Jeff Rowland Design Group Capri S2 preamplifier

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Jeff Rowland Design Capri S2
Jeff Rowland Design Group Capri S2 preamplifier

I wonder if Jeff Rowland ever read EF Schumacher’s popular tome Small is Beautiful, a guide of sorts to the benefits of keeping a business small, a state of affairs that many audio manufacturers have taken to heart, albeit not necessarily by choice. The Capri S2 preamplifier also embodies that philosophy: it is no bigger than it needs to be. In fact, by American high end standards it’s positively portable at just over 35cm wide, but it’s also pretty dense as the 4.26kg weight attests. Construction is typical Jeff Rowland machined-from-solid aluminium; his products always look great but that beauty is more than skin deep. But the skin is misleading; those peaks you see give the impression that the surface undulates, but close inspection reveals it to be totally flat.

In its standard state, the Capri S2 is a line stage with two single-ended and two balanced inputs plus a home theatre bypass, which seems an unusual input array for what appears to be a purist product. But ‘home theater’ is bigger in the US than in many markets, and even audiophile brands have to cater for market trends once in a while. Usefully, if you don’t want this feature, an internal jumper can transform it into a regular, volume controlled input. Output is via RCA and XLR and that about covers the back panel. Behind the inputs is transformer coupling circuitry chosen for universal compatibility with different sources, identical gain for unbalanced inputs and noise rejection. This isn’t a TVC (transformer volume control) however, such things being solely the domain of passive components.

The volume control has usefully small increments of half a decibel that can be achieved with the remote control or the beautifully turned knob. The latter is speed sensitive, so can give you big changes quickly as well. The easy to read volume display can be switched off with the handset or you can move an internal jumper that turns it off after five seconds if its yellow/green hue offends. The remote is not as impressive as the casework sadly, but that keeps costs down, it has mute, phase and channel balance switches alongside the usual volume and input selectors.

The compact size is aided by the fact that this Jeff Rowland, like the majority of products from the brand, has a switch-mode power supply, so there’s no need for a big mains transformer nor for different transformers to suit different mains voltages. The supply is described as a low noise, high current, dual regulated switch-mode, which is still quite a rare feature in the high end outside of products from Linn and Chord Electronics. However, the day cannot be far away when the puritans in high places decide that any products that draw more than a few watts are the spawn of Satan and banish them from our systems, so it could be a canny move.

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