Review: Integrated Engineering Solutions Rennaisance Preamplifier

Category: Preamps

The Renaissance Phono Stage by Integrated Engineering Solutions
This was another search and find product that I first saw in the pages of Hi Fi Plus, which Jimmy Hughes reviewed. I recommend you also read that review, because I think what he says is mostly quite true, but, unfortunately for you guys, I will have my say as well.
If you readers have read my reviews on the Dynavector P75 and the Whest that preceded this review, you will have gathered that I don’t take a specific selection of LP’s for review, certain passages or just certain songs. I take the belts and braces listen to what I have approach and take it from there.
Before I rabbit on about this product I would first like to thank Simon Phipps at Audioplay for the efficiency displayed in lending this item. I would also add, as a precursor that this is a piece kit that is beautifully made in a mean industrial kind of way. It costs £1495 in the UK and the build quality matches it, very impressive indeed.
The design, I understand has directly coupled input and output transformers. That’s double Dutch to me, but may be of assistance to technically minded people. Integrated Engineering Solutions who make this product also import Lamm Industries products – as we all know they are quite legendary and have a good reputation. What excited me was that the company informed that all the components are very high grade, and very much reflect the company’s roots in electronic engineering
I felt that this engineered and structured approach also transferred to the sound itself.
This was a product that if heard in isolation would make you think ‘this is as good as it gets’. It was fabulous at following dynamic shifts and contrasts in music. A good example was, and don’t laugh at this, was hearing some Christina Milian where there is a heavy driving bass line, and she has a high-pitched voice. The stage was able to grip both ends of the scale with equal aplomb. The bass was very deep, and very full, and had little or no overhang, a bit like Muhammed Ali who could ‘float like a butterfly and sting like a bee’. This was FUN FUN FUN!
The bass on this stage did not just go low; it had body, tunefulness, and superb harmonic decay. The stage decided that come what may, notes would be played at the correct volume, pitch, and tempo - never one note. I listened I found that I could hear the extra communication from certain pieces of music I had not realised existed. These were often my Funk and Soul records that often sound very one note in the bass. Here they also added to the tune in a way unheard of by my Conrad Johnson EF 1. In this regard I thought it at least the equal of the Whest, and pending a revisit possibly better.
The stage was just so alive, and so controlled with it, the Renaissance moved fast with weight. This wasn’t the ‘draw the edge’ approach of the Dynavector P75 (OK a lot cheaper), or the Audio Synthesis Passion (about the same price) or the Tom Evans Groove.
If you said to this amp to jump, it will reply ‘how high?’ Nothing seemed to phase it, or so I thought.
This stage was one of the new breeds, without a high pass filter, and which runs well beyond 20Khz, a bit like the Whest and the Braham Slee Era Gold. Turning to this issue I noticed that the highs did really reach out, and they were very smooth insofar as they were not scratched sounding, but they were occasionally quite sharp. To my ears they were somewhat on the harder side of neutral. I decided to swap back from my Yamaha NS 1000m speakers at this point to my new Seas driver speakers. This was not eradicated unfortunately. Moving to the treble again, whilst dynamic discrimination was fabulous, as was timing, I could hear a lack of tonal discrimination that separated the description of one sound to another. This came about when I listened to a piece of music that had the viola and a female voice playing, and during the passage the female held her voice for a long note – the problem I encountered, surprisingly, was that I had difficulty distinguishing this with the Viola. Now I am incredibly crap as I have forgotten the name of the recording, and you may think I am even more stupid for not making the distinction, but that’s’ how I heard it, and that’s how I write it. I will do an addendum and locate the exact track.
This started to then turn my attention to a few, and I do mean few, shortcomings of the Renaissance. As I said earlier, in isolation you would think that things do not get better than this, but being ever so critical I did hear improvements when I plugged in the Paul Hynes Design phono stage (also to be subject of review). The Paul Hynes is a single ended valve stage that employs 4 HT regulators in the power supply, amongst a whole raft of other features and options. The Paul Hynes design is awash with tonal colour, and tonal discrimination. Its’ an effect one must savour within ones system to appreciate it, the same piece that I mentioned earlier was played through the Hynes and it instead clearly separated by way of tone the fact that both the Viola and the voice were playing in their own separate space. Completely effortless – full stop (at this point at least)
What I began to note was that the Renaissance was not exactly warm, and did not concentrate on the warmth or the colouring of an instrument. It had a slight bias towards discrimination by dynamics and pacing. This partially originated from the upper mid lower treble forwardness of the Renaissance that emphasised the pace and dynamics. This, in the context of my use with the Lavardin IT was a bit of an overkill, as its only failing is a slight coolness and greyness of tone, that sometimes prevents sounds not being fleshed out in Technicolor. If I had to hand something that was on the ever so slightly warm side of neutral this may be the marriage made in heaven. I must submit that by playing to the Lavardins’ own strengths of dynamics, and pacing there were loads of ‘oh my gosh’ moments when dynamics were clung onto like a limpet.
In the same vein whilst I found that imaging was very good with good depth of field, and particularly good left to right placement. Vocals placed themselves invariably slap bang in the middle of speakers, rarely daring to break free of the centre stage, and on those occasions only outwards. There was, however a little lack of stability in this regard. I say this in that images whilst clear dynamically and on impact, they could occasionally lose shape and go into the surroundings, however they would never disappear. The counter argument is that that is the way things are in real live sound where music reaches a crescendo they seem to merge lose their own individual space, however this did not happen so with either the Hynes or indeed the Whest. I must say though that this is not very distinct and comes very much from nitpicking than it does from level criticism of a serious flaw.

I found myself surprisingly relaxed listening to such a thrilling presentation, as opposed to getting my ear bashed, which can happen with components of this type of balance. Part of the reason was that after the initial whoosh and thrill you could listen into recordings very well, those small shifts along a keyboard, or the sliding of guitar along the strings were all their to hear. I must say that my Conrad Johnson EF 1 does better the Renaissance in terms of this type of delicacy as it has less emphasis on a particular skill, so those type of details come out easily. The Renaissance instead often struck you with the emphasis of the music and the remainder thereafter filled the spaces nicely.
Now drawing this review to a close and hoping to impress you with one of my little analogies, I would say that this phono stage is like making a choice between a ride on Nemesis at Alton Towers Theme Park, versus a ride on the local circus spinning top. The Renaissance is thrilling, and sure footed in the extreme, just like the Alton Towers ride, whereas many other thrill seekers take the circus spinning top route - thrilling – but reckless.
I would end this by saying that I truly respected this stage, and to my ears I loved it in many ways, and recommend anyone to try this out, especially those who need a little added oomph and magic.

Loheswaran Amirthananthar (my real name)

Associated gear
Amazon Model One turntable with Morch DP6 arm, Transfiguration temper cartridge and/or Shelter 501 cartridge.
Lavardin IT amplifier
Lavardin Cables
Yamaha NS1000m Speakers
Speakers of my own making
Townshend seismic stand

Similar products
Tom Evans 'the Groove'
Conrad Johnson EF1
EAR 834p
Musical Fidelity XLP
Whest Audio 0.20
Renaissance Amplifiers phono amp
Paul Hynes Design
Sugden Masterclass phono stage
Audio Synthesis Passion
Graham Slee Era Gold
Klimo VIV
That's an awful lot of work you're doing, reviewing all these phono amps, good job! What issue of HiFi+ is that Hughes review? Also, are you close to deciding which phono stage you're going to live with? If you said so and I missed it my apolgies.
Hi mate, thanks for reading and posting, I always like a bit of feedback, even if the reader thinks I talk crap and disagree!

I'll have a look in my stash of Hi Fi plus magazines for the issue - I think it was the last one of 2004, but I will post the details.

I will be doing a review on the following:

Out of them all I have narrowed it down to two stages, however, Lavardin are to bring out their own stage again that improves on the PO, so I may have to wait for that as well.

I will be posting my full shootout soon, but if you can't wait I'll e-mail you directly my favourite two so far.