The PEQ-1 MKII’s overall sonic character deepened, broadened, and tightened in virtually every regard over a two-week run-in period. Once the unit was fully seasoned and stabilized, bass was remarkably tight, deeply extended, and unusually well defined for a component at this price. Listening to bass-heavy LPs, like the new Blade Runner 2049 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [Epic/ASG], never left me feeling I was missing any power or impact, rendering exceptionally well-demarcated pitches, impressive weight, exhilarating dynamic contrasts, and an amazing sense of musical pace and rhythm, with little hint of bloating or slurring.
While the uppermost midrange may be a tad recessed or lean by comparison to the very best, the midrange in general brimmed with detail and texture, presenting marvelously accurate timbre and exceptional resolution. From large choral works to intimate jazz trios, voices of all variety were illuminated with remarkable clarity and focus.
Treble was both very well extended and remarkably transparent and detailed, with a huge dollop of air and shimmer, delivering rewardingly lifelike and vibrant sound. The PEQ-1 MKII has no difficulty revealing the sparkle of well-recorded triangles, cymbals, bells, or chimes, and seems almost effortless in doing so, with no glare, grain, or etching, which is not necessarily a common attribute in a sub-$1000 phonostage.
The PEQ-1 MKII renders images solidly and stably, with surprisingly accurate sizing. Staging is very dimensional, with splendid layering, good height and depth, and excellent width. The PEQ-1 is disarmingly natural sounding overall, with a degree of neutrality rare in this class.
As I have touched on, this preamp offers remarkable detail, yielding an overachieving sense of transparency, due no doubt in part to an impressively low noise floor. As calm and quiet as the unit is, I would really love to have heard it with its optional $299 AC-15 MKII power supply. While we did plan on such an audition, the AC-15 MKII never arrived. Given my previous experience with CIAudio gear, performance increases gained by using such dedicated high-current supplies are significant, typically in lowering the (already good) noise floor and enhancing tonal purity and imaging and staging characteristics—none of which were particularly wanting to begin with using the stock supply.
The Promised Land
I dropped this little upstart into a system with a sum total price some 300 times its cost, into a slot typically occupied by either an $8000 tube-based or a $13,500 reference-grade solid-state phonostage. While there is no chance it would be mistaken for these phonostages, what it did accomplish was utterly astonishing.
Every once in a while, a product comes along that is both inspired and inspiring. The Channel Islands Audio PEQ-1 MKII is an exceptional performer, one that calls no attention to itself with any particularly egregious sins of commission, delivering an exceptionally refined and engaging level of performance at a surprisingly competitive price. Even the most demanding LP listener shopping the sub-$1000 phonostage market will benefit from the fact that the bulk of the budget for this device has been allocated where it counts most—in performance and dependability.
What is so special about this affordable upstart is that it so clearly excels at the crucial fundamentals: bass extension and definition, midbass punch, midrange timbre, texture, and purity, treble extension and air, and rhythmic drive. And its remarkable quietness delivers a measure of resolution and transparency to LP playback not found from any phonostage in my experience or memory priced under the $2000 mark. As a result, the PEQ-1 MKII performs quite beautifully, even in the company of pricier well received phonostages from the likes of Lehmann, Simaudio, and Sutherland Engineering. If you are in the market for a killer phonostage that won’t break the kid’s college fund, audition the Channel Islands for yourself. It comes with a 30-day in-home trial!
Specs & Pricing
RIAA accuracy: +/-0.2dB
THD + Noise: < 002% (1kHz unweighted/45dB gain/10mV)
IMD: < .002% (SMPTE)
Cartridge loading: Resistance, 47k ohms (mm), 100 ohms, 470 ohms, or 1k ohms (mc); capacitance,100pf, 270pf, or 370pf
Gain: 45dB or 60dB
Subsonic filter: -3dB@18Hz
Output impedance: 100 ohms
Dimensions: 8.50" x 2.75" x 6.50"
Weight: 8.0 lbs. (net), 9.0 lbs. (shipping)