Back when you could conceivably do such a thing, walking the halls of any audio show of size can be a bit exhausting. After three days and over one hundred rooms navigating the crowds and the noise (Good sound loud or not so good loud) can give your ears a fatigue that makes one long for silence sometimes. For this reason, I tend to schedule a trip to the Zesto Audio room for the final day of a show. George and Carolyn Counnas always have a room of impeccable sound quality that, for me, is an audio oasis where my ears can recover. I had been hoping for the chance to have their gear in house.
Imagine my delight when the Zesto Audio Andros 1.2 tube Phonostage preamplifier arrived for review. The Andros 1.2 is crafted with the same graceful aesthetic as the rest of the Zesto line-up which is to say four glorious ECC83S gold pin tubes set in a reflective case that shows the glass off like jewellery.
After installing the valves with the included white glove, I adjusted the settings on the back to match my Ortofon Cadenza Bronze moving coil cartridge. The switches and dials for the settings are well labelled. MM and MC connections and setting are each located in specific zones making setup straightforward. I used the single ended output from the moving coil area utilizing AudioQuest Water cables. Input cables were from VPI from my VPI Prime Signature turntable.
Zesto Audio’s very well written user manual is specific about turning on the Andros 1.2 before the rest of your audio system and giving it five minutes of warm-up first. Each Andros 1.2 arrives with a factory burn in of 50 hours and will reach optimal performance at 100 hours. My experience concurs with these recommendations as the output reaches peak fullness around the 100-hour mark. The manual gives some recommendations for tube rolling. I used the supplied valves for my listening.
I had recently watched the movie Rocketman about the life of Elton John. Inspired by this I started listening to Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy’s ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ [Mercury]. Jumping out at me was the attack on the piano keys; precise but not strident. Tonality was pure and uncoloured. The drum kit is centred with excellent decay of the strike. Compared to my reference Simaudio Moon 610LP phono pre the Zesto Andros 1.2 offered up slightly more colour. A bit more body reminding me of my Cary SLI-80 integrated; it has ‘tube sound’ but does not distort or dominate the performance. The difference in character was quite enjoyable.
Moving on to something with great dynamics, I queued up Tower of Power’s What is Hip [Sheffield Lab]. This album is a direct to disc recording and the performance really pops. Valve gear in general has a mostly unfair reputation for slow response and overly ‘tubey’ or ‘valvey’ sound. Gear like that will struggle with this recording. Not so the Zesto Andros 1.2. Tower of Powers’ terrific speed and precision is shown to great effect as the horn section alongside the bass and drums deliver a staccato performance. Fortissimo peaks rise, transitions fall to seeming silence as this fast paced and powerful tune moves forward. The Andros 1.2 was up to the challenge. This tube-based phono pre effortlessly delivered to range and power required. The jump of the band translated through without any hesitation. Complex horns and saxophones offered up perfect tone and rasp alongside precise guitar work. There are several versions of What is Hip out from the band, but this live direct to disc version is my personal favourite. It was blissful listening to it via the Andros 1.2. I had been concerned that the Andros 1.2, being valve-based, would not be able to offer the precision and speed I enjoyed so much from the Moon 610LP. After the Tower of Power demonstration those concerns were completely removed.
Now it was time for a classic nuance and sense of space audio trip with Shelby Lynne’s title track to Just a Little Lovin’[UMG Recording]. An audio show favorite, this tune showcases many desired traits audio fans seek in their gear. One of these is a sense of space within the recording room. You can almost sense the room dimensions within this recording. The rim shots from the snare drum reverberate and decay in a way that allows the listener to ‘walk’ the room during the playback. The high hat has the appropriate sizzle and the bass is powerful but controlled. The instruments frame Shelby’s beautiful and haunting voice with a firm delicacy setting the mood of a lazy morning. The Andros 1.2 helps draw you in and feel the connection with this nuanced imagery in a way only a well-engineered component can. In short, it’s all very well done!
Certain bands are fun not just because of great song writing and musicianship but also because they offer unusual instrumentation. Morphine is one such band featuring two stringed slide Bass Guitar, Baritone Sax and Drums. Led by two string Bass player, Mark Sandman, they were a Popular Boston based group until Sandman’s early death from an on-stage heart attack at age 46. The fun rhythm’s and unique sound due to their choice of instruments makes for a great discovery for new fans. Their album Cure for Pain (1993 Ryko) features a track called Buena that showcases their great sound and unique delivery putting lower register instruments to the fore to great effect. Sandman’s plucking and tapping drive the song as the Baritone Sax played by Dana Colley provides a deep and powerful melody. Jerome Dupree’s drum’s provide foundational rhythm and syncopation. Once again, the Andros 1.2 lets the fun come through. The vibration from the two string slide bass brackets the guitar’s tone while the baritone rasp of the saxophone plows the lower registers. The drumstick tip on skin is presented as live with just the right amount of “snick” for an authentic strike. The ability of the Andros 1.2 to offer a holistic presentation is a trait I greatly appreciate and one that places the Andros 1.2 in fine company among high end Phonostage Preamplifiers.
Wrapping up my time with the Andros 1.2 I selected a long-time personal favourite, ‘Fires at Midnight’ from Jethro Tull’s Songs from the Wood album [Parlaphone]. A song that evokes late nights around a fire with friends, Fire’s at Midnight features some great licks from Ian Anderson’s flute. Tones are perfect and the breath through the instrument comes through nicely. Surrounded by guitars, bass and drums the signature sounds of the band shine through. It is a sprightly tune with a relaxed and calming message that the Andros 1.2 delivers beautifully as the dénouement for a wonderful experience.
So why did we review an amp with no local distribution? Simple – Hi-Fi+ is an international title and we included the Andros 1.2 in a UK-based magazine because Zesto should be in the UK – get the hint, distributors!
The Phonostage Preamplifier occupies an interesting spot in an audio system. It is a pre-pre-amplifier. Matching it with the rest of a system is critical as it is amplifying the likely weakest audio signal in the systems chain. We hear the phrase, if the first watt is bad then more won’t help, well if the attenuation of the first 0.2 is bad then the rest of your gear won’t matter either. It is important to find that component that offers synergy with the rest of your carefully chosen system. The flexibility of the Zesto Audio Andros 1.2 Phonostage Preamplifier provides a solid foundation for that compatibility. In addition, the high-quality hand-built assembly process offering audiophile grade components and gold pin tube choice will add to the qualities of your results. From Moving Magnet to a wide range of Moving Coil cartridges the Andros 1.2 can accommodate most cartridge choices. The device itself is right sized to allow a wide range of system placement and at 20 lbs. it will not break your back moving it around. Did I mention it is a visually beautiful unit? Great sound for listening and pride of ownership build quality and aesthetics make the Zesto Audio Andros 1.2 a must audition piece for your system and a reasonable price of $4,700.
Inputs: MM and MC Single ended or MC transformer balanced phono stage
MC Ground On/Off Switch
MM Impedance: 47K or 15K Ohms
MM Capacitance: 200pf
MC Impedance: 1000, 800, 600, 400, 300, 200, 100, 50, 20 Ohms
MC High/Low switch: with -3dB for high output MC cartridges
Outputs per channel: Impedance 10k Ohms, +6V max output level
Power consumption: 27W, 0 drain when off
Voltage: 110/120 AC 60Hz standard (Optional factory installed 220V or 230/240V AC 50/60Hz)
Connector: Standard 3 Pin IEC
Power: ON/Off switch on the side
Power Supply: Two internal high quality linear regulated power supplies 250V and 12V
Tubes: Four (4) Gold Pin ECC83S vacuum tubes
Sockets: High quality Gold pin ceramic sockets
Gain MM input: 47dB
Gain MC input: 67dB
Noise: -75dBu below max output
Frequency response: Complies to RIAA curve within +or- 0.5dB
Features: RIAA curve achieved using a passive filter
1% metal film resistors throughout
Polypropylene capacitors throughout the audio path
All units are made by hand
Dimensions (WxHxD): 43 × 12.7 x 30.4cm
Two-year limited warranty – six months on original tubes
Price: $4,700 USD
Manufactured by: Zesto Audio
Tel: +1(805) 807 1841
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