Austin Audio Works Black Swan Phono Preamplifier Review

Austin Audio Works Black Swan Phono Preamplifier Review

Barry Thorton is somebody who thinks deeply concerning the nature of sound and why people take heed to music.

Austin Audio Works Black Swan Phono Preamplifier

Through his firm, Austin Audio Works, he’s designing and constructing, together with his personal two palms, parts that primarily carry out the position of the mythically excellent element: straight wire with achieve. To that finish, he’s designing and constructing circuits that take away the noise that muddies the purity of the musical sign. His Black Swan phono preamplifier is one instance of his design philosophy. So how does it sound?


Austin Audio Works Black Swan Phono Preamplifier Highlights

  • You can modify cartridge resistance and capacitance loading on the fly with knobs on the face of the unit.
  • Three cartridge inputs: two for MM and one for MC.
  • Both unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR outputs.
  • Adjustable achieve, so you should use it as a preamplifier.
  • Can be used with a balanced tonearm (extra on that under).
  • Can be used to drive a pair of headphones with an acceptable 4-pin XLR cable.
  • Designed and constructed within the USA.

Upon first look, the Black Swan phono preamplifier from Austin Audio Works actually isn’t that a lot to take a look at. It’s a plain black field with white lettering.

But don’t let the seems to be idiot you. This factor is full of options you merely gained’t discover in one other phono preamplifier on this worth vary. The Black Swan has not one, not two, however THREE phono inputs. It has a achieve knob so you possibly can connect it on to an amplifier and use it as a preamplifier. That lets you ship a a lot purer analog sign to your amplifier and audio system. And you possibly can modify cartridge resistance and capability loading on the fly with the knobs on the face. No jumpers to maneuver round with tweezers and no toggle switches to flip with a toothpick. Just good, old style knobs you twirl round till your cartridge sounds nearly as good as you may get it. And, as if that weren’t sufficient, you get each RCA and XLR outputs.

The Black Swan is the brainchild of Barry Thorton, the person behind Austin Audio Works. He is skilled each as an anthropologist and as a physicist. As a physicist, he understands the basics of how electrons circulate from one level to a different. But as an anthropologist, he thinks deeply not solely about HOW we people take heed to music but additionally WHY we take heed to music. By combining these two disciplines into his audio design paradigm, Thornton is designing and constructing parts that do a outstanding job of passing electrons from one level to a different with out imposing any character on the electrons by any means. The Austin Audio Works Black Swan sells for $1450 and is bought on to shoppers by means of the corporate’s web site.

Austin Audio Works Black Swan Phono Preamplifier Rear

Austin Audio Works Black Swan Phono Preamplifier Specifications

Two pair RCA
One pair balanced XLR


One pair RCA
One pair balanced XLR
“AAW Link” 4-pin XLR


RCA, left or proper channel right into a 10kOhm load, 9vRMS
XLR balanced right into a 10kOhm load, 18vRMS


MM at 1vRMS out Ref 5mV in at 1kHz, 0.003% THD + noise
MC at 1vRMS out Ref 1mV in at 1kHz, 0.003% THD + noise


MM at 47kOhm and 0pF setting, achieve at 45dB, enter reference 5mV, output 1vRMS into 10kOhm load, -70dB unweighted, -80 “A” weighted.
MC at 100Ohm and 0pF setting, achieve at 65dB, enter reference 0.5mV, output 1vRMS into 10kOhm load, -58dB unweighted, -68dB “A” weighted.


MC 100mV
MM 6mv


+/- 0.1db






3 lbs. (1.3kg)


7.9” (201mm) large x 4.77” (122mm) deep x 3.6” (90mm) excessive




$1,645.00 USD


Austin Audio Works, Black Swan, MM, MC, cartridge, phono, preamplifier, mono, stereo, evaluations 2023

Austin Audio Works Black Swan Phono Preamplifier Diagram


The Black Swan is a solid-state phono preamplifier designed and constructed by hand by Barry Thorton in Austin, Texas. The design of the Black Swan began from the concept that the resolving functionality of a phono preamplifier is influenced by noise. It is actually two impartial amplifiers with passive equalization that share a standard energy provide in a standard chassis. While the inputs are labeled “Left” and “Right,” there isn’t any inside dedication to both a left or proper channel. It’s the job of the cartridge to differentiate between left and proper, and the Black Swan simply will get out of the best way and lets the cartridge’s alerts journey by means of.

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Its energy provide is 16VRMS, makes use of low-voltage AC, and is remoted from the grounds and mains energy system by its transformer. This transformer can also be a giant inductive filter to reject line noise. The unit’s inside energy system takes the balanced AC and produces buffered, remoted, and controlled DC voltages to energy the unit’s amplifiers.

On its face to the left are two knobs for setting loading and capacitance for MM carts, then a toggle swap to decide on between MM inputs 1 or 2. There is one other toggle swap to the suitable to decide on between the MM or MC enter. Then there are two knobs for setting loading and capacitance for MC carts. To the farthest proper is the achieve adjustment knob.

On the rear of the unit to the left are three XLR outputs, the “AAW Link,” and left and proper XLR, then there are the 2 RCA outputs. To the suitable of these are the three pairs of RCA inputs for the 2 MM and one MC tonearms. Then there’s a floor terminal and the enter for the ability provide. While not on my evaluation pattern, I’ve been knowledgeable {that a} rotary swap will likely be added to the again aspect that can modify the depth of the entrance panel blue energy LED, going ahead.

What’s this about balanced tonearm output?

According to Thornton, it’s extremely possible that your turntable feed is wired in balanced mode already though it’s terminated with RCA connectors. To that finish, he designed the Austin Audio Works Black Swan for use in a balanced mode. The Black Swan makes use of a differential amplifier as a primary stage, which suggests the sign path will stay balanced all through the amplifier. To check that, you possibly can flip a toggle swap on the face of the unit to find out if the sound of the tonearm improves or not. Very easy. Please word that the tonearm have to be grounded to run it in balanced mode.

Austin Audio Works Black Swan Phono Preamplifier Inside

Designed for the bottom noise ground.

According to Thornton, the enter achieve stage is a very powerful system in a phono preamplifier. In the Black Swan, he employs a compound parallel enter method that mixes 4 precision low-noise achieve cells. The cells are configured such that the phases cancel one another’s internally generated silicon-based noise and thus obtain an unprecedentedly low operational noise character.

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The Black Swan has each unbalanced RCA and balanced three-pin XLR outputs. There can also be an “Austin Audio Works Link,” which is an alternate, balanced 4-pin XLR output. This lets you join the Black Swan to a different Austin Audio Works amplifier with a single 4-pin XLR cable. Neat.

The Austin Audio Works Link may also be used to drive a pair of headphones if they’re wired with an acceptable four-pin XLR connector. The unit’s handbook supplies a wiring diagram for this.

RIAA Equalization

The RIAA equalization within the Black Swan is solely passive. Employing lively equalization can produce time-based dynamic distortions similar to slewing inter-modulation distortion and transient inter-modulation distortion. Anytime suggestions is used to attempt to “excellent” a filter community’s amplitude or section efficiency, you lose among the dynamic efficiency of the filter. The alternative and use of higher parts and a bit extra design effort can present dramatic sonic enhancements that offset any of the price financial savings obtained.


The set up was comparatively simple. Attach your tonearm output cable(s) into the suitable MC or MM enter then connect the ability provide, and also you’re good to go. A blue LED will let you already know the factor is powered on, and there’s no on/off swap. I hold it powered on 24/7 and use some electrical tape to cowl the LED gentle as a result of it is vitally brilliant.

I examined the Black Swan with my restored Thorens TD-124 turntable and a Jelco SA-250 9-inch tonearm. That tonearm has a detachable headshell so I used three completely different cartridges with it.

In Use

The first cart I listened to is a Zu Audio Denon DL-103R within the authentic silver physique ($700US). Its output voltage is .25mV. I had this cart rebuilt by Joseph Long, aka “groovetickler” on Instagram. I had badly bent the cantilever a few years in the past, and Long changed it with a brand new hardened aluminum-magnesium cantilever and reused the unique stylus diamond. It was wonderful work at a wonderful worth, and he resurrected a cart I had written off as ineffective.

The second cart is a Grado Platinum Statement high-output transferring coil cart ($400US). Its output voltage is 4.0 mV.

And the third cart is an inexpensive and cheerful Audio Technica VM610 mono MM cart ($140US). Its output voltage is 3.0mV. This cart has a 0.6mil conical stylus on an aluminum cantilever.

Austin Audio Works Black Swan Phono Preamplifier Inside

For the testing of the Austin Audio Works Black Swan, my system comprised an Orchard Audio Starkrimson Stereo Ultra amplifier driving a pair of Polk Audio Legend L600 audio system. Preamp used was the Schiit Audio Freya+. I ran the Freya+ in its passive mode in the course of the cartridge comparisons to take away as a lot coloration as doable from the sound.

Over the years I’ve discovered that the steered loading and capacitance settings steered for a cartridge are simply that, recommendations. Those numbers provide you with a goal to get near however aren’t at all times precisely right. And these settings could also be good for one album however not the most effective for one more album. That is why I like utilizing phono preamplifiers that allow me to simply modify loading and capacitance settings with adjustment knobs.

I acquired within the behavior of writing down the configuration of the Black Swan that labored for specific albums and cartridges in a pocket book I hold close to my system. That manner I may rapidly modify the Black Swan to what I wished for every by simply turning a few knobs rapidly. Note that I didn’t must open the element to get to jumper cables or discover a toothpick to maneuver round any dipswitches. My life-style alternative is to not use phono preamplifiers that don’t allow me to simply change settings on the fly.

A word about achieve matching

Because it has a achieve adjustment, you possibly can theoretically use the Austin Audio Works Black Swan as a pure preamplifier. However, there isn’t any assure it’ll combine nicely with all amplifiers. When I ran the Austin Audio Works Black Swan straight into my Orchard Audio Starkrimson Stereo Ultra amplifier, which outputs various energy, the output achieve was far too excessive for me to take heed to my satisfaction. Using a Schiit SYS passive preamp enabled the Black Swan to behave with the Starkrimson amp, however that defeated the aim, and I ended up abandoning that train. However, the Black Swan built-in very nicely with my Mcintosh MC30 tube amps, which output 30 watts per channel. That mixture gave me the most effective analog sound I’ve ever heard in my system. The tubey midrange magic of that mixture was detailed and really quick.


Slack “Bigger Than Breakfast”

Slack, Bigger Than Breakfast (Blue Yonder Sounds 0113, 1987), performed with the Zu Denon DL-103R stereo cart. Slack have been a six-piece outfit that delivered the utmost funk on this album. I’ve been listening to this album since 1987, however the Black Swan confirmed me features of the music I by no means even suspected have been there. I first seen how pinpoint correct the soundstaging was. I may see every musician distinctly on the soundstage, and in addition hear every musician’s instrument on the soundstage. I used to be listening to a lot extra spatial info that the file appeared larger and much more energetic. Being in a position to visualize the complete group taking part in collectively added an natural coherence to the music I didn’t know was doable with my system. For me, extra sonic element means I hear extra human, extra vitality, and extra of the enjoyable.

For this cart and this album, the Austin Audio Works Black Swan settings I used have been 800 Ohms and 0.47 uF.

Doris Day

Doris Day “Show Time”

Doris Day, Show Time (Columbia Cl 1470 mono, 1960), performed with the Grado stereo cart.
I’m a giant believer within the magic of mono records and customarily favor them to the “rechanneled for stereo” variations of albums. But, as a check, I performed this album with my Grado stereo cart, and boy, what a shock that was. The imaging and stereo separation have been much better than I anticipated. I may simply place devices and voices within the soundstage, even with the stereo cart. As one other check, I listened to this with my two Mcintosh MC30 tube amps as an alternative of the two-channel Orchard Audio Starkrimson. To give it a real mono check, I turned down the achieve on one of many amps and positioned one of many audio system in the course of my room. It regarded bizarre nevertheless it sounded wonderful. Even when performed with a stereo cart by means of the Black Swan phono preamp with just one speaker, the soundstaging on a mono album was nonetheless nearly as good because it was with utilizing two amps and two audio system. The channel separation was so good that with one channel powered down fully, I nonetheless acquired the total mono expertise. It made me critically rethink my perception that I would like a devoted mono cartridge for mono albums.

For this cart and this album, the Austin Audio Works Black Swan settings I used have been 400 Ohms and 0.1 uF.

Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra “Songs For Swingin’ Lovers!”

Frank Sinatra, Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! (Capitol Records/Universal Music Group International 602547628626 mono, 2016), performed with Audio-Technica VM610 mono cart. I’ve had this mono cart for just a few years and have listened to it with a number of different phono preamplifiers, however by no means has it sounded this good. The low noise ground and velocity of the Black Swan actually enabled this cheap cart to shine. I heard a powerful improve in vitality and spatial clues; it was as if the cart had woken up and was completely satisfied to be alive. And that basically contributed to the thrill of listening to this album. It was as if I used to be lastly listening to what this cart was able to when the phono preamplifier acquired out of its manner.

I take advantage of this album as a reference recording and at the moment have 9 separate vinyl pressings of it, and this 2016 mono remaster is the most effective sounding I’ve heard to this point. When performed by means of the Austin Audio Works Black Swan, this $140 Audio-Technica cart made the system disappear with an enormous soundstage and spatial separation I’d count on from a cart a number of instances its worth. It acquired my face grinning, my fingers snapping, and my toes tapping, and who doesn’t wish to get that after they’re listening to music?

For this cart and this album, the Austin Audio Works Black Swan settings I used have been 80 okOhms and 470 pF.


Austin Audio Works Black Swan Phono Preamplifier

The Austin Audio Works Black Swan gave me the most effective analog playback I’ve ever had in my system. It offered me with a tremendous constancy of timbre and transparency, and an all-encompassing soundstaging. I noticed I couldn’t reside with out it and purchased the evaluation pattern. This factor made actually each single album I listened to sound higher. And I imply each one. Amazing.

  • Exceptionally clear sound.
  • Exceptional channel separation.
  • High variety of inputs for its worth vary.
  • Can be used as a preamplifier.
  • Very simple to configure to optimize the output of phono cartridges.
Would Like To See
  • A solution to dim or disable the blue LED on the face. (Which will likely be addressed in additional manufacturing.)

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November 13, 2023 at 04:18PM

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