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Analogue Sources: Nottingham Analogue Studio Space Deck driven by Walker Audio Precision Motor Controller. String Theory™ Woody™
tone arm from Pete Riggle Engineering and Audio. Dynavector 17D2MKII, Dynavector 20xl, and Denon DL103 cartridges.
Digital Sources: Wavelength Audio Cosecant USB DAC v3 fed by polycarbonate shell MacBook with dual 500GB LaCie Firewire drives. Secondary: Tube Research Labs modified Sony SCD-2000ES
Preamps: deHavilland UltraVerve; Allnic H-1200, self-modified Jolida JD-9, and Herron Audio VTPH-1MC phono stages.
Amplifiers: Wright Sound Company WPA 3.5 mono blocks with TFA-204 nickle air-gapped output transformers, Melody i2A3, Sophia Electric S.E.T.™ Music Baby integrated amp, and three AudioSector integrated amps. Secondary: MiniWatt integrated amp, Outlaw Audio RetroReceiver.
Speakers: Three-way Po' Lil' Things—a furniture-grade variant of the venerable Po' Boys—built around B&C 8PE21-8 (for throat horn), RCA model 9584A (permanent magnet midrange compression driver) with 1" throat and 1.34" opening to conical horn, and BMS 4540ND tweeter compression driver mated to tractrix horn; active crossover DEQX HDP-3. Two-way GPA 604-8H-II drivers mounted in 9.1 cubic foot enclosures strongly influenced by Jay Fisher's MLTL design (plus our Dial-a-Vent and Dial-a-Height features). Crossovers incorporate XTC-grade oil-filled capacitors and other tweaks. Secondary: Zu Audio Druid Mk.4; Wharfedale Diamond 10.1; Customized REL Strata III utilizing a properly-designed outboard amp (SA1000) not compromised by the obviously under-spec'd resistors chosen by REL.
Cables: Cardas SE-15, DIY WM-XTC, Audience, and Zu Audio Libtec cables; Cardas Golden Cross, Audience Au24, Audience Maestro, and Bob Crump custom copper interconnects. Wireworld Ultraviolet High Performance, and Elijah Quad Braid and Isolate Cu USB cables. Secondary: Analysis Plus cables and interconnects.
Stands: Two three-tier Grand Prix Audio Monaco units on GPA Apex footers; Secondary: Lovan Affinity Pro6 Series rack, Acoustic Dreams Dead Ball ISOLATElators; Neuance platform.
Power line conditioning: BPT 3.5 Signature; cryo'd Pass & Seymour wall outlets; Audience, T.G. Audio Lab SLVR, Analysis Plus Power Oval, Zu Audio Birth and Bok power cords [both on loan] power cables. Secondary: Brick Wall PW8R15AUD.
Sundry accessories: HAL-O® Vacuum Tube Dampers, Herbie's Way Excellent Turntable Mat, Locus Design Basic and Bren1 record clamps, VPI 16.5 record cleaner, and Shun Mook Valve Resonators.
Music makers: Gibson J-100; 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 a Gibson J-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); concrete slab, sheet rock walls. ASC Tube Traps and Sound Planks, Echo Busters absorbers, Shakti Hallograph Soundfield Optimizers, and Acoustic Revive RR-77 Ultra Low-Frequency Pulse Generator.
component retail: MC fixed €1'500; MM/MC adjustable €2'000

I think we judge talent wrong… Things like determination, courage, discipline, temperament, these are also talent. – Rahul Dravid. Remember back in April of 2009, when a 47 year-old Scottish lady shocked everyone during the Britain's Got Talent show? Remember seeing Simon Cowell’s eyes get huge within ten seconds of her opening her mouth? Remember how no one was prepared for the power and expression of her voice? Whether you care for her music or not, there’s no denying that Susan Boyle’s got talent. That same year, her debut album instantly became the UK's best-selling debut album of all time. When Boyle first appeared on the show, she said that she aspired to become a professional singer "as successful as Elaine Paige" (well-known as the First Lady of British Musical Theatre due to her skill and longevity). The audience was palpably cynical. Little did they know that just moments later they’d be hit with a major wake-up call upon hearing her performance.

So it is with the Black Pearls Aquarius phono stage. While it may look plain Jane on the surface, there’s more than a lot of potential under the hood. That said, you wouldn’t know by looking there, either. Describing what’s in the mostly empty box as unassuming would be an understatement. What was the designer thinking?

A few words from Konstantinos Papachristou: "The design goal was to develop a top-of-the-range phono stage. But the result was a quite expensive unit and the chassis wasn't on par with that. Nor have I found a machine shop yet that can completely match my demands. So I decided to downgrade the design and deliver a unit that can be very competitive in its price range. I wanted to have a fully adjustable phono stage but switches and related cabling can degrade the audio signal and introduce noise to the system whilst the use of DIP switches can lead to a very tricky and challenging PCB layout. The best solution was the use of interchangeable components for gain, impedance and capacitance. With this method you get a better sound and that's the reward for the hassle. The design is based on a fully balanced input stage, which for me is the right thing to go for in a preamplifier with such high gain requirements. Special op-amps are used for this critical stage and in my opinion the result justifies this choice, although others might prefer the use of transistors, Jfets, valves etc."

I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious – Albert Einstein. Because of my ongoing DIY modifications on another phono stage, I know from experience that op-amps can make a surprisingly big difference to the quality of sound. So I was naturally curious about his choice. When pressed on the special aspects of his chosen op-amps, all I got was "I cannot say more, they are just special purpose op amps (and pretty expensive, too) that suit the needs of a phono stage perfectly."