Bartolomeo Aloia Kueyen preamplifier

17.03.2014..
Aloia Kueyen 1
Aloia Kueyen 1

ReMusic Spark AwardEmotionally, I started the test of this preamplifier.

 

Two are the reasons: speaking of a tiptop Italian handmade brand and the sincere gratitude I feel for Eng. Aloia, the designer.

I started to read the articles of Bartolomeo Aloia in some specialized magazines in the eighties and, although for me a quite complicate matter, I could understand his sincere and intellectually correct approach to the technical questions. I apologise for having used the title Engineer, since Bartolomeo Aloia doesn’t like it, but in these times of members of a working men's club/designers, I employ it with conviction.

His clear and explicit style, too much for someone and for sure not gentle to many “related professionals”, used to express, in a concrete manner, knowledge and intellectual freedom: something rare in the Hi-Fi world and, actually, everywhere.

Not least, the words he has always used, speaking of “reviewers”, are not prone to appreciation and this aspect arouses my hidden and amused apprehension.

 

First of all, I must say that the object that Roberto and I are going to test, helps us a lot for its incontrovertible qualitative virtues.

Besides, I don’t know anyone that had made a negative evaluation of the musical performances of an Aloia’s device after having listened to it.

 

We will start saying three things:

  • the Kueyen is a brand new product
  • it represents an “humanization” in terms of costs and dimensions of the VTPA The Last, the masterpiece by Aloia in preamplification
  • it costs less than 4,000 euro.

The manufacturer’s commitment is therefore oriented to the cost avoidance and to the safeguard of the stratospheric performances of The Last.

Obviously the Kueyen doesn’t play like The Last for the simple reason that, otherwise, this last one would be a poorly made design, and it’s not.

Both are the products of the solid and certain choices made by Aloia in several decades of experience.

In substance, he believes that an amplifier has to follow a certain scheme with some technical requirements that he thinks the best possible. Full stop.

The simplification is essentially hidden in the power supply which, although with an inductive stage, doesn’t have the further and imposing inductive stage of the second separate chassis of The Last.

 

From a strictly technical point of view, since the Kueyen has some capacitors on the output stage, hence being not DC coupled like The last, it can reasonably “support” a less sophisticated power supply line even though, from the absolute point of view, thoroughly praiseworthy as for manufacture and performances.

The totem-pole gain structure has two modern 12BH7 tubes that, considered the value of the device, I suggest to replace with two NOS exemplars. I don’t know if the designer agrees, but, anyway, you can ask for his opinion.

 

Now, I don’t want to speak of technical details but I just want to underline that everything is well thought and an outcome of studies and tests made in a lifetime.

So, be aware that every piece in the Kueyen has a technical meaning, nothing is left to chance and the quality is beyond what “is inside”.

 

Also the components are of top level in the crucial points of the circuits and such quality can be found only in an handmade manufacture.

The chassis is the same as the The Last’s, without any fuss, plating and lights so to have a professional and concrete appearance, although quite unusual.

The analogies with The Last are the card that supervises the starting and the circuit stages, as well as some controls quite unusual in consumer preamplifier. I’m talking about the double level to adjust the volume with two further separate controls for the two channels.

Basically, you have to adjust a traditional first control of volume, with reference to the output level of the source and to the sensitiveness of the power amp. Then, to define the final listening level, you can operate on the two separate potentiometers that are very precise inasmuch linear.

I don’t agree with this choice for two reasons: although good, a potentiometer always affects the quality of the musical signal. Furthermore everything seems muddled. Conversely, we will have the possibility of a more accurate fine tuning.

 

Another peculiarity of the Kueyen, maybe more useful, is the possibility of defining the value of the input impedance of the CD connection, in a variable range from10 to 500 Kohm on seven possible values. The reason is that Aloia thinks, and he’s right, that the output stages in the most part of the CD players and DAC are of low quality, hence quite sensitive to the impedance value that they “see” at the preamp input.

I must say that, after some tests, my Naim has proved to be indifferent to all of this but it can happens that other players can appreciate some “personalized” loads, for example some “esoteric” tube players with anode follower output stage and ridiculously high impedance values.

Just try and, by the way, this function offers the possibility of changing, within a modest range, the performances of your system.

 

From the operational point of view, the Kueyen is not a trivial object. On the contrary. It has a precise designing “thought” behind, shrewd and sensible choices and a top quality.

It cannot be unnoticed.

 

Its dimensions are like those of my PassLabs and, of course, like all the tube devices, it needs air around even if it never becomes hot.

For the entire test it has showed steady performances and has been noiseless and reliable. An object that can last forever.

 

Listening test

In the reproduced music there is a subtle line between the “pleasant” and the “realistic” sound. The “real” sound is only on the stage. An ethereal limit that has inside the division between the audible listening and the emotional.

Unfortunately, only very few preamplifiers go beyond that limit, as the majority can just sound and these few ones are also very expensive.

The Kueyen doesn’t make miracles, but has in its DNA the ability, sometimes explicit and other times unfinished, to cross the line and catapult us in the full emotion.

Its character is clear with a rare ability in describing the chisel of the Music. It’s transparent and detailed, with a credible tune although with a slight exaltation on the mid-high range that can be tamed by a NOS tube or a synergic cable.

The sonic grain is rather fine, although palpable and therefore not at the top with the best preamps. But the comparison with the best one means that we are talking of a superior device.

 

The quality of the low frequencies is amazing, at the same level of the best solid state amplifiers and it’s also powerful and very well attuned with an harmonic contrast that never shows a monotonous and overblown bass, but a realistic and solid one.

 

What is always magic in the Kueyen is the reproduction of the human voice which is full of harmonic notes and delighted by a touch of refined definition. It’s amazing to recognise the gruff cry of Kurt Cobain in Smells like teen spirit or the personal characterization in dialect of a poem by De Andrè in Creuza de Mä.

Splendid are then the acoustical ensembles of both baroque and modern music that are pervaded by an excellent amount of airing and transparency. Only the trumpet, sometimes is critical on the highest notes mostly when the mute is used, turning out to be too aggressive or, to better say, with a not completely linear tonal characterization. With the strings nothing like that but a worthy musical fluidity. An example is the splendid vinyl version of Chet’s reissue where, in the first track, a trumpet with a stratospheric dynamics modifies its dimension and intensity at the changing of the notes.

 

Every piano reproduced by the Kueyen takes advantage of a remarkable detail, without losing anything of the harmonic content, of the tune richness. The mid bass is very controlled and well defined in the lower frequencies, as I said powerful and dynamic, with a well attuned bass that is the shore of a never poor musical frame.

With the symphonic music, the great breath and collocation of the performers is exemplar. There are no spatial limits except those of the recording and of the environment, with wide and plausible dimensions, with a full correspondence between distance and dimension that we perceive in the sound objects. Everything is rather precise, localized and easily detectable.

 

What is missing is the orchestral macro-dynamics which, in the peaks, has a slight dynamic retreat, a slowdown accompanied by a slight compression.

 

This is the only fault of the preamp meant as a parameter below the standard of the others that I consider excellent.

Anyway, the sense of realism that the Kueyen gives to the musical message is at very high levels demonstrating that we are dealing with a top quality tube preamplifier.

 

Conclusions

The Kueyen is easy to interface and reveals what precedes and the power amp it drives, cables included.

It follows that we need a set of cables with a good synergy.

Honestly, I can’t find on the market any other amplifier at the same price that performs better than the Kueyen, I really can’t, because it has personality and talent, regardless the mere economical aspect.

 

In brief, the Aloia is a best buy upon which you can rely to set a good system. If then you want to increase its level you have to spent a lot of money.

A charming object, made like a tank and, in my opinion, improvable with a set of tubes of top quality.

I don’t know if the designer has named the Kueyen after the mapuche language, meaning moon. What is sure is that, like the moon, this preamp by Bartolomeo Aloia will accompany you, poetic and reassuring, in all your listening sessions, whatever music you like.

 

P.S. Today the great Lou Reed passed away. To remember him I play Transformer and travel with joy in this modern, charming and always actual masterpiece. An involving listening session maybe for the day or maybe because it was a long time that I didn’t listen to it. I remember the New Yorker artist in a splendid concert I saw in Bologna in 1980 and now I’m a bit sad thinking about the passing of time. Only births and deaths tell us that time goes by and only a very good system can exalt the inner feeling that the Music can inspire. Like a faithful friend, it plays and you listen and maybe you are moved too.

Goodbye Lou.

 

Official technical specifications

Typology: line stage preamplifier

Frequency response: 10Hz-200kHz (-3dB); on the end of a 2m shielded cable: 10Hz-100kHz (-3dB)

Input impedance: from 10Kohm to1mohmGain: 20dB

Sensitivity for 1V out: 100mV

S/N ratio: 94dB ref. 1V

Vacuum tubes: 2x12BH7 per channel

Polarization: led diodes

Power supply: five stages.

Feedback: zero

Distortion THD: 0.1% per 1V input

Official Italian dealer: Bartolomeo Aloia, Corso Savona, 4 - 10024 Torino (TO) - Tel. 0039 011 6443342

Official current price in Italy: 3,600.00 EUR

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

by Paolo Di Marcoberardino
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