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Lejonklou model Slipsik version 7.1 (mm) phono-stage Review. [English]

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Lejonklou Slipsik version 7.1 (Moving Magnet only) Phono Preamplifier Review [English]

You will have to spend much more in order to better it. A rare solid-state overachiever.

 

by Demos Dravopoulos

With the ever increasing popularity of vinyl records, music lovers & collectors that usually sample new or older music albums on streaming platforms such as Tidal or Spotify, rush to buy the analog medium of their choice for its far superior sonic performance. As of lately, I managed to gather a plethora of turntables and moving magnet cartridges, their price ranging from five to nine hundred Euros, as reference equipment. Recently I was in search (mostly online) of the best moving magnet – exclusively –  phono stage up to  the 1500 Euros barrier. I have to admit that over the past years, I was seduced by Esoteric Audio Research’s (E.A.R. de Paravicini) excellent and diachronic 834P tubed model (now updated to PhonoBox model soon under our guns), offering a generous dose of addictive tube golden glow to the sound, next to the classic Pro-Ject’s tube boxes and various Musical Fidelity’s entry to mid-level excellent offerings. About a month and a half ago, in my online quest, I read a review about a previous version of the Slipsik phono stage and I was intrigued, as it was described as an ear-opening experience. And this is just about what this unit does – it unleashes the very best of the entry level moving magnet cartridges and helps them bloom to simply great, audiophile cartridges – period. This occurs naturally  with  the Lejonklou product and has nothing to do with added colorations to the sound or ‘tuning techniques’ just to offer something slightly different, more Technicolor, thus ear pleasing. Allow me to offer you an insight of the designer’s approach on how he tackled the challenge in hand, in order to create Slipsik, by borrowing his own words in the paragraph to follow. And some more a bit further in the review.

Slipsik Version 7.1 phonostage – Introduced the 1st of February 2020

Knowing well the analog path… (designer’s words)

Long live the Moving Magnet! Moving Magnet cartridges are underrated and often badly treated. After having studied many commercial MM phono preamplifiers, I started wondering why none of them had the fancy components or the careful layout of their MC (Moving Coil) counterparts. Everything always appeared simplified and less expensive. With the Slipsik Reference MM Phono Preamplifier I decided to break that pattern. When building the best possible turntable from parts, there is a strict hierarchy to observe. The most important parts are the turntable mechanics and the motor, then follows the arm and finally the cartridge. It can easily be demonstrated that a modest MM cartridge mounted on a high quality arm outperforms the most expensive MC cartridge mounted on a lower quality arm. This is because the arm is more important than the cartridge. Observing this hierarchy, it is wise to always optimize your turntable mechanics, motor, arm and even the furniture on which the turntable stands before considering replacing your high quality MM cartridge with an MC. Another reason to use a high quality MM cartridge is that it allows quick and inexpensive stylus replacements and therefore has a dramatically lower cost per hour of music played. And if a stylus should happen to be damaged, the party can continue within a minute. The reason behind Slipsik 7 is to extract and deliver the musical thrill buried in the tracks of your precious vinyl records. It took thirteen years to perfect it and I believe it sets a new standard for MM phono pre amplifiers.

Riverside Sessions

Slipsik is a Swedish River and the music through this phono-stage flows like one. Returning to numerous versions of albums from Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Nina Simone and a ton others, after my review of the E.A.T. B-Sharp & newest Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO turntables, using mostly Ortofon’s 2M Series & Nagaoka’s cartridges, everything sounded cleaner, smoother and the most realistic tonal colors were preserved, better than ever before I have experienced in its price category. Slipsik v7.1 Phono Preamplifier produces a stunning bass resolution and timbre, a more nuanced layering of voices and a better rendering of guitars and acoustic instruments “organic feel”. The whole portrayal was tube-like in terms of height and dimensionality but with added resolution and flow – the notes sustained were irresistible, the overall result surpassing any phono mm/mc stage I auditioned in the last decade – up to 1200 Euros.

Dynamically the Slipsik v7.1 had an effortless quality, that hand in hand with the Pathos & Jadis integrated amps of our reviewing systems, driving ProAc’s, Duevel’s  Omnis & Geometric Harmony’s loudspeakers, just allowed the music to cut loose. Bass drums in masterpiece rock albums & spinning crescendos of classical compositions –  like Holst’s ‘The Planets’ – were explosive. Micro dynamics also were so finely nuanced and most importantly fluid. Through Slipsik I dare you to listen again and revaluate all budget friendly moving magnet cartridges – such as Ortofon’s 2M Series and Nagaoka’s. The synergy was remarkable for a lack of unwanted colorations, just rendering the right tonal color of every instrument, full of expression and detail. Its ability to allow precisely  the notes to harmonically blend in a newly discovered world of ambience retrieval (unknown before), removes another veil and frees the music of expression boundaries.

Led Zeppelin’s ultra-classical rock milestone Physical Graffiti, the sixth studio album of one of rock’s greatest bands of all times (double 180gr. edition) sounded incredibly palpable, fleshed out and three dimensional through the Slipsik v7.1 – using the 2M Black cartridge  I was in a Moving Magnet’s nirvana. Switching back to the 2M Red, I was very pleased in all aspects, receiving  the most addictive result of what it has to offer, ever delivered to my ears. Album after album of  my Beatles collection (Japanese or European pressings), plus dozens of other classical rock/blues albums lead me to the same conclusion: individual voices were more distinct and the retrieval of ambiance cues so precise, that it is like tasting a great three-figures worth eighteen years old malt whisky, for the price of a blended budget one. There was an intoxicating feel of the recorded hall, possessing an organic richness in the midrange and bass-lines that made all instruments and singers acquire a greater sense of physical, natural ‘aura’ around them. In tandem with my cheapest overachiever – Pro-Ject’s latest Debut EVO with carbon tonearm – everything seemed just a bit warmer, bigger, more lifelike and elegant sounding. A slight haze that was a common trend of all our entry-level moving magnets, compared to the far more expensive setup of Benz ACE Moving Coil & Lehmann Audio Black Cube (II), vanished completely, letting both Ortofon and Nagaoka MM’s shine like a star. The listening sessions with the Lejonklou equipment were truly beyond reproach.

Never underestimate small audio boxes like this one! I’m impressed.

When I compared the Slipsik v7.1 audio performance, with my current – up to 1000 Euros – references, which include Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL and Fezz Audio Gratia (the latter supports also moving coil cartridges), I found it delivered some unique attributes. As it was not possible to match output levels – time wise, no direct A/B comparisons were made, to satisfy the perfectionist’s approach. Also Fezz’s Gratia was about to return to its distributor, by the time Slipsik was well burned-in and ready to deliver the goods. As I lived for quite some time with the aforementioned units in our systems, my memory served me right for the purpose of the review. On my listening sessions – that include ‘torturous’ material such as heavy metal content – Lejonklou delivered excellence. The three-dimensional portrayal, reverberations of recording venues (or at producer’s will) and precise timbre of instruments were extremely palpable. Even the entry-level 2M Red cartridge delivered a level of performance never before achieved. The Slipsik over and over again, helped the cheaper cartridges perform truly on another level. Switching to a Nagaoka MP-200, the results were consistently excellent –  especially for the asking price – and absolutely satisfactory for many an audiophile, whose budget does not exceed  the 2k barrier for their analog source in total. Recording after recording I was amazed by the level of information and resolution. The whole frequency spectrum was reproduced in such a coherent manner, that a realistic organic stage, full of reverberation and details was drawn before my eyes. The MX-VYNL on the other side, tended to be slightly more laid-back in comparison. With various rock LP’s – like Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten’ and Rory Gallagher 70’s guitar pounding ones – the sonic image was wider, quieter, bolder and more vibrant all together than any other dedicated (solid-state) moving magnet phono stage I own or used if memory serves me right. Background layout was also quieter. The layering of dimensional material in classical music – especially symphonies – helped to properly demonstrate their scale and truly take reproduction to another level, especially and again, with my budget cartridges in hand.

Slipsik does not require any initial warm up to perform its best because of the fact that the unit stays ‘on’ constantly. Not possessing  an on/off switch, I would ill advise you to unplug the unit as the consumption of electricity is truly minimal. So, every time you need it to perform at 100%, it’s readily available, alive and kicking.

So, is it faultless ? Despite its effortless, free of grain, detailed, palpable, sweet midrange and robust low frequencies sound, I could never witness the effect of what an upgrade could bring by using a better power cable (probably I will experiment in the future) and I also wish sometimes that I could get a bit of extra oomph and punch at the lowest end of the frequency spectrum out of some records – nitpicking actually . Constantly Slipsik illustrated an image density, a sense of presence that is not a characteristic of  most solid-state phono stages. Even with cheapskates of cartridges , the sound was more ethereal and full-bodied altogether. Here follow the second part of the designer’s quotes.

What makes Slipsik 7 finally so remarkable?

  • Slipsik is a hand-built dual mono design with individually measured and selected components. All units, even the first one made in 2006, can be upgraded to the latest specification. •The circuit board has evolved during thirteen years of trial and error. In the two latest versions, Slipsik 6 and 7, sensitive signals are buried inside the board, between multiple narrowly spaced layers of copper. •The power regulation uses a Balanced Power configuration, where an optimal amount of current is always flowing, regardless of the content of the musical signal. •The electrical components in each Slipsik 7 are carefully measured and selected into small groups. Only one specific combination of selected component is used. All the rejected components are saved for future projects. •The power cord inside Slipsik 7 is screened with a thin insulated solid copper tube, soldered to the chassis in both ends. This improves performance by preventing mains hum and radio frequencies from reaching the circuits where the music travels. Do not cut down or replace the power cord! •Every Slipsik 7 is hand built in Sweden. It’s tested with music and signed by the person who does the final tuning. •Attention to detail: Common to all products from Lejonklou is an extreme attention to detail. Every product I develop is crafted by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of listening tests. Even seemingly unimportant details are carefully evaluated. Whenever possible I use blind tests, because they make difficult decisions easier. Everything I do and every result is written down and later studied in an attempt to find another angle. When I describe my development process to colleagues who work for other HiFi companies, they think I’m overdoing it and consider me mad. That’s OK. Mad attention to detail is the single most important factor when making a HiFi product.

Conclusion

As an analogy, the Slipsik version 7 is the aural equivalent of a crystal-clear river experience, early noon in Spring. Lejonklou Swedish Audio has designed and manufactured, a wondrous solid-state phono stage that evokes emotion, preserves excellent texture and detail, in a manner that only world-class moving magnet preamps can achieve, also avoiding the mediocrity usually associated with mid/low-priced tubed ones. Factor in the exemplary dynamic behavior, spacious imaging, rock-solid bass and triode’s-alike music flow and you’ve got a moving magnet phono preamplifier, that truly transforms your low cost cartridges to something special and extracts from the higher cost ones the last iota of emotion and agility, all together at a reasonable cost. It may well be the last phonostage you’ll ever need, especially if you are a faithful moving magnet(s) user and avid vinyl lover.

Reviewing Systems:

Analog Sources: E.A.T. (European Audio Team) Forte-S turntable with the 12” C-Note arm , Kuzma Stabi-M, Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO DC, Dynavox PS-300, Oracle Audio. Phono Stages: Lejonklou, Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista Vinyl, Pro-Ject Tube Phono Box, Fezz Gratia, E.A.R. Yoshino models, Various others. Cartridges: Ortofon 2M cartridges (various), Kuzma CAR-50, Shelter (various), Nagaoka MP-200, Benz (various) Digital Sources : Primare, Holo Audio Spring Kitsune’ Level 3 Edition, RT-Audio Design Orpheus HiRes Battery DAC, Ideon Audio 3R Streaming Music Services: Tidal premium, Spotify premium, Preamps: VTL, Conrad-Johnson,Audio Hungary Integrated & Power Amplification: Pathos Classic One MkIII edition, Musical Fidelity M8xi, Jadis (integrateds), RT-Audio Design Class-A, Musical Fidelity (various), VTL ST series, Audio Hungary ,Conrad-Johnson (tube & solid-state) Transports: Musical Fidelity, MusiChi, Foobar2000, Hysolid, various PC-based others Speakers: ProAc K8, Club-27 Kurt mk2 Signature Kit, Duevel (various models), Magnepan 30.7 Cables: Nordost & TelluriumQ, Neotech NEMOI & NEMOS line cables & Analysis Plus digital cables, Supra & Nordost USB cables, Alpha Core Goertz Sapphire Silver RCA, Pure Silver Cables, Van Den Hul interconnects (RCA) Power Cables: IsoTek, Oyaide Tunami, Shunyata Research,Tellurium Q Power Conditioning: Shunyata Research Hydra, Nordost Qv2/Qk1. Rack: Finite Elemente with carbon fiber shelves.

Price: 1.200,-€ (including VAT)

Editing, Rewriting: mr. Christos Tsiatis

 

 

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