Townshend Audio are not your normal Hi-Fi company, they don’t just make a pre-amp, a power amp, a cd player and a DAC like so many. They go beyond and look at ways to offer their customers something different, something that will add a new dimension to their system.
We’ve had a range of Townshend equipment in the Adair Acoustic showroom since we opened in January; it was mainly products centred around their ‘Seismic Vibration Isolation’ principles. We have their platforms and stands in our system and we have certainly been impressed with the improvements that we got. More clarity, wider soundstage, reduced muddiness and generally a better managed sound.
This week we got in a Townshend product that I have wanted to hear for some time, the ‘Allegri’ pre-amplifier. This is not just any pre-amp, it is an autotransformer pre-amplifier.
In basic terms, a pre-amplifier normally does not actually do much amplification, it does 3 main things, input selection, buffering between input and output and volume regulation. An active pre-amp will be attenuating the signal most of the time until you turn the dial past 3/4 when it can actually add some gain. Passive pre-amps are quite popular as very rarely will you need extra gain at the pre-amp stage. To test this, just plug your CD player straight into your power amp, it is normally deafeningly loud. So realistically you can (as with the Allegri) leave out the gain stage and just use it as a volume control. Many people think that this will worsen the impedance match between the source and power amp, however the Allegri is a passive amplifier which uses a transformer (instead of resistors) to attenuate the signal without losing the impedance match. So really you get the best of both worlds.
When you first get the Allegri out of the box, you realise how simple the product actually is, it has 2 dials on the front (input and volume) and a mute switch, and on the back it has 6 phono inputs and 2 phono outputs. It is as long as most pre-amplifiers but about a third as wide. It also weighs just 1.5kg. [No power input]
There is a reason why the Allegri is built so simply. For many years Townshend Audio have produced a hugely respected autotransformer pre-amp called the ‘Glastonbury’; whilst this is an amazing pre-amp, some find the £11,900 price tag a bit too much to spend on a passive pre-amplifier. Max Townshend listened to these people and down-scaled the ‘Glastonbury’ blueprint by taking out the luxury case, gain control and remote. The simplified version that came was the Allegri.
One of the most interesting features of the Allegri is the ‘Townshend Audio Fractal-Wire’ that is wound on the autotransformers. The ‘Fractal Wire’ is developed by Townshend using enhanced deep cryogenic treatment and a further secret treatment process. Townshend claim this is a long-awaited improvement on their previous cryogenically treated cables, but because of the amount of copycat products that sprung up after they released details of how they manufactured them, with the Fractal-Wire they are keeping stum.
This Fractal-Wire is wired throughout the whole amplifier, but Townshend also manufacture Fractal-Wire interconnect cables, called the F1. Each Fractal-Wire Interconnect is made by hand because this is the only way to build a cable that has the absolute minimum contact with the insulator. The signal travels through a very thin polyester coated enamelled copper wire, which is spiralled around a much thicker bare copper ground. Because signal and return conductors are so tightly spaced external electric fields cannot get in. As a result, these cables completely stop hum in valve amplifier setups, whilst blocking radio frequency interference (RFI). Rest assured, we had a pair of these interconnects to test with the Allegri.
I initially set up the Allegri in between our Resolution Cantata Music Centre and the ATC Active 50s. These are both serious peices of equipment, so this is a great test for the £2000 Allegri. Its actually quite refreshing to not have to plug in a mains cable into the pre-amp, just makes set up that little bit easier. Once it was all ready, I hit play.
The sound is quite extraordinary; it was up there with the most transparent sounds that I have encountered. It has it has far less of the top end fizz that earmarks normal “hi-fi” sound, as opposed to natural un-amplified sound.
There is a good bass presence with the Allegri, it shows a really impressive dynamic range. The first thing I put on was Bob Dylan, and it sounded so natural, it really felt like he was playing right in front of me. This was really impressing me, I felt that for a supremely natural sounding amp, Bob Dylan might have been playing too much into it’s hand, so I thought I would give it a trickier test. I put on some rock music, The Smashing Pumpkins, but again the Allegri produced shear magic. The drums had real depth and everything so clear and tight, the heavy guitars roared and again the feeling of live music was evident. The louder I played it, the better it got. There was no distortion or brashness at all.
But was it the Allegri pre-amp making the difference or was it the F1 Fractal interconnects? I decided to test each part individually. So I set up the Cantata, into the ATC SCA2 out to the ATC P1 power amp and ATC SCM40 passive speakers. This is a set-up I was very used to hearing.
I then changed from our usual interconnects to the Townshend F1 Fractal Interconnects, there was a definite improvement in the transparency, it was quite big improvement actually, I didn’t expect it to be that much. I did notice that there was a bit of flattening of the high frequencies though. I then switched the ATC pre-amp to the Allegri and switched back to the usual interconnects. Again there was an improvement in the realism of the sound. I finished by using the Allegri and Fractal interconnects, suddenly the sound was complete again, the naturalness was there as was the crispness of the high frequencies. It seems that they work their best when used together.
Overall, with a low gain power amp, or inefficient speakers it’s not going to be a winner, as it may not go loud enough due to the absence of gain, but with I think this preamp has a killer sound and performs brilliantly with the ATC’s Active range of speakers, or a solid power amp.
The lack of a mains socket makes the environment in the pre-amp naturally very quiet, and gives you one less mains cable to worry about.
The other side of the benefits are that it will deal with the room acoustics better, since there is less unwanted HF noise reflecting off your walls it’s much easier to concentrate on the music and relax into the more natural sound.
People may find £2000 expensive for a passive pre-amplifier, but when you judge it on the sound quality that you get from the Allegri, really it is an absolute bargain. If you are willing to overlook the lack of remote and balanced inputs, this is almost impossible to beat at its price point.