June 19, 2011

A Sensational Corus. Jeff Rowland Corus Pre-Amp.

The Jeff Rowland Corus pre-amp comes in a kit of 4 pieces, from left, the external remote receiver unit, the dual mono SMPS power supply unit, the main pre-amp unit, and lastly, the hand held remote. All the kit is exquisitely built, and will probably last forever if taken cared for. 

I've been waiting for this Jeff Rowland pre-amp to show up since it's CES debut. That's because I've heard the Jeff Rowland big boy pre-amp, the Criterion in action a few times on demo at CMY Audio & Visual, Damansara Up Town showroom, and can't help but to fall deeper and deeper impressed with it. There's a problem though, priced at RM$88k or so, the Criterion will very likely be out of reach for most of us mere mortals, which includes this humble blue collar worker here. Hence the attractiveness of the Corus, which is essentially the same pre-amp, with a simplified out board power supply unit. The big boy Criterion has a battery charged, full sized power supply unit, while the Corus makes do with a simple universal SMPS(Switch Mode Power Supply) unit. Am I getting your attention now?

However, I am still not a happy man when I got this baby home. Read On if you want to why?

The actual review unit with it's protective sheet still on the face plate. It's an absolutely fabulous looking pre-amp. The volume control has 99 non linear steps. This pre-amp has 3 XLR inputs and 2 XLR outputs for bi-amping purposes(the second XLR output is gain adjustable). There are just as many RCA inputs and outputs. All inputs are also individually gain adjustable. I would advise anyone to read the manual carefully before attempting to set up this pre-amp. There's just too many things to set up.

The JRDG(Jeff Rowland Design Group) Corus pre-amp is exquisitely built, one can't help, but be impressed by the special face plate treatment, the carved from inside out solid aluminium casing casing(just like the Ayre KX-R), the dual mono audio circuity boards and power supply unit, the external remote terminal and the remote unit it self, carved from the same inside out solid aluminium technique. If pride of ownership is as important as hand made fine Swiss watches, then JRDG products are certainly up there in terms of satisfaction, no other hifi product is as extravagantly styled or built, regardless of price.

As usual, my faithful Pass Labs X-2.5 pre-amp made way for this beauty for shelf space, and my, my, what sonic bounties the JRDG Corus brought my audio escapism sessions. I got more notes, more details, more performance, more dynamic contrast, faster transient response and plainly speaking, more music, from a totally silenced back ground noise(what noise?, who said SMPS is noisy power supply?).

The Corus pre-amp is tonally neutral(I hate that word), but not neutral in the "neutral" per say, but rather of the disappearing kind, if you get my drift? This pre-amp does not high light any particular area of the audio spectrum, it doesn't choose musical genre and it's never offensive sounding in any way. Like the best audio components, it just gets out of the way and let the music speak for it's self. The highs are not only refined, but suave too. The mids are gloriously rich and dense(Some may say JRDG mids is pristine clear, just like Evian mineral water!), so perhaps the pre-amp was simply reflecting those qualities of the Bryston BDP/BDA-1 combo? Lastly, the bass has a textured and slamming quality that propels the music's rhythmic foundation.

Like all great pre-amps, the sound staging and imaging properties are beyond reproach, provided your system is nicely dialed in.The sound staging is wide, and deep(that disappearing walls effect) with each layer within the layers well separated. The imaging is rock solid and clearly outlined, but not exactly hard edged lines either, but just right. One more strength of this pre-amp is the linearity factor. My work horse Pass Labs X-2.5 will start to sound edgy, with distorted highs and staging/imaging falling apart, when playing at nearly full volume. The Corus just sailed thru at all volume levels, while holding everything tightly together, until it came to a point my where my ears couldn't take the SPL any more, but the sound is still pristine clean and clear. It's an amazing experience, especially with Reference Recording's orchestral symphonic tracks, dance, house and rock music.  
The dual mono SMPS power supply unit, note the two power umbilical cords that goes to the back of the pre-amp? The small black box on top is the external remote receiver unit, which is wired to the back of the actual pre-amp unit too. Jeff Rowland believes in separating the remote and power supply units to keep RFI/EMI interference away from the delicate low signal level audio circuits. 

For the basis of comparison, the sonic character of this JRDG pre-amp lies some where in between the two extremes which on one side is anchored by the solid and hard hitting, "yang" sounding Burmester 808 MK V, and the Ayre KX-R representing the softer more organic, "yin" camp on the other side. In the context of my system, the Jeff Rowland Corus certainly falls towards the more "yang" side of things, but is more nicely refined, and delicate sounding on the highs, rendering the twice more expensive Burmester just a little course by comparison(we must however, remember that the Burmester design is more than a decade old, and pre-amp circuitry thinking has marched on since). By comparison again, the Pass Labs XP-20(which Odioslueth recently upgraded to) is dead center neutral, with just a tinge of rose coloured warmth thrown in for ear pad like comfort, within the context of where all the four great pre-amp design is positioned sonically.

All four are great pre-amps in the market one can buy new today. Throw in the Bladelius Saga and ARC Reference 5, and we'd have a grand party of six. Some may like the Burmester, others prefer the Ayre KX-R on the other extreme end. And we have the rest lying in between those two extremes. In the context of my system, the JRDG Corus reigned supreme, as the best pre-amp one could buy at any price!

Now, just so why am I not a happy man yet, if it's the best? Priced at RM$54,450.00, is way beyond my affordability factor for now. While I am working hard towards getting one, if you have the means without much effort, and in the market for a state of the art pre-amp, why not give this Jeff Rowland Corus a chance?

I am now wondering how much more supreme can the top dog JRDG Criterion can get?

JRDG amps are sold by CMY Audio & Visual, contact John at 03-21439206.

1 comment:

Capernaum Creative Solutions Inc. said...

Wow...it is definitely a looker!

I like the fact that it has twin pair XLR outputs. Not many pre-amps are made like that. I wonder why?