New Phono Stage - KTE LCR-1 Mk5 Very Impressive!
I recently bought the phono preamp listed in the subject line and wanted to share my findings.
KTE stands for "Kitsune Tuned Edition", which is associated with the Holo Audio brand of electronics. For mine (and others') impressions of their May DAC check out the Digital forum. That DAC is currently making waves in the digital world for it's amazing build and sound quality.
Based on my total satisfaction with their May DAC I looked around on their website and noticed that they also make the phono stage in question. I strongly considered ordering one last year, but two things caused me to hesitate: 1. There were no reviews on it to speak of; 2. The price seemed too low to be taken seriously. At that time the pricing varied between $1200 and $1500 U.S. Certainly, I figured, this could only be an entry lever preamp at best. I'd been using my trusty Parasound JC-3+ for a few years and the JC-3 prior to that for several years, and really didn't want to consider trying another brand unless the upgrade was significant.
In May of this year, Herb Reichert wrote about the LCR-1 in his Stereophile column, and wrote very nice things about it. I respect Herb's opinion a lot, so I decided to write to KTE to find out when their newest version would be available. After about one month I received a response from Tim Connor, who runs the company from the North America side of things. He excitedly told me of a brand new version that was vastly improved over the version that Herb had written about. The price for this edition was a bit higher than the other ones ($2298), but I went ahead and ordered one as they had just come back in stock and I was very curious. About one week later the shipment arrived via USPS priority mail. I believe that it shipped directly from China or Hong Kong, so I was impressed by how quickly it arrived.
Set up: It was very easy to plug everything in, but I knew that I would need to set the impedance and gain to get everything dialed in. My cartridge is a Lyra Kleos, which is not extremely difficult to load properly, but no doubt the low output of its design requires some work to get the most out of it. After several hours of listening, changing settings, listening some more, changing back to previous settings, and finally settling on the ones I liked the best, I felt satisfied to the point that the settings have not been changed in the past three weeks and approximately 40 hours of listening. BTW, settings are changed using dip switches. The switches are located on the underside of the chassis, and other than their small size, are easy to adjust.
Listening impressions: I intentionally waited a few weeks to write about what I'm hearing. During this time I have noticed some improvements in sound quality. I won't automatically assume that break-in is to credit for this, but I have a feeling that it is. I have also left the unit turned on continuously since I get it dialed in, which probably makes more difference than break-in. One side note here is that I really don't understand the technical side of the design of this device. It's what is classified as a RIAA phono preamp, and what I have heard is that it is very difficult and expensive to make this type of design, which is why there are not many companies using this design. I would love to hear from those who might have the technical expertise to describe the advantages of this circuitry. The more I learn the more I enjoy this hobby.
What I'm hearing with this unit is something I've never heard before. The KTE is very detailed, has a very low noise floor, and pulls more musical information from the grooves than any other phono stage I have heard. I'm hearing deeper into the music than I'd ever thought possible. While listening to Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Sundazed pressing from 2002), the noisy overdubs that blend with the songs can very easily be separated from the music playing underneath. This was not the case with the JC-3+, but I had never known what I was missing until I bought the KTE. The KTE also has a smoother sound presentation than the Parasound. The easiest way to describe it is it sounds like the music has been lubricated, allowing it to flow effortlessly from the speakers. The Parasound, by comparison, sounds more analytical and crunchy. Some might prefer the crunch, especially those who listen to hard rock, but I've grown to love the illusion of hearing deep into the studio space and being surrounded by the musicians. At one point the realism of the KTE was almost spooky, as it sounded like noises in the recording studio were coming from behind me.
I can not recommend this piece of kit more highly. For those who have heard the Holo Audio DACs and are looking for a game changer of a phono stage for a very reasonable price, get the LCR-1 and see what you think. It's the best I've ever heard.
Associated gear: Hegel H590 amp, Harbeth 40.2 Anniversary speakers, SME 20/2 turntable, Tri-Planar tonearm, Lyra Kleos cartridge, LFD interconnects, Clear Day Cables Double Shotgun speaker wire, Niagara 7000 power conditioner