Frequently Asked Questionsimg

LKV’s Chief Designer Bill Hutchins answers some questions.

Why did you create LKV Research?
First, we believe that we can provide music lovers with great, high-end sound at affordable prices.  The key is to focus on the elements of each system component that really make a difference, and use sound engineering and design principles and careful listening sessions to make each of those elements as strong as possible.   We have the discipline to concentrate our effort and resources on the important stuff and the skill to make it function properly.
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What do you mean by “important stuff”?
Our first product is a phono preamp, so I’ll use that as an example.  The most important aspect of a good phono preamp is low noise.  Because the cartridge puts out such a tiny voltage, the phono stage has to amplify it by 1,000 times.  Any noise gets amplified too, so low noise is number one for the phono amp designer.
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Is it expensive to make a truly quiet amp?  Don’t you need lots of big capacitors and other specialized components?
No.  Low noise is really a question of good design.  You need to start with nice clean DC power supply rails.  Clean power can cost a lot if you use a brute force approach with a whole bunch of big electrolytic caps.  You can, however, get just as good a result, if not better, with sound design, using fewer caps, multiple voltage regulators, a couple of RC (resistor capacitor) filters, and capacitance multiplier circuits.   The parts for such a power supply do not need to be terribly expensive.
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What about the gain circuitry itself?
Here too, you get low noise from designSome aspects of our design that reduce noise are:  Use of low noise components, especially the active devices like transistors;  noise cancelling circuitry; proper circuit board layout; resistor values as low as feasible.None of this is very costly.  The very low noise field effect transistors we use cost us only eighty three cents apiece.  A well thought out circuit board layout won’t set you back any more than a lousy one will.  Our noise cancelling differential circuitry doubles the number of transistors and resistors we need, but we are talking about needing maybe 10 or 20 more devices that cost well under a dollar apiece.
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Are there other elements required for a good phono amp?
Oh yes.  A good phono amp will have low distortion, ample headroom, accurate RIAA equalization, minimal crosstalk, and flexibility to accommodate a variety of cartridges and systems.  We have an article on our website which discusses each of these in some detail.  But, the bottom line is the same as for noise.  Good design supported by repeated listening sessions will get you what you want without having to spend an exorbitant amount of money.
I don’t want to mislead you.  In the aggregate, the parts needed for a good design that will deliver truly excellent sound do add up in cost, so such a device cannot be cheap.  But it needn’t cost an arm and a leg either.  We are committed to asking our customers to pay only for what is really needed to create great sound and to keeping that cost as low as possible through careful design.
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Some in the high end would say that you have to use op amps and feedback if you want good measurements at a reasonable cost, that discrete designs without feedback are necessarily more expensive.
Op amp circuits can be done at somewhat lower cost than discrete designs because the parts count with op amps is lower.  But again, we are talking about a few resistors and transistors, all of which are really relatively inexpensive.  We have found it is very feasible to get low noise, low distortion and all the other key elements for good performance at a reasonable cost with discrete, class A, zero feedback circuits.  You’re going to get tired of hearing me say it, but the key again is good design.  And, the payoff is great sound.
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Do you really think discrete circuits sound better than those that use op amps?
You can get good results (and some very bad ones) with both approaches.  There are some excellent op amp circuits on the market these days.  They sound good and measure superbly.  LKV is planning to bring some out, and we expect them to give very good sound at low cost.  But to my ears, a very well designed, zero feedback discrete design can give you a little bit more of the music, the real thing, than can a similarly well designed feedback design.
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There are some technical reasons why feedback can be a problem in audio circuits, but I like to think of it this way.  Feedback, whether in an op amp or discrete circuitry, requires very high gain which is then reduced with negative feedback.  With the high gain comes high distortion, which is also reduced by the feedback.  In essence, what you’re doing is making something of poor quality (the high-gain distorted signal) and then repairing it with feedback.  The measured results using various test tones are often excellent. But I cannot be convinced that the complex musical signals get through the distort-and-fix process unscathed.   And my ears tell me they don’t.
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What is your second reason for starting LKV?
We would like to be able to contribute in at least a small way to restoring manufacturing in this country.  If we don’t start making more salable products here, most of us are going to be working at low paying service jobs.  To this end, LKV is manufacturing its products in the U.S. and is sourcing as many of its component parts as feasible from the U.S.  That can be tough to do in the electronics business, because most of the available active devices (e.g., transistors) are made in the Far East.  But some of our transistors are made here, as are almost all the resistors we use, our custom transformers, our enclosures, and many of our connectors and switches, among other parts.  We are always looking for more U.S. suppliers.
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What is your background in audio and electronics?
I grew up listening to live classical music played in our living room by my mother and her chamber music aficionado friends.  Really well reproduced violin or cello music still transports me back to the spot on the family’s living room rug where I lay to listen.  As a teenager, whenever I could scrape up three or four dollars, I went to the local record store to buy an acoustic folk recording.  I wore out every one of those records playing them again and again on an old record player that I now think must have had a chisel for a needle.
In electronics, I am basically self taught.  I started years ago, when my parents gave me a Heathkit radio for Christmas when I was 12.  I was disappointed because I wanted a basketball.  It was several months before my curiosity got the best of me, and I opened up the Heathkit box and built the thing, a transistor portable radio the size of a small lunch box.   I connected the battery, turned it on and …. Nothing.  It didn’t work.  After resisting my first urge to throw it against the wall and watch it smash, I got to work trying to figure out what was wrong.  Eventually, I got it working, and so began my education in electronics.   
My day job was as a lawyer litigating cases mostly in Federal Court.  But much of my spare time for many, many years has been taken up with studying electronics, and designing, building, listening to, testing, modifying and troubleshooting amps, preamps and speakers.  I held a Ham radio license for a number of years, and in that period I worked on radio gear as well. 
Whenever something I built didn’t work the way I expected, I analyzed the device to understand its basic operating principles, read everything I could about it, and put the thing right, sometimes after long periods of frustrating efforts.  In the process I got a pretty good education.
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LKV’s first product is the Phono 2SB.  How does it sound?
That’s a question each potential buyer needs to answer for him or herself.  We sell over the Internet only to keep the cost to our customers down.  We offer a 30 day trial period with a full refund so the buyers can make their own assessment of the sound in their own rooms and systems.
To answer your question, I think the Phono 2SB sounds very, very good.  I could go on at great length extolling its virtues, but will just mention one aspect of the sound I find very appealing: its resolution of low level detail.  In a good system with low distortion speakers, I hear the overtones, subtle variations, small sounds and texture that make music sound real.  In each successive prototype we built and auditioned I heard more of this.  It makes the music both very realistic and engaging.  Subtle effects in how an instrument is played or a note sung are revealed and I “get” more of what the artist is doing.  I find myself sucked into the music. Images of singers and instruments are solid, three dimensional and “present” in my listening room.
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Does LKV have other products in the works?
Absolutely.  As I mentioned earlier, we are working on an op amp based phono unit: we hope we can sell it for mid three figures.  We expect to be able to put into this unit much of the sonic excellence of the Phono 2B.
We are also developing a buffered line stage, that is, a preamp without gain circuitry that will have line level inputs, a volume control and source selector, as well as a buffered output to provide ample current and to lower output impedance.  With the high voltage outputs we see from today’s line level sources, such as CD players, you really don’t need gain in your preamp.  In fact, it is often a nuisance.  We are thinking of offering two add-on boards as options for this unit: one, a digital analog converter that will accept USB input from a computer; and, two, a phono board.  With these two options installed, you could plug your computer or other digital source into one slot and your turntable spinning a black LP into another.  The meeting of technology from the early 20th Century with that from the 21st in one great sounding box.  How cool is that?
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News and Developments
New products, Upcoming events, Design breakthroughs and major developments at LKV.

26 Apr 2016
Stereophile Review: Michael Fremer says the LKV Veros One phono preamplifier is a "Class A performer" from which "utterly natural" music emerged. Read more.

26 Apr 2016
LKV Research will be demonstrating its Veros One phono stages and preamplifiers in Room 321 at Capital Audiofest July 8-10, 2016. Please join us at the Hilton Hotel at Twinbrook Metro, 1750 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852.

7 July 2015
LKV Research will be demonstrating its Veros One phono stage and its Line One preamplifier in Room 321 at Capital Audiofest on August 28-30, 2015. Full Press Release.

2 Jan 2015
LKV Research announces upgrades to the Phono 2-SB. Full Press Release.

Jan 2015
Enjoy the Music honors the Line One as one of the 20 best of 2014. Full Press Release.

31 Dec 2014
Positive Feedback honors the Veros One as one the best that they’ve reviewed during the course of the year. Full Press Release.

Nov/Dec 2014
Pete Davey of Positive Feedback reviews the Veros One, and concludes, "So, there you have it. The LKV Veros One is now the holy grail of phonostages, in my opinion, and I implore you to try one if you haven't already, there is definitely something you are missing from your system if you haven't." Full Press Release.

Oct 2014
Tom Lyle of Enjoy the Music reviews the Line One, saying that "the Line One sounds more like music than a piece of audio equipment. There is no higher praise." Full Press Release.