Review: SMc Audio RLD-1 2012 Platinum Edition Preamplifier

Category: Preamps

I may as well start this review out with the bad news. I renamed this RLD-1 to RLD-4000 because that’s how much I have in it after the SMC Audio platinum upgrade was finished. I guess that’s not too bad considering what you get in the rest of the review, but you do have to pay for it, and wait. My wait was six months as Steve and Kris had not done a full platinum upgrade for about two years. The bad news to good news, is those wanting to upgrade should see faster results as my unit paved the way for what’s best in 2012 as far as parts go.

The second point that is not so bad as what you are used to using or not used to using. I like analog volume and balance controls. You can go from here to there in a split, split, split second. The 0.5dB increment is really nice, though, for getting the volume three bears right, not too loud and not too soft. The balance works by maintaining a constant power output, so the imaging shifts, but the volume doesn’t.

The third niggle is the series of all black small buttons across the face panel. It isn’t the size per say, but that they are FLUSH with the face panel so you have to POKE your finger “into” the button to activate it. If you have fat fingers, this will be especially frustrating (you get the remote). My Map-1 had the same buttons, but the were protruding from the face panel about an eighth-inch. That doesn’t sound like much but it makes a back of the index finger tap a breeze. Why my RLD-1 isn’t like this I don’t know.

The fourth is of course getting one. RLD-1’s are getting modded and kept. So you have to track one down and send it in and wait. Again, my wait was six months as I hit the VRE-1C development cycle prior to the shows. You can’t get one from anywhere else. If you order one today, the wait will be less as he’s voiced-in the 2012 circa components. What are those components? Well, I don’t care actually. Everything in the audio path is changed, and most of the power-supply so it is a clean sheet PC board re population.

The 19-inch width isn’t odd as much as people follow that size, or they don’t. This one does. The overall layout is super simple and easy to fully understand and use. It has a theater pass through so it isn’t totally out of date. Build quality is typical McCormack, as solid as it gets.

Now for the good stuff, and this pre-amp really sings. I’ve said elsewhere I’m a four seasons description kind of guy since you can’t actually hear a review. Components fall into the four seasons;

Summer – four fourths warm and full
Fall – one fourth cool three fourths warm and full.
Winter – four fourths cool
Spring – two thirds cool, one-fourth warm and full

This preamp seems to defy a solid place, but could be in two wonderful seasons, fall or spring. It’s like a 78-degree day, The sun can shine but it isn’t too hot, the wind can blow but it isn’t too warm or cold. It is a day where you just don’t notice the weather, but what is laid out before your eyes. Life is sublime, it sounds so good to be alive!

To my ear, the XP10 was ultra detailed with the C4’s, which are definitely a neutral sounding speaker, and depend on the electronics to add the color. When the source material was good, the sound was also very good. Like a super cold day, with a bright dark blue sky and no wind. The environment can take on a voicing with stark contrasts in the sonic world with things taking on a surreal “sound”. But, this comes at a price. If the wind blows or the sunsets, it tends to run you off, as the source material is so sensitive to the weather. It has to be too perfect with the C4’s.

The RLD-1 2012 platinum mode is masterfully voiced to avoid big changes in source material with neutral sounding speakers. It is much fuller sounding through my system, and this makes the already good C4 imaging even better and more defined. Imaging is between the speakers and back. The highs are delicate and open and never strident except on the worst CD’s (Nickelback anyone?). Bass is fuller and never “out in front” of the sound stage, nor is anything else over emphasized. I’ve found when things image out front of the speaker, a lot of placement related to what is left is lost. An even sonic span of attention to each voicing that the system is playing is more to my liking and the RLD-1 platinum delivers.

So yes, your overall system is a symphony of seasons all average together so no one pre-amp is right in every system. If you think your system might sound good with tubes, I’d try to listen to one of these units, as it tends towards a tube like evenness with none of the disadvantages. This unit to me is a Mr. T pre amp, “I pity the fool” who hasn’t heard one. For the money (it’s actually a bottom level price for a “high-end” sound) this unit is simply outstanding. I heard the MAP-1 on my Quatro’s and thought, “you know, THAT unit had a sound to it that was just “right” almost all the time". The RLD-1 2012 platinum mod is ridiculously right sounding for the money, and it’s built to last. So a leap back ten years or more in time and thrusting the RLD-1 into 2012 produces a stunning piece. I know a lot of you seem to equate “new” with better, not me. Something can be class A for decades, and this unit to me is an example of that. Less is indeed more.

Associated gear
Dynaudio C4 Signature MK II
Odyssey Kismet MONO amplifiers
Aristion RD IIs turntable
SME series III tone arm
Benz Micro Ruby 3 MC cartridge
Moon LP-5.3
High impedance interconnect Belden 1694A
GOLD RCA compression plugs
Low impedance leads - Groneberg Quattro Reference

Similar products
conrad johnson ET3-SE
McCormack MAP-1
I've never heard the RLD-1 2012 but I do own the SMc VRE-1b and it is by far the best pre-amp I've owned, it beat out my $100,000 Kondo M1000 MKII by a good margin and since I've not heard better.

(dealer disclaimer)
I'm working with SMc Audio to see if we can tweak the openess some. On complex passages it can be too smooth if that makes sense. Yes, I'm asking a lot for the price, but it seems like a bottleneck is somewhere that can really make an improvement. Something needs more transient respone up high to open it up more? This is a nice straight forward design, so tweaks can be easliy made.

The balance of the unit is good. Inital timber is spot on, piano's sound right, which is hard to do. LONG term, it maybe needs a bit of "coolness" and quickness to open up the soundstage some after the initial fundamental.

You can listen to this unit at about any volume and it won't bite, however.
I'm considering having Kris and Steve plug the Platinum mods into my RLD. Did you have any luck with your quest for more openess in the soundstage?
I owned one of these some years ago. If you like the sound of your RLD-1, the SMc Platinum upgrades will significantly improve things. An e-mail or call to Steve or Kris should help you understand what improvements to expect. They are very good at describing the changes made by their upgrades and at working with clients to select parts that will optimize the client's personal preferences.
My very best descrption of the sound is VERY smooth. This unit does not ever get "harsh" sounding. As a matter of fact, You tend to play it louder (till my wife yells, "what's going on down there!) without realizing it.

This unit images more forward than my XP-10 with C4's, and it is "fuller" sounding, too.

Some can argue that not every source should sound good, as some source materals is well, not good. The XP-10 fall into this camp. When it's good, it's real good. But when it's bad, it's one more dB and I'll bite your head-off" sounding. Still, the deatil with what you have that's "real good" is truly impressive. The imaging is never as full as the RLD-1, but does go back into a larger holographic stage, if you will.

The RDL-1 platinum is SO, SO easy to listen to on EVERYTHING, though. Yes, it is never as detailed sounding as the XP-10, but never is it ever "bad", either. It does add warmth if not a touch of color. So far, I can't get that detail without suffering some harshness on mostly 16-bit CD sources. No, I don't have "real" 24-bit content, or anything to play it on...yet.

So I would almost say this RDL-1 platinum unit is more like a tube unit than SS in sound. And I mean that in a good way. The XP-10 is more a SS unit (dynamic as heck and detailed) and suffers the SS "hardness" on occasion.

So we have two pre-amps that live apart from each other.