It isn’t every day that you speak to dealer and they offer you the chance to hear a product line up from top to bottom. It happened by chance when ordering a new set of valves from Richard at Lotus Hifi for my Allnic H-1500, he was going on holiday and offered to lend me the new entry level H-1201 and top of the range H-3000 Phono stage to try against my H-1500 for a few weeks. An offer I couldn’t refuse.
This is the review of the H-1201, Allnics new entry point in the vinyl replay market. It is the successor to the H-1200 pretty much only in name, it has a new look, valves, circuit and style. As with all Allnic products I have seen, the case work is excellent and could easily be on a far more expensive product. It has a very thick front panel which features a nice tactile selector for MM and MC and separate push buttons for mute and power. Behind this are the two valves which sit on Allnics own gel bases to help remove microphonics and to isolate the valves from external vibration. The valves each have their own perspex cover with metal cap to stop any small fingers touching them or a careless wammer catching them. Either side of the valves are a set of handles which could carry a product ten times the weight of the H-1201 and allow easy movement when placing it in a rack. The transformers for the mc stage are unusually, for most phono stages, outside the case work and at the back with the valves. On the top you can adjust the gain of each to suit your cartridge.
It took me a few days to get used to this phono stage with my main cartridge, once I became comfortable I started to think seriously about the sound created from this little box of tricks. The bigger brother H-1500 is well known as an excellent performer and many people will want to know how close the H-1201 gets to this reference bit of kit. I will come on to this later, firstly I would like to talk about its own sonic character.
The first things that hit me was the dynamics, this little box of tricks has the same powerful delivery as its big brothers. Listening to Massive Attack’s – Angels; I was struck by the bass line coming in and out and having real authority and presence behind it. Where this really helps and counts is with poor recordings, everyone has a favourite album that sounds terribly recorded. One of mine is Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication; an album that was probably recorded in a cupboard with a fisher price recording set. However feed it through the Allnic and it brings a bit of life back and helps the drums stand out instead of hiding in a heap of dynamic compression.
The next thing to really strike me was the detail retrieval as I had not noticed any difference. Usually you would expect to start loosing a bit of the finer detail no bass notes or a bit of background detail to go, but for a phono stage costing less than half of the comparison it lost nothing. I found this really remarkable and it wasn’t expected in the slightest. On Muddy Waters – Folk Singer; you have an album that is very intimate and closely miked that gives you a wealth of background detail that really helps you imagine the recorded space. The H-1201 allowed this through in all its glory that I was used to.
This is not a cop-out for me to save writing, but the rest of the sound was just there, it didn’t show off, it didn’t stand out to try and grab your attention. It just laid the music out from bass to the highs in a really even manner. Yes the bass was deep and tight and highs sounded lovely and clear without harshness, but they didn’t force it in your face. I could put on something ballsy like Prodigy – Music For The Jilted Generation; and get pinned to my seat listening to each part with real interest, then I could listen to Portishead – Dummy; and melt away with the Beth Gibbons voice. It has a great ability of playing the music the right way to suit the mood of the piece.
So far so good, but how does it compare to its big brothers? You have the family sound, the dynamics and the detail are all there. You also get the wonderful naturalness that the Allnic phono stages seem to posses, they just lay the music out for you to relax in to and enjoy. It doesn’t match its bigger brother though and you can hear the difference when swapping from one to the other, but we aren’t talking massive differences here. I found that the sound staging of the H-1201 wasn’t as sharp as the H-1500 manages. They both still lay each part on its own, it is just the H-1500 does it with a real tightness and precision. Considering the price difference I think this is excellent and really shows the value of this product.
I tested the phono stage with a variety of mm and mc cartridges and found it to work well with everything I threw at it, even some very expensive cartridges costing several times more than the phono stage. The transformers for the mc stage seem to be of good quality and saw off a £500 transformer I used for comparison.
You get a piece that has been superbly made with real attention to detail, the mute button is a god send. You get excellent sound across the board from audiophile recordings to modern compressed recordings and everything in the middle. If you have the money and are looking you owe it to yourself to give this a try. If you end up getting one, it might even outlast you, they are that well made.
The current retail is £1995 which considering the Euro price offered on the continent seems very competitive and I am told can’t stay this low forever.
Thanks to Richard at Lotus Hi-fi
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