Passive MM/MC RIAA phono-preamplifier Orpheus
A battery-powered seductive sounding phono-preamp.
Mr. Tsvetan Tsenko & Mr. Ivaylo Ratzov, Bulgarian high-end audio distributors (Audio Note, 47Labs, SME, Chord brands), was decided in 2012 to pull their switch and become manufacturers. They were collecting experience and were winning awards for their sonic repertoire over the last decade, in both tube and solid-state designs.They are returning to nowadays with a beautiful phono-stage for both moving coil and moving magnet cartridges inspiring us to listen (again) to their batteries-powered enduring creations.
RT-Audio Design classic models include the name ‘Orpheus’ in their title, so this new model it’s called ”Orpheus Passive MM/MC RIAA Preamplifier’.Last year we gave a very positive review of the RT-Audio Orpheus Design Hi-Res Battery-Powered digital to analog converter, which sells for mere 1300 euros. During the auditions, we compared the converter with four antagonists and found the Hi-Res DAC model to have a bold, slightly dark but seductive sound. Relaxed, with excellent retrieval of realistic tonal colors and size. That example from RT-Audio is still in our up to 20k system and performing excellence for the money asked. There were also Special Edition ( S. E.) models for both phono-stage & Hi-Res DAC, but we stick here with the simpler version of phono as sent for review (single-ended only).
The RT-Audio battery-powered Orpheus Phono is indeed a very high-quality product utilizing discrete op-amps. It supports moving coil via step-up transformer and moving magnet cartridges via passive RIAA correction. But let the R. & T. guys speak better for themselves: “MM preamplifier it realized with two amplifiers. The first amplifier is an ultra-low noise op-amplifier without signal capacitors in the signal path. The RIAA curve is realized only with passive components. The second amplifier stage it’s realized with an ultra-linear op-amplifier, designed with discrete electronic components.”
“The differential input amplifier and output stage, were realized with discrete planar epitaxial transistors from Toshiba. The sound from this op-amp is like a tube: soft, smooth, fast bass, and wide stage. The MM stage was realized with a step-up transformer.The advantage of MC transformers is the wide range of MC cartridges with different impedances.The input transformer equalizes the output impedance of the MC cartridge and the input impedance of the first amplifier stage, reducing phase shift, THD, and the losses for a use-full signal.The new RIAA preamplifier, was powered with a 12V/2,3Ah battery. You can listen for 6 hours without charging and enjoy the unique clear sound without mains noises.Our RIAA preamplifier can be ordered in SE and EX versions as an option. This preamplifier can play phenomenal Jazz, Rock, and Classic music. We wish you a pleasant listening of Duke Ellington, Diana Krall, or Patricia Barber.”
The upper midrange and top-end of the RT-Audio Orpheus phono were truly resolute, connected, and exemplary delicate like cut from the same cloth of Single Ended Triode amplifiers “school of sonics”. Not for the money asking, but in absolute terms. With well-engineered LP recordings, this phono is preforming very sweet and fluid, even with entry-level MMs like Ortofon’s 2M Reds and 2M Blues. We have to mention that paired with the best & awarded but ‘budget’ (<250,-euros) cartridges on the market today, midrange and upper freq. regions had still an aura that comes so close to the best phono-stages I ever auditioned. And this ‘purity’ aura comes out so easy, especially if you let Orpheus send its signal through the path of a higher-end interconnect! The RT-Audio battery phono is also as revealing as our expensive Conrad-Johnson TEA1 models (of period 2007-2015) -big words of truth- but also so slightly more forgiving of bright or harsh recordings.
For most of our critical review time, we auditioned Orpheus phono with Ortofon’s 2M Red, 2M Blue, and 2M Black as for moving magnet ones and then switching to the excellent Vertere Mystic, Kuzma CAR-50 and upper-class Clearaudio moving coil ones. Our turntables & tonearms chosen brands were Kuzma, Pro-Ject Audio (including the affordable Carbon Debut EVO -with the 2Ms- fantastic sounding one) and from European Audio Team.
LP after LP was gave us all a fine sense of touch and attention to detail retrieval, with a silky but resolute treble and midrange. Orpheus constantly played Jazz tracks for all their worth, cleanly resolving the many shades of dynamics. Coherency was first-class. Upper frequencies really ‘melt’ artfully with midrange and mid-bass, without a hint of overhang or over-exposured areas. Battery models of RT-Audio Design always carry realistic tonal colors, inherent silence and that very rare sense of ‘true to live’ flow. Hard to find in the sub 3k price category.
The effect of listening and comparing this battery phono pre with same-league allternatives plus our more expensive turntables, tonearms and moving coils/moving magnets was an increased solidity to the sound, less ‘paramorphosis’ and precise imaging usually found on the most expensive ones. The dynamics were also as superb for a design like this, paying more attention to the (harder to deliver) micro-shadings. Sometimes, we got a little less oomph macrodynamically versus some other preamplifers kick, always on the same price shelf. We’ll give you an example: Our blues, rock & hard rock programs include well-recorded LP albums like Pearl Jam “Ten”, Black Sabbath ‘Tyr’, Stevie Ray Vaughan “The Sky is Crying”, Van Halen “Fair Warning” & “I” plus a ton of others. The Orpheus combined with our best cartridges delivered most of the drum & bass exploding peaks nicely but without trying to be the ‘headbanger’ in this specific act. On the other side, if the back of our necks shuddered, that’s because of the microdynamic scaling and touch it offers. Letting music flow unimpeded and undistorted its another strong card of Orpheus phono. For “Expect the Unexpected”-Level results that is capable of, it will require especially careful choice of interconnect cables. We preferred both the mid-line (but also expensive) ones from Nordost, Audio Note silver ones (very expensive) and/or Esprit Cables Beta line, Oyaide Tunami RCAs. The continuous and coherent purity from top to bottom gained even more resolution, transparency and harmonic rightness. Delivering the goods to our tubed KT-120/EL-34 based integrated amplifiers from Jadis, VTL and Tsakiridis Devices now we are talking about adding glow and reaching higher tiers of performance without breaking the bank. Hey, both the Orpheus battery digital to analog hi-res converter and –now- this phono stage reminds us that we are audiophiles and …cannot step-back for less after this ‘pleasures pack’ comes in!
As for the low octaves: R.T.’s bass in general was very solid and clean with good punch. Cannot compared with the initial attack transients and weighty-bold interpretation of truly reference-class tubed ones we auditioned the last two years (with the same carts & turntables). But notes never held longer or physically shorter than they should be, in an unnatural and annoying way. Still, music with complicated, even ‘heavy-metal’ bass lines or with multiple acoustic-bass instruments playing, often praised this phono. In fact, we prefered the extra transparency of the low-end this Orpheus brings to the table instead of a much warmer, bolder but not so well-defined AC-powered rivals supports.
One of our tree giant-killers of the sub 3k category! Correctly sized images sprang out of well-known LPs. Sweetness, fluidity & flow are similarly applicable descriptors for what RT-Audio Design Orpheus Battery phono-stage is all about. For 2000 euros asking, you save the money of an audiophile power cable needed -most of the time- when you buy a nice preamp for your cartridges. Its lack of noise and distortion allowed us to hear deeper into all of our music collections. So here it’s a compact and darn near-perfect sounding ‘driver’ for the most moving magnets & moving coils out there. We recommend buying one heartfully even if you own cartridges costing double RT-Audio’s Orpheus MM/MC RIAA battery-powered phono price. Battery or buttery? Both!
Read also hiendnews.gr interview of RT-Audio design team, link: