Audiozen Mantra Special Edition phono preamp

23.12.2011..

Unavoidably we are going to deal with analog. Unavoidably, because I belong to that scanty group of crazy people who have never “got rid of” their LPs collection. Instead, they continue to increase and play it with profit, notwithstanding the countless care for the settings, the cleaning and the maintenance of the vinyl and the consequent inconveniences.

The object reviewed here is the Audiozen MM Mantra Special Edition phono preamplifier only for MM cartridges or high output moving coils. Audiozen is a fresh Sicilian company, unknown to most people, and before this test to me either, but which existence I am now very happy of. Thus, let us start gradually.

 

Aesthetics and functionality

The SE is an “improved” version of the basic phono preamp, which costs less than half price of the preamp object of our test. Only 399.00 euro against the 899.00 and that attests the extension and quality of the improvement. This step-up comprises the Full Dual Mono configuration with two power transformers held in a separate chassis, two power boards with a very low ripple, several improved electronic components, a golden ground connector and an aluminium chassis with a black front panel.

 

 

About aesthetics and functionality there is not very much to say. Two chassis with a separate power supply, compact, "hot-melt" coated inside, with an IEC socket and coupled to the electronic case through a cable of one-meter with a four-polar connection. Such case has two blue LEDs on the front, very intense, which show the functioning of the two channels. On the back are RCA inputs and outputs, a golden ground attachment, a connector for the power supply input, an on/off switch lever. Below, three small rubber feet. Everything is practical and ergonomic. Not an astounding design, but agreeable at sight. No possibility of adjustment.

I will try to analyze the sound coming out from this machine in relationship with what I hear and feel. In tune with that “esoteric” philosophy stated in the company’s website, which name says all. Oh, yes. There is plenty of terms pertinent to different oriental philosophies/religions and here I feel at ease because I know Japan, having spent there a couple of years, and also some other Asiatic Countries.

So, how behaves this Mantra SE? Well, I have already told a couple of things. I am favourably impressed. Connected to my home system, it pushes me to listen to more LPs than ever. My old but still loyal Thorens TD160 turntable, with its respectable Polipods supports and its already renowned millimetric settings, has been put to the test. And also the reliable and very good MM Ortofon OMB cartridge, benefited by a non original elliptic stylus, which matches itself greatly from a sonic point of view.

Thanks to the Audiozen phono preamplifier, coupled to my reproduction chain, I feel like listening again to the most significant tracks of my vinyl collection. Back in time, when I was fifteen, with the first LPs chosen and bought by myself autonomously and still usable. To give an account: Simon & Garfunkel, Greatest Hits, with their high tuned voices and guitars and their very American atmospheres, in addition to Santana, Abraxas, a famous magic masterpiece of rhythm and fusion. Today, at the age of fifty-four, I have gained more experience and I am craftier, as Jimi would say, but I regret the freshness and the motivating force I had and the time spent, more than today, playing every single album. The Mantra Special Edition, in synergy with my current system, succeeds in taking me back, yet I do not know how.

 

Use and listening impressions

Ok, but what about the sound? Listening to it for hours without being tired. Clean, warm, involving, powerful, defined. With new discovers of words and phrases (maybe the mantra effect?!) before never understood. Therefore, unravelled. Energetic, with realistic dynamic contrasts and a good sense of rhythm. Natural, with just the right tone and a well balanced range of frequencies, with deep and palpable bottom end. Great image, well extended also in depth. The loudspeakers disappear also “without closing your eyes” ;-). At ease with the big orchestras and in their most difficult movements. For example in the Triple Concert by the divine Ludwig Van Beethoven, performed by the stellar Oistrach, Rostropovich and Svjatoslav Richter trio, directed by Karajan, where the soloist instruments chase each other whilst keeping their well defined position in space. Or in the baroque triumph of the Suite in D major by Bach, with its glowing and powerful trumpets. Same thing for the peculiar sound of Joe Jackson in Night and Day, sound that is refined and tidy in the recording level, extremely involving tough, mostly in the unbridled rhythms. Or in the winds and strings of the virtuosic Inti Illimani, that I can define exotic and recalling other old ways to stay together. With my “garage” system, with a Thorens TD165 turntable and a MM Nagaoka JT555 cartridge, the object confirms all its virtues although with a whole different tonal balance, with a less palpable and deep low range and with a higher presence and brightness, however expected considered the influence in this sense of the Magneplanar MMG speakers.

 

Suggestions and warnings

Any faults? Not evident, maybe the too intense led lights and the price which brings the Audiozen device to collide with seasoned and qualified competitors like Lehmann, Trichord, Clearaudio, Creek, Graham Slee and others that are often more flexible and also have MC inputs and various loading/impedance regulations. Of course this is not necessarily a negative thing: in theory less functions=less components=more quality, even if the MC cartridges are excluded but recoverable with a step-up. Suggestions: pay attention as usual to the phase and to the power supply cable, possibly neutral and transparent. Same thing for the signal cables.

In the Zen philosophy, what counts is the purity, the immediacy of the act, the absence of the afterthoughts, but also the absolute concentration on what to do. You can find all that, in a certain measure, in the Mantra SE. Maybe it is not easy to have an occasion, but try to find one and listen to this beautiful Italian object. I am not responsible for possible lightning strikes…

 

Selection of listened music (LPs)

Simon & Garfunkel, Greatest Hits, CBS

Santana, Abraxas, CBS

Bach, Suite n.3 in D major, dir. Richter, Munich Bach Orchestra, DG

Beethoven, Triple Concert, dir. Karajan, Berliner Philharmoniker, EMI

Joe Jackson, Night and Day, A&M Records

Inti Illimani, Canto de pueblos andinos, I dischi dello Zodiaco

 

Official technical specifications:

Input impedance: 47000Ω (100pF)

Output impedance: < 600Ω

RIAA curve: passive, based on the Audio Engineering Society parameters

Gain: 38dB

Sensitivity: 4mV

Dimensions: 233x43x175mm (WxHxD)

Weight: 1,3Kg

Official Italian dealer: direct sale, to Audiozen website

Official current price in Italy: 899.00 EUR

Associated equipment: to Fabio "Puzzled" Barbato's system

 

 

RIGHT OF REPLY | MANUFACTURERS FEEDBACK

Buongiorno, grazie per essere riusciti ad inserire la recensione sul sito proprio il giorno prima di Natale: è stato tra i regali più graditi!
Il recensore ha percepito oltremodo bene il mio approccio all'audio e quindi la mia filosofia costruttiva, relegando gli aspetti meramente tecnici (dove comunque nulla è lasciato al caso e lo stesso cablaggio interno è formato da cavi in rame puro di adeguata sezione) quasi in secondo piano, per dare invece spazio al piacere dell'ascolto. Almeno questa è la sensazione che ho percepito e quella che, in fondo, più mi soddisfa.
Complimenti quindi, sia per il taglio editoriale del sito e sia per la scelta dei collaboratori!
Antonino Pistone, Audiozen
28/12/2011

 
by Fabio Barbato
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