The new Acoustic Imagery Jay-Sho preamplifier visited my listening room following the 2014 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Like the naming of the Atsah amplifier reviewed here, “Jay-Sho” is also a Navajo word, in this case meaning “buzzard”. This Jay-Sho was previously scheduled to visit another interested party, so my time with it was limited to just a few weeks. This is plenty of time to form some definite impressions and opinions, but not really long enough of an audition for a full review.
At the heart of the non-active Jay-Sho are autoformers made especially for Acoustic Imagery with very short signal paths. The internal wiring is Mundorf solid silver wire. The case is machined from heavy, solid billet aluminum. This ensures low EMI transmission and is very good looking. There are 6 XLR inputs and 2 XLR outputs with the addition of one XLR tape monitor output to enable recording of the selected input. No worries: high quality RCA to XLR adapters are readily available from many sources.
The $8995 Jay-Sho comes with a full function remote control for volume, balance, input selection, mute and indicator LED/level display on or off. Rubber tipped integral feet are standard with spikes optional. Using autoformers provides for a totally passive signal path with volume control in 1db steps from -52 dB up to +7 dB. In my system, the volume control reading shows about 10 for background music and between 25 and 40 when the listening gets more interesting. Unity gain is at a volume setting of 54, and the maximum volume readout is 61. There is a small external “wall wart” power supply which is only for control functions, the front panel display and remote control. The display can be turned on, or set to automatically turn itself off a few seconds after any control input.
Other components on hand included a Mark Levinson No. 52 preamplifier, Basis 2500 Signature turntable with Vector 4 tonearm with Miyajima Madake moving coil cartridge, Sutherland DUO and new Parasound JC3+ phono preamplifiers, Cary DAC-100t and Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 DSDse DA converters, Lynx Hilo AD/DA converter, Acoustic Imagery Atsah amplifiers, and Magnepan 3.7 loudspeakers. The Magnepans have had significant upgrades with the installations of Audio Horizons Platinum Reference fuses and Mye stands. PSB Imagine T speakers, recently installed in the home theater system, also got some play time with the Jay-Sho in this system. All interconnects are Mogami. Power protection and purification are provided by a PS Audio Dectet for the preamplifiers and source components, and a PS Audio Quintet for the power amplifiers. The latter provides remote turn-on and -off of the power amplifiers. This is a high performance audio system.
The Levinson No. 52 preamplifier, list $30,000, is a superb component and a worthy upgrade to the already outstanding Levinson No. 326S. The phono stage in the No. 52 is magnificent. The line stage in the No. 52 is cleaner, less electronic sounding with purer tones and better resolution than the 326S. These probably result from less interaction with the power supply, which is housed in a separate box, in addition to new and improved active circuitry.
The Jay-Sho is better. Imagine the sonic improvement going from the all-in-one box of the No. 326S to the two-box No. 52 with separate power supply. The difference is not trivial or small. Now imagine the sonic improvement going from a superbly engineered power supply to no power supply, which enables a totally passive signal path. This removes any trace of the presence of additional active electronics between you and your music. And I’m not limiting this imagining to the fingerprint of solid-state electronics. Tube preamplifiers are not completely transparent signal processors, either. They add their own flavor and character to your music.
Where this profound freedom from any electronic signature is noticed most is in the upper frequencies. The lower frequencies are noticeably powerful, rich, dynamic, detailed, and at least fully competitive with active preamps. The major audible improvement with the Jay-Sho is in the upper frequencies. All of them, not just the uppermost treble. And the difference is, indeed, major.
I can’t describe the lack of something we consider normal, except by using comparisons of our shared experiences. We have all suffered through hearing older or low quality solid state sound which is usually characterized as harsh, grainy, flat, coarse, and processed. As in low bit-rate MP3. Remember your amazement when you heard that first truly high-end component and the apparent reduction of that overlying crud, with a huge increase in the believability of your favorite recordings? With the Jay-Sho, you are welcome to experience that feeling again.
This pervasive sense of lifelike purity combined with seemingly limitless resolution is quickly addicting. Just as you rapidly moved away from that older or low quality solid state sound, you will probably consider moving away from whatever line stage preamplifier you are currently using and acquire a Jay-Sho for yourself. The Jay-Sho certainly raises the bar. In fact, there is a high probability that even a brief audition of the Jay-Sho might ruin you for any active preamplifier. After the audition is over and it leaves your system, the Jay-Sho is like a girl you met briefly but can’t get out of your mind. The need to reconnect is strong. The sound system for the Orgasmatron will surely use this preamplifier.
It seems that Acoustic Imagery’s purpose on Earth is to open our eyes and ears to truly significant technology which offers truly worthwhile upgrades in sound quality. Let me paraphrase my closing comments in the Atsah amplifier review. No one should buy any preamplifier at any price until they hear this technology. It is a game changer for the product category “preamplifiers”.
UPDATE 2018: A Jay-Sho has been my primary preamplifier for 2 years. It still reigns supreme as noted above. Nothing, so far, has come close. Regarding gain: Unity gain is when the volume is reading 54. Listening is always at 50 or lower, meaning that no additional preamplifier gain has been needed with a very wide range of assocciated components.
Link to manufacturer: Acoustic Imagery
My thanks to Michael Garner at TweekGeek.com. This review would not have been possible without Michael’s kind assistance.