08 March, 2015

Review: Elekit TU-8500 Full-Function Preamp, Part II

Review: Elekit TU-8500 Full-Function Preamp, Part II
Brief Review: Sparkler S303 CDP, Part II
Talk Vinyl: Fidelity Research MC-202 MC Cartridge, Part II
Brief Review: Lyngdorf CD-2
Yumcha Diary 07-03-2015

Revised 9/2016

See Elekit TU-8500, Part I for Basic Info and First Impressions, and Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI for more.

For initial impression of Sparkler S303, see Part I. For my definitive view after run-in, see Part III.

Day 2 In my Reference System
On Day 2 I took the Elekit to my old house, and hooked it up in lieu of my trusted Leben RS28-CX. I mainly wanted a first glimpse into the phono section.

Equipment Used

Digital: Sparkler S303 CDP (120V; but using my 100V line)(Best Buy 2014; see here and here)
Analog 1: Thorens TD-124 MkI/SME 3009 series 2/Denon DL-103 (briefly mentioned here)
Analog 2: Garrard 301 (grease bearing)/Thomas Schick 12"/Denon DL-103 (Midas)
Comparison Phonoamp: Micromega MyGroov (Best Buy 2014; see here)
Preamp: Elekit TU-8500 (Gain 3x)
Amp: Wavac MD-300B
Loudspeakers: TAD TD-3401

Oh MercyLine Section With the CD (well recorded, as is usual with Daniel Lanois production) of Dylan's Oh Mercy, the Elekit capably served up the requisite jump factor, albeit at this point with a broad stroke. With music that I know this well, even from memory I am fairly certain the Leben resolves just a little more (it better, costing so many times more!). Also, there is a little smearing of the bass which I had not noticed on Day 1 - this could be due to the microphonics or a character of the GE 5965.

MC Phono Section Again, through the Thorens turntable, I played the vinyl (original) of Oh Mercy, which is one of my trusted Test LPs. First, I played it through the Micromega MyGroov (which had received some run-in as I had lent it to my shidi and also trazom), then through the Elekit. The two solid state phonoamps are more alike than different. The Micromega MyGroov might just be a tad sweeter and the Elekit a little lean, but I do think the Elekit resolves a little more detail and has a somewhat larger scale. Promising, considering that the Elekit phono section had not seen a signal before.

I left the Elekit in the house, to be used the next day.

Image result for solti brucknerDay 3 In my Reference System 
On this day, shidi came to my place, and we listened for 2 hours. I wanted to get a glimpse into tube rolling and understand the 5965.

5965 vs 6189 I dug out a pair GE 6189 (green letter), a 12AU7 variant. These are humble tubes, not at all the best of 12AU7, but still much better than current productions, and likely a real-world choice for Elekit owners. Actually I think this pair came with my TU-875 long ago, and I had not used them much. The difference is immediately felt.

The 6189 instantly provided a little more air, more fine details and in general a more sophisticated presentation. With the 5965 tube, through the razor-sharp Sparkler S303, CD replay with certain material was a just a trifle overbearing. For instance, the brass of Bruckner 9th (Solti/Chicago/Decca), which shidi requested because we had both recently attended a live performance of Dresden/Theielemann, sounded borderline strident with the 5965 tube, but swapping in the 6189 ameliorated that to a large extent. But there is the other side of the coin: shidi astutely pointed out that the 5965, although rawer, had a faster transient and, despite the lower-mu, more oomph factor. This surprised me a little, but it also shows tube rolling should be fun with the TU-8500. You will hear more about the 5965 later, but I will acquaint myself with the 6189 a little more for now.

MC Phono Section Suddenly I got only intermittent signal from my Thorens right channel, so I switched to the Garrard setup, As before, the Oh Mercy LP sounded distinctly better than the CD, more dynamic gradation and rhythmic finesse. We actually compared it to another more famous phonoamp (won't reveal it at present) and shidi thought the Elekit was better, a little less refined but more wholesome.

Short Note on Sparkler S303
Through the Sparkler S303, Dylan's band simply pulsates, full of electricity. The live atmosphere of the excellent Sarah Vaughn album was also well conveyed. This is a CDP that excels in Rhythm and Pace, hence a good choice for jazz and rock aficionados.

As mentioned above, when the going gets heavy, the CDP can be a little lean with classical and big orchestral stuff. Part of this may be due to the non-oversampling and minimalism. So partner with care.

Note 9/2016: after run-in, the Sparkler gained much ground! See Sparkler S303, Part III.

Yumcha - Audio Takeout
After the session, shidi drove me to Central, where I joined yumcha. After yumcha, I took the Elekit to match with the Spendor SP-100 (more description and previous visits here), but the attempt was not entirely successful. System:

CD-2 Front_angleCDP: Lyngdorf  CD-2 (official link)
Analog: Thorens TD-321/SME 3009S3/Fidelity Research MC-202
Preamp: YS Audio Balanced A2
Phonoamp: YS Audio Concerto Plus MC
Amp: YS Audio KT-120 monoblocks

Lyngdorf CD2 Playing the CD of Kondrashin's Scheherazade, although a little less resolving, imho the Elekit was more musical than the more matter-of-fact YS Audio Balanced A2 preamp. Here, I must mention that I have heard the CD2 before at the host's, and also the previous CD1. I think it is a very fine CDP, resolving, dynamic, yet relaxed (for analog lovers, the midrange is a little less rich, yet never wanting).

Fidleity Research MC-202 The resident LP system proved a foil for the Elekit. The Fidelity Research MC-202 had previously belonged to me (see my experience here). With the LP version of the same Scheherazade the sound was slow and lacking in spirit. Surely, the cartridge's low output of 0.17V was too low for the Elekit MC section (nominal 63 db gain; keep in mind the gain of the line section (9.8 db at 3x gain) is not very high either). Somehow, although the total gain is almost 73 db, it sounded like less. The hosts preamp/amp obviously had higher gain and brought the music to live. In fact, I think he got better sound from the MS-202 than I.

At this point, it seems to me the TU-8500's gain structure tends to be more suitable for higher efficiency loudspeakers (like my TAD 3401.)

Watch for Part III, coming very soon.


  1. Is your version of the Sparkler S303 CD player the latest model? VKung makes no mention of this "revised" model on his website? On the Sparkler site, Kazutoshi Tsukahara mentioned he made several enhancements to the innards including active I/V conversion using op-amps. The visible changes include a magnetic clamp as opposed to the screw on one, upgraded RCA jacks and flat screws affixed to the top panel.

    Anyway, looking forward to part 2 of your review of this wonderful, quirky little disc spinner. It really appears to be a "poor man's" Flatfish which is high praise indeed.

  2. Yes, mine is the latest version, with magnetic clamp. My unit is actually 115V, and sees little action in HK (no time). I shall be bringing it to NYC in April; hopefully more time there.

  3. I concur that s303 is a gem!
    Btw, you think Elekit be a good match for 47 's Gaincard?

  4. Given the Gaincard's passive volume (something I am against), adding a preamp will improve drive and control. I am not sure what is and what isn't a good match, but given that the Elekit preserves the very different characters of my Ongaku, Flying Mole (both Japanese) and WE (in Part III), I'd say it should be a very good choice.

  5. S303 standalone is exactly what you had described as "take-no-prisoner" approach player! I think it's largely due to the short signal path via I2S btn its drive and DAC ?
    Initial impression when paired with Musette, S303+Musette is more polite, darker , more details and delineated but the S303 's attack, air and microdynamics is superior.
    Sony BDP S5500 when paired with Musette, it has more attack and excitement but on the coarse side.
    I'm ordering a pair of Belden 1694 digital cable from Taobao hoping to compare them more fairly.
    Will take a while before Musette is fully run-in and would report to you on the findings! Stay tuned.

    1. Eric, thank you for your comments. Sounds like your experience is in keeping with mine. Do keep updating!

  6. Initial thought of using Musette is that, if worked out, I can hook it up with my new Sony BDP player, S303 (as transport only) and perhaps a chance to listen to some CAS. (95% of my music source is still CD anyway). It seems the best solution as my Gaincard has only one output and I tried to KISS without adding too much to it. That's why I was hesitant to try any preamp even I am very interested in Elekit that you had mentioned or the TVC preamps.

    After a short listening session with S303+Musette, I have switched back to S303 standalone. While without connected to the Amp, I'm still silently burning in the Musette.

    What I look for in music replay is the connection between music and me. I must be excited, aroused or even touched by it. I can sacrifice less deep soundstage (coming from a NAIM fan), less authoritative bass if soul of music is present. S303 gives me all those, though not to a goosebump raising level, but it makes me sit down to listen to a complete CD without wandering away from music or feeling bored.

    The Musette, I had not given up yet, soundstage and air is much less and narrow, which is normal for new unit. While it's is definitely more refined and I can hear a bit more microdetails , but it's at this moment, not up to par with S303 . Say for instance, the rise and fall time of a stroke of cello string is more readily felt with S303 and you can even sense the minor variating speed when the musician pulled down the string, thus creating a sense of realism to the whole picture. Plus there's also a sense of air surrounding the equipment, accurate timbre that makes it sounds real. Also, I can actually hear different instruments playing and feeding off with each other, I can feel the anticipation of musicians trying to cut in at the "right" moment or perhaps a little bit earlier to create the sense of urgency and immediacy . I often kept saying to myself while listening to music through S303 that this is how it should be played and music coming out from S303 makes sense to me!

    Vocal is uncanny and pure with no bumps in hearing both male and female. I can easily feel the emotions of singers, slight hesitations, sometimes start or stop slightly faster than scores tells her etc. Highs are natural but can attenuate realistically.

    Overall, with S303 , my Gaincard and Dynaudio Crafft combo connected by 47 IC, I am emotionally involved and moved , I can sit down without thinking what went wrong despite with minor limitations that I can happily live with since those are not important to me.

    I am quite a happy man now!

    Until then, I will give Musette a try after it had fully burnt in!


    P.S. Before that, even my S303 + GC is lacking some life in it, the only thing that was changed is that I finally hook up to a small Longyu power regulator made in China , before it was hooked up to power outlet of my TV and other devices for months, but man what a difference does it make! I had completely overlook the effect . Music had came back to life again!!

    I'll hook it up with the Musette....after I had enjoyed enough music and wish some marked improvement can be heard!

    1. Wow, thank you! It seems you listen to exactly the same things I do!

      Interesting what you said about the power conditioner, which in my experience robs music of life, but coming from you my curiosity is raised. Not sure where I can find it in HK. I see it on the Sg e-market.

    2. I was very skeptical before as well above power conditioner, but I gotta go with my ears if I cannot explain it in a scientifical way~ BTW, I'm using this one LongYu LY-206 Power Conditioner

      The one cost me less than $2k, so I'm happy to give a try and it pays off!