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Ovation High Fidelity 1501 Preamplifier and 1701 Power Amplifier Background A recent entry into the world of audio, Ovation High Fidelity is currently offering its Model 1501 preamplifier and 100 watt Model 1701 power amplifier, with a 240 watt version due for release shortly. The equipment is designed and hand-built in England, and features some interesting circuitry combined with high-quality components. Ovation say their ethos is ‘Engineered for Art’, and the quoted specifications look very good. The power amplifier on review is class AB, and appears conservatively rated. The information provided suggests a well-specified power supply, and it has both single ended and balanced inputs. The 1501 preamplifier also boasts impressive specifications and incorporates a moving magnet phono stage with a switchable rumble filter. There is a high-quality inbuilt headphone section, and a remote control for source selection, volume control and standby/on. In addition to the phono stage, there are five further inputs and a tape out. Inputs are all single ended and there are single-ended and balanced outputs. Both the units have a five-year warranty. Down to work Out of the boxes, there is an immediate impression of quality. They won’t win any architecture awards, but they won’t offend and the fit and finish are visually exemplary. The exception is the remote control, which is a relatively unattractive plastic unit with four buttons that don’t do anything here. On the subject of aesthetics, the top panel of the preamp is black, whereas that of the power amp is brushed silver, and there are horizontal grooves on the sides of the pre, while the power amp has traditional vertical heatsinks. The feet are also in different places. Located side by side, the result is a slightly ill-matched appearance. You need the remote to actually turn on the pre, as there is no on/off switch otherwise. In terms of usability, the source selector is a little odd when used manually, as the marker on the knob usually does not align with the selected source, although the selection is indicated by LEDs so this is not an issue. The volume setting on the remote also seems to have a little ‘lag’, meaning it is often either a bit too loud or a bit too quiet. Overall, however, these are relatively minor negatives, so let’s get onto the important thing: listening to music. I ran the Ovation units as a pair, sometimes switching between other power and preamplifiers to keep the ears attuned to what the equipment was doing. I listened to a seriously wide range of music over quite a few days and I have just picked some highlights here, although I don’t use ‘kind’ recordings for reviewing. The units have, I assume, already been run for a while, but as they have probably been sitting around cold, I powered them up and left them for most of a day with a CD on repeat. On the subject of temperature, the power amp heatsinks rarely got even warm, despite the system being pushed quite hard at times. First up, one of my favourite audition tracks: Imogen Heap, ‘Little Bird’ from the Ellipse CD. I make no excuse for always playing this, and I usually listen to it first with any ‘new’ equipment because it’s a good early indicator and difficult to get right. The recording is well mastered, but can end up sounding harsh, not to mention that it has some really deep bass and major swings in levels. **** me this is good. All the transients are rendered beautifully; every bass note is instant and clean. Imogen’s voice has the perfect edginess, without any hardness. My better half has now fortunately decided to walk into town, leaving me with the opportunity to give the speakers some serious exercise, courtesy of ‘Comfortably Numb’ from Pink Floyd’s The Delicate Sound of Thunder. The soundstage is wide and deep, and the presentation is accurate and even handed. Nothing stands out, which I mean in a very positive way. There is an impression of a lightning-fast response from both the pre and power amps. Every note has enormous impact and clarity, despite sound pressure levels verging on the obscene. It feels effortless. Right, let’s try the phono stage. Frequently a cue for disappointment, but not this time. My normal pre has a very good phono section, but the Ovation is at least its equal. The design employs an all-active EQ stage, which the manufacturer says has an ‘industry leading overload capacity’. It certainly works well in practice. It has a really clean sound, a lovely tonal balance, an open feel and low background noise, even at very high gain. The proof being in the pudding, I kick off with Vangelis, Spiral. The overwhelming impression is again a superb soundstage and an immediacy that has me on the edge of the seat. So, let’s go to the other end of the musical spectrum, with John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. Hartman’s voice on this record really is liquid gold. The rendition is excellent. It should flow like honey, and it does, but the detail is exquisite. Every little rasp of Coltrane’s sax, every feature of Hartman’s voice. Beautiful. It seems sensible to finish off with something classical. Regardless of the damned Hovis advert, I have a soft spot for Dvořák’s 9th and the Vienna Philharmonic is a decent recording. This really shows the strengths of the Ovations. The soft is beautifully soft, yet clean and tight, and the rise to the big crescendo fills the room. Really a ‘being there’ moment. Major technical specifications (from the manufacturer’s website) Model 1501 Stereo Preamplifier Gain - Line level Inputs: +9 dB (2.9x); Max line level input >4 Volts Frequency Response: Line Inputs 20 Hz – 20 kHz +0 dB -0.1 dB; 2 Hz to 200 kHz +0 dB -3 dB Distortion 20 Hz to 20 kHz: Typically 10 parts per million at 2 V out into 10 kΩ; line inputs at 10 V out into 10 k Ω: Better than 10ppm (0.001%) Phono – better than 0.01%; typically 0.005% Signal to Noise Ratio: Ref 1 V output better than – 100 dB; better than -110 dB ref 10 V output Output Impedance: 50 Ohms (single ended); < 1 Ohm on balanced outputs Headphone Amplifier: 6 V into 32 Ohms; 20 Hz – 20 kHz +0 dB -0.1 dB; 0.008% distortion 1 V RMS into 30 Ohms at 1 kHz; Standard 6.35mm stereo phono jack Power consumption: 25 Watts maximum Moving Magnet Phono Input Input Sensitivity (measured at singled ended output): 5 mV into 47 k Ohms for 0.5 V Output; 3 mV into 47 k Ohms for 300mV output Overload Capability 20 Hz to 20 kHz: 28 dB ref 5mV input; 32 dB ref 3mV input RIAA conformance 20 Hz to 20 kHz: Typically ±0.15 dB; maximum ±0.25 dB Distortion: Better than 0.01% at 1 kHz at 0.5 V output Signal to Noise Ratio: 85 dB at 1 kHz ref 5 mV (input shorted); 79 dB with typical cartridge Rumble Filter: Switch selectable; -0.2 dB at 20 Hz; -18 dB at 8 Hz; -36 dB at 2 Hz Model 1701 Stereo Power Amplifier Input Sensitivity for rated output: 0.5 V into 10 k Ohms on balanced inputs; 1 V into 10 k Ohms for single ended inputs Output power: 100 W RMS into 8 Ohms 20 Hz to 20 kHz; 180 W into 4 Ohms 20 Hz to 20 kHz both channels driven Peak Power Output Capability (Single Channel Driven): 450 Watts for 50 ms Peak Current Output Capability (Both Channels Driven): >20 Amps for 20 ms Distortion: < 0.02% 20 Hz to 20 kHz 1 W into 8 Ohms; <0.05% 20 Hz to 20 kHz 100 W into 8 Ohms Signal to Noise Ratio: Better than -93 dB ref 1V output; ~110 dB ref max output voltage Frequency Response 1 W into 8 Ohms: 20 Hz - 20 kHz +0 dB -0.1 dB; 2 Hz - 250 kHz +0 dB -3 dB Damping Factor: approx. 200 at 1 kHz into 8 Ohms Slew Rate (10% to 90%) both positive and negative: 140 V/us into 8 Ohm resistive load Rise/Fall Time 10-90%: Small signal: < 100 ns; large signal ~700 ns Power consumption: 500 Watts maximum Conclusions The Ovation High Fidelity products are sonically extremely good. Percussion and brass have impact and a superb leading edge, and recovery from massive transients is seamless. An absolutely immersive sound that breathes life into recordings. The inbuilt phono is high quality, which alone removes potentially a serious cost for anyone looking at this price range, although it is moving magnet only, so you would need to budget for a decent step-up transformer or similar to benefit from the sort of cartridge it deserves. The amps deliver when the wick is turned up, but they are equally capable at low volume and with subtle music. I don’t generally side with the suggestion that tube amps and solid state are inherently different, as good versions of either can be equally good. The Ovations are more than good. A lifelike reproduction, combined with the capacity to deliver force and attack. Their ability to portray massive orchestral is fabulous, but possibly unsurprising. Their ability to make Coltrane’s soft playing feel really ‘in the room’ and with stunning detail is something else. I have heard precious few bits of hardware perform better. At recommended retail prices of £3600 for the 1701 power amplifier and £2640 for the pre, they are batting in the major league. That said, some of the obvious competition, however well established, is significantly more costly. Wearing the hat of an aesthete or economist, I have some minor reservations. However, in audiophile and music-listener mode, I have absolutely no doubt of the excellence on offer here. The Ovation High Fidelity products deserve a wide audience, and you will struggle to find better if you are buying new in this price range. A simple sum up is that I will be listening to music through these right up to the moment they are collected. I hope it isn’t too soon. Plus Fast sounding with excellent transient response. Lifelike presentation with superb detail. Wide and deep soundstage. Versatile pre, with many inputs, and inbuilt phono stage and headphone amplifier. Minus Some minor aesthetic issues. Remote could be better. Reference equipment used for review Well Tempered turntable/arm. Dynavector XX-2. Kairsound SUT. Pioneer 507 Stable Platter. Musical Fidelity M1 DAC. Asus netbook with M2Tech HiFace USB interface. Living Voice IBX R2. Manufacturer’s website: https://www.ovationhifidelity.com