Review: Atma-Sphere MP-1 Tube preamp

Category: Preamps

I need to state my bias's upfront. I am and have been a customer of Atma-Sphere's for over twenty years and have owned or tried everything in their line. I owned my first MP-1 for years and it never failed me musically or performance wise. This stuff is built for the long haul. I own over 10,000 recordings either vinyl or on cd and I like "Good Music". I don't care if it's rap or country if I like it I play it. My dream system is something that is dependable, sounds consistant day to day and can play and involve you in any kind of music at any time. I have been blessed by being in this so long that you make friends in the industry that allow you to hear and try many different products over the years. I have had many pre-amps over the years try to best the original MP-1. Some have had one area or another that would rise above the MP-1 but never enough to make me want to switch. I talked myself into updating my MP-1 to the lateset Mk 3.1 version of this pre-amp which is the source of this review. I'll cut to the chase real quick; the new updates have taken what was a great pre-amp to one of the best if not "The Best" pre-amp on the planet. Strong words I know but there is nothing I've yet heard that comes close. The new MP-1 MKIII.1 has bass extension and control better than any solid state pre-amp I know of. No I haven't tried the Burmeister but I can't imagine it better. The MKIII.1 has another octave of bass over the original and it is better controlled. I own Soundlab speakers and I too didn't believe I would ever have kick you in the chest bass but this newer version has my SL's playin nicely in the 20-25hz. Top this off with lightning quick response and dynamics and it gets downright scary in my music room. The first 3 things I immediately noticed were 1) BASS, 2) Dynamics, and 3)the speed of this thing. It starts and stops on a dime, the dynamics have scared me more times than I want to admit. Noises literaly jump out a pitch black background, if it's something you're not familiar with don't listen in the dark by yourself the first time. Even on things I was familiar with had me jump more than once. The other really remakable trait the newer version has is in the inner detailing. It is superb and will compete with anything out there. Recordings I've been intimate with for over 20 years are revealing things I've never heard anywhere on any system. The beautiful part about all the detailing is that it never ever gets in the way of the sound. In other words it doesn't sound analytical, sterile, bright, agressive etc.. it sounds like real music playing in a real space. Imaging as with most Atma products is layered, holographic with air around everything. The highs go on forever but never sound bright. I think that is the hall mark of every Atma-Sphere product, they have a way to convey music in a sweet, relaxed feel. Organic seems to be the new buzz word. Anyway before this gets any longer than it need be to sum up:
Inner detail--10

The pre-amps that I tried for comparison
Audio Research
Audio Valve
VTL and others I've forgotten.

You would have to ask Ralph @ Atma-Sphere to explain what he's done internally to create such an improvement over an already great product. He told me but it became Greek rather quickly. If you own an older MP-1 it's well worth the upgrade. If you don't own an older unit and you're in the market for a pre-amp, you have to hear this. You're truly not being fair to yourself if you don't. I almost forgot but the MP-1 also has one of the best phono stages ever and it too improved in the same way as the line stage. If you can run your tonearm balanced do so and be prepared for the most robust phono you've ever heard. There's a new Sheriff in town and this seems to be the one to beat in the pre-amp groupings. I've also heard good things about the new amps as well but can't confirm that one.

Associated gear
Bryston 28BBB's, Soundlab A-1 speakers, Purist Audio 20th Anniverasary Ic's, Exemplar 3910 cd player, Micro Seiki 8,000 tt

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Ayre, Bat, Audio Research, Asthethix etc..