Coffman Labs G1 - Sounds Like a Winner


I was wondering if anyone has had the opportunity to hear the new Coffman Labs G1 preamp? I picked up the first blip on Tone Publication's new issue, so I called Echo Audio in Portland right away. It's listed as a do-everything, old school, tube preamp that has a killer built in headphone amp and best of all a fantastic phono section. Tone was pretty tight lipped (No.46 page 129) but the person I talked to at Echo said it's going to be demoed at the grand opening of the new store next Wednesday. Kurt was unavailable. I was really hoping to get my hands on it for a demo. It's price is slightly out of my comfort zone ($5K) but if I can get down to one box that does three functions - it's actually not bad. I am most interested in the phono stage. Tone stated, Coffman Labs is only building 500 units. Must have moon rocks in it. Next to the moon rocks is a pair of 12AX7's and a pair of 12AU7's for the phono stage and 5687's for the output. Works for me, I have a pretty good stash for the Modwright. There is supposed to be a review posted shortly but I can’t take anyone’s word for it at that price; I need to hear it and I need to hear it on my system. The more input the better however.

Enter the Agon forum.

I have always received good info from you guys, so I thought I would throw it out there and see who has an opinion. I am really interested in the phono stage mated with the pre. I am still running my trusty Modwright SWL 9.0 SE which I will keep forever, but I am not opposed to retiring it to the man cave. This thing just looks cool to me ... man, the last time I got this excited I ended up with the Modwright and ate top romen for three months. I might not be seeing micro brews or meat for a year.

But then again, Kurt has never steered me wrong.

Made it to Echo last night and I was impressed. We arrived late and it was quite cramped. Lots of Echo Audio fans showed up, so there was no room for critical listening. The Coffman was a sight to behold; it's got a very distinctive look, not quite like any other piece I saw in the room. I didn’t really get to flip switches and turn knobs as Jeff Dorgay from Tone was playing DJ on the system. It worked out great and I really enjoyed the song selection but I would have liked to get 10 minutes alone with the G1-A. The Coffman power supply is a separate unit connected with an extremely beefy umbilical. I slid a finger under it and checked the heft of the unit while the door prizes were being drawn. Its heavy … everything looks overbuilt as the Coffman website leads me to believe. It looks “old school” but at the same time very classy. The outboard power unit is a mini version of the main chassis and looks like it can be placed right next to the main chassis on a top shelf. The unit is tall and the tubes shoot right out of the top so rack placement is either going to be on a minimum 16” high rack shelf or on top. I would have to do some major rearranging to get it to fit but it’s probably time. Dan Wright from Modwright was there and they had his new integrated amp under the Coffman … it looks very attractive as well but they didn’t have it setup… I might have to give that a listen as well. I would have liked to see his KWA-150 SE powering the system.

Did anyone out there by chance show up last night early? I would love to hear your thoughts. The system that was setup was a behemoth, so it’s probably not indicative of what I can expect. Never the less, it would be nice to get some feedback while I plot my next trip into the store.

Finally made it in to Echo Audio on a relatively quiet afternoon for a listen. He was pushing a giant set of Duntechs with a pair of BAT VK-60's in mono via the Coffman G1-A. All I can vouch for is the preamp section as he didn’t have a turntable setup but man it was what I was hoping for. Dead quiet, built like 50's vintage piece and it sounded fantastic top to bottom. It wasn’t the best setup, as I couldn’t get far enough back for my liking; never the less I was impressed. It's a lot more attractive than what I had seen in the photos. I thought it was a bit strange looking at first but with the power supply unit sitting next to it – it’s a really attractive piece. The detail in the chassis can’t really be seen in a photo. The switches and volume pot are clearly way overbuilt and seem to be of the highest quality. The preamp has the ability to shut off both the input and output sections independently which seems cool to me, as I would like to switch stuff around without having to power down the tubes. I didn’t try out the headphone amp, which is something I am interested in as well.
Kurt told me the full review from Tone was coming out soon and after that, I would be able to take the demo unit home for a while. That will be the key – can it perform on my more modest system? Is it worth the cost of an upgrade and how will it perform next to my Modwright SWL 9.0? I will write up a full review if anyone is interested.
Hi Horseface -- If you haven’t seen it yet you might want to check out ToneAudio’s full review of the Coffman Labs G1-A. At the end of the review, Jeff Dorgay summarizes by giving the G1-A an “exceptional value” award for 2012 and noting he purchased the review unit. The article is also up on the Coffman Labs web page here:

Like you, I’m a loyal Echo Audio customer and when they recommend something, I listen. Over the last 10 years of buying and selling through them, I have rotated through many pieces of equipment in my home system. My G1-A commentary below is based on my personal experience, and I hope it’s helpful. I also want to make sure I’m upfront about my affiliation with Echo – after so many years as a customer, I have helped them on some marketing-related projects this year.

Through Echo Audio, I had the pleasure of getting to know Damon Coffman and listening to some Coffman Labs G1-A prototypes. After hearing and seeing the early units I became a G1-A believer and an instant fan. So as soon as the final version of the G1-A was produced and I could get my hands on one, I sold my old preamp to make room for it at home.

You asked about comparisons to the Modwright SWL 9.0. I owned a SWL9.0 signature/tube rectified preamp for a few years and I really liked it – great price-performance and I think very highly of Dan Wright and his work. At the same time, on my system, the Coffman Labs G1-A offered significant improvement.

Several things struck me about the G1-A’s sonics compared with other pres I have owned. Foremost is the incredibly “organic”, realistic, palpable quality. It’s also very detailed. With the G1-A, bass is deep, taught. Highs are very extended, but without stridency that usually comes too (my personal pet peeve). I also love the depth and quality of the soundstage it throws. The G1-A is a sonic chameleon in the sense that it plays all my music well – I listen to classical, jazz, rock, electronica, reggae, etc. I used to record classical and Jazz concerts – and he G1-A helps instruments sound “right”. So far, the G1-A is the best sounding preamplifier I have home-auditioned or owned.

I’m glad to try and answer any specific questions you have. But if you are near Portland, you should definitely audition a G1-A in your own system and see what you think. I have a suspicion that you’ll find yourself eating ramen noodles again --but at least you will be listening to incredible sound while doing it!
I just got one for audition in my system and I love it. I am probably going to buy it.
I'm one the luckiest guy who got the prototype of G1-A a year ago, and love it. My G1-A still uses 6922 i/o the new 12AU7, and i'm usingc 12AX7 Telefunken Ribbed, 6922 Amperex PQ USA, and 5687 Sylvania Gold tubes. Using Audioaero Signature Edition CDP or Thownshend Rock 7, It produces lively, holographic with deep soundstage and organic sounds driving The Manley Ref 350 and Wilson Sasha without limitation on the highs nor low. My earlier Aesthetix Calypso sounds soft and powerless compared to the G1-A.
I'm ordering the new version/12AU7 with Remote control for my collection of hifi gears.