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Bakoon EQA-11 phono preamp

14.01.2012..
..

Yes, it is true.

The phono preamplifier is the most important object in the analogue chain.

A Koetsu Jade cartridge, matched with a phono preamp of low quality will sound poor, but a Denon 103, with a grand phono preamp, is going to sing great.

Well, the Denon 103 is one of the few real miracles in hi-fi ever, but I could have mentioned any moving magnet like a cheap Audiotecnica or the old Stanton 681.

If the phono preamp is an object without compromises, you should get a broken cartridge to get an awful performance.

If you have listened to many analogue systems, you should be aware that a phono preamplifier scarcely musical or not synergic with the pick-up, would produce, unavoidably, disappointing results, even with the most expensive and exotic cartridges in fashion, like the ones made by the nephew of the Emperor of Japan during the full moon nights of the odd months.

The gain that a phono preamplifier must give is huge, the electric power at stake minimal and easily degrading. So we are talking about a device where the making has to be the same or maybe more important than the design itself.

Let us talk about the Bakoon EQA-11.

This brand, born in Japan exactly twenty years ago from a visionary idea by Akira Nagai, today has moved to South Korea for commercial and strategic reasons. The company has started its production of electronic devices with a quite distinctive original design. The aim of its founder was solving the most common problem of the electronic apparatus that is the temporal delay in the traditional circuitries, with the unavoidable noisy distortions at the listening.

He found the solution in the SATRI Circuit that is, basically, a gain stage in current.

Put like that, it seems very simple, does it? Well, it does not, because the technical, operational and sonic consequences are multi-faceted.

This circuit has been improved over the years, up to the most recent versions, both in the parameters and in better active components, as well as in the intrinsic functioning and, in particular, in the power supply that is fundamental in the designer’s mind.

 

I do not want to dwell on this interesting circuitry, but I suggest you to have a look at the Bakoon website where you can find any technical info useful to get an idea upon it.

 

Anyway, in this phono preamplifier, the active circuit with gain in current is something original, even if other brands had already made similar products, like Dynavector, with its excellent PHA 200 and the 47 Lab by Junji Kimura, whose products remind me somehow the Bakoon ones.

Besides, another essential aspect of a phono preamplifier is its synergy with the cartridge, a factor quite different here, if compared to a traditional device. Let us see how.

We are commonly prone to speculate in terms of voltage, but in this EQA-11 we have to take into account the current instead of the voltage: here, in fact, the cartridge collects the current and the SATRI circuit raises it. Furthermore, the value of the input impedance is, theoretically, 0 Ohm, even if the House declares 10 Ohms given by the input resistor.

What foresaid has a double meaning. As here the cartridge is a generator in current and not a generator in voltage, the load seen by the cartridge has an unusual value. Considered that the gain stage is a device that amplifies the current with an input impedance close to 0 Ohm or, anyway, very low, the cartridge amperage, given by the output tension divided by the internal impedance, determines the output level.

This entails an excellent universality of the Bakoon phono preamp, confirmed afterwards by the listening test. The very generous gain capability allows the theoretic match with EVERY cartridge on sale, but makes uncertain the electric behaviour of the cartridge. For this reason, I suggest to assess, case by case, the performance of your cartridge with this phono preamplifier.

I have made a test with two pick-ups: the Transfiguration of the Executive Editor Rocchi and my Lyra Lydian.

Unfortunately, I could not test it with my Denon DL-S1 but, if the kind importer will give me the opportunity, I would like to try also this match, which seems, at least in name, more critical in comparison to the two cartridges I have tested. Maybe we could offer a valid alternative to the lucky owners of the Denon who are practically obliged to use it with a Step-Up.

The EQA-11 is a well-made phono preamp. It requires a lithium-ions rechargeable battery supply, but it can operate also with flat batteries as long as the power set remains connected to the light socket: a recharge circuit will handle everything and you have only to turn on the electronic. An orange led will show you when the battery is charged. Hence, the phono preamp is completely isolated from the home mains.

There are no impedance or gain adapters and everything is really plug-and-play.

Considered that the gain is remarkably high, even if not stated, with my Lyra the outcome is definitely excessive, reaching very high sound levels with the potentiometer of the preamp on nine hours, with a slight hardening of the sound also at lower levels.

In these cases, Bakoon provides a different interchangeable RIAA motherboard. Once opened the preamp is easy to take off the regular one and insert or a board that needs a gain lower than 10 dB, or one that needs 20 dB.

With this last one, everything fits.

A first examination of the circuit shows, besides the above-mentioned Riaa curve, put on a removable board, an excellent engineering, no cabling, good quality and small components, above all the capacitors.

The Korean house provides also an improved version of the EQA-11 with better components for a price of about 2,000.00 euro.

A well-made and functioning object, without any sensitiveness in catching noises or hums, which are always waiting in ambush in a phono preamplifier with high gain.

 

Is the sound an opinion?

Not with this phono preamplifier and, to understand why, we have to speak of sex.

Hey, not in “that” sense, but of sex as a male/female gender.

I have the habit of attribute a gender to every hi-fi object. A sort of personal classification that helps me to distribute in the same proportion, in a system, male and female objects.

Someone suggests me a third gender and, actually, there are objects that hardly are completely males or females.

Just to make some examples, my Martin Logan are unquestionably female, elegant and refined, while the Klipsch are incontrovertibly male, rough and strong.

What about the Bakoon?

With no doubt male, and also quite “youthful”, impetuous and dynamic.

First of all, it makes perform the two cartridges in a quite similar way, even if they are not so similar. The Transfiguration has kept its politeness and refinement, the Lyra its usual strength and definiteness in the dynamic contrasts. Both, however, have to give way to the personal musicality of the EQA-11.

It performs like a very good solid state phono preamp, without any timbric colouring or any slowing down of the transients. The Bakoon is dynamic, fast, with lightning attacks and is very detailed in all the frequencies, also in the low range, which is well-defined, rightly powerful and never stretched out.

Cartridges or analogue basis whit a similar tone could be quite sensational, but for sure, every front end will take some benefit from these qualities.

So, lot of energy, helped by the very low noise and very high gain, together with a rather marked opening in the mid range, a blessing and a curse for this Bakoon.

Yet, sometimes and with recordings of low quality, the tonal balance could appear a bit dry in the midrange, slightly hard and never compliant, but if the recording allows it, we can have clearness and a detail really exciting and unusual, mostly if we consider the price.

Obviously, if you like the warm midrange of some tube phone preamps then let it be. The Bakoon seeks a different aim: the clearness in the tone, no matter what, even if, in some “meditative” moments you might desire some more calm.

It is also very precise in spotting the sound subjects, clearly carved and easily detectable in a perspective range that is not very wide. It is enough deep, but not too much, also for a certain tendency in pushing in a close up of the sound subjects.

The whole is quick and dynamic, contrasted and never “dull”. This is how an analogue system must perform. However, if you desire a more palpable harmonic content, you must own a very good tube amplifier.

I found out the extraordinary qualities of the Bakoon with two records: the Ninth Symphony by L.V. Beethoven (D.G., Von Karajan/Berliner, 1962) and an excellent reissue 180 gr. of Walkin’ by Miles Davis, which has a dynamics unknown to the best current realisations.

With the Ninth, the second movement matches up with the excellent phono preamp, with the strings correctly metallic and fine-grained.

Detail and strength, but also the right and unexpected, at this price, dose of class.

The focus is very good and, in the crescendo, the contrast and the microdynamics define, in a clear way, the different soundstages, which are articulated and easily recognizable. Some warm is missing on the instruments, which have the fundamentals in the mid low range. I can object that sometimes this warmth can be considered a benefit of the electronics and not a peculiarity of the take.

With Walkin’, the initial explosiveness of the first track is really amazing and the wind instruments come out from the wall – mono recording of 1945 – with a very realistic effect.

The opening in the mid high range could appear excessive, but I cannot state this, as I was not in the studio during the recording. With other phono preamps I have tested, there was more control on the wind instruments, but who can say that the true sound of those wind instruments is not just the sound coming out from the Bakoon?

Certainly, they are likely and the realism is preserved also by a dynamic touch of great level and, in my opinion, the dynamics is what differentiate what plays from what only works.

Horace Silver’s piano is fully recognisable, but this quality is not always predictable with devices that are less transparent and accurate than the Bakoon.

All that to say that some of you can find this phono preamp too open in the mid high frequencies, while others do not.

I personally think that the recording can make the difference, because, here, no fault is forgiven or domesticated.

 

Conclusions

With a cost of little more than one thousand euro, the Bakoon EQA-11, has really few competitors.

In some respects, like detail and rise time, it takes its chances with more quoted products and, if also for you these are the most important aspects, I heartily suggest listening to it. If, on the contrary, you prefer more soften sonorities, you could find it a bit excessive, but a listening test without prejudices could make change your mind and make you find out that varying the way of listening can be a pleasant thing.

It is like eating some food you have not ever liked and, twenty years later, finding out – tastes change, yes – that it is good to eat.

Another thing not to underestimate is the great universality of the Bakoon, which can solve driving problems of cartridges hard to lift up, but you have to take into account the output of your pick-up and the consequent synergy.

I lean towards an extensive utilize, further broaden by the possibility of inserting three different Riaa motherboards so to adapt the gain.

As far as I am concerned, a very good gear.

 

 

SCHEME SUMMARY

top score ***** ReMusic sparks

Tone colour *** | Turning on the mid high range towards bright pitches. Great airy in the high range, quite never harsh. Low range powerful and defined. Midrange not very full bodied.

Dynamics **** | Excellent, it gives realism to the playback. It seems never to saturate.

Detail ****1/2 | Elevated in every frequency range. Everything sculptured and clear.

Clearness **** | Of medium-high level, it allows a clear reading of some particulars that less accurate audio devices tend to hide.

Image *** | Correct even if not so extended and deep.

Rise time **** | Very quick and lightning impulses, very close to a live performance. Releases sometimes too hasty.

Manufacture **** | Great level, no wiring and good components. Battery supply well conceived and highly useful in containing the noise floor.

Price/quality ratio ****1/2 | Excellent: hardly something better at this price.

 

Official technical specifications:

Input: MC Cartridge Only

Input impedance: 10Ω (Current Signal Input)

Output: 1 SATRI-LINK (BNC), 1 Voltage (RCA)

Gain: 0dB, -10dB, -20dB Medium Gain (standard) / High Gain (option)

Power output: 10V maximum

Battery Type: Lithium-ions, rechargeable

Battery Operate Time: 25 hours approx.

Battery Recharge Time: 5 hours approx.

Dimensions: 195x40.5x195mm (WxHxD)

Shipping Weight: 4.0kg

Official worldwide distributorsto Bakoon Products International website

Official current price: contact Bakoon distributors

Associated equipment: to Paolo "Miracle" Di Marcoberardino's system


by Paolo Di Marcoberardino
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