Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 SE phono preamp "Best Buy Rated"
The Gram Amp 2 Special Edition phono stage preamp was first introduced specifically for the US market in 2001. It came with a number of improvements over its Gram Amp 2 sibling, now with the nomenclature Communicator. The Gram Amp 2 SE phono stage preamp also features 50 percent more gain thus catering to a wider selection of moving magnet, high output moving coil, and moving iron phono cartridges and its use with passive pre amps.
Since then the Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 SE phono preamp has achieved world-class status and received a compendium of recommendations and awards, testaments to its timeless and world-class excellence:
Recommended system component Stereophile October 2002
Recommended Best Buy The Absolute Sound Oct/Nov 2002 issue 138
Recommended Best Buy The Absolute Sound Dec 2002/Jan2003 issue 139
Recommended system component Stereophile April 2003
Recommended system component Stereophile October 2003
2003 Editors Choice Best Buy The Absolute Sound Oct/Nov 2003 issue 144
2004 Editors Choice Best Buy The Absolute Sound Dec/Jan 2004 issue 145
See also reviews online at Enjoy The Music online | TNT-Audio online.)
Recommended system component Stereophile April 2004
Recommended system component Stereophile October 2004
Recommended system component Stereophile April 2005
Highly Recommended Stereo Times May 2007
2007 Editors Choice Best Buy The Absolute Sound October 2007 issue 175
2009 Editors Choice Best Buy The Absolute Sound September 2009 issue 195
2010 Editors Choice Best Buy The Absolute Sound March 2010 issue 201
Graham Slee's concept and proprietary implementation of phase integrity
The nearest you'll ever get to the original sound is by using the same technology that recorded it. Recording studios and top class performers use pro-audio equipment. So it makes sense that by using a professional audio designed phono preamp you will get truthful reproduction of your LP collection.
Gram Amp 2 SE designer, Graham Slee, has worked at the highest end of pro-audio design - broadcasting. This experience includes designs used by the UK's national and international broadcasting organization, the BBC. A vinyl enthusiast with a varied collection (from rock to classical) he prefers listening to real vinyl than taped copies. He also has an in depth knowledge of record reproduction technology, from the disc cutting stage to playback in the studio or home. Graham has worked in Hi-Fi too.
In this light, the Gram Amp 2 SE phono preamplifier he designed and crafts personally by hand are going to give you vinyl reproduction limited only by turntable, tone-arm and cartridge performance.
The signal from a record is the result of careful engineering to make the grooves a uniform size so that a stylus can track them easily. Retrieving the signal from the groove takes exact engineering to restore the sound back to the original so it can be transferred to the input of a preamplifier or amplifier.
All records are cut with falling bass (LF) and rising treble (HF) below and above some mid-range frequency (MF). It is this method that makes it possible to keep the groove a constant width. The mid-range frequency about which the equalization takes place varies somewhat depending on the format: 78's have many recording characteristics. So do early American and British microgroove LP's, then there's the up-to-date RIAA characteristic used on all modern records.
It is the phono preamplifier's function to perform the exact opposite effect to that of the record cutting machine. This is called equalization (EQ for short), which boosts the bass and cuts the treble by just the right amount. It also has to amplify the tiny signal from the pick-up cartridge, with minimal noise and distortion, so it's big enough to drive an amplifier.
Virtually all modern records are recorded to the RIAA standard and require RIAA equalization. But older records, and not just 78's, were recorded to different characteristics. Pre '60's LPs were recorded to the now redundant Decca/London FFRR, HMV/EMI, Columbia (British), Columbia (American) or NAB "standards". From 1955 most record companies changed over to the RIAA (new orthophonic) standard, but some companies kept their old "standards" well into the '60's because they considered them close enough to RIAA when listened to with record players of the era.
Broadcasting organizations, production studios and music lovers with large record collections will probably have lots of older records to the old "standards" that require their own equalization to play faithfully. RIAA equalization gives a passable approximation. If you want true fidelity however, you need the appropriate equalization circuit.
The Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 SE is pro-audio designed exactly and precisely for playback of RIAA recorded media. (We can supply by special order the Jazz Club phono preamp to restore the original tonal balance of older records - 78's early LP's and singles - as well as provide the highest fidelity reproduction of modern records and LP's.)
Gram Amp 2 SE
Using his pro experience, Graham Slee set out to develop a high-gain phono preamp fast enough to keep phase integrity as near to the original as possible and equally capable of handling transients. Phase integrity is about preserving the sound of things. The RIAA is accurate to within 0.5dB. The capacitors in the RIAA network of the 2 SE are very fast polypropylene types, faster than the precision polyprops. Several different polypropylene capacitors were auditioned in its development and the ones selected gave the best results in terms of timbre - both instrumental and vocal. There is a very slight trade-off with this approach between precision and speed. The trumpet you hear may be up to half a decibel louder or softer than the original. It will however sound like a trumpet, which is better than having a trombone and trumpet sounding like one another. Moreover, since 1dB is the measure of the smallest difference we can hear, half a decibel is not really an audible difference in the real world.
Attention has also been paid to the input and output stages. A "special" type of capacitor discovery, which neither falls into the conventionally accepted electrolytic, tantalum, or film/foil categories, is used. This special capacitor allows much more musical information to pass through than even Elna audio grades. So for good measure this type is also used in the 2 SE's output stage.
The preamp can use moving magnet and high output moving coil cartridges with 2mV to 10mV output @ 5cm/sec velocity and at 9mV, still have 14dB of headroom. On recording studio equipment, the peak level is +8dB, and the other 6dB allows for replay of hot pressings, which are cut at greater velocity. With no rumble filter, the Gram Amp 2 SE has a frequency response from 10Hz - 150kHz (+/-3dB).
The Gram Amp 2 SE is housed in a new silver case with four highly polished Teflon insulated gold plated phono sockets of the type usually only fitted to esoteric high-end gear. A plug-in wall DC power supply unit, overrated several times over, is used to supply power. The raw DC that the power supply provides is regulated properly inside the phono preamp.
Production of the Gram Amp 2 SE follows a set plan. All units have to be identical. Quality control is included in the design. Each unit is individually tested, first with a precision meter to ensure all voltages are correct and then with a broadcast quality professional audio test set. Tests are: (1) Noise - very revealing - at this point one can tell if most components are doing their job, and if a unit fails (rare, but it can happen), its usually an input cap or the chip - one or the other gets thrown. (2) Gain: both channels should match, if they don't it gets reworked. (3) Frequency response/RIAA accuracy: spot frequency test - should be within one quarter dB of the norm otherwise there's a cap out of spec. (4) Distortion: more than 0.03% is fail, but most hit 0.01% (1kHz) and the 2 SE first batch hit 0.008%. If any component is wrong it will fail the test. (5) Finally, each Gram Amp 2 SE is listened to.
Each unit is handcrafted. Handcrafted means what it says, everything is done by hand. Machines make the components and printed circuit boards, but that is before the 2 SEs are assembled. The case is drilled manually. The boards are hand soldered using the finest Weller irons (the best you can buy). The final build is by hand, every thread is hand tightened - machines can't feel - all wires soldered on by hand. And finally, they're made in the designer's workshop. Then they're cleaned with a chamois leather and wrapped.
The Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 SE Results
The 2 SE offers micro detail and weight, accuracy of timbre and better separation between performers, and a sound stage of great depth and breadth. It does not have the edginess of transistors or tubbiness of tubes. The Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 SE compares well with a number of expensive high-end phono pre amps, due, in part, to its single stage topography and the attention paid to its fast performance. For those aspiring to high-end class and performance, the Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 SE offers an alternative unheard of to many music lovers and serious record collectors.
Perhaps the best way to describe the Gram Amp 2SE's performance is by what reviewers say:
"...all the earmarks of a giant killer...the more you listen to this thing on its own, the more you'll discover that you can play it for hours without fatigue...the presentation had a rare top to bottom cohesiveness, with a tonal balance unusually rich, lush, and, well, beautiful...It's love at first sound between the Gram Amp and vocalists, while violins are marvelously silken..."
Paul Seydor, Absolute Analog, The Absolute Sound, Feb/Mar 2002
"...the music the Gram Amp 2 SE produced was very well tonally balanced. It was easy to listen to but also imparted excitement without edginess. Amazingly, when partnered with quite expensive front ends and speakers, the Gram SE was not left wanting, it just played highly enjoyable music."
Steve Davey, TNT-Audio.com, June 1, 2002
"...they'll be amazed by its sound...the Gram delivered genuine solidity in the mid-band and mid-bass. It was quiet, and free from the thinness, edge, and grain you usually get at this price..."
"...I wouldn't spend the difference between the Gram and the Dino if I were going to use it solely for MM amplification... I'd be paying for stages I wouldn't be using, and I wouldn't enjoy the sound over extended listening even with the Dino+ power supply option..."
Michael Fremer, Analog Corner, Stereophile, June 2002
"...a startling little machine. In the price versus quality sweepstakes, it is a winner in every way that counts: musicality, definition, preservation of instrumental and human voice timbre, speed, fullness of sound and, finally, price..."
Neil Walker, EnjoyTheMusic.com, Issue 0402
"...I cant think of any other phono stage anywhere near its price that can match the 2 S/Es clear, taut, and dynamic bass response, nor approach its high frequency clarity and resolution....Its combination of superb wide band sonic performance and exemplary musical communication sets the standard for budget phono stages. Highly recommended."
Paul Szabady, Stereo Times, May 2007
"This stripped down little number has a sweet, mellow sound, and very low noise and perceived distortion.The sound is a little veiled (though remarkably grain-free) and, while not the last word in wide dynamics, has astonishing composure and musical integrity. "
Paul Seydor, The Absolute Sound, March 2010, Issue 2010
The Gram Amp 2 Special Edition phono stage preamp is supplied with a universal voltage energy efficient plug-in wall power supply. It can also be powered by our PSU1 power supply which can be ordered separately.
Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 SE Phono Preamp Specifications
-Input range: 2mV - 10mV rms
-Output range (for above inputs): 224mV - 1120mV rms
-Gain: 41dB (Av 112) ref 1kHz
-Phase margin: 90
-Maximum input level: 41mV (ref: 1 kHz)
-Input impedance resistive: 47k ohms
-Input impedance capacitive: 100pF
-Output noise: (CCIR Q-Pk 22Hz-22 kHz) -74dB
-Equivalent input noise (EIN) -115dB
-Reproduction characteristic: RIAA within 0.5dB total deviation 20Hz-20kHz
-Noise measured @ 80Hz, 1kHz, 5.6kHz and 16kHz: <0.05% (typically <0.015% @ 1 kHz)
-Channel balance: 0.1dB
-Channel separation: 64dB
Should this product fail while being used for its intended purpose, within one year of purchase, we will repair or replace it at our discretion. Please contact LP Tunes for details. No other liability will be accepted. Your statutory rights are not affected.
Graham Slee Projects Limited
1 Monks Way, Monk Bretton, Barnsley, S71 2JD, United Kingdom
tel/fax: +44(0)1226 244908