As you may or may not know I took delivery of an Eva LDR preamp a little while back. The sales pitch for LDR preamps is that they combine the transparency of passive preamps with the dynamics of active preamps, and there's a few models on the market, the Eva model has been getting some very good press and considering the low low price of £170 delivered from Malaysia, I took a punt on it.
A week later a FedEx bag turned up with this rather attractive little unit:
It's very stripped down, a single input and output, and an Apple remote for controlling the volume. There was some bother when it first arrived as it wasn't responding to the remote, and on the advice of the seller, Yeo, I sent it back. Turned out it was just flat batteries in the remote (although I suspect it may have also been interference issues see below), and after some testing it was returned. This all took a little while, partly due to the distances, and the guys in Malaysia could be a little slow in getting back to me (they have day jobs) and it was a month after payment till I had the unit back and finally working. It's worth mentioning that delays aside Yeo and Kok's communication and help has been excellent, all postage there and back by FedEx was paid for by him, and what with three FedEx trips I doubt he made any money on the sale.
There are some interference issues with the unit (probably because it's in such a nice wooden box), and it has a tendency to occasionally stop responding to the remote, however moving it a foot away from my monster mono amps fixed this.
So, how does it sound! It sounds bloody good. In order to answer this question properly, I have to do a mini review of all my five volume control solutions (also known as Mat's Epic Money Burning Adventure)Digital volume control
In other words, the output of the DACMagic going directly into the power amps, with no preamp, and volume control via the Sonos unit. This the most detailed and transparent solution. When I was doing tests on compressed audio streams the other day, this was the solution I went back to to hear the most detail in the treble. Due to the treble detail, it has the most accurate soundstage. I truly believe this is the most accurate and neutral solution. The downside is the sound can be a little raw and unrelenting, a case of too much truth perhaps. Another downside is that if I accidently flip the volume to maximum on my Sonos unit, there is the potential to clip my amps and destroy both them and my speakers. Yikes.Digital volume control with -14dB Goldenjacks Attenuator
So yes, let's just add a single resistor, bang job done! Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. The Goldenjacks have a very warm signature due to some significant treble rolloff, and there's something a bit funny going on at the upper midrange as well. I think these will eventually go on my sub which I'll drive directly from the balanced outputs on my DAC.
Rothwell Indus Passive Preamp
This solution is very good indeed. Very clear sound - the second most transparent after only using the Digital Volume Control, plus the convenience and safety of having a physical volume dial. However, the sound is very slightly flat and there's a slight loss of dynamics which doesn't work for me in my system. Full review here: http://www.rdhworld.co.uk/punbb/viewtopic.php?id=14821LFD LS0 Active preamp
My original active solution. It can't match up to any of these other solutions for transparency, but has great dynamics and bass slam. I would happily pair it up with cheaper amps and speakers, but it doesn't really belong with my system. To put it in perspective, it was significantly more controlled than my Cyrus Pre Vs2 + PSX-R that I had previously.Eva
So where does Eva fit in? It doesn't quite have the transparency of the direct connection or the Rothwell Indus, but it is still very transparent compared to the active solutions I have tried, and crucially it has a really nice sound signature. There is a very slight rolloff at the top which results in a less clear sound stage than either of those two solutions but it is significantly more controlled than my previous active preamps. It has all the dynamics of an active solution, and adds something extra (this is coloration sure) that makes the music sound alive. In a way it ends up being more than the sum of it's parts. I've been switching between all the above solutions all afternoon, going slowly mad, and eventually the two that are left are the direct solution (no preamp) and Eva. If I wanted to impress someone with how accurate and transparent my system was, I would plug the DACMagic direct into the power amps. But if I wanted to sit back and just listen to music, I would use Eva.
What should this tell you?
Frankly, I think this comes down to a system matching issue. My speakers have very soft tweeters, and my mono amps are fantastic but can have a slight lack of sparkle up top, and I still have upper frequency hearing in at least one ear, so I'm very sensitive to treble rolloff and that's on my mind when I'm looking at adding components to the system. On the other hand, my amp and speakers between them have a ton of character so I can put up with very transparent solutions - those of you who were kind enough to try plugging your DAC directly into your amps will know that this can easily deliver a little too much truth. The Rothwell Indus may well work for a lot of people. The Goldenjacks, meh, I'll use them to stop me blowing up my sub.
If I was using a cheaper amp with speakers that a bit lacking in character (8 Power into PMC DB1i?) I'd suspect I'd want the active preamp. But then I would say that, because it's going to be up for sale along with the Rothwell Indus in the New Year
But if you can manage a single input/output, and all you need is a single volume control, I can recommend Eva very highly indeed. The only trouble now, is that I'd like even more transparency with the same sound signature... But without wanting to spend significantly more than £170
You can buy them here:http://diyparadise.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=18&products_id=109
There's a HifiWigwam mega thread on LDR preamps:http://www.hifiwigwam.com/view_topic.php?id=42153&forum_id=7&page=1
Looks like they have a new version coming out with multiple outputs that will cost a little more and has a metal case to deal with the interference issue:http://www.hifiwigwam.com/view_topic.php?id=49222&forum_id=7&jump_to=771231