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AVID - Pulsus Phono Preamp

Phono Preamps

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Avid Pulsus Phono Preamp and Power Supply Upgrade

The Avid Pulsus is an amazing-sounding phonostage and outboard power supply - all at one great price. The Pulsus is a single-ended, true dual-mono design, which keeps the noise floor exceptionally low. Distortion across the audio spectrum is almost immeasurable. This phono preamp offers impressive headroom, great dynamics, fantastic amounts of detail, and a warmth of character common to all of Avid’s award-winning products. This phonostage will mate with any MM or MC cartridge (all adjustable underneath the unit) and its sonic signature is pure and true. You will be shocked when you hear all of your LPs played back with this level of detail.

Avid's Pulsare established a new benchmark in sound quality that a phonostage can achieve. Pulsus embodies the experience gained during the development of the Pulsare to design this high quality but economically priced phonostage. Many of the Pulsare's features have been retained such as the switchable flexibility and separate power supply.

"...why waste time and money slowly inching your way up the entry-level ladder when you can get one of these now? You'll enjoy every last drop of performance your entry-level turntable has to offer and appreciate the more expensive rig you someday hope for when that day comes."
– Ed Kobesky, Positive Feedback

The Pulsus employs extremely high-specification components for its retail cost. Inputs and outputs are both gold-plated RCA. Gain, resistance and capacitance are all easily adjustable from the underside of the casework and offer exceptional flexibility and ease of use. A passive RIAA (with Neumann HF correction) circuit using high-end capacitors, helps maintain linearity of reproduction, and an external regulated power supply provides refined smooth power to maintain its poise.

The Pulsus is passionately manufactured entirely in Avid's own facilities, everything from PCB assembly, testing and quality control to the high quality casework ensures a long lasting reliable product, all at a very affordable price. The Avid Pulsus is a stunning achievement and it comes with our highest recommendation.

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Pro Reviews
July 2011 Ed Kobesky, Positive Feedback (USA)

I used to pass a Land Rover dealership on my commute and fell hopelessly in love with the LR3 V8. A test drive confirmed it was the toughest, cleverest, most regal and invincible car in its class. I was so smitten that I bought a Volvo XC90. Why? Because really, with reliability ratings near—or sometimes at—the very bottom of the charts, that Rover was inevitably going to break my heart.

What the entire British car industry should do is start visiting their counterparts in audio manufacturing. Anyone ever heard of a Rega breaking down? I had a 30-year-old Planar 3 that was recently passed on to yet another owner. My Spendor speakers will probably outlast me with a little maintenance here and there. Okay, sure, there have been exceptions but I have yet to have an issue with any piece of British made audio gear, new or vintage.

And so it seems with Avid. Their Diva II is built like a tank. It was supremely confident and effortlessly resolving—though also slightly aloof for my tastes. Granted, I like my analog to sound really analog, which is to say I'm skeptical of any turntable design conceived after, say, 1975. So it was with a mix of both excitement and trepidation that I welcomed Avid's new mid-priced phono preamplifier, the Pulsus.

I knew it would be thoughtfully engineered and well constructed in the same relentlessly purposeful manner as the company's turntables. I also suspected it would probably be resolving beyond its price point. My concern was, what if—like some other phono preamps in its price range—it was a little too focused on detail retrieval? That could make for a thrilling listen for those some, but certainly not for me.

After listening for a few hours, clearly I was wrong in terms of not only my expectations but also the company's design philosophy. The Pulsus isn't designed to sound like the company's turntables, or amplify any aspects of their performance. It's designed to get out of the way. Basically, throughout the course of my listening, it sounded like whatever it was connected to. It makes me think Avid should start working on a line stage, too.

The design is simple and purposeful. Two boxes: one housing the power supply, the other with everything else, connected via a captive umbilical. Three sets of easily accessible DIP switches on the bottom of the main unit allow the user to select from a vast array of gain and loading settings that should suit just about any cartridge on the market. I wish the umbilical cord were black instead of an ugly shade of gray. I'd be hard pressed to criticize the design beyond that.

It took me all of ten minutes to get it unpacked and hooked up. Setting the DIP switches to suit a given cartridge will be self-explanatory to most vinyl enthusiasts. The instruction manual offers a simple and useful explanation of its functions that will be helpful for novices. I tried moving the power supply to the left and right of the main unit and also relocating it to higher and lower shelves on my rack for better isolation. It didn't make any audible difference. Keeping the two units a half-foot apart in any direction was sufficient.

When the Avid arrived, I was using a phono stage with tube output because, frankly, it sounds tubey and I like that. Swapping it out for the Avid didn't provide the same jarring experience as switching to, say, my old Audio Research. The Avid lacked the coloration (and noise) of the tube unit but didn't sound conspicuously solid-state. In this case, it sounded like a 1980s Linn because that's what was playing through it. The sound was grippy and highly tuneful above all with a focus on musical flow.

I've long believed that, unless you're an incurable experimenter like me, you should buy the best phono stage you can afford on day one. So naturally I was keen to test my theory with a nice Harman/Kardon from the 1980s—the kind of thing one could pick up for $200 or $300 on the used market. The Pulsus let its strengths shine right on through, including good rhythm and timing with a fair sense of air and space. Yet it didn't ruthlessly rat out the table's mediocre bass performance or cabinet-induced colorations. The Avid focuses on the music. Hooked up to a Rega, it sounded like a Rega—pacey, a bit dry. You get the idea by now.

I was hard pressed to identify any overt character or significant deviation from neutrality. Unlike a lot of phono stages, this one won't hold back any front end at or near its price point in any way. The flip side is that if your table/arm/cartridge are already aggressive or overly explicit, the Avid won't step in and tone things down. I didn't have an Avid turntable on hand, but something tells me I'd love the massive soundstage and pinpoint imaging I've come to expect from the firm, while being somewhat less than enthusiastic about the conspicuously structured sound. Most others would probably be enthralled.

You should also know that, in addition to its long list of strengths, the Pulsus is extremely quiet, even with the lowest low-output moving coil cartridges in my collection. I tried using step up transformers, both of which were admittedly low priced, and preferred the sound without them. Moving magnet or moving coil (or moving iron), high output or low, the Pulsus always delivered the goods.

At $1599, it's not cheap but, like Avid's entry-level turntables, makes a fantastic argument for itself. First, it offers some degree of trickle-down engineering from the $4999 Pulsare, though less obviously than in the company's turntable range. Second, it's essentially neutral and works well with a wide range of turntables, arms and cartridges. Third, it's totally un-fussy and made to last a good long time. Finally, for novices, it begs the question, why waste time and money slowly inching your way up the entry-level ladder when you can get one of these now? You'll enjoy every last drop of performance your entry-level turntable has to offer and appreciate the more expensive rig you someday hope for when that day comes.

So, an unqualified recommendation for Avid's Pulsus. Whether you're shopping in this price range or not it deserves a listen. It may convince you to spend a little less than you expected, or a little more than you'd hoped. Either way, unless you yearn for some specific coloration, the Avid will provide as spacious, bold, detailed, tuneful, and layered a performance as your front end is capable of; up to and somewhat beyond its price point. It will also last a long time. If I ever decide to start living in the analog present, this is likely the phono stage I'll buy.

November 2010 Deon Schoeman, AudioVideo South Africa (ZA)

Phono pre-amps face a tricky task. They have to receive the often miniscule signal from a phono cartridge (especially if the cartridge is a low-output moving coil design) and then amplify that signal to a level where it can be accepted by the line-level input of a pre-amp.

Vitally, it needs to retain the integrity of that signal, while not injecting any external artefacts - especially noise - to the process. And to make matters worse, the phono stage needs to be able to deal with the idiosyncrasies of individual cartridges, including the often critical resistance loading.

The resurgence of vinyl and its associated hardware has seen a revitalised demand for phono stages, especially since modern integrated amps and pre-amps rarely cater for phono applications - and even more rarely for low-output MC cartridges.

The Avid Pulsus is the second phono stage offered by the UK manufacturer of turntables such as the Diva II, the Volvere and the Acutus. It’s effectively a stripped-down version of Avid’s high-end Pulsare phono stage, but retains key elements such as extensive configurability and an off-board power supply.

The two-box device consists of a the main control unit and the power supply, both contained in all-metal casework finished in industrial matt black with white Avid graphics. The control unit offers a pair of gold-plated RCA inputs and an accompanying ground lug, as well as a matching pair of RCA outputs. A dedicated XLR-style socket accepts the juice from the separate power supply.

The underside of the phono stage features a series of jumpers, arranged symmetrically for the left and right channels. These allow gain, resistance and capacitance to be adjusted to ensure close compatibility with any number of cartridges across the moving magnet and moving coil spectrum.

Under the covers, the selected-quality circuit components include top-class capacitors, while the regulated power supply is a key design feature aimed at ensuring very low noise levels.

I ran the Pulsus in conjunction with my Linn LP12/Ittok/Ortofon Cadenza Black record deck, as well as with my Avid Diva II/Origin Live Encounter/Benz Micro Wood L2 deck. A Rega 3/OL1/Ortofon 2M Red combo was used to try out the Pulsus with a MM source.

Starting with Holly Cole’s ‘Don’t’ Smoke In Bed’, the Pulsus displayed a lively, pacey delivery. This is a phono stage that has plenty of attack. It never allowed the heavy bass passages to sound flabby or overpowering: the sonorous bass guitar snapped and crackled with energy.

Cole’s voice was rendered with richness, but never to the point of sounding bloated or over-saturated. Her vocals were allowed to soar unfettered above the instruments, the soundstage providing plenty of air and space. The Pulsus always retained its grip on the music, but never let that grip stifle the performance.

The Avid picked up the nuances and details in the music with ease. It facilitated an unencumbered view of the music, with every instrument, every voice, clearly audible and clearly contextualised. By extracting the strong emotional content of the performance, the Pulsus also promoted close involvement with the music.

The phono pre-amp proved to be a good companion for the Ortofon Cadenza Black - it acknowledged the cartridge’s revealing treble and deep bass, as well as its penchant for wide open spaces and extremely low noise levels, talking of which, this is a very quiet phono pre-amp.

Moving on to Bob Dylan’s ‘Together Through Life’ double set, the Pulsus treated the rollicking, hillbilly arrangements and Dylan’s hoarse, asinine voice with deferent accuracy. Again, it showcased the tremendous tonal range of the Cadenza Black, yet never allowed the big, resonant acoustic bass to dominate - even though it bordered on sounding too boisterous at times.

The Avid achieved excellent stereo focus and paid close attention to fine detail, which made for a powerful, enthralling sound picture. Not only did the instruments sound compelling and real, with almost tangible body and presence, but there was integrity and a cohesion to the music that made the music seem alive and, well, real. Again, the noise floor was extremely low, adding to the almost visceral quality of the sound.

One of my current favourite LPs is Jeff Beck’s ‘Emotion and Commotion’. Master guitarist Beck’s searing, passionate guitar can cut a sound system to ribbons, but the Pulsus managed to retain the attack and finely honed edge of Beck’s playing, while steering clear of any abrasiveness. His guitar riffs sounded rich and fulfilling, floating above the tight rhythm section that is percussionist Vinnie Colaiuta and Tal Wilkenfeld on bass. The intricate guitar passages, and the many facets of the instrument Beck manages to extract, were faithfully and compellingly reproduced.

Again, the Pulsus showed off its talent for pace and momentum, as well as a penchant for a grand, open, holographic soundstage that sounded real enough to walk into, and to shake Jeff by the hand ...

On the Tacet label’s ‘The Tube Only Night Music’, the sublime, tube-only recording of the Polish Chamber Orchestra performing Mozart’s ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ revealed the Pulsus’ ability to make the most of fine, detail.

The silvery violins on this record shimmered exuberantly, while the violas and cellos provided a richly resonant foundation. Again, the phono stage impressed with its nimble, athletic dynamics, its tonal depth, and its ability to place the music on an expansive, open and thoroughly accessible soundstage.

This album also highlighted how dead quiet this phono pre-amp is. The music was vividly etched against a dark, deeply silent backdrop, completely devoid of any electronic artefacts, and thus creating the illusion of being transported right into the heart of the concert hall.

The Avid Pulsus is an accurate, musically truthful phono pre-amp with extensive scope for configurability, ensuring superior compatibility with many different phono cartridges. In sheer performance terms, it’s good enough to accompany some fairly serious phono kit, and will delight vinyl lovers with its pace, dynamics, accuracy - and, above all, its musical integrity.

September 2010 David Price, HIFI World Magazine - (5 Globes) (UK)

Conrad Mas obviously has ants in his pants, as his company Avid can't sit still. Last year, amidst the depths of the recession, he confessed to me that whilst so much of the industry had retrenchment fever, hurriedly cutting product lines, destocking and trying to save every last ha'ppeny bit, Avid was on the march.

It was a long time ago since Avid launched its first turntable, but the company has burgeoned since. We've recently seen more and more turntables at differing price points (previously Avid was strictly medium high-end; now they go down almost to budget price points and right up to Russian oil billionaire level), there's the promise of several new tonearms and now a range of electronics too.

Don't think Conrad is content to stop at phono stages though; it seems he's up for taking the fight to the amplifier market too!

The Pulsus is the entry level Avid phono stage, costing an honest £1,000 which puts it into contention with a number of very accomplished performers. Avid say it's basically a low calorie version of the high end Pulsare, "Many of the Pulsare's features have been retained such as the switchable flexibility and separate power supply", they say. It's said to be designed from "first principles", and is an unbalanced design, but one that still attempts to keep noise exceptionally low.

Pulsus employs quality components; inputs and outputs are gold-plated RCA. Gain, resistance and capacitance are all easily adjustable from the underside of the casework and offer real flexibility. A passive RIAA (with Neumann HF correction) circuit using high-end capacitors is said to help maintain linearity of reproduction; and an external 35VA regulated power supply is used. It offers switchable gain of variously, 48dB, 60dB, 70dB and resistance loading of 100R, 300R, 500R, 1K, 5K, 10K 47K and capacitance loading of 100pf, 200pf and 500pf.

If you've every auditioned Avid turntables before, you'll know they have a distinctive sound; think big, widescreen, 'architectural', panoramic, dynamic, explicit and forceful, with a nice measure of subtlety mixed in for good measure. Such is the Pulsus; it's no shrinking violet as far as phono stages go. Instead of being one of those late night, whisky fuelled, jazz bar ambience designs, all silky and smoochy and smokey, the Avid cuts to the musical chase.

Talk Talk's 'Talk Talk' was a great showcase for its talents; a thumping early eighties slice of power pop, produced to thrill with passion and pace. The Pulsus set up a very wide soundstage across the room, dropping back more than I'd expected at the price, and located instruments with pin-point precision.

Crashing piano chords, jagged guitar riffs and those heavily compressed, processed vocals all ushered forth from the Avid at breakneck speed. It was particularly interested in the attack transients of the Linn drums, pushing them to the fore with utter belief. By contrast, my reference ANT Audio Kora 3T Ltd. seemed a tad subdued, more backward in coming forward, if you pardon the phrase. There was more energy from the Avid, and a complete sense of self belief that made it a hoot to hear.

The pattern continued with Fun Lovin' Criminals' 'King Of New York'; the Pulsus obviously loves pacey pop, dance or rap, as it thumped the song out with cowering bass, giving lie to any claim that Compact Disc is able to equal in this respect. Fast, punchy, fluid and rollickingly good fun to listen to, the Avid set up a bass groove that had me on the edge of my luxuriously appointed sofa, transported to a far more intense environment. Across the mid the Pulsus showed its spacial strengths, throwing out an ethereal trumpet sound, and giving real bite and grain to vocals. Up top, this phono stage didn't guild the lily; whereas the ANT Audio was a touch silkier and glossier, the Avid delivered a lovely 'live' hi hat cymbal sound, sharp and hard and biting, punching out of an inky black soundstage.

Feed in some classic techno in the shape of Kraftwerk's 'Computer Welt' and the Avid again impressed; it was controlled, detailed and utterly assured in the large soundstage it set up. All the different strands of the mix were positioned precisely, this new phono stage doing just the right thing when the heavily vocoded "Computerwelt" refrain kicked in, by panning the sound extreme stage left and right. Meanwhile, a powerful, insistent bass line warbled along in the background, counterpointed by lots of lovely midband detailing as elements of the electronic percussion backing jumped out at me. Again, treble was open and spacious, yet had real bite.

Here is a super £1,000 phono stage. In an already cut-throat group the Avid Pulsus comes straight into the top five, in my view, from nowhere. Indeed, if you're a fan of powerful rock and pop, it's highly likely to make your own personal number one spot. Of course, phono stages are very personal things, which is why an audition is always essential, but Avid has certainly distinguished itself with the Pulsus; it's the personification of power and passion in a market that doesn't have enough of it.

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  MM: < -81dB
  MC: < -67dB
Distortion: < 0.001%
RIAA: 5Hz - 70kHz +/-0.5dB
Gain: 48dB - 60dB - 70dB
Resistance loading: 100R - 300R - 500R - 1k - 5k - 10k - 47k
Capacitance loading: 100pf - 200pf - 500pf
Power supply: Regulated with 35va transformer
Voltage input: 100-240vac 50/60Hz 10 watts max. (depending on region)
Dimensions (WDH): 4.75" x 8.66" x 2.75"
Net weight:
  Control unit: 2.2 lbs.
  PSU: 4 lbs.
Packaging (WDH) : 13.4" x 13" x 5"
Shipping weight : 9 lbs.

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