Max Townshend is not the sort of guy to make a product and then focus on marketing and selling it; he is an engineer to the core and cannot stop thinking of ways to improve his products. He is one of the few in this industry that doesn’t follow the herd, who goes back to the science to find new solutions to the problems of audio signal retrieval, control and transmission. He was the first to introduce cryogenic treatment, an idea he shared far and wide and shouldn’t have been surprised that it was copied by all and sundry. As a result his latest treatment system, Fractal, is a closely guarded secret and all of the Townshend products that have copper in them get a full dose of it. The highly regarded Allegri transformer passive preamp uses wire that has had this treatment and is one of the best sounding preamp’s you can get. But it’s not very big, has very basic features and doesn’t have remote control, so Max decided to make a better Allegri.
The first attempt at this was the short-lived Enigma that appeared at one Bristol show but never went into production because it attempted to use multiple switches to provide a wide range of small volume steps, and getting switches that were sonically consistent proved impossible. For the Allegri Reference, Max went back to the drawing board and decided to use relays, which are essentially switches in a vacuum and thus more consistent in operation and far longer lasting. By using 120 relays and a pair of autotransformers, the Allegri Reference offers 129 half-decibel steps; a far wider range than anyone has managed with stepped volume pots. Townshend has also managed to include a remote control for input, mute and volume using Apple’s machined aluminium handset. In fact it does more than that; you can choose whether to display volume as a minus dB figure or conventionally with higher numbers indicating higher volume. The display can be permanently on or off, or remain on for five seconds or five minutes after an action. The Allegri Reference has five inputs but these are unusually configured with two shared by XLR and RCA sockets and one shared between the minijack on the front and RCAs on the back. The gain of these can be individually set so that you get similar output regardless of the source. The final feature is a home cinema bypass that can be assigned to any input.
The presence of a display and the processor that enables these features indicates that there is some power present. This is provided by a 12v wallwart that plugs in the back alongside the in- and outputs. There is no on/off switch but it’s very low power.
The difference between the Allegri Reference and the Allegri+ is not just the relay operation and remote control; it stands on rather large feet. Those familiar with Townshend’s Seismic isolation supports will recognise that the same approach has been used here. In order to isolate the preamp from vibration in the supporting surface it uses damped springs that are selected specifically to keep out energy for the given weight of the component. The Allegri Reference is mass-loaded and uses constrained layer damping in that half-width but usefully full-depth case.