Adrian Norenberg

YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT
Adding an active preamplifier to the mix can mean better impedance matching from your source to your amp. Which can increase dynamics, staging, imaging and musicality. It can also decrease transparency.

My experience has often been that, more often than not, you won’t get something for nothing. An increase in dynamics, or stage depth, width, imaging, or body will often mean less speed and transparency. And when transparency and detail do not suffer, you do not always gain these attributes that bring your music to life.

All components have a character. Call it colouration, tonality or flaws, if you like. Where a good preamp is the first thing your amp sees, and the middle of a signal chain. All it really has to do, to quote Scott, is “…not mess it up.” Which is true in a very well sorted system. Ideally, it will compliment its partnering components well and hopefully not have such a strong character as not to require overly careful pairing.

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS
Careful pairing is often Latin for flawed. Not always, but often a reviewer will slip this into their write up as a caution to the reader without admitting something isn’t quite right. If two wrongs make a right just imagine what complementary strengths will get you.

The Icon Audio LA4 Mkiii has very noticeable strengths. But the more impressive feat is that it doesn’t come at any major sonic cost. Careful pairing won’t be necessary.

LET’S TALK SHOP
I don’t love reading reviews. And I sure don’t love writing them. However, this is a blog – with all the poor grammar, dry humour and honesty you might not get in a magazine.

So, this LA4 thing is pretty darn good. I have yet to hear someone comment “the staging is too deep” or “I could do with less refinement.” But if you perceive detail as being something that has to jump out at you instead of being right where it should be in the recording, or if you think all the music should be on a flat plain between you and the speaker you would be floored with what this preamp does to open a cavern through the back and side walls of your room and show you the space the music was recorded in actually sounds like.

The soundstage is vast and the detail is there. And yet, the sound is refined and right. There are more transparent options, I’m sure. However, if you listen for everything you’ve heard in the recording it will be there. More so, it will be where it should be! Music flows from it, rather than being laid out like sonic excrement reeking of its particular tonal brand. Its tonality is rich – we’ve moved on from excrement analogies here – and sincere!

When all is right in your system above and below the LA4 it will provide depth, tonal sweetness, refinement and a truly floating image of performance that’s size and shape is true to the recording. Dynamics, speed and impact are real but not exaggerated. Bass and treble extend as far as your equipment and room will allow. A touch of welcome tonal warmth and richness accompany a boundless stage.

On something like the fast, detailed and fierce Bryston 4B Cubed the Icon Audio LA4 Mkiii provides just the right touch of open and refined detail that blurs the lines between the very best attributes of solid state and tube sound. We’ve paired the LA4 Mkiii with just about everything in the store and never been disappointed by poor system matching. At least not in regards to the tonal signature of the LA4.

CUT YOUR TEETH
For some, the best part of this preamp may be the price. But anyone wanting to spend multiples more should give it an honest listen and really dig deep. This simple preamp looks great, sounds better and can be had for a song.