At £129 this little passive pre has more inputs than its predecessor but costs less. What’s all that about then? Ian Ringstead finds out.

Tisbury Audio is a small London based company dedicated to offering value for money products to impoverished audiophiles. We all like a bargain and when it comes in the form of a bargain basement price product like this mini passive pre-amplifier then I think it is worth shouting about.

I first heard about Tisbury Audio a year ago when my boss and head honcho of Hifi Pig reviewed the previous model to this new version. At the time I had been playing around with some Meridian Active speakers (DSP5000’s) which were great to satisfy my curiosity with that concept. I had sold Meridian in the 80’s and really liked their relatively new venture then into active speakers with built in amps. The DSP range had taken the concept further with DSP technology and very clever it is. Anyway, I decided that good as active speakers are, they do limit one’s choice of system configurations and as an inveterate upgrader (it’s a disease with audiophiles) this is where a product like the Tisbury comes in.tis1

I was so impressed by the previous review of the Tisbury and the money back guarantee they offer I took the plunge. Stuart’s review summed it all up by saying the mini passive pre added very little to the sound and was effectively a clear window to the signal going to your amp. I couldn’t agree more and have used the original version with my Meridian 556 power amp since then to great effect. Stuart used it with £5000  amps, mine was originally about £1200, so not budget, but is an excellent sounding classic design with plenty of clean power on tap. The mark 1 version of the Tisbury works great with my existing 556 amp and speakers (these vary, but currently are Triangle Titus EZ’s) and I have been really pleased how it works so seamlessly in my system.

Now when I was told Tisbury Audio had a new mk2 version of the mini passive coming out I just had to try it. So what have they done to improve it? Well for a start the unit has grown somewhat larger in size (rather like myself over the years!). It has become longer in depth case-wise because Tisbury have obviously listened to customers’ demands – the only criticism I find with my mk1 is that due to the slim depth of the case, when you have several leads plugged into the back the unit can tilt backwards. Now this is not a deal breaker but a minor niggle. The case is now longer too because Tisbury have increased the flexibility of the unit without compromising the sound and have a now employed a circuit board due to the switching and flexibility on offer.tis3

How have they done this you may well ask? Well a passive pre amp is reliant on the accompanying amp and speakers having sufficient signal level compatibility (i.e. sensitivity) to work properly. As there is no active power supply to help boost the pre amplified signal from your source components, the changing resistance in the volume potentiometer are solely reliant on the levels being within set parameters. The much simpler circuit is one of the reasons why passive pre amps can sound so good, but the caveat is that not all passives do sound good, and many audiophiles criticise them for either level matching issues or the bass lacking punch.

The second generation preamp now has 3 inputs, 2 configurable outputs and a laser engraved walnut and aluminium enclosure.
A new feature is the selectable attenuation, which allows users to reduce the signal by a fixed -10 dB or -20 dB. If your system has too much gain and you can’t turn the volume dial past 12 o’clock without hearing damage, this setting will help. This is achieved by adjustable switches underneath the unit.tis4
Output 1 is the primary output and its level is set by the volume control. Output 2 can be configured (by switches on the base) as either an additional primary output, or as a ‘loop’ out to bypass the volume control and (you guessed it) loop out to another device.
All Tisbury’s offerings are designed, made, and tested in their London workshop; and the vast majority of parts and labour costs go to British companies. They could probably have it made cheaper in China, but that wouldn’t be true British quality hi-fi now, would it?

SOUND

Now to the sound… well there isn’t one as such. So transparent is the Tisbury that it has very little influence that I can detect in my system. The mk2 is as far as I can tell identical to the mk1 , but has the added flexibility as a bonus.

I spent many hours just enjoying the sound (or lack thereof) with my Triangles and other speakers in for review and they all sounded great. Sources were mainly CD (I am currently in between turntables) but have had superb results with my last deck and see no reason why a new one won’t work as well. The depth of sound field and all the extra little clues one hears in live recordings were all there in abundance and one recording I listened to in particular was Capercaillie live in Glasgow from 2002 .Now they are a classic Celtic band from Scotland similar to the likes of Clannad from Ireland, but they have their own style and more traditional in some respects. The live recording is excellent and the lead singer Karen Matheson is crystal clear in the mix along with the rest of the superb band members. The bass line was subtle but was easily heard in the mix along with the bodhran , Uillean pipes and other traditional instruments used with this infectious type of music. I couldn’t help but smile all the time and tap my feet or hands to the rhythms thinking of River Dance and the like. I love Celtic music and some may argue it all sounds the same, but can’t that be said of a lot of different music styles. I also listened to James Taylor’s new album “Before This World” and was impressed by the sound again… if not the music so much. Daryl Hall and John Oates are a mightily impressive duo and their catalogue of hits and songs in general is amazing. A mix of live and studio tracks on their disc set ” Do what you want be what you are ” album were sublime. It’s a great album and a must for fans or newbie’s. Again the clarity was exceptional.

There’s not really much else to say. I could go on and on boring you about music you may not be the least bit bothered about. Suffice to say this new passive pre amp is fantastic value. Tisbury have reduced the price to £129 from the original £135 price of last year. Hey, what goes on? A company improving a product and making it cheaper!! VFM (value for money) is the key here. Passives aren’t for everyone and, like followers of SET valve amps, horn speakers etc. they are a niche product. I for one think they are superb.

The great thing about the Tisbury Audio unit is that it is an amazing way into the upper levels of audio nirvana without robbing a bank or winning the lottery. Most audiophiles are frustrated by the financial constraints of our hobby, but the Tisbury makes this supremely easy now if you have a good power amp and speakers to hand. I recently picked up a Quad 33 and 303 second hand that are 40 plus years old, and I am currently modifying them to bring them up to modern day standards and safety without affecting the integrity of the original sound or circuit design. It will be interesting to compare the sound of the 33 pre with the Tisbury, and use the 303 with the Tisbury as I hear passives work well with the Quad amp.

The bottom line is with such great kit as the Tisbury now for sale online direct, to save you the customer money and give you pleasure what’s stopping you. Enjoy.

Build Quality          8.9 / 10TIsbury_pre

Sound Quality        8.75 /10

Value for money    9.2 /10

Overall                    8.95/10

Ian Ringstead

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