadruple its fee. Ditto for the new TEP 3800 Thorens. Its 17,000 smackers weigh in as euros ...

If those super leagues barely register on your scope -- existent in the far fog but irrelevant -- you needn't wait for that assessment. The LS 36.5 was and remains great value for where it punches. Going beyond trades value for investments into smaller refinements. Note how value and investment are different critters. You shop in a discount mall for value. You see your banker to ponder investments. If you view audio important enough to warrant long-term investments into personal gratification and listening indulgence, the LS/PS 36.5 combo is a guaranteed high-yield stock. Dan Wright's math continues working because the sonic performance advance of going offboard with the
power supply and more than doubling it to provide each channel with what both had together before; plus more... there's a still solid return on investment you won't strain to hear and appreciate.

Needless to say, the law of diminishing returns flattens out the famous curve well below today's unit. The add-on power supply doesn't make the LS 36.5 twice as good. Nonetheless, the improvement is significant enough to warrant the doubled fee. Should another doubling add rather less than half of what separates the 36.5 from the 36.5+ for some $16,000 contender, it'd be perfectly in accordance with the law. At best. And so forth. Let's be frank. With today's review subject, we're already punching well above where most music lovers would feel cozy. Our preamp here costs what I paid for my used but mint Mazda Demio with just 24,000km on its clock.

That doesn't prevent me from giddy excitement about now owning this two-piece ModWright statement preamp. Chalk one up for gloriously screwy priorities. Listening to music takes me places no car ever would. There, our child-less artistic household lives with such justifications just fine. For a nutshell justification -- in your household perhaps and about the ModWright LS/PS 36.5 -- explain that it does exactly what a premium active valve preamp should: act as a dynamic, timbral and holography expander on the signal; offer ultra-fine volume gradations; and do so without any noise of its own, no reduction in speed or cladding the signal in fuzz or euphonic dross that'll imprint itself on everything. Plus, there's remote and polarity. Modman Dan Wright is now messing about the big leagues. Spending one evening during the Munich show with him and coexhibitor Jacob George, I can also vouch for his humanity. He's one of the nicest guys in the biz, keenly committed to not adding to hifi's escalating 'what the market will bear' pricing misery, wacky claims or questionable approaches just to be different. In the end, an audio designer is only as good as his or her ears. Those become the final arbiters of circuit and parts choices. Based on the available evidence, Dan Wright has some cracking pink protuberances on his noggin. This should bode well too for his forthcoming all-transistor amplifier. ModWright now means more than high value. With this duo, it means statement effort for all but the financially completely liberated.
ModWright website