The Black Swan

The user manual for the most remarkable vinyl to music converter

I would like to thank you for enjoying the Black Swan.  As the designer and builder of the Swan, I offer you this piece of my personal art in the form of a sensual sonic experience.  It is my hope that you will enjoy every time you listen to your vinyl music.  Bon Appetite! Just as food is to the body – music is to the soul.I would like to thank you for enjoying the Black Swan.  As the designer and builder of the Swan, I offer you this piece of my personal art in the form of a sensual sonic experience.  It is my hope that you will enjoy every time you listen to your vinyl music.  Bon Appetite! Just as food is to the body – music is to the soul.

Barry Thornton

This manual is intended to provide you with the information to get the most from your Black Swan and will cover the following headings:

1 – Installation and set up

2 – Operation and control of the various functions

3 – Signal Flow and Gain Selection

4 – Resolution

5 – Insight into the properties and use of Cartridge Loading

6 – The Design

7 – History, how we got here, and why

1 – Installation and set-up

The Black Swan is very straightforward and should present nothing new as to set up. All connections are on the back of the unit.  As with all low noise hardware, it is not wise to place the unit in, on, or about power transformers, power lines, or on other products or systems.

Rear view of the Black Swan

On the back of the Swan there are inputs for two cartridge feeds via standard RCA type connectors along with several signal output connection configurations, a dimmer control for the front lights, and a power connection to the wall power supply.

The Black Ground Terminals are ground wires from cables or that can be connected to either or both grounds on the back of the unit. You can use a bare wire around the post, a single banana plug, or spade lug.

The Moving Magnet Cartridge input is a standard unbalanced feed from the cartridge via an RCA terminated male connector. The resulting signal is loaded with a variable resistor (10K to 100k ohms) that is the center control on the front panel. This input is selected on the front panel input control turned to the LEFT.

The Moving Coil Cartridge input is a balanced input structure via four cables from the cartridge. If you have an unbalanced Moving Coil configuration (two cables and RCA male connectors) then they go into the + MC inputs and a pair of shorting RCA males connectors must be inserted into the – MC inputs. The resulting signal is loaded with a variable resistor (10 to 1,000 ohms) that is the center control on the front panel. This input is selected on the front panel input control turned to the RIGHT.

Outputs are both unbalanced (RCA connectors) or balanced (3-pin XLR) connections. An alternative method is provided as a 4-pin XLR wired, as would be a standard headphone. Though it is not used for a headphone it will drive one. It is intended to simplify connections in the balanced mode when the Black Swan is used as part of the Austin Audio Works Headphone Discography System and one of our Headphone Amplifiers – the Black AMP.

A Note: The Black Swan is two independent amplifiers with passive equalization sharing a common power supply in a common chassis. While we have identified the inputs and outputs as ‘Right’ and ‘Left’, there is no internal commitment or uniqueness to either a RIGHT or LEFT channel. The source, that is your cartridge, does have a Right and Left preference based on the mechanics of the stylus and the information incorporated in the record groove. The Right and Left annotations on the preamplifier are offered to facilitate keeping track of this for your convenience.

Another note: There is a ‘Dimmer’ control on the back of the Swan to adjust the illumination of the glow rings around the control knobs. These rings are a diagnostic tool showing that the power is on and correct. It is a blue light and the light level should be appropriate to the environment thus you are offered the choice as you see fit to using this control.

Connect the power supply to the Swan and you are finished. Then plug the Power Supply into your power strip to complete the wiring. The power supply and the Swan are on all the time that mains power is provided. The unit draws approximately 1.7 watts of power.

2 – Operation and control of the various functions

Front panel Black Swan

Input Selection

The rotary switch on the left chooses the input source. To the left is the Moving Magnet Cartridge; to the right is the Moving Magnet.

WARNING – The switching of the MM to MC switch either way can produce a considerable ‘thump’ in the output, TURN YOUR VOLUME CONTROL DOWN BEFORE SWITCHING THE MC- MM FUNCTION.

Cartridge Loading

The center control sets the resistive loading on the cartridge. It is not calibrated because this is about ‘ear-ball’ tuning. You are trimming the timbre of the cartridge as a mechanical electrical system taking in the setting of the arm and cartridge together and you need to do it by ear.

To use this diagram imagine that the Loading Control looked like a clock dial, rotating the control will yield roughly these resistances on the cartridge.


One of the philosophies behind the design of the Swan is simplicity and functionality all in the name of sonic pleasure. Tuning arm/cartridge timbre is about damping the cartridge which means the higher the resistance the less the damping of the mechanical interactions from the record groove wall through the cantilever to the magneto-electric magnet and coil field interactions. It’s too complex to mean much for a real time number so better left to the ear.

Gain

The control on the far right on the front panel is the system gain covering the range of +20 to +60 dB. The control on the far right on the front panel is the system gain covering the range of +20 to +60 dB.

The Gain Control has three general purposes:

1  Set the output level of the Swan to sonically match the levels of other input so that when you switch inputs from one music source to another there is no great change in the system level.

2 To function as a level control when driving an amplifier directly from the Swan so there is some form of ‘volume control’ to set the speaker level. In fact, this is not a true volume control.  It will not go to zero or off but will always pass some signal. Direct driving the amplifier is about as pure a music system as you can get from the vibrations in the record groove to the vibrations in the air you will be listening to and this is the way to control it for listening.

3  Signal level setting for ADC to convert vinyl records into digital format.

3 – Signal flow and Gain Structure