A remarkable phono equalizer amplifier with fully ‘tweakable’ cartridge loading, multiple inputs, low noise, musical precision and clarity.
The goal of vinyl is that special quality of the sound of music, a passionate and crafted performance , stored in space and time until you want to experience it again. The Black Swan is the translator between the physical world of the record groove and cartridge and the electronics of your system, and then finally bringing that thrill to your ear.
Sonically it delivers dynamic resolution. Elegant detail and transient delivery done through remarkably low noise, precision amplification, exacting passive equalization. And most significant – front panel real-time cartridge “R” loading for by-ear timbre tuning of your cartridge compliance and arm characteristics.
Sonicially offering acoustic image resolution and temporal precision on a noise-free background. Exceptional soundscape through exacting definition and rich instrument and voice resolution.
Technically offering both balanced and unbalanced Moving Coil inputs along with full balanced and pre-amp outputs.
The Keys to Performance
You identify the sound of a musical instrument by its Timbre, which is the combination of all energies that make up the note. Many notes rhythmically together, including the human voice, is an ensemble. It is the ‘song’ we listen to and enjoy. How true to life the song sounds is the result of the accuracy of the timbres reproduced by your music system. The Black Swan directly addresses these issues to produce detail and to offer reproduction of the individual components of the song in the following ways:
Noise – A collection of the energies of many frequencies or just that sonic stuff that gets in the way. When noise energy is superimposed onto low level audio energy, the timbre of each musical source is altered. There is a law in physics called heterodyning that says mixing two frequencies together produces the original two plus two more, the sum and difference of them. This process varies with the linearity (distortion) of the mixing process. It has greater effect on very low level signals such as those of a phono cartridge. One way to stop this altering of the timbre of the music is to not generate electronic noise in the first gain stages of the amplification process.
The Black Swan employs ultra-low noise silicon devices to get the lowest possible noise and then goes a step further. When you parallel silicon devices you get an internal noise canceling effect. The Swan does just that; it parallels 4 of its exotic front-end gain devices to cut the noise in half. The Black Swan has an internal noise level that approaches the theoretical noise floor limit. This further diminishes the sonic effects of noise altered timbre on the music you listen to.
Distortion – The source of timbre altering is the linearity or distortion of the process. Non-linearity creates timbre errors by mixing all the musical energies with each other to produce hundreds of small subtle new energies. These do significant damage to the original timbre of the music literally making a ‘mess of everything’; especially in complex musical passages, but obvious even with two simple notes such as a solo voice and an instrument.
Passive Equalization – One significant way to limit non-linearity is to employ passive phono equalization. Vinyl discs are recorded with frequency changing equalization as set by the RIAA to make up for the physical issues of the vinyl disc. It is expected that a reverse equalization will be employed in playback to correct for this. This is usually done inside the input stage’s feedback loop resulting in the amplifier’s gain changing with frequency. This is entirely counterproductive to the playback process but is easy and inexpensive to do. The Black Swan uses a far better approach employing precise totally passive equalization followed by additional low-noise ultra-low distortion wide bandwidth gain. This is a more expensive solution but totally resolves the gain change with frequency issue needed for RIAA equalization of the record. The Black Swan has extreme precision linearity along with high bandwidth and low noise, electronic attributes required to insure minimal effect on the timbre of all music being reproduced.
Cartridge Loading – Perhaps the most flawed step in getting music off of a vinyl disc is the conversion of the mechanical energy of the rotating disc groove into electrical energy carrying the audio signal. Each cartridge/tone arm/electronic input load is unique. The natural timbre of the cartridge is altered by the precision of the turntable’s speed, its mechanical noise, and physical eccentricities of the record disc and platter. The tone arm has multiple resonances and dynamic tracking compliance issues, and the individual record’s pressing characteristics further are a variable in this relationship. The cartridge sits in the middle of it all and is electrically damped by the loading on it by the preamplifier. This damping effects the character of all the mechanical forces the cartridge is experiencing. Thus the timbre of the cartridge is heavily determined by loading of the cartridge.
Because you can change the damping in real-time, it can set the loading based on what you are actually hearing as you listen to your music. One can literally ‘tune’ the character of the turntable/arm/record, and the cartridge for the most rewarding audio experiences while it is happening.
Balanced Moving Coil Input – The Black Swan offers true balanced inputs with precision differential circuits for the Moving Coil signals. It further offers both balanced and unbalanced outputs. Cartridges are by their nature balanced output sources. Most turntable arms have balanced wiring and in most cases the wiring to the phono preamplifier is also balanced. At the preamplifier the signals are moved to an unbalanced state by grounding one of the two leads from each channel. This happens where the Left and Right negative lines are treated as shields or grounds.
The issue here is that the two signals become ‘commingled’ creating issues with space and placement of the sound. Manufacturers do this to cut the cost of cables, connectors, and expensive differential electronics. Please see our paper ‘Balanced’ in the Musing section of this site for more details.
All this technology means that you can reproduce a better sonic illusion in your head. A better listening experience, full of the emotional power, freedom, and stimulation that music releases in us. Depth, resolution, and clarity enough to turn the Muse in your soul loose. That is what the fun of music is all about.