November 1999Wyetech Labs Jade Line-Stage Preamp
by Jeff Fritz
The consumer, in the end, will determine the success of such a product. Will the audiophile community purchase a control amplifier with the sparse features of the Jade? Is a remote control mandatory for todays market? These questions are more complex than they appear. When compared with most other $4000-$5000 preamps, the Jade may seem outgunned. But, alas, you would not be examining the Jades whole arsenal. The Wyetech Jade comes to the battle with its own set of features. These are not easily seen without removing the top cover, but they are there, and you dont have to strain to hear these features at work. Ah yes, the Jade is a stealthy warrior after all.
Build quality and technical highlights
Wyetech may be marching to different drummer, but they are choosing their steps wisely. Upon close inspection, it is quite evident where the money was spent with the Jade. The chassis construction of the Jade prompts you to think that it could survive a small explosion. All six sides of this large box are constructed of heavy-gauge aluminum panels that are bolted to internal posts in each corner and midway down each side. The finish is of a high-gloss purple paint that is flawlessly done. The volume, balance and selector knobs are nickel-plated brass with a black finish. These are large with a substantial feel. Other front-panel details include heavy-duty toggle switches for monitor and mute, and two LEDs that indicate the ready and mute conditions. The rear panel has four line-level inputs, two main preamp outputs, a line-level out, and tape input/output. These connections are made via high-quality RCA jacks and are spaced wide for easy connectivity. The main power switch, a fuse holder, and an IEC receptacle round out the back.
The interior of the Jade speaks of solid industrial design. It is not beautiful in the audio-jewelry sense, but heavy duty and well implemented, which inspires confidence in long-term reliability. The circuit boards are perforated, which allows hard wiring on both sides. Double-turret terminals are riveted to the boards, with components soldered to the top layer of the terminal. This allows components to be replaced without the removal of the circuit boards. The tube complement consists of three 6SN7 dual triodes manufactured by Sovtek. The life expectancy of the tube set exceeds 10,000 hours due to the conservative operation Wyetech has specified. The circuit itself uses a grounded-grid configuration, which reportedly exhibits wide bandwidth and high speed. All stages are DC coupled with only one capacitor used in the output stage. No feedback whatsoever is used.
The Jade is configured with a single-ended class-A topology. Biasing is automatic, contributing to the user-friendly, simple operation. Other design features of note include a fixed-resistor volume control adjustable via a 24-position stepped attenuator. The unit is wired with Teflon-coated, silver-plated OFHC and silver solder. Input impedance is 50k ohms, while output impedance is 425 ohms. Rated output is 3.5 volts RMS.
The Jade was reviewed in my reference system taking the place of my Coda 04R. Associated components included a Mark Levinson No.335 power amplifier, a Pioneer DV-606D DVD player, and the Wilson X-1 Grand SLAMM Series II loudspeakers. Cabling was a combination of Harmonic Technology and Transparent Audio. I have moved into a larger listening room, which is approximately 35'x22'x9'. The speakers fire diagonally across the room virtually eliminating side-wall reflections. There is no wall directly behind the listening position, unlike with my previous setup. The room itself is a little live in absolute terms although it has been treated successfully with area rugs, drapes, and furniture.
My first observation of the Wyetech Jade came about two minutes into the review period. Having auditioned other tube preamps in my system, I was expecting a greatly increased noise floor compared with my solid-state reference. I was very pleasantly surprised that noise was at a minimum with the Jade. In fact, the Jade is the quietest tube line stage Ive heard, almost a match for the better solid-state units I've listened to. This was a good start as one potential shortfall was avoided altogether. Not having to listen past noise is a major strength, especially to those like me who enjoy acoustic music played at a reasonable volume. A noticeably high noise floor seems to attach itself to acoustic guitar, which diminishes the illusion of live music in the home.
The second defining characteristic became clear about 30 minutes into the review. Wow, I thought, this is going to be easy; such were the obvious strengths of the Jade. The bass extension I was hearing was incredibly deep and tight. Ive heard deep from some tube preamps, and tight from only a few, but neither at the same time. Again, this was a match for my solid-state reference. The Wyetech is claimed to have a - 3db point of 1Hz, but we all know specs can be misleading. Ive heard my fair share of tube line stages with a rolled-off low end. The Wyetech, however, does have extension at least equal to my speakers. Of course, all electronics should handily exceed the bandwidth of your speaker system, but often they do not exhibit the control and extension needed in the deep bass to provide a satisfying performance. The Jade excelled in the nether regions, an area the X-1s can be critical of. At this point in time, a couple of hours into the review, it appeared that the Wyetech was invading the established strengths of its solid-state counterparts. The assault continued.
I brought out some of my most dynamic, transient-rich recordings to test the Jades ability to reproduce the gradations from soft to loud to soft again. One such recording, the Patriot Games soundtrack [RCA 07863 66051-2], was reproduced with explosive agility. The Jade kept up with the ebb and flow of the music, without softening dynamic peaks or washing out low-level information. Its dynamics, once again, proved a match for my Levinson amplifier. At this stage of the review, it may seem that Im describing a tube line stage that sounds like a competent solid-state unit. Well, of course, we havent yet examined the Jades midrange and treble. The convergence stops there.
The treble range as a whole sounds smooth and delicate. If youre used to a fatiguing, brittle treble, the Jade will come as welcome relief. In my system, though, I was missing that last touch of detail. Cassandra Wilsons "Love is Blindness" from her New Moon Daughter CD [Blue Note CDP 7243 8 32861 2 6] is an example. I know what youre thinking: " But Jeff, its a smooth recording; its supposed to sound like that." And, of course, Id agree with you to an extent. This 1995 release sounds soothing and seductive with the Jade in charge. The acoustic guitar, though, was without the edge definition that provides the exclamation mark in a live performance. Given the choice, Id take smooth and silky over a hot, spitty treble any day. Its just that certain recordings demand that last iota of detail to sound real. The Wyetech falls just short, but not by much.
The midrange is clear while sounding properly scaled and weighted. In fact, the male voice is reproduced with startling clarity and depth. Shawn Mullins' voice in "Anchored in You" from Souls Core [Columbia CK 69637] is raspy and textured in a way that few components seem to reproduce. This is not to say that it is full of bloom or overblown (read: colored) the way Ive heard some other tube line stages sound, but transparent enough to let the emotion in the voice seep through. In all the vocal recordings I listened to, either male or female, the image remained locked in with accuracy and focus. Timbre is spot on, which alone may be the strength that brings the Jade to many an audiophile abode. Others have said that a colored vocal range is easily perceptible to even the casual listener due to our daily familiarity with voice. I would agree with this, and note that the Jade produced little to fault with vocals, a major plus!
The excellent Bel Canto SEP1 that I reviewed in June 1999 left a lasting impression in my aural memory. This tube line stage stands in stark contrast with the Wyetech Jade. To begin with, it has mucho features and is expandable to include even more. It sounds lush and delicate, being for many a tube lover, a dream. The Wyetech, though, has several sonic advantages over the Bel Canto. The noise floor is noticeably lower. Standing a couple of feet in front of the speakers with the volume fully attenuated, the Wyetech is barely perceptible while the Bel Canto is easily heard. The bass slam and control of the Jade is also superior, although the SEP1 has equal extension. The Bel Canto has its own strengths though, being ever so slightly more detailed on top. This is, however, a subtle difference that could be lost on many recordings. Its midrange also has more tube bloom (a strength in some systems, a weakness in others).
I could give the nod to either component depending on the recording and musical tastes. Your preferences and the system context would be the determinant. However, the two preamps are not even close to interchangeable.
If youre looking for features and a definite tubey sound, look to a unit like the Bel Canto SEP1. If you want rock-solid build quality, a quiet yet powerful and neutral presentation, the Jade may be your cup of tea. It would be hard to imagine this preamp as the weak link in any system at any price. You will, however, have to get off the couch to use it.
Summing it up
The Wyetech Jade successfully combines sonic excellence with sound design and build integrity. It operated perfectly right out of the box -- no pops, clicks, or nasty noises of any kind. The Jade is a specialized unit, unable to take advantage of a balanced amplifier or integrate easily into a home-theater setting. If these are not concerns, and a remote control isnt mandatory, Id be hard-pressed to recommend a better-sounding line stage. I would conclude by saying that Wyetech has met their objectives with the Jade preamp, upholding the old guard of the high end.
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