Mar 182010
 
The company Einstein Audio are based in Germany and make a range of valve based products, but have their origins in solid state. The item in for review is the solid state phonostage which goes by the name of The Turntable’s Choice….I love that name in the same way I also love the name Italian company Pathos give their phonostage…In The Groove. Why should companies just give letters and numerals to product models ? That’s just so boring. Both these companies make the names fun and descriptive of the function, and in the Einstein’s case suggestive that your turntable will want to be connected to one. We shall see if thats the case or if its more a case of Einstein a no-no.
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Based in Bochum Germany this company have been designing high quality audio for 19 years and as they state in their own words “ it wasn’t by providence, it sure was by lucky coincidence that all of EINSTEIN’s employees turned out to be enthusiastic music listeners who had devoted themselves early on in life to music and its playback technologies to come with profound backgrounds in various electronic circuits, concepts and design approaches. To remain satisfied with our own creative developments, we do not make a single component that has been strategically developed to a certain price point or with specific features that would cater to the mass market. At EINSTEIN, we develop products instead that elicit joy and stimulate forgetfulness from the daily grind – products we want to own ourselves. Good music, whether during a live performance or at home with a high-quality stereo, is part of a well-lived life. EINSTEIN Audio Elektronik focuses exclusively on the creation of audio component which personally enthrall us with their simplicity and elegance both in the sonic and aesthetic dimensions. We are pleased to know that other people share our convictions, enjoy our components as much as we do and thus enable us to live out our calling.”
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This individual approach is evident in the design of the Turntable’s choice as it is not often that one comes across cylindrical hi-fi products. Of course Musical Fidelity, 47 Labs, Lecson and Jr have utilized the cylinder as a basis for an audio product but there is in my opinion something awkward about this design when used on a conventional hi-fi table. However turning the unit over reveals a key hole slot and suddenly it is clear that this phonostage is designed to be hung on the wall. Used this way the orientation of the ins and outs make sense as does the cylindrical shape. Whether hanging on the wall is a good idea well thats a discussion for another day.
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The unit is fairly compact comprising of a main body in black finished of with chrome end caps. The input end has a pair of inputs. The top set for the loading plugs, the bottom for the input wires from your turntable. The bottom has the outputs for hooking up to your integrated or pre-amplifier. Power is derived from an outboard psu, and a power cable of reasonable length is permanently fixed to the phonostage at the signal out end.
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The Turntables Choice comes supplied with loading plugs for capacitance with the values, 40,120,150,200 and 300 ohms. There is nothing to stop you making your own loading plugs to what ever values you need . It is important to note that all swapping of loading plugs should be undertaken with the unit switched off; failure to do that may result in damage. I switched the unit off and lifted the cart of the vinyl plus changing pre-amplifier input and reducing volume to zero. The one really nice thing about this phonostage is there is no shades of grey, when the loading is right you will know it, it is black and white….as the add with the Merkat states “simples”. In my carts case it was 120.
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Gain is fixed, and was more than enough in the context of my set up. The phonostage’s full spec is listed in full at the end of the review. However in brief gain is 68db, and the unit uses 24 transistors per channel to achieve the design goals. This phono stage is not an after market thought, but the result of being designed by  “analog fans with large LP collections, the development of this phonostage was an assignment close to our hearts. Because we prefer MC cartridges, we set out to develop the ultimate moving-coil preamplifier. ‘The Turntable’s Choice’ inspires with its dynamic agility, precisely tracking bass lines and a vocal range that is filled with emotive tone, body and a powerful projective force, all perfectly balanced by a harmoniously effulgent treble. Sound staging and image specificity are unbelievably holographic and fleshed out.” Einstein also make a MC cartridge based on the EMT TU-3 and it would be a sure bet that both the phono stage and cart work very well together, alas I did not have one on hand to try.
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Review System….

The Einstein phonostage was used in my downstairs main system which comprised the following  kit,SME Model 20 Turntable, Graham Phantom B44 Arm, Ortofon MC 7500 Cartridge, Graham IC70 Tone Arm Cable, Bat VK 31 se pre-amplifier, Bat VK 75 power amplifier, Anthony Gallo Ref 3.1 speakers. Cabling was Atlas Mavros and Audience Au 24, both in RCA and XLR types and speaker cable. Isolation tables are Clearlight Audio, Base and String Suspension Concept designs.
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No mains filters or regenerators was used during the review. However both Audience, TCI Boa Constrictor and Analysis Plus power cables were used. I hooked the Einstein to the pre-amplifier with Atlas Marvos Rca to Rca cables and the main power cable was an Audience AU24. The unit sat on a String Concepts isolation table and ringmat cork feet under the phonostage’s base.
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Music used during the review was

The Einstein is no different to many other items I have written about recently in that it needs warming up. After two days I was very unhappy with the sound. It seemed to embody the stereotypical idea of Teutonic audio (more of a myth these days)…cold, controlled and lean. After a full week this had thankfully changed, take note if you are trying one of these in your system you need to have the loan of it for at least a few more days than a week. Only listen to it, after a few hours of warm up and frankly I don’t think you should bother, you are wasting your time.
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After the period of warm up noted above the sound was transformed and not subtly. Frankly if it had continued to sound as it did from fresh switch on I would have had to pass on this item, but now things were really interesting. The sound was now really open and detailed and just a shade to the warmer side of neutral. This did change a bit depending on the recording something this unit revealed if not ruthlessly but with quite an honest confession of poor or edgy quality, something I encountered with one of my previous reference slabs of vinyl.
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On to the platter first was Thomas Dolby’s wonderfully quirky album Aliens Ate My Buick. This is an amazing slice of electro-pop. Tracks ranging from sly comments on America society to long songs that could almost be Prog Rock. Its been a firm fave of mine since I first bought it back in 1988. The bass on this album is exceptionally good normally and the Einstein was not disappointing me. I mention the bass first because it was stunningly good. It was open and detailed with excellent slam, grip and clarity. Terry Jackson’s playing on tracks like Pulp Culture and Air Head was as good as I have ever heard and far outstripped the bass reproduction on the CD copy. Each track was propelled with firm vigor that had just the right degree of tightness and reality of tone. That often used term PRAT was also excellent on this albums music, my foot tapping along in time, with the rhythm section. Time changes spun on a dime and each element of the music flowed really well. The potential issue with this albums recording quality was absent, in so much as it can be lean and bright. It wasn’t at any stage like that. The sound was open and detailed but also had the right degree of warmth. Mr Dolby’s voice was just right and rather than only listening to a few tracks I was naughty and listened to an entire side of this album.
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Up next was a fave discovery of a few years ago the DJ Mr Scruff and his first recording bundled together and called Mrs Scruff. This album is a tour deforce and is well recorded and will really test a system to the very edge of what it can do. The tracks range from jazz influenced drum and bass to quite spartan delicate ambient dance music. The track Crisp was first and  while the arrangement and music is quite spartan this is misleading. The vocal parts, bass, drum and synth elements all blend to create a large sound scape that has a sense of drive that a lot of heavily instrumental dance does not have. This track propels along at a nice pace and the Einstein captured this and allowed just that to happen, Prat was also very good.
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The sound stage was large and expansive but not as big as I am used too with the CD version of this album. One aspect of the vinyl performance that bettered the CD version was in the bass (an area where many say CD is better than vinyl playback). Bass notes were very deep and controlled and shook the room. A friend uses the term trouser flapping to describe this effect, not only my trousers were flapping but the whole room was pulsing along with the bass lines. The overall sound though was lush and expansive with fantastic detail and delicacy as well….great stuff.
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Next on the platter was the track Night Time. I love this track and I was not disappointed, except once again in the area of sound stage width and possibly the depth of image. However the complexity of the mix and rhythms in this track were handled with aplomb. It might be the case that a lesser phonostage or system might have allowed the very heavy bass lines to swamp the rest of the music but not in this case. The more delicate aspects of this music and each element in total was revealed with great clarity, each having its own space but kept in line to form part of a coherent whole.
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The Mr Scruff pressing is a little noisy and while the Einstein did not hide this it did not overly emphasize it either. Back ground hiss a problem with many phonostages, (especially valve ones) was all but absent, and was very good for a Solid state one.  This lack of noise allowing the music to flow free and clear, and this absence of noise must be responsible for the clarity in all the music I heard while using the Einstein.
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Yello, a strange duo from Switzerland have been making quirky electronic music for many years and One Second is a great album from them. The first tracks on side one are strong faves of mine so when I listened to La Habanera and Moon on Ice I was surprised to be a little less enthusiastic with how the Einstein was reproducing this music I know very well. The clarity was there as was the great bass but the atmosphere with these tracks which make you think you are in a smoky night club say in Cuba was well not missing but much reduced to what I am used to.  All the Latin excess was handled well, but it just lacked the magic I am used too. A difference in presentation that was clearer on this album was also exposed on the next one and indeed the quality of pressing was also brought into question.
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The first time I heard German Art Electronic group Propaganda I was hooked on their futuristic slightly Punky music. The washes of sound and driving rhythms and the vocals of Claudia Brucken and Suzanne Freytag transported one to the underground art clubs of Berlin and the like. The detail retrieval here and the layering of the sound was excellent, indeed I heard some things I had not heard before but the overall sound was wrong…it was too clean and lacked soul. In fact I would have to say that it was to toppy, cool and steely. This is not what I am used to with this album. I must admit that I could see it sounding this way but it has never sounded this way in my system before. On the showing here I would have to say that I prefer the SACD version of  this album A Secret Wish. It may be that the great clarity and detail the Einstein has may just be to much for me or the context of my system. Or even that this ability it has, has revealed a poor pressing….I am not sure which is the case here.
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New Orders album Substance 1987 was up next and was very good. The old classic Blue Monday’s shook the room. However the sound stage sat just beyond the edge of the speakers and overall was not as expansive as it sounds through my Bat VK10 se. The Einstein had more snap in the bass but I missed the warmer larger presentation of the Bat phonostage.
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Once again its a case of system matching and preference. The Bat VK10se is slightly more forgiving of poor recordings/bad pressings (though it does show them up, it just doesn’t scream about them)and it has for me a slightly more musical sound with more expansive sound stage and greater depth of image. The Einstein counters with amazing clarity and bass the like I have not heard from vinyl before. Its mid-range is excellent but just lacks a bit of the qualities I like. Perhaps in a different system or a listener with different listening priorities the result would have been more to the Einstein than the Bat. I should point out though that the differences, while there for me, were probably not that huge and may just boil down to the way valves work differently to solid state.
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The Einstein Turntable’s Choice is very good, and may just be the right item for your system and preferences. I would say that you must hear it after a weeks warm up and give yourself a bit more time to listen fully. If I have a regret it is that perhaps with a few more days I might have been able to learn to love this unit rather than just respect it. However you may love it.
Michael Fremer’s review in the July 2003 issue of Stereophile was very helpful, in perhaps offering explanation for why I had some issues. He feels that it is very fussy about the type of cables used for hook up to amplifier and between the arm and phonostage. Despite such issues he felt it fell into the upper 5 or so phonostages he had heard so far. At the time of me writing, it rates as a Class A product in that magazine. The Graham IC70 arm cable may possibly not be the best choice, but sadly its the only one I have. Maybe with more options to hand, the story would have a better ending.
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So as the song by Landscape says, is it Einstein A Go-Go or Einstein A No-No ? Well its definitely not a No-No and may well be a Go-Go for you, but for me I think I must just say while I love what it does, and respect its many strengths it must be a case of you listen for yourself and you decide, if its right or not; as for me, its just not quite right for what I want or what my system needs.
On a final note perhaps the fully balanced version might just fit better in my system than the single ended…maybe some day I will get to hear that version.
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Technical data  of the Turntable’s Choice phonostage from Einstein Audio


– Gain of 68dB (2500x)
– S/N ratio typically 76dB
– THD < 0.03%
– Star-grounding (the stereo version too uses discrete dual-mono floating power supplies)
– passive RIAA equalization
– Adjustable impedance loading
– Discrete architecture (24 monolithic transistors per channel)
– High-current output stage with low 50-ohm output impedance
– Output voltage > 5V, balanced 10V
– External power supply (the fully balanced version has twin power supplies)
– Resonance-free vibration-optimized chassis
– Dual-mono architecture, available fully balanced or single-ended
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Additional thoughts….
There is a saying that goes like this…For the sake of a nail the shoe was lost. For the sake of the shoe the horse was lost. For the sake of the horse the Kingdom was lost.
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Well 24 hours has passed since I wrote the review above and as the phonostage is going back tomorrow I wanted to listen less critically than when I was doing the review, just for fun (you can have fun and do a review..there not mutually exclusive but…). Anyway with in seconds of listening I new something had happened. WOW. The Einstein unit had taken a large jump forward in sound quality.
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The soundstage had grown in size, both side to side, in height and depth. Instrument separation and focus had also improved and the mid-range was more fleshed out than before. The sound on all the albums used during the test period had improved, most notably the Yello album and even Propaganda( though it was still a little bit edgy and forward…but much better). Overall I am now left with a very strong sense that two weeks and possibly more time is needed to hear fully what this remarkable product can do. Would a wider choice of arm cables help ?…maybe yes…but as I sit and type this I can hardly contain my excitement and frustration at what I almost missed out on.
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The Turntable’s Choice in my set up, with extra warm up time, is now almost the equal of the Bat VK10se phonostage (the Einstein is considerably cheaper). Who knows, with another few days or even a week things might improve even further or even, dare I contemplate it, this small cylindrical German phono amplifier might even surpass my Bat VK10se. Heck it takes up less room and it doesn’t get hot..you can even mount it on the wall.
The Turntables Choice has clarity, focus, openness, bass depth, shape, slam, air, mid-range texture, in spades. I could go on but I would run out of superlatives…this is about the best vinyl playback I have ever heard in my set up and I am going to cry when I have to give this back tomorrow.
The areas in which valves excel (even in phonostages), which are naturalness of tone and soundstage dimension, is perhaps the only area where the Bat is a shade better than the Turntables Choice. However the Einstein phonostage is quite a bit cheaper and may well not have finished its journey of improvement.
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Folks, those of you who think warm up does not exist, is foo, etc; you are so wrong in my humble opinion and experience. For the sake of an extra 24 hours a slice of magic would have been missed. This only goes to show, that you should never assume the journeys over…it may well have only begun.
It has been stated, that the balanced version of this product is even better. I can only imagine what that is like, not having heard one, but based on what I have heard here tonight, it will no doubt be magical.
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Neil
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Source of Review Loan Products…… End user owner
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Einstein’s Website http://www.einstein-audio.de/


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