Starting an Analog front end - Rowland?

Guido (resident Rowland expert) and other Audiogoners –

My current system consists of Wadia 270/27ix, Jeff Rowland 302, Avalon Eidolon’s, and Cardas Golden Reference. I have the Wadia direct into the 302.

I have started to get the itch to add a vinyl set up to my system and would need to add a preamp and phono-pre to the system. I am planning to get a VPI Aries III with a Dynavector cartridge but need help with the preamp and amp set up. I like the midrange and holography of tubes with nice tight solid state bass. My current system does that fairly well, especially with the 302.

My plan was to get a Rowland preamp and phono-pre. I really wanted both the preamp and phono -pre to be in a separate chassis. Since Rowland doesn’t currently make a phono-pre, I think I will try to track down a Cadence on Audiogon. The preamp I am most concerned about because I will likely run both my digital and my analog through it. Right now Rowland has only the Capri and the Criterion and the price is difference is vast between the two. I know that many have raved over the Capri, but I just can’t help but have the feeling that Rowland will release a preamp in the ‘Synergy Iii or Concerto range’ to fit a price point in between the Capri and Criterion.

I realize I may be a bit foolish being concerned over the Capri ‘not being enough preamp due to its price point’, but based on my system as described above, should I go for a used Concerto or Synergy Iii, a Capri, or wait for Rowland to release something new. Also, any news on a new phono-pre in the pipeline at JRDG?

Thanks in advance for any input and advice.

I can offer you this...I have an souped up Aries 2 with motor/flywheel combo, periphery ring, and center weight. I had the Synergy IIi and an Aesthetix Rhea. I upgraded to the Coherence II and bought the Cadence with the idea that I would pit it against the Rhea and keep whichever I prefered. Now I will admit to being a devoted Rowlandite, as I biamp with a Model 10 and a pair of 201s. But the Rhea simply had so much more body, palpability, weight, 3 dimensionality, that the Cadence made a very quick exit.

There happens to be a Coherence II on Audiogon right now. I do not know the seller and I disclaim any affiliation other than the fact that I love the piece and it seems to fit your desire to come in pricewise between the Capri and the Criterion. As far as the Rhea, I am not a tube guy, and, in fact, theb Rhea is the only tube component I own, but put in some NOS 12ax7s and you will be in audio heaven. I wish you luck in your journey to sonic nirvana.
None of the above - because of the obvious synergies with your 302, I would stay with Rowland, but for bang for the buck, I suggest a used Coherence II and Cadence combo.

The Cadence sounds best when run from the battery power supply of the Coherence II (I have the A/C power supply and the battery power supply). I just saw the above post comparing the Cadence to the Rhea. The Cadence is not at the exalted level of the Coherence II - I suggest the Einstein if you want to shoot higher, as it is fully differential balanced to compliment the Coherence II and is solid-state (most tube phono stages are too noisy, especially the ones with tubes in the input stage - noise at preamplification stages in a top-shelf system is extremely deleterious to great sound). The Cadence is still very good, but I again stress the importance of running from batteries.

The Coherence II is very transparent, musical, super-quiet (crucial in a preamp) and, unusually for a solid-state preamp, layers space as well or better than tube pre's. I have not heard the Criterion, but the Coherence II is still a top-shelf preamp (I've had mine for six years).

In this environment, you should be able to pick up both for $7k. The batteries last 5-7 years and cost $100 to replace.

As for the $3k Capri, when you hear reviewers say that it sounds better than any preamp short of the Criterion and is one of Jeff's best works, use your head - audio is no different than anything else - you get what you pay for.
You are correct in that the Rhea compared to a solid state phono preamp is somewhat noisy, but with the right tubes (I use Telefunken and Siemens), the noise can be reduced to a minimum. However, in exchange for that bit of tube rush, one is treated to an extremely realistic, palatable, lifelike sound that in my experience cannot be replicated by solid state. As an aside, I have what I think is a pretty impressive digital front end (MBL DAC and Accustic Arts transport). On well recorded source material, the sound is truly first class. Nevertheless, I find my vinyl rig (obviously played through all the same electronics save the Rhea) to be more gratifying and more involving. I realise we are comparing analog to digital which is an unfair comparison, but I cannot help but believe it is the Rhea which is at least partially responsible for my overwhelming preference. When I auditioned the Cadence, it was through the battery supply. If I for one second thought the Rhea could be bested by a solid state phono pre (granted I haven't heard the Boulder 2008), I would switch it out in a second. There is just something about tubes in the service of analog which just sounds right to me. There is a natural, organic character which just brings the music to life. I'm sure there are solid state stages which are dead quiet and have wonderful dynamics, but it is the "lift off the page" realism which keeps me coming back.
I owned and like Rowland very much, but I switched to Ayre and couldn't be happier. The K1xe has a very good pre built in.
A Manley Steelhead would be a better choice than what you're considering. It would eliminate your need for a separate preamp, would provide the tube sound you seek and it's arguably better sounding and certainly far more flexible than the Cadence. You could also run your Wadia through it. The downsides: it's not Rowland, it's not as good looking as Rowland, it's single ended. Downsides 1 and 2 cannot be fixed, but an out board transformer single ended to balance converter is the way to go.
One more note re: Rhea and noise. Early production Rheas (like mine) often developed noise problems in short order. I live near Aesthetix, so I brought my unit over and Jim White fitted it to match (then) current production Rhea units, the design of which had already been modified to address the noise issue. Moral: If you're seeking a used Rhea, try to get the serial # and run it by Jim. This will help avoid noise problems.


PS - My Rhea is not as quiet as the best SS units, but it's close awfully close, and certainly close enough for me. In all other respects, it is superb.
Far from declaring that Capri is 'better' than any pre out there, I do confess of having developed a personal preference for Capri over my own Ref 3 for reasons I have discussed elsewhere already to some nauseating detail. Not having had personal experience with vintage JRDG pres, I can only suggest that concerned audiophiles try things out by letting their ears do the walking, and post their actual a/b findings, rather than drawing conclusions a priori one way or another, based on component count, box weight, and list price.

Having said the above, I am not sure if there is a 'bad' way to insert a JRDG pre/phono combination into a system. It all depends on one's budget, priorities, and preferences. Let's consider a couple of options:

1. Capri + internal phono cards. This is obviously the most cost effective starter solution, as the phono stage cards retail for only $350 for the pair. The entire package new will cost no more than $3100 in black. This is also a good way to baseline the value of the insertion of the pre/phono in the system. Later adoption of an external phono stage, be it JRDG or other brand will entail a probable loss of $150 for the sale of the little phono cards on the used market at about $200.

2. Criterion is purely a linestage without internal phono board option. I have only some very preliminary indications that Criterion may sound more fleshed out than Capri. . .I had a very quick a/b that lasted no more than 10 mins. . . Capri was fresh out of the box and Criterion had no more than 100 hrs on it. Unfortunately there is no current JRDG phono stage, so a phono stage would need to be selected from a vintage JRDG or from a third party at the onset. Criterion will cost about $18K + cost of any phono stage.

3. A purely vintage JRDG solution is likely to cost somewhere between option 1 and 2. You may be experiencing a warmer sound than the current JRDG product lineup. . . but this is based mostly on common lore and 3rd party reports. . . the only personal corroboration I have is from my own transition from JRDG 7M mono amps to 312 stereo.

Hope this helps. Guido
Thanks Guido and all for the responses. I really appreciate it. I, like several others I'm sure, are looking for tube like quality from effort-free solid state gear.

I think going Rowland is probably the way to go for me. Unfortunately, like most of us, its difficult to A/B gear for comparison. That is why I appreciate this forum so much and its helpful community.

Unfortunately, the Criterion is out of my price league, but would love to have one! Looks like a Synergy IIi, if I can find a mint one with one owner and a Cadence phone might be the way to go. Also a Capri or Concerto with a Cadence phone and optional power supply.

Thanks again and any further input or opinions are very welcome!

Hi Phil, according to Jeff Rowland, his older pres are a little warmer sounding. By contrast the Capri is a little more extended and linear throughout the frequency range than the older models. Feel free to send me a PM. Guido
Guido: I had a well broken in Capri in my system for a week, driving either my darTZeel or my VAC Renaissance 70/70 Mk. III. In no performance parameter did it equal or best my Coherence II. As for why my post did not mention this, I was trying to convey my findings in a slightly more genteel way, by pointing out that a preamp priced at $14,500 ten years ago would best something from today priced at $3k.

Speaking of component comparisons, I enjoyed your review in the Absolute Sound of the Vienna Acoustics Mahlers, a speaker I owned for six years, but thought it curious that there wasn't a word in the review to indicate you were reviewing a new version of the speaker ("V1.5"), and likewise not a word comparing the new version, which costs nearly $3k more than the old, to the old version. The mystery is compounded by the fact that V.A.'s site does not mention the new version at all, while the site of the U.S. distributor, Sumiko, shows only the new version, but uses the ad copy for the old - again, not a word about what the buyer is getting for the additional $3k. As you note, comparisons are helpful.
Thank you Raquel, The Vienna Mahlers V1.5 employ a new ferro-silicon enclosure for the tweeter and have some modifications to the crossover to adapt for the slightly different tweeter behavior. According to Sumiko, the new tweeter arrangement may yield enhanced treble performance. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity of performing a side by side comparison of the original and new version. If you have questions specific to Mahler pricing, you may want to address them directly to Sumiko.

On Capri vs Coherence. . . no need to be gentile about it. . . report of direct experiences like yours serve our common body of knowledge much more than 'ancient lore'. rather, it would be great if you could expand on the sonic differences you found between the 2 devices. At some time in the future, I'd love to do a comparison myself. . . in fact, now that I think of it, a Criterion vs Coherence II analysis could prove to be even more fun.

Saluti, Guido
I've been told that Jeff is working on a phono stage that will match with his Critereon line stage. I think this source is reliable and says that he spoke directly about the subject with Jeff and that it would incorporate the power supply advances that he includes in the Criterion. Of course, it's too early to predict a delivery date, but I'd guess that this, if it happens, would be a late 2009 or early 2010 event.

If I were going to buy a Criterion, I'd probably wait for this to complete an all-Rowland system to replace my incredible Continuum 500.