Review: Alaap Audio (Doshi) Mark II Tube preamp

Category: Preamps

Welcome to this review. Since I began learning from the great participants and threads here on audiogon, I feel the most valuable decisions I've made in my system have not come from glossy mags and esteemed reviewers but from the folks here. In this same vein I hope to impart the experience I've had with this preamp.

It's important to know that in no way am I proffessional reviewer nor do I have any affiliation with the product or the designer, expect to say he's a great guy.

It's also important to know that I've had limited experience with preamps and have only listened to a handful in my short time being interested in good equipment. Therefore, I'm going to refrain from any comparisions and hope that those who also own the Doshi's out there can provide answer's to any questions that might pertain to "well how does it sound compared to..."

First the specs: This is a fulll function pre. It has 6 inputs, three for the phono section, two loaded for MC carts, one for MM carts. Phono input 1 is generally loaded to a switchable three position loading at 75ohms, 600ohms, and 2.5k ohms. I had Nick change the 75ohm setting to 100ohms to match my .24mv ZYX. So in many ways this is a custom pre. The other three inputs are an XLR female output that I run my CDP off of, then two RCA out's.

Tubes used for the 1st phono stage are 12AX7A. Tubes for the 2nd phono stage are 12AT7, and tubes used for line stage are 12BH7A. The line stage as very low output impedence easily driving low input values. I have not experimented with any tube rolling.

My listening tastes are all over the charts. It's hard to break it down into precentages. In one night I typically go from Neil Young, to Lucinda Williams, to Neko Case, to the Stones, to Norah Jones, to Billie Holiday, to Elvis, to Sonny Rollins, to Dexter Gordon, to Lightnin' Hopkins, to Johnny Lee Hooker, to Johnny Cash, to Dylan, to Beck, to... well you get the point.

I do look for an ease in presentation like I'm bathed in sound, yet I want music to have an emotional and dynamic force that makes me turn my head when I hear something. I want female vocals to be startling and the piano to be tonally correct.

I want micro and macro dynamics to be presented evenly but I tend to focus on the micro a bit more as a way to place the performers. I value as neutral a sound as I can achieve and use live music as a reference to determine coloration. Before I had the Doshi, I tended to listen at high volumes, but now feel like I get the emotional and visceral impact of the music at lower levels.

Associated gear
Amazon Reference
Triplanar VII
ZYX Atmos
Lectron JH50
Esoteric X-01 D2
Exactpower EP15A
Merlin VSW-mxe
Strangely, a good portion of my review was cut off. The main point i made at the end was it truly is hard to describe the "sound" of this pre because to me in my system, it sounds like nothing. In the past with varying components I would generally get use to their "sound" and then after awhile get that itch to move on.

With the Doshi, I don't get that sense, just an enthralled feeling from the sound of the music as it was recorded. To me a sign of a good component is does it step aside and let the emotional message of the musicians be felt. The Doshi does this in spades.

Also, another sign of a great component to me is if it inspires me to explore and buy more music. Well since the Doshi has been in my system, I've been buying music non-stop!

I wrote quite a bit more in my review including the qualties of the phono section which I blow me away nightly. Please feel free to ask me questions. It seems my review was truncated.

Lastly, I would like to thank Doug and Dan for their encouragement in getting a Doshi and for all their help with my questions. As Nick wisely said, tolerate the eqipment, enjoy the music!

Congrats Peter on a great system. I've read many great things about the Doshi preamps, hopefully one day I can get my ears on one. :)
I'm sure it will bring you many years of happiness.

Thanks John for your kind words. I do feel bkessed to have developed a great system some of it with your help.
I saw on another thread that you are using Stealth Dream speaker cables too, I'm green with envy. I've got a few of the Dream power cords, and they are my current reference.
I have a hard time biting the bullet on the speaker cables though.
You certainly have put together a nice rig, I bet it sounds fabulous. I am humbled to think that I may have helped in any way. Enjoy the music.

John I noticed you were selling your Dream cords. I owuld buy them save the 20 amp IEC. Why are you getting rid of them. Making some kind of change?

I've been pretty blown away by the Dream speaker cables. They have definately taken my rig to the next step.

Peter, I currently own 5 Dream power cords, but I have sold my monoblock power amps with 20A IEC input. I'm currently using a stereo amp with 15A IEC. The odds of me using monoblocks with 20A IEC's are pretty low I'd have to say, so that's why they are for sale. Also, Serguei said it would be VERY expensive to re-terminate. He recommended that I trade them in to a Stealth dealer for some more Stealth cords, which I still may wind up doing.
I'm still using the other 3 Dreams that I have, on phono preamp, preamp and amp.

The Petite Dream speaker cables may be tempting. Currently I am using the Jade Audio Vermeil speaker cables. Previous to these I have heard and tried many others, and found the Stealth Hybrid MLT's to be a close second to the Vermeil.

I had wanted to write a review of this great preamp too, but had not got around to it so it;s nice to see someone getting Nick a little credit. My previous phono stage was an Aesthetix Rhea. The doshi stage embarrassed it. My previous line stages were conrad johnson and ARC and the doshi just killed them in all departments.

The big thing for me about the Doshi stage is that I don't listen to my preamp anymore. I find it transparent, effortless and real. I work in pro audio and while it's a tube stage, it has just the kind of clarity and low distortion that I would expect from the best reference gear.

I used to hunt around for the next upgrade constantly and when I heard the Alaap, it just sounded right finally and everything else in my system retained its character.

I am not planning on buying another line stage or phono stage, ever.
Nice review Peter and thanks for the mention. Glad if I helped in any way as you've built/improved your system.

As both you and Mothra said, the Alaap lets the music through with less distortion, compression or blockage than we've ever heard. All one can ask of a component is that it pass all the signal it receives without damage. That's much harder to achieve than to say, but after years of work Nick seems to have done it.

Regarding comparisons, I maintain an informal list of preamps that we or others have A/B'd with an Alaap. That list is long, growing and includes some fancy names with price tags up to an astonishing $40K (four times the cost of my unit). The results are almost always the same. Mothra used words like "embarrassed" and "killed" and he did not indulge himself with hyperbole. Such words are used by most people after they hear a comparison, and they often back up their words with money.

A few months ago a new friend drove two hours to hear our turntable. He did end up getting a similar table, but the very first thing he bought after that visit was an Alaap. He now finds listening to his old preamp painful, as do we. The Alaap may be the best $40K+ preamp you can buy for $10-15K. Once you have one, all interest in preamp comparisons ends (except for helping others). Like Mothra we have no desire to upgrade - ever.

Nick's work has put his gear very near the top of the heap. His wife would admit he's always been at the top of the heap for being a great guy. If he weren't married I'd marry him myself, if I weren't married!
Great job, Peter!

makes me turn my head when I hear something

I know exactly what you mean and have expressed the same to Nick. I'm coming up on two years with my 4 chassis Alaap and I still get these moments during every listening session. Vinyl or CD, it all sounds wonderful!

Mothra, I also had a Rhea before ordering my Alaap. I completely agree with your assessment.
Thanks for chiming in gentleman! Happy we can all give Nick the cedit he is due for creating such a beauty. Pleae feel free to add any observations about anything but in particular I've had some private emails concernig the phono stage.

Not being nearly as knowledgable in comparisions and the nose present in other phono stages, I'm sure folks would enjoy hearing what you hear.

John, do you use a line conditioner with you Dream cords? Did you hear an improvement once you had some front end equipment under the Dreams? On the website Stealth discussed using their cords to create a star grounding. Did this imporve your sound?

Regards gentleman,
Doshi, I have never heard of it, is this thing really any good?
Well, to quote another mini-review I read somewhere:

Nick Doshi Mark II: It is in INCREDIBLE. It has the most beautiful yet neutral tonal balance the I have ever heard. The Mark I is neutral, as well, tone wise. So than what does the Mark II add? It keeps the great tone and adds even more EXPOLOSIVE dynamics, while still being harmonically textural. Not easy to do I am guessing, but most importantly their was no trade off for these performance gains. It still has all the finesse and nuance I always have loved.

These added dynamics really changed the musical presentation spatially in great ways. The speakers really seem to disappear even more, music now just floats effortlessly in black space. Notice I said black space, the Mark II is ultra quite. The added dynamics were not a trade off for increased noise. The Mark II has a blacker back ground then the Mark I, which is quite for a tube preamp, but the Mark II is as quite as solid state designs. Summary the Doshi Mark II in Five Words: MUSICAL, Textural, Dynamic, Harmonic, and Lively. I will never own another preamp. I really don't think their will every be a Mark III either this is as good as it gets.
I thought that guy summed it up pretty well. ;-)
Well Doug, I think it's pretty obvious that the guy who posted that mini-review had been drinking quite a bit though. ;^)

Dlan-you can come over some day and hear mine if you want. I do have a full liquor cabinet.
I'm in Montana. Where are you? If you ski, hike, bike like to swim in high mountian lakes well coming to Montana could be a good vacation as well. Of course most consider it out of the way.


I am in Michigan, to bad your not a Saturday afternoon drive away. I enjoy hearing others systems.

I am not a reviewer nor do I purport to have good audio background.
just a simple guy who trust my own set of ears..
I owned a Mk I Doshi and I am incredibly amazed by its ability to play music at low volume without causing any sonic degradations..
I used to crank the volume to be able to sit and appreciate music..
Now..just a calm,cool,relaxed,soothing music at any genre
there is a Doshi MKI with later MKI upgrades on audiogon right now. I hadn't planned on any upgrade in my pre or phono pre but this may be too much to pass up