The next step is the interesting one. At this point, you either have a single L1 preamp and X1 power supply, or a pair of L1 preamps and no power supply. Where next? Logically, it should be an extra box (either an additional L1 in the L1/X1 system, or your first X1 in a L1/L1 system), but I’d argue strongly to just make the next jump to the full quartet, rather than the intermediary that ends with two L1s being driven by a single X1. If you upgrade to two X1s, you don’t lose out here; you simply buy an ‘empty’ X1 and migrate one of the output cards.
In fact, the simplest part of the whole test was the move from two boxes, to three, to four. Because the move to three boxes is not worth the effort, unless it’s a very short jump to four. Let’s face it, three CH preamp boxes works out at £59,800 and four boxes works out at around £69,800. Curiously, if you were talking about the difference between a £7,500 and a £9,000 preamp, the increase in price might be too much to bear, but I suspect if you are already £59,800 deep down the CH preamp rabbit hole, the jump to the full four-box stack is not as unattainable in absolute terms. Another way of saying this is “no one ever saved up for a £43,800 preamp!”
OK, let’s set this in context. The three-box system improves on either version of the two-box preamp. It adds depth to the soundstage of the L1/X1 system and adds some rootedness to the deft touch of the L1/L1. But these are relatively minor improvements, more finessing the icing on the cake, where the full four box stack just adds more cake, gives the recipe to a better baker, and puts thicker icing all over. If you try the three-box, you’ll likely stay with two, but if you hear the four box, there’s no going back.
At this point an already extremely well balanced and poised preamplifier shifts up several gears. That poise becomes laser-guided, extracting every last piece of musical and physical information from the recording, making Joyce DiDonato’s voice on Stella di Napoli [Erato] stand out effortlessly. Her voice – always powerful – is practically weaponised here, and yet not too big or small, just correct. It is also perfectly delineated from the horn player on the Bellini aria from I Capuletti E I Montecchi. But, in fairness, it’s so hard to single out recordings to highlight what’s good or bad about the CH Precision, because it’s all good and none of it is bad.
The last part in this exploration is placement. As discussed previously, the stock system is to use bars and stand-offs that fit into the feet and legs of the CH Precision chassis… but we quickly discounted that. Another way is to use a single stack of L1, X1, L1, X1 on a suitably high-performance equipment stand (such as Wilson Benesch R1s). This works well, but an even better way is to adopt a layout popularised by some Naim users (who, let’s face it, know their way around a power-supply or three). They use what they call a ‘brains stack’ and a ‘brawn stack’, placing the L1/L1 on one table and the X1/X1 on an adjacent table in order to reduce interference from power supply transformers, for example. This proved an exploration worth making, as it lowered the noise floor… slightly. It wasn’t a big change to the performance, and it didn’t transform the performance of the full preamp stack, but it did help make an already almost-silent noise floor move a notch quieter. I’ve tried this on a number of power supplies (not just CH and Naim) and the improvement seems to happen across the board, so it’s a low-impact tweak that’s worth making… or at least experimenting with.
In the process of moving from one box to four, CH Precision’s L1 preamplifier moves from a dual-mono stereo preamp to a full four chassis pure monaural preamp where nothing (even down to the cables) is shared. In the process, it moves from being among the best preamps money can buy to being one of the best preamps ever made, and with no products left behind along the way. I’ve not heard all the very best preamps in the world, but I’ve heard many of them, and this is the best I’ve ever heard to date. We’re still not completely done here; does the P1 phono stage have the same steps up the ladder and is four boxes better than one here too? What about the full digital stack… all nine boxes of it? And then, this year CH Precision announced an even more up-market range – will that take CH to even new levels? Yet more sequels follow.
CH Precision L1 Dual Monoaural Line Preamplifier
Inputs: 4x XLR, 2x RCA, 2x BNC (double this in dual-mono mode)
Maximum input level: 16V RMS (XLR), 8V RMS (RCA, BNC)
Frequency Response: DC-1MHz
THD+N: < 0.001%, 1kHz, Unity Gain
S/N ratio: 130dB
Input impedance: Balanced (XLR) 100kΩ or 600Ω, single-ended (RCA and BNC): 50kΩ or 300Ω
Dimensions (W×H×D): 44 × 44 × 13.3cm
Price: £26,500 per unit / £43,800 as a Mono Pair
CH Precision X1 Power Supply
Connections: M23 connector for connection to L1, P1, D1, C1, C1 Mono Controller in CH Precision range. Supplied with 2m M23 connector. Optional plug-in module for second M23 connector to run two units
Dimensions (W×H×D): 44 × 44 × 13.3cm
Price: £13,000 per unit / £16,000 with additional regulation board allowing the X1 to power two units
Manufactured by: CH Precision
Distributed in the UK by: Singularity Audio
(trading name of Wilson Benesch)
Tel: +44(0)114 442 0129