BHK preamp review


#1

I usually prefer to read about hifi equipment than write about it. One exception is when I encounter a problem with my hifi equipment and feel the need to let the manufacturer know. Another exception is when something is so amazingly good I had to jump out of my chair and shout about it to everyone. My recently purchased brand new BHK preamp fell into both these categories. You might have read my thread about the stuck input selection button here.

I am no stranger to (relatively) high end hifi equipment. At home I have a Naim NAC 252 two-box preamp and a McIntosh C1100 two-box tube preamp. The BHK preamp is my third preamp. The reason why I bought the BHK preamp is to match it with my PS Audio Directstream DAC (which I’m extremely pleased with) and my McIntosh MC275 tube amp (which does not have a matching preamp). My McIntosh C1100 preamp is matched with my McIntosh MC452 power amp. Speakers are Focal Aria 936. I also have a pair of Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Concert Grand speakers in my music room for those days when I feel like having a different musical presentation.

My current setup is as follows:

Streamer: Naim NDS/555PS DR (acting as transport)

DAC: PS Audio Directstream (running Huron firmware)

Preamp: BHK preamp

Power amp: McIntosh MC275 (version 6)

Speakers: Focal Aria 936

I’m using single ended interconnects and speaker cables from Van Den Hul.

To start, I think the Stereophile review of the BHK preamp is spot on. I was not impressed with the small plastic input selection button, or the light volume pot that makes various clicking and short chiffing sounds (as described by Stereophile). I absolutely adore the sexy tube window on top, the hefty remote is excellent and the input jacks at the back felt very well made and of high quality.

Now to the sound. Simply put, the BHK preamp sounds phenomenal. I’m not talking about the usual qualities of a high end preamp, I already have those in my two other preamps. Simply having huge soundstages, excellent imaging, depth and dynamics and dark, quiet backgrounds would not be sufficient to make me jump out of my chair. However, the BHK preamp is something else entirely. With the BHK preamp, the music has soul. I am not only hearing music, I’m hearing emotions. It is as if the musician is putting his heart and soul into the performance that I’m hearing in my music room. I am not that old but I’m not young either, and it has been a long time since music has been able to conjure up those same feelings that I had when I was listening to music as a teenager.

This is obviously a very subjective review, and your experience may vary, but PS Audio and BHK have certainly created a very special musical instrument indeed in the BHK preamp. Well done!


#2

If you like it now, just wait until you let it break in and put in a good fuse! (I had great success with the Sysnergistic Research Black, but I got those 2 weeks before they announced the Blue) Enjoy!

–SSW


#3

I bought a new BHK Preamp this past Saturday and had to return it to the factory 3 days later. In the days I had it in my system I had to set its volume at 100 and use the volume control of my DS DAC. The reason for this was that any actual volume change on the preamp would output loud clicks at every step coming from both channels. I swapped tubes, amplifiers, cables, etc. and the problem did not resolve. I hope that PS Audio can get that piece back to me soon because the sound reproduction I got from it, between “clicks”, was amazing!!!


#4

Hi mario

my bhk pre also produced small volume clicks through speakers during volume change. I understand that this is by design. Are you sure that your unit is faulty?


#5

The BHK pre produces noticeable clicks at three points on the volume scale; this is by design. Many of us have heard softer clicks when we change volume in between the three points. In my case, the clicks were medium-soft when I first got the preamp; when I moved from RCA to XLR interconnects, they become noticeably softer. It’s possible that something is wrong with your unit if all the clicks are loud, or there may be something about your system (cables??) that makes them louder than what most people experience. See what PSA says after they look at the preamp, but the clicks may sound normal in their testing and objectionably loud in your setup.


#6

Excellent point, Magister. The point at which the volume change noises become objectionable may be system dependent.

Interesting, the Stereophile review states the noises vary over time:

The BHK Signature's volume control was not, however, completely silent. At two points on the volume scale—between "23" and "24" and between "52" and "53"—I heard a moderate click from inside the preamp, similar to the sound it makes when a new source is selected. Furthermore, each 0.5dB step was sometimes accompanied by a soft, short chiff from my speakers. This chiffing varied in volume throughout the listening period: it was noticeable at first, then faded to inaudibility, then returned, then faded again. As I write this, it's just barely audible at a few spots in the volume range with no music playing.

#7

I am going to a demonstration of the BHK Pre and Monos on Sunday. I will be interested to see if this is much of an issue.

From a pragmatic perspective, I don’t see that this idiosyncrasy is particularly significant if it has no effect on the music playback or if the “chiffing” noises do not negatively affect the speakers.

When I listen to music, I rarely adjust the volume control after setting it for the level I am feeling like at the time.

A lot of hi-fi gear has quirks that you either decide you can live with or not. My phono stage sounds constipated, cold and flat for about 1/2 an hour after starting, whereupon it opens up and blooms beautifully. In practice, this means that I can’t listen to a single side of an LP and need to commit to a more extended listening session if I want to hear the full capability of my vinyl playback system. (Probably the reason I use my PS Audio DS for nearly all my listening now.)


#8

I can hear a little ‘tick’ at every step of the BHK-pre volume control in my system if there is no music playing. I don’t worry about it - if it was loud I’d worry. I agree there is a louder jump at 23/4.


#9

I have considered the pre-amp but have held off due to this noise issue and also my concern about Tube issues…shame really


#10

A bigger shame would be failing to give it a try.

Small signal tubes last for thousands of hours and are very easy to replace. You should not have any concern with respect to the tubes.

The minute volume change noises are trivial, much more an interesting quirk than an issue. Unless, of course, you routinely and continually are scrolling the volume up and down. :slight_smile:


#11

I hadn’t used tubes in eons for similar concerns, but now the only ‘issue’ I have with them is that I don’t think I can go back to solid state.

As far as the clicking sounds with volume changes, I actually use it to an advantage…in case my source is not streaming correctly I increase/decrease the volume on the preamp and I know that part of the audio chain is ok. I don’t hear them as a distraction at all.

Also considering the preamp is backed by great customer service, I agree with Elk, if you had this on your radar these issues should not dissuade you.


#12

That’s an interesting use of the volume control clicks. :slight_smile:

It is like using the surface noise of an LP to set volume.


#13

I would highly encourage you to give the preamp a try. My dealer convinced me to do so after I loved the 300 monos, because he believed it to be actually the strongest of the BHK offerings. I tried it and promptly sold my VAC Renaissance Signature II, as the BHK preamp was compellingly closer to live music in my system, sounding clearer, more dynamic, and staging better. And I didn’t lose the tube beauty at all.

And now I am listening to headphones (guests sleeping the room next door!), which was not a capability of the other preamp set up. The volume control noise issue is laughably minor in my experience, and a tube set lasts many years, making the preamp pretty close to ss in convenience.


#14

I was wary of the volume control issue but it has proven to be a non issue thus far for me…yes i do hear it when i change volume but there is no noise at all when I finish changing volume and I listen to the music…a non issue for me


#15

In my case, when I switched from single ended to balanced cables the clicks when changing volume completely disappeared.


#16

I just don’t get that folks can’t understand the relay clicks as one runs up and down the volume. It’s described in the manual. Seriously, do you really play with the volume level like that?
And I experienced clicks with each change of the remote volume control once. That was 100% the Tungsram tubes that Upscale replaced on warranty and it’s been flawless since.
FYI, I had a Rotel pre that made no clicks or other noises at all, if that’s most important.


#17

Actually, if this is a advertised feature I’m not sure I want it either. The Pre was to complete my Trifecta so to speak of amp, dac and pre. I am on my 2nd pre now -an ARC ( there was a BHK backlog first part of the year) which sounds terrific and makes no sound at all associated with volume changes etc. Not to be too critical here but why would you hear “chiffing” or what have you during volume adjustment and that be ok from a design or consumer standpoint? Or is this like the noise issue where some people are unlucky and have lots of it and others (like mine thank goodness) are dead quiet?

Also maybe I’m unusual here but 30-50% of my music time I’m really listening (vs background and one volume level) and may play 20 different tracks across multiple formats. I may adjust the volume every track, every other (I have not really counted) but that would = a lot of “chiffing”. I do use XLR since going with PSA. Never an issue with anything so I would sure hate to go buy a known one. Sounds like some experience it, some don’t?


#18

The issue is in most cases only with SE amps unless it is a tube problem like Ron had. If the preamp doesn’t make noise with the supplied tubes but does with your “favorite” 50 year old NOS tube that is really not something a manufacturer can be responsible for. Also I have had far more issues with NOS 6 and 7 volt tubes than with 12AU7’s probably because at this point the first batch is more "picked over’ and finding quiet examples is harder to do.


#19

Ok- that helps thanks. I have a BHK 250. I did not find anything in the preamp manual. I don’t plan on rolling or changing anything. The review mentions:
The BHK Signature’s volume control was not, however, completely silent. At two points on the volume scale—between “23” and “24” and between “52” and “53”—I heard a moderate click from inside the preamp, similar to the sound it makes when a new source is selected. Furthermore, each 0.5dB step was sometimes accompanied by a soft, short chiff from my speakers. This chiffing varied in volume throughout the listening period: it was noticeable at first, then faded to inaudibility, then returned, then faded again. As I write this, it’s just barely audible at a few spots in the volume range with no music playing. I’m thinking this must be one of those tube frailties Paul McGowan objects to.

The first part I’m fine with (23 & 52) . It’s the bold above that would concern and perhaps distract me…


#20

Running balanced I have never found it distracting with 91 db speakers. I’m not a fan of the sound of the supplied Psvane tubes but I had a fairly large stash of NOS 12AU7’s that from prior use in phono stages and DAC’s I knew were quiet but if I didn’t I would probably tried the Gold Lion version as it is the favored tube of the McIntosh crowd in that gear. Also the most expensive of the “modern” 12AU7’s.

https://www.thetubestore.com/genalex-gold-lion-ecc82-b749