Product name: Placette Audio Passive Linestage
Manufacturer: Placette Audio - USA
Cost: $1595. US (Currency conversion)
Reviewer: Roger McCuaig - TNT Canada
Reviewed: March, 2017
I operated a Placette Audio Passive Linestage in my system for over a year. During that time I was able to log a great deal of listening time and to formulate a solid opinion of the unit's performance. Eventually I decided to switch back to an active preamplifier. This review will elaborate on how I came to that decision. The unit under review was purchased on the used market.
Placette Audio is owned and operated by Guy Hammel in Boise, Idaho. Placette Audio sells their products direct from the factory. Their product line also includes active preamplifiers, linestage amplifiers, and remote volume controls.
If the reader has read my previous reviews you will probably have guessed that I am a big fan of solidly built products. If a product has the look and feel of quality and solidity it stimulates a feeling of confidence. Furthermore it is logical to assume that if a lot of thought and investment was put into the external attributes of the product that the same level of effort and quality will be present inside the box. High-end audio components are expensive and the owner should be able to expect problem free performance for a long time. Nothing is more frustrating than owning a high-end product that develops loose controls, wobbly feet or tarnished finishes after a couple of years. The Placette passive linestage is up to the challenge, this is a solid, quality driven product inside and out. The esthetics are in the industrial design style which I found to be quite acceptable. Certainly this is intentional in order to keep the price down.
This unit is approximately 19 inches wide, 6.5 inches deep and 2 inches high. It is actually 3 separate boxes mounted to the faceplate, the two outside boxes are for the passive left and right channels and the centre box is for the power and switching. The basic principle behind the passive linestage is pretty simple; put the least amount of components and signal treatment between the input and the output. The Placette design reduces the material count to a bit of wire, sealed contact relays and Vishay resistors. In a further effort to reduce any signal contamination the channels are in separate boxes and the inputs that are not in use are “disconnected completely from the unit, including the ground connection”.
The heart of the unit is the Vishay 125-step resistor banks that perform the volume control. The Vishay resistors are high precision, high stability metal foil resistors. The Vishay specifications document states "non inductive, non capacitive design". For those who are curious a web page reference is given below for the S-102 specifications in pdf format. Placette uses 125 steps in order to obtain the necessary level of fine control of the volume. Guy Hammel explains that The Vishay resistors were selected in order to obtain the smallest possible distortion of the input signal while at the same time obtain very accurate volume balance of the R/L channels. In his opinion the Vishay S-102 is far superior to other resistors used in similar applications. He also says that accurate volume balance at all volume settings is essential for a focused soundstage. No balance adjustment is provided as Hammel considers that the accuracy of the volume step resistors sufficient to maintain balance. It has been my experience that soundstage focus and stability is very sensitive to many parameters and certainly channel balance is an important one.
The unit has 3 unbalanced inputs, and 2 unbalanced outputs. Guy Hammel does not believe that balanced circuits provide any audible benefit for this unit however they are offered as an option for those that need to have them. There is an industrial style chrome toggle switch on the front plate for manual volume control and an LED lineup that gives a binary representation on the volume setting. (0 to 127) The volume can also be controlled via the remotes. My unit came with 2 remotes, a Sony and a Magnavox universal models. Both of them worked fine and both have way more buttons on them than are necessary. Placette does not have a custom built remote.
The unit is simple to operate, select the input with the remote and adjust the volume either by remote or by the toggle switch. The LED display blinks through the binary count as the volume changes and it doesn't take long to get used to the control in order to set the desired volume. The 125 steps are quite sufficient for setting a desired listening level.
The Placette lives up to its objective of delivering absolute minimal alteration of the input signal. Speed, detail and transparency are outstanding and no added noise or colouration was detected. Also the soundstage presentation and focus were significantly better than the preamp it replaced. I say this however with the qualification that the previous preamp did not excel in this area.
Before acquiring the Placette passive linestage I did some research and came across some comments to the effect that passive linestages tend to have poor dynamics and can also suffer from weak bass response. The Placette unit does not suffer from these problems. No deficiencies of either category were noted.
After some months of operation with the Placette unit I decided to switch back to my old preamplifier to re-evaluate the differences. The Placette was better than the B&K preamp in all of the aspects previously mentioned however there was another difference that I will try to describe. The Placette sounded somehow less alive. This is more an overall impression and should be qualified as a very minute difference. Just enough to warrant more comparative listening and evaluation. I eventually decided to go back to the preamplifier and some months later purchased the Doge 8 which I still own and enjoy immensely.
I think it is important to mention that when these comparison tests were done the interconnect cables in the system were not nearly as good (transparent) as the ones I am now using and this may have contributed to the results. The preamplifier may have been able to compensate somewhat for the harm the cables were doing whereas of course the passive linestage could not.
Speakers: Coincident Total Victory I; upgraded to Total Victory II by Isreal Blume (the creator), and also upgraded with extended feet and modified by me for bi-amping.(recent change)
Amplifiers: Canary CA330 monoblocks; with NOS rectifier and driver tubes and TJ Full Music mesh grid 300B power tubes. (to mid and high frequency drivers). Jaton Operetta amplifier used for woofers. (recent change for bi-amping)
Preamplifiers: Doge 8; with 4 NOS 1960s Seimens 12AT7s and 4 pre-war NOS Yugoslavia Elektronska Industrija Nis (EI) 12AX7s. (used with the Canary amps) B&K Pro 10 MC (used with Jaton amp and the woofers, in bypass mode so no active components are in the circuit)
Digital sources: Arcam CD72 CD player. (used as a transport only) Logitech Squeezebox Music streamer + external Powerwave HA-5 linear power supply. Both of the above devices are connected to a Musical Fidelity X-DAC V3 with matching X-PSU V3 power supply
Analog Sources: Main analog source: Lenco L75 #1: Fully rebuilt; 75 pound plinth, Dynavector DV507 MKII tonearm, Zyx Universe cartridge, Coincident Statement MC step up transformer
Second analog source: Lenco L75 #2: partly rebuilt, original Lenco tonearm, Denon DL160 cartridge, Project phono box SE II.
Interconnects: All interconnnects are DIY cables designed and built by the author with the exception of the MC step up output which is a Tara Labs RSC Vector 1 and the Dynavector phono cable that came with the tonearm.
© Copyright 2017 Roger McCuaig - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.tnt-audio.com