The Joule Electra LA-150

by | Dec 1, 2005 | Component Reviews | 0 comments

The Joule Electra

LA-150

SRP: $5495

I have always been a fan of Jud Barber’s gear and really enjoyed the
sound he was showing off at this year’s CES, so I jumped at the chance
to review the LA-150 line stage.  At $5495, (no phono stage) this
little black box isn’t cheap, but if you have a system with enough
resolution, you won’t be disappointed.  Its understated elegant
design will look right at home with the rest of your two-channel system.

Why so expensive you ask?  A quick peek inside will tell you
everything you need to know.  The mechanical quality is fantastic
and all circuit wiring is point to point with Cardas wire.  Cardas
jacks are also featured and the usual cast of high quality characters
(Holco, Vishay, MIT, etc.) are all present and accounted for.  In
addition to very high quality parts, the power supply is massive and
features tube rectification and regulation. While some will argue the
merits of solid-state rectification vs. tubes, personally I have always
found tube rectification a touch more musical in a preamp.  You
will have to be the ultimate judge on this one, but I think Mr. Barber
has hit a home run here.

For those of you who are major tube geeks, the LA-150 uses a Mu
follower circuit featuring a pair of 6350 tubes fed by a pair of
Russian 6C45Pi tubes.  The preamp has very low gain, with an
overall gain of only 11db, which is part of the reason this thing is so
quiet.  The gain stage is DC-biased with a pair of small
batteries.  Joule-Electra claims that they are the only ones doing
this, but the Modwright SWL 9.0 SE line stage also uses this trick with
excellent results.  Either way, it works very well.

There are four inputs, all high level, and two outputs.  In the
event that you need more gain, you can reset the jumpers inside the
preamp according to the instructions.  About the only time you may
have to do this is if you are a McCormack DNA-500 owner, as this
amplifier needs a lot of power to drive it to maximum output.  I
just happened to be testing the DNA-500 when this preamp was delivered,
so this was in fact true and easy to remedy.

The system I had been listening to for quite sometime when I received
the LA-150 consisted of the new ESP Bodhran SE speakers, the McCormack
DNA-500 power amplifier, Modwright SWL 9.0 SE line stage, Modwright
Modified Denon Disc player and a LP front end consisting of a modified
Rega P25 with the Shelter 501 cartridge and the Whest .20 phono
stage.  All interconnects were DH Labs Silver Revelation and all
power cords were Essential Sound Products Essence Reference. 
Power conditioning duties were handled by the Running Springs Jaco.

First off, break-in takes a while with the LA-150.  Right out of
the box with the stock power cord, it is a bit thin, but don’t
panic.  It gets better at about 50 hours and really sings after
about 200 hours.  While I still thought it was a touch thin for my
tastes, switching the stock power cord to the Essence Reference was
just what the doctor ordered.  Mr. Barber even mentions
substituting the power cord for a better one in the manual if you want
a bit more bass.  Another nice touch on the LA-150, is that it
doesn’t shut off all the way, but stays in standby mode, extending tube
life.  Other preamplifiers I have owned with this feature have
been very easy on tubes, so I expect this one to be the same.

Ok, now that you know all the techie stuff, it sounds GREAT.  If
you are searching for a line stage that is very neutral, dynamic, but
not very “tubey” sounding, than the LA-150 could be the grail you are
seeking.  The Modwright is a killer for $2500 bucks and because of
its Mu follower design and battery bias, has a very similar sonic
signature if you are on a budget and like that kind of sound. 
However, if you have the extra three grand, the Joule Electra is very
refined indeed.  As always, the rest of your system will dictate
this purchase.

I ended up using the LA-150 with a few other amplifiers as well with
great results. I also used it with the Monarchy SM-70 Pro amplifiers
and my WAVAC MD-300B in my low power system and was not unhappy with
either configuration.  Solid state or tube lovers should all have
great luck with this preamp, but again, keep in mind this one is very
neutral, so if you have a system that is a bit thin or a bit warm, the
LA-150 will not change the character of what you already have.

I listened to a wide range of different music, from the required female
vocalists all the way to Led Zeppelin with outstanding results. 
The soundstage is very wide and deep, along with a very fast,
transparent presentation.  While I am not a classical listener, a
few good friends that brought over their favorite discs were very
pleased with the sound.  All felt that the tonal quality of the
LA-150 was very accurate indeed.

In the end, the LA-150 is highly recommended.  Heck, I’d buy the
darn thing just because Jud Barber is such a nice guy, but rest assured
it has the performance to become an integral part of a very high
quality 2 channel music system.  Seriously consider a good power
cord, and a Symposium Ultra base to get every last molecule of sound
the LA-150 is capable of delivering. And remember; this one possesses a
very neutral sound.  If that’s your cup of tea, this one’s for you.

— Jeff Dorgay

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