Sutherland Engineering N1 Preamplifier

One of the Great Preamps of Our Day

Equipment report
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Solid-state preamplifiers
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Products:
Sutherland Engineering N1
Sutherland Engineering N1 Preamplifier

Listening to the same set’s Symphony No. 1, I noted that the Sutherland’s outstanding recreation of dynamic nuance combined with explosively wide dynamic range brings one of Tilson Thomas’ finest readings to glorious life. From the opening movement’s slowly awakening nature theme right through to the rollicking drama of the symphony’s conclusion, the N1’s ease at resolving the smallest details of, say, a brief cello passage, a hushed English horn, a gently tapped drum, while keeping it all together during the passages where Mahler pulls out all stops, creates a very immersive experience.

The N1 is brilliant in so many ways—its air, resolution, tonal naturalness, and way with instrumental textures are especially fetching to me, yet for those looking for the warmth of a classic vacuum tube model, well, it’s best to look elsewhere. Not that the N1 is cold—not in my book—but it doesn’t add any kind of golden halo to recordings that might be on the cool or lean side.

One day I was discussing the merits of various Burgundy producers with a fellow obsessive. We concluded that while all vignerons have a style—lighter, richer, more extracted, or less, and so on—it’s also possible for that same producer’s wines to translate, or be transparent to, the specific terroir of a vineyard, showing, say, its more fruit- or mineral-driven nature.

And that’s analogous to what I’m trying to convey here. Because just as all the finest gear should, the Sutherland N1, while still having its own attributes, ultimately steps aside and lets each recording’s personality shine through. Be they the tracks described above, or the slightly lean, yet bursting with energy Rudy Van Gelder recording of Booker Ervin’s Freedom Book that Analogue Productions recently reissued, or that same label’s lushly immersive, warm as cashmere 45rpm edition of Nat King Cole’s The Very Thought of You, or the wonderfully raw, ragged glory of the Stones’ Exile on Main Street [Rolling Stone Records], Sutherland’s N1 delivers them whole while drawing us deeply into each performance.

Every now and again a component comes along that makes us realize afresh the talent and hard work that goes into making anything truly special at the artisan level, which of course is what high-end audio is all about. The pleasure of using Sutherland’s N1—in both the operational as well as musical realms—on an ongoing basis makes it, for me, one of those components. And because the N1 was inspired by designs from audio’s Golden Era, I will reach back as well and say that what Sutherland has created with N1 is high fidelity in the finest sense of that term. Kudos, Mr. Sutherland.

Specs & Pricing

Inputs: One phono, three line level, one unity gain for home-theater use
Outputs: Two paralleled per channel
Gain phonostage: 45, 50, 55, 60dB
Loading phonostage: 100, 200, 475, 1k, 10k, 47k
Dimensions: 17" x 3.5" x 18"
Weight: 22 lbs.
Price: $8000

Sutherland Engineering
455 East 79th Terrace
Kansas City, MO 64131
(816) 718-7898
sutherlandengineering.com

Associated Equipment
Rega RP10 and AMG Giro turntables; Rega Apheta and AMG Teatro moving-coil cartridges; VTL TL5.5II preamp and ST-150 power amplifier; Magnepan MG 1.7 loudspeakers; Tara Labs Zero interconnects, Omega speaker cables, The One power cords, and BP-10 Power Screen; Finite Elemente Spider equipment racks

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