Pipit sings sweeter

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - Afile@thes­tar.com.my By SUJESH PAVITHRAN

Ta fa­mil­iar bird re­turns, re­in­forced and re­ju­ve­nated, and ready soar into the skies. HE first Pipit phono preamp from Frank Acous­tics sur­faced in the late 1990s, re­tail­ing a buck short of RM800 when Au­dioFile re­viewed it (in 1999). The man be­hind it, phono whiz­zkid Frankie Voon, never re­ally had the time to turn his labour of love into full­blown pro­duc­tion, and the Pipit re­mained a cult favourite.

FV Euroau­dio is Voon’s um­brella project un­der which Frank Acous­tics now re­sides, and his range of prod­ucts has ex­tended over the past decade, re­fined with the years.

Voon re­cently con­tacted me with one of his newer phono stages, the Pipit 22L, which of­fers the sort of fea­tures you would never find in most “branded” prod­ucts at the price. Ob­vi­ously, the heart of the orig­i­nal Pipit re­sides within, but this one has evolved in many ways.

Set and load

The Pipit 22L is both a tweaker’s de­light and per­fec­tion­ist’s night­mare! Let me put this in con­text: the plug-and-play John Curlde­signed Para­sound JC-3 phono preamp re­viewed here some months ago is as min­i­mal­ist as they get, but with a street price about four times that of the Pipit 22L. The lo­cal prod­uct, how­ever, will of­ten have you won­der­ing if you’ve di­alled in the best pos­si­ble set­tings.

It comes with an out­board power sup­ply, a great away of keep­ing noise away from the cir­cuits, and uses Toshiba tran­sis­tors and Burr-Brown op amps. The Pipit 22L will ac­cept mov­ing coil (MC) or mov­ing mag­net (MM) car­tridges.

There is a wide range of load op­tions for MC car­tridges, from 10 Ohms to 47kOhms – the to­tal reads 250! A de­tailed man­ual in­cludes a chart to guide you through the set­tings. The eight DIP switches for car­tridge load­ing are marked for 10, 22, 47, 100, 250, 470, 820 and 1,000 Ohms, with all off be­ing 47kHz. A com­bi­na­tion of the DIP switches ac­cesses the rest of the load set­tings.

An­other eight-switch bank lets you set the gain – from 35dB to 70dB; again, a com­bi­na­tion set­ting ex­tracts up to 90dB of gain for low-out­put MC units.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the Pipit 22L in­cludes a sub­sonic fil­ter (17Hz, 22Hz, di­rect), suited for use with older turnta­bles to ban­ish rum­ble. There is also pas­sive RIAA equal­i­sa­tion, via a set of jumper pins.

All com­po­nents are care­fully hand-se­lected and matched within tight tol­er­ances for con­sis­tency. While the man­ual says each unit has been run in and tested for at least 48 hours, Voon says it gets even bet­ter af­ter a few hun­dred!

While no flashy looker, the Pipit 22L is neatly laid out in­side, with a sim­ple ex­te­rior that is lit­tle changed from the past. A good job gen­er­ally on the man­ual, too.

Dy­nam­ics in­tact

The orig­i­nal Pipit resided in my sys­tem for a short time years ago, and apart from re­mem­ber­ing it to be a prod­uct that punched above its class, I can’t re­call the specifics of its

per­for­mance. The Pipit 22L al­lows no such am­bi­gu­ity – from the start, it was a pleaser.

There was an earthy and or­ganic feel about it, and its bass was more taut and deeper than the phono stage on my res­i­dent Tem­pest preamp. It was a feel­ing re­in­forced through a few weeks. Us­ing the VPI Aries 3/JMW 10.5 turntable/tone arm as the base, I went through a num­ber of car­tridges – Clea­r­au­dio Mae­stro (MM) and Dy­navec­tor DV 17D3 and DV XX2MkII, the last two be­ing low-out­put MC units.

The Tem­pest is no slouch in the phono depart­ment, but the Pipit 22L ush­ered in added di­men­sion and au­thor­ity to the sound, while not com­pro­mis­ing on tonal in­tegrity or speed. It han­dled tran­sients with nary a com­plaint and let through as much de­tail as the sty­lus could dig out from the grooves.

Sim­ply used as an MM stage, it was al­ready a bar­gain. The de­tail and pace of the Mae­stro was never ob­scured, the phono amp al­low­ing it to shine in all its glory – some noise was noted, but this I later at­trib­uted to other fac­tors, and not the Pipit.

The MC route re­vealed the level of in­tri­cate de­tail that went into the de­sign of the Pipit 22L – all those switches would mean noth­ing if they didn’t bring about dif­fer­ences in re­sults. The in­her­ent na­ture of the car­tridges showed up with clar­ity – the dy­namic con­trasts and im­pec­ca­ble tonal fidelity of the 17D3 and the ex­pan­sive, rhyth­mic na­ture of the XX2 were all laid out with­out editorial. Of course, given its flex­i­bil­ity, the Pipit 22L al­lows some tweak­ing to achieve “cor­rect­ness” in the ear of the lis­tener.

It had a very open and airy pre­sen­ta­tion – the tre­ble was crisp but never hard, the mids were smooth and sparkling, and the bass, taut, co­he­sive and pack­ing an im­pres­sive wal­lop. The Pipit 22L was hon­est with­out be­ing brash or brazen, mu­si­cal with­out gloss­ing over dis­crep­an­cies, and im­pact­ful with­out be­ing in your face.

The Aries 3 turntable is in­her­ently an open­sound­ing one, with a wide stage, im­pres­sive drive and bold im­agery, and the Pipit 22L never got in the way, in­stead sim­ply serv­ing up those qual­i­ties with their in­her­ent flair, dy­nam­ics all in­tact and in place.

No caveat

The good news for those in the mar­ket for a high-end phono preamp – here’s one with­out the as­so­ci­ated price! It won’t elicit a dou­ble take in the looks depart­ment, but once in your sys­tem, you can fo­cus on just en­joy­ing the mu­sic ... af­ter you’ve played with those switches as much as you like!

There is no caveat ... the Pipit 22L is a great piece of work, and its value is truly re­alised only when you pit it against some­thing cost­ing four or five times the price. This won’t be go­ing back in a hurry. Well done!

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