Review--RCM Sensor 2 Prelude Phono Preamplifier
I recently took the opportunity to audition several phono preamplifiers and eventually chose the RCM Sensor 2. First a little about my system. I have a Maplenoll Apollo turntable (heavily modified) with a Carbonfiber arm and Headshell of my own design. I currently have mounted a ZYX UNIverse II low output with copper coils. My amplification chain is the phono stage (various), Pass xp-10, Pass XA-30.8. Interconnects are MIT from Turntable, Mogami gold XLR from Phono stage, and Burson XLR from XP-10 to amp. My speakers are Audio Physics Caldera II with Monster Cables.
As noted, this is a pure SS system and many may discount due to the lack of tubes. However, the system has been modified over the last few years to yield by a large margin, the best sounding system i have ever owned. Interestingly, RCM specializes in Tube amps and preamps, but both of their phono preamps are SS. My system is tuned to my tastes and IMO replicate a live show especially when i listen to some of the small venues like Dr. John, Allan Touissaint, Joe Bonnamasa that i have listened to many times in my life. I have recently moved to Indianapolis and will get the chance to visit the venue in Carmel, IN which is touted as one of the best small venue halls so i will have a chance to compare to it very soon.
As for my prior experience with Phono stages, I have used Rotel, Vandersteen OL-1, K&K, ZYX Artisan, RCM Sensor I and II. I did many tests with my ZYX Artisan, RCM sensor I and II, Vandersteen OL-1 with ZYX artisan MM input. I also used my Van Den Hul Frog, ZXY Airy3s, and current ZYX UNIverse II in various configurations.
The type of music i listened to in making my comparisons and final opinions were a mix of Classical, Jazz, Progressive rock/country, Blues, Soft Rock, Pop and some unique genre like Alan Parsons, Pink Floyd, ETC. As would be expected, some of the music just sounded similar i think due to the limited recording qualities. However, for the most part, the new RCM sensor II was superior to my previous standard of ZYX artisan in almost every way. I must attribute this to the lack of gain in my zyx artisan but none the less, the difference was not subtle.
My favorite artist when comparing equipment is Buckingham and Nicks (first album) because it has a wide variety of sounds from delicate acoustical guitar, grinding electric runs, vocals from Stevie and Lindsey. It is not the most complex but i have listened to this album more than any other in my collection over the years, i know it by heart. Now what did i hear that was different, First, the bass response for the RCM was most prominent. In fact, in some cases it was almost too much and i had to adjust the speakers (the caldera's do occasionally get bass heavy with some placements). The bass wasnt really loud, but you could feel it in your chest. The delicate acoustic guitar was crisp, notes clearly delineated and the sound stage was broad with separation between the guitar and bass. Stevies voice is always a little raspy but the RCM handle it with no issues and reminded me of the various times i heard fleetwood mac in concert.
Moving on to some Jazz compositions. Allan Toussaint Bright Mississippi still gives me goosebumps when i tee it up. One one of the scores, there is a tap dancer that i really never heard with clarity the light scuffing between the hard taps. The piano was like Allan in the room, literally! I have heard him too many times and this was remarkable. The horns reminded my of the times i heard him at the old Tipitina's in New orleans. (a very small venue but you got up close to the music).
Now my most impressive report was my two albums highlighting Bolero by Ravel. I love this album because it starts out so soft that only the best system can clearly show the complexity of the first few passes. In the end, the crescendo can be overwhelming and result in a lot of blurring of the various instruments. Probabaly for the first time, i heard the delicate nuances of the strings and bells in the soft part like i never heard before. The clarity of the backup instruments were there even when the majors were taking center stage. The soundstage was very clean with good separation of the various instruments. THe Westheimer versus is the one i like best as it is my cleaner copy, but all of the parts were there.
I went on to listen to classics like BadfInger Straight up, Traveling Wilburys, I Robot, DSOTM, David Gilmour Live in GDansk, and so many more.
THe overall impression was the music just had more presence with the sensor II. I have always like the ZYX Artisan for its simplicity and clean sound. The RCM matched it and exceeded it with punch, and as i said, feeling in your chest. It was not overly pronounced in bass except for the Buckingham and Nicks album. Mid range was clean and concise. The highs especially the delicate bells were so clean. Female vocals showed no edginess you can get with the high soprano's. My Renaissance albums with Annie Haslam were so nice to listen to. My earlier system with Klipshorns just got to fatiguing to listen to her.
In conclusion, the RCM sensor II prelude is a very strong player in a market filled with lots of offerings from 3000 to 5000 dollars. The RCM cost is in this range and compares favorably to my previous reference ZYX Artisan.