Graham Slee Era Gold Reflex C phono stage
By Michael Wong
Graham Slee Era Gold Reflex C phono stage. With PSU1 power supply (as reviewed), $1749. With basic power supply, $1250.
The name Graham Slee will be unfamiliar to many local readers. This UK company has been building headphone amplifiers and phono stages since 1998. They officially arrive in New Zealand with an enviable reputation for high-performance and excellent value for money.
The Reflex C under review sits near the top of the range and is a dedicated preamplifier for moving coil cartridges.
The preamplifier is nicely finished in a compact (about half the size of my Plinius Jarrah) brushed aluminium box with only the company logo and a power pilot light adorning the front panel. The rear is almost as sparse. Two sets of gold plated RCA sockets, one for input, one for output; a grounding post and a socket for the 24V power supply. That’s it. No user controls, just a well made little box that sits on four plastic nipples.
The review sample was supplied with the deluxe PSU1 power supply. This is a plain looking (aside from the GSP logo) black plastic box power supply with a detachable power cable, delivering its power to the preamp via a plain two core wire. Inside is where the magic lies, for the PSU1 is a super stiff, linear supply, rather than the standard switched mode power supply, promising improved performance.
Refreshingly, Graham Slee spares phono enthusiasts the ignominy of having to fiddle with silly little jumpers or mini-switches that shout their defiance to adult-sized fingers. The Reflex C has no such impediments. Like some of the much more expensive phono exotica, the Reflex C offers no gain or loading adjustments. It comes from the factory preset with 62dB of gain and input loading of 100 ohms, both of which should suit the majority of cartridges that are likely to be used with the Reflex C. If the factory settings are unsuitable for your cartridge, you can ask the factory to set up the Reflex C with your preferred gain/load settings, which they will gladly do for no extra charge in best bespoke fashion.
The Reflex C was used in my usual analogue playback system; Well Tempered Turntable with Shelter 501 Mk2 cartridge, Krell integrated amplifier, Magnepan speakers, all connected up with XLO cables. Set-up was as simple as plugging everything in, ensuring some distance between preamp and power supply and playing your favourite records.
Straight out of the box the sound was exactly as described in the instruction leaflet; bright, thin and very much solid state. The manufacturer recommends a 24 hour warm-up before the performance starts to sing.
Like the WhestTWO I reviewed a few years ago, the Reflex C is a wide bandwidth design, boasting an incredible 200kHz bandwidth (compare that to the Whest's 120kHz) and produces sound that is quite different from the usual Plinius or Dynavector benchmarks. They have a very musical nature, not of the highest level of high fidelity but capable of very convincing and enjoyable reproduction with plenty of gusto.
The Reflex C veers away from a rich, opulent presentation and takes a cooler, somewhat more analytical approach to playing music.
It is a lean, clean and fast sounding phono stage with quite stunning transparency and control. Music is delivered in a crisp and dynamic fashion with lots of drive and excellent frequency extension, all produced against an inky background. Transients are reproduced with lightning speed, cleanness and not a trace of overhang. Soundstaging is realistic with excellent specificity and a good sense of dimensionality and scale. The only thing missing is just a touch more body behind the voices and instruments. Setting the Reflex up on Black Diamond Pyramid Cones went a long way to improving this aspect of performance.
Similar devices should also be beneficial. Tonally the Reflex C is cut from one cloth from the lowest bass to the highest highs, full of detail without becoming etched and overwhelming. Chromatically, there’s just a hint of sepia. The Reflex C puts in a most enjoyable performance full of musicality, free of artifice.
Despite the seemingly bewildering choice of phono preamps already available, the Reflex C is a welcome addition. It has a formidable combination of solid build quality and design, ease of use and sterling performance. The Reflex C comfortably surpasses the entry level Cambridge Audio, NAD and Project models and makes a good upgrade from the best of the currently available sub-$1,000 preamps like the Dynavector DV-75. It's good enough to pip the WhestTWO and even go head to head with the much more expensive Plinius Koru without embarrassment. A superb product, worthy of audition if you are in the market for a high end phono stage.