Tube Preamp Reviews

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Michael Fremer Posted: Feb 23, 2008 0 comments
If any single link in the audio chain should be free of sonic personality, it's the preamplifier. Though a preamplifier's basic job description is "source selector with volume control," from hi-fi's earliest days preamps have been the designated dashboard: the more dials, switches, and lights, the better. All that control came at the cost of quiet, transparency, and tonal neutrality. Still, the quixotic quest for the mythical "straight wire with gain" continued to lead to minimalist designs, including impractical unbuffered "passive" preamps, in which cable length, thus capacitance, affected frequency response.
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Larry Greenhill Posted: Aug 26, 2007 Published: Feb 26, 1995 0 comments
I had been sent a sample of the Woodside SC26 tube preamplifier during my June 1994 review of Woodside's MA50 monoblock amplifier (Vol.17 No.6). Although I used a number of preamplifiers during that review, I was most impressed with the MA50s' spacious, three-dimensional soundstage when driven by the SC26. At the time, I had an impression that the SC26's sonics combined a midrange richness with a good dynamic range. Although I had to return the Woodside MA50s to the importer after I reviewed them, I continued listening to the SC26.
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Art Dudley Posted: Aug 18, 2007 0 comments
I'm not sure what motivated me to read the owner's manual for the Audio Valve Eclipse, but I'm glad I did: As it turns out, this line-level preamplifier has at least one distinctive feature that I would have missed otherwise.
Art Dudley Posted: Jul 29, 2007 0 comments
When audio designer Ken Shindo was a little boy, his father kept an enormous collection of 78rpm records in their home in Tokyo. During the final days of World War II, the Japanese authorities did their best to evacuate the city, but the elder Shindo was steadfast: He refused to leave, for fear that the records would be gone when he returned.
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Jack English Posted: Jul 29, 2007 Published: May 29, 1992 0 comments
Conrad-Johnson launched the all-tube Premier 7 in 1988 as an all-out sonic assault on the state of the preamplifier art. A great deal has happened since then. For starters, C-J has gotten a great deal of feedback from customers, dealers, and reviewers. None other than J. Gordon Holt (Stereophile, November 1988, Vol.11 No.11) concluded that: "It appears that nothing which could possibly have improved its sound had been omitted....It is, in fact, about as close as any tubed preamp has come to being perfectly neutral in sound—in nearly all respects." In the now-defunct Sounds Like... (issue 3), Sam Burstein concluded that "It is, with certain reservations, absolutely delightful to one's musical senses." And, speaking of absolutes, even Harry Pearson gave the Premier 7 a rave in the first round of his preamplifier survey (TAS, issue 58). As icing on the cake, John Atkinson (Stereophile, Vol.12 No.8) concluded that the 7 had "the requisite degree of sonic magic to make it a Class A recommended preamplifier."
Art Dudley Posted: Jul 01, 2007 Published: Jun 01, 2007 0 comments
Just about any consumer-electronics product that needs to generate voltage gain can be made with a vacuum tube. It isn't hard to do. It's no big deal.
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Larry Greenhill Posted: Jun 24, 2007 0 comments
I've long admired Vacuum Tube Logic's line of amplifiers and preamplifiers. Owners Luke Manley and his wife Bea Lam routinely appear at the Consumer Electronics and Home Entertainment shows with luxurious, microprocessor-controlled tube gear, soothing new music, good-sounding rooms, and a friendly, unhurried manner. Their show setups are dialed in so well that I often find myself taking refuge there, sitting and listening for hours with other Stereophile writers.
Robert Deutsch Posted: Dec 24, 2006 0 comments
Everybody loves a bargain. No—make that: Most people love a bargain. Some just want the best, and they don't care about the cost. Some even distrust and reject out of hand any product that's not expensive enough. If you're one of these people, you might as well stop reading this review right now—the PrimaLuna ProLogue Three and ProLogue Seven are not for you. $1395 for a tube preamp? $2695 for a pair of 70Wpc tube monoblocks equipped with four KT88 tubes each? Must be based on old designs in the public domain using cheap parts carelessly assembled...
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Paul Bolin Posted: Dec 17, 2006 0 comments
In any category of product or service, there is a gold standard—one company that epitomizes the best in its field of endeavor. Consider the Rolex watch, the Ferrari sports car, the Steinway piano, the Dunhill pipe. All of these artisanal manufacturers have spent decades, even centuries, earning their names' cachet with their histories of consistent excellence. While high-end audio boasts no names with a 60-year pedigree, such as Ferrari's—much less Steinway & Sons' +150 years—there is one firm whose storied past stretches back to the very emergence of the concept of high-end audio itself: Audio Research Corporation.
Wes Phillips Posted: Dec 03, 2006 Published: Jul 03, 1996 0 comments
It's hard to know what to call the SHA-Gold. It is a superb headphone amplifier—maybe even the target all future headphone amps need to shoot at—but it's also a full-function preamplifier. At two grand, it's not exactly a unit you'd add to your current system just to get a headphone connection...Wait a minute! What am I saying? I'm sure that there are folks out there who would add this to their existing reference systems as casually as I'd buy the Audio Alchemy headphone amplifier—but they'd be missing out on a great line stage.
Art Dudley Posted: Oct 29, 2006 0 comments
"It's a series of tubes."—Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), explaining how the Internet works
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Art Dudley Posted: Sep 23, 2006 0 comments
RCA's time-honored 6SN7 may be the coolest tube of all. The octal-based dual-triode has its own Wikipedia entry—something not even the 2A3 or 300B can boast—along with its own website. The 6SN7 is chunky, rugged, and handsome. Best of all, it's available, probably because people keep coming up with very good uses for it. In that sense, the 6SN7 is the Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup of the tube world.
Michael Fremer Posted: Aug 27, 2006 0 comments
Still burning in my bank of childhood memories are misty images of the glowing green lettering on the McIntosh tube preamps and tuners that populated the windows of the audio stores that once lined lower Manhattan's Cortlandt Street. Leonard's and most of those other retailers are long gone—as are most of the audio brands that shared their windows with McIntosh, and that once symbolized the might of American innovation and manufacturing. Even the World Trade Center, the controversial complex that replaced Cortlandt Street's "Radio Row," where the hi-fi industry was born, is tragically gone.
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Wes Phillips Posted: Jul 23, 2006 0 comments
If you review hi-fi long enough, you get to the point where you've heard it all before. Actually, there are several versions of that point: One is where you've heard all the claims before, and the other is where you could have sworn you've actually heard this component before.
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Art Dudley Posted: Dec 24, 2005 0 comments
My opinions keep changing—more evidence of life before death, I suppose—including my thoughts on audio-system hierarchies. I used to think that preamps were among the most sonically influential components, certainly more so than power amplifiers. I'm not so sure anymore (footnote 1).

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