Xindak Audio XA3200S Preamplifier
|Xindak Audio XA3200S Preamplifier|
The Chinese Connection
|Dave Thomas February 2004|
From China With Love … and Lower Prices!
During the course of your life you’ve probably dated somebody who at first glance seemed like a rather simple and mild-mannered person who would be nice to hang-out with but was probably not going to set your world on fire. The next thing you know, that person’s got you on chapter 13 of The Karma Sutra and you’re twisting your body into positions that would make a yoga instructor feel squeamish. That sort of describes my first experience with the Chinese-built, Xindak Audio XA3200S vacuum tube preamp … Okay, so maybe it wasn’t quite that wild, but keep reading anyway.
Xindak is one of a number of Chinese high-end audio manufacturers that has been making a splash in the U.S. audio market as of late. As you may have read in my Usher Audio AC-10 loudspeaker review, famed loudspeaker designer Dr. Joseph D’Appolito was quoted as saying: “Eastern manufacturing costs are much, much lower,” and “ … eastern manufacturing technology has caught up with the West while most of their plants are much newer and more efficient. This is something the rest of the high-end audio manufacturing world will have to deal with.” Jay Bertrand, Xindak’s U.S. distributor agrees. “It’s a joke when you look at the prices of some things being made here versus what is being produced in China,” said Bertrand. “They’re producing equipment there that would easily cost two to three times the money if it were made here.” Besides Usher and Xindak, other companies such as Ming-Da, Shanling, Sheng Ya (a.k.a. Vincent Audio), and even the much ballyhooed Antique Sound Labs, are gaining a lot of notice in the audiophile press worldwide and amongst U.S. audiophiles. Products like the Xindak XA3200S are a big reason why. Its elegant styling and agreeable price belie its wonderful sonics.
Humble Looking Beginnings
The XA3200S is a model of deceptive simplicity. On the left side of it’s ¼” thick brushed silver aluminum faceplate are a soft-touch power button and an IR remote sensor. In the center are four small line source selection buttons with tiny LEDs above them labeled “S-1” thru “S-4”. On the right is a large volume control knob. The back of the unit is just as understated with four sets of gold-plated RCA inputs, two sets of outputs and a power cord receptacle. That’s it! No digital volume and source selection display. No artistic sculpting or engraving. No high gloss finish or gold-plated accents, just a plain old preamp. There in lies its deception. This is not a plain preamp.
The first thing you notice is this piece’s quality of construction and heft when you pick it up. You wouldn’t think for this price that you’d get something this well made and, in a minimalist sort of way, nice looking. You definitely get more than your money’s worth with this piece of gear. It’s solid, well-built, no loose connectors or switches to worry about. Everything was easy to read on the preamp and setting it up is fairly straightforward.
Under The Hood
According to the manufacturer, the XA3200S uses two 5670 or 6N3 electron tubes connected in-parallel into a Shunt-Regulated Push-Pull (SRPP) path to amplify, at the same time it uses one SRPP constituted by a 12AU7 tube for output. Also, it adopts the direct-coupled inter-valve, which gives relatively wide frequency response (10Hz-100kHz, @1dB) and good dynamic and low-frequency control abilities. In addition, the power supply of this unit takes the characteristics of earlier XA3200 designs, adopting VT commutation and voltage-stabilizing, which makes better matching between the inherent resistance, performance and amplifying circuit. The control section uses a single-chip microcomputer. Volume control is accomplished via an imported ALPS motor potentiometer. The sound source selectively adopts relay to realize the soft-touch switchover. All of these functions can also be used via a remote control made from a wire-drawing die of aluminum alloy. The operations are convenient, the reliability and fidelity are better, and handling is easier.
Also, the materials used in the XA3200S are of the finest quality. DALE resistors, WIMA, RIFA, and special Xindak MKP capacitors, premium gold and silver plated signal wires. On the interior, zinc-coated plates are used to separate the power supply and amplifying circuit. This means the mechanical strength and electromagnetic interference resistance capability of the unit is outstanding. The only things that this unit is lacking are balanced (XLR) input and output capability. Then again, if you haven’t bought into the hype around balanced designs you won’t miss it here and will appreciate Xindak’s willingness to ignore it and keep the costs of this unit down.
Let’s Play Some Tunes!
Call it luck, call it serendipity, but I had just returned from my monthly spending spree at Tower Records when the delivery truck rolled up and dropped off the package containing the Xindak preamp. I had just bought a couple of discs off the recommendation of some of my Stereo Times brethren. After I got the unit unpacked, I installed it into a system comprised of the Electrocompaniet EMC-1 CD player, a pair of EC AW220 mono amps, and the Dynaudio Contour S5.4 loudspeakers. The system was wired with Virtual Dynamics’ “Nite” series speaker cables, interconnects, and power cords.
Jay Bertrand of Bertrand Audio Imports, the U.S. distributor for Xindak, was kind enough to send me a unit that was already broken in, so after few hours of warm up, I was able to get right into listening to this unit. One of the discs I bought was Rosario Giuliani’s “Mr. Dodo” [FDM 36636-2]. After I got done snickering at the title of this disc I found myself subconsciously tapping my toes and bobbing my head to the opening track for which this disc is named. It’s a dynamic and layered recording that features Giuliani’s splendid yet hard driving saxaphone. But what really grabbed me was the ice-cold piano work of Pietro Lusso. It was obviously free formed but it was also very lucid and was the perfect complement to Giuliani’s performance. It takes a talented preamp to decipher those two different types of sounds within the same recording and the Xindak did it extremely well.
I have long been a believer that nothing reproduces the delicacy and air of the piano the way that tubes do. One of my favorite discs for listening to the sheer beauty of the piano is Patrick Noland’s “Gathering Light” [naimcd 011]. Ken Christianson, who to my ears captures all of the pristine sweetness of live, un-amplified music as well as any engineer around, engineered this recording for the Naim Label. If you love piano music, un-accompanied piano music, this recording would be well worth seeking out. But you probably won’t find it available at your local music store so I’d suggest visiting Naim Audio’s website or just call Ken himself at his audiophile hangout, Pro Musica in Chicago. Track 3 from Gathering Light is called Entranced Within Us. It is one of those performances that seems to transport you. The XA3200S fleshes out that wondrous quality from the first note. In the dead-silence of my listening room I could hear Noland’s foot tapping the pedals of his nine foot Steinway. The decay of the notes from felt-covered hammers hitting strings was captured to near perfection (This is still a digital recording. Lucky me, I got to hear it on Ken’s Nagra 4S tape recorder. Big difference.).
A Quick Comparison
I compared the Xindak to my Talon Audio-modified Electrocompaniet EC4.7 solid-state preamp which is also in the $1,500 to $2,000 price range. The differences were not at all unexpected. The Xindak’s tube qualities were immediately apparent in the midrange and treble performance. The sense of air and warmth was somewhat more palatable through the Xindak than through the EC, particularly on voices and some intimate jazz recordings. But when the going got rough – as in when I put on George Clinton & The P-Funk All Stars’ “Dope Dogs” [Dogone Records DOG9816] – the EC kept it’s composure at the higher, brain-bending volume levels that this funk/metal/hip-hop disc thrives on. Especially the opening track, Dog Star which features the driving guitar work of the legendary Eddie “Maggot Brain” Hazel. But when the music and volume level came back down to Earth, so did the Xindak’s mastery of the delicacies of live music.
The bass was not the tightest I’ve heard, especially when pushed to louder than normal levels. But the high frequencies are extended and you never get that feeling of mid-bass over-emphasis that you can get with some less expensive designs (and some much more expensive designs for that matter). The stage was very wide and surprisingly deep. Spatial clues were clearly evident around the performers and the instruments. It renders a lot of detail but was neither etched nor fatiguing. I felt it played jazz and classical music equally well and found it hard to seriously criticize on any count.
I could easily live with this preamp as my reference, which shows just how much I enjoyed it. The bottom line is that if you’re just starting to put together a system, and want an excellent control unit that will allow you to put more money into other parts of your system, the Xindak XA3200S should go on the top of your short list of things to do. But be sure to do so before meeting someone who will have you do chapter 13 of the Karma Sutra or you may not have much time to enjoy it. In terms of cost, features and performance, I think it’s the best preamp you can buy for under $2,000.
|System: Stereo Tube Pre-Amplifier
Tube compliment: (2) 5670, (1) 12AU7
Power specifications: AC110V +_10%, 50/60Hz
Frequency response: 10Hz – 100KHz
Total harmonic distortion: <0.1%
Signal-to-noise ratio: > 87dB
Output Voltage: 8.5V (RMS)
Dimensions: 430mm x 90mm x 280mm (WHD)
Bertrand Audio Imports (U.S. Distributor)
49 Fairview Avenue
Nashua, NH 03060-4209
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