SPL: Reference level performance, German build quality, and innovative designs

My review just went up on the Stereo Times website on a full loom of SPL (Sound Performance Lab) of the Elector line-stage, s800 single chassis amplifier, and M1000 mono-block amplifiers. This 30 year old German company is mainly known for their professional gear made for recording studios. They started designing and building gear for the audiophile market five years ago. The preamplifiers/amplifiers are raved about by European audiophiles and have received superlative reviews in many German based reviewing mags.

The build quality is what you would expect from a German company and they have developed a technology called VOLTAIR 120V which is incorporated in all their electronics. Of course, the most important factor is performance and all these pieces are "killer" regarding the beautiful music they create. Then, add on that for an imported German piece of gear that's reference level, the asking retail prices here in the US is amazing. For all the details take a look at the review. 

@jaymark how do you like using the remote control? I've found that motorized volume controls often give very imprecise changes.  I'm looking for something that can give me a reliable 1db (maybe 1.5db) change, without jumping up or down by 2-3 db or worse.

Hey dishhifi,

I have had the reverse experience, love the Apple remote in that I can go up exactly 1db notch very easily to get to the exact sound level I'm seeking.

Thought this might help some people in that I am about to let an SPL Elector pre (new, so still breaking in) go head to head no holds barred with a gently used, soon-to-arrive LTA Microzotl Level 2 using my Mac Mc152 amp.
Having had the SPL here for a week or so I can absolutely confirm it’s fantastical-ness (and the fantastical-ness of the people at The Music Room and Mario my salesman whom is super knowledgeable and friendly for letting me demo these preamps- albeit not before I paid for both of them in full! He’s not THAT friendly. HA!). There’s also a great YouTube video on the SPL from them by a guy named Duncan which is what swayed me to try it (plus the redoubtable Terry’s glowing rhetoric of course).

Yes, the SPL Elector is no joke- it’s detailed, dynamic, fast and dead silent electrically with lots of inputs and the innate ability to learn to use most any IR remote you like. I like that with said (individualized) IR remote, you can jump up or down in volume in small enough amounts for my needs. Quibbles? I wish you could turn off the friggin’ meter lamps like I can on the Mac (bit much in a darkened room with a scotch- tryin’ to set a musical mood here!) and I wouldn’t exactly say it’s built to the standards of my KTE May Dac or my Meitner MA3 or for that matter, my Mac amp. It’s maybe a bit thin as regards the metal casing etc. and the finish doesn’t exactly scream Jeff Rowland competitor. But then, it’s not 5 to 10 grand either.
But as a functional preamp? It is sonically a bit special. To my ear, more special than some I’ve had here recently- a Pass XP12, Topping pre90, the very highest end tubed Mac pre and a Schiit Freya S (which I actually loved - lots more than I thought I would! Almost kept that amazingly fun little guy!). Never heard the Coda pre/gear.
The SPL is preliminarily maybe a touch warm (?). Maybe?? Though that could be the Mc152 amp. Or my mood going in to summer. It’s early going. Some bright/annoying recordings are suitably bright/annoying so it does have me doubting myself on and off. But tonally, spatially and in terms of pace and electrical quietude it really seems a marvel at the price! It’s capable of gorgeous string tone and arresting transients for sure. Terrific accurate/taught bass. Beautiful texture on Yo-Yo Ma’s cello on his recent recording of Beethoven cello sonatas with Emanuel Ax.

  The Music Room is apparently now a legit dealer for SPL so you can demo this gear (hallelujah! It’s like the UK finally:) and they also have open box SPL from time to time as well. Hence I took the plunge- they make it easy.

So if any are interested, will try and report back with some preliminary findings after the LTA is in the house later this week/this weekend. I’ll go balanced into the LTA and single ended out (of necessity as no balanced outs I think) SPL is balanced in and out.

Actually, I like the SPL pre so much at this point I almost thought about trying their amp! The stereo one not the monos- don’t need all that power. Ah but I just got the Mac (yes from The Music Room but pre-Mario so not from him) and really like how quietly it goes about it’s business and how effortlessly powerful/pure it is. And how you can turn off the friggin’ meters! Hint hint!

Maybe one day after the pre is nailed down I’ll try their amp too… Anyway will try and report back about the pre comparison.



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So this comparison wont take weeks or months of careful listening while blinded in the vacuum of space holding an Apx-500 precision measuring device after all.

In sum, the LTA Microzotl level 2 pre is warmer and denser with ’beautified’ string tone/woodwind tone and excellent detail etc and the SPL has comparatively a more expanded airiness and spaciousness/instrumental separation while imparting (allowing through?) a bit more overall scale/size to the proceedings. The entire presentation of the LTA is very obviously more ’humid’/warmer/denser though not really syrupy or rolled up top (particularly with my MA3 DAC, pianos and triangles still have enough ’ping’ and original instruments on a bad recording can still annoy sufficiently ;) It retains excellent detail retrieval such as the breaths between clarinet phrases in clarinet concertos and the valves being clicked as the notes change.

The SPL is not quite as ’dense’ in terms of instrumental presence i.e. there is a might more solidity and corporeality to the image itself with the LTA. But as I say, perhaps as a consequence of less density (?), with it there is more air all around and the players are more perceptibly separated when spread around a venue. The SPL also seems to stage a bit wider left to right and possibly front to back. I guess you could say things -- everything-- sounds ’bigger’ through the SPL. I had the image of taking a piece of paper folded many times like a paper fan, then holding the ends and half expanding it (LTA) vs. fully stretching it out (SPL) though that’s a dramatization of course.

All this means system synergy is again key, particularly with regard to tonal qualities; with my Holo May KTE DAC for example, for my ear, with the Mac amp, the LTA pre is a bit too much of a good thing- a bit too humid/warm, though this does lend a beguiling tonality to sax/woodwinds etc. But pianos for example, aren’t as lit up and pingy as I feel they should be - more felt and wood and a bit less string maybe? With the Meitner MA3 as DAC (balanced out into LTA level 2 balanced inputs), it is less warm- better- but still a bit much for me in this regard. Certainly a click or two more though back toward the perceived ’neutral’ line though.

I’d say both pres are a bit warm overall, but there is no doubt the LTA offers the more humid/dense/compact view of the two at least when paired with my relatively high powered (and maybe slightly tonally warm) Mac MC152 solid state amp. Quite sure this isnt necessarily the intended pairing for the LTA pre, but on the other hand, I understand many have felt it to be an able and versatile performer in their various systems.

As it stands, I dont think the LTA will be for me in this particular system and I am deciding whether the SPL will be the ticket, as it does truly excel with space/airiness, imaging and pace, but it also a bit ’warm’ or ’analogue’ as The Music Room calls it. They’re right in that regard.

I’m actually starting to think that, for this particular set up, especially when employing a slightly warm DAC like say, the Holo KTE, perhaps a more ’straight wire with gain’ approach would be the way to go preamp-wise so as not to pour honey over a bit of caramel.

Actually, while not as dense/beautiful sounding as the LTA or as spacious and expanded as the SPL, the Freya S I had here for a while, particularly in buffered mode run full balanced, was maybe a better fit here tonally speaking. I do wonder now about pres like the Benchamrk LA4 and the other ’straight A students’ majoring in Measurements and Objectivity (M and O) for this particular system.

I’m going to do a few more back to back comparisons before I decide, but this is a snapshot for now... Hope this might help some thinking about these two excellent preamps. Nice thing though is either could certainly be a beautiful thing with the right ancillaries and neither ’smokes’ the other, regardless of the considerable retail price gap. Can I say ’horses for courses’? I love that Brit HiFi saying and it’s definitely fitting here.