Return to Akitika Home Page

Bob Grossman Reviews the PR-101 Stereo Preamplifier Kit

Equipment rack with PR-101 in amongst the high dollar equipment

PR-101 Preamp in a High-End Neighborhood


Many of you have asked how the PR101 compares to very expensive preamps. You've also asked how it pairs with expensive power amps and speakers. I don't have that kind of equipment to do those comparisons. A lot of my customers have reported great results. Here's a review from Bob Grossman that I think you might find both interesting and useful.

Bob's Review of the PR-101 Preamp

To my delight I'm happy to say that Akitika has another hit on their hands with the introduction of their PR101 preamp kit. I have a busy stereo rack with lots of offerings to plug in and hear, so any preamp in my stereo needs flexibility with multiple inputs and outputs. The Akitika meets this need nicely and includes room for an optional moving magnet phono stage. This is a big help for a anyone like me that switches between several input choices and needs to accommodate two CD players, a tuner, and a turntable with multiple cartridge choices, and two amps.

The features of the Akitika include tone controls and a balance knob too. It's a great convenience too that you can control the balance, volume and inputs from the remote control. The purist audiophiles that like a straight signal path might poke fun at old fashioned tone controls but I have found them quite useful for finely balancing my speakers and accommodating the occasional record or CD that needs help to bring out the best sound by adjusting the bass and treble. I'd like to say that the control features are only the starting point of happily using this preamp. Switches, inputs and outputs, along with clean good looks are important but ultimately the sound is what you are after.

Now if you are wondering about the sound of the Akitika, I'll be glad to make some comments from my listening experiences over the past month. I've had the pleasure to spend quality time with a number of preamps in a wide range of price categories. I've been able to hear amps and preamps at home ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 since starting to do professional audio reviews. These have included expensive models from Krell, ModWright, Allnic, Burmester, and PrimaLuna. So the question that begs to be asked is how does the Akitika PR 101 Preamp fit into the company of this other expensive gear that has spent time in my listening room? The answer is "Quite nicely"!

Bob's Listening Room

Equipment side of Bob's listening room

Initially, the proposal might seem silly to use a under $500 preamp in my reference stereo system with top of the line Magnepan 20.7 speakers costing over ten grand, Carver tube amps costing over $5 grand, a VPI Prime Table with two tone arms and cartridges worth another $5K, and a variety of Kubala-Sosna cables with some cost cords that cost more then the Akitika preamp. Yet, what better way can there be to hear the Akitika preamp performance contributions then with a highly dynamic and revealing system having the ability of producing tremendous resolution, details and frequency response?

The Akitika PR 101 Preamp has a very nice straightforward delivery that is quite neutral and natural sounding. The details are all present with the textures or layers of instrumental and vocals being clear while getting the timbre of instruments right. I hate other poorly performing equipment that makes a muted trumpet sounds like a fuzzy oboe or when the words by a vocalist can't be understood and especially when string sections are all smeared and run together.

Happily, for my listening pleasure and to the relief of my ears, the Akitika didn't suffer from any of these kinds of problems. The bite of Serge Chaloff's baritone sax was clearly heard in comparison to Gerry Mulligan's more rounded sound. The different trumpet colors and sounds from Miles, Thad Jones, Lee Morgan, Maynard, Cat Anderson, Chet and Satchmo could all be heard. Yes, I like jazz a lot and studied the trumpet for many years. On my stereo while using the Akitika preamp, Big Bands came to life in a nice way too that were never too analytical or warm at fat. Basie, Ellington, Mingus, Kenton, Oliver Nelson, Gil Evans, Quincy Jones were all put on display with CD or LP sources and came through with flying colors. That's another great attribute of this preamp, it has a very quick sense of pace and delivery for the music. I always felt the sound and rhythm in recordings to be involving and moving. Sometimes a less well designed CD player or preamp can actually sound slow to me and rob the music of its vitality. Once again, The Akitika was so good that I never noticed any issues in the delivery. Incidentally, be sure to catch the latest recordings from Ryan Truesdell and his band. You can check out his offerings and other jazz releases on Artist Share.

Now I'm a hard person to sell classical music to. It's not because I don't have an interest and expert understanding of it. I love Mahler, Beethoven, Strauss, Stravinsky as much as anyone. I was a founding member of a Renaissance Consort too. I have been a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra for over 35 years so the difficulty comes from hearing live musicians nearly every day and then having to listening to music coming from a record or CD at home. I have to admit, it almost always sounds like a reproduction to me even when I hear live feeds at the recording studio on their monitors. Nevertheless, I have over 5,000 records and another 1000 CDs at home to hear great performances and repertoire from many conductors, soloists, and orchestras. I figure having the best reproduction possible lets me enjoy their recordings more. I also find classical music to be the most revealing and hardest music to make sound good on a stereo because of its scope and size. A string quartet is easy to imagine sitting in front of me in my living room but a 105 symphonic orchestra is a much harder magic trick to pull off. Only a few recordings and fine equipment manages to sound credible and capture the essence of live acoustical symphonic music.

Close up of both of Bob's equipment racks

Close-up of Bob's gear

The Akitika can hang in there with other quality gear and do a nice job of making music. Is it a substitute for my more expensive gear? I can't say that it is entirely a direct substitute and be honest in not missing my warm tube sound. It doesn't have the same type of sound as my tube rectified PrimaLuna preamp with 1964 vintage 12AU7 tubes. I don't think anybody would expect a solid state preamp to sound the same as a tube design preamp like the PrimaLuna and that's a reality recognized by most. What is great about the Akitika preamp is how well and easily it performs, how enjoyable and revealing its sound is, and how dependable it appeared during my review period. It was always ready to play from the moment of turning it on and never had any breakdowns, dropouts, noise or complications. I have experienced a refreshing perspective and presentation of many recordings while using it. The music came to life in a nice way and was pleasurable to hear in a slightly different way then I am used to when using my PrimaLuna preamp. The sound was very even and direct throughout the dynamic ranges. Nothing was out of balance from top to bottom or was emphasized. That's a very good achievement to say about the Akitika! Especially in consideration of its cost.

Frankly, how many people have three, five, ten or fifteen grand at their disposal to buy a preamp or need the ultimate refinement of the super high end products? So far, enough to support that end of the business and those esteemed and renown designers and companies. I've loved every moment spent reviewing and listening to expensive gear. I really appreciate and support those manufacturers and designer products too. I think there is a reason, role and place for all levels of gear. I'm a professional musician and have the ears and training to hear and appreciate everything that is possible to experience in a stereo. I have no problem buying and recommending the expensive stuff when it's justified and affordable to the buyer. It's my feeling that the best designers, parts manufacturers and companies have continued to develop and make more equipment available at many price points these days then ever before. We are living in a golden age of products and choices. Certainly the performance of more affordable and budget gear is now better then ever and capable of delivering a really good sound. It's everybody's personal experience and choice to decide how much they hear, what matters the most to them and what they can afford to spend.

The Akitika line of kits fits into the marketplace quite nicely in a special way for anyone that wants to have the fun and the pride of building their own preamp or amplifier. Dan's other line of products supports upgrades and improvements for vintage Dynaco equipment. I received the preamp assembled since my time was spent practicing and performing music while growing up and I didn't learn how to solder and repair radios and tv from my Dad. My Dad was a professional service tech and would have enjoyed making this kit if he was still around. He lived in the era of Heathkits and Dynaco kits. I trust the other review comments that praise the ease of assembling the kit and terrific customer support Dan provides.

Dan has done a very nice job in designing the preamp kit, providing it with quality parts and a well made case along with clear instructions for assembling it. I don't know if the big companies and famous designers are paying attention to Dan. Maybe they should try to figure out how he can provide such a good product at this price point. I am following his Akitika products and Dynaco upgrade offerings along with other people that like building kits, folks that recognize seeing and hearing a good musical value, and aren't concerned about having a fancy designer logo on a heavy faceplate. These people know better when they experience the look of delight on their friends faces when listening to their stereo. And the look of disbelief when their friends are told the good sounding preamp came as a kit that was self assembled. You won't regret getting one of these for yourself. Most of the time I return review items after their demo period is finished. I've decided to buy this review sample and give it to my daughter to start her on the way of having a good stereo system in her apartment. On second thought, it actually would be a good idea to get one for myself too for adding to my reference system as an alternate to my tube based preamp.

Bob Grossman
Principal Librarian for the Philadelphia Orchestra
Sr. Equipment Reviewer,

Return to Akitika Home Page

Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict