TOWNSHEND ALLEGRI REFERENCE PREAMPLIFIER LATEST EDITION PASSIVE AUTOTRANSFORMER VOLUME CONTROL (AVC)
Free worldwide shipping supplied with 5 years manufactures warranty
Used by Martin Colloms Hifi Critic, Jason Kennedy The Ear and Rafael Todes UK reviewer and member of the Allegri String Quartet.
The Allegri Reference is a microprocessor-controlled, passive, autotransformer volume control (AVC) pre-amplifier, which is ideally suited for both the discerning home hi-fi enthusiast and the professional user. It is wired throughout with Townshend’s proprietary Fractal™ cable, with full remote control, a detailed and clear LED display and the latest Seismic Isolation. Designed with the goal of absolute signal purity, it is the optimum solution for the heart of your system. It is exactly what every serious audiophile has been waiting for.
Enjoying Townshend Audio’s renowned crystal-clear treble, open, lucid mid-band and subterranean bass, as delivered by the Allegri+ preamplifier, the Allegri Reference amazingly delivers another level of sound quality, with truly high resolution. It reveals enormously deep and wide sound stages that fill the room with holographic-like sound images, whilst unveiling previously hidden fine detail. It is the ultimate, timeless, state-of-the-art, purely analogue, passive, stereo audio volume control.
"This is quite something - my advice is Try it, Buy it, Keep it. The Allegri Reference is an audio masterpiece." James Darbyshire
There are 129 individual 0.5dB steps, which give very fine volume adjustment at all listening levels. This incredibly wide range can accommodate very high source levels and very high sensitivity power amplifiers enabling refined volume control at very low levels, which is ideal for late-night listening. This is a 'first' for an AVC. In use, the control is seamless with no discernible steps. The Allegri Reference is the Holy Grail of audio preamplifiers.
The autotransformer configuration is employed for the Allegri Reference, as in the “stunning” Allegri+, because it has been shown to give by far the best sonic result when compared with conventional transformers (TVCs). The AVC also allows for a smaller core size, which has lower leakage inductance, which gives a far better transient performance and flatter frequency response. The AVC, is also much better than a resistive passive volume control, because of the very high input impedance and low output impedance.
The winding of each transformer comprises a single, unbroken, 260m (845 feet) length of 0.1mm (42SWG) Fractal™ wire, looped out 48 times around 48 pins, which are connected directly to the reed-relay pins. A short run of Fractal™ wire connects each of the signal in, signal out and ground, between the input/output connector board and each transformer relay board. Here is a clear case of less is much more.
The laminations are 49 % Nickel, 51% iron mumetal, which gives the best bass performance and lowest overall distortion (less than 0.001%).
This purely passive autotransformer design is wired throughout with Townshend Audio’s unique Fractal™ wire, which was developed over many years of critical listening, by the most discerning audiophiles and is audibly superior to plain copper, silver and even DCT copper wire. The result is the most accurate, uncoloured and open-sounding preamplifier possible, offering astonishing transparency and resolution of the finest details.
To realise the full potential of the Allegri Reference, it is most important to use Townshend Audio F1 Fractal™ interconnects for both input and output, as just one metre of inferior interconnect can noticeably degrade the sound.
FRONT PANEL CONTROLS
The left-hand front rotary control selects the inputs, 1 to 5. When the control is pressed, the menu options are activated. The right-hand control adjusts the volume. When the volume control is pressed, the sound is muted. A second press puts the unit in standby.
With the remote control, you can operate volume change and mute, select any one of the five inputs and program a specific pre-set offset volume level. Display blanking is also switchable from the remote.
One press of the volume button, up or down, changes the volume by one step of 0.5 dB. If the button is held down, the volume steps will be spaced at half-second intervals at first and then the stepping amount will increase. This allows for large volume changes in a relatively short time, with the entire range from 1 to 129 in covered in 10 seconds. In use, it feels just right.
To equalise the often widely varying output levels of different source components, all inputs may be pre-programmed with your chosen volume level. The range is +/- 30 steps or +/– 15dB.
All inputs may be also be set at maximum volume fixed, or zero dB, for home cinema bypass. This feature allows the Allegri Reference to effectively "disappear" as it directly connects the AV receiver to the front left and front right power amplifiers. The volume is then controlled by the AV receiver. The mute function remains active. The mute function also doubles as a standby control.
The remote is an Apple-style remote control. It is very sensitive, so it is not necessary to point it directly at the unit. There is a convenient magnet attachment to store the remote under the front of the unit.
The display is an easy-to-read seven-segment, white LED array, mounted behind a grey panel. LED displays are employed and are powered by interference-free DC. If a common LCD type screen were used, the sound could be compromised by the continuously running refresh clock.
The brightness of the display is controlled by an ambient light level sensor, so that the display is optimally readable when viewed in either bright light or total darkness. Display on/off is switchable by the remote control. The decimal point, on the input channel-display flashes with each input from the remote. This function is still active when the display is blanked. There is a further selectable option to have the screen blanked and then for the display to illuminate for five seconds, to five minutes, when a command is made from the remote control.
It is well known that digital clock oscillators degrade the fidelity of the fragile audio signal, so the sound-blurring internal clock is disabled when listening. The clock is only activated when the remote control or the front panel controls are operated.
REED RELAY SWITCHING
The signal path is as simple as possible, with just four of the 102 ultra-reliable reed relays in the signal path at any one time. Reed relays are chosen for the tap switching as they are superior to all other switches. They have a life in excess of 30,000,000 operations, which is far longer than regular rotary switches, which tend to wear through the thin contact plating after a few thousand operations. Further, the relay contacts are in a vacuum, so there is no oxidation - and there is a slight rubbing action when the reeds close, which ensures perfect contact for audio. All internal connections are hard-wired with Fractal™ wire and there are no connectors in the signal path.
CONNECTIONS - BALANCED and UNBALANCED
The phono circuits are unbalanced for simplicity and the XLR connectors are wired in parallel with the phono connectors. The configuration is pseudo-balanced with pin 2 of the XLR signal and pin 3 ground. This avoids the use of an extra balancing transformer with all the associated complications and degradations in sound. The Allegri Reference has five stereo phono inputs and two pairs of balanced XLRs, in parallel with inputs 1 and 2. There is a 3.5mm jack socket, on the front panel, in parallel with input 5. For output, it has two sets of stereo phonos and one pair of balanced XLRs. The result is a preamplifier that can perfectly match any “Red Book standard” source component to any modern power amplifier.
All microprocessor programming is done in-house, by Townshend’s digital team.
Seismic Isolation is fundamental to the design of the Allegri Reference. This gives isolation from vibration down to 3Hz in all three planes, which offers unmatched performance as a result. The four sturdy supporting feet contain fully-featured, highly compliant, air-damped Seismic Isolation modules. These block structure-borne vibration from the feet from reaching the autotransformers. This has a remarkable effect on the sound quality and is easily demonstrated by bypassing the suspension. When bypassed, the sound is exceptional by any normal standards, but when the suspension is incorporated the soundstage expands dramatically, with height, width and depth being greatly increased. With individual instruments, there is an easily discernible improvement in focus.
CONSTRAINED LAYER DAMPING
As a further part of the comprehensive vibration reduction, heavy mass-damped constrained-layer damping is employed in the structure of the chassis. This extra mass also greatly reduces the effect of external vibration, especially that introduced by interconnect cables.
FULL DEPTH CABINET
The Allegri Reference casing is full depth at 380mm (15”) front to back. This is most convenient, as it places the controls of the unit at the front of a typical hi-fi rack shelf whilst the connectors are conveniently accessible at the rear.
The case and isolating feet are made of anodised aluminium and are available in either a natural silver or black finish.
Although the signal path is totally passive in the Allegri Reference, the electronics and display require 12V DC. A universal power supply is supplied, with the appropriate plug, to suit your country's mains supply. Power and music signal are always separate. There is no direct connection between the power supply and the signal conductors or ground.
To maintain the integrity of the Fractal™ wired transformers, it is strongly advised to use Fractal™ Interconnects for both the input and output cabling and to use Townshend Audio’s F1 Fractal™ speaker cable. This has been shown to give the best possible sound.
The table below illustrates the extremely wide volume setting possibilities:
SPECIFICATIONS Frequency response at -10dB:
10Hz, -0.03dB, 20kHz, +0.1dB.Maximum signal level:
4V RMS 8Hz; 10V RMS 20Hz and up.Maximum DC offset :
5mV (For undistorted 8Hz).Distortion:
2V, 1kHz, -113dB, 0.0002%.
10V, 1kHz, -96dB, 0.0014%.
2V, 20kHz, -96dB, 0.003%.
2V, 10Hz, -86dB, 0.005%.
2V, 20Hz, -115dB, 0.00014%.
(2nd and 3rd harmonic only).Intermodulation distortion:
19/20kHz, 2V. -86dB, 0.005%.Channel separation:
20Hz-20kHz: Better than 110dB.Impedance:
At 0dB, input impedance is 20kohm. At -10dB (normal listening) input impedance is 200kohm, for a power amplifier load with 20kohm input impedance.Inputs:
Five pairs of RCA phono sockets (gold plated). Two pairs of XLRs in parallel with inputs 1 and 2. One 3.5mm stereo jack on front panel, in parallel with input 5.Outputs:
Two pairs of RCA phono sockets (gold plated) One pair of XLRs.Dimensions:
Width 234mm (5.3in), Height 100mm (4in), Depth 380mm (15in).Weight:
9kg (20lb).POWER SUPPLYInput:
90-260V, AC 50-60Hz. Universal.Output:
12V DC. 0,5W.
Allegri Reference review in HiFi+ by Jason Kennedy
"I have been using an Allegri and latterly an Allegri+ for some time now and rarely find a preamplifier that can match its transparency, openness and timing abilities. The absence of electrical power means it has an instant advantage over active preamps and the use of autotransformers gives it the edge over transformer-coupled preamps in my opinion. So I thought I knew what I was getting with the Allegri Reference but boy was I wrong! It’s a monster of the most refined and revealing variety that I have ever encountered. It has many of the characteristics of high-end preamplifiers such as a very smooth effortless delivery, wide bandwidth and high transparency to detail but it goes further in all these departments than the majority. What is so entrancing is the combination of speed, resolution and a total absence of grain that it delivers, it’s massively refined yet infeasibly dynamic and reveals so much so that the tendency is to play longer and louder than is good for one’s familial partnership.
Its abilities seem only to be limited by those of the source that provides the signal; the better that is the higher the sound quality, which means it’s very easy to differentiate between sources and recordings alike. Familiar music offers up low level resolution that was possibly hinted at before but now has shape and character such that it’s easy to hear and place in the context of the music. It makes complex music more accessible by virtue of eliminating the edginess and glare that so many preamplifiers introduce and presents it in a totally coherent fashion. While power amplifiers are all generally pretty good – albeit with some better than others – preamplifiers come in a far wider variety of standards from ‘tolerable’ to ‘outstanding’, with thousands of gradations in between. It’s hard to appreciate how critical the preamplifier is until one like this comes along and reveals that what you thought was a limitation of the source was actually a distortion being added by the preamp. The Allegri Reference appears to be devoid of additive distortion, which is very rare indeed, but such is the clarity of everything that passes through it, from Javier Perianes’ incredibly subtle piano to Esperanza Spalding’s multi-layered vocals and beautiful bass playing that this is the only logical conclusion.
It makes for intoxicating listening with absolutely gorgeous bass alongside real delicacy on Michael Wollny Trio’s Wartburg [ACT], while the breathy nuances of Lou Reed’s ‘Vanishing Act’ [The Raven, Sire] show how the fragility of voice and piano are perfectly matched. The nearest preamps I’ve heard to the Allegri Reference are very high end tube examples from Kondo and Silbatone but they don’t necessarily have such a low noise floor as has been achieved here, and they cost considerably more. What I found most engaging about this degree revelation is the life and energy that it brought out of favourite records, Joni Mitchell’s ‘All I Want’ [Blue, Reprise] has a crystalline transparency that exposes the poignancy of the song, and the speed of banjo playing by Gwenifer Raymond on ‘Bleeding Finger Blues’ [You Never Were Much of a Dancer, Tompkins Square] is clearer because you can hear the attack of each note, as well as the tapping of her foot. Timing is not apparently enhanced or affected in any way so if the source delivers the goods you know all about it, especially when the Grateful Dead are playing live in their heyday [Europe ’72, Warner Bros], and then it’s as good as being at the original event as anyone with only one pair of speakers can achieve.
Recently, I put on Television’s Marquee Moon [Elektra] which is a deliberately edgy, raw sounding production that can sound thin and etched on some systems, but here it retained all the angst and intensity with that lo-fi balance but didn’t grate, it just sounded the way it should, which made for maximum thrill power. Meanwhile, Lana Del Rey’s NFR![Polydor] is a very polished studio construct that always sounds good. With the Reference, the bass was less crunchy and the voice and piano more nuanced; the total absence of grain meaning that edges are not exaggerated and quieter sounds easier to appreciate. The imaging was also outstanding with tremendous depth both fore and aft of the loudspeakers, something that appeared on a lot of other recordings that usually sound fairly flat.
The Townshend Audio Allegri Reference is a genuinely high-end preamplifier with a good range of inputs and features in a well built and extremely well thought out design. If it was in impressive casework, the price would be three or four times what is being asked here and – in truth – that’s what Townshend Audio needs to do for it to be taken seriously. But, like other Townshend products, you get state of the art sound quality for a significantly more accessible price than preamplifiers at this level usually command, and that seems like a pretty good deal to me."
Martin Colloms, HIFICRITIC awards "Audio Excellence" category
With lab results at, or very close to, the state of
the art, it was to be hoped that the sound quality
would be commensurate. It was: the feed from
this level control is virtually indistinguishable from
the input signal, an ideal result. It has almost no
character of its own, so readily does it transmit
all the valued qualities of the program source –
such as exemplary pace, rhythm and timing with
excellent stereo images, commanding all aspects
including focus, width and depth. Exceptionally
transparent it provides a clear window into the
sound stage, making it a very worthy entry to the HIFI CRITIC Audio Excellence category."
Rafael Todes auditions for HI-FI +
"This preamplifier allowed me to circumvent one of the few issues I have with the dCS Bartók DAC, namely its digital volume control. I find that cutting the volume on the dCS digitally by a couple of dB is audible – the soundstage diminishes, and there’s a subtle muffling of the sound. With the DAC set back up to 0dB and the Allegri Reference in the circuit, the Bartók gives its glorious best. Like the Hippocratic oath, this preamplifier is “doing no harm”, acting in the sense that Quad’s founder Peter Walker meant when he famously said that an amplifier should be “a piece of wire with gain”. Tonally, it’s practically translucent, so it’s not the sort of thing you wheel in to give a system a smoother or a brighter sound. Instead, it’s very neutral, and so if you’ve got trouble upstream of the preamp, the Allegri Reference won’t do anything to mitigate it. Some may criticise it for being too bright, but it’s a bit like looking into the mirror and blaming the glass if you don’t like what you see. In my case – as a professional musician – it would be like me blaming the metronome for my failing to keep time. Do not adjust your TV set, there is a fault with reality! It keeps this clarity in the time domain too – it’s so fast and unfettered that to my ears it’s quite outstanding."
It was quite a step to start listening to a passive preamplifier. However, the listening experience has shown that the Townshend Allegri Reference has nothing to be negative about. The unit functions like all the best active pre-amps do. In essence, you distance yourself from the hi-fi effect as much as possible. In any case, you should also listen for yourself. The Allegri Reference is almost literally and figuratively the straight wire without reinforcement and without distortion.
The cliffhanger is of course which is the best active preamplifier. Formally spoken, the amplifier that changes as little as possible in the offered signal compared to the Allegri. If you really think that your active pre-amp sounds 'better' than the Allegri and 'adds' something to the sound, then you are basically saying that you enjoy listening to distortion. Why would you do this to yourself?
With those transformer core improvements, lower noise supplies for the control section, greater mass-loading and extensively redesigned vibration-isolating footers, one would anticipate some improvement over the already high standard set by the extant version, though frequently such advances are incremental. That wasn’t so in this case, as from the first few notes of a reference track it was obvious that Max and his team had struck gold yet again: the improvements are global and by no means trivial.The soundstage seemed better illuminated, with sound sources defined with laser-like precision: before this latest update, the central region, both for stereo image resolution and frequency range, was very well-defined and focused, only reference to top-class designs at three to four times the price indicating there was still a little more to get, perhaps at the frequency extremes. Now, comparing the new version with the previous iteration, the broad midrange remains as amazing as ever, but that standard of excellence has now been further extended to the low and high frequency extremes. Unquestionably the bass is faster, crisper, and more tuneful, while the high treble is better focused, more crisply placed in the soundstage and shows more variation in orchestral texture and detail. Taken overall the soundstage is significantly wider and deeper –perhaps as much as 25% – and the involvement factor, dynamics and timing are also improved, which is doubly impressive given that the existing version already excelled in rhythm and timing. True, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Allegri Reference is now knocking on the door of £10,000, but let’s put that in context: there are some reference-level active line control units priced at £30,000 plus which are now seeing competition from this design.
Max Townshend and his team have succeeded in making the best of the passive control units sound better still: I’ve run out of superlatives, while the price is still very competitive for the standard on offer