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Audiovalve Sunilda Phono-Amp Standard Edition - CPlan Audio

Audiovalve Sunilda Phono-Amp Standard Edition (Ships in 4 Weeks)

AudioValve

  • R 129,990.00


The tubed Sunilda offers two independently configurable single-ended inputs selectable for MM or MC and adjustable for resistive and capacitive loading. The dual-mono circuit uses pairs of 6922 and 12AX7 tubes in a three-stage configuration; high-quality parts are used throughout and signal paths are kept short, all but eliminating any point-to-point wiring. The Sunilda sacrificed bass extension and slam for “well-saturated harmonic colors and three-dimensionality,” said MF. “The AudioValve Sunilda is one of the most enjoyably tube-based phono preamps I’ve heard.” (STEREOFILE - Vol.32 No.12)

AudioValve Sunilda ph
preamplifier
STEREOPHILE REVIEW from Michael Fremer 12/2009

The AudioValve Sunilda , a
tubed phono preamp from Germany,
offers a lot of setup convenience
and flexibility, all controlled from its
front panel. There are two
independently configurable single -
ended inputs selectable for MM or
MC and adjustable for resistive (47,
100, 220, 470, 1k, and 47k ohms)
and five choices of capacitive
loading.
The outboard transformer for the
solid-state power supply connects to
the main chassis via a computer-
type ribbon cable and multipin
connector. The dual-mono circuit
uses pairs of 6922 and 12AX7 tubes
in a threestage configuration, with
passive RIAA equalization split
between the first and second stages.
Interestingly, while the manual
specifies 20dB of gain with the MC
stage switched in, total gain is not
specified. The specifications page of
the manual lists MM and MC gain
“@1kHz” but neglects to give
numbers, though it says elsewhere
that the MC stage adds 20dB, so it’s
a good bet the total gain is 55 or
60dB.
The Sunilda’s claimed RIAA accuracy
is ±0.25dB, with noise 76dB below
signal in MC mode, which is fairly
typical for tubed phono preamps.
High-quality parts are used
throughout, and the signal paths are
kept short, all but eliminating any
point-to-point wiring. While
the
rotary knobs for loading and
capacitance have a rubbery feel due
to the long acrylic shafts that
connect them to the switches
mounted on the rear board, that’s a
worthwhile sacrifice in the interest of
frontpanel convenience and short
signal paths. Use is straightforward
and easy, but be sure to select Mute
before changing inputs, or
you’ll
hear a pop.
. Otherwise, the
Sunilda was glitch-free during the
review period.
Sound:
The AudioValve Sunilda was
quiet, even with relatively lowoutput
MCs, and produced a sonic
panorama with a rich, lush midband
that definitely let me know that
tubes were involved. But thanks to a
wellcontrolled bottom end and
pleasing high-frequency extension,
the sound never sank into the overly
tubey mire.
Though the Sunilda’s bass extension
was only moderately deep (your
system would need to plumb the
20Hz depths for you to hear what
was missing), bass control was very
good—a combination preferable to
more extension and less control.
While the better solid-state phono
preamps will deliver more extension
and more muscular control, tube
fans will revel in the Sunilda’s
palpable bass textures. Drum skins
and plucked bass strings had a
supple elasticity that solid - state
phono preamps tend to gloss over,
just as the Sunilda tended to
somewhat soften the visceral punch
of the electric bass. Kick drums were
more about the skin reverberation
and less about the transient attack,
pianos were more about sounding
boards and wood than about
hammer strokes, and so on.
When this balance goes overboard in
one direction or the other, I hear
either skeletal “runway model”
sound, or the overstuffed kind that
sounds the way Midwesterners at a
state fair look. The best solid-state
designs avoid the former, while the
better tube designs avoid the latter.
And the Sunilda is a better tube
design.
Its pleasingly rich midrange and full-
bodied harmonic palette can be
described as Dockers expansive
rather than unpleasingly plump.
Combine its midband generosity
(which includes that special 12AX7
golden glow) with clean, reasonably
fast, grain-free, topend extension,
nimble yet warm midand
lower
midbass, and reasonably decent
bottomend extension, and you have
a supremely listenable and
enjoyable phono preamplifier.
Could you get more muscular
bottom-end extension? Yes. Greater
macrodynamic slam? Yes. And
probably blacker blacks, too, which
usually leads to more low-level
microresolution, which you can also
get elsewhere in solid-state designs.
But there’s a particular magic to the
all-tube experience, particularly in
how tubes resolve and three-
dimensionalize certain instruments.
I’m again playing Sundazed’s new
reissue of Simon and
Garfunkel’s
Bridge Over Troubled Water
, and the
Sunilda’s rendering of “So Long,
Frank Lloyd Wright” is truly special.
The strings are feathery, the
acoustic guitar a perfect blend of
string and body, the flute juicy and
airy, the bongos have lots of skin,
and the whole picture floats
ethereally in three-dimensional
space with great deliccy.
As with the Benz-Micro LP S
cartridge, if you mostly listen to
modern electric rock, the Sunilda
might not be for you—but well-
recorded acoustic music of all
genres, as well as early rock and
folk, sounded vivid and convincingly
real, tonally, texturally, and spatially.
What the Sunilda might lack in that
last bit of slam it more than made
up for in well-saturated harmonic
colors and three-dimensionality. Just
don’t use it with a cartridge that’s
already on the warm side, or you
might end up with sound that’s too
slow and thick to get out of its own
way. I enjoyed many months of
listening with the Sunilda,
particularly with the more analytical
Lyra Titan
iand Ortofon MC A90
cartridges. If the sound I’ve
described is your type of sound,
you’ll love the Sunilda—and you
can’t beat the convenience of two
independently configurable inputs
and front-panel control of loading.
The AudioValve Sunilda is one of the
most enjoyably balanced tube-based
phono preamps I’ve heard. It might
not be the last word in any
particular performance parameter,
but taken as a whole, it’s one of
those components that can be
installed and enjoyed for a very long
time without leaving you feeling you

need or want more of anythin.


One of audio's best-kept secrets is the AudioValve Eklipse pre-amp. All-valve, remote controlled, built to standards that you'd expect of Germans and - above all - a true bargain at £2100, it lacks only one thing: a phono section. OK, so it's toe-curlingly ugly with its black-and-gold, steam-punk-Jules-Verne-reject styling, but the sound is so good and the price so low that you can overlook the aesthetics. (Please, Herr Becker, hire an industrial designer!!!!) For those of you with a taste by-pass, the good news is that the Sunilda phono stage is built into the same chassis.

 

It is, therefore, physically impressive for a phono stage in terms of bulk and heft, more in keeping with the Audio Research PH5 and other 'full size' units than the typically cigarette-pack-sized offerings. Blessedly, it eschews minimalism because the Sunilda is clearly aimed at the vinyl addict, the sort of audiophile with more than one turntable and a herd/coven/school/flock of cartridges. For this alone, it raised the hairs on my neck. However much I worship the PH5, there are times when I find its lack of facilities limiting. (Then again, I'm a reviewer as well as vinyl addict, and I do change cartridges frequently.)

 

Additional Resources

 

Helmut Becker likes wireless assembly, so the guts of the Sunilda rest on a double-sided PC board, laid out in a dual-mono topology, all beautifully assembled. Becker doesn't compromise on the components, and he indulges in hand-selection, so the see-through lid is no conceit: you'll enjoy gazing at its innards. For hours.

He describes the Sunilda as a 'three-stage phono-preamplifier, based on 6922 or ECC88 and 12AX7 or ECC83 frame grid tubes.' The Sunilda - named after the daughter of Siegfried and Brunhilde, so Valkyries can wallow in this one - accommodates both moving magnet and moving-coil cartridges. What inveterate fiddlers will love is that the Sunilda is two complete phono stages in one, with BOTH sets of inputs enjoying the full complement of settings, unlike some that offer either m-m or m-c for one or the other inputs. Where this might prove handy is for A/B'ing arms or turntables when you would need to use the same cartridges in both. And if you had two identical turntable/arm set-ups, you could use it to compare cartridges, including two of the same make and model. (Ask Decca-fiends about sample-to-sample variation...) And if you have two identical turntable/arm/cartridges, well, how about A/B'ing different LP pressings. Like 180g vs 200g or reissue vs original?

 

Thus, you have, independently for the two inputs, adjustable impedance and capacitive load, which you can do 'on-the-fly' while listening. Across the front, you have four rotaries and four toggle switches. The rotaries, two per input, set capacitance of 0, 100, 220 or 470pf and impedance of 47, 100, 220, 470, 1k and 47k ohms. Note that in moving magnet mode, the gain is 20dB lower than in m-c mode, at a fixed input-impedance of 47k.This means that users who like their m-cs at 47k ohms can employ that value with some added gain. Koetsu users: rejoice!

 

As for the four toggles, accompanied by various coloured LEDs, they activate, left to right, mute/operate/standby, mm/mc select for input 1, input selector for input 1 or 3, and lastly mm/mc select for input 2. Around the back are the two sets of RCA phono inputs with separate earths, a single pair of RCA phono outputs and the socket for the power supply.

 

Sunilda's RIAA de-emphasis is passive and split between the first and second stage. According to Becker, 'Dividing the RIAA network over two amplification stages lowers the insertion losses of the passive network dramatically. Furthermore, the design has a total absence of feedback, thus increasing the overall dynamics.' He also opted for solid-state regulated power supplies. 'This is the best way to obtain low noise and a supply line with a very low impedance, to increase the performance in the lower frequency range.'

 

Other niceties include an outboard power supply, housed in a separate aluminium case and connecting to the main chassis with a computer-grade cable. The main case itself is laser-cut, 4mm thick steel, as mentioned before absolutely identical in size to the Eklipse line-level pre-amplifier. Beside offering the Sunilda in both silver and black, you can also specify silver or gilt knobs, again depending on your stomach for bling-bling. Alas, Sunilda sunglass are not supplied.

 

This unit arrived in the midst of my most overactive analogue phase in years. In addition to SME 10 and SME 30 turntables, I've recently added a Trio L-07D, and I have a fistful of cartridges to play with, and of every stripe: London Gold and Maroon (the latter mono), Koetsu Black Urushi, Shure V15 V, Lyra (mono) Dorian, Transfiguration Temper V and a few others. With this mix, I was able to assess most of the settings, comparing m-m vs m-c, assorted impedances and other characteristics. First, some observations:


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