In 1936 the Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman asked Arturo Toscanini to conduct the opening benefit concert of the Palestine Symphony in New York. The musicians, most of whom had fled Europe after the Nazis rose to power in Germany, were both terrified and elated to rehearse under the famously tyrannical Toscanini, who spent a month in Palestine preparing the orchestra for its American debut. “Mr. Huberman,” the violinist Lorand Fenyves exclaimed after one session, “Toscanini is a magician! He doesn’t simply conduct the orchestra; he hypnotizes us.”
Something similar could be said about the character of the new Boulder 3010 preamplifier and 2108 phono preamplifier. In an era when the noise floor and distortion levels of playback equipment keep receding, Boulder has once more upped its game to offer some unique sonic attributes. Aficionados of vinyl playback will recall that Boulder made quite a splash over a decade ago with the introduction of its 2008 phonostage, which became a lust object for not a few audiophiles. I never had a chance to hear the 2008 at length, but did have the chance to review the 2000-series preamplifier and amplifier, both of which constituted what was then the acme of solid-state performance that I had hitherto experienced, in terms of resolution, grip, and bass control.
In the span of those years, much has changed in the audio industry, at least when it comes to improvements in musical playback. I’ve had the opportunity to hear a number of stellar products, ranging from D’Agostino to VTL to CH Precision, that were the equivalent of staring at a painting from different angles and noticing different details. So my curiosity was definitely piqued when I learned from Boulder representative Rich Maez that the company was not only completing the construction of a new factory, but also revising its upper-echelon equipment. My memories of the 2000 series were so positive that I was eager to hear what Boulder would accomplish next. It was not exactly what I expected. I had fond memories of the stentorian grasp and frequency extension of the 2000 series equipment. But the latest Boulder gear wasn’t as overtly overwhelming as the earlier iterations. Instead, I realized after a few weeks that the Boulder gear, particularly the preamplifier, was pulling a Houdini-like act. What it didn’t do was as significant as what it did.
The 3010, you could say, is master and commander. It has a wealth of controls, ranging from a remarkable six pairs of outputs, which can be separately attenuated, to a “blend” function that allows you to change an early stereo track to mono, if you wish, by progressively blending the channels. But apart from all the technical wizardry, there is the musical factor.
With the 3010, there appears to be no overhang on notes. They start and stop on a dime, but always in the most refined manner. If there is a good deal of pedal applied to a piano note, it will linger in the air but then terminate in a gentle but definite fashion into black space. If grace notes are there, they will appear for a fleeting second, only to disappear into the ether. Put otherwise, the 3010 is an exacting preamplifier. There is no escape from its authority. Each finger stroke of a piano key, gentle or ferocious, will be rendered with complete precision. Tympani strikes emerge with well-nigh annihilatory power. Overall, the alacrity and crunch of the 3010 preamplifier endow it with a lifelike character.
Add in its shocking clarity and you’re starting to approach the real thing. It’s a bit like staring down Crater Lake in Oregon in its extreme transparency. Turn up the dial on the 3010’s volume control to your heart’s content and what you will hear is no change. Oh, the sound pressure level will increase. But what will not alter is the musical presentation. There will be zero increase in distortion. To a degree that I have not previously experienced with a preamp, the 3010 preamp is a proverbial straight wire with gain.
Boulder explains that in the 3010 it has constructed gain modules that handle both the positive and inverted halves of each channel. Previously it had employed a single gain-stage module designed for each half of each channel. Now it has machined a specially shaped module with integrated heatsinking that can house both gain stages, while providing sufficient passive cooling to prevent the gain stages from overheating. According to Boulder, the dual gain stage provides for more consistent thermal tracking of each half of the signal, and keeping all circuitry on a single board in the module helps to ensure that the response from the module is more accurate. This translates into a variety of benefits.