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
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,