Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sumo Athena stereo preamplifier

I had a minor dilemma. I use a Decware Zen Triode Select to power 105dB-sensitive Klipschorns with 2 watts a channel in my main set-up, and it has no phono stage. I've been trying to acquire an Apt Holman preamp, without success (seems they're highly-touted as a clean, versatile link between source and amp).

Sumo Athena preamp, pictured on top
So... after a pretty exhaustive search for the celebrated Apt Holman, I coalesced to an offer for the venerable Sumo Athena, readily available as well as highly regarded in its own right.
Reading the included manual, the Athena is best left on indefinitely, as the circuitry is thereby allowed to open up and bloom to its full audio potential. I'll admit that, after reading this and deciding to give the advice a try, I was a bit skeptical. Tweaks and electronic hoodoo like this are generally eschewed here at mind's eye music studios. Since it's generally accepted that tubes need to warm before really hitting their stride, I figured I'd heed the advice if it was worth suggesting in the first place.
The preamp has been on for about a week, and it sounds really clean and open, no considerable coloration, and presents Spotify and my file collection via JRiver Media Jukebox really well.
Now it's time for some vinyl.

My record collection mostly consists of classic rock and pop, and I look for quality pressings and well-recorded and -mastered examples of the genre. My Thorens TD-165 (covered in these pages) is my second choice of 'tables for this task (Luxman PD277 being my #1), but clearly able to handle vinyl duties with the aforementioned components.

With a new stylus on my Pickering, I set out to find out if the Athena would live up to its hype. I started with Camel "I Can See Your House From Here", with lush orchestral rock at the forefront. Beautiful strings, synths, and a proggy approach to songwriting proved to be no problem for the Athena. "Who We Are", the standout cut from the LP, sounded beautiful and completely free of untoward artifacts. I knew we were getting there...

Rare Bird's self-titled first LP on Probe was next. Recorded with a different approach but equally as proggy as Camel, the organ took center stage, and shined wonderously. No hint of any thing out of order, just the customary surface noises that permeate the playing (unsignificantly so). The Pickering could only go so far to mitigate a bit of surface sound, so that was to be expected. The Luxman/Grado combo excels at quieting a record noticeably more so.

No tone controls, and a versatile but simple front panel layout offers options for recording and playback, and a switch inside selects MM or MC cart use. This preamp is well-designed with audiophile-grade electronics, and a stout build. Nothing flimsy here!

The Athena lived up to expectations, and played vinyl as well as files and streaming audio with no problems. Looks as well as functionality make the Sumo Athena a keeper here at mind's eye music. With dual outpus, biamping with external crossover is a breeze.
Keep your preamp on and your tunes up! Later! 

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