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Reviewer: Joël Chevassus
Financial Interests: Click here
Source: Audio Analogue Grand Maestro CD, Asus Eee-pc, Imac, Trends UD-10.1
Preamp: Wyred 4 Sound STP-SE
Power amplifier: Orpheus Lab Three Monos, Trends TA-10.2
Speakers: JLA Acoustique Perspective 2 Signature & Stand 80, McIntosh LS360, Triangle Magellan Duetto [on loan], Magellan Duetto SW2 [on loan], Meteor 0.5 subwoofer [on loan]
: Naturelle Audio XLR interconnects Live 8 and Live 4, Audio Art SC-5 SE speaker cables.
Power Cords: Audio Art Power 1 SE
Stands: Triangle SP-400, DIY stuff.
Review Component Retail: ca. €280 in Europe (varies with country due to VAT)

: I recently read interesting feedback about Sound Performance Lab aka SPL on some French audio forums. The final testimonial related to a specific monitor and headphone controller named 2Control, a kind of Swiss army knife device combining speaker and headphone monitoring functions with innovative features in an attractive desktop unit. This professional device allows connection and selection of two stereo sources, two stereo speaker sets and two headphones with analogue cross-feed control circuitry. A third mono speaker output can feed a subwoofer.

The poster had acquired the ca. €500 2Control and now made such compelling arguments comparing his new toy to the most renowned high-end references in the audiophile market place that I decided to contact SPL for a review. Sound Performance Lab—SPL Electronics GmbH to be correct—is a German company that has worked the audio sector for more than 20 years, albeit not in the audiophile segment even though there are plans to release future products for our kind.  This Niederkrüchten company offers exclusively analogue and digital audio processing solutions for the professional music, movie and broadcasting industries. They demonstrate a very solid background in audio technology and R&D. Besides their patented Vitalizer® sound optimizing technology, milestones of the company’s R&D history include the first level-independent dynamic envelope modeler Transient Designer, the launch of the first discrete 5.1 surround miking system Atmos 5.1 in 1998 and the development of the SPL Supra opamps with an unprecedented operating voltage of 120 volts. The Supra chips are integral parts of the SPL Mastering Series of dual- and multi-channel consoles and processors said to set benchmarks in audio signal processing that outperform existing analog or digital audio solutions. SPL clearly is no newbie of audio engineering.

I quickly agreed with marketing manager Paul Lentzen that a coming-out review on 6moons should focus on their simple Volume2 controller, a box that's utterly devoid of all other features. We thought it promising to measure the convenience of a pure simple active volume controller against a typically expensive high-end preamp in the context of an audiophile system. According to Paul, some of his customers don’t hesitate to insert this kind of device into a very purist chain. At first glance, it sounded like mixing soda with a fine Cognac XO. On one hand—and as most foodies would appreciate— I am quite opposed to wasting soda on Cognac, even more reluctant to waste fine Cognac by mixing it up with even prestigious designer soda. On the other hand, I often mix expensive whisky with water. In my experience, hardly any expensive Cognac with or without soda will edge out a great single-cask Scottish whisky diluted by an adequate quantity of water. What would the Volume2 turn out to be – soda or water?

Over the last few months, I've had the pleasure of welcoming at home a fine new piece of permanent equipment made by Wyred4 Sound, the STP-SE preamp which Srajan awarded last year and Frederic acquired for personal use. I am today extremely satisfied with the W4S which delivers simply amazing performances given its price. My final choice overcame a few hesitations about the Music First Silver passive preamp, also a great performer. How would the small German volume control costing 10 to 15 times less than my challengers perform? And what possible attraction could there be connecting a €280 pro unit to €10.000/pr audiophile statement mono amps from Swiss Orpheus Labs?

Before I suspend my preview until formal listening impressions follow, I need to clarify that I intend to thoroughly investigate the current Internet buzz. I was not really motivated by perhaps having to admit that I overspent in the past and could have saved serious dosh had I met the SPL Volume2 sooner. Also, I’ve often wondered whether gushing forum comments over cheap pro gear aren’t routinely linked to the simple fact that such Internet posters can’t afford bona fide high-end products. I personally have no issue spending money on audio gear whenever I’m convinced of its intrinsic value. I’m quite suspicious of miracles. Was I driven then by enthusiam over the prospect of calling out this particular Internet sensation as sham? Exorcism or true miracle?