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Linear preamplifier

Price: 8000 zł

Distributor: Absolutor

ul. Pustułeczki 12/25, 02-811 Warszawa

phone: 22 894 63 55
mobile: 608 200 566



Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Marek Dyba

TThe design of Absolutor is simply a beauty. Well – this should be the summary and not the beginning of a review but sometimes „B” goes before „A”, right? This Polish preamplifier could have been as well designed by any of the most famous guys in business - Lew Johnson (Conrad-Johnson) or Victor Khomenko (BAT), or Vladimir Lamm (Lamm Industries ) or even Gerhard Hirt (Ayon Audio ). These names just came to my mind as the first ones and there is some sense in it – all of them are designers of tube devices, and their preamplifiers are among the best ones existing. Maybe it is also no coincident that two of them come from our, Slavic part of Europe. So does Mr Wojciech Korpacz and Andrzej Markow. You have probably never heard of Mr Wojciech before but it was him who came up with the idea of creating this preamplifier. Mr Markow on the other hand is a legend of Polish audio market although – in my opinion – mostly of the underground, low profile business. He is responsible for the design of Absolutor, which was based on preamplifying section of his previous design – integrated amplifier called Lorelei. Now it became individual, separate device. One of the advantages of devices coming from small manufacturers is that they are constantly developed, upgraded, and once new upgrade is ready it becomes available for all the users. That's how it works with Ancient Audio's devices and with Absolutor's most likely too. The device as you buy it is the top version at the moment, but that can change in the future – Mr Markow can come up with some new ideas, and these will be implemented in the future versions of the device.

I need to mention also the second person who contributed to the creation of this device – Mr Korpacz. That's what he told me about himself and the Absolutor: „For years I have been participating in couple of live concerts a week. I prefer classical music from baroque to contemporary one played with acoustic instruments, but I don't avoid some jazz or ambient experiments. So I dare to say that I know how the instruments sound live. I met Andrzej Markow three years ago when I needed someone to repair my tube amplifier. I had a chance than to listen to his amp called Lorelei and I felt in love with its sound. For the first time I heard such a great microdynamics of an orchestra from a audio system. So I became the main „tester” of Andrzej's devices. In my opinion preamplifier was mostly responsible for Lorelei's sound timbre and dynamics. So I suggested creating a separate device with only one goal to be achieved – top quality sound. And that's how Absolutor came to life. Electronics design is Andrzej's responsibility, quality of sound and aesthetics of the device are mine. I have chosen input tubes, rectifiers, tested several pots to get the best possible result and to be proud of calling myself a „co-father” of this device. Now we are working together again to create SE amplifier – project looks very promising.” „Absolutor consists of two elements: power supply and preamplifier itself. They are connected with 9-pin plug. First you need to connect power supply with pre and later attach power cord to PS. We use American 6SH7GT from 1943 (Raytheon) in preamplifier. In the second stage Russian 6N8S. Rectifier used is 5Y3WGTA (JAN Philips). Of course rolling tubes allows to achieve some changes in the sound that might make it more to somebody's likening. Tested piece is equipped with DACT attenuator. The original design comes from Andrzej Marrow's amplifier Lorelei that was developed to a separate unit.”

Company has been named after this device which suggests that it is its very core product – in fact at the moment the only one. Classic setup has been used – two separate enclosures – one for power supply and the other for a preamplifier. Absolutor was from the very beginning to be a super-purist design so there are only two inputs at the back panel with a simple switch, and at the front panel you will find only huge volume control knob. All used elements are of the top quality. The preamplifier looks … just beautiful – if I was ever to change my phonostage Sensor Prelude IC, I wish the new one looked like Absolutor. Aesthetics is usually a week point of most devices available on the market – simply every designer focuses only on the sound and forgets about the look. You will read more about it in „Description” section and also about the only thing I would have changed – spikes. For such a unique device I would use Ceraballs from Finite Elemente (test HERE).


Discs used for listening sessions:

  • Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Paco De Lucia, Friday Night in San Francisco, Philips/Hi-Q Records, 6302137, 180 g LP.
  • Art Garfunkel, Fate For Breakfast, CBS, 86090. LP.
  • Clifford Brown and Max Roach, Study in Brown, EmArcy/Warner Music Japan, UCJU-9072, 180 g LP.
  • Depeche Mode, Peace, Mute Records, BONG41, SP.
  • Depeche Mode, Wrong, Mute Records, BONG40, SP.
  • Enya, Watermark, Warner Communications Company, 243875-1, LP.
  • Frank Sinatra, Sinatra&Strings, Warner Music/Mobile Fidelity, MFSL 1-313, No. 199, 180 g LP.
  • J. S. Bach, The Works of Johann Sebastian Bach. IX. Research Period, Archive Production, ARC 3162, LP.
  • Kraftwerk, Tour De France, EMI, 591 708 1, 2 x 180 g LP.
  • Miles Davis, Miles Davis And The Modern Jazz Giants, Prestige/Analogue Productions, 7150, 2 x 45 rpm 180 g LP.

You can find all Japanese issues at CDJapan.

Absolutor impressed me incredibly from the very first second of listening. Well, I admit that I had big expectations because it was supposed to be top achievement of Mr Markow at least at this point of his professional development (that is how I understand a drive for perfection – permanent development of professional knowledge) and it is also quite expensive product at least as for a Polish one. So before the stylus hit the record I was prepared for some extraordinary experience. First half an hour of listening confirmed my expectations and made me want to listen to more and more records. At the beginning I thought it was at least as good as my brand new Polaris II Ayon Audio equipped with the new power supply - AC-Regenerator. I decided to double check and used Conrad Johnson Classic and Accuphase C-2810 (a solid-state preamp). For some time Absolutor was still the best but the difference seemed to shrink. After couple of days having the knowledge of pros and cons of Polish device I came back to Polaris and than it became clear that mine device was in fact better and I didn't have to be afraid that I had overpaid for it… But those 2-3 days proved that Polish preamp offers sound of a very high quality. Its sound is quite specific but if you counterbalance all pros and cons (which you should always do if you want to evaluate some device) you will get definitely a positive final result.

The very basic virtue of Absolutor is its coherency. Sound is full, rich which makes phantom images quite significant but not through presenting excessive details or shrill sound. Presentation isn't „dark” or doesn't lack details – they are simply not the most important means of this presentation. Lower treble are quite strong – surely not laid back so I wouldn't really call that a tube sounding device. But if you spend enough time with the best products of that kind and get used to rich harmonics – this might become your standard of a good sound. Than you will get exactly what you expect from Absolutor – strong vocals, great saxophone and trumpet. Recordings like Study in Brown by Clifford Brown and Max Roach and also Giant Steps by John Coltrane showed that perfectly. That's when I thought that Polaris couldn't do the job – Polish preamplifier presented those instruments in much more real, palpable way, much closer than Ayon and much more like Accuphase did. Saxophone offered depth and richness I had known from much more expensive devices, same goes for trumpet – kind of harsh and feisty on one hand but rich and bit rounded on the other. Dynamic range is very good although not as good as the one offered by Polaris. I was right about Absolutor's sonic signature from the very first records I listened to. These were Depeche Mode's singles - Wrong and Peace. I know – singles are not really appreciated by audiophiles who love their 45 r.p.m, 180 g issues of Lps only. But these singles are different – quality is quite good. And these recordings revealed preamp's inclination to bit more open but also forward sound.

As I later realized it was caused by bit more forward (comparing to Ayon) higher midrange and lower treble. And that's why you don't have an impression of a darker sound, laid back higher frequencies. This effects in instruments sounding very transparent. Not rough, no hard attack – simply more open than offered by any other preamp I could compare it to. Gahan's voice was more transparent, more up-front, separated from everything else that was going on behind him. Same with Enya's voice from Watermark – more precise, clearer that from other devices. The last recording's quality isn't too good – it lacks a bit dynamics and the treble so it is very important that system doesn't expose that. The Polish device instead of hazing the sound kind of even „cleared” it, elevated the quality so it sounded better. One more time as this is the very basic information – it doesn't make the sound bright or edgy! Absolutor offers simply very good midrange, well sounding, well differentiated and on top of that also very good, strong part of trebles, as I described above.

After switching back to Polaris II I realized better what I heard before. Polish device turns up a bit voices and instruments that play mostly in midrange. But there is a small roll-off in the midrange somewhere between 600-800 Hz. That is why you might have an impression of vocals presented bit closer than the rest of the band. It is not a perfect way (if one can even tell what is a perfect way) of presentation because for example cymbals starting a piece of George Dilemma, brilliantly recorded – rich, vibrant, are a little bit „smaller”, not so rich when played by Absolutor. The difference wasn't big, surely not as big as a price margin, but if you want a high-end device than details make a difference. Absolutor's sound has bit less definition which makes sound less palpable. You might find it a bit inconsistent with what I wrote before about sound being palpable, but in the end it still makes sense. At the beginning I simply had no comparison, I was just focused on what I heard from Absolutor, but changing to Polaris II gave me a better perspective. I could than place Polish device on some price level and correlate offered sound quality and own character of the device with other devices at the same price tag. The most expensive, top quality preamps I had a chance to audition presented even more saturated sound and it means also that the whole frequency range was equally saturated and rich. Designer of the reviewed item used a small trick boosting up a bit some elements of sound so that it is very impressive from the very first note you hear from it. This works mostly to the advantage of music itself but some other devices using same trick are annoying after some time as it gives the device a specific „character”. Absolutor doesn't cross this line – no matter how long I listened to it it was still as impressive as at the beginning and it never started to annoy me. It is quite unique situation – it proves that Mr Markow's intention wasn't just to convince buyer during first audition, but to offer some sonic signature that Customer accepts or not. Why did he take this way? Well audio is an „art” of compromise and the final consumers decide whether designers choice was right or not.

The final effect of Mr Markow's work is outstanding. Probably it is still not the absolute high-end level but it offers several elements of true high-end sound at a reasonable price. What could be done better? Bit more saturation in the midrange, better extension in bass range and still better overall resolution. The latter is already quite good – better than any solid-state preamplifier I know, maybe with the exception of Accuphase C-2810. Accuphase and Ayon have better bass extension, there is more energy, punch in this range, and the timbre is better differentiated. I could hardly hear that when listening to double bass, but when listening to Kraftwerk I had an impression of less sounds in the room if the Absolutor was used. Please don't misunderstand me – I don't mean that the bass range of Absolutor is weak – no! The strong punches from Kraftwerk's Tour the France or synthetic, analogue bass from Depeche Mode's singles were quite deep and strong – even better than my favorite Leben RS-28CX offers. And the latter is my own personal number one in the price range up to 20.000 PLN.


Absolutor is a linear preamplifier, placed in two separate casings. First of them contains a power supply and the other amplification circuit. Front panel of the power supply contains only a single green LED, and the other one has similar LED and a single metal volume control knob. And that's it – very minimalistic approach. There are only two inputs at the back panel and a simple switch to choose between them. RCA rhoded sockets are of the high quality. Only one output – also RCA – Absolutor is not a balanced device. Aluminum casings are quite big but narrow and they look really well. You will find quite wide slots cut in the top panels which suggests that these devices produce quite a lot of heat and a good ventilation is required – no wonder, these are tube devices after all. The amplifying circuit is based on two tubes – an octal triode 6SH7GT from1943 (Raytheon), and Russian 6N8S (also an octal one). Circuit looks very simply but to achieve that you need to spend years building the whole circuit and than simplify it by elimination of non-essential elements. All the resistors are old military versions used once by Soviet army. These offer very low noise and quite comparable parameters. And are cheap. Capacitors in the output section are metalized, polypropylene ITT SEL MP (NOS). Tubes on the other hand are coupled by much cheaper elements, also NOS but made in Poland - polypropylene Mifleks MKSE. There is also a quite unusual solution – an attenuator in the output. The reviewed version has a DACT (Danish Audio ConnecT) with resistors implemented – an expensive piece of technology of highest quality (but you can order a preamp with a different solution). It is placed at the back panel where it belongs and the axis goes to the front of the device. On the PCB you will find also elements of power supply – capacitors filtering anode voltage – large Rubycon cap and a smaller one from Sinecon. The amplifying module is connected with power supply with thick cord with a solid, multiple screw down plug similar to the one used in my Polaris. But Ayon's is gold-plated. The amplification module is not too heavy so it could use some vibration dampening on the walls. I have also some reservations concerning input selector. If it is supposed to be an „absolute” product (that's what Absolutor means) than there should be no input selector at all or at least it should be one of top quality. Same goes for cabling and spikes. There is also an opportunity for an „easy” upgrade – just request a version with separate power supplies for each channel. Such a 3-box preamplifier is offered for example by Aesthetix (special version of Callisto Eclipse) and is it highly regarded by many audiophiles.

On power supply PCB you will find a writing saying „Designed by Andrzej Markow” confirming who is responsible for the design. Power supply is built around classic transformer with three secondary windings. There are two very large Philips (now BC) capacitors and some smaller ones made by Polish company Elwa. We can find also Polish poliprophylen Miflex (NOS type) in the circuit. Resistors used are the same as in the amplification circuit. In the middle there is a large heat sink. On the back panel there is a simple on/off switch, and the second one that can cut-off ground in the power cord. In my opinion this first one should be accessible from the front – maybe placed at the bottom – reaching each time to the back of the device is quite irritating…

The designer used a lot of NOS elements in the whole circuit, mostly made in Poland and Russia. Mr Markow is known for using lot of these in his projects – of course he measures and pairs them first. We can debate what would have happened if he had used elements like Dale or Vishay, and oil or teflon V-caps, that were used for example in Ancient Audio's devices. Maybe it would improve the sound or maybe it wouldn't – I am pretty sure that sooner or later somebody will try that out. Anyway Absolutor worked flawlessly and my only reservation concerned a audible hum from transformer – no matter what I did I couldn't get rid of it. Well I must say that the particular version I received for the review turned out to be a great device that allowed me to really enjoy the music I listened to. In my opinion it is not the „absolute” sound yet, not too close anyway. But it is surely a solid high-end. Same product could be released by Audio Note or Kondo and it would have cost also 8000 but USD not PLN (which means 3 times more). And that would still be a fair price. It offers rich, highly saturated sound with great dynamics. I tried to show you that such a sound has also its weaker spots but only if you compare it with much more expensive competitors. Comparing it to my favorite Leben proved that they both offer same high quality although quite different sound. Leben is faster, with more resolution, better extension is bass and treble ranges. But Absolutor is more organic sounding, doesn't magnify flaws of recordings or other elements of the system which makes it more suitable for most systems. It would take only few small improvements (better spikes, source selector) to make it a „statement” device but still at hi-fi price.

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  • CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Prime (tested HERE)
  • Phono preamp: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC (tested HERE)
  • Preamp: Leben RS-28CX (tested HERE; soon to be changed to Polaris II, tested HERE)
  • Power amp: Luxman M-800A (tested HERE)
  • Integrated amp: Leben CS300 (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • headphones: AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600 Ω version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • interconnects: CD-preamp: Wireworld Gold Eclipse 52 (tested HERE; soon to be changed to Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Velum NF-G SE (tested HERE)
  • speaker cable: Velum LS-G (tested HERE)
  • power cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9100 (CD; reviewed HERE) and 2 x Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC7100 (preamp, power amp (reviewed HERE)
  • power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • audio stand Base
  • resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE ) Turntables change continuously, as do cartridges. My dream setup: SME 30 with Series V tone-arm and Air Tight PC-1 cartridge (also in the PC-1 Mono version).