Atma-Sphere vs. Supratek

I placed an order last year for a Supratek Cortese LCR preamp; it will still be a few months until it will arrive at my home in Silicon Valley. Meanwhile I keep reading good things about the Atma-Sphere MP-1 and Mp-3 instruments. Can anyone voice an opinion about those two brands, both hand-made tube machines in a similar price range? I listen to all kinds of music, including opera, mostly on vinyl [Basic 2200 Signature with Vector 4 arm and Benz Micro LP-S cartridge, Sunvalley phono stage with EMIA SUT, MSB Platinum Signature CD transport and DAC, LinkwitzLab NCore6 active crossover/amplifier, and Linkwitz LX521.4 open-baffle speakers (best speakers I have ever heard)]. For preamp I am currently using Ed Shilling’s The Truth. For me a natural-sounding soprano voice is the pinnacle of well reproduced music.


I've long heard about questionable build quality of Supratek, although reportedly have good sound quality. I've looked at internals of some of Supratek line, very messy, does not look good to me. Atma Sphere above reproach. Link to questions and internal pictures of Supratek, And there are many more blogs and forums that speak to this.


I just know I've built a few amps from kits, modded quite a number of components, and seen internals of many, Supratek is about as messy as I've ever seen. I'm not casting aspersions on sound quality, which is reportedly quite good. I just don't trust the build quality and/or reliability of their builds. I'd pick Atma Sphere over this mess in a minute.

I'd pick... over this mess in a minute.

@sns  Is your own room (per your system page) an arbiter for sound quality... or lack thereof, based on your above post? I think not. : )

@reimarc This is going to come down to synergy between the components and your own preferences. Try both. Your system deserves it. You deserve it. Report back. 




@david_ten Yes, my setup is complex, but the internals of each component is neat and tidy. And I didn't make negative comment as to sound quality.

An interesting choice in the use of the word "complex." Is your "complex" someone else’s "messy"? Is it possible the designer of Supratek sees his creations as you see yours: complex and purposeful vs. messy?

Absolutism in our hobby is not healthy nor helpful. The audiophile equivalent of judging a book by it’s cover gets in the way of moving our shared passion forward.

Very nice system, congratulations.  Is the Supratek single ended or balanced?

@david_ten  The poster that you are criticizing stated that given the two, from a wiring perspective only, he would choose the Atma-Sphere.  He specifically mentions he is making his choice not based on sound quality.

And his comment about messy wiring is well known, nothing new.

@jetter  Exactly!  Originally, I heard about this issue with Supratek from good ole Georgehifi (now banned), I just thought some of his criticism justified here, unlike many of his contentions.


I presume showing people side by side internal photos of Supratek and Atma-Sphere and asking which one appeared to be better constructed, I'd bet nine or ten out of ten would pick the AS. This is not judging the book by the cover, we are seeing the guts with our own eyes. I agree, sound quality is another thing altogether.

A gentle reminder from Marcel Proust on the influence of our own biases over actual evidence:

"We pack the physical outline of the creature we see with all the ideas we already formed about him, and in the complete picture of him which we compose in our minds, these ideas have certainly the principal place. In the end they come to fill out so completely the curve of his cheeks, to follow so exactly the line of his nose, they blend so harmoniously in the sound of his voice that these seem to be no more than a transparent envelope, so that each time we see the face or hear the voice it is our own ideas of him which we recognize and to which we listen."

- Marcel Proust, Swann's Way

Why consider an exotically produced product when there are US based options?

I have never seen any of Ralph's gear at our local Hi-End repair shop which

but I have seen Supratek. (Not a scientific poll). 

Of course it is fun to have a piece few others own but if you need

to buy 2 of them to stay in business I think the excitement factor dwindles


@david_ten I don't see this as subjective opinion or biases affecting our judgement. There are  objective value judgements in regard to what are best build practices in assembling audio components. I can only say the photos I've seen of Supratek internals don't conform to these best practices.


Reliability is our means to measure whether particular product conforms to best build practices. Chorus claims he's observed reliability issues, this is only anecdotal evidence at best. Only a survey of many Supratek owners over relatively long period of time will reveal true reliability. If there are no reliability issues, messy internals are only esthetic issue, otherwise it is an issue.


On presumption it isn't an issue. Why bother with neat and tidy, well laid out wiring and parts if reliability is of no concern? Is this kind of assembly and build quality only a marketing ploy?

I'd like to throw out my above comments as to assembly tidiness and best build pracitces to audio equipment manufacturers out there. I understand you may not want to come out and criticize Supratek, but tell us why you observe and conform to well organized, neat and tidy build practices? Does this have bearing on sound quality or reliability? Are there objective best build practices, or is it an arbitrary construct that you feel obligated to follow?

To be fair to Supratek, the later units are better built than earlier ones. Early ones were a complete and utter rats nest of bad connections, poor grounding, and downright dangerous wiring.

However they are still not very neat and tidy inside which does lead to problems.And like Chorus above, I’ve a higher percentage of Supratek, than Atamasphere.

You can see what a new one looks inside here (at the bottom, left photo) on my website. Full disclosure, it's compared to my lower priced preamp.


Blackdog - While i happen to agree w much but not all of your design and manufacturing principles, I do think for transparency you should add your industry affiliation in signature block to each post.

Best to you



I don't see this as subjective opinion or biases affecting our judgement. 

I wouldn't expect you to. That's the beauty and effectiveness of bias.

It is entrenched, so it masquerades as self preserving and confirming... and btw as authority (you know what 9 out of 10 would choose, as an example):

I presume showing people side by side internal photos of Supratek and Atma-Sphere and asking which one appeared to be better constructed, I'd bet nine or ten out of ten would pick the AS. 

I just know...

I just don't trust ...

My point is that your first post was about you, not the OP. 

@reimarc in his opening sentence states he placed an order for the Supratek Cortese LCR...and in the first reply you disparage, disqualify and question that decision. 

Now you are asking for:

I'd like to throw out my above comments as to assembly tidiness and best build pracitces to audio equipment manufacturers out there.

Start a thread. It's a good question. 

@reimarc  My apologies for my part in getting your thread off track. 

I'll repeat my first response to you:

Try both. Your system deserves it. You deserve it. Report back. 

No one here can advise you. If you can get both units in for evaluation, evaluate. And choose.

We don't have your components, your room, your preferences, your experience, your unique ear-brain combination.

In isolation, should you only get one of the two/three options in...whichever unit it is, will still be good. 

Listen. Choose. 

OP asked about AS vs Supratek, I mentioned issues with messy wiring and possible issues with reliability. Is questioning messy wiring and possible issues with reliability not allowed? I have no knowledge of either reliability or sound quality and have made this clear in my posts. Does this forum exist for free and open discussion, which may include questioning build quality and assembly of certain components? I've criticized components I've purchased in this forum, should I be accused of bias for that?


Here are internals of some AS equipment, I will leave it to others to judge assembly practices.

I will just say neat and tidy looks neat and tidy. However routing for neatness and routing for best sound are sometimes two different things. I don't have a dog in this fight I did have an original Syrah back in the early 2000s. I was unimpressed but no doubt Mick's designs have evolved and improved since then.

I agree the internals of that supratek look like a high school science experiment and certainly not something I would let out the door of my workshop. I have seen the internals of two others which are better, but still not what I would call awe inspiring.

However the desigsns are sound, and the sonics definitely in the uper tier. Ironically the exterior finish is excellent. You pays your money and makes your choice.

Many thanks for all your comments, which were very enlightening indeed. I too had a shiver running down my spine when I saw the innards of the Cortese for the first time. But the many enthusiastic comments about the sound of these creations by "Supratekkies" mostly from Down-Under, made me taking the plunge. I am sure, however, that I can still cancel my order, as it was only placed in November. I followed most of the links you supplied about the Atma-Sphere and "listened" to the descriptions. For me, a big plus is the all-XLR design, as both, my DAC and my Amps use balanced-only. 

Now last night, two new listings on USAudiomart came to my attention, namely for the LAMM LL2.1 DELUXE Preamplifier and its corresponding phono stage, the LP2 deluxe, both at a reasonable asking price compared to new.These are rarely offered on the used market  (always a good sign), and I read great things about the Lamm designs and how they "sound" (they apparently have no sound signature of their own), and now I am afraid I am going down the well-known rabbit hole. Just to give you an idea, how this "no sound of its own" statement appeals to me: last October I almost bought the PASS XP25 phono preamp; the seller was kind enough, however, to send it to me for trial. I had only heard great things about this instrument, and I do know Nelson Pass personally. But here it comes: I did not like it a bit. The sound coming out of my LX521 speakers was bombastic, no matter how I fine-tuned the many parameters, and - even more disturbing - the sound stage appeared in front of my speakers, defeating the purpose of spatial stacking that open-baffle designs offer (the LX521.4 create a true "phantom-image" deep into my living room, especially on solo piano). I listened to that unit for two weeks almost every day, trying all possible setting permutations (a great forte of the XP25!): I really WANTED to like it, and then I sent it back! MY verdict: it's super for Credence Clearwater, but not for Callas.

Hence my asking for help once more: of these three options, which one would you pick, if possible out of your own listening experience? And yes, the Lamms are single ended, I know.

“I had only heard great things about this (Pass) instrument, and I do know Nelson Pass personally. But here it comes: I did not like it a bit. ”

For above reason alone, allow me to reiterate @david_ten solid advise, audition in your system and choose!

I have not heard any system with an Atma-Sphere preamp in it. It's bound to be a great unit, the amps are justifiably famous. 


What I immediately noticed comparing the Suprtek and Atma-Sphere is that there are two completely different design philosophies at work. I can't imagine that they'll sound similar. Mick certainly has opinions on what makes for a good tube preamp

The stupid posting system won't allow me to post just a link but click on the picture to go to his blog.  I think you'd have to put each into your system and listen.

I think along the same lines as Mick so I ordered a Cabernet from him and I've been very happy.  

+1 @lalitk and @david_ten you're talking about all kinds of equipment you've never heard. Even something good may not be to your tastes. That being said buying used at least can mitigate any losses you may incur. Good luck on your search!

@tomic601 I never knew you were Jim I've been calling you Tom all these years for obvious reasons. :)

Yes - the Futterman OTL design of Atma-sphere amps makes all the difference in the sound quality.

Read the background / history in the web site and in the reviews:

In addition, you have the history, qualiy and reputation of years of experience of Atma-sphere, which is well known and reguarded by everyone.

These things make the decision very easy - actually… “a no brainer,” as the say!


I am a former Supratek Cortese owner, purchased in 2007. It had point to point wiring (i.e. the "rat’s nest"), which was touted as a sonic advantage. It had a lot of inputs and outputs, so there were wires everywhere. The phono stage was very nice, and I bet the LCR version is even better. I enjoyed the sound in my system when I had it. I had no repair issues in the 5 years that I owned it. I regretted selling my Cortese. I sold it because the power supply got too warm and would heat up my small room more than I liked. It was like having a small class A amp in the room. I could never connect with the music with the next preamp that I owned, so I contacted Mick about another Cortese, but by then he was on a break from making new units. I ended up buying a used Syrah which was not nearly as good as the Cortese.

OP, like you, I now have The Truth preamp, so I am curious to see which direction you end up going. I am very happy with the sound of my system with The Truth in it, but I would love to read your comparisons with whatever you end up getting, or if you stay put with The Truth. Both Supratek and Atma-Sphere offer superb built-in phono stages, and if I were looking to reduce my box count, those two brands would be at or near the top of my list.

@bassdude   Maybe you just mis-typed but Atma-sphere claims their amps are NOT Futterman design, that the Futterman Design gave OTL amps a bad name with it's instability, and that no company has ever marketed a Futterman circuit amp and not gone out of business.  

Carlsbad... I see you’re correct, I had not read the history that closely - I seemed to remember a discussion about 10 years ago that indicated it had originated with the Futterman design. Regardless, the OTL design... makes all the difference.

I do have the M60's - which are superb!

I would unquestionably go for the Atma-Sphere. When I have heard them, they have been outstanding. But you seem to like alternative stuff. So you will buy the Suprateck. I honestly don’t think you are wanting the best sounding, but want to be choose avant-garde gear to be esoteric. 

Atma-Sphere is in the USA, their are few Dealers whom you can borrow the unit from and have a home demo.


I own the MP-1 and MP-3 both with Phono Stages. Not heard the Supratek so cant comment on that,.

Rather sad reading this post .. reminiscent of a older Stereonet Supratek post focusing on the evil birdnest and not the sound quality. Seems you either luv’ them or hate them, few in between.

Me I like my hifi to sound good and haven’t worried about the wiring birdsnest, unless its proven to be unsafe. I have built a Guitar valve amp under supervision and my wiring looks similar 😁 I also understand the shortest path to reduce noise on some components, but are no expert, one of my best Guitar amps, a Two Rock Opal has some rather messy wiring topology, including low curly cables which a local map builder explained as having a design reason, and its brilliant as John Mayer will attest, I am sure he doesn’t worry about the messy wiring topology. I had to open mine up to re-seat one of the capacitors that had come loose in the loooong road/rail journey from Perth to Sydney (LA to NYC equiv), and found no safety issues visible.

I have never heard an Atma-sphere so cannot comment, however i have a range of Pre amps in my house that my Supratek has replaced, Parasound, AR LS15, Mac C22 and a very nice Ayon Auris. Mine is an older 2nd hand Cabernet DHT and i luv’ the ability to tube roll, I mainly use NOS 2A3 and 45’s. Each tube option has subtle sound changes and at times suit different music pieces. Mine sits in front of a Accuphase A70 and before that my Bryston 4bsst, its also had a short run on my Mc MC75 monos. Sounded good on all of them, I prefer it on my SS amps.

After listening to mine an hifi acquaintance ordered a Cortese LCR last year, he had some noise issues to start with which Mick sorted for him fairly quickly, Mick paid the freight cost plus he installed another new set of interesting valves. The Cortese replaced some very nice pre’s he has, and above my pay grade and is now is top pre.

If it was me, patience, wait until it arrives, I think the sound is wonderful but each to their own. Note that different valves can change the sound to fine tune matching your other components, I found it a learning curve, give it time, play with different valves and see where the journey takes you.

I've never understood the fascination with Supratek. Why import something from Australia when you can buy a better product on your doorstep?

I owned the Chardonnay a few years back and it was just OK. It was far from transparent, didn't really offer much 'bloom' or tube magic, and didn't really offer anything special other than a very nice aesthetic. When I sold it the internals came loose during shipping and I had to pay to have it repaired. I emailed Mick and requested schematics to be sent to the guy at the repair shop, but he refused to do so. In the end, the schematics weren't needed.

I haven't heard an Atma-Sphere preamp, they're on my bucket list.

Mick's : Lifetime warranty.. Has a stateside tech..

Ralph's : 3 year warranty - Will renew warranty upon reevaluation & will upgrade if you so choose.

Ralph's are twice the price of Micks,

More tube rolling fun with Micks for sure,

Both will answer questions and give attentive service. Though I bet Ralph is superior at this. Mick occasionally does not follow thru on commitments...

Even though I should be in this "Fight"... I don't have any experience with either, but I have read enough over the years of what others have said.... They are both good and you should audition both !!

Resale is great for both !! 

Mick has gone above and beyond helping me with some stuff ... can't thank him enough...

Both have had failures, everybody has problems occasionally...



I started with an A-S MP-3 and moved up to the MP-1. I was using an Audible Illusions preamp and was set on adding a Zesto phono stage. But after quite a few talks with Ralph and owning the great M-60s, I came to understand that the Atma preamps were unique in many ways. Significant ones that they are one of the very few that meet the true balanced standard. And, most important, they are designed from the ground up to play vinyl. My MP-1 has 14 tubes and 8 just for the built in phono stage. Being such an incredible “phono machine” . Not merely an add on phono stage or separate phono stage. You can sell your phono stage and the extra IC. I seriously doubt that the MP-3 or, especially, the MP-1 would not be way better than using your phono stage. Ultimately, I love not having to use an outboard phono stage. Keep it simple stupid-KISS.

The linestage in the Mp-1 i would say is excellent, very dynamic and transparent, one of the best that i have encountered in a preamp.  The built quality i wouldn’t say is top notch,  the chassis is cheaply made and the silk screen lettering are poorly put on, would fade after usages.  The phono section with 8 12at7 can be extremely noisy,  even at medium output say .5mv. still noisy As Hell,  finding tubes to match the phono can be a nightmare!!  Overall Linestage Excellent but the phonostage Is Junk! 

My Phono Stage in the MP-1 is dead quiet, if you use noisy tubes you’re gonna get more noise.

Nos Tubes dont work in the Phono Stage they are just too noisy. The Phono Stage runs fully balanced, i have balanced cable going into it. It is by far one of the best sounding phono stages i have owned. The Phono Stage alone has outclassed other standlone units that cost north of 20K so having both a Line Stage and Phono In one unit is a big plus.


If you’re encountering noise in the phono section try to use cheaper quieter tubes this has worked very well for me.

I agree on the Chassis its cheapy looking compared to others. However im paying for Sonics and Reliability not bling bling so it never bothers me much.

You can ask Ralph to build better Chassis for you thicker plates or what ever but be prepaired it will raise the cost much higher. Im more bothered about Chasis but i appreciate the Tech/Circuit Design and the SQ


I think it is Ralph who designed the first, and still one of the very few, truly balanced phono stages. I run a balanced line from my TT.

It is very true that there are noise and microphonic problems with the stock Chinese tubes. Ralph weeds through a lot of tubes to find the most quiet. But they are junk compared to good NOS. But you have to find a horder of the good NOS.

I was lucky enough to get NOS Mullard military grade 12AT7s that transformed the phono. Incredible difference. And dead quiet. And really great Sylvania NOS 6SN7s for the line stage. Another terrific improvement in SQ. 
This was about a grand but grab them if you can find them. And, yes, you need to buy more then needed to weed out any noisy ones. And, yes, it is a bit of a nightmare to sort out and bad tubes but not that hard. Just takes some time and effort. Just go two at a time and see if the noise moves to the other channel.

Yes, the chassis is basic and simple. Clearly, the money is put into the innards.

However, I paid extra for the factory anti vibration treatment and use it with the top off. 

Thanks again for all you enlightening comments: this is a great community. Just to let you know: I revised my order and asked Mick Maloney to build me one of his new Grange preamps with the option to switch between 6NS7 AND DHT circuits, which will allow me to go euphonic whenever the mood strikes. The production will take a long time but I hope I will be able to open a box from Down-Under before Christmas. Meanwhile I will keep listening to my The Truth preamp from South Carolina.

Again, thanks for this lively discussion.

I can’t compare the Cortese LCR to the Atma-Sphere, but I can give you my impressions of the Cortese LCR. I won’t say I am a Supratek fanboy because I am not hear to sell you one way or the other. I was in need of a phono stage for a new idler drive table and a variety of stereo and mono cartridges (to complement my DS Audio W2 and AMG table). The DS Audio equalizer is proprietary and fed my ARC Ref 5SE, but I lacked a phono stage for conventional MC cartridges. I took the chance on the Cortese LCR to replace the ARC and function as the phono stage as well as a line stage for the DS Audio and reel to reel. I do not regret the move. I have replaced many of the tubes on the Cortese… all improving it. My best summary of it is it’s very detailed without being analytical… full of life without being sweet and syrupy. Yes, the wiring is ‘free form’. It’s not because Mick is lazy or sloppy. It’s because he has found its best is diminished when tidied up. If you can’t live with knowing the wild hair point to point wiring living inside the case, then move along. If you can appreciate a Jackson Pollock, you might be able to consider a Supratek and it’s sonic qualities. I don’t regret my decision and am not considering another option.

There is visually tidy and electrically tidy and these two doctrines don't necessarily align.