Solid State Preamp Reviews

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Ken Micallef  |  Oct 28, 2020  |  1 comments
Before starting this review of Rotel's Michi P5, the 60-year-old, Japan-based audio company's recent preamplifier design, I thought it appropriate to consider "What is an audio preamplifier? What should it do?" There are plenty of opinions to be found at stereophile.com:

"What a preamp ought to do, apart from changing volume and switching sources, is as little as possible," wrote Stereophile Editor Jim Austin in his 2017 review of the PS Audio BHK Signature preamplifier.

Michael Fremer  |  Sep 01, 2020  |  First Published: Jul 01, 1998  |  0 comments
The challenge for Ayre's Charley Hansen was formidable. Having already designed a world-class preamplifier—the highly acclaimed $7100 K-1 (see Wes Phillips' review in March 1997)—Hansen set out to offer audiophiles "80 to 90%" of the K-1's sound and build quality at a price more of them can afford. Not that the new K-3 is a piece of "budget" gear. It's not. But at $4500, the fully loaded K-3, complete with phono section and remote control, is within reach of many.
Barry Willis  |  Jul 01, 2020  |  First Published: Jul 01, 1989  |  3 comments
There are some standing jokes in the audio industry about the qualities a piece of equipment must have in order to be truly "high-end." One definition is that it must be unavailable, unreliable, and dangerous. Another is that it will sound great, break, and its manufacturer go out of business. By meeting at least half of these variables, the Spatial Coherence TVA-1 preamplifier qualifies as a classic audiophile product.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jun 26, 2020  |  37 comments
During the four years that I've reviewed for Stereophile, I've had the privilege of evaluating products from some of the world's best-known audiophile companies: Audio Research, Bel Canto, CH Precision, dCS, D'Agostino, Dynaudio, EMM Labs, Jadis, Krell, Nordost, and Wilson, among others. But one long-standing manufacturer whose exhibits at audio shows invariably inspire ecstatic reports, Germany's MBL, has remained outside my purview.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 29, 2020  |  96 comments
I thought I knew what a preamp could do. But when the Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems Momentum HD preamplifier ($40,000) arrived for review, all my expectations flew out the window.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Dec 24, 2019  |  72 comments
Upon hearing about this new product from Benchmark Media, the LA4, my mind turned to Laurindo Almeida, Bud Shank, Ray Brown, and Shelly Manne—the original L.A. Four jazz quartet. No such association was intended, however: the "4" merely designates change from previous Benchmark designs.
J. Gordon Holt  |  Dec 11, 2019  |  First Published: Aug 01, 1976  |  3 comments
Our first sample of this preamplifier was returned to the manufacturer before we had completed our tests on it, and was replaced with the latest version (ours is serial number 500108). Enough time elapsed between the time we shipped back the first sample and the time we got around to auditioning the second that we are unable to report on any sonic differences between the two.
Jim Austin  |  May 17, 2019  |  54 comments
For those who listen with their ears and not their brain, perfectionist hi-fi offers many surprises.

A friend called me up a few weeks ago and asked if the DAC we both own had received an automatic firmware update he hadn't heard about; something had changed, it wasn't good, and he couldn't figure out what it was. His system's sound was suddenly pale and unfocused.

There had been no firmware update.

Robert Harley  |  May 16, 2019  |  First Published: Apr 01, 1994  |  0 comments
Thomas R. Marshall's famous phrase, "What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar," should be modified for the 1990s to be "What this world needs is a good $1500 preamplifier."

It's hard to find a good full-function preamp (ie, one that includes a phono stage) at a reasonable price these days. There are plenty of great preamps on the market, but they tend to be expensive or line-stage only—or expensive line stages. Moreover, many manufacturers are omitting phono stages altogether, on the assumption that people don't listen to LPs anymore.

Michael Fremer  |  Mar 29, 2019  |  0 comments
Our conservative two-channel audio world doesn't easily accept change. Not that many years ago, even remote control was considered a sign of electronic moral decay certain to degrade sound quality. Today, home theater–like operating systems, with their fluorescent-screen hells and microprocessor-controlled functionality are commonplace, even in the highest of fi. Consumers accustomed to the convenience of audio/video processors now demand it on every price tier of two-channel hi-fi, though purists who think sound quality is commensurate with inconvenience can have that if they want it.
Jim Austin  |  Mar 21, 2019  |  11 comments
Like most serious pursuers of the audio hobby, I've known about J E Sugden & Co. Ltd. for years. For many of those years, though, it was easy to forget about them, and I mostly did—until, quite recently, Sugden gear began popping up at audio shows, including the 2016 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. In his report on that show, Herb Reichert described the midrange of Sugden's A21SE Signature, a pure class-A integrated amplifier, driving DeVore Fidelity speakers, as "shroom-like" and contrasted the sound with what he called class-D's "fake cocaine." That got my attention.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Jan 10, 2019  |  1 comments
Although I no longer attend the audio pageant that was once the annual Consumer Electronics Show, I now seem to be traveling more, in hopes of recapturing the excitement CES had once provided. Last May I attended High End, in Munich, and found that while it was entirely as advertised, there was, alas, not enough emphasis on the playback of high-resolution files, and hardly any attention paid to multichannel music.
Ken Micallef  |  Dec 06, 2018  |  6 comments
In the early 1990s, the Compact Disc was all the rage, and vinyl records were being executed en masse. Thirty years later, and oh, how our tables have turned. Mint first pressings of tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley's 1957 album Hank Mobley (Blue Note BLP 1568), which once could be had for $40, now bring upward of $8000. Each. Vinyl continues to enjoy a global resurgence of popularity, while CD sales have plummeted to all-time lows.

What happened? Apparently, yesterday's pops and ticks are today's "warmth," Record Store Day exclusives, and skyrocketing vinyl values. All things old . . .

Michael Fremer  |  Nov 29, 2018  |  0 comments
The digital ground seems to shift weekly. While firmware and software updates over the Internet somewhat slow the constant upheaval, when you do buy something, you just know that as soon as you plunk down your cash, something new will come along.

So, especially with preamplifiers, why not produce a design based on modules that the user can swap in and out, to custom-configure the preamp to that user's current needs while leaving room for later expansion? Why pay for six inputs' worth of stuff when at present you need only two? Upgrades? New features? No problem—swap out a module. Or, if a circuit in one module malfunctions, you can send only that module back for repairs, not the whole thing.

John Atkinson  |  Nov 15, 2018  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1988  |  0 comments
A few issues back, in my review of the Mark Levinson No.26 and No.20 (May 1988, Vol.11 No.5), I mused on the fact that the preamplifier, being the heart of a system, had a more significant effect on sound quality in the long term than, say, the loudspeakers. It was worth spending more on a preamplifier, therefore, than on loudspeakers. Needless to say, this viewpoint was regarded by many readers as dangerously heretical. I decided, therefore, to investigate the sonic possibilities of budget-priced preamps in this issue, even the most expensive being less than one-tenth the price of the Mark Levinson.

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