Rothwell Signature One phono stage

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Rothwell Audio Signature One

Unlike many phono stages, the power supply is housed within the case and consists of a toroidal transformer, oversize reservoir caps with two stages of filtering and a low noise regulator. The case itself is down to earth with only a power switch on the front. The rear panel offers good quality RCA in- and output sockets, switches to add an extra 6dB of gain, and an earth lift switch that came in handy in both the systems I tried it in. In fact only one of the three partnering amplifiers I used did not require its application. Overall fit and finish could be far more substantial given the price, but this is one of those products where the money has been spent on the inside rather than on the box, which is as it should be if musical enlightenment is what you are after.

My living room system, where I tend to review music, features the extraordinary Rega RP10 and Apheta MC, the Signature One proved highly responsive to reverb, pulling it out of every nook and cranny of the signal. This was evident on the Police’s ‘Spirits in the Material World’ [Ghost in the Machine, A&M] and Emily Barker’s Despite the Snow [Everyone Sang], but less so on Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica [Reprise], which is a cruder recording but makes up for it with some profoundly funky compositions. Switching from that to Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks [Warner] made for a huge contrast; I was immediately hit by the soul of the singer that takes centre stage ahead of the poetry in the lyrics and the inspiration behind the arrangements. The Rothwell was very strong on the percussiveness of the Police track, propelled as it is by Stewart Copeland’s metronomic precision and power. It’s a pity about the move from guitar to synth on this track; the compression is highly evident too as is a slight tendency to brightness, but it was enough to have me seeking out other great drum tracks. I ended up with Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill [ABC], an early sign of Becker and Fagen’s genius, and savoured ‘Do It Again’ with its percussion and precision groove and, frankly, weird guitar tone on the break, followed by some beautiful organ playing from Fagen. The Signature One reveals all of the instrument’s timbre alongside the sensitivity of the player. I got the impression that it was a bit on the lean side for this source, hence the emphasis on leading edges and reverb, but further listening made it clear that it was just exposing the nature of the recordings and the Rega’s ability to dig out all the details in such a coherent manner.

In the work system, the one used to analyse as well as enjoy, the Rothwell had the job of amplifying the output of a Transfiguration Proteus on another Rega, the RP8. Here it proved trickier to get to the nub of what the Signature One does because, as I discovered eventually, it has so little character of its own. It can seem dull, lacking in pace, and lacking in low end power. However, when you give it a signal that has any of those qualities... out they come. It makes most of the alternative stages I had to hand, some of which are rather more pricey, sound as if they had strong character traits which were being overlaid on the music. Some sounded unduly pacey, while others appeared a bit fat in the bass; the Rothwell quietly, and that’s the operative word, gets on with the business of amplifying and equalising without tainting the result. This is more obvious with better recordings and highlighted by the slower pieces on those discs, Chasing the Dragon’s fabulous direct cut of the Four Seasons (Vivaldi not Frankie Valli) being a good example. The allegro in ‘Autumn’ revealed the tonal nature of the original instruments and the brilliance of the musicians; the adagio brought out more shades of tone colour and exposed the genius of the composition.

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