Hierarchical assumptions
My colleague Dan Davis at UltraAudio! owns Wyetech's top Opal preamplifier. He's extremely fond also of the Combak Reimyo CDP-777, a very reasonable crush whose soundness seems compounded by our own Jules Coleman's threats to visit his loan officer about the very same player. I'm told that at least one reviewer for The Absolute Sound uses the Wyetech Opal for his reference as well. With reviewers often in an enviable position to audition a large variety of goods before committing to a purchase, this is rather suggestive. What distinguishes the Opal from the Coral besides the gold-plated control knobs, outboard power supply and price? Its designer would probably say "everything".

I wouldn't know until I heard both side-by-side (which I have no intentions to do). As Marc Mickelson's recent June Editorial pondered, having opinions in these Internet days is cheap. Everyone has an opinion. Voilà, it's instantly published for all to enjoy or suffer. Here's mine. The greatest challenge for tubes in low-level circuits is ultimate resolution. That's due to their innately higher noise floor compared to, say the surface-mount transistor technology employed to such great effect in my Bel Canto PRe6 with chip-driven attenuation. (I recently traded the PRe6 for the new PRe2, comparisons between both models to be ferreted out by our own Jim Saxon).

Incidentally, noise floor as used here is not synonymous with hearing actual noise at the speakers. It's the difference between a tightly mowed lawn and one that's left to grow wild. If you want to study the ant life on the ground, the shorter the grass, the better. If you want to hear ant-sized details crawling inside the taller details, the 'shorter' the noise floor, the better. Higher noise floor equates to shadows that, while letting you see/hear the ants at the ends of the grasses, mutes the critters down low in the dark and at the roots. Not everyone is into ants. Not everyone insists on that level of micro detail. In fact, the arguments are many that musical enjoyment could be better served if you didn't get distracted by those ants. But reviewers in particular fancy them to have anything meaningful left to say. After all, everyone's lawn looks pretty much the same - until you move in real close...

Everything about Wyetech screams value and rock-solid engineering. The mere fact that Roger Hebert offers four different preamp models suggests far more than empty marketing shenanigans to fill certain price points. After all, supporting multiple models in the same category is a royal pain in the arse for all but the largest of companies. By comparison, Wyetech is positively tiny. No, the reason for this multitude of models likely has everything to do with a more and more complete distillation of what tubes do best -- presence lock, dynamics, holography, harmonic envelope -- while having what they don't do as well -- ultimate silence, neutrality and micro resolution -- recede farther and farther from notice. I envision this as two angled lines which eventually cross at the most expensive model.

If this were an accurate proposition (and perhaps the designer will address this in a manufacturer's reply), one would expect the top model to be the most neutral, the entry-level Wyetech preamp the most overtly tube-like, e.g. slightly guilty of glorifying or romanticizing the music while making a few concessions to resolution monsters like my reference solid-state unit. Where that comparison is concerned, this proved indeed the case. Fortunately, my Bel Canto eVo4 power amplifier would provide a counterpoint for a total of four scenarios: All tube (Wyetech + AUDIOPAX); all solid-state (Bel Canto squared); tube + transistor (Wyetech + Bel Canto);
and my usual reference, transistor + tube (Bel Canto + AUDIOPAX).

This would assist in painting a more complete picture of possible synergistic matching. After all, certain systems veritably cry out for an infusion of warmth and palpable glow while others might have that department licked by a few too many quarts or pints of luscious Ben & Jerry's. Audio is ultimately about finding a perfect balance where all of your needs and desires harmoniously coexist side by side. Just think vegetarian diet for example. Meat is by far the highest source of Omega 3 fatty acids. If you don't eat meat as a matter of preference, you'll have to address your body's need for this substance with flaxseed oil or goat's cheese (other supplementary sources likes sardines and cod liver oil might be taboo for you). Let's find out what type of scenario/diet will have the Coral strut its stuff to perfection. To acclimate the unit to my system -- it arrived fully broken in from a third party -- I initially ran it for a few weeks in the context of the above photo. What I noted over time and which was confirmed when moonie Jeff Day visited from Pasco/WA and played some of his own CDs?

The Coral's job description includes a minor tendency to homogenize more driven, edgy and angular fare to sound prettier and smoother than it should. This realization creeps upon you gradually if you should feel inclined to second-guess the relaxed roundness and contiguous gushing that hold you enthralled like a peeping tom who observes a harem of beautiful women in the bath house. Reality will come knocking then to ask for reminders of imperfection. You lack conviction that your feet are still planted on planet Earth. If Caliphs live in Wonderland, you most certainly don't. Or perhaps you do when the gnarly neon lights over gravely bar room vocals and steely twang guitars seem replaced by a Hawaiian sunset.

This, in a nutshell, is what happened when the Coral displaced my solid-state PRe6 and then the PRe2 in an otherwise tubed system. It's very important though that your perception not enter the slippery slope of exaggeration. I'm not talking syrupy, overweight, sluggish slow-mo excesses of extreme oversaturation. The Coral's divergence from neutrality was far more benign than that. It simply shifted my carefully dialed-in prior balance of transient/bloom/decay values deeper into their middle. It reduced incisiveness and jump factor and replaced those initial values with more tonal development but slightly foreshortened decays on the tail end for a minor reduction of overall clarity like a skoch of thickening and gelling of molecular strands.

I hear protests. "Isn't that the very direction of developments that people buy a tube preamp for?" Exactly. John Potis made this very point in the intro to his recent Art Audio Symphony II review. Why buy a tube piece if it sounds exactly like solid-state? Indeed. Remember that these descriptions are not a judgment call. They are merely descriptions of what happened when this tubed contender slipped into a chain of valved DAC and tubed monoblocks. Too many thermionic stages in series can become too much of a good thing. However, surround the Coral with transistors fore and aft and you might be in heaven. More on that in a moment.

On something like the Afro Funk/Juju/GrooveTassoumakan by Issa Bagayoyo [Six Degrees 657036 1103] with its rollicking drum patterns, grungy guitar inserts and especially the both overblown-and-sung flute and certain popped bass strings, the all-tube chain lacked a bit of slap-you-around impact and rhythmic hammering as though transient rise times were slightly depressed. Politeness will only get you so far. Sometimes aggressive assertiveness is more appropriate. What the PRe6 brought to the table was less punctilious percussiveness, more dynamic verve, greater apparent speed and longer trails. Metallic blacksmith clangs had more piercing sharpness, bass beats crisper edges which protruded like clean spikes from surrounding material.

On the other hand, fare like "Fado Triste" on Filipa Pais' L'Amar [Strauss 03011010242] with its mellow piano washes and high but liquid female vocals was beautifully served by the Coral. It replaced the PRe6's drier honesty with greater plasticity and added a certain limpid mellifluousness to Filipa's elegiac voice. The balance mentioned earlier must also encompass whatever musical material makes up your favored diet. It's a wonderful theoretical ideal that a system should play everything with equal aplomb but the fact remains, everything's a heckuva lot vaster than most people ever listen to.

Large-scale orchestral. Pipe organ. Marching band. Rap. Techno. Opera. New Age. Funk. R&B. Blues. Chamber music. Grunge. The list is endless. There's nothing wrong with having specialized taste and a system that caters to it. That said, if your tastes truly are all over the place, working your way up the Wyetech Labs line of preamplifiers will likely expand their suitability by minimizing demonstrable character traits to, in effect, becomes less tube-like. Therein lies a reviewer liability. We're supposed to describe sonics which invariably necessitates comparisons. To be descriptive, some of us tend to favor colorful language to get the point across. That same color can overstate and thus pigeon-hole a component into a compartment into which it doesn't really belong. So the Coral is a bit tubey and a bit on the soft romantic side - isn't that exactly why you would purchase it? If Wyetech only made one model, you could argue that a specific sonic signature would become a limiting factor. But with four choices on tab, you'd expect distinct options to suit a vast array of needs. Which specific needs does the Coral serve? You have probably guessed by now: To remove dryness and edginess; to install fluidity, three-dimensionality and tonal development into systems that aren't far enough along the transient/bloom/decay axis by concentrating too much on the initial tone bursts to lack follow up.