Lab12 Melto1 Phono Preamplifier Review

And another interesting product from the hands of Stratos Vichos and Lab12 that I am taking a closer look at. The melto1 preamplifier is the latest proud creation of the ever-inspiring young team of Lab12 engineers from Greece. 

melto1

There is no question that vinyl is back. Actually, it never disappeared, it just got more attention in the last decades. More and more music lovers are turning to analog sources for a variety of reasons. A more natural and pristine feel in sound perception, the ability to use the full analog path, the tactile feel in the hands, etc. 

Melto1 is the newest member of the Lab12 portfolio. It was designed from the ground up to bring audiophiles one step closer to a geniunie analog sound.

Phono stages are the most important links in the chain of any analog oriented high-end sound system. In developing melto1, Stratos Vichos and Lab12 intended to create a thoroughly musical phono stage that will engage audiophiles about both analog sound and its benefits. And they succeeded.

Melto1 was developed as an uncompromising phono stage, characterized by unequivocal musicality. It ensures pure sound reproduction and smooth processing of the sensitive and fragile cartridge signal, and offers the possibility to get the best possible performance out of the turntable/pickup system through a wide range of setting combinations.

One of the most important advantages of vinyl is that the sound remains within analog realms from the record, cartridge, phono preamp, line pream, amplifier, and at the end signal waves reaches the final destination, our aural receptors, after all analog path through the audio system.

Therefore, each link of the analog chain must keep the sound and its form intact, must maintain all the harmonic notes and all the harmonic frequencies until the end. After that, it is possible to come closer to the natural, life-like sound. A sound that is familiar to our ears and brain and can be satisfying as well as fatigue free.

Anything else that tries to induct a more impressive reproduction is automatically rejected by our ears and brain after a while. 

This reasoning and design direction strictly follows Lab12's overall philosophy, not only in melto1, but in all of the brand's designs. Lab12 products aim to reproduce a sound that does not tire even after hours of listening.

The melto1 came on the market right after the melto2, which I have already positively reviewed here. Both phono stages have the same DNA and both products aim for the best possible and unadulterated analog vinyl sound. 

Stratos Vichos writes: "Often, many ask me about the final measurements and technical specs of our devices. Measurements of electronic audio devices are important, there is no doubt for this. Using an oscilloscope, or a microphone connected with an audio analyser, or other measurement equipment, you can check if, less or more, a device is performing technically accurate. But, do we have microphones or probes to our head? No! We have ears that are connected to our brain. Our ears are there to receive any sound trigger and forward it to our brain in order to create thoughts, reactions and of course emotions. Our brain and all off our body and soul can immediately chill with the hearing of a peaceful sound of nature or can easily tired and increase anxious pulses with a rush and hard sound."

And as you can read further, Lab12 melto1 follows this direction very closely. 

Here are the main features of melto1

  • MM/ MC cartridge type
  • All-tube design
  • Fully adjustable settings: Pickup type, impedance, capacitance
  • Toroidal transformer
  • No feedback design
  • SRSG® implementation
  • Fine Symmetry® implementation 5mm aluminum front panel
  • Five-year warranty

Operational

Melto1 is a MM /MC phono stage with high flexibility in settings through a dip switch network directly on the back of the unit. 

Stratos Vichos and the Lab12 team have spent numerous hours achieving RIAA curve equalization with a tolerance of no more than 0.2dB and a noise floor of -60dB. However, as with all Lab12 designs, this is not the 'main point!

There are four analog tube stages per channel and a tightly tuned RIAA passive equalization network in the epicenter of the topology. Therefore with MM and high output cartridges the signal goes through a complete tube design and the passive parts.

A powerful high-voltage power supply with a low-noise stabilization stage is responsible for driving the noise-sensitive analog tube amplifier.

Separate ground paths for power and signal (SRSG) ensure that the sensitive low level signal is not contaminated by the high current loops.

Both channels are built exactly the same, all PCB paths are identical in terms of resistance and capacitance (fine symmetry).

For low level cartridge amplification melto1 use a pair of ultra-low noise OP amps in combination with a linear, 3-fold stabilized power supply.

Lab12 managed to achieve an impressive signal-to-noise ratio, especially for a tube preamplifier with versatile settings to which any cartridge can be connected.

The input impedance can be adjusted from 32ohms to 100Kohms and up to 300 pF for the MM cartridges.

On the back there is an RCA output and input, as well as a ground terminal and dip switches to adjust the load. 

Melto1 can handle both moving coil phono cartridges (MC) and moving magnet phono cartridges (MM). MM setting can be also used for some MC cartridges with high output power.

With the MC setting, a low noise solid state stage takes care of the low level signal MC before the tube and equalizer stages. With the MM setting, this stage is bypassed completely.

For the MM cartridges the desired input capacitance cab be set. Lab12 recommends choosing values close to the manufacturer's recommended values to "flatten" the frequency response and avoid resonant peaks at higher frequencies. However, capacitance values are influenced by the design philosophy of the cartridge as well as the connecting cables, so there is no absolutely correct setting. Therefore, it is advised to experiment until the setting that suits the particualr setup and personal preferences is found.

For the MC cartridges, the lowest value is always recommended.

As with the MM settings, the MC values sholud be close to those recommended by the cartridge manufacturer. Again, there is no absolutely correct setting, and it is recommended to experiment until proper sonic balance and synergy is found. 

In general, the higher the value load will proivde better response in high frequencies.

The Music

As always, here are some of the albums and reference titles used in the evaluation.

The Emerald Forest: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Junior Homrich is one of my favorite movie soundtracks. Hauntingly beautiful music accompanies the narrative of this highly underrated film, which I remember seeing in theaters in my youth. I recall doing everything I could at the time to get my hands on LP because the music touched me deeply even then. 

It was no problem to find the right setting for the Lyra Lambda cartridge quite quickly. The Lyra can handle the speed, dynamics, and spot-on timbre, tone, and color with the phono stage set correctly. It was nowhere near as brittle or too open as some audiophiles and music lovers have experienced. It's just a matter of finding the right load. 

With the Lab12 metlo1, the enormous dynamic tide that spreads throughout the album did not dissipate the massiveness or dynamics, nor did it detract from the harmony or narrative. 

Notwithstanding that Lab12 is an entry-level phono stage, the metlo1 was easily able to immerse me deeper into the mystical and unique sound world of Emerald Forest, with a unique fusion of higher-order sonic gluons creating a remarkable sonic extravaganza. 

Many phono stages, at any price, can bring forth kaleidoscopic chaos. The melto1, on the other hand, commands pulsating rhythms and high-octane, emotionally charged, archaic melodies with great authority, allowing you to transport one to the sonic wilderness of the Amazon forest. 

The density of Emerald Forest is special, and the details, anchor points, and sonic clues are easily scattered. With the melto1, the vertical and horizontal expanses were never congested, and the cinematic projection constellated into a sound bubble that had the harmonic wholeness of a much more expensive phono stage. 

Junior Homrich's remarkable fusion of indigenous instruments and ethereal analog synthesizers was presented like a lucid dreamscape from another dimension. A lifelike, modeled experience. 

Lab12 melto1 also greatly mastered the sonic propositions of Michael Franks' Art of Tea, allowing it to showcase the deep bond between Franks and the fantastic backing musicians of (Jazz) Crusaders. 

Art of Tea brought Franks into the spotlight. The album was produced by legendary producer Tommy LiPuma, known for his highly regarded work with Miles Davis, George Benson, and Diana Krall, to name a few. 

Mastered by Doug Sax and mixed by Al Schmitt. Need I say more :)...

The Melto1 phono stage presented a complete "remodeling" of chord changes, tantalizing melodies, and the amazing interplay between the musicians greatly to say the least. 

Another album where Melto1 showed a startling rendition was Faithless Irreverence. Melto1 demonstrated unexpected, well controled handling of dynamics and sonic expansiveness. 

Faithless put enormous energy into making this album sound great. It was also mixed and recorded in analog. 

The submarine depths of Irreverence were rendered with unexpected control. 

The music poured into the room without the usual limitations too often associated with the phono stage in this price range. 

The sonic balance and unwavering quality of the Lab12 melto1 continued across a wide range of albums, proving that the melto1's proof of concept works: generating solid, balanced music reproduction across all musical genres. 

Conclusion

Lab12 remains among my favorite audio brands, offering not only a lot of bang for their buck, but also a higher-than-usual level of high-quality audio reproduction. Each new model attempts to push performance up the ladder of sonic excellence. And so far, lab12 sucseeded in this. 

Many phono stages are not able to master the basic fundamentals and this is always closely related to the design.

The phono preamplifier is alwasy designed for sound resculpturing due the RIAA equalization and this, among other fundamentals, is where the "magic" happens. 

The sound is shaped by the electronic components and the concept, and this reflects how the music is "animated", how it is projected and how it reaches the listener with the necessary vigour, and if it is creating an emotional connection with the music. 

Melto1 was undoubtedly designed by music lovers for vinyl lovers and it offers the listener the possibility to enjoy the music very easily. It offers a high level of reproduction and sound with all the necessary settings at an affordable price. 

The Lab12 Melto1 offers a unique pleasure with always enough potency to let the listener rediscover the favorite music, touching the intimacies of music, always with a unremitting fidelity. 

A charming illusion? No. But with its hybrid design, the melto1 casts a fundamental grasp of reality in the absence of slowed smoldering phenomena. On the contrary, it encloses enough radiant inner nux to provide the necessary sparkle, and it has proven that it can beat in unison with all types of music. To make a long story short. Lab12 melto1 seeds the spirit of reason with the first album in the rotation. 

Lab12's products are made in Greece, in Europe. Yes, Lab12 is proof that affordable high-end audio electronics can be made in the old continent and still be offered at a price that is affordable to most audiophiles and music lovers. Worthy of applause!

For what the Lab12 melto1 phono preamplifier represents at its price point and in sonic terms, I wholeheartedly award it the Mono & Stereo Best Buy Product 2022 award. 

Price

  • 2280 EUR

Specifications

  • Power: 230VAC 50Hz (115VAC 60Hz)
  • Power consumption: 80 VA max
  • Gain MM: 41dB
  • Gain MC: 66 dB
  • Input impedance: adjustable (32 ohm – 100Kohm)
  • Input capacitance: adjustable (0-300pF)
  • De-emphasis curve: RIAA
  • Tube complement: 2x 6N1P-EV dual triode, 2x 6n2p-EV dual triode
  • Input: line stereo (RCA connectors)
  • Output: line stereo (RCA connectors)
  • Available Colours: Matt Black
  • Dimensions (WxHxD): 43x11x29 cm
  • Weight: 6.5 Kg

Contact

Lab12 Single Member P.C.

K. Varnali 57A, 

Metamorfosi 144 52 Athens

Greece

Phone: +30 2102845173

Email: contact@lab12.gr

Web: www.lab12.gr