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Boulder 1008 phono preamplifier

Boulder 1008 Phono

Why bother with three phono preamps most of us can't afford? For the same reason the enthusiast automobile magazines cover the newest Ferraris and Lamborghinis: just reading about them is fun.

All three of these expensive phono preamps I wrte about this month share certain sonic attributes not found in less costly, less ambitious units: all are free of "electronica" and glaze. Their edge definition of aural images is smoothly and naturally delineated. All three produce music on a grand, effortless scale. All, to varying degrees, are without easily identifiable sonic signatures, while reproducing harmonically and physically identifiable individual instruments into the deepest recesses of the soundstage. And each one let me easily suspend my disbelief and experience reproduced music as if it I were hearing it live.

Boulder 1008 Phono

Compare with any phono preamp costing $1000–$2000 and, good as such models can be, you'll immediately hear the scale of their sonic pictures diminish in all dimensions. Individual instruments will begin to smear together the farther back you listen. Dynamics will diminish at both ends of the scale, harmonic structures will start to unravel, and edges will blur. Your wide-eyed amazement at the pricier players' sound will turn to a disappointed grimace.

Using an excerpt of a sonically spectacular reissue of Donald Johanos and the Dallas Symphony's justly renowned 1967 recording of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances (45rpm LPs, Vox Turnabout/Analogue Productions AP 54145), remastered at 24-bit/88.2kHz by David Hancock, and using Benchmark's ADC 1 A/D converter, I made recordings as played through all three phono preamps, as well as through the Boulder 2008 and a reasonably priced, well-engineered solid-state unit. I used these files for comparisons in my evaluations here, and played them for others without identifying which preamp was which. When the recording of the perfectly fine, relatively inexpensive solid-state phono preamp came up, their faces fell.

While there are some genuine bargains in high-end audio, as there are in wines and automobiles, my mother's old adage still holds: "You pay, you get." With these three, you pay a lot and you get a lot.

Boulder Amplifiers 1008

Your $12,000 can get you the tubed AMR PH-77 or the new solid-state Boulder 1008. Though the two models are built with equal care and perform with equal refinement, they couldn't have sounded more different.

Boulder 1008 back

While even at $12,000 the single-chassis dual-mono 1008 costs only about a third as much as the dual-chassis 2008 ($34,000), its build quality, like that of all Boulder gear, is impeccable. Even people who don't like Boulder's house sound will grant them that. The fully balanced 1008 has XLR inputs and outputs. Boulder can supply properly configured single-ended adapters if needed (I did, for the input connection) but for optimum performance, the company suggests rewiring your tonearm leads with XLR connectors.

The 1008 has two logic-controlled inputs, each with its own configurable, rear-mounted "personality card," and two outputs, one of which can be used for recording. In addition to RIAA, the 1008 includes the Decca ffrr, Columbia, and EMI curves for "LP records made prior to 1954," the press release sensibly states. The front panel boasts buttons for a 20Hz low-cut filter and a true Mono mode. How Boulder manufactures these buttons requires a full column!

1008 boulder.back2

DIP switches mounted on the "personality cards" select between MM (44dB) or MC (70dB) cartridges, but if the 100 ohm MC default resistors don't meet your needs (they were ideal for mine), setting a different load will require soldering in resistors. With the resistor removed, the MC load is 1k ohm; in MM, the setting is the standard 47k ohms.

I wish I had more space to go into greater detail about the 1008's circuitry. I'll just say that it also includes a new, potted, fully discrete 985 op-amp gain stage that provides 6dB greater gain (for a total of 26dB for each gain stage) than the 995 used in the 2008, but with no additional noise.

Massive Attack!

For comparison's sake, Boulder also sent along a sample of their 2008 phono preamp ($34,000), which I reviewed in the July 2002 Stereophile (Vol.25 No.7). Immediately obvious was that both the 2008 and 1008 were capable of producing massive dynamic swings well beyond the AMR PH-77's generally adequate dynamic capabilities.

Once, a manufacturer refused to give me his product to review because I'd liked the Boulder 2008. "Clearly, you like hi-fi and not music," he said. I was taken aback then, and now, listening again to the 2008, I still don't understand his remark. The 2008 is as honest- and musical-sounding a solid-state phono preamplifier as you're going to hear.

Boulder 1008 inside

Like the 2008, the far less expensive 1008 was neither bright nor etched nor hi-fi sounding—unless the record or the associated equipment was. In fact, the 1008's basic tonal character was somewhat reserved, slightly soft, and almost on the dark side of neutral, in a stately, burnished sense. The midrange was slightly recessed, certainly in comparison with the AMR, but the top octaves were anything but dry or overetched, and the lower ones were neither overdamped nor too tightly sprung, and thus lacking in suppleness and texture. Image resolution and information retrieval were impressive, though the 2008 can extract even more.

Late one evening I played, at a realistically low level, Shostakovich's Symphony 12, "The Year 1917," with Kiril Kondrashin conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic (LP, Melodiya/EMI ASD 2598). It's a dark, distant, but spectacular recording, and I could "see" into the darkest recesses of the stage, hearing not only each section of the orchestra, but the individual instruments in each, reproduced with clarity, body, texture, and harmonic integrity. It produced a thrill ride as vivid as watching Avatar in 3D IMAX.

The rock-stable, cleanly delineated soundstage produced by either Boulder spread well beyond the outer baffle edges of my speakers. Aural images were tightly compacted, finely drawn and sized, and notably solid, their physical boundaries cleanly rendered but free of etch and edge.

Still, if you savor the AMR PH-77's liquidity and flow, you might find the Boulder and most other solid-state phono preamps, if not all of them, to sound analytical and "electronic." I didn't.

Interestingly, direct comparisons revealed that the 1008 produced richer midrange frequencies than the 2008, resulting in a tonal presentation that was more fleshy and harmonically more vivid, though it could at times sound soft and less detailed—as if Boulder's voicing of the 1008 were in reaction to some of the criticism leveled at the 2008. The 1008 didn't grip the bottom octaves as tightly as the 2008, but which you'll prefer in that regard might depend on your system. The 1008's top end was also somewhat less extended and a bit more soft, though not so much as to mute instrumental attack. If your problem with the 2008 was too much etch, the 1008 might be far more to your liking—but I wouldn't recommend using it with a cartridge with a similarly restrained top octave, such as the My Sonic Labs Eminent EX.

Summing Up

The Boulder 2008's soundstage was more concisely drawn than the 1008's, the images on it more finely rendered, the bottom octaves somewhat better controlled, and the macrodynamics somewhat less restrained—but the 1008's somewhat more bloomy midrange and forgiving top end might make it more appealing to many, especially for one-third the price. At $12,000, dare I call it the more affordable Boulder?

Specifications

Description: Solid-state, balanced phono preamplifier. Inputs: 3 balanced, convert to unbalanced. Outputs 2 balanced. Frequency response (RIAA): 20Hz–20kHz ±0.1dB. Channel separation: >100 dB, 20Hz–20kHz. Distortion: 0.01%. Noise (ein, MC): 98nV, 20Hz–20kHz. Maximum output: 16V. Input impedance (MC): 1000 ohms, MC; 47k ohms (MM). Maximum gain at 1kHz: 70dB (MC); 44dB (MM).
Dimensions: 18" W by 5" H by 15.85" D. Weight 32 lbs, shipping: 41 lbs.
Serial number of review sample: J016.
Price: $12,000. Approximate number of dealers: 28.
Manufacturer: Boulder Amplifiers, 3235 Prairie Ave., Boulder, CO 80301. Web: www.boulderamp.com.

Article written by Michael Fremer

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