CH Precision L10 four-box line-stage preamplifier

On the face of it, four separate boxes simply to select input and set level seems beyond overkill, even in a high-end audio context. But what the four-box L10 so effortlessly underlines is the crucial role of the line-stage in any high-end audio system. If you are serious about sound, then you need a serious line-stage – and they don’t get any more serious than this. Why is the line-stage so critical to musical performance? Because it delivers the temporal and dynamic anchor for the rest of the system – just like the conductor anchors the performance and tempo of an orchestra. It also adapts to the input requirements of the various source components, matches their levels and helps establish the gain structure within the system (the balance of gain between the pre and power amp[s], a critical and often overlooked aspect of maximising system performance).

As remarkable as the two-box L10 undoubtedly is, the four-box L10 is also undoubtedly superior. The performance gap between the two is both significant and readily audible, in both sonic and (much more importantly) musical terms. To put this into a wider context, the two-box L10 already sets new standards compared to anything else I’ve heard, placing the four-box head-and-shoulders above the competition. But note that caveat – the competition that I’ve heard. With new, equally ambitious products arriving from D’Agostino and Gryphon, that judgement extends only as far as my experience to date. Having said that, the two-box L10 raises the bar, while the four-box completely re-sets expectations. That it does so on musical grounds, not just giving you more information, but making more sense of that information too, sets a stiff challenge for would be contenders. Let the games begin…

On a more general and arguably more important note, the impact of the L10 on musical and system performance has far reaching implications. If you doubt the need for a line-stage in modern, digitally orientated systems: if you think that a DAC with a variable output is a viable high-end solution; if you measure the role of the line-stage in terms of its limited functionality and budget accordingly – you need to think again. Listen to the impact that the L10 makes on a system – even a system built around the already excellent L1 – and the experience should leave you in absolutely no doubt as to the fundamental importance of the line-stage. The problem is, that its fundamental importance also means that an inadequate line-stage can do more harm than good – and really good line-stages are rare as hen’s teeth and far from cheap.

Easily (and often) overlooked, neglecting your line-stage is a sure-fire route to limiting a system’s musical performance. If you have serious ambitions when it comes to state-of-the-art audio performance and building a system to achieve it, the line-stage really is the place to start. In that context, the four-box L10 might just reach beyond those “three steps to heaven…”

CH Precision L10 Dual Monaural (two-box) – $76,000 USD