Back in issue 181, we explored in depth the very first creation of Milan Karan’s ‘Master Collection’; a growing family of no-holds-barred line and phono preamplifiers, as well as stereo and mono power amplifiers. All these Master Collection products are to mark 30 years since he embarked on the journey which has given the world of music lovers and audiophiles a plethora of worthy and true high-end products. For the occasion, we assessed the flagship of Master Collection LINE preamplifiers, a two-chassis affair named LINEa. In the end, we liked it enough to award it with the “Line Preamplifier Of The Year 2020” accolade.
What we have here is the logical sequence of the kind – a single chassis line preamplifier called, appropriately enough – LINEb. Some may see it as another attempt to prove the ‘less is more’ point, while others may welcome it as it requires less space or fewer shelves in one’s audio life. No doubt all those and the rest will welcome a purely pragmatic fact that the LINEb costs less than the LINEa. Bearing in mind this means just under £24k rather than £29k, the difference becomes even more crucial and helpful.
The kindest truth of the matter here is the fact that, apart from a less elaborate power supply and only a few, less ultimately relevant, solutions within both power supply and audio circuitry, LINEb gives its prospective owners everything they would get from the LINEa in terms of functionality, facilities and ergonomics. That means that the beautifully crafted front panel and the rest of the silver casing (bar rear panel, more on that in a moment) are identical. The remote control handset is also exactly the same. The option to connect or disconnect audio grounding is here, too. And, finally, LINEb has the same number of single-ended and balanced inputs and outputs as its bigger brother…with, possibly, one meaningful advantage for the LINEb. While the pure dual-mono circuit configuration and execution remain very much present, a single chassis concept did not allow for the L and R channel inputs and outputs to be spread as wide as possible across the whole width of the rear panel. Instead, they have been configured (very neatly) in a more condensed manner with the L channel above the R channel. As such, it’s much easier to keep interconnect cables coming into the LINEb from all the sources and the one exiting towards the power amplifier in a tidy and more natural layout. Utterly faithful to his belief into total purities of differential (balanced) approach, Karan, perhaps somewhat stubbornly, insists on two sets of balanced (XLR) main outputs. Thankfully, both LINEa and LINEb can be factory ordered with one set of high quality single-ended (RCA) output sockets if so desired.