September 16, 2009

A Small Wonder! Jeff Rowland Capri Pre Amp.

Jeff Rowland Capri also available in black, but not in Malaysia!

This pre amp review has been an experience of sorts for me! For starters, up till now, I've always come to associate neutrality with boring sound! Like so many audiophiles, I seek comfort in the warmer tonal palette, when it comes to hifi preferences. But the Jeff Rowland Capri breaks new ground here, by being tonally neutral, yet somehow manages to sound infectiously musical at the same time! The highs are detailed, highly extended with neat decaying pattern, and smooth. There are no veiling of the mids to speak off, and the bass is at once solid, tight and well extended. Bass slam is impressive too, especially the kick drums. I played Micheal Jackson's Billy Jean track on CD, and I swear I've never heard such many layers of texture on the synthesized bass lines.

Also for the first time since a long, long time ago too, I've being rediscovering my music all over again. The Jeff Rowland is extremely transparent at this price level. I felt it's transparency factor very nearly approaches the twice as expensive Bladelius Saga pre amp! Every CD or LP I played in the last 2 weeks, I heard inner details that I've never did before. This set me in music mining mode, playing CD after CD, LP after LP for hours un ending, yet I never felt tired or fatigue. It was also this time that I rediscovered my rock LP collection, Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple, All Right Now by Free, Spirit Of The Radio by Rainbow, and many, many others. I just wanna enjoy more and more music.

Small wonder in my audio system, pretty in satin silver too. Finished in only JRDG know how to.

It's also being a long, long time since I had hifi goosebumps. When playing my favorite Queen track on CD, sound track for the movie, Flash Gordon, I found myself marvelling at the special effects sound of the movie inserted in to the music. The sheer realistic-ness of the dramatic dialog and special effects sound gave me goose bumps. Now any hifi component that gives you goosebumps when you listen to music is surely worth buying without even consideration!

The Jeff Rowland Capri's micro and macro dynamics are amongst the best I've heard from a pre amp at this price level. The sound stage is of the walk thru variety, with rather realistic spatial cues and airiness thrown in for good measure. Images are solid with healthy density, and this includes those at the fringes of the sound stage.

The back end, note the phono option on input 1, RCA.

Listening to the Jeff Rowland Capri in the last 2 weeks made me realised just how dated my Pass Labs X2.5 pre amp is, sound quality wise. Other than a tinge of lushness that the Pass X2.5 offers as a sonic sanctuary, the Jeff Rowland Capri have it licked in just about every other audiophile tick box. You may argue that it's not fair to compare the two as the Pass Labs is an old product no longer sold. I agree, but i must also stress that when the Pass was sold then, just a few years back, it's retail price was exactly the same as the Jeff Rowland Capri, which makes this past comparison all the more valid, if you factor in how much sound quality has been gained with the latest batch of pre amp design. Well another point to note is that the Pass Labs is the only other pre amp that I have around, and has been my reference for the last 2 years or so.

I'll also have to tell you that all Jeff Rowland Capri(s) sold by CMY come equipped with a built in phono stage, default to input 1 via unbalanced RCA. I've found this built in phono stage to be an excellent option to have, for those with an analog rig. I used it to replace my Pass ONO clone, and immediately noticeable was how silently quiet and noise free the built in phono stage is. Even when played to near full volume, at 98/99 setting, when I lift off the tone arm, I heard no hum, no hiss what so ever. Granted, the gain stage is available is only 60db for MC and 40db for MM cartridges and only 4 load resistance selection is available. Connected to my 0.4mv out put Benz Micro Glider L2, loaded with 100ohms resistor setting, I would have appreciated just a little more gain, but that just didn't stop me from enjoying the music, as the pre amp still had enough guts to play as loud as I could want, and do it without any signs of breaking up, or coming close to limitations. The phono stage is just as transparent and as dynamic sounding as the pre amp it self. That's why I found my self reaching out to my rock LP collections every time, something which I had not done in a long, long while. I could say that the built phono stage quality is as good as any other high end stand alone unit if you had an MC cartridge putting out 0.6mv onwards. When not is used, Jeff Rowland also supplies you a pair of Cardas shorting caps to cover the phono stage input to prevent it from picking up RFI/EMI stray noises.

If phono stage not in use, Jeff Rowland provides Cardas shortings caps.

Whilst I opened up the Jeff Rowland Capri to switch the phono stage settings, I took the opportunity to marvel at the internal build quality, which exudes class and an eye for detail that is unmatched. The whole chassis is milled from a solid billet, not unlike the many times more expensive Ayre KX-R pre amp. Inside, resides a Class D switching power supply card, the front panel control and display board. The small pre amp board is attached to all the inputs and outputs for the shortest signal path possible. Also note that the internal parts quality count, with Cardas RCA plugs and the PCB is of the best quality possible. By looking inside, I noted that only 3 ICs stands between the input and output signal path. A BB2311 digital volume chip and two op amps operating in balanced configuration for 14db gain stage. I had previously DIYed a pre amp like this before(another older Jeff Rowland design too!), but I never got the sound quality level anywhere quite like this! That Jeff Rowland is such a genius of an amp designer!

The package, with comprehensive manual, power cord and remote.

The Capri has 4 inputs, which 2 are balanced. A pair of RCA and balanced output each. The six button, slim designed remote does pretty much everything you need to do from your couch. The display is in unfashionably light green/yellow is non dim able. The ergonomics are pretty functional and easy for practical use.

To sum things up. You'd guess by now that I loved this Jeff Rowland Capri deeply, and you're not wrong. Retailing at RM$15.5k, which is a popular price point in high end dome, the Capri is absolutely good value on it's own. However, if you're in to the black stuff like I do, the optional phono stage really brings the value quotient up and over the roof indeed! I could even call it cheap, because you've got a pre amp and a quality phono stage in a small and wonderful package, that is called the Jeff Rowland Capri.

The JRDG Capri, and 102 Power Amp. Match made in heaven, according to CMY. Also best selling pair since JRDG arrived these shores a few months ago.

If you're in the market for a high quality pre amp at this price range do check it out soon, as John of CMY tells me, sold as a package with it's natural partner, the Jeff Rowland 102 power amp, the Capri is almost sold out. However, fret not, John tells me he has another batch of new stocks arriving soon. Trust me, it's worth the wait!

Jeff Rowland is sold by CMY Audio & Visual, contact John, tel: 03-21439206


mikelau.2 said...

Big E,
From the way you described the performance of the JF pre in your setup, I can't help but think it's the direction you eventuaa..lly will have to take. How can you resist this the 'newer' sound ? I think the JF matched well with your Pass Aleph and maybe the cdp too ? Balanced ? heehee

Big E said...


I am not financially prepared for another upgrade just yet! No matter how much I like the Jeff Rowland. But they'd certain be on top list for consideration should I wanna up date my pre-amp.

Yes, the Capri did "fit" in to my system suprisingly well.