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AN King Reference phono preamp

31.05.2011..
..

It happens sometimes, in the hi-fi world, to find out new manufacturers and new products (actually, quite a few), that are very interesting under a technical and musical point of view. Besides, if these manufacturers and products are also Italian, well, uh.., that's going to be too much indeed! You should hail it as a miracle!

This is the case of a gentleman who lives in Tuscany, on the Florentine hills. For many years, he has been dealing, in his private dimension, with the making of hi-fi objects, but many audiophiles know him not as a manufacturer but as a trouble-shooter. In fact, in thirty long years of activity, he has been repairing or upgrading in his lab numerous objects of the most famous brands.

I am talking about the shy Antonio Nincheri. Yes, just him. He, who deeply knows the schemes of the foremost manufacturers (Krell, Audio Research, Goldmund, Classé Audio, Mc Intosh, Marantz, Manley, VTL, PS Audio, etc...). He used to be, for a long time, the trouble-shooter and the official service centre of many of these labels. Just the same Antonio Nincheri who has always stayed apart from the gossips and from the resounding gesture of the forum media and of the - sometimes - pointless rumours of the hi-fi shows. Most part of his customers (who daily ask him to have their jewels been repaired in his lab) do not know anything about his manufacturing activity, and Mr. Nincheri, with his reserved attitude, avoid to mention it. This is nowadays, as well as a virtue, almost a paradox.

Perchance, through common friends, I have known the reality of this figure and some of his electronic objects. Out of pure curiosity, I once visited a friend/colleague journalist and I could listen, without initially notice them, a phono preamp and a CD player-converter.

The quality of the sound was amazing and the emotional involvement very high. I could listen for the entire afternoon enjoying the sound coming from the analogue source, which, I have to admit, was enchanting: an ongoing stream of tracks and songs. Mostly non-audiophile pieces and of various genres, where a constant involvement emerged from and allowed you to enter into the musical interpretation. At that point, still incredulous, I asked him to let me test these objects at home, in my contest, and I started with the phono the King.

The other amazing aspect of this happening is tied to the logo of the brand. All Antonio Nincheri's products are marked AN and the logo looks dangerously like the Audio Note England’s: in fact, many audiophile friends had thought it was the brand of this famous manufacturer! There is only one detail to stress, yet paradoxical. The first objects marked Nincheri, featuring that particular logo, are converters-stabilizers and mains filters, put onto the market well before the Audio Note’s products. We are referring to 1983-84! Audio Note England is a later reality (there was Nincheri before!)

 

But let’s talk about our topic! The King Reference phono preamp shows on one hand the AN manufacturing mastery and, on the other hand, the proof that the analogue world is still in good health. Furthermore, it represents still nowadays, in the digital era, the highest quality in the audio reproduction.

Insofar it is an ambitious project. For its musical and manufacturing characteristics, the King Reference is an instrument capable of reaching the top in the audio quality. It is a concentrate of circuital solutions, made with accuracy, precision and attention. All these aspects are feasible only through a hand-crafted standard of high quality.

Some of these circuital solutions have been conceived and designed by Nincheri himself and treasured into a dedicated armoured cabinet put inside the phono preamp.

This battery dual mono riaa preamp springs from the will of Antonio Nincheri and his staff of designers to create the “perfect phono preamp”. The final effect is noticeable in the listening outcome and expresses itself in a vivid, natural sound without any twisting, very dynamic, deep, involving and articulate, in a word, dramatic.

The realization and the design of the AN King Reference system, is the result of years of studies and researches on materials and circuitry, from which arose several experimental prototypes that gave way to the comprehension of the behaviour and time reliability of the device. There is to be taken into account also the prolonged listening tests and the direct comparisons with other objects on the market that are very famous as per brand and performances.

In its simplicity, the phono preamp is the more difficult audio component to design, especially considering the very low electric signal level that it has to handle. For this reason, it represents the most critical point in any analogue system. The other devices of the audio chain, independently from their quality, will not pick up what  the vinyl grooves lose at a level of micro-information. What is not amplified cannot be reproduced, for sure.

 

Profile of the device

The King phono preamp is a solid and reliable object but it cannot be placed too close or upon gears with power transformers, otherwise it can pick up some hums. The King Reference preamp is well shielded, but it is not completely insensible to induction interferences or to feeble interactions. If adequately set up and interfaced, it will be noiseless, being a phono device supplied with lithium-polymer batteries of the last generation.

The cabinet shape is an outstretched parallelepiped, so that the thick aluminium frontal panel becomes a square with only one knob whit intuitive positions:

Charge: knob on the left if you want the Power Battery Supply charging the batteries to feed the King Reference. One led indicates the functioning.

Off: in this central position of the knob the Phono is switched off (i.e. it is battery unplugged) and it does not consume energy.

On: knob on the right to switch on the King Reference. One led indicates the functioning.


Battery Power Supply Reference

The King is a two chassis device with an external battery power supply. The Power Supply Reference, inserted in a cabinet very similar to the phono preamp, has to be plugged into the King Reference phono preamp via the appropriate connection cable. You have to insert the professional wrist pin just in one way, so it is almost impossible to get wrong. Obviously, while connecting the Power Supply to the Phono King, you have to unplug the power supply from the mains.

Once you have connected the Phono King to its power supply, it is possible to plug in the Power Supply Reference to the mains. In this case, the power supply cord has no influence at all on the sound, because when the King is on, it is fed only with batteries and that means that the phono circuit is isolated from the mains. The advantages are: insensitivity to interferences, better S/N ratio, total circuital stability, sensible increase of the silence between music spaces, elimination of the sense of electrification on the signal, better stability in the reproduction of the holographic image, very clean silences, more transparency, etc.

 

Set up

Pay attention to what I am going to say! When you connect the different input or output signal cables or when you test the input load pins to optimize the MC cartridges, you have to switch off the King. Only after having plugged in all the pieces to your system, you can switch it on. If you do not follow this procedure, you can seriously damage the electric circuit of the phono preamp. Therefore, every time you want to change the connection cables of the phono input and output, to make some audio tests, you have to switch off the device.

Before changing the signal cables or replacing any resistors on the load pin of the phono preamp, and, in any case, while interfacing and connecting the King Reference with other parts of your system, you have to turn off the device! I suggest doing it with all the phono preamps as well!

One of the King Reference aims has been trying to reduce the losses of signal information to the minimum allowed by the existing technologies, so it would be absurd to buy a component of such quality and then penalize it with a rough tweak.

Even in the rear panel, the connections are of intuitive use: small lever for the selection of MM or MC cartridges, input and output RCAs, RCA marked “MC load” designed to allow the load pins to finely optimize the MC cartridges.

 

Setting of the phono preamp with different MC cartridges

The load of the MC cartridge is finely adaptable to the AN King phono preamp, when you decide to use it directly into the MC circuit. At this regard, it is possible to use the supplied load pins with resistors ad hoc. On demand is available a set with a wide choice of values (30, 40, 50, 60, 80, 100, 150, 200, 250, 400, 470, 600, 700 ohm) and it can load the circuit in the finest way, optimizing the cartridge-phono electric interface. This fine-tuning, very important to achieve the maximum electric coupling and listening performance, is not usually possible with other conventional phono preamplifiers. To find the right value is useful to read the manual dedicated to the cartridge. With a wide range of values (i.e. from 100 to 1000 ohms), what is required, is to make some tests by ear in order to verify from time to time the results. What you have to achieve is the best coupling with the right ohm value, therefore when you get the tonal balance of your system.


Considerations on the sound of the King

This object, connected to my system, literally disappears and becomes the leading thread of the gain very close to an ideal model. With its total transparency, its being absolute noiseless and its exceptional dynamic capacity you can catch every slight difference between the sound physiognomies of the various cartridges. From the tracks of the vinyl, emerge strong and clear nuances never heard before.

Most phono preamps, in comparison with the King, seem to be a bit phony, affected and artificial, somehow even electrified and noisy: maybe they can embellish, underline something, but finally they appear less natural. You realize that by reconnecting the King to your system.

The listening experience is an aesthetic fruition. This is the aim of our common passion, high-fidelity, that is being in rapture with the beauty that is there, tangible, a recreated dimension in which you can get lost. It is like another visual experience, i.e. passing through a gallery full of art paintings. Standing in front of works of art gives this feeling, like boning up in poetry or/and stories where you can recognise yourself.

When a hi-fi system is good at recreate this kind of sensations there are no problems of treble, bass, mid, space, depth or other parameters used in the standard analysis. When a system is balanced becomes always harder to analyse single particulars, considering the fact that the particulars are part of an organic whole that makes sense in its complex.

I did not realize, until I tested the King phono preamp, that such an outcome was possible in still affordable price ranges. I mean, it is not necessary spending a lot of money to get a hi-fi phono preamp that, more than a technologic appliance, seems like a machine with a magic sound.

The King phono preamp is astounding for the quality of the performances. What does make a system a system of quality? I think the answer is in what I said before. When you enter into a dimension and are part of the musical event, when you shiver, when it touches your deepest chords.

Is it possible to get this kind of result from the machines? Yes indeed, but it is not predictable that this result has to be shown. Too often, in fact, while visiting some friends I had to accept the fact that faced with a big expense, sometime embarrassing if not immoral, the results were not only questionable, but not fulfilling at all.

In conclusion, if it is legitimate to consider hi-fi as a game, it is also true that the hi-fi gears are luxurious toys. However, if as audiophile players you can recognize yourself in the category of “object testers”, the King is not for you because it could represent the end of the game.


Official technical specifications:

System: phono preamplifier for MC and MM cartridges

Precision of the R.I.A.A. curve: 20Hz - 20.000Hz within 0,15dB

Gain: MM input 40dB, MC input 56dB

MC cartridges typology: at least 0,1microvolt (optimal from 0,2 to 0,6microvolt)

Input sensitivity: MM: 2mV/47kOhm

Harmonic distortion: 0,005%

Intermodulation distortion: 0,005%

Load impedance: MM 47.000ohm, MC finely adjustable with load pins

Signal/Noise ratio: MM input 79dB, MC input 77dB

Dimensions:110x110x310mm (WxHxD)

Weight:3kg the Pre King, 3,5kg the Power Supply

Power Supply: separate, with lithium-polymer batteries

Consumption: 80W with batteries in charge

Duration of the charge: full-charged Il King can be employed for 6o hours

Finish: satin aluminum and metal with black finish

Official current price in Italy: 4,680.00 EUR

Further informations

Tel. +39.328.9677105

 
by Marco Fontanelli
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