Pipit sings sweeter
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.
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.
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!