The Luminous Audio Technology Axiom II Passive Preamplifier, with Walker Mod and Remote Volume Control
About five years ago, I'd just gotten an HRT Streamer HD DAC with balanced outputs, and had also just upgraded my system amps to a pair of Emotiva XPA-1Ls. The Emotivas were (and still are!!) capable of fully-differential, balanced Class A operation, and I was itching for a balanced preamplifier to help me enter what I was hoping would be a significantly enhanced era of system performance. Enter the Luminous Audio Axiom II, which was about as close to an elegant, single-source input solution for my particular situation as $299 would procure. I couldn't find anything approaching a traditional, full-function balanced preamp for less than a grand, which was an impossibility for me at the time. And besides, I was pretty deep into the whole emerging computer based audio thing; spinning discs and LPs were essentially dead to me because of my lackluster CD and LP system capabilities. So a single balanced input would work just swimmingly with my then current situation. And it did, performing admirably until this past summer, when my audio-related needs at my new listening room changed dramatically. The PS Audio Gain Cell Preamp/DAC is now the centerpiece of my home system, and as a multiple-input, line-level preamp with a magnificent built-in DAC, it offers true perfectionist audiophile performance with the ability to easily control multiple balanced, single-ended, and digital sources. The sound quality, flexibility, and performance of my current rig places me at a level of audio perfection I previously would never have believed possible, making the old HRT unit seem like not much more than a toy (albeit, a good-sounding toy!). But that's not in any way a knock on the Axiom II Passive Pre. It provided the kind of clarity and authority to my system's sound that I wouldn't have thought possible at the price point—especially in such a relatively simplified setup. You know, sometimes less really is more! While I was constantly impressed and pleased with the Axiom's sound quality (I even upgraded from the baseline model to the Caddock resistor), I really missed the ability to remotely adjust the volume. One thing about dealing with digital files of varying provenance (.wav, .flac, .dsf, or .dff) is that there are often wildly varying volume levels between the files you select for playback. Making getting up out of the listening chair often (much too often!) to make volume adjustments a bit more of a chore than one would expect. So just prior to the recent holiday season, I was offered the opportunity to play about with the latest iteration of the Axiom II line; it's Luminous Audio's top-of-the-line passive preamp that includes their signature Walker Mod and also features remote volume control. The Walker Mod is the result of Luminous Audio's Thom Walker, who took the baseline Axiom and added a greatly improved, cost-no-object attenuator; six-nines ONO cast copper internal wiring; greatly improved chassis damping and custom Sorbothane feet; and top-of-the-line Vampire RCA jacks and external connectors. The remote version adds a high-quality external power supply to provide juice to the volume control and display functions. Tim Stinson, the head honcho at Luminous Audio, feels the upgrades are so remarkably good that the Walker Mod Axiom II—in systems that are fundamentally conducive to working well with a passive pre—will go toe-to-toe with any preamp in the world, regardless of cost. There are systems out there in which the stars just don't quite properly align to allow the effective use of a passive pre, but nonetheless, that's a pretty impressive claim!