I'm not new to tubes. However, I'm not a veteran either. I've certainly owned more solid state in the past...esp McIntosh. In fact, my goal over the last few years was to have all or mostly McIntosh electronics.
Well, I just can't seem to let this little cute preamp go. It is small and well finished with a nice layout. It has two pairs RCA Inputs and one pair RCA Outputs. It also has two different headphone outputs that I've used but not going to review here. Instead, this is used mostly as a preamplifier for me.
You can look up the specs on the website but the unit uses: Input tube: 12SL7 or equivalent Output tubes: 1626 or VT-137
The tubes that came with it were just fine. You can find buy extras online for cheap. With an adapter, I switched the input tube to a Telefunken 12AX7.
I use this preamp with the Oppo BDP105D and use the Oppo as the volume control; as the Kenzie has no remote. I have two different set of amps interchangeably mated with my Cornscalas which my son and I love to listen to. We use either two monoblocked McIntosh MC275's or Mcintosh Monoblock MC1201's. I can't decide what combo I like best but right now currently have them with MC275's. Recently, I acquired Klipsch KI-396's and have the MC1201's on them. I now use the Kenzie Encore with both sets of speakers. I also have it in the chain of my KP600 system with active crossovers and 10 channels of amplification.
First off, the unit is solid. Heavier than you would think. When you power this up, there is no hum, buzz, click, or hiss. Power down is uneventful. Background is silent. You can't tell its on. This is remarkable as my stereo is a highly efficient and high powered system with a combination of many components. Despite it being labeled as a Headphone Amplifier, it has enough gain to drive all these amplifiers keeping a low noise floor. In fact, I keep the gain knob at the 11 O'clock position.
So let's hear about the sound.
This certainly sounds like a tube preamplifier with the highs that sparkle and the mids that come forward. Fortunately, there is no substantial roll-off of the top end and the bass isn't boomy. I would call the low frequencies balanced without bloat. At no time did I hear any glare or brightness that can sting my ears in the 8-10K range like some other amp-preamp combinations I've had. My ears are sensitive to those frequencies and I've had other setups with my MC275s and 1201s that have that notable issue.
I don't have the words to describe how this preamp can add a sense of realism and emotion. It seems to bring me back to listening to music with joy as opposed to listening to the speakers and focus on things such as clarity and dynamics. In other words, I forget about being a critic of the sound and instead sink into my sofa chair and listen. I'm not saying this preamp doesn't have clarity and dynamics, what am saying is that I find I don't focus on it. There is definitely 3-D and spacial movement as the music sets a stage in front of you. This is hard to put into words until you've experienced it.
The preamp is a keeper that I feel is rightly priced.