Zesto Andros Deluxe II Phono Preamplifier Page 2

While the Andros Deluxe II extracted everything I could get out of a sub-£100 MM cartridge and a budget MC, I only really experienced the full measure of its finesse and grace with top transducers such as the TechDAS TDC01 Ti [HFN Sep '14] and a pair of Koetsu pick-ups. The biggest surprise, however, and an unexpected showcase for this phono stage's cavernous soundstage, was a venerable Denon DL103, which it cosseted.

It was The Band's The Last Waltz – 40th Anniversary [Rhino R1 78278] which first alerted me to this special ability. This is a performance I have only ever paid close attention to in video form, eg, the Blu-ray set. Because the visuals stayed in my mind, I could correlate what I was hearing when, for example, The Staples Singers belted out their remarkable version of 'The Weight'. It was enough that the vocals had all the power one expects of that family in full force, but the air and space around them added to the authenticity.

When the focus turned to Levon Helm, his percussion enjoyed a depth and airiness that begged to be described in terms of the stretching of skins. I'll avoid that purple prose and simply tell you that every crack, thud and thump displayed the requisite body and resonant quality needed to make you think you were at the gig.

Rare Breed
Another performer from that legendary evening was Joni Mitchell, whose first four LPs have been remastered for the box set The Reprise Albums 1968-1971 [Rhino R1 653984]. Her first two – Song To A Seagull and Clouds – are essentially unplugged, Joni on guitar or piano, with support on bass from Stephen Stills. These sets served as precisely the sort of refined recordings that would address Counnas' statements about detail and realism.


Jensen audio transformers are used for the MC input [top left] and balanced output [top, centre]. The two-stage tube RIAA network [green PCB] is powered by separate 12V LT and 300V HT linear PSUs [below]

Mitchell's high, clear voice should be instantly recognisable. What the Andros Deluxe II does is present this sublime instrument in an appropriate aural context. Instead of it seeming disembodied, it has form and substance, in direct contrast to its innate fragility. Each word of every one of her compositions came through free of sibilance, ripe with expression.

While I have always preferred Judy Collins' 'Both Sides Now' simply because of familiarity – she recorded it first and had a massive hit with it – I listened to Mitchell's version with a fresh mind-set. This Zesto phono preamp has that effect on you, reintroducing you to known recordings by virtue of its remarkable transparency. It is a rare occasion when this happens, but this is also an indicator of a component's ability to extract more than was previously exposed.

High Velocity
Mitchell's LPs, however, weren't auditioned in isolation, and I compared them with my reference phono stages, also all-valve. What was evident is that the Andros Deluxe II makes one or two utterly minor trade-offs in its quest for absolute refinement. It took a bludgeon to my ears to reveal this, but the vastly underrated Runaways can do that to you. Their eponymous debut [Mercury SRM-1-1090] kicks off with 'Cherry Bomb', that relentless assault of throbbing bass, sneering vocals and more attitude than a 14-year-old.


Here I was reminded of the good old/bad old days, when systems were described as 'Classical', 'Jazz' or 'Rock' – eg, Quad, AR and JBL, in that order. This phono stage II errs on the side of polite, which is amusing when you consider the deliberate, built-in trashiness of The Runaways. What turned the tables, though, was speed: the attack, transient stops, even the cowbell on 'Rock And Roll' benefited from the near-breathless velocity of the Andros Deluxe II.

I drew the line at digging out my Plasmatics LPs, or testing the thunder of Whitesnake, imagining that Counnas is probably not a headbanger. This didn't represent any sort of weakness or failure. It was, as with everything at this level, a matter of minuscule degree, and The Runaways still sounded as menacing as a girl posse should. I suppose that if an analogy were begged, listening to The Runaways through the Zesto Andros Deluxe II is not unlike drinking Ripple out of a Zalto wine glass.

Having rediscovered the joy of George Benson via an ancient Mobile Fidelity pressing of Breezin' [MFSL 1-011], I delighted in the silkiness and fluidity of his guitar playing, which found the Zesto preamp to be a perfect accomplice. The aforementioned attack of the guitars thrashed by The Runaways manifested itself in this context as an exhibition of precision. Each note, every nuance – I wish I was a guitarist so I could better appreciated Benson's mastery, especially the tonality.

If the guitar is Benson's primary instrument of expression, his voice may be the one that provided him with crossover chops, from jazzer to crooner. Zesto's phono stage respects vocals with the kind of deference which created the personality of the BBC LS3/5A. If the Andros Deluxe II is a touch sweet at the top, and extra rich at the bottom, the midband can only be described as lush and warm. Even Joni Mitchell's brittle vocals – as far removed from the velvety sound of Benson's as is possible – acquired a touch of this temperate seasoning.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
In a world with ace phono stages at all price points, Zesto's Andros Deluxe II ticks nearly all the boxes: handling two turntables or two arms by accepting an MM and an MC cartridge simultaneously, and providing balanced and single-ended inputs and outputs. That alone earns a spot on high-end shortlists, but those are practicalities, for it's the lush, airy, yet detailed sound that makes this tube phono a stand-out.

Zesto Audio
California, USA
Supplied by: Signature Audio Systems, UK
07738 007776