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2014 Midwest Audiofest Tent Sale & Vintage Audio Swap
Modwright LS36.5/PS36.5 Preamp & KWA150 SE Power Amplifier Review
It’s not every day that I get to spend a few weeks with £15k worth of amplification yet thanks to Jack at BD Audio here I am with the flagship ModWright LS36.5 tube line stage and the PS36.5 power supply plus the KW150 ‘Signature Edition’ power amplifier.
The LS36.5 preamp is taken to the next level with the addition of the PS36.5 external dual mono power supply. The LS36.5/PS36.5 consists of two identically sized boxes adjoined by a substantial umbilical cord.
The LS 36.5 has five inputs, one balanced in and 4 (RCA) line inputs including HT bypass. Three main outs include 1 balanced and 2 main (RCA). On the front of the attractively machined aluminium fascia we have the standard power button volume and input selector dials plus switches for Mute, Phase and HT Bypass. A solid remote control completes the package.
I have never had the opportunity of spending any time with the standard LS36.5 or KW150 so cannot comment on the improvements over standard models. Current owners of the LS36.5 will be pleased to know that the option to upgrade is available so contact your dealer for further details.
So let’s take a look at its sibling the KWA150 ‘Signature Edition’ power amplifier. Weighing in at just under 40kg with dimensions of 17″ x 17” x 8.5” it’s no lightweight. This solid state amplifier runs in Class AB and has an output rated at 150W into 8ohm or should you be lucky enough to be running a pair in mono mode a whopping 450W per channel. It’s a beautiful looking amp to my eyes. The casework is well finished and extremely attractive and will undoubtedly provide a high pride of ownership factor. Dim the lights and a soft blue glow radiates from 2 internal LEDs set just beneath the machined top plate vents. A nice touch however a switch on the rear gives users the option to turn the internal LEDs off if required. On power up the KW150SE will mute while the front Modwright logo illuminates and flashes for approx 45 seconds while it goes through its start up routine. In addition the LS36.5 also mutes at startup and the motorised volume returns to zero.
I recently had the pleasure of listening to the superb 4 box ASR Emitter. The Modwright combo put me firmly in mind of the ASR with its calm and effortless presentation. Over the course of the time I spent with this setup I felt a minimum of 15 mins warm up time was required before everything came truly on song. Not a great amount of time and possibly due to the fact that both items are new and have only minimal use since landing here in the UK. My listening was split pretty much 50/50 between vinyl and FLAC files streamed from my laptop through an Eximus DP1 dac. My initial worry that my 93db Zingali Overture 3s might be a poor match for some solid sate muscle soon evaporated. What struck me throughout was the seamless balance across the frequency range. There were no signs of forward highs or embellished lows and the midrange shone with vocals quite spectacularly .
Yes on occasions the bass was slightly overloading my room but that is no fault of the amp as much past experience with other speaker options has taught me but I have never heard the Overtures sound so good. Going from my normal all valve setup to a valve pre with solid state power brought some definite improvements. From the off the imaging is very three dimensional, instrument placement along with width and depth of image are excellent and tracks from Seal and Yello amongst others showed the Modwright’s ability to keep a bass line firmly on track. Also at no time did I feel that any specific sonic signature being imposed on the music and there was little doubt that these are extremely competent and highly resolving products.
I have been on my own preamp search recently and currently own both a Modwright SWL 9.0se (now discontinued) and an Audio Note M3. Unfortunately the Modwright was on loan to a friend but I took the chance to try the M3 with the KW150SE. This turned out to be an extremely enjoyable pairing. Yes the resolution dropped a rung and some additional warmth was added in that signature Audio Note way but it really got me thinking about returning to solid state amplification in the future (something I have not considered for some while) It would have been interesting to hear something like an Audio Note M5 with the KWA150SE as it sits far closer to the Modwrights £7995 UK retail and would have proved an interesting comparison.
So my overall thoughts proved extremely positive. The LS36.5/PS36.5 is a great preamp. I think it hits the balance perfectly to appeal to both the valve and solid state brigade. It creates a vivid portrayal of the music and would undoubtedly make a stunning pairing with many other power amps of a similar quality. My only quibble really is that I would like to see a better visual indication of what input is selected, maybe a dim led on the source selector dial or set into the indented input markings. Although both pre sections are not too deep at 12.5″ anyone considering these will need to allow some additional rear clearance for the umbilical cable. One additional point to bear in mind is that unlike Modwright’s LS100 preamp the LS36.5 does not come with a phono or DAC board option.
And so on to the KW150SE. This is an extraordinarily good amplifier and for me it is the star of the pairing. Whether I was playing vinyl on my Oracle or streaming FLAC files from my laptop through the Eximus the KW150SE remained calm and in control. As the Eximus has its own pre section I also tried running it direct into the power amp, again with excellent results. The KWA150SE has a wonderfully natural reproduction. Nothing sounded forced or strident through it. From the hypnotic beats of Grace Jones Hurricane Dub LP to the delicate tones of Julia Stone it proved an involving and un-fatiguing listen. At around £6700 UK retail its not cheap but it oozes class and I feel sure could hold its own against some far more expensive competition and as such it is firmly pinned to my wish list.
So if you are in the market for amplification at this level I highly recommend you get yourself along to a Modwright dealer for a demo.
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