Well here it is. Many of you have been patiently waiting for my review of Morten's LDRx unit especially in light of the fact that I had built my own balanced version of John Chapman's TAP-X called the Lazarus
My system is detailed here: http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?action=systems;system=1184
Let's just cut to the chase. This is a fantastic unit. I plugged it in, and even though it is RCA based and I have a fully balanced system, I had enough unbalanced interconnects (and my source does have an unbalanced output) that configuration was easy. Then I listened. And I didn't stop listening. And I had no motivation to get up or tweak anything.
So how does it compare to my fully balanced and unbalanced TAP-X unit? The biggest difference isn't in tonality, imaging, microdetailing, macrodetailing or PRAT (which the LDRx has PLENTY of). It was in soundstaging. The LDRx puts you more up front and center while the TAP-X is more midhall. I could turn the volume up a little more with the TAP-X and the presentation became more similar, but not the same. With the LDRx, the presentation could be a little more forward, which I did prefer on some recordings. On other recordings...not so much. At times, I thought the LDRx presented a little more detail especially at the trailing edge of an instrument or especially on acoustical recordings, but I soon realized that the TAP-X could do the same, you just had to turn the volume up a few clicks.
I truly believe that the performance of the LDRx is nothing short of remarkable given the competition, i.e. the TAP-X. The differences were far more subtle than I had imagined and in fact, one could choose either one and come out ahead.
So where does this leave us? I thought about this long and hard because for many of you, the Bent Audio products are a bit too expensive. Understand what you are paying for however. Given that the sonic differences between the 2 products are small and that I only had balanced TAP-X on hand (and sorry I didn't do a comparison from the RCA outputs on my TAP-X), I will say that the packaging, remote, phenomenal front panel user interface and friendliness account for the differences in price between the 2 products. First you need to ascertain whether a passive preamp can work in your system from a volume perspective, i.e. do you have enough gain in your system for MOST of your recordings? Next, you need to ask yourself if your amplifier has a low input impedance (i.e. less than 40k ohms) or greater. If it's higher and you want something fully built with remote and need a single ended/RCA based device, call Morten immediately! $1.2k-$1.3K is a mere pittance. If you want something that is compatible with low input impedance amplifiers (i.e. less than 40K ohms), a little more lavish looking with a phenomenal remote handset, or you have interconnects longer than 1-2M, then build yourself a BENT AVC-1 for $1.6K. A little more will get you the fully built version. For balanced, there is only one currently on the market, but I am sure Morten's unit is right around the corner and should be competitive.
For the crafty, one could go with Morten's LDRx kit, or purchase a pair of AVC transformers from John Chapman and build your own enclosure etc...you should be able to do both for a good 30% less than what these fellas are asking for their built units (which is cheap!!!). You'll get all the sonics with less user friendliness. Big deal, yah, your creation might look like ass but at least with lights out you are in sonic bliss.
Okay. What should you NOT do? Don't spend $3K-$10K on a preamp thinking that it is going to kick the pants off of Morten's LDRx or the Bent TAP-X cause in all likelihood, it may be better in a few areas while compromising others. And most of the time, in my experience, it has been worse, sometimes considerably worse! That's right, if you are looking for a preamp at less than $10K, check out Morten's LDRx. If you want a preamp that can add 7dB of gain, work with a more variety of amplifiers, even have headphones plugged in, go for the Bent unit. Both of these products should be able to satisfy a good 99% of audiophiles IMHO.
But's that all that is...my honest audiophile douche bag's opinion
Thanks again Morten, a job well done, and most highly recommended.