Some of the most enticing sounds at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest last year emanated from the purlieus of the Dynaudio suite. Dynaudio’s gregarious distributor, Michael Manousselis, had assembled a nifty system centered around a German electronics manufacturer named Octave. I’d never heard of Octave before, but hearing its offerings at RMAF made me want to a lot more. The fit ’n’ finish of its products was immaculate, and the sound seemed to be extremely transparent with a nice full presentation, at least to judge by the imposing Octave amplifiers driving a new pair of Dynaudios.
Thus it was with more than a pinch of excitement that I anticipated delivery of the Octave phonostage from Karlsbad. And the wait was well worth it. Right out of the box the Octave will make you whistle at its good looks. There’s nothing flashy about it, but the solidity and meticulousness of its build-quality augur good things. This is a unit that, as with most things German, is built to last for years and years. Indeed, the strength of the German economy, which is weathering the current storms quite nicely, has been that it includes a large number of companies that have carved out niches for themselves by building high-quality handmade products that aren’t easily duplicated on a mass scale. Octave definitely fits right into that model. Its owner’s manual is no fewer than thirty-six pages long and filled with measurements! And the box containing the phonostage appears big enough to house a power amplifier.
As its name suggests, the unit is modular, allowing the user to configure it any way he wants by adding up to three input and one output modules. The base unit costs $4500 with the external power supply. To this you must add at least one input module and an output module. The moving-magnet input with RCA connectors is $450, while moving-coil input modules with either RCA or XLR jacks are $600 each. A line-level input module allowing preamp functionality via one set each RCA and XLR inputs is also $600. The standard RCA output module with fixed and variable outputs is $450, while direct-drive RCA or XLR output modules allowing the unit to drive a power amplifier directly are $800 each. The optional remote volume control is $350. The price thus ranges from $5400 to $7450 depending on the configuration. The phonostage contains three tubes—a 12AX7 for the input tube, a 12AT7 for the main amplification stage, and a 6922 for the output buffer—all easy tubes to roll (although I didn’t). Octave’s chief Andreas Hofmann sensibly advises against leaving the unit running 24/7; there’s no reason to burn out the tubes. Octave also provides you with a variety of settings for loading the cartridge.
The Phono Module can be connected to a preamplifier via the output modules, or run directly into a power amplifier with the addition of a direct-drive output module (either RCA or XLR). The line-level input module allows the Phono Module to accept line-level sources, turning it into a full-function preamplifier. You will gain a bit of transparency running it direct, but I’ve consistently found that phonostages sound best run into a preamplifier that has a superior volume control.
The number and type of modules in the unit will depend on what you want and how much you want to spend. You can always add them in the future. The flexibility of the unit is quite remarkable. For its part, Octave doesn’t hide its light under a bushel, asserting that you are “about to enjoy the benefits of one of the world’s most innovative and reliable phono preamplifiers.”
Given the number of phonostages on the market, I’m not sure that there isn’t a bit of manufacturer’s hype in that statement, but Octave’s pride in its product is justified. Octave’s aim was to build an exceptionally low-distortion and low-noise phonostage. The power supply regulation appears to be superb, which plays a key part in allowing the Octave to preserve fine details that would otherwise be obscured by noise from the electrical lines. Its phono module consists of what it calls a four-stage system comprising an input, RIAA equalization, subsonic-filter, and output module. The subsonic filter can be bypassed, but I wouldn’t recommend it. There’s really no need to subject your precious loudspeaker drivers to the subsonic thumps that turntables can send down the audio chain. The muting mechanism in the Octave works to perfection—when switching from one input to another, which automatically mutes it, I heard no telltale pop upon release. In fact, I heard nothing at all. Ever. This unit is dead quiet. No hum. No buzz. No nothing. This is a consummately engineered product that puts many other manufacturers to shame.