Review: Whest 0.20 Preamplifier

Category: Preamps

My music tastes are varied, as should most peoples be who like music, mostly because as one expands ones appreciation, the need to find more challenging pieces arises. If I were to tie my colours to the mast it would essentially centre around funk, soul, rare groove, Jazz, some rock, techno, ambient, house, Indian classical music, and some pop. You may gasp that I am not a lover of western classical musical a la 'Brahms', but I'm not going to lie, if I said I liked it, it would expand to 'classic mood' type cd's, and hearing it in the background on the radio when I study.

I do not, however choose a particular record to test with, because this approach, I think, is deeply flawed, as music should be appreciated as a whole, and not as a breakdown of components. It's a bit like saying apples are better than bread - nonsensical with few nexus'. I would add that this is an approach very much favoured by the boys at Audio Note, so I can't be too wrong then!

Musically I require a system with good dynamics, magic imaging capabilities, tonality and shape to the bass and an airy treble. Not much eh? But shouldn't we all take the view that we require everything as opposed to individual aspects, because if that appears on a recording it should come out in the best light possible, concentrating on an aspect is folly, because we don't just listen to one piece of music, but in fact several. I must say now that my room ain't that big 12ft by 10ft, with laminated flooring. To some extend getting what I can't have can float my boat, hence the love for magic imaging and depth of field - but as said earlier not at the extent of all the rest.

For the reasons I set out above, the very worst thing a system could do is give a tiresome sound. What this is, in my view, is an imbalance by way of having a single aspect projected against that of all the others. Dynamics are great for instance, but if dynamic swings is your only tune it can be grating and would lead to me switching off. To this extent I suppose an ear bleeding treble is the biggest sin in my book.

Now that I've set my groundwork, let's tell you all about 'the groove' whilst going 'Whest'. The story that brought me in the direction of the Whest was that I thought there was something wrong with my own Conrad EF1. I was getting a bit of left channel crackle - I realised it was a mechanical problem and sorted it out with the HiFi News test disc - highly recommended by the way! Anyway, before I nailed the problem I slightly stressed and decided to borrow a phono stage. I decided on the Whest having spoke to Mark Perfect of Activ Distribution at the Heathrow Show. I got to loan one first for a weekend.

This was a definitive case of supply creating demand. Whilst delighted to find that my EF1 wasn't broken, I was equally upset as to how the Whest simply destroyed it in about every aspect save possible delicacy, but even then I am unsure.

The Whest firstly sounded completely grain less and whilst there may have been some surface noise on old LP's they now seemed a bit irrelevant. The music just flowed out without any false sharpness or mushiness, just damned balance. That's when I next realised that I was getting that 'wall of sound' replay. What I mean by this was that my big Yams' disappeared. It was not the disappearing act whereby everything just sounded loud and mono. No instead, from low volumes upwards vocals started to hang mid air, centre stage, and the instruments started making a backdrop. I gave it 'loco' by FUN LOVING CRIMINALS a funky track, but something I thought lacked depth of field - that's until now. I'm not sure if I was going mad, but as I moved around my sofa I felt that I was hearing and viewing the sound from a different angle - TRUE 3D - I just need the shades!

I spoke to James Henriot, the designer, who said that this could be accounted for by the fact that the frequency response extends to 50khz. Who am I to argue? What I could hear was air and a distinct lack of breathlessness and congestion at the top of treble. Fabulous, extended, and effortless.

This takes me to the other end of the scale - the bass! Now, admitedly I have deep bass reproduction problems in the form of exciting room modes (check out the TACT website and the Rives Parc site for that matter). This can lead to a one note bass, or a bit of wallowing in the low end. Not here. Here I have got bass-full tunes and definition. It goes LOW DOWN too, not bloated, but deep and fast and above all tuneful.

Where do I go from here I thought? My poor old EF1 a Stereophile class A product completely destroyed? Alright I thought, lets put this baby up against the accepted sub £2000 reference 'the groove' surely Roy Gregory's darling would see of this upstart and whipper snapper? Er No - much to my disappointment (I can get the groove at a good price new). Old Groovy came in and did its' usual transparency trick of sounding immediately captivating and pasting all the models into the window shop front for everything to see, some call this transparent. But 'you can't see the wood for the trees' and so this was the case here. What the Whest exposed was that the groove pushed everything forward and upfront, but the layers behind which exist to create a true depth of field just was not there with the Groove in my system. The Whest did show it, so it was there on the record. Not only this the Whest let notes begin and end thereby letting them swell and take shape whereas the Groove unfortunately had a habit of starting the next note before the first finished, and along with this notes lacked body. The Groove was beaten on outright pace I repeat, the Groove was beaten on outright pace, fair and square. On top of this the wick had to be turned up a fair bit with the Groove to centralise the image, not so with the Whest which just let everything lock into and take up its’ portion of acoustic space – magic imaging! This could be the extra airiness of the extra 30 khz that the Whest has over the albeit modded Burr Brown IC chip on the Groove. So that my ears did not deceive me I gave this a good 2 days in my system, like the Whest, and on the 3rd day put the Whest back in, and it merely reinforced my opinion.

I thought at this stage I must say I did not let the EAR 834p or the Musical Fidelity XLP enter this equation. Without being offensive, they do operate in different circles – pretty well at that I must say though.

Surely this is not as good as it gets? Well there is a reference in the pipeline, and I still have to test a step up transformer-less tube stage by Paul Hynes, and The Vinyl One by Art Audio, which is a tube stage with a step up transformer. I also hope to hear the Sutherland PHD too.

At this juncture, and until I post a further review, which I shall do with regards both to the Hynes, the Art Audio and the PHD, I must say that the Whest has set a bench mark that I will be astonished will be beaten on the basis of sound alone, let alone pound for pound.

Associated gear
Amazon Model One turntable
Moerch DP6 Arm
Transfiguration Temper V cartridge
Lavardin IT amplifier
Yamaha NS 1000M
Lavardin interconnect
Missing Link Interconnect
My own speaker cables based on those found on TNT website (UBYTE)
Townshend Seismic stand

Similar products
Tome Evans 'the Groove'
Conrad Johnson EF1
EAR 834P
Musical Fidelity XLP
Thanks for the informative review!
Excellent review - thanks for taking the time to put it together.

When you say "...there is a reference in the pipeline..." do you mean a reference version of the Whest 2.0?

Many thanks,

Very good review but how do you compare with Whest 2.0
Which is the better performing phono stage?
Can Whest 2.0 be really better and cheaper?
Hello - I was just trawling through Audiogon, and thought I'd have a look at this review.

I think that the one I tested is no longer made and is succeeeded by the model 3, and there is a cheaper model as well.

JAmes Henriot informed me that mine can be upgraded. That said, if I am to revisit the phono stage, it will have to be the reference model.

I am not in the market for a phono amp, but I may well do another series of phono stage reviews - my big problem is that I may find myself parting with some serious silly money if I am to genuinely improve on the Whest.

I will say this one thing though, and perhaps a little bit of back tracking on my part in respect of the 834p. I have to say that the EAR 834p is the most musical phono stage I have had in my system, and whilst it is taken apart on so many hifi aspects, the ability to make music is, in many ways, the most imprtant thing in music reproduction.