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Mapletree Audio Design ULTRA 4A SE Preamplifier (Tube) Review by patmcdermott@sympatico.ca

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Model: ULTRA 4A SE
Category: Preamplifier (Tube)
Suggested Retail Price: $720.00
Description: tube preamp with phono section and separate power supply
Manufacturer URL: Mapletree Audio Design
Model Picture: View

Review by patmcdermott@sympatico.ca (A) on September 04, 2005 at 11:08:21
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for the ULTRA 4A SE

I purchased my Ultra 4ASE used. At the asking price of $720.00 US new, the Ultra 4A SE is a gift. The thing that attracted me to Mapletree Audio was that Dr. Lloyd Peppard is both an audiophile and an engineer. Here we have someone who understands the science and the art of sound and someone who knows audio circuit history- a scientist who understands that passive parts make a difference. The 4A SE uses octal tubes and is a tube rollers delight as it can use: 6SN7’s, 12SN7’s and 12SX7’s. For this review I will be using NOS RCA 12SX7’s.

I purchased the 4A SE because I thought my Counterpoint SA3.1 was imparting grain and glare to the upper midrange of my Altec 19’s. The end result was that I was listening to music less because of listening fatigue. I was reluctant to sell the Counterpoint at first because it imparts "excitement" to all genres of music, while the 4A SE is relaxed while retaining the excitement of music that is exciting. With the Counterpoint out of the mix the sound is more detailed, just as extended at the frequency extremes and more musical with great PRAT. With the 4ASE the sound is very transparent but not harsh. For example, on the opening track of The Talking Head’s "Stop Making Sense", David Byrne is clapping, as are the others in the band. With the Counterpoint I assumed that Byrne was clapping because I couldn’t imagine what else the sound could be. It sounded as though someone was slapping a piece of hardwood. The sound was sibilant and bright. With the 4A SE it is clear that the sound is clapping and that there is more than one person clapping. The sibilance is gone. The depth (front to back and side to side) of the image is also clearer with less aural confusion. The 4ASE is also much more natural in its presentation of voice. On Teofilo Chantre’s "Rodatempo", the Counterpoint smeared all the vocals that ended in "s". This is a typical digital artifact, however, with the 4A SE the smearing is gone while the detail has increased. On John Scofield’s "A GO GO" the sound is clear and the 4A SE makes the Hammond B3 sound natural, while with the Counterpoint it seemed unnecessarily distorted and brash. The Counterpoint does throw a slightly larger stereo image, however, the last time I saw Sonny Rollins in concert the stereo image was nonexistant, so I guess this is forgivable.

One reservation I have with "transparent" equipment is that it means there are four records/cds in existence that can be listened to because "transparent" also means that the equipment is ruthless and critical of all weaknesses in the chain. I don’t own any "audiophile" cds, as none I have ever heard had anything to do with music. The 4A SE is very transparent while retaining a listenable warmth. The sound of this preamp is affected greatly by the type and brand of tubes used. The RCA12SX7 is laid back, warmer with great bass, while the 12SN7 has less bottom end and is perhaps more accurate in the midrange. I have listened to many preamps in the last twenty years, and while I don’t have them in front of me for a direct comparison, I wouldn’t trade any of them for this little gem. The 4A SE presents music in a natural, relaxed and warm way. The current crop of tube preamps might as well be solid state because they sound harsh. Newer tube preamps tend to run insane voltages that means you can only use Russian tubes from Upscale Audio, as they eat NOS tubes for breakfast. Anyone considering a 4A SE will be happy to know that the tubes are relatively cheap and what’s more, they last a long time. If you want to forget about equipment and listen to music this could be the last preamp you "need".

Product Weakness: The 4A SE has no weaknesses that I can detect aside from the fact that it is probably too cheap.
Product Strengths: The 4A SE is natural, detailed, dynamic, transparent and warm without being euphonic.

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: John Eckland (VTV magazine) dual tube rectified 6L6 amp
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Counterpoint SA3.1 with Amperex and Ediswan 6DJ8’s
Sources (CDP/Turntable):
NEC cd rom drive and Peter Daniel DAC 1 (non-over sampling and similar to Audio Note)
Speakers: Altec 19 horns (heavily braced and modded)
Tara Labs Space and Time cables
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Jazz, Rock, Classical, Rap, Folk etc.
Room Size (LxWxH): 24' x 15' x 9'
Room Comments/Treatments: carpets, hardwood, curtains, furniture
Time Period/Length of Audition: two months
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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