As audio goes, line stages are a dodgy undertaking. In any 2-channel audio system, a preamp is the central connecting ‘hub’ between source components and amplifiers. The sound quality (or lack thereof) of any stereo system is highly dependent on the quality of the preamp. Get the design, engineering, or aesthetics wrong in this component, and there’s nowhere to hide. I’ve heard far too many line stages that sounded as incoherent and unfocused as a drunken one-legged tightrope walker trying to cross two skyscrapers during a windstorm.
Based out of Firenze Italy, Gold Note is renowned for fabricating ultra high-end turntables, tonearms, phono stages, amplifiers, and top shelf audio components. The company recently launched its new flagship P-1000 solid state preamplifier (MSRP $6,250 USD) and I got my hands on a review unit.
The P-1000 is a Class-A preamp with six discrete gain stages that uses a high-end Alps optical encoder volume pot (also known a volume potentiometer or volume dial). Four of the six gain stages are dedicated to the balanced XLR circuits. Two are devoted to the RCA circuits. Its internal power supply utilizes three transformers: one for control tasks and two for dual-mono audio. The unit’s individual gain circuits are designed to keep all signals separate, minimize possible distortion, and extend linear bandwidth. The P-1000 also has a color TFT display that noticeably heightens the unit’s ‘cool’ factor. No one does fashion and design like Italians and the aesthetics of this preamp proudly reflect that sophisticated heritage.
The P-1000 has 10 independent stereo inputs: 5 fully balanced sets of XLR inputs and 5 pairs of RCA jacks. It has three outputs: one pair of balanced (XLR) plugs; one set of single-ended (RCA) jacks; and one pair of balanced (XLR) *tube output* plugs. A mini-USB port comes standard to handle future software downloads. This preamp does not include either a phono stage or a headphone amp. A digital input and an internal DAC can be installed for an extra $1,000 USD.
Gold Note also offers a number of outboard upgrades for the P-1000. These include: two different valve (tube) output stages (the Tube 1006 & 1012) which connect to the balanced (XLR) *tube output* plugs; and two higher echelon power supply units (the PSU 1100 & 1250). As I wasn’t supplied with any of these upgrades, I cannot comment on their sonic efficacy. Still, it’s good to know that these upgrades are readily available.
The P-1000 comes with four unique sound modes, all of which can be bypassed. These include: one, a ‘pure mono’ mode to enhance the sound of old mono recordings. Two, a ‘channel inversion’ mode which swaps the left and right channels. Three, a ‘phase shift’ mode that inverts the absolute polarity from 0° to 180° to compensate for CD players that invert phase. And four, a two stage ‘bass boost’ function that increases the dB level in the low bass.
My P-1000 review unit came with a gorgeous black-anodized brushed aluminium finish. A color TFT screen is positioned to the left side of the front panel. If desired, the display can be turned off. Moving from input to input and changing modes was easy and intuitive. The individual inputs are forever titled XLR 1 to RCA 5 and cannot be re-named to personalize the unit.
The P-1000 has an analog bass boost at 45Hz with two gain levels: 2.5dB and 5dB. Although an amp will have to have sufficient headroom to use it, I found the booster to be invaluable. Instead of needing to buy a $5K+ level subwoofer, the bass boost energized the low end without negatively impacting coherency or resolution.