How do you make Luminous Audio Technology's Arion Phono Preamplifier sound better? That's a question I really hadn't been asking myself since I got mine six years ago. I had been too busy playing my favorite LP's and inviting friends over to hear what they had never heard before from their records: smooth extended highs without fatigue, along with detail, separation and clarity in the lowest frequencies that I didn't know existed in the grooves.
When Tim told me that Mike Bettinger had improved the original Arion design I might have been skeptical, but that would be only if I hadn't heard some of Mike's previous designs in friends' systems that easily outperformed the highly respected components they replaced. Incredibly, I was offered a chance to test drive the new Arion's mods even before Tim did.
If you want to know what improvements were made, I'll have to defer to Mike and Tim. I know there is a power supply upgrade and a bias adjustment, along with some other modifications. All I know is what I've heard. So the question I answered by listening to the original and the newly upgraded model in the same system, back to back, is: What does this new one have that the old one doesn't?
Once you've gone down the upgrade path with certain components you sometimes feel that you're just about there. What more can you possibly hear in a recording? Fortunately, the new Arion does all that the old one does, and more. Massed vocals on Alison Krauss' Down to the River to Pray from the original promo-only 2-LP Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack had more definition and separation of the individual voices. A very slight sheen that blended some of the still distinct voices on the original Arion was now gone.
When comparing the two using the title track from an original Tamla pressing of Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On, I discovered the new Arion had more initial attack on the drums. It seems as if the new power supply is always at the ready and has the capacity to deliver the music as soon as that part of the groove hits the stylus. It's likely just a millisecond of difference, but the improved speed and impact of the attack seemed noticeably absent after swapping back to the original.
I think all the improvements came into play when spinning an original Mercury pressing of Van Morrison's Avalon Sunset. Listening to Whenever God Shines His Light, I felt the attack I attribute to the power supply upgrades. On Contacting My Angel, I realized that items lower in the mix had more weight, solidity and definition.The remainder of my time with the new Arion on many LP's confirmed this realization. I attribute all of this to the skills of Mike Bettinger and the sum of the improvements he's developed over the years since the original's release.
For the TLDR crowd: The new Arion brings out more detail, provides more weight and separation to instruments lower in the mix and delivers the deep bass clarity of the original with an even faster attack. After hours of listening, I can't imagine asking "How can Mike Bettinger make this new Arion Phono Preamplifier sound better?
The new Arion brings out more detail, provides more weight and separation to instruments lower in the mix and delivers the deep bass clarity of the original with an even faster attack.