Millennia LPE-2 MIX Review
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LPE-2 Review, February 2003

LPE-2 Review, MIX Magazine, February 2003, George Petersen

Millennia LPE-2 Analog Legacy Archival Playback Environment

Product concepts come from many sources, which too often today is simply an opportunity to make a quick buck, by offering another "me-too" box or knock-off of someone else's design. It's rare, but every now and then someone makes something totally from the heart, out of a pure love of audio. That someone is Millennia's founder John La Grou. That something is the LPE-2.

Referred to as a "playback environment," the LPE-2 is intended for restoration pros, mastering engineers and audiophiles seeking a no-compromise front-end for the playback of 33-1/3 (RIAA), 45 and 78 rpm records. Behind the 29-pound chassis' thick slab front panel, Class-A J-FET and bipolar amps are combined with Grayhill mil-spec switches, Neglex OFC wiring and passive components from Vishay, Roederstein/MELF, Wima and others. But the LPE-2 goes far beyond simply being a high-end stereo phono preamp.

The LPE-2 combines a preamp circuit (based on Millennia's acclaimed HV-3 mic preamp) with equalization compensation circuitry designed for serious archivists. Two independently-controllable channels of low frequency compensation (boost) and 10kHz HF rolloff allow users to quickly find a playback curve that matches any disk format. A preset for modern RIAA (essentially post-1950) records is also provided. As a phono preamp for LPs, using either Shure V15 or Audio-Technica AT150MLX cartridges, the LPE-2 offered unparalleled performance, with an absolute purity, clarity and solid channel separation (channels are gain-matched within 0.08 dB!) that would satisfy any audiophile, especially with its 200kHz bandwidth.

There are any number of fine RIAA preamps on the market. The real challenge stems from the playback of early recordings, various pre-equalization curves (or none at all) were applied to releases from different labels. For example, if you play an acoustic 78 (mostly pre-1925) recording with a modern RIAA preamp, the result is bass heavy, with a noticeable loss of high frequencies. As a starting point, the LPE-2's well-written manual includes a chart of suggested pre-equalization settings from dozens of labels. From there, users can select from 49 preset compensation combinations. A custom user preset can also be created by swapping several fixed internal capacitors--a useful touch for anyone archiving a large catalog from one particular source.

Inputs and outputs are via gold plated XLRs and RCA connectors, and the wide ranging input stage handles line- or phono-level signals, including a balanced feed from a phono cartridge. Designer La Grou recommends the latter, and as the coils in a cartridge act like a transformer feed, modifying your turntable to add balanced XLR outs is fairly simple. I however, stuck with the traditional RCA connections from my Esoteric Sound 78 disk player, equipped with an Audio-Technica AT-MONO3/SP moving coil cart (unfortunately not available in the USA). The LPE-2 had no problem handling the cart's MC output.

After the preamp section, the LPE-2 offers versatile, peak/shelving-switchable, 2-band low (20 to 260 Hz) and high (1k to 12k Hz) filters with a +/-10dB range for isolating or correcting rumble, groove degradation and surface noise problems. For pure "transfer-it-now/fix-it-later" applications, the filter use is optional--with hard-wire bypasses--but the filter action is so smooth, subtle and musical that I used them on nearly everything I archived. Also, the LPE-2's line I/Os provide access to the filter section, for tape mastering or any application requiring a sweet HF/LF program EQ, when mixing drums, vocals, strings--just about anything, making the LPE-2 useful for everyday studio chores, even when you're not archiving.

Working on numerous projects over several months, I couldn't find anything to fault about the LPE-2--other than its $9,500 retail. However, the LPE-2 is an absolutely first-class unit providing functions that no other box delivers, with impeccable performance and a feel and build (inside and out) that's stellar. For reference playbacks in mastering houses, audio preservationists or anyone else working with recording's legacy, the LPE-2 is bargain priced indeed.


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