April 2013 Lawrence Devoe/Jeff Dorgay, Toneaudio Magazine (USA)
AVID, a Kimbolton, UK-based firm has been turning out some mighty impressive turntables for more than a decade now, and their recent pursuit of phono preamplifier designs, equally so.
AVID’s mission statement is simply this: “The truth, nothing more, nothing less.” Of course, the “truth” is one of the most elusive subjects in the audio world. Is it the sonic realism of a live performance, the accurate reproduction of a studio master tape or something else? If beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, then audio truth resides in the ear of the listener. From my perspective, audio truth is told when the essence of a recording, good, bad or indifferent, is revealed without additions or subtractions. Having lived with many (and I mean many) phonostages at widely ranging price points, I now investigate the baby of the AVID family, and see how much truth the Pellar serves up.
AVID: A Very Interesting Design.
Before getting the Pellar phonostage into my system, a look under the hood reveals a straightforward, unbalanced circuit, and high quality parts on the circuit board of this all solid-state design. The compact chassis (2.75” (H) x 4” (W) x 9” (D)] has a single power switch on the front panel and is a rather solid little brick, weighing 3.5 pounds. The rear panel has a power cord receptacle, stereo RCA outputs, and a tandem of RCA inputs, with the upper pair of RCA jacks used for impedance loading, much like the Naim Superline does.
The Pellar arrives with two 500 Ohm RCA plugs for this purpose, and this should work with a wide range of phono cartridges. Other values are available on request, or you can make your own. The default impedance without the plugs installed is 47K ohms. The turntable is connected to the Pellar via the lower set of inputs. Gain can be easily adjusted by sliding a pair of dipswitches from 40 dB (adequate for most MM cartridges) to 60 dB or 70 dB (adequate for most lower output MC cartridges). Considering the complexity of many high-end phonostages, the Pellar is simplicity itself, resulting in a very quick unbox to enjoy music time.
Staging the Phonostage
Since the Pellar is billed as AVID’s entry level phonostage at $1,149 (the top-of-the-heap two-box Pulsare II will set you back $7,000), I mated it with my modified VPI Aries with outboard flywheel and JMW 10.5i tonearm. For this review, I alternated two stereo MC cartridges, the higher output Clearaudio Stradivari (0.8 mv @ 5 cm/sec) and the low output Dynavector DV-20×2 (0.3 mv @ 5 cm/sec). A Benz Micro Ruby 3H (0.7 mv @ 5 cm/sec) handled the mono LPs. After a 48 hour power up, serious listening began in earnest.
Retrieval of detail is a good measure of a phonostage’s noise floor. Simply put, the lower the noise floor the more detail you get from the grooves. Sheila, an intimate duet between jazz vocalist Sheila Jordan and bassist Arild Andersen (SteepleChase), is an easy way to evaluate this aspect of phonostage performance. The proof in the pudding is hearing Sheila’s husky voice move toward and away from the mike and catching the short breaths that she takes between phrases. Meanwhile, you should also hear the varying harmonics of Andersen’s finger work on his bass. The Pellar does a fantastic job on musical fundamentals.
Ry Cooder’s Jazz, an unabashed homage to ragtime and Dixieland music is a great example of a studio recording not victim of excess tweaking and one with with great recreation of voice and each of the small group of instruments involved. The opening track “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now) clearly illustrates the Pellar’s ability to keep the vocals on track with all of the horns spread out across the soundstage, giving the illusion of these players in the room.
Encouraged by the ease at which the Pellar handled this favorite, the big stuff was next. The classic recording of the Verdi Requiem with Sir Georg Solti leading a fabulous quartet of soloists, the Musikverein chorus and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra proved another excellent challenge that the Pellar aced. The Decca tonmeisters have always known how to get the most out of a huge surge of orchestral and vocal music. The Pellar never feels overwhelmed with “Kyrie” section, one of the most dynamic choral passages ever written – a tough challenge for any analog front end.
If I had to pick one mono LP to demonstrate how good a phonostage can make mono records sound, it would be the 45 RPM reissue of Ella and Louis (Analogue Productions). Not a dud cut on the record and what presence Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong have! The Pellar mated to the Benz Micro Ruby 3H gets me very close to the vocal cords of these two jazz legends, and excited
What Do You Get For A G-Note?
Occasionally one of my audio buddies will ask me, “hey, I’m getting back into analog, so how much should I spend on a phonostage?” The Pellar’s resolving power and soundstage recreation might not reach the highest sound realms of my reference Pass XP-25 (to be had at ten times the price!) but it does provide a genuine peek at what audio heaven sounds like. You get a lot of what the audio in-crowd venerates with enough coin left over to buy… a whole bunch of vinyl records. The AVID Pellar becomes my definite contender for one of the audio bargains of the year and an easy, suggestion for a friend who wants to rediscover the magic residing in those black vinyl grooves, that won’t break the bank.
– Lawrence Devoe
Having spent a fair amount of time with both of AVID’s more expensive phono stages, the Pulsus and the first generation Pulsare, there is definitely a family resemblance here. All three phonostages have a similar sound: a natural tonal balance with good dynamics and a low noise floor. Much like the AVID turntables, each phonostage in the range has increasingly more dynamic punch, low level detail and low frequency heft.
That being said, the Pellar is remarkably good for $1,149. I gave it a spin with a few of the tables in my stable here, the Linn LP-12/Shure V15 mxvr and the AVID Ingenium/SME 309/Ortofon 2M Black, both a good fit for the MM side of the equation. As for MC, the Pellar works phenomenally well with the $379 Denon 103DL. Combined with the Ingenium, this is a tough combination to beat for a prudent audiophile. You will need to get 100-ohm loading plugs or get out the soldering iron, however.
Perhaps the best part of owning the AVID Pellar is that you can just turn it on, forget about it, and enjoy your vinyl collection, no matter what turntable you have. Highly recommended.
- Jeff Dorgay
December 2012 Paul Rigby, HIFI World Magazine (5 Globes) UK
Absolutely Wizard !
The first design in AVID's phono preamp range was the top, twin-box, Pulsare (now Pulsare II). From that, the cheaper Pellere was developed, then the Pulsus and now, cheaper again, is this new model, the Pellar - Cornish for wizard.
The idea behind this approach is to reduce the cost of the previous product as much as possible without reducing the quality. This approach gives the next model down a high benchmark to live up to. That even extends to basic phono amp features like loading, "On the Pellar, 47k is the default loading," said AVID boss, Conrad Mas, "which is for a moving magnet cartridge. If you want to change that, you add externally fitted 'loading plugs' to the required value, to get the loading you want for a moving coil".
Looking like a couple of RCA terminations, the plugs are packed with a resistor which matches your cartridge and plugs into the back of the Pellar's chassis. "It also means that you don't have to go inside the box and mess around with jumper sockets and various other things like that. I don't like people going inside boxes because that is where trouble begins. Whether that they damage the box or touch something they should not do and something goes bang. It's not a good idea," said Mas.
Although the Pellar uses basic DIP switch gain adjustment, located underneath the chassis, because of the introduction of loading plugs, the phono amp doesn't depend on the usual complex DIP switch array which can degrade the sound.
Taking the Pulsus as a template, AVID "have scrunched up the board so that we have made all the components a lot closer together," said Mas.
The casework is slightly longer than the Pulsus because the power supply is inside. AVID decided to go internal than rely on a cheaper wall-wart. "Those external power blocks that you plug into a wall? They are awful, horrible, nasty things. If you get three of them and measure all three then they will all measure differently. They are notoriously unreliable".
Anyone concerned about a rise in distortive noise should, according to Mas relax. "If you listen to the phono stage you will find that because of the design of the circuit, we have pretty much eliminated the noise issue."
Spanning 305x250x110mm and weighing just 2.2kg, the Pellar is a neat system, but at £600, is this budget phono amp truly 'budget'? Mas is adamant, "AVID is my company and I will always make a product that I would buy myself and listen to myself. And frankly, below £600 I would be pushing to make anything I would want sit down and listen to."
Plugging in my T+A G10 and spinning Yehudi Menuhin’s Mendelssohn and Bruch Concerto's (HiQ) and Bruch's 'Violin Concerto No.I in G minor Op.26', the Pellar showed rock solid stereo image that not only fixed Menuhin to the soundstage but also produced a balanced backdrop for the orchestra, supplementing texture with a believable degree of support that added colour and depth to Menuhin's exertions. The Pellar allowed the orchestra to leap from the rear of the soundstage, becoming wholly involved in the performance.
As for Menuhin himself? The Pellar allowed the great man's violin to roam; it followed his more delicate turns of phrase that moved with a combination of romance and heartbreak, to a more robust, almost confrontational aspect. The upper mids stretched and metamorphosed along with Menuhin's mood. Bass was not a major player here but what there was was quietly confident and supportive.
Moving to jazz vocal and the original Chris Conner album, 'He Love Me, He Loves Me Not' (Atlantic). On 'High On A Windy Hill', the Conner voice has a brushed, husky flavour which gives any song she sings a distinct delivery. Here, however, the Pellar added a lightness of touch to the voice that, while still retaining that textural husky nature, reminded my ear that this was a lady singing and not several sheets of sandpaper flying in formation. The lightness of tone gave Conner vulnerability, plus a degree of emotional helplessness to the delivery, the midrange being full of detail that added to the song. The harp was helped by clarity in both the upper mids and treble while the carefully restrained percussion added enough bass to bring a level of structure to the arrangement.
Moving to rock and King Crimson's 'Three Of A Perfect Pair' which really worked the Spendor S3-5R2's bass abilities. Partly with Bill Bruford's adept and flighty percussive power but also bass player, tony Levin, who kept the track moving with his complex finger work. The Pellar was up to the task here, tracking lower frequencies with aplomb. There is a slight excess in compression on this mix which can lead to a slight lifting in the upper mids, especially when lead singer, Adrian Below, hits a crescendo. The Pellar recognised that the compression was there and certainly flagged the effect but its relatively high resolution helped to prevent pain to the ears.
Moving to MC and back to Menuhin, the Pellar offered a clean, low distortion approach that gave the violin a certain clarity and sparkle. The Pellar majored on the big picture, broadcasting the epic quality of this track. Bass was big and portentous while the midrange was epic. With delicate emotion, the Pellar addressed the orchestra on equal terms, giving the second violin section a more significant role in the track. Nothing short of democratic in how it addressed the arrangement, the Pellar offered a balanced transcription of the track.
Via Conner's jazz ballad, the Pellar took a broader point of view rather than concentrating on her husky delivery. It continued to address her emotional interpretation but restrained the smoky nature of the Conner vocal a touch, encouraging the backing band to take a greater role, bringing in the bass that rooted the track in a solid manner and the upper mids of the wind instruments.
The sense of clarity promoted by the Pellar was emphasised within King Crimson's rock track. The soundstage offer such a low noise platform that bass was free to articulate itself in a supremely precise manner. The complex bass guitar was easily discerned, percussion was both crisp and punchy while the upper mids offered no bloom, no smearing or stridency, just damn good performance that belied its price.
CONCLUSION; Because the Pellar cuts the sonic rubbish out of the aural picture, the low distortion sound provides excellent instrumental separation that allows the ear to pick up subtle sounds that are often hidden behind the distortion, giving music an evenly representative presentation, addressing the mix as a whole.
VERDICT; The Pellar opens up the mids while cleaning up the bass to provide a high resolution output.
FOR; Value for money - design - overall sound quality - flexibility
October 2012 Ed Selley, HIFI Choice Magazine (5 Stars) UK
AVID is best known for its extensive range of turntables that make use of a sophisticated damping system that contributes to their distinctive appearance. In parallel, the company has also moved into phono stages and having already released the Pulsare and Pulsus, is entering the sub £1,000 category for the first time with the £600 Pellar.
The Pellar is a simplified Pulsus. The most obvious example of this simplification is that the Pellar is a single chassis containing both the electronics and the power supply, while its bigger brother has an offboard one. The two designs share some components and both make use of passive RIAA circuit as an aspect of the design.
The Pellar is capable of both moving magnet and moving coil operation. Out of the box, it comes set for moving magnet cartridges and has a default resistance of 47 Kohms, which should be ideal for most moving magnet cartridges. The Pellar can then be set for moving coil operation via a series of dip switches on the underside (and thank you AVID for not putting them under the hood!) with high and low gain settings available. Resistance for moving coils is a bit more involved than some rival designs.
The rear of the Pellar has an additional pair of phono connections to which you can add loading plugs to suit your cartridge. There are two ways of looking at this approach. It is more complex than designs where load is selected by switch, but equally, you can select resistors that are exactly what your system needs for optimal replay results.
Visually, the Pellar is best described as 'no nonsense'. The black casework has a single visible control in the form of the power switch with LED and an AVID logo for adornment and that's your lot. This might not be the most visually striking device going, but fit and finish is excellent and I was impressed with some of the design touches like the rubber feet that provide good traction if the Pellar is placed on an amp, while at the same time avoiding marking it. AVID also provides a five year warranty which is impressive and generally suggests that they feel construction is pretty solid, too!
Connecting the Pellar to my Michell GyroDec, Roksan Tabriz and Dynavector DV20X combination, the overriding initial impression is how quite it is. Background noise is a non-event on clean vinyl and even older pressings are still largely free of any audible interference. Once you stop listening for things that aren't there and pay attention to things that are, the news is equally positive...
The Pellar is open, explicit and always entertaining. Two Dancers, the latest release from Wild Beasts is an eclectic mix of falsetto voices, potent percussion and stark guitar work. The AVID latches on to the rhythm of the title track and arranges the complex layers of voices and instruments in a wonderfully open and easy to follow presentation. Details that can be lost in the overall mix are reproduced without seeming forced or out of place. Tonality is good without being overblown.
Compared to something like the slightly pricier Primare R32, the AVID can seem a little lean, but the more I listened, the more I came to prefer this calm and slightly more 'matter of fact' presentation of the Pellar. This honesty extends to a stark performance with poorer recordings, but it rendered nothing unlistenable.
The Pellar is also something of a champ in terms of timing. It could be argued that connected between a Michell GyroDec and Naim SuperNait, it is unlikely that any phono stage would be lacking in this regard, but there was no question for me that the Pellar is seriously accomplished with up-tempo material. Better still, this doesn't spill over to 'forcing' slower recordings. Part of this is down to the low end drive it possesses. Bass is deep and full of texture that gives the necessary sense of realism to pieces. This low end shove is extremely well controlled and starts and stops with the agility that sits at the root of all good timing.
The Pellar is a welcome addition to the ranks of phono stages at the price. It's well built, flexible in terms of cartridge choice and has a genuinely appealing presentation that is an intelligent mix of enthusiasm and accuracy. AVID should be very pleased with its new arrival, and it warrants inclusion on any audition shortlist.