We are known for our unique approach to circuit design, resulting in multiple patents and the creation of the first, truly reliable Output TransformerLess (OTL) amplifiers. We made the first balanced-line products in the world of high-end audio, including the MP-1, which was the world's first balanced-line preamp.
All of our amps and preamps are hand-crafted and made-to-order according to each customer's needs. All of our components are hand-selected, and often custom-manufactured especially for us, right down to the wire we use.
The resulting products are unique in the world with an unmatched capacity to reproduce music with intrinsic reliability.
The Absolute Sound interviews Ralph Karsten
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The MP-1 and MA-1 are still my pride and joy for listening. Thank you for your dedication to music as it should be heard….. Vittal
Hope this finds you well my friend. I wanted to share with you my impressions of the newest pre-amp changes sonically. The first thing I noticed immediately was that the noise floor has been reduced quite a bit. Not just in the phono but the line stage as well. The reduced noise floor gives the unit better resolution of nuances not better detail although you do hear more I think it's just better resolved. The other immediate thing I noticed was the speed. Leading edges now have more of an attack, I know the thing is much more dynamic then the last revision but it sounds faster as well. Dynamics are also greatly improved, many more jump out of your chair moments than before. With the reduced noise floor images within the soundstage are better focused and more stable than ever before. The soundstage depth and width has grown if it's present on the recording it can sound like surround sound in your room, always had great width but now the depth is as big as the sides. Finally it seems to go deeper in the bass and maybe a little more open on the top. It just sounds more linear if that makes any sense. So in wrapping up:
Lower Noise Floor
Faster leading attacks
Much more dynamic
More linear sound(everything cut from the same cloth)
Larger soundstage especially layered depth
Images are much more stable and not floating around
Other than that it sounds pretty much the same!!!It really is a killer piece Ralph. Thank you.
Rusty M, AZ
Good morning Ralph,
My, my was last evening fun! When I got them home burned them in for 24+ hours and spun my go to album Jennifer Warnes 'The Hunter' on 180g. Its hard to put into words the transformation from 2.2 to 3.3. I tried really hard to pick one theme but I just sat in my chair and her music enveloped me. Before the upgrade I would say to my listening buddies, did you hear the air in the highs and the bass extensions? Now I just sit there and say 'WOW'! Nothing stands out just plain music! Geez, why didn't I do this sooner!
Thanks again to you and your team! Really appreciate your time and the time Matt spent with me! Simply marvelous!
Keith S, MN
Nice job. I appreciate products that keep as little as possible between me and the music. The UV-1 blew me away for $1900 or even
twice that amount.
Truly a musical combination with the S30.
As far as the Whest PS goes.....I like the UV better. They are both dead quiet and musical....but I like the UV tube sound better and the benefit on having one less power cable and one less interconnect is a plus. Keep it simple.
I just plain enjoy the S30 with the UV better than anything else I have heard - Eva Cassidy songbird album is amazing.
So I have the Whest up for sale.
I would like to relate my audio story to you and your co-workers.
I have been an audiophile since age 11 in 1971 when I bought my first system which included the assembly of a Heathkit integrated amplifier. Since then I have bought and sold dozens of pieces of equipment. That buying and selling has continued for all components except my preamp and power amps since I purchased your S-30 in about 2002. I sold the S-30 to my friend in 2005 when I purchased a pair of M-60's and an MP-3.
In the 41 years of my audiophile life, I have listened to thousands of pieces of equipment and auditioned hundreds of pieces, mostly in my house but sometimes at dealers. I stopped trading amps and preamps because I have never heard any amp/preamp combination better than the M-60's and MP-3. I have not heard your MP-1 but I will probably purchase one soon.
Most recently, I auditioned some exotic equipment at Quintessence Audio in Morton Grove, IL. The system consisted of Audio Research 600 watt mono blocks, Audio Research LS-27 Preamp, Sonus Faber Amati Futura speakers and Ayon Audio CD-5S. From the reviews I read of this equipment before I listened, I thought that this was the best setup I could ever experience. I was listening to some of the best recorded CD's I own which are David Grisman & Tony Rice on Tone Poems, Duke Ellington on Blues in Orbit, John Lee Hooker on Chill Out, Paco de Lucia with John Mclaughin and Al Dimeola on Live in San Francisco. I listened for about an hour. I realized after just a few minutes that my system consisting of the M-60's, the MP-3, Merlin VSM MSE speakers and Electrocompanient ECM1-UP CD player (approximately $18k investment) in my 17' x 14' x 9' room with hardwood floors and full height glass along one wall (no sound absorbing treatment) sounded better than the approximately $125k of equipment at this showroom.
Your equipment is amazing - I don't know what else to say.
Greg M, P.E.
Holy s**t !! What genius made this amp of yours? I cannot tell you how good this sounds. Just amazing. I rolled a few tubes in -- not the best -- and musicians are coming over to say hello after performing live in my listening room.
Please feel free to post my comments to your site. I never knew my system could sound so
good. I am not exaggerating. Thanks again.
[MP-1 MkIII updated to Mk. 3.1] I wanted to let you know how things are progressing with the MP-1. I have had it back for about 9 months. Things sounded a little thin at first but through use it has improved significantly. The Line stage was the first to come around and like the MA-1s they seem to present the music as recorded without adding to or subtracting from what is present on the recording. This has taken a while to get used to, as everything else I have had emphasized some frequencies and attenuated others. The Phono stage has taken longer to get there due to fewer listening sessions. It too is very musically accurate and tonally correct. For the very first time I now have a system that flat gets out of the way of the music and encourages lengthy listening sessions. The other interesting characteristic I have noticed is that the Quads now convey a sufficient sense of weight in the lower frequencies, removing any desire to add subs. The other synergy with the MP-1/MA-1s/Quads is the lack of strain or effortlessness and exceptional speed the system now has. All in all I could not be happier and the only system changes I can foresee are incremental upgrades to the Atma-sphere components.
Many thanks for sharing your passion for music with the rest of us.
Tri Mai, Triplanar
Gordon W, CA
I'm just in awe of the sound!!!! Forgive me for blubbering, this has been a dream of mine for 20 years to own one of your amps.
Rick W, CO
I have them set-up with a Shanling CDT-100 through the tube output stage, into a Sunfire (Tube) preamp and am using Paul Speltz impedance coils [Zeros, see Paul's website] at x-3 into ML "Source" hybrid ESL's. Am also using a pair of (older) Bowers-Wilkinson subs for a little help on the bottom end.
Great deal, certainly worth the money and then some. Thank you so much.
.. and my Gal thinks they are very pretty...!
You Ralph are my newest best friend....!
Kevin C., US military overseas
John P., WI
...BTW, feel free to have any prospective 208 customers call or e-mail .... happy to explain what an amazing purchase/component it is.
I have been working with relatively high class equipment for probably 40 years - your product wins - hands down.
I am saving up my pennies to buy one of your pre-amps...Thanks for a terrific instrument.
Trevor, West Indies
[in reference to the M-60 MkII on stacked Quad ESL57s] I tried them [the Quads] in series and liked them a lot. As did my audio buddies. Much better than the four old Quad ii amps.
My only complaint with the Quad IIs was a certain boomy overhang in the bass that no amount of faffing about with speaker placement in my 20 X 30 X 9 1/2 room would get rid of. I know that Quad 57s start to roll off rapidly at around 50-60Hz but their bass is supposed to be clean, tight and fast so they shouldn't boom. But over time ears get used to a certain sound so I learned to live with it because the 57s do everything else so well. 25 years ago I used to run a single pair of 57s with a Leak Stereo 20 amplifier and there was no boominess.
The Atma-Spheres restored the clean and tight bass. Then I tried one Quad II amp per channel in series and that boominess was gone too. But not as transparent as the Atma-Sphere. Like a photograph that is well focused until someone shows you how to fine focus even more. Not as much detail either. Maybe my four Quad amps have drifted in performance from each other. Would that account for the boominess? I know nothing about electronics so I can only speculate. A friend who builds his own stuff is going to check them out and make their performance as identical as possible.
But I am smitten with the Atma-Spheres. I asked my friend to let me borrow them for a while longer so I can give them an extensive listen.
I am off for some Debussy piano music by Gieseking. More observations to come. I promise no purple prose.
There is an increased flow and organic nature to the music (which were already areas of strength) that I am really enjoying. From the strum of the guitar, to the slam of snare drum to the bite of sax, to the sultriness of a female voice, it's all mo better. :-)
...Thanks again. These will be the last amplifiers I will use in this system.
Angel, Puerto Rico
They are so good. I am thinking to get two pair to drive my Nola Grand Reference 4 in Hong Kong (the four tower system) - which is currently driven by my full-Cello system.
Based on the performance of these amps, I'll definitely be considering one of your pre-amps soon when I get my cash reserves back up.
I appreciate it. It is a work of art.
Apologies for not responding sooner. I wanted to thank you for the excellent customer service in upgrading my M-60's [originally Mk II.2] to Mk3.1. The improvement was immediately audible in my system - just as you described - increases in resolution and smoothness.
Thanks again for such a superb amplifier. I've already sold at least two of them for you via my raves to fellow audiophiles. Please continue your pursuit of further improvements!
Wow! This thing sounds fantastic. It's hard for me to tell what is doing what given that I upgraded the preamp and switched the amps a the same time, but the obvious things are that the whole thing is smoother, more relaxed, quieter, more detailed, more dynamic, deeper bass (much deeper actually but without being overpowering - go figure), and generally just really nice to listen to.
Thank you again for a great upgrade.
Thanks for indulging me in my questions and obsessions.
[MA-1 updated to Mk3.1]My sylvania tubes came in today and after about 10 hrs of break-in I can honestly say this is the best sound I have ever heard in my entire life! I have been searching for this for well over a decade!
Holy s***.. I never thought it could get this good!
You know Ralph its amazing.. I have a digital music collection of around 30000 tracks, whenever I would listen to a track that was "special" or moved me in one way or another I would put a star beside it. This way I could rate my music between 1 and 5 stars and choose to listen to only 5 star songs when I'm not feeling adventurous.. Before if I was lucky it would take me a couple hundred tracks to find the one special track.. Now I find I want to add a 5star to approx 1 out of ten tracks.
Audio Bliss. Need I say more? I still can't believe it..
Dave V, Canada
Bill N, FL
What an amazing sound. Thank you for following this career path.
As you can see, Atma-Sphere has captivated me to the point where I have to buy the same gear twice. Thanks for your support.
It [the MP-3] is clearly and demonstrably (even now after about 17 hours) better than my top telefunken tubed Aesthetix by a country mile, and I simply did not think it possible. Within my budget, I thought I was now into the sort of territory where significant improvement was unlikely and changes would be more a matter of taste than obvious improvement. Snare drum timbre improved at about 10 - 12 hours BTW. My wife is no audiophile and she can hear it too.... I simply don't understand how you have managed to get those stock russky tubes to deliver realistic timbre and so on.
I love how quiet my system is now. I knew it was amazing when I was listening to an old Bollywood 45 and I could hear the 50 cycle hum from the amps used to make the recording oh so many years ago.
P.S. I always appreciate your being so available to answer my often ignorant but earnest questions.
By the end of the show, I signed up as an Atma-Sphere dealer. My business model as turntable manufacturer is a hybrid one, with Galibier being both a manufacturer as well as a retail seller. I continually search for products designed with priorities in alignment with mine - components designed with an eye toward honoring the musical intent of and conveying the expressiveness of the performer.
At the end of the day, if a hi-fi system doesn't provide insight into the performance, then it's all about sound effects and not about music. When a designer succeeds at facilitating this insight, many of these hi-fi "effects" naturally occur (dimensionality, soundstaging, pace, etc.). All too frequently however, designers get it backward and design to optimize these "sound effects" first and music last. This approach is doomed to failure. A successful designer is both technically adept and musically aware. Sadly, this convergence of talents and sensibilities is all too rare in the world of hi-fi components.
I was smitten by both the MP-1 preamp and the M-60's during the show, but it was only when I plugged in the M-60's in at home that I realized just how faithful to the music these electronics are - hearing them in a familiar system. Needless to say, there's an MP-1 in my immediate future.
My initial listen was with a CD player as I couldn't wait to set up my analog rig in order to give them a listen. The first CD I plugged in found me in slack-jawed amazement - Jorma Kaukonen's "Thorns in My Crown" - a collection mainly of American spiritual music primarily from the country blues tradition (Reverend Gary Davis, et. al.) as only Jorma can play them.
What grabbed me most (apart from bandwidth, tonal accuracy, and stone-cold silence that I've only heard in Jim Hagerman's work) was the musical timing. The pacing, ebb and flow of Jorma's guitar work was like every live performance of his I've been to, and I've seen him some six times in the past few years. Jorma is a national treasure, and I've never heard his guitar mastery conveyed in a hi-fi system with such insight into his masterful technique.
Those of you who treasure this value system above everything else, owe it to yourselves to listen to Atma-Sphere electronics in a system assembled by someone with musical (and not) hi-fi values.
Just plain outstanding air, dynamics, soundstage; just state of the art. Note the noise floor- there is none on my speakers anyway- well done!
[on the MA-1] In my opinion, the finest sounding 140 watts around.
If the way you treated me, someone who had not purchased anything except a small upgrade from you, is an example of the way that you treat your real "paying customers," no wonder you have stayed in business so long with such success and such loyalty. Bravo.
All the best,
What struck me first is how tuneful it is, in other words it leaves the full timbre of musical instruments intact. The overall sound is crisp and firm and there is an extraordinary sense of being able to pinpoint the location and true size of any instrument. There is absolutely no artificial bloom added to the sound. It is a highly sober and natural sound. From one narrow point of view one is reminded of solid state because of this sober way of playing, only it is without all the deficiencies that haunt each and every solid state design I have heard, such as smearing of details, flattening of the overall soundstage and lack of proper integration of the whole overtone spectrum.
The MP-3 is called a 'music preamplifier', but it could just as well have been called a 'musical preamplifier', because that is what it is.
M. H., New Jersey
Richard N., WI
Karsten L., Denmark
Your staff is "5 stars" in every area! The only thing that exceeds the excellence of your service is the product itself!!! Oh my!!! What a glorious sounding amp! I have owned Levinson, Krell, McCormack, Counterpoint and Conrad Johnson. Your M-60 Mk. II beats them all!!!! I am so thankful that you are designing such beautiful sounding gear!"
The same music I was listening to before I got the MP-1, that had no life, suddenly were alive - voices are life-like, especially female voices, it's almost as if they are singing to you personally and instruments are more solid and full-bodied.
There are details I didn't know were missing: The soundstage is deeper, wider and the background blacker-- while the mids and highs are sweeter.
I'm happy I took all that time auditioning those countless other manufacturer's equipment and reading all the reviews I could find from Stereophile, TAS, Hi-Fi News and on-line publications. The payoff in musical enjoyment listening to my system with the MP-1 is priceless.
Ralph, thank you very much for this wonderful pre-amp!