It's no secret that I like single ended parallel (SEP) tube circuits. Parallel tube technology provides the best sonic quality for several technical reasons:
A] Superior current handling capacity
B] Load sharing significantly increases peak demand performance
C] 50% lower drive impedance
D] Low parts count
E] There are no adverse side effects sonically, only positive attributes
F] Lowers output noise and increases signal resolution
To compliment the use of parallel tube elements, a streamlined circuit was designed to reduce signal processing and place the tubes in an ideal operational environment. Electronic components do not like to be stressed. Dual load bearing components as well as milliwatt tube demands insure the best possible sound and an extremely long tube life. Our prototype Beacon Two has been using a set of tired, used tubes for a year now. They still operate perfectly. In fact, the tubes operate cool enough to touch even after one hour of operation. Low heat dissipation increases performance in every aspect.
We are using a two-stage high voltage filtration process and DC filaments to ensure absolutely no electronic noise reaches the amplifier circuit. It is very difficult to provide pure low voltage, high current D.C. Due to that fact, an external power supply is used for the filaments. This system works several times better than an internal supply could. A side benefit is much less EMI inside the preamp's enclosure.
Both the input and outputs are decoupled by what are known as link capacitors. These are high performance, commercial grade capacitors capable of withstanding harsh environments and high current demands. They are made from high grade materials and exceed the requirements of their position within the circuit several times over. I consider them to be much better than capacitors made strictly for audio service.
Options available for the Beacon II:
1] Buffer and Amplification mode selection: Either 0db or 18db of gain is available at the flip of a switch. We are not simply adding a voltage divider within the input circuit to accomplish this feature. True unity gain is obtained right at the tubes. It is the same as having two separate components inside the same enclosure.
2] Home theater bypass: Flip a switch and the preamp circuits are 100% bypassed.
3] Buffered tape loop: A tube buffered circuit that completely isolates and re-routes incoming signals to a recorder's input amplifier.
4] Subwoofer output: A tube buffered true mono output.
5] Multi inputs and outputs: Parallel stereo outputs are available for bi-amping and more than two inputs are available.
6] Standby switch: Keep your filaments on and switch off the HV. Result: Instant on and less filament fatigue. Can increase tube life.
7] Custom gain configurations: FREE OF CHARGE!
Need something else? NOTE: We're working on a phono preamp!
The phono option will be available as a stand-alone unit and as an integrated Beacon Two option.
Key features at a glance:
*Starting Price: $1000.00!
*Nearly 100% quiet, even with 100+db speakers (no tube rush, hum or buzz)
*Commercial grade capacitors throughout
*SEP based circuit increases resolution and dynamic range
*Streamlined circuit reduces signal processing
*Very, very long tube life and low heat dissipation
Shown with optional wood trim.Recent customer review:
Since then I have made quite a few system changes and have now settled in. My Sig 30 has had the partial upgrade done and now has the 30.2 innards.... I really am enjoying it and can now understand how it has successfully displaced many amplifiers costing much, much more...
I have had upgrades done before to some of my prior audio gear and was never really impressed with the outcome. Naturally, I was very skeptical about doing the upgrade, (Vinnie must be a saint, I was a real science project), but, I can tell you without hesitation, that it was easily the most meaningful upgrade that I could imagine...
To be honest, the Sig 30 before the partial upgrade was not exactly my cup of tea.. In my system it simply sounded like it needed to gain significant weight and bloom. The detail was there, the quiet was there, but, no heft, no weight. I fully expected to have the partial upgrade done only to end up selling it on Audiogon.
I was WRONG!
After running it in for approx. 3 weeks, I can tell you that the Sig 30.2 isn't going anywhere for a looong, loong while, if ever. It's that good. It's presentation of weight, complexity, bloom, ease pitch perfect bass, and natural highs, coupled with a DEAD quiet background are addicting! It perform's as a 45 SET could, if it could make 30 watts.
If anyone has any reservations about having the partial upgrade done, just cast em off, and have it done… Or email me, it’ll take me 30 seconds to sell you on the upgrade.
During this time I have used 2 different preamps. with the Sig 30.2. The first was the MAPLESHADE ULTRA 4A SE. The second was a Niteshade Beacon II, custom built for use with the Sig 30.2 with input to the builder from Vinnie.... (How many guys in the audio business would help another manufacturer design a preamp for a customer? Thanks Vinnie! ).
The Mapleshade, while it sounded fine, was just that, fine. No more - no less. A little noisy, vocals were acceptable, bass was a little fat, top was “nice”. And the main preamp chassis weighted only about a pound, even turning the volume control caused the preamp to move… Just didn’t feel or sound substantial to me. I sold it, thanks Audiogon.
Niteshade Audio Beacon Two preamp:
The Beacon Two was a completely different story. This is a really nice preamp.! Dead quiet, I’d say every bit as quiet as the Sig 30.2. I ran it the first week with some RCA 6SN7’s. It went through some strange periods during the break-in process, especially the first week. Day one, bright, day 2 dark, day3 better more balanced, then it started to open up.
I had done some reading on 6SN7 tubes and found lots of folks recommending the Russian 6H8C tubes as replacements, (approx. $200.00 pr.). I decided to give these a try. Again, another immediate change for the better. I left these cooking in the preamp for a couple of days, went back to the system and honestly, the difference was amazing.
I should note that the way that the Niteshade Beacon Two “stand-by mode” works (My term not Niteshades). There are two switches, one for the tube filaments of the 6SN7/6H8C that keeps them on in stand-by if you wish or off completely. The other power switch is for the high voltage which turns of the rectifier/high voltage circuit. When I shut it down, I turn off the high voltage switch and leave the tube filament switch on - all the time… When ready to use it again, I flip on the high voltage circuit and within 1 minute I am playing music – no warm up time!
Howzit sound? If foot tapping and smiling are any sign, it sounds outstanding. Quiet, dimensional front to back, full cinema width. Rich and natural without sounding euphonic. I’d say it’s an honest preamp. It gives you what ever you feed it.
One truly unique characteristic that I notice now is that the soundstage has excellent height! I have had lots of audio gear, LOTS! I have never experienced this vertical dispersion characteristic as profoundly as now. Vocals have a spooky realism and image placement is as good as I have ever heard. The only other set-up that I have experienced that “may” have done this better is the original Magnaplanar MG20’s with some really high end electronics.
The switchable gain is also a very nice feature. One toggle switch that allows for 0db gain, (Unity gain) or 12db gain . I find that I use the 0db gain with phono and 12db going with CD. I set the gain at approx. 11:00 o’çlock on the Beacon Two and then dial up the gain on the Sig30.2 to an approx. maximum listening level. Then use the preamp gain to dial in the desired volume… The flexibility here is real nice. Most preamp seem to have a sweet spot, this one happens to be at ~ 11:00 o’clock on the preamp volume control and 2:00 o’clock on the Sig 30.2. According to Blair at Niteshade, the preamp should be shut off before switching gain settings. (If you don’t you will hear a disturbing pop thru your speakers). I mentioned this to him the last time we spoke and he stated that he may have a way to eliminate this, he’s thinking on it…
Final thoughts: If you are looking for a excellent preamp. , I encourage you to try the Beacon Two. If you are on the fence weather you should upgrade your Red Wine Audio Sig 30 to Sig 30.2, don’t hesitate, call Vinnie and tell him it’s on the way… I bet you will have it back in a week.
Many thanks to Vinnie and Blair for their wonderful products and exemplary customer support!