MBL 6010D_post
he MBL 6010 D full-function solidstate preamplifier is the finest
example of its breed I have ever
heard. Although it is not a perfect
component (no component is perfect),
it nonetheless comes closer to my
ideal of what a preamplifier should do
than any other (solid-state) unit.
Sporting a complete complement of
features, including full remote control,
first-class moving-coil-capable phono
section, dual adjustable (for level and
left-right balance) single-ended and
balanced outputs, and a full bevy of line inputs that can be adjusted so that all input levels are
similar, the 6010 D is loaded for bear. In its sonics, the 6010 D is in that rarefied field at the top
that includes such components as the Plinius M-16, Levinson 32, Conrad-Johnson ART II,
Wyetech Opal, Tom Evans Vibe, BAT VK 50 SE, and Burmester 808 Mk V. Of these, the Plinius,
Levinson, and Burmester are available with built-in phono stages. I have not heard the Levinson,
however, I can tell you that the Plinius M-16’s phono stage is more than acceptable, although not
the last word. The Burmester 808 Mk V has an excellent MC stage, better than the Plinius, but
the MBL’s MC section is extremely fine, indeed, almost as good as some stand-alone units that
cost four grand or more.
So this is quite a package, both in features and in sheer bulk. I knew that the preamp was
large from having seen it at shows, but I forgot what how seriously massive it is. It weighs 77
pounds! Somehow I managed to unpack it and get it onto a shelf in my Arcici Suspense Rack.
The big Burmester is also weighty, but there you are getting a separate power supply to break it
up into two pieces. Here you have one major aluminum case with all of the goodies packaged
inside in module form. My review sample was lavishly finished in what MBL calls Arctic Silver, a
lustrous pale Mercedes-Benz-like silver automotive finish that was as flawless and thick as I have
ever seen on a piece of audio equipment.
Sockets, switches, plugs, and potentiometers in the 6010 D are, according to the manual,
of the highest quality to ensure perfect interaction. MBL says that they designed the cabinet to
allow for optimal signal flow between the individual electronic plug-in modules. The resulting
exterior shape of the 6010 D is a little on the bulky side, but it is so well finished and executed
that I fell in love with it straight away. The volume knob and the source selector are machined
from solid brass. In my review version, these large knobs have a high-gloss chrome finish, while
the controls on the gloss black units sport 24-carat gold plate.
MBL’s plug -in module technology offers the option of updating the preamp as a customer
desires, all the way from a stock unit to one decked out, as the review unit was, with the full
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available complement of inputs and outputs. The basic 6010 D built as a complete preamplifier is
equipped with two CD inputs, a tuner input, two tape loops, and six output terminals. Two extra
slots can be fitted with phono modules (MM or MC), balanced or CD-direct inputs. And, as I
mentioned, all input signal levels can be fine-tuned. A processor input (bypass) is provided for
possible connection of a high-end video system. Volume, mute, and input selection are available
from the remote unit. This is a remarkably well thoug ht-out and executed design from an
industrial standpoint, and as functional as anything I have ever seen. If I had a complaint, it’s that
the look and feel of the remote-control unit is not up the level of the rest of the preamplifier. Oh, it
works well enough. But it is too plain and insubstantial for the 6010 D. Come on, MBL, give us a
heavy chunk of machined aluminum with big buttons that are clearly marked, something that
looks and feels like a million bucks.
The 6010 D’s power supply is an example of overkill, in the same manner as that of the
Burmester 808, and largely responsible for the relaxed and controlled composure of the preamp,
as well as its ability to deliver devastatingly hard-hitting bass and realistic dynamic impact across
the rest of the audio spectrum. The line amps for the CD inputs and output-driver amplifiers
contain sophisticated bias current compensators to eliminate the need for coupling capacitors in
the signal path, so the preamp can be run in a fully DC-coupled configuration.
To correctly describe the sound of the 6010 D, I’ll have to go back in history a little. In early
in 1992 I requested the then-current version of the 6010 D for a Harry Pearson review. Well, we
got one, sure enough, and it was a heavy then as it is now, and looked remarkably similar.
Except that one was black, and it sounded not so pretty. The preamp looked the part of a top
performer, but it manifested a thin, analytical, bleached presentation that was devoid of true
harmonic color and lacking in correctly balanced bass weight. Neither HP nor I cared for the
sound of the unit, and after a time I packed it up and returned it to the distributor. Through the
next several years, I heard other MBL products, as well as the 6010 D, both at private
demonstrations and at CES each January. I realized that something good was going on at these
other auditions, and resolved to have another go at the big MBL preamp. But other products
always seemed to get ahead in the queue and revisiting the 6010 D was delayed.
At the 2002 CES, I heard a demonstration of MBL’s latest gear using the 6010 D and a set
of 101 D Radialstrahler loudspeakers (the ones that look like Barbara Eden’s bottle in I Dream of
Genie), as well as a set of its back-breaker amplifiers, the 9010 C, in monoblock mode. The
sound this time was breathtakingly gorgeous, with no hardness or thinness at all. As a matter of
fact, the system’s acoustic signature seemed to be linked directly to the recording’s; I could not
discern that the system itself was doing anyt hing except play what was on the discs. With great
anticipation, I requested a 6010 D for review and several weeks later I received it.
I played the 6010 D in my home system for a few weeks. Impressed and more than a little
surprised at the wholesale transformation from years ago, I realized that the company had been
listening to its own equipment, music, other gear, and to what critics had been saying. Here we
have a wonderfully sweet-sounding preamplifier that is noiseless and grainless and possessed of
enormous dynamic reserves. At low-to-medium levels, the 6010 D is capable of impressive threedimensional layering in depth and the ability to present a wide-open stage (both vertically and
horizontally), with silky highs out to infinity and extremely pote nt bass. My system at the time was
centered around two high-efficiency speaker systems, the Lamhorn 1.8 and the Coincident
Speaker Technology Victory. I was using several SET amps and the AtmaSphere M-60
monoblock OTLs, too, as well as the AtmaSphere MP-1, a full-feature preamp like the MBL, and
not too much less expensive ($9,800). The chief difference here was pure tube versus pure SS
operation. Where the AtmaSphere sounded slightly more distant, with a big, super-relaxed, and
billowing soundstage that seemed to fill the room, the MBL was more vividly intense, more
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focused on individual instruments, and tidier in its rendition of the soundstage. The MP-1 had a
slight tendency to make every recording sound as if it had a wonderful big acoustic (pleasing to
be sure, if not entirely accurate), where the MBL painted a more different sonic portrait for each
recording, sometimes sculpting precise and dimensional vistas of sound with a given recording
and at other times allowing me to hear manipulation of the soundstage or the (mis)application of
mikes or some other flaw in the recording. I achieved the best performance driving the M-60
AtmaSpheres in balanced mode from the 6010 D.
Much as I knew that I had a really top-flight performer in hand, I quickly recognized that my
home system at the time was not capable of extracting the full potential of the MBL, never mind
find it true limits (and limitations). So I packed the thing off to HP’s and stuck it in his main
system. Here, in conjunction with the Alón Exotica Grand Reference and the Hurricane amplifiers
and Clearaudio and Burmester front ends, I was able to come to grips with the MBL’s
The preamp displayed the same traits I
had heard in my own system, and expanded
from there. Certainly one of the most
impressive aspects of this preamp is its
dynamic authority. On really big passages,
whether it was an orchestra in full cry or a 45
RPM dance-single belting out the bass line,
the 6010 D repeatedly surprised and almost
scared me with its ability to let totally
uncompressed sounds pass through it without
flinching. Records like Prokofiev’s Scythian
Suite (Classic/Mercury LP SR-90006), with its
pounding nine-foot concert bass drum and
terrifying in their impact at concert volume.
Along with such dynamic ability comes some of the deepest and most viscerally satisfying bass
reproduction I have ever heard. For all of its bombast, however, the 6010 D is able to capture the
most minute details in a recording. All of the subtleties of the harpsichord’s pluckings are
illuminated in a brilliant yet never harsh light on The Strayaway Child (Song of the Wood LP
7811); and the high percussion from the “Gulliver Suite” on Herrmann’s The Fantasy Film World
of Bernard Herrmann (Decca LP PFS-4309) sparkled like crystal in bright sunlight. This preamp
is rated to have useable response from DC to 1MHz, and, as far up as I can hear (my ears crap
out between 18-19kHz), it certainly delivers excellent high-frequency extension, purity, and gritfree transients and overtones. I began to do the silly audiophile thing of looking for recordings
that would be glorified by the MBL, even if it was not my favorite music. Even after I tired of that,
though, I found that I still wanted to remain and listen to music, so non-fatiguing and puresounding was the 6010 D. Although the MBL’s phono stage comes with a factory loading of 100
ohms, I found the open, extended, and vivid sound through the phono section to match that of the
linestage portion of the preamp, something that is not always the case. Too often today, LPs
seem to be given second-citizen status in full preamps, but not by the MBL. If I were using this
preamp as a stand-alone device (sans separate phono stage), I would not worry a bit that I was
getting less that I should from my records. Perhaps units like the Plinius M-14 or the Groove can
retrieve a bit more information from the grooves of an LP, but the MC section in the 6010 D is so
well matched sonically to the rest of the circuit that it works seamlessly and invisibly.
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Because the MBL is so spectacular at the frequency extremes, I have neglected the unit’s
midrange performance. Here there is a musically seamless naturalness, both tonally and
dynamically, that meshes so well with the top and bottom of the frequency spectrum that I had a
hard time ascribing any outright colorations to the unit. Upon extended listening and comparisons
to the other top preamps in-house, such as the Wyetech Labs Opal, the ART II, and the Vibe, I
came to see that the dominant character of the 6010 D is one of slightly lighter-than-real-life
textures and a treble sweetness that, while perhaps a little more glamorous than it should be, is
nonetheless musically consonant and quite seductive to the ear. Also, the dynamic ability the
6010 D shows in the bass seems not quite as pronounced throughout the midband, where the
sound could, on occasion, seem a little squashed as the volume knob was advanced. This is not
a question of amplifier power, mind you, but a slight inconsistency in the manner in which
dynamics are decoded by the unit. Certainly this is not a serious failing, and one that becomes
apparent only because of the excellence of the bass. But this slight lack of dynamic
continuousness is there, and it is audible on systems of sufficient resolution.
Regardless of this slight dichotomy in performance, the 6010 D was a revelation with
super-explosive discs with fast and dynamic midrange content and bass alike such as Gladiator
(Decca/Universal CD 289 467 094-2) or Bob Dylan’s Unplugged (Columbia CD CK 67000), which
boasts some of the most natural-sounding vocals and acoustic guitars I’ve heard, analog or
digital, and such dynamic vocals and harmonica that it can startle you even after repeated
listenings. Complex instrumental lines are unraveled and clearly delineated, right along with a
stoic bass foundation and exceptional air. The harmonic structure of the midrange reproduction
is, in the end, just a touch richer than life, but I do not find this a significant or deleterious flaw—
easily forgiven when listening to music.
Toward the end of the review period, I briefly compared the Burmester 808 MK V and the
MBL 6010 D directly and in my judgment the Burmester, at just over $30,000, was no better than
the MBL; it was just different. A tad more dynamically seamless top to bottom than the MBL,
perhaps, but also not as sweet and lush. Is the approximately $15,000 difference in price worth it
for the Burmester owner? That of course depends on the sonic biases of the purchaser. For me, I
have to admit that I was easily seduced by the MBL’s styling, build quality, and sonic brio, and I
would not hesitate to buy one if I could afford it. It is one of the few pieces of stereo gear I have
heard over the years, joining the Forsell Air-Bearing CD Transport and the Shahinian Hawk
loudspeakers, that I covet. Now I want to hear what MBL’s under- $3,000 4004 A full preamp
sounds like; that is something I could almost afford!
Manufacturer Information:
MBL America
19162 N. 88th Way
Scottsdale, AZ 85255
Phone: 480 563 4393
Price: $15,180 for the base unit
-second input/output group: $3,729
-MC phono section:
-CD direct:
-XLR input:
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Associated Equipment:
VPI HW-19 MK IV turntable w/VPI JMW Memorial 10.5 arm, VPI
Aries Scout turntable w/VPI JMW 9 Memorial arm; Benz LP,
Clearaudio Harmony Wood, and Madrigal Carnegie 1 MC
cartridges; Plinius M-14 phono section, Plinius M-16 (solid-state)
and Emotive Audio Sira (tubed) line stages; NAT Se1, Viva
300B, and Manley Labs Neo-Classic SE/PP 300B SET
amplifiers; Forsell Air-Bearing CD Transport and EAD
Theatermaster DAC, Lamhorn 1.8 and Coincident Speaker
Technology Victory loudspeakers, SLM/Janis subwoofer; Siltech
Gen III, Audio Magic, and Stealth Technologies interconnects
and loudspeaker cabling, Arcic Suspense Rack
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