Launched in 2009 as close descendent of the company’s flagship MC REF V, Whest Audio’s PS.30RDT cost a hefty £2,799 when new. It comes in a single 430x280x72mm box, inside which is an ultra low noise bipolar opamp DIP8 chip heavily biased into Class A, along with a Whest MC REF V Hybrid filter. The output stage, which Whest’s James Henriot says, “is nearly everything you are hearing”, is his own discrete ultra low noise Class-A, bipolar design.
The transistors are closely hand-matched from Fairchild and Toshiba (a la MC REF V), the capacitors are all hand-matched to within 0.5% or closer tolerance and the channels are then matched to within 0.5% or closer. The transformers are low mechanical noise types, hand wound in the UK. The power supply is ‘close-by’ because the circuitry needs the current supply very quickly to react to large dynamic passages. Filtering is by a large bank of small value, low impedance capacitors. The voltage rails are + and – 18volts (not 5v or 15v like most) to allow for high dynamic headroom. It’s said to be a fully balanced true dual mono design with a very low claimed output impedance (50ohms at 1kHz), so can drive extremely long output cables. It also sports six load and six gain settings, all internally adjustable.
There’s no getting around it, the PS.30 does not sound like a valve phono stage – for better and for worse. Instead, it attempts to give a bit of both worlds; it is unmistakeably a solid-stater, but it offers a good deal of what many like about valves. Tubes without tears, if you like. UB40’s King shows why, with the way it handles the opening sixteen bars absolutely defining its character. Tonally, it is a good deal less ‘frosty’ than some solid-staters, proffering a surprisingly fulsome bass, which, is not backward in coming forward, as it were. The midband also has a touch of the tubular about it, in its general warmth and scale. There’s a vast amount of detail bristling through, and an exceptionally low noise floor Surface noise proved exceptionally low, and any shrillness was conspicuous by its absence. This is a smooth sounding device, for sure.
Rhythmically, it is nothing if not snappy. It bounces up and down like a rubber ball, pushing the groove of the song along. I loved how the Whest was smooth and creamy, yet so rhythmically animated. It is a great after dinner listen; it doesn’t pin you to your seat, etching the soundstage on to your cranium, but rather seduces and beguiles. Wings’ Band on the Run was a case in point – although not a high point in the vinyl LP’s history in terms of recording quality, the Whest flattered but never deceived. It threw out an expansive soundstage, inside which the various strands of the mix were all clear as day, and the slightly coarse vocal quality of Paul McCartney. It also showed real delicacy in the upper regions, cymbals being especially finessed.
One of the warmest, most lucid transistor phono stages I’ve heard so far, this gives little away to valves, or indeed other solid-state designs more representative of the breed. My only criticism is the ever-so-slightly processed feel to the upper midband. It’s a subtle effect, and one that’s far more noticeable on lesser solid-state designs, but there’s still a slight ‘suck out’ of atmosphere, and the tendency to paint percussion in less than fulsome terms. Still, this really does sound more sumptuous than most solid-staters, and this is all for the good. The balanced operation is a boon for many too, making this a fine all rounder back in the day. Well worth seeking out if you want something smooth, without the aggro of tubes.