Solid State Preamp Reviews

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Sam Tellig Anthony H. Cordesman Posted: Sep 08, 2016 Published: Mar 01, 1985 2 comments
Superphon's Revelation Basic preamplifier is made by Stan Warren, formerly the "S" of PS Audio, so it should come as no surprise that the Revelation Basic and the PS Audio Source sound much alike. The Revelation Basic sells for $399, assembled (no kit available). Like the Source, the Revelation has an outboard AC power transformer to minimize hum problems. But unlike the Source, the Revelation has dual volume controls (a pain) and lacks moving-coil capability.
Robert Harley Posted: Jun 09, 2016 Published: Feb 01, 1991 1 comments
Back in 1970, one Julian Vereker decided to record some musician friends in his house in Salisbury, England. Using standard, off-the-shelf electronics and tape machines, he was startled at how dissimilar the recording was to the sound of live instruments. As a result, he started designing his own recording electronics, including a recording console, of which he sold several to local broadcast facilities.
Thomas J. Norton Posted: May 14, 2016 Published: Mar 01, 1991 0 comments
As I write these words in January 1991, we're right in the midst of an annual media feeding frenzy: the "Best of the Year" follies. This usually takes the form of lists compiled in groups of ten for reasons that must hearken back to some obscure Druidic practice. You know the routine: "Ten Best Books of the Year," "Ten Best Films of the Year," "Ten Top Personalities of the Year," "Ten Best Sports Plays of the Year." Every corner of the media seems eager to get into the act. Special-interest magazines are hardly immune. Car enthusiasts can get their fill of "Cars of the Year." Computer literates find their favorite rags full of the "Ten Best Computers/Computer Accessories/Computer Programs." And music magazines regale us with the "Ten Best Recordings of the Year." Everyone with access to a transmitter or printing press has got, it seems, a little list.
Kal Rubinson Posted: Jul 02, 2015 6 comments
Most new preamplifier-processors now fall into one of two categories. First are the fully featured models, with ever-growing numbers of channels to support such immersive surround-sound formats as Dolby Atmos, Aureo3D, and DTS-X. An example is Marantz's 13.2-channel AV-8802, which replaces the 11.2-channel AV-8801—a sample of which I've owned for barely a year and use only in 5.2! The second category is that of such high-end models as Classé's Sigma and NAD's M17, which offer only 7.1 or 7.2 channels, and from which nonessential features have been trimmed in favor of audiophile-grade circuit components and construction. But if money is no object, there is a third class of pre-pro, exemplified by Trinnov's Altitude32 and Datasat's RS20i, in which no compromise is made in any of these parameters.
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jun 11, 2015 Published: Sep 01, 1983 2 comments
The Model 34 preamplifier is the component from English manufacturer Quad that will disenchant perfectionists, partly because of its obvious pandering to connoisseurs of old and sometimes lousy-sounding records, and partly because of its sound.

This solid-state design is supplied with a built-in moving-magnet cartridge preamplifier, and a moving-coil preamp is included with it for (easy) installation by the user if desired. (Remove two screws, pull out the old module, plug in the new one and replace the screws. The job takes about 3 minutes.) The MC preamp supplied is for 20 microvolt-output cartridges—contrary to the instruction booklet's statement that the supplied one is the 100µV version. Modules having a rated input level of 100 or 400µV are available as extra-cost options.

Fred Kaplan Posted: Apr 22, 2015 3 comments
Transparency is a trait we all value in a hi-fi rig, and it's a concept I've long thought I understood. A system that tosses up the illusion of a clear, spacious soundstage, on which you can hear—almost see—all of the singers and/or instruments, from side to side and, especially, from front to way, way back: that's the ticket. Still, although such transparency is a sign that you've entered the realm of fine sound, it's not an absolute requirement. Tonal accuracy, dynamic range, a certain thereness that conveys the emotional heft or delicacy of music—those things come first. Without them, the most precisely delineated soundstage is like an architect's sketch of an oil painting.
Michael Fremer Posted: Mar 05, 2015 2 comments
Founded in 1984, Boulder Amplifiers is a conservative audio company that goes quietly about its business, choosing not to call attention to itself with marketing flash or acronym-laden features. Change comes slowly to such companies, which is why the just-retired 2010 preamplifier enjoyed a 17-year run.
John Atkinson Posted: Nov 26, 2014 5 comments
The experience left me doubting my ears. After I'd performed all the measurements of Ayre Acoustics' KX-R preamplifier ($18,500) to accompany Wes Phillips's review in our November 2008 issue, I spent a weekend listening to it. To my astonishment, the sound of my system with a Transporter D/A processor feeding the preamplifier was better than when the DAC fed the power amplifier directly. Through the KX-R, images sounded more tangible, and the sound was better focused, despite the signal's having been passed through not just another set of interconnects but also through the preamp's input and output socketry, switches, a volume control, printed circuit-board traces, and active and passive parts. Logically, you'd think that having nothing in the signal path would have less of a degrading effect than so many somethings. But no, that was not what I heard, much as I would have preferred otherwise.
Thomas J. Norton Posted: Aug 08, 2014 Published: Sep 01, 1988 1 comments
666sumopre.jpgSumo is one of a handful of American audio manufacturers dedicated to producing moderately priced products aiming for high-end sound; their most expensive product is the Nine Plus, at $1199 (although a more expensive Andromeda II is imminent). When I heard I was scheduled to review the Sumo Athena, I looked forward to the opportunity. A Sumo Nine (not a Nine Plus, which I haven't auditioned) had been my front-line power amplifier a few years ago. It was an excellent budget amplifier whose only serious shortcoming was its limited 60Wpc power output.
Thomas J. Norton Posted: Aug 06, 2014 Published: Sep 01, 1988 1 comments
666ps46.1.jpgChoosing a moderately priced preamp has traditionally presented the audiophile with a host of serious problems. Most attempt to be all things to all listeners, expending resources on bells and whistles which would have been better expended on basic performance. Few have anything resembling a decent moving-coil stage. But there have always been a few designers (and companies) willing to expend much of their effort at the "low end of the high end." PS Audio has been such a company. Their new 4.6 preamp, an update and cosmetic clone of the earlier, well-received 4.5, is not at the top of their preamp range—that honor belongs to the 5.5—but it is clearly designed to be more than a price-point product.
Michael Fremer Posted: Jul 25, 2014 2 comments
A preamplifier is the port of entry through which you gain access to the sources you've so carefully assembled. It's also the gate through which all of your music passes. So while its sonic performance is obviously critical, you'd also better assess how it feels, how it looks, and how it operates—you're going to be in an intimate relationship with it for a long time. Before choosing a preamplifier, therefore, take some time to drive it around the block, or at least shake hands with it. Use your imagination as much as your ears.
Art Dudley Posted: Apr 07, 2014 11 comments
Asked how to make a guitar, the celebrated luthier Wayne Henderson offered a straight-up answer: "Just get a pile of really nice wood and a whittling knife. Then you just carve away everything that isn't a guitar." (footnote 1)

The making of a preamplifier seems more or less the opposite. You start with a simple volume control and a couple of jacks, then add whatever you think constitutes a preamplifier. Choices might include electronic source switching, line-level gain, phono-level gain and equalization, tone controls, tone-defeat switches, a balance control, a headphone jack, an iPod input, and maybe even a digital-to-analog converter with a USB receiver. The sky is pretty much the limit.

Brian Damkroger Posted: Dec 05, 2013 1 comments
When I reviewed Simaudio's Moon Evolution 880M monoblock amplifier for the June 2013 issue, I communicated via phone and e-mail with the company's VP of marketing, Lionel Goodfield. When the topic of hearing the 880Ms at their best came up, I could almost imagine him shrugging as he said, "Just use it with the most transparent, revealing preamp you can find." Not surprisingly, he then went on to say that Simaudio's own Moon Evolution 850P would serve nicely in that role. My cynical side might normally have discounted any such suggestion from a marketing man, but I'd been hearing the same sort of thing from other sources. And, as it happened, there was an 850P at Stereophile World Headquarters . . .
Michael Fremer Posted: Jun 13, 2013 1 comments
In the early 1970s, Stereophile's founder, J. Gordon Holt—a man I used to describe, with all due respect, as having been clothed by the haberdasher to the homeless—said that Audio Research's SP-3 tubed preamplifier was "the closest thing available, in fact, to the ideal straight wire with gain" ie, it would amplify the signal without editorializng in any way. Back then, the SP-3 cost $595. Today it would cost around $3500. But TAD's C600 dual-mono, solid-state, balanced preamplifier costs more than 10 times that: $42,000.
Sam Tellig Posted: Apr 25, 2013 Published: Oct 01, 2012 1 comments
In April 1987, Anthony H. Cordesman had mixed feelings about the Mod Squad Passive Line Drive System Control Center. (Read his review here.) Introduced in 1984, the Line Drive offered volume and balance controls, five line-level inputs, and switching and monitoring for two tape decks. You didn't plug it into the wall; it provided no gain. Was it even a proper preamp? (footnote 1)

AHC demurred. "I'm not sure that I'm ready to advise anyone to take the risk of not buying a unit with a top-quality phono stage, no matter how well CD or DAT perform," he concluded, between commenting on Middle East wars.

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