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Gram Amp 2 SE Review

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    Posted: 26 Feb 2019 at 2:19am
I've been auditioning a Gram Amp 2 SE for the past couple of weeks. It's the first standalone phono pre I've ever tried. So even though it sounded very good from the start, I was feeling a bit uncertain, since I didn't have anything to compare it to. As the first week passed and I approached the second, I felt the effects of the burn-in and things kept sounding better and better.

Then I upgraded my speakers over the weekend. My local record shop was selling a pair of The New Advent Loudspeakers from 1979, in very good condition. The speakers I was replacing were nothing special (a pair of DLK/1s, a somewhat obscure vintage brand from my native Minnesota). I spent the weekend listening to records with my jaw on the floor. By comparison to what I had been using, the Advents have been mind-blowing. 

Then tonight I got to wondering—how would the new speakers sound with the built-in phono preamp in my receiver, which I'd been using happily enough for years before I started auditioning the SE? Would my speaker upgrade emphasize, or neutralize, the gains I'd been hearing from the preamp?

So for the first time since I started my audition, I decided to A/B the SE against the built-in preamp on my receiver. I plugged my turntable into the phono jacks on my Onkyo TX-8222 and put on one of the first records I'd listened to on the new speakers, "The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone" by The Apples in Stereo. It's a record with a very distinctive sound—bright, crunchy, with lots of mid-period-Beatles McCartney-style bass lines. Without the SE, the speakers still sounded decent, but the music was much less distinct—it sounded blurry and a little muffled, like I was listening to it on the radio. After one track, I lifted the tonearm, hooked everything back up to the SE, and tried again. Night and day. The crunchy guitars crunched, the bass-lines throbbed, the snares popped, everything was clearly separated, but also tightly locking in together—the music had muscle and immediacy. It was like putting on a new pair of glasses. I didn't stop after just one track this time; I felt compelled to listen to the rest of an LP I'd been planning to use as a quick sound test.

I still can't speak to other phono preamps in this price range, but I'm sold on the SE. I can't wait to get one of my own. Given my budget, I don't even want to know what the higher-end models sound like at this point, but I'm looking forward to finding out someday.
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