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.
oilmanmojo
Thank you for taking the time and writing the review. Do you know the differences between Sensor I and II? I have the Sensor with upgraded Furutech fuses and jacks and I've had it for over 2 years now so I'm curious to hear what else has been upgraded.
The biggest change is the larger ps, but the literature also says ps output in dc vs ac, improved capacitors in ps that stabilizes output. Higher quality components, Theriaa style case to reduce resonance, more cartridge loading options. I got the furutech upgrades. The power supply is bigger and heavier. The cartridge loading options did help me w my UNIverse II

I did start out with the RCM sensor 1 until the 2 came in. My side by side comparison was lower sound floor( one of the reasons I wanted to change out my zyx artisan) and the 2 just has more presence. However, both were substantially better than my zyx or the k&k.
Which K&K? There are various incarnations. Thanks.
Lew
The K&K is the basic Moving coil transformer (about 2008 vintage) that i used to replace my Vandersteen OL-1. It is the small unit that plugs into the MM section of what was my Rotel phono stage. I had finally gotten into moving coils with a Sumiko Pearl and then a Van Den Hul Frog hi output and it sounded real crappy with the rotel MC input so a friend sold me the OL-1. I big improvement but i then purchased the K&K based on some feedback that it was quieter. It was a nice improvement over the ol-1 as it had progressively gotten noisier. I then had the opportunity to get a ZYX airy3 and the gain just was a little on the low side with my rotel so i got the zyx artisan and wow what an improvement. I think the gain was the key and i put my trusty K&K up until recently. I have ended up significantly upgrading a lot of my equipment (speakers, preamp, amp, etc) and found that once again the gain was just a little marginal. i decided then to try to improve my analog chain and got with Mehran who let me try various loaners. I wanted to compare the K&K(as well as the OL-1) through my existing Artisan MM with the various pieces of equipment. The RCM sensor was just a better fit. Not sure if the ZYX possibly had some worn components or if i just needed a little more gain with the UNIverse ll cartridget but the noise level using K&K with my old rotel or even my newer (2009 vintage) zyx artisan was higher than the RCM. I had already upgraded cables all around hoping that was the issue. However, the K&K is a good unit and i have donated to my daughter as she now is using a Moving coil (my old frog). Hope this answers your question
Olimanmojo,

I'm curious how you set up your gain/sensitivity settings with the Sensor. It outputs a whopping 2 V which is about twice as much as the great majority of phono preamps out there. I found that I had to go almost to the highest sensitivity setting with my Lyra Delos (2.5 mV) as anything lower was just too much gain. Which setting are you using with your ZYX?
I use the .3 mv setting with 100 load. I have varied the load from 50 to 200 but leaning toward the 100 as the best for me. i have not varied the gain but this allows my volume to be consistent with my other equipment and it is dead quiet even at high volume. I needed more gain and this phono really does it well
Thank you for your review. I was not aware there is a version 2 now. I own a the stock non-Furetech version 1

Has the 2 become more expensive? I do not know what the US prices are. I paid about 1500 euro for my version 1. Dependent on the price of the 2 I'll upgrade.
I did a trade in with an older ZYX artisan so my cost may not be indicative of retail value. However, i have seen some "retail" postings of 3500 USD. My cost was lower but again i had a trade in. I did get the gold Furetech upgrade version.