Pro-Ject Tube Box ($699 CAN)
In comparison to the Graham Slee the Tube Box, from Austrian turntable giant Pro-Ject, is more of a switch hitter, as it’s configurable for both low output and high output cartridges. In MM mode (40 dB of gain) the Tube Box, like the Era Gold, is setup for standard 47k Ohm impedance. In MC mode (60 dB of gain) it can be configured, via a set of DIP switches, for 100, 220, or 1000 Ohms. On its rear, as with the Slee, are gold plated RCA ins and outs, as well as a grounding post and input jack for the outboard power supply. Unlike the Era Gold, the Tube Box has a big, round power switch right in the middle of its face.
The folks at Pro-Ject seem to want to make sure there’s no possibility anyone would ever confuse this with a solid state phono stage. Between the name, and the pair of little 12AX 7A tubes glowing behind windows in the front of the chassis, there should be little danger of that. Of the three pieces of gear reviewed here it’s certainly the nicest to look at, especially in the dark with its tubes and blue LED happily glowing away.
Sonically speaking it would also be difficult to confuse the Tube Box with a solid state device. Listening with the Clearaudio Aurum Beta S the sound was buttery smooth, characterized by the kind of liquidity tube lovers covet. I listened to it immediately after my resident Rotel RQ-970BX (a true audio steal at around $300 but outclassed by all the phono preamps here) and found it not only smoother, but more transparent with better delineation of individual instruments. I liked the bass better too, but this was bass a little more of the soft and round variety compared to the Era Gold. On Peter Tosh’s Bush Doctor, for instance, the Tube Box couldn’t match the bass definition and crispness of the Era Gold, sounding by no means unpleasant, but a little flaccid and mellow by comparison. In terms of bass, Graham Slee’s phono stage is a very, very tough act to follow.
Soundstaging was a standout area of performance, the Tube Box able to throw a huge sonic picture well outside the speakers, even more so than the Graham Slee. The midrange on the Peter Tosh record was rendered with great smoothness and liquidity at the expense of some textural detail and tonal colour. While it lacked some of the inner detail and transparency of the Era Gold, the Tube Box was very natural sounding, and its smoothness made long term, high level listening a joy. It’s top end lacked the control of the Era Gold, the Tube Box more susceptible to groove noise and spitting by comparison, but that’s a little like saying that a BMW lacks the luxury cachet of a Bentley. The Graham Slee is as good as I’ve heard in this department and it’s by no means realistic to expect a phono preamp costing a few hundred less to match it. While not it’s strongest suit, the treble performance of the Tube Box was better than the Rotel’s but not as creamy as the rest of its presentation.
Overall, I enjoyed listening to the Tube Box. It represents something of a compromise, as any switchable MC/MM phono preamp at this price point would, but it errs in a generally musical, if mildly euphonic way, which makes it easy to like and easy to live with. If your priorities are detail, dynamics and bass response, you’re better off to save up for the Graham Slee. If you favour fluid mids, big soundstages, and a smooth, laid-back presentation, give the Tube Box a listen.
Related Reviews:Tom Evans Microgroove Phono Preamp
Graham Slee Era Gold V Phono Preamp
Firestone Audio Korora MC/MM Phono Preamp
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