Review: Philly Audio Blues 7b Ver. II Tube preamp
I ordered up the Philly (on 5/5/03) based on primarily the fact that it's tubed, price and finally it's pretty sweet looking. The final thing that pushed me over the edge was if I don't like it after two weeks the only thing I'm out is return shipping. My current pre is a Sonic Frontiers SFL-1 and I've also had B&K Sonata Pro10MC and Bottlehead foreplay.
It arrived last night and I was very surprised by the weight of the box. Each of the 6N3 tubes are individually wrapped in bubble wrap as is the 5Z4 rectifier tube. Upon opening it really looks better in person than in the pictures. I looked it over and while it's impressively heavy and the build quality looks good there are some finish issues. There are two small scratches between the transformers, two discolored spots on the top right by the tubes and two pea sized dark spots on the wood sides which are clearly staining or finish issues. One thing I didn't notice until I looked at the pictures I took was the screening under the Volume knob is "LOVUME" instead of "VOLUME". When I inquired about this I got an odd response from Jim at Philly that I don't know how to take exactly. I figure, at any rate, it this doesn't turn out I can send it back.
Now, for the sound. Admittedly this will be preliminary since it's not burned in yet and I haven't done any real critical listening. However, on first blush I did think it sounded very good. The SFL-1 is quieter, I can't hear any hiss or hum even with the volume all the way up unless I'm right next to the speaker, the 7b is quite a bit louder - but not annoyingly so like the Foreplay. That sucker hummed so loud I could hear it through soft music. The soundstage seemed quite a bit smaller than the SFL-1's but they also sounded more real at the same time. I also think I know now what people mean by a forward sounding piece. This is definately more into the room than the SFL-1. It also seems more dynamic and a bit punchier. It leans more toward that "you are there" sound I'm after. How much more I can't be sure until I give it some more time. Once I do I'll update this post.
Other things I noticed. It looks freaking cool in low light in the rack with all 5 tubes glowing away, reflecting off that chromed finish!! The attenuator is stepped and I think the steps are pretty steep. I wanted to leave it on all night last night and at one step I couldn't hear the music from 5 feet away but at the next highest step I could hear it from upstairs in the bedroom. This is my first experience with stepped volume so it may just take some getting used to. Did I mention how cool it looks?
I'm thinking of picking up two matched pair of Tung Sol 396a tubes to try those but not until I decide if I want to keep this or not. I understand that it was made in China and they don't speak English, but "LOVUME"???
I've got pictures of the stuff I'm talking about so if you'd like to see them let me know.
******** I wrote the above right after getting the preamp, this rest below was written about a month later *********
OK, had a couple more weeks with the preamp and have gotten Tung Sol 396a tubes in house! After having lived with it and listened for some more time I seriously don't know how the SFL-1 is going to get back into the system. This little preamp is really growing on me. It's settled in now and I made a cable change that got rid of 90% of the noise. Earlier I wrote that "the 7b is quite a bit louder - but not annoyingly so like the Foreplay". Well, now it's damn dead quiet unless I'm right in front of the speaker. The fix? I swapped power cables around and now am using an Ernie PCK12+G 12AWG with the ground lifted! Looks like I'll have to buy another because the one being used is the one I built for my Odyssey Stratos!
As I said, things have really settled in now. Very dynamic, soundstage is excellent with very good separation. Was listening to the Police earlier and boy those drums are so crisp and punchy. Male and female vocals are right on too! Was listening to Frank yesterday and Summer Wind has never sounded better. I've gotten used to the attenuator and while the first couple steps are still really big jumps I'm getting used to it and actually there is one step that is perfect for the volume I like to listen at.
Had a houseful for mother's day today and it got comments from everyone on looks. My mother-in-law asked about it and then dragged everyone over to see it saying "Look! That's a PRE-AMP!". It was pretty funny but I've never gotten such a reaction from piece before. Then after brunch I played some tunes and got comments that there's no way they can go home now and listen to their "systems". So, in the end I think this has been very worth the experiment and I don't think that Jim is going to be seeing this coming back from me!
Now, I hope the synergy with the Stratos is all what Klaus claims it to be!
Which it is. Things have never sounded better! This is a great preamp, however, I would definately get two matched pair of either Tung Sol or Western Electric 396a's for the tubes and Ernie's power cord. Big difference makers!
Odyssey Stratos Stereo Extreme
Sony DVP-S7700 transport
Scott Nixon Tubedac & power supply
Polk RTA-11tl (modified)
Zu Warmouth & Wax cables
Virtual Dynamics Audition digital
B&K Sonata Pro10MC
Sonic Frontiers SFL-1