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Review: ASR Basis Exclusive HV Phono preamplifier

Review: ASR Basis Exclusive HV Phono preamplifier: Yes, you have to deal with the unconditional sovereignty, precision and tonal incorruptibility

Is it not so? As soon as the names Friedrich Schäfer and ASR Audio Systems come up, we immediately associate them with box-sized amps, side cooling fins, dark acrylic housings and a significantly oversized button for regulating the volume. Then there would be one, or even better two, not much smaller power supplies and we are already immersed in the world of what is possibly the most consistent audio amplifier in the German-speaking area. At least when it comes to integrated amplifiers, because they don’t normally build anything else at ASR Audio Systeme in Herborn, Hesse, out of conviction. I say yes, consistently. And usually. Because ASR boss Friedrich Schäfer is and has always been a great analogue friend, which is why phono amplifiers have actually been in the ASR Audio Systems range since 1982 (yes, There was also a preamp once, but that’s another story….). We are therefore particularly interested in the current top phono equalizer from Hessen, the ASR Basis Exclusive HV (7,590 euros, Basis Exclusive from 5,950 euros.

Since I myself was the proud owner of an ancestor of our test device – an ASR Basis HD from model year 2003 – for years, it was a particularly exciting task.

By the way: The amplifiers from ASR Audio Systems are only available directly from the manufacturer. In pre-Corona times, you could get your own picture at the Emitter Days, which were regularly held on the company premises in Herborn, and often take your favorites with you right away. At the moment, ASR devices are sent on loan for a fee, which is of course offset when purchasing.

Lost in thought, I had the two (!) Rather thick and weighty boxes with the ASR lettering delivered to the office and can now heave them into the listening room at home with a heavy breath. Observers of this scenario would hardly fall into the idea that its content is a phono pre-stage. It is well known that common representatives of this genre fit in the form of handy modules in every better integrated amplifier. However, this one is far from it.

Technology: ASR Basis Exclusive HV

One plus one

The ASR Basis Exclusive HV consists of two units, of which the smaller, at least in the format of a full-blown pre-stage, houses the equalization circuit and buffer capacitors, while the larger, almost 30 kilo heavy part is home to batteries and charging electronics. Batteries? Totally right. After all, it is a specialty of Schäfer’s amplifiers that they can be operated with the purest battery power from generously sized batteries. And what applies to the integrated amplifier is of course a must for a phono preamp.

ASR Basis Exclusive HV: Stecker für das Akkunetzteil

In the meantime I have unpacked the ASR Basis Exclusive HV and placed it on my copulare rack, while the power supply takes up the space below. Both units are connected with a rather stubborn connection cable from the power department. On the input side, it is permanently connected to the control unit of the phono stage. The contact to the battery power pack is made by an almost indestructible multipin connector in “industrial quality”. All in all, an effort that the people of Herborn make here, even for this committed price range.

As with the ASR integrated amplifiers, the transparent, translucent housing of the phono preamplifier is made of gray-bluish acrylic glass with a wall thickness of one centimeter. Corners and edges shape the design, which basically corresponds to that of my old Basis HD. However, the Exclusive HV is a little higher, which is due to the fact that Friedrich Schäfer equips the HV with 40 volt capacitors specially made for ASR , the size of which requires additional space.

ASR Basis Exclusive HV: Siebkondensatoren

Even the basic version of the ASR Basis Exclusive offers two pickups, which of course can be attenuated differently. In addition to MCs, MM systems can also be rectified. The equipment includes a switchable subsonic filter with cut-off of frequencies below 20 Hertz as well as the option of a suitable gain factor with values ​​between 54 and 65 dB . However, a mono switch is only available as an option.

The features reserved for the top model ASR Basis Exclusive HV include the aforementioned canary-yellow high-voltage capacitors, of which 24 installed in the amplifier unit provide almost 1,000000 microfarads. The low-mass Nextgen cinch sockets from WBT are also included in the HV equipment package. Optionally in silver or, as with our test device, in copper.

Inside look

In order to be able to make settings on the ASR Basis Exclusive HV, you have to remove the acrylic cover, which is a bit tedious. The sight that presents itself afterwards, however, can hardly be topped. The mirror-symmetrical, double-plated, green-yellowish glossy motherboard of the phono pre-stage is a real eye-catcher. Finest workmanship and consistently high component quality wherever the eye falls. The consistent double mono structure of the equalizer is easy to see. However, the circuit is not completely symmetrical. While the input ICs still have real symmetry, the partially active RIAA equalization is asymmetrical. Friedrich Schäfer attributes a better low noise level to this solution, in which the characteristic curves in the bass using ICs and those of the higher frequencies are passively equalized with resistors.

ASR Basis Exclusive HV: Netzkabel im Inneren

Although ASR Audio Systems also provides all inputs and outputs in an unbalanced cinch version, for the best sound results it is recommended to use the balanced versions, whereby the contact is made via the mechanically excellent sockets from Switchcraft.

On the input side, this makes all the more sense since the pickups deliver a native, i.e. a real symmetrical signal. Generally you need a phono cable with XLR plugs. How to connect this correctly can be found in the instruction manual, which is otherwise very comprehensive and detailed.

ASR Basis Exclusive HV: Rückseite mit Anschlüssen

MC + MM

The resistor for damping, which is usually required for MCs, is selected using DIP switches, also known as mouse pianos, which, due to the symmetry of the circuit, are available twice for each channel.

It is not that simple, however, since each channel has two rows of twelve-pole DIP switches, but they are not functionally completely “mirror-identical”. There are also other mouse pianos to set the amplification factor and the bass cut-off. Without an instruction manual you are quickly lost, but if you follow it systematically, this hurdle is easy to overcome. You are rewarded with a comprehensive selection of impedances. The range from 10 ohms to 47 kilo ohms should do justice to almost every MC.

ASR Basis Exclusive HV: DIP-Schalter

In addition, different capacities can be set for MM systems, so that further fine-tuning is possible here as well. The ASR Basis Exclusive HV offers the passionate analog fan a really nice playground and enormous flexibility when adapting the system.

The appropriate terminations for the samplers I used in the test – the Aventurin 6 from Steinmusic, a Lyra Titan i and a Dynavector DV-20X2H High-Output MC (for testing the MM inputs) – could still be found without having to go back and forth too often. Finding a try, as the corresponding tonal changes turned out to be quite understandable. I could not discover any preferences for a certain system, but it seemed to me that the ASR strengths of the respective pickups, with the Titan i for example the grandiose dynamics, with the Aventurin 6 the excellent resolution and lively timbres still supported a little.

What does not exist is the option of different cutting characteristics, which has been increasingly popular in recent times, mostly from the pre-RIAA period. Owners of old Deccas, LSCs or Columbias, to name just a few, could definitely enjoy such a feature. My own with AVM Ovation PH 8.3, AMR PH-77 and iFi micro iPhono are a bit mixed in the end. Some of the old discs actually benefited audibly, while others showed only marginal changes. It can be assumed that in the end only a few users really regularly use the sometimes questionable correct characteristics, but the needs of the vast majority are already extensively met with a carefully constructed phono pre-stage that is “only” corrected according to RIAA. Friedrich Schäfer probably sees it similarly, which is why ASR phono pre-amplifiers now and probably also in the future will classically equalize according to the RIAA standard.

Declaration of independence: battery operation

ASR Basis Exclusive HV: Drehregler und Anzeige

After switching on, colored, labeled LEDs behind the translucent acrylic glass panes of the ASR phono preamplifier and the battery power supply provide information about the current operating status. You can safely save yourself deep thoughts about the suitability for everyday use of the power supply: Even a Basis HD from 2003 sucked on its batteries without any problems. In the meantime, the control electronics of the power supply unit have been further optimized so that the batteries currently in use last a good 60 hours. If you then switch to charging mode, the ASR Basis Exclusive HV is automatically supplied with mains power, so it can still be used.

Of course, the best sound is offered by the operating mode in which the phono stage completely galvanically interrupts the connection to the house network. If you forget to switch back to one of the other operating modes in time, you actually run the risk of running out of batteries. But even then, such an occasional mishap generally does not pose a serious problem for their durability. The only relevant concession to the supply of the purest battery power in everyday life was and is that after about six to seven years the batteries need to be changed, which gifted users themselves , let everything else be done by the service of ASR Audio Systems. A manageable 300 euros are currently being charged for this.

Friedrich Schäfer advises not to switch off the ASR Basis Exclusive HV even during listening breaks, but at least to supply it with mains power in order to keep the sensitive circuits electrically and thermally stable. The Basis Exclusive has automatic signal detection to avoid unnecessary discharging of the batteries. This ensures that the phono stage automatically switches to battery mode when the tonearm is lowered and switches back to charging mode as soon as it is raised again.

Das Akkunetzteil der ASR Basis Exclusive HV

In times when our power grids are increasingly burdened by various interfering influences that hinder the sound quality of high-quality systems, adequately dimensioned battery power sources should represent a practicable solution. Due to their independence from mains power, they are regularly associated with a lower-noise “sound background” and increased dynamic range .

ASR Basis Exclusive HV: Sound test & comparisons

The strenght is to be found in serenity

ASR’s phono stage seems to want to live up to this reputation right away: A completely unexpected silence envelops me as I lower the needle of the Steinmusic Aventurin II into the inlet groove of Keith Jarrett’s Munich 2016 . So quiet that doubts immediately arise as to whether you have chosen the right input for the Silvercore line preamp. When I want to get up to correct the supposed mishap (my preamp has no remote control for sound reasons), the first chord of Jarrett hits me suddenly. Oha, this eerie silence is already an announcement.

When I later report my experience to Friedrich Schäfer, he points out that the low noise floor of the Basis Exclusive HV can not only reproduce silence in an exemplary manner, but is above all the basis for outstanding dynamics. Well, we will examine that in more detail elsewhere, but now I am fascinated by the incredibly solid and substantial grand piano placed between the loudspeakers. The swing of the wood, the resonance of the metal frame and of course the unmistakable touch of Jarrett.

Dimension expanding

ASR Basis Exclusive HV verkabelt

It may be that I have already described other devices similarly, but the ASR Basis Exclusive HV takes the subject of three-dimensionality even further. As the? On the one hand, it places sound bodies in a special way on solid ground, which makes their spatial allocation much easier in contrast to the sound structures of some other amps that sometimes tend to hover in space. It is noticeable that the rich sound of Jarrett’s grand piano develops from a well-defined point on the imaginary stage of the Munich Gasteig and not simply from the “off”.

The Exclusive HV base maps the structures it has created spatially with a stability and precision that are among the best that I have come across in the analog field so far. Abbingdon Music Research’s PH-77, an excellent tube phono stage in the 10,000 euro class, offered similar stability, but ultimately drew the tones at the edges with a slightly wider line. Remarkable, since I thought the AMR was so far very accurate.

ASR Basis Exclusive HV mit transparentem Gehäusedeckel

The sculptural presence of the singer at Belafonte’s Concert at Carnegie Hall has never been so perfectly illusionized. And that although I have been counting this double album as one of my all-time favorites for a long time, which is why almost all phono equalizers I can find are “fed” with it. Of those, Clearaudio’s Absolute Phono Inside (9,900 euros at the time of the test) is most likely to be able to match the ASR in terms of holographic appearance and therefore live character . Years ago, I certified the Erlanger “strong color images of captivating sound realism”. Impressions that I remember vividly to this day.

This is the league in which Friedrich Schäfer’s phono stage seems to feel comfortable. And it goes further. The ASR Basis Exclusive HV interprets room boundaries in a pleasingly generous way: Such airy and extensive sound spaces are an exclusive experience even with top equalizers. My Einstein Audio Phonostage and the Chord Symphonic can’t quite keep up with that. Although one can hardly say that the two cheaper phono preamplifiers are too compact, the more extensive and extremely stable spatial image of the ASR still belongs to a different, higher class. With the popular “Mathilda”, the audience singing no longer just claps on my room walls, but seems to literally flood the far larger dimensions of the imaginary Carnegie Hall. Belafonte,

ASR Basis Exclusive HV Phonovorstufe

Of course, the tried and tested Living Stereo Warhorse LSC -1934 with Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra also has toran there again. After all, the recording from 1958 is considered to be a brilliant piece of spatial illusion not only among RCA fans. The ASR phono preamplifier can even bring some exciting lines of sight to the already excellently captured spatiality of my “Shaded Dog” specimen. Not only are musicians sitting further out in a brighter light, the absolute and inherently by no means unspectacular depth of the room also seems to increase noticeably. The ASR Basis Exclusive HV also really succeeds in tracking down the room reverberation, the “room reverberations”. If the bass cut-off is deactivated (important because the roll-off of the filter begins aurally above 20 Hz), the Basis Exclusive gives you a feel for the size and extent of the concert hall before the orchestra starts.

Jet black

ASR Basis Exclusive HV: symmetrischer Anschluss

Deep, clean and jet-black basses are probably a regular item on the wish lists of many music fans. For this reason alone, listening to the ASR Basis Exclusive HV is a must for owners of high-quality turntables and drives. I hardly know anything comparable within the price range given here. It’s logical that I don’t fail to put on Burial’s Untrue , whose bass figures sometimes reach so deep that one or the other test device suppresses their playback. The ASR phono stage has nothing to do with such limitations and, in conjunction with my TW-Acustic Raven AC, knows how to deliver the deep bass so extensively and yet without restrictions in a controlled manner that what is offered can serve as an “analog reference”.

AVM’s Ovation PH 8.3 had to work on the same disc and was able to collect plenty of points thanks to its bass reproduction, which descends far into the frequency basement and is structurally unusually solid despite the tube output stage. The Basis Exclusive HV delivers both, but it pushes even more, sounds drier and more defined than the phono preamplifier from Malsch. And who actually said that digital fare was superior to vinyl in the bass range? The wonderfully grumpy bass on “Relay” from Fiona Apple’s album Fetch the Bolt Cutters. I was really only able to enjoy all its tonal shades after the LP (limited gold version) ordered online finally rotated on the plate of my Raven AC. Before, when listening to the digital stream of the same piece, it sounded worlds paler and more insignificant.

Molecularly accurate

When it comes to vocals, the focus of the ASR Basis Exclusive HV is once again on precise articulation and the finest resolution. Unlike the AVM Ovation PH 8.3, which compared to the Herborn competition with somewhat gentler, more flattering characteristics and was able to reproduce the baritone Gregory Porters on Liquid Spirit  a nuance more luxuriantly, the ASR remains strictly on course and illuminated Every little molecule of Porter’s art of intonation is accurate in every detail. Avoiding digging out the infamous silver platter is a very special kind of balancing act. Indulging in pleasure and still bathing in micro-information? Both are actually possible with Basis Exclusive.

The fact that the ASR sound is based on the skillful handling of semiconductors is never questioned. This is particularly evident in the treble, which remains inconspicuously integrated in a positive sense, but can still boast enormous openness and airiness. The ASR phono preamp conveys high registers in a very finely structured and clear manner, without attracting any particular “taste”. An extra portion of silky high-tone gloss – not unpopular in some audiophile circles – is logically not available with the ASR Basis Exclusive HV, which is more suitable for recording studios.

ASR Basis Exclusive HV: Innenaufnahme von XLR-Buchsen und DIP-Schaltern

Anyone who has devoted themselves to the more romanticizing pace of glass piston-reinforced phono preamps such as the AMR PH 77, Conrad Johnson’s Premier 15 or the well-known price-performance hit Natalja by Rike Audio will probably be served more comprehensively elsewhere than in Herborn.

Catapult-like

With its dynamic impact, the ASR catapults itself into the top performance levels of phonosports. Is it the enormous calm, the low noise floor, from which it is able to accelerate so quickly? In the end it doesn’t matter, because what counts are the wet eyes that inevitably come when you can experience your favorite discs in the same way as I did with Tommy Schneider’s album Plan B . A first-class recording that I often use to reset my ears after particularly strenuous listening sessions.

Music, of course, which fulfills expectations, but has little to offer that is surprising. I thought. Until now. Because the ASR Basis Exclusive HV gives the rhythmic phrasing of “Main Station” or “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” such freshness and stringency that even my legs, even a passionate non-dancer, itch. In the truest sense of the word, the decisive factor is drummer Hans Peter Bartsch, who drives things forward with an unyielding drive. I don’t remember the tracks with previous phono preamps so compellingly and immediately.

ASR Basis Exclusive HV: Schnittstellen auf der linken Rückseite

A little tip: How advisable to choose the symmetrical inputs and outputs if you want to call up the full dynamic potential. Which does not mean that asymmetrical cuts are too drastic to be feared. But even the last five percent are always very welcome …

All the more of course, when such skillfully recorded vinyl is at hand, such as Marialy Pacheco’s appearance as part of the Studio b concert series by NeuKlang-Records. When the Cuban pianist interprets Brahms lullaby on the mighty Bösendorfer Imperial with soulful sensitivity, the ASR tracks down every turn, no matter how subtle, with the greatest empathy.

With “Things ain’t what they used to be” on the other hand – ostensibly a normal 12-bar blues, which is pachecotypically “knitted over” – the ASR phono stage pianissimo even works out a subtle snap of the fingers, which up to now was hardly to be suppressed even from the pacheco inclined Einstein Phonostage more muddled than was clearly reproduced.

ASR Basis Exclusive HV von oben

Conclusion

A two-part phono stage that is supplied with “pure electricity” via a battery pack. As rare as is typical for ASR. The extremely complex, extremely high-quality mechanical processing and design of the circuit are also typical of ASR. In addition, the Basis Exclusive HV is extremely functional: Two completely separate and flexibly adjustable phono inputs, both configurable for MC or MM cartridges, are by no means standard even in the ASR price range.

A device like the ASR Basis Exclusive HV, which has been carefully evolved over decades, immediately appears as if any sounding, any serving of special hearing tastes is stuck: And yes, you have to deal with the unconditional sovereignty, precision and tonal incorruptibility . Then, however, the ASR Basis Exclusive HV can reach for the stars for the listener: Friedrich Schäfer’s top phono pre-amp equalizes the tiny phono signals at the highest, no, the highest level.

Profile ASR Basis Exclusive HV

  • Enormously three-dimensional and grippy sound. The ASR puts sound bodies so confidently and weightily in the room that with appropriate recordings the level of realism achieved amazes even spoiled sound gourmets.
  • Fabulously spacious and impressive room illusion. With the Exclusive HV base, virtual rooms can be illuminated in depth right down to the very last row of orchestras, with the width of the representation in no way inferior. With some of the recordings, the ASR even seems to really break the boundaries of the listening room.
  • In terms of timbre, the phono pre-stage is dedicated to tonal neutrality, whereby it knows how to differentiate even the finest shades as a matter of course. The ASR shows neither the friendly, warm temperature of some tube amps nor the genteel pallor of some colleagues at the transistor camp, but treads a very correct middle ground.
  • Hammer bass! It should not be possible to make it deeper, blacker and firmer in this price range. The tendency of analog playback to soften a bit in the bass section, which is sometimes said to exist, is completely absent from Basis Exclusive.
  • Excellent midrange resolution. Finely structured and detailed. However, there is no boring juxtaposition of micro-information, but rather flow and elegance in a well-measured measure. Ensures pleasant and realistic voice reproduction.
  • Clear, not too pronounced treble. Less silky than with tube phono stages, but wonderfully transparent, transparent, finely dynamic – and suitable for long-term listening.
  • Coarse dynamics to the point of dropping. Impulse processing, thrust, … whatever is asked for, ASR delivers. A particularly strong side of the Exclusive HV base.
  • Equipped for pretty much all cases: Two separately adjustable phono inputs, the possibility of equalizing MC and MM systems, including several gain levels and subsonic filtering.
  • Cutting characteristic settings or remote control? No, the Basis Exclusive HV is puristic.
  • Top processing in the classic ASR style. Last but not least, the input and output sockets and the connection to the battery power pack are of very high quality.

Facts:

  • Model: ASR Basis Exclusive HV
  • Category: Phono pre-stage MM / MC
  • Price: Basis Exclusive HV 7,590 euros (Basis Exclusive: 5,950 euros)
  • Inputs: 2 x cinch, 2 x XLR
  • Outputs: 1 x RCA, 1 x XLR
  • Dimensions and weight: 43 cm x 14 cm x 37 cm (W x H x D), phono level 12 kg, external battery pack 28 kg
  • Color: Housing made of slightly transparent acrylic glass, lettering in chrome or gold
  • Other: including power cord ASR Magic Cord 150 cm, other lengths on request, RCA sockets from WBT nextgen made of copper or silver can be selected, optional: only one input for pickups
  • Input resistance: Phono MM and MC – 5 ohms to 47 kOhms
  • Input capacitance: between 100 pF and 320 pF
  • Guarantee: 2 years or 3 years after registration

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