Clones Audio AP1 preamplifier test review




RETURN OF THE CLONES


Clones audio just released their new preamplifier. Clones Audio 25p power amplifier already received Mono & Stereo value and performance award. In the same foot steps of musicality and performance they just announced their new preamplifier. Review sample arrived at Mono & Stereo HQ's.

Funjoe of Clones Audio introduced the AP with:

"Our First Preamp released toady. The CLONES audio AP1 combines first-class sound quality with flexibility, style and excellent value. It uses a very simple and direct circuit combining the CLONES values of musicality and power with flexibility and value. Somehow the music has areas of openess and honesty that considerably more expensive valve pre-amps do not reveal in quite the same manner. A true bargain."



STURDINESS OF ELEGANCE


Like Clones 25p chassis, Clones AP1 carries the same outlook. The sturdy, build like tank substantial feeling is not only rough, but very elegant. I literally see at least one item from China per week and trust me, this enclosures are finished very nicely and of different standards. No sign of cheap anodising or brushing. Funjoe really gone all the way in creating substantial and elegant feeling.

When you lift AP1 any second guesses falls away. This black box is heavy! Now we all heard about past decades raves regarding rigidity and dealing with resonances. The share mass and tri-point feet system add the refine feeling to the AP1.

Funjoe intentionally used thicker aluminium and stabilised the centre points of chassis for micro resonances and damping of air born vibrations. Result is certianly refined and practical.

PERFORMANCE


As preamplifier works a bit in different sphere then power amplifier. I was intrigued if Funjoe will be able to pull out the same performance as with Mono & Stereo awarded 25p. The basic goal was the same. Purity, simplicity, straight wire principle and musicality. The circuit simplicity was the key and main plan. Funjoe took a lot of time in fine tuning the circuit as he told me in our correspondence. In general Gain Clone devices and AP1 do look simple or simplified. In one sense, they are. That's their basic advantage. But! To make them work, you'll have to go all the way and experiment with materials etc. When there is so little material in the signal path, then every electronic part choice carry an important and crucial role in the final sound outcome.

As Clones Audio name suggested, Funjoe took his inspiration from the past legendary products and circuits. AP1 hold on to this tradition. The similar design, was used in one of American state of the art flagship preamplifiers and in few DIY iterations in later years.

Clones Audio is a contemporary take on this designs with the flavour or Funjoe experiences in high-end audio. His high-end audio mileage exceed his company product design and the outcome proves that the man ears are trained and refined to the max.

THE SOUND


When summing up my listening notes I was trying to find the red line and generalise my experiences. Not accidentally they correlate smoothly with Clones audio 25p. The lightness of performance, easiness of feather like presentation and unrestrained musicality not only reawaken the deja vu, but creates an interesting synergy and system approach. It sounds dreamy, but even virtually there was a strong urge to connect those two. Physical practise only confirmed the hunches. Safe and strong grounds connected. In earthly language, 25p and AP1 works seamlessly together. I've said many times, how capable designer's DNA is always implemented into his work. Here again Funjoe prove this spot on.

I feel that he was in a bit of shaky emotional stage when trying to bring the same performance of his 25p series to newly introduced preamplifier range. It's not that easy to keep the effective creative flow across the whole product range. Many have tried and failed. It's my pleasure to confirm that Clones Audio endeavours are fruitful and sonically at the level of what I would expect from the company.

Many at present times try to bring down the role of the preamplifier in the signal chain. Their points of wisdom are that any addition adds a poignant signature to the sound. While I can agree to a certain point in high-end audio the correctly designed preamplifier will breath the life to the music. As with Clones Audio AP1 it will bring the life's energy, the three dimensionality, sense of space and connect the musicality and performance into seamless presentation of music.

With AP1 it feels, that not much is being held back. I wont say, that this preamp is the the league of Robert Koda Takumi K-10 or Thrax Dionysos preamplifiers. It's not, but in its basic it brings so much uncluttered performance, that will impress you far beyond expectations. This little box when used in a blind test can fool even the trained ears in the performance of few thousands 'bucks' preamps. It might not have here and there 100 % embodiment like those 10 times and above priced preamplifiers migh have, but it goes tight hand in hand. The purity and musicality rivals them with ease. This is where head scratching is fully allowed.

We've seen the rise of high-performance affordable high-end in past two-three years. But, all in all not much companies exceed the expectations. Clones Audio is among hand few that goes boldly with their offerings.

MUSIC


All the mumbling about the tech, sound and performance means nothing without the musical impact. I've done extended hours with both analog and digital front ends to ensure in giving the Clones Audio AP1 a fair shares of both bits and bites :).

Donald Fagen will show the edge to any digital front and and Harry Belafonte Sings The Blues to analog ones. In both cases AP1 swings with ease and enough mojo to keep the flow of music intact. As with 25p not much is holding back with the AP1. Somehow on given moments it reminded me on F1 bolid, where only crucial parts are left in for state of the art performance. 

SUMMING IT UP


You've seen many products coming and going through my hands on weekly basis. As from this year Mono & Stereo awards started to appear. I don't give them out easily, but I'm more then happy with this years turnaround. So many serious product in both affordable and upper echelon of high end audio are worthy of honourable awarding. Clones Audio brought something to the high-end, that many tried to, but failed. An affordable price with a no nonsense approach and true high-end performance. If you're not brand blinded and you ears are the main directors of your musical values, then you'll easily agree with my findings. I've tried both 25p and AP1 in many different systems. Let me tell you. People rant about Clones Audio box size when first seen. When turned on. Silence. Then changing back to their setups. Silence. Then putting back Clones...

Sound might come larger then life with those we compared, but when side by side the amplifiers and systems sounded dull, closed and muffled. Non musical. Those Funjoe babies are an eyeopeners. I've seen the fellow senior writer commenting that Clones machine sound close at the top. I'm not sure if there is age at play with natural frequency EQ-ing or some other issues, but no one of guys that heard Clones even remotely mentioned that they are closed at high frequency range. Just otherwise. Total openness and transparency. 


As with Clones Audio 25p there is no second thoughts in awarding with the same award as 25p. 

In the time of the final listening hours Clones Audio 25pm mono-blocks arrived. Now if we all thought 25p was a performer, from first few listening hours I can assure that 25pm opens up the new doors in the musicality and performance. Stay tuned for more soon...

Specifications:

3 line-level inputs
1 line-level output (Optional 2 outputs)
Dimensions:170(w)x100(h)x170(d)mm
Weight: 2.9kg
* 5 year warranty


The Selling price is USD549 (230VAC)/ USD569(115VAC)

www.clonesaudio.com






Matej Isak. Mono and Stereo ultra high end audio magazine. All rights reserved. 2006-2013. www.monoandstereo.com. ..:: None of the original text, pictures, that were taken by me, links or my original files can be re-printed or used in any way without prior permission! ::..