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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.