Review: Atma-Sphere MP-1 Tube preamp

Category: Preamps

The quest for the best sound I could produce in my 23 X 15 X high celinged room has been aired on this forum since February 2004. It has now come to an end. This is an epilogue, but if not done, I would feel that I was just a chronic never-satisfied audio neurotic, peppering the weary Audiogoners with what-ifs and various combination questions, so feel obligated to conclude it, for fairness and also because it may help others reach the sonic nirvana that I now have.
As I now type, the reverberating, slowly-decaying notes of Ashkenazy are melded into the ghostly, haunting tones of Perlman's Stradivarius, surrounded by Harrel's cello - all achingly beautiful and more real than anything I have heard in the decades since I listened to my mother, aunt and grand-father, all superb musicians, play flute trios in my house, 10 feet away from me. The Archduke trio has never sounded so real. I can now hear the strings being plucked - the thwap and slight echo is life-like. They are in this room, real and, unlike any system I have ever heard, actually have me in the middle of the performance, rather than just an auditioner sitting in front of a set of speakers.
Now the BBC Symphony Orchestra is playing Beethoven's 5th - I am not going to continue to write the audio reviewer's trite lines of counting the fingers on each violinist or feel the spray from the basoonist or trombones - but I have never heard an orchestra reproduced in my living room like this. The sound is open, transparent, and full of authority. It is actually spine-tingling and riveting. Reviewers have spoken about the "authority" of the MA 2.2's, but I never experienced it like this before the MP-1s came into the system. I hear only now why 2 reviewers have claimed the MA 2's to be the best amplifiers they have heard. They clearly need the right signal. Believe you me, they get it in spades..........
Nojima playing Liszt or Richter playing the Hammerklavier, Kiri singing Dovo Sono have never sounded like this before. I claim neither literary or musical qualifications nor will use the banal alliterations that are always used in describing how huge a soundstage is, how detailed the instruments sound, how unreal the sibilance of a closely-miked female vocalistand the impact of the bass notes......all these are true but with the emotional addition of the music tugging at your soul and making you say and feel "OK, this is it....this is what I'm looking for and now I'm satisfied - there cant be better"
This system kept me up until 4 am the day the MP-1s came out of the box - and I get up at 5 am - and I left work early to get back to it and it only gets better - 2 days later.
It doesn't matter if it's Patricia Barber, Nigel Kennedy and the Kroke Band, Hugh Masekela or Jimmy Buffett's Fruitcakes in the Kitchen - it all sounds glorious, unfettered and, most significantly, in comparison with my prior preamp (ML 32), involving and coherently appealling.
Of course there are other variables (interconnects), but that will be a separate review.
All I can say right now is that the MP-1 brings out everything I have heard, read and expected from the MA-2s without any restriction at all. It is as though there is no preamp; furthermore the synergy shouldn't be surprising, since they are built by the same man with the same philosophy and there is not the sense that the preamp and amp are separate components, which is what I got from the MA-2/ML 32 combination, where the music is probably as detailed, but with a leaner, more clinical ambience and, hugely apparent and most striking, totally less involving and detached from me. The cliche "emotionally involving" has never been more apt or appropriate than describing the sound I now hear.
Maybe the fans of VTL 7.5, BAT, Aesthetix all have their own preferences and experiences; however, my hunt is over. This sound is mine for keeps. (Also, keep in mind this is the MP-1 Mk II with Caddock resistors)
Mr Kartsen, you may well have kept me away from Tanglewood, The Met and Avery Fisher Hall. It is certainly cosier here and I can bring my Dachshund with me - she always liked Tannhauser, but the men in monkey suits wouldnt let her in......:)

Associated gear
Atma-Sphere MA2.2 (modified)
Kharma 3.2
Esoteric DV-50
Stealth Indra from CDP to MP-1
Purist Dominus MP-1 to MA-2.2
Michael Wolff Ribbon Source PC
Purist Dominus Rev B S/C (8 feet)

Similar products
Audio Research SP 14
Mark Levinson Ref 32
Krell KMA 160
Wilson Watt Puppies 2:3
Fantastic, Springbok! Congratulations. This has been a long journey for you and I am delighted to read your comments above and see that you have found a sonic match to the MA-2s and the Kharmas that is truly rewarding. Great review; I enjoyed reading every bit of it. Thank you for sharing this.
Thank you, Rushton. Gracious and supportive, as ever.......I guess the only thing that could make it better is a bit of vinyl:)

A great review, if not technical, then certainly communicating of what you have really felt, just as music should be. At this point I wouldn't do anything else other than listen and enjoy. Forget the vinyl, as we chatted before it is worth it but would drive your wife around the bend. Take care

Glad to hear you ended up trying the MP-1. I hope that you did not delete the phono section. If you try vinyl, you might want to consider Atma-Sphere's turntable as well. After reading that you enjoy the company of a Dachsund, I can tell that you have outstanding taste. ;-)

I would like to hear about your cable experimentations. Especially regarding the preamp to amp connection.
Good point, Gary - the review was totally devoid of any technical details. This is my take on that: if the music sounds right, unadorned, life-like and stirs the emotions as a live session would, then, by definition, to me, the audio sytem has done its job and is "technically" perfect. If anything jars, distorts, colors, sounds artificial, sterile, forced, strained, or in any way has an element, tone, grittiness or lack of depth and soundstage, or deficiency, such as mid-range leanness, bass-shyness or boominess, or rolled-off highs, then it is subject to a critical dissection and a technical analysis. To me, finding technical issues with the sound I am now hearing is tantamount to criticizing the interpretation and performance of the musicians; if the recording is bad,then that is another issue, but this is the reason we use the same sources to compare, listen to our components for comparison purposes. So, bottom line is that the sound is life-like enough for me to "just listen to the music" and nothing jarred or shattered that illusion - the ultimate accolade to a play-back sytem. Of course, everything, especially subjective evaluations of an illusion - and musical playback is an illusion - it's not a real performance - is relative and subject to the critical ear and perception of the listener - so a better ear/listener may say that it is "80% or 90% of a live experience" and find the technical reasons for the 10-20% deficiency. I'm not that good - obviously others are - and to me it hits the spot. (Now, listening to vinyl may shatter my illusion totally and say "What was I thinking? This is real! Which is why I will continue to avoid going back the road I disbanded 12 years ago when I threw away (groan) my LPs)
Wellfed, I will do a cable swap once the system is warmed up and broken in - right now, it's too good to play with!! Furthermore, it's a huge deal, as the components are squeezed into an impossible space in a large furniture rack against the wall with closed sides and is a major deal to do. But if I get my hands on any serious contenders to the Indra, I would be interested to do the experiment. Will keep you posted.
Thanks for the feedback, all of you. And for the suggestions that led me this way.
Wellfed, sorry, I misread your cable comment. Yes, preamp to amp connection is something I think is important to do and will be doing that as soon as I can get 2.5 m of balanced cable - unusual length - but that is what it takes.
I would love to replace my Dominus with cheaper cable, and Ralph Karsten maintains that this is the least important interconnect source for whatever technical reason relating to the electronic match between his 2 components.
I am using a 50' run of Mogami Neglex between the two components. I am configure differently now and can use much shorter cables. I am in no hurry, but it would be nice to know if there are performance gains to be had with other interconnects. There was a thread over at ASOG discussing this in the last couple of months. I believe you might have responded to that post yourself. Nothing firm seemed to come out of that discussion.

BTW, what is your Dachsund's name? How old? We have a miniature that just turned a year old on 6/27. His name is Emmitt and he has become a dear family member.
Sophie is 13, Diabetic, a miniature, gets 2 shots of Insulin a day and is my 7th Dachshund. Her predecessor was a full-grown Dachsie, Spatzie,who ruled the house with an iron fist. Attacked any dog, irrespective of size and then sauntered back to Rufus, a 100 lb killer Chow, his brother, who effectively disabled any dog that retaliated to Spatzie's provocations. Spatzie once took a poor kid off his skate board, just for fun, and when the father came over to protect his kid, Rufus sat in front of Spatzie and bared his teeth, defying the father to chastize Spatzie. Most manipulative and lovable dog you ever met. IQ of 300!!!!!

Emmitt is quite confident himself, considering his size and configuration. He is our first dog with the exception of a 2 month experiment with a toy poodle 20 years ago.