The deHavilland UltraVerve
The deHavilland UltraVerve preamplifier is unique in look and design. One's first visual impression is the tubes sticking proudly out the top of the unit. The tubes glow beautifully and the overall look is very interesting. The octal tube design is by Kara Chafee and is an upgrade to the well-received Verve Preamplifier. The UltraVerve's audio tubes are 6SN7 GT, GTA, GTB, and its one rectifier tube is a 5U4. Dimensions are 12" by 18" by 6" with two controls, volume and source, on a gold tinted, brushed aluminum faceplate. There are individual volume controls at the back of the unit to balance the channel outputs.
I asked if deHavilland would send me its power amplifiers (30 watt mono blocks) so that I might get a full understanding of the sound of its products without the interference of any other manufacturer's signature sound. The amplifiers each use a single, high output, radio broadcast quality tube, coupled through a transformer directly to the speaker. They also invert phase, therefore the resultant combination is in phase.
The combination of the UltraVerve preamp and power amps was truly ear opening. On first listening, the combination was inhibited -- the sound had not yet opened up. Switching to the new Acoustic Zen cables, they made a difference immediately. The sound tightened and quickened. Instruments were round and three dimensional. My experience has been that the cables would take several days to warm up and really do their magic. I was sure the same was true for the amp and pre-amp, so I played the system for several days without listening critically.
deHavilland explains the topology and philosophy of its UltraVerve on its basic, but informative, website: 'We developed this line stage to complement our 845 single ended triode amplifier. One of the things we achieved was to design a preamp that did not damage the dynamic quality of the music. The (Ultra)Verve line stage is a true zero negative feedback Class A design. The octal tube complement coupled with tube rectification produces a huge, full-bodied soundstage and an angelically sweet and dynamic midrange. This preamp is just a joy to listen through. The Verve preamplifier features 100% hand wired point-to-point circuitry in the audio as well as the power supply circuit. The front panel is heavy anodized aluminum with engraved nomenclature that has been enamel filled for a long cosmetic life. The chassis is heavy duty powder coated black aluminum. It features a soft start turn on circuit for gentle startup. The design places very little stress on the tube compliment. This assures extremely long service and sonic life of the tubes.' A heady description indeed!
After the break in period, my first response was 'wow!' Could a preamp make such a big difference to what I considered a well-balanced, highly-musical setup? Could it be doing anything wrong? The music from my system seemed so much smoother, warmer and more musical. The soundstage became round and the imaging was superb. Even CD sources lost much of their edge and reminded me of some recent experiences listening to SACD!
Jazz at the Pawnshop (First Impression Music FIM 034): The SACD sounds like the original vinyl. The CD was recorded at a small venue where everything is, for some mysterious reason, just right. You want to call for a waiter to get something to drink because this smoky club has made your throat dry. You can hear the glasses tinkling, you turn, but there is no waiter there. The instruments are right in front of you, and the drums can overwhelm you. Still, you wouldn't change your seat with anyone.
Cantate Domino (Proprius PRCD 7762): The reaction of sound to the cavernous height and rounded rear wall of the cathedral is clearly heard as are the individual voices of the choir. The sound is mysterious and hollow. The voices are warm and the stone around them cold. Even though I was doing my listening over Christmas, this disc transported me to a colder climate. I had to lower the volume at one point when I noticed a little midrange distortion on highly complex and dynamic vocals -- it was only then that I realized that I was playing the CD at louder-than-live levels!
The Future by Leonard Cohen (Columbia CK 53226): His voice is round, powerful and smooth. It is especially moving on Waiting for the Miracle to Come. The deHavilland's velvet presentation forgave a coarseness that was evident from my reference system. This recording opened up with a wide and deep soundstage, with the instruments distributed in the three dimensional space.
Pictures at an Exhibition by Moussorgsky, with Lorin Maazel and The Cleveland Orchestra (Telarc CD 80042): The wide stage, clear back wall, the breathing of the bassoonist, the flipping of the music sheets, the rosin on the bows (yes, individual violins) were all there. In fact it was all there until the last passage of the Great Gate of Kiev when the crescendo and the power of the timpani overwhelmed the amplifiers.
Rumours: Fleetwood Mac (Warner Brothers DVD audio 9 48083-9): On my favorite selection, Silver Springs, Stevie Nicks never sounded as real. The throatiness of her voice was clear and full. The stage was large and deep. My only wish was that I could reach performance volume.
Misty River Rising (MRCD001): Misty River performed live at 'The Show' at the San Remo Hotel in Las Vegas. They are a female country blues band with musical and vocal harmonies that carry you away. The performance coincided with an intriguing audio demonstration - a live to recorded comparison. Christopher Huston, a recording engineer who has recorded Led Zeppelin among others, was on hand with a mixing console creating the comparisons. The live sound of this group was sweet and beautiful. The voices and instruments, (except the bass) were blending to create an emotion that swept through the room and silenced criticism. I quickly purchased two of their CDs to try on systems at the show, and my system at home for comparison. The synergy between instrument and great artist can create an intoxicating feeling within the listener. This Misty River concert was such an event. I held on to the CDs anxiously on my way home.
Listening to Misty River from the cozy confines of my listening room, some of the soft detail and warmth of the live show was lost. However, on some dynamite mixes, I was transported from home to hall! Was I being conned by my recent live, visceral experience? Would the feeling be there on other recordings? Lets try: Herbert Von Karajan's rendition of Vivaldi's Four Seasons (Sony SVD 46380) with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra on DVD: The soloist Anne - Sophie Mutter can be seen as she emotes through her violin, you feel the joy of spring, the sadness of autumn. Back to Leonard Cohen's voice in Waiting for the Miracle to Come -- the 'complete' feeling is still there. The UltraVerve was consistent in its brilliance. Everything was clear. Even the vertical perspective was there.
For comparison, I switched from the deHavilland amps to my updated Quicksilver MS 190 amp. The immediacy of emotion from the UltraVerve preamp was still there, but somewhat diluted by the Quicksilvers. Power was there in abundance, but the synergy from the deHavilland products was a tough act to beat.
The preamp by itself sweetened the sound and made my system more three-dimensional. It is unfortunate that this preamp lacks a phono section. I would have loved to hear what it could do with vinyl. However, what it did for digital sources was good enough. As such, the deHavilland UltraVerve definitely deserves your most serious consideration. The warmth and three-dimensional sound it added to my system was wonderful. If you get a chance to hear the UltraVerve with deHavilland amplifiers, then more power to you. The synergy will really move you.
Complete report at http://www.audiophilia.com/hardware/ml1.htm