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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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