Karl Sigman from audiophilia.com
Allnic Audio H-5500 Phono Stage
Allnic Audio with their ‘Tube Amp Done Right’ slogan has been on a roll in the last several years with a slew of well received amps, preamps, phono stages, and even phono cartridges. I had the pleasure of reviewing their splendid and well priced Rose MC cartridge about a year ago, and I am happy to report that yet again it is in my possession (on loan once more) but for a different reason: This time to help review the new Allnic Audio H-5500 Phono Stage, all tube. Yet another pleasure it has been as I report here. Different from solid state (which covers all of my reference equipment except for the front stage in my preamplifier), tube equipment requires a different mind set, different expectations and sometimes some surprise inconveniences (tubes deteriorate, for example) and they are more finicky. But many audiophiles swear by them, and they certainly are fascinating and comforting to look at when on; I looked forward to the challenge and enjoyed it.
Designed by Kang Su Park, the H-5500 at $5200 is a pure Class A vacuum tube design with no negative feedback, with a solid aluminum chassis (silver or black, my review unit was silver) and an open top, sides and back. It contains 6 vacuum tubes total: Four NOS E180CC twin triode tubes, a 7233 voltage regulator tube and a 5654 tube for voltage correction in a tube power supply. It also has internal MC step-up transformers with Permalloy cores.
The H-5500 lucks out mightily with trickle-down technology from Allnic’s higher end units such as their flagship $40,000 H-8000 DHT. It replaces the H-1202 with, among other things, an upgrade to the power transformer (twice the capacity), twice as many inputs (4 now) as well as being endowed with the same step up transformers from the H-7000 and H-8000. It is also about twice as heavy (about 18 lbs versus 10 lbs) due to a more solid chassis.
How does it look? From the front, back and top
Overall the H-5500 has an unusual rectangular shaped robotic-looking elegance.
It has an open top, sides and back but each tube is protected by a clear cylindrical casing.
Looking down from above, the tubes are tastefully located upfront while the two rotational pots (one for each channel) for selecting loading (278Ω, 117Ω, 69Ω, and 29Ω) for MC (MC only) are further back and each load setting corresponds to a specific gain (+22dB, +26dB, +28dB and +32dB). The front panel extends up high to the level of the top of the tubes, but has two rectangular openings in the upper left and right—like eyes so you can see within; the beautiful orange glow at night from the tubes is a delight to behold and very comforting.
Because of those comforting qualities, I kept the H-5500 in a front and center shelf of my cabinet—to be seen. It attracted attention and rightly so. The top rim of the front panel can serve as handles for moving the unit around. On the lower left is a power meter (for monitoring vacuum tube status) which glows with the same calming orange color as the tubes, and a small power button which turns on a small orange colored light in the center top portion. On the lower right is a mute button and a knob for choosing which of the 4 available inputs (2 each of MM, MC) you wish to engage.
On the back of the unit there is the power cord receptacle on the right, a ground screw in the middle and then a symmetrically arranged set of 4 pairs of single-ended inputs (2 MM, 2MC) for using up to four different cartridges (yes 4), and one pair of single-ended outputs. (No balanced/XLR)
Setting things up
Because the H-5500 ($5200) uses RCA exclusively, I had to borrow an extra high-end RCA cable (my reference allows for XLR). Other than that it was ready to go, but burn in was necessary. Although the bass was deep and powerful from the start—the power supply with twice the old capacity is on display— it took about a week or so for the higher frequencies (initially quite thin sounding) to come around. And the bass became tighter and clearer sounding.
The power meter is quite handy: if the needle is hanging around within the narrow marked range, then all is well; if not then you better start checking the tubes. During my relatively short sojourn with the unit, all was well. As I discovered, the grounding (between turntable and H-5500) is needed (more so than for a solid state preamp in my experience); but once I attached it things were very quiet indeed. This phono stage is really quiet and clean sounding.
I exclusively used as cartridge the Allnic Audio Rose MC ($2900); I was not able to use my reference Grado Labs Aeon 3 since it is a moving iron, and requires both high gain and high loading; the H-5500 can’t accommodate it using its MM input (not enough gain) nor its MC input (not enough loading), and you must choose one or the other. That is typical of most tube phono stages and why I have as reference a solid state phono stage (Pass Labs XP-17).
Other peripheral reference equipment used in this review: PS Audio BHK preamp, VPI Industries HW-40 Direct Drive turntable, Audio by Van Alstine DVA 600 mono block amps, and Alta Audio FRM2-2M loudspeakers. All components have been reviewed in Audiophilia.
I’d like to thank David Beetles of Allnic distributor Hammertone Audio for supplying both the H-5500 and the Rose MC cartridge.
Inputs: Four (4) total, 2 each of MM and MC all unbalanced (RCA)
Outputs: One (1) pair unbalanced (RCA)
Frequency Response: 20Hz -20kHz (±0.3dB)
Voltage Gains: MM +38dB (1kHz); MC +22, +26, +28, +32dB (1kHz)
Input Impedance: MC variable up to 280Ω; MM 47 kΩ
S/N Ration: -68dB (CCIR, 1kHz)
Tubes: E180CC x 4, 7233 x 1, 5654 x 1
Fuse: AC 2A, 250V
Dimensions: 430mm (17 inches) x 260mm (10.25 inches) x 170mm (6.7 inches) (W x D x H)
Weight: 8.2 kg (18 lbs) unpacked, 11 kg (24 lbs) packaged
Music and sound
Here, I touch upon a sample of what LPs I used to evaluate the H-5500, highlighting the ones that were the most useful.
Antal Dorati, LSO, Mercury Records, SR90226, Stravinsky Complete Ballet, The Firebird. (1960).
This is certainly a superb recording and performance, a classic of course; but I used it here to see how the H-5500 could handle bass involved in the powerful, thunderous and explosive timpani that catch you by surprise in various passages, along with the deep, creepy sound of double basses sneaking up on you as well. The music often moves into almost silent intervals, and then soon after startles you with huge dynamics. The H-5500 did a fine job of scaring me in a large 3D sound stage, offering a rich sounding and lifelike presentation of the instruments. This prepared me for upcoming Halloween!
Breaking Silence, Janice Ian, AAP027, Analogue Productions, 1992, 2012.
This album (another great one) offers a fine way to evaluate punchiness, impact and bass, too; the cover track alone covers that ground with percussion (drums), singing, and guitars. The H-5500 sailed through the test; and the resonance of her voice (she has a rather low voice, contralto?) was very apparent.
When I was 10 years old in 1967, my grandmother bought me The Beatles LP, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In those days my brothers and I had a small one unit record player system (with long needle as cartridge) that could sit on a small shelf. My grandmother came to listen to the album with me and loved it, too. Years passed but it remained and still remains to this day my very favourite Beatles album—remarkably creative.
It is also such a positive, feel good album. When my mom turned 64, I played her the song ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’; that and most of the other tracks are stuck in my head for life.
But until this review, I never had an LP version to replace the original long lost one. So, I splurged and bought the newest 180 gm release (2017) on Parlophone/EMI/Capital Records.
The H-5500 did great justice to this album. Everything from voices to a rooster crowing to tubular bells came out in an engaging large deep soundstage, and that positive feel good aura came through in flying colors and warmth (and boy, do we need such things now in 2021). At high or low volumes, the H-5500 gave a tasteful presentation without any noise that I could detect. Well done. My mom is now 91; when she next visits I will play this LP for her again.
Due to my enjoyment of the album by the Al Di Meola Project, Soaring Through A Dream, Manhattan Records 1985 that I included in my review of the Rose MC cartridge, I splurged again and acquired two more LPs of Di Meola: Elegant Gypsy, 1977, Music On Vinyl (reissue (2013), 180gm), and Casino, 1978, Columbia Records. I have gained much respect for his remarkable guitar playing, both acoustic and electric using the H-5500. Between these three albums you get a taste of all he has to offer (of course in addition to his well known 1981 acoustic collaborative album Friday Night in San Francisco with John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucía). Anything from tranquil and mysterious to Flamenco to full blown jazz rock fusion with astonishing guitar riffs so fast (and impeccably smooth) that it takes serious concentration to follow—at times it sounds like the guitar is singing. Percussion, with Steve Gadd on drums usually, but often with other percussionists using bongos, castanets and the like, is used tastefully and effectively. The H-5550 made the acquisition well worth it.
Overall sound comparison with my reference, the solid state Pass Labs XP-17: I think the XP-17 offers some more richness, and reveals more nuances and space around instruments, particularly at the higher end frequencies; but one could treat this as just a matter of taste—the H-5500 offers a more reserved (but warm) presentation. The XP-17 offers both balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) for inputs and outputs, while the H-5500 offers only single-ended. The XP-17 has only 1 input but there is no need for separate choices of MM/MC input; just choose whatever specs the cart needs and off you go (and for moving iron it offers both 10K Ohms and 47K Ohms). The H-5500 has a remarkable 4 separate inputs each MM or MC—you must choose, but hey you get 4.
A wonderful all tube class A phono stage with four inputs at $5200 with outstanding bass. Incredibly quiet and so comforting to jointly listen to and look at.
Definitely worth checking out for someone looking for an all tube phono stage in this price range (or even higher). Highly recommended.
Further information: Allnic Audio