By Lam Seng Fatt
The beauty of the made-in-Malaysia Jumpan IV preamp is that its designer Lau Wai Pan can tailor-make it to suit your preferences.
This revelation came about after a series of exchanges with Lau on FB Messenger. After listening to the Jumpan IV for a few days, I commented that the leading edges of music sounded rounded-off. So dedicated is Lau an audiophile deisigner that he quickly replied with an explanation and drawings as to why it could sound rounded off.
He said it is the MOS switch characteristic which rounded off the signal. This can be solved easily by replacing the MOS switch with relays and bring back the square shape to the square wave.
“To mimic the tube sound , I am using LED to power the MOS switch , this injects some even harmonics to the music ( similar effect as using LDR as volume control ). If you don’t want this ’round off ‘ harmonic thingie, just replace the MOS switch with relays. It will revert as raw.”
So I asked him if he could tailor-make his preamp for someone who prefers a harder-edged sound. “Yes I can. I can even have a few inputs sound smooth and some sound direct (without removing any rawness),” he replied. So if you are keen to buy his preamp, you can discuss your sonic preferences with him or opt for the two-in-one experience.
The Jumpan IV is the culmination of 14 years of research and experimenting with different circuits.
In this latest version, the preamp is battery-powered with Samsung 18650 rechargeable batteries which have a one-year warranty and their lifespan is an estimated four years. It also comes with an MM phono input, but unfortunately I could not test it as my cartridge is MC.
The Jumpan IV is the first preamp I have tried that starts to pump out listenable levels when the volume knob is around the 12 o’clock position. At 9 o’clock, there is barely any sound. Even at 10 o’clock there is little sound. It is also the first preamp I have encountered whose sound quality improves dramatically the louder it gets. In my system comprising a CEC belt-drive CD player used as transport, the Wyred 4 Sound DAC2, the Bryston 4BSST power amp driving a pair of ATC SCM50 floorstanders, the sweet spot when everything gelled and the sound was fabulous was when the volume knob was at the 1 o’clock position. Just a slight turn to make the music softer adversely affected the sound quality, but the problem was that at the 1 o’clock position, it was already very loud.
The Jumpan IV features this quirk because of the way Lau designed the volume control — the signal does not go through the volume control even though he uses a high quality ALPS potentiometer. Lau explained: “The volume knob (working in linear) is just to tell the circuit what volume you want. The circuit will transpose that into log info and bias the circuit accordingly.”
How did it sound? Very smooth. That was what Lau aimed for when he designed the preamp and thus he was successful. However I felt that the velvety smoothness robbed the music of some ‘rawness’ and the timbre of some instruments like the piano was rendered with less sparkle. Which was why I asked him if he could modify the preamp to deliver a harder edge to the music.
Lau added: “This unit uses ClarityCap CSA paralleled with Polystyrene Cap. The Polystyrene (0.1uf) could be reason that it sounded rounded off. For true performance it is recommended to use Mundolf Supreme.” I told you Lau can tailor-make the preamp to suit your preferences.
As for rhythmic punch, there is plenty when you hit the sweet spot on the volume knob. In fact, the sound quality when played at the sweet-spot level is quite commendable. The soundstage is quite wide and deep with decent layering. Images were very stable and there was no hint of harshness or brightness at all.
Lau, 45, who hails from Gopeng, Perak, graduated as an electrical engineer from UKM and his hobbies are designing stereo components and listening to music.
He was from a poor family and when he was still schooling he was supplementing his family income by repairing stereo components.
He has his own workshop in his house in Penang now and does everything from the PCB, circuit design, soldering and even engraving. He can engrave bespoke designs or the owner’s name if requested by customers.
Would I recommend the Jumpan IV preamp? It is actually quite affordable and if I want to buy it, I would go for the version with two sonic flavours — smooth and hard-edged. That should result in double happiness — if you are in a romantic mood and desire to listen to love ballads, you plug the interconnects into the ‘smooth’ inputs and if you are in the mood for some loud, raw rock ‘n roll, just plug into the ‘raw’ inputs.
The Jumpan IV is priced at RM4,000 (with phono) , RM3,200 without phono (still has four pairs input) and RM3,000 without phono and remote control. The two-in-one model will be available at the same price. The batteries have a one-year warranty. If they need to be changed, the owner can send the preamp to Lau and he will change the batteries and service the preamp for RM300. Other parts have a three-year warranty (transferable since Lau will note down each unit’s serial number) but the owner needs to bear shipping costs to and fro. Or the unit can be hand-delivered to him. Lau can be contacted at 012-5121787.