Tube Preamp Reviews

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John Atkinson  |  Nov 29, 2021  |  0 comments
Stereophile often subjects products that have been reviewed to further coverage: sometimes because there was an aspect of performance that needed further investigation; other times because there was a controversial finding. Three recent followups concerned the Ayre Acoustics EX-8 2.0 Integrated Hub amplifier that Ken Micallef reviewed in the November 2021 issue; the Accuphase DG-68 Digital Voicing Equalizer that Jason Victor Serinus reviewed in August 2021; and the Zesto Leto Ultra II line preamplifier that Ken Micallef reviewed in February 2021.
J. Gordon Holt  |  Aug 11, 2021  |  First Published: Jun 01, 1984  |  3 comments
The $1485 PV-5 is a "budget" version of C-J's $2850 Premier Three preamplifier, but according to the manufacturer it embodies much the same kind of circuitry.

Tubed preamplifiers have a well-earned reputation as system busters. Many of them during warmup produce horrendous bangs or plops so severe that every speaker fuse in the system blows. If fuses are absent, or rated too high to protect things, the amplifier, speakers, or both are likely to blow up (not literally; they just twitch once and lie down dead). The PV-5 contains one of the most effective pop suppressors I've encountered, and produces no noise whatsoever during warmups and turnoffs.

John Atkinson  |  Aug 02, 2021  |  10 comments
Stereophile's August 2021 issue contained further looks and listens to two high-performance products: the Audio Research REF 6SE line preamplifier and the AudioQuest Niagara 3000 Low-Z Power Noise-Dissipation System.
Ken Micallef  |  Jan 22, 2021  |  4 comments
What sort of audiophile are you?

I think of myself as a critical listener, perhaps a purist, definitely an enthusiast, of music and audio, who enjoys both the journey and the nuts and bolts. I like my hi-fi direct, simple, and personal. Also, I guess I'm a little bit old-school: tube-driven amplifiers with point-to-point wiring; vinyl, preferably early pressings; spun with belt-drive or idler-drive turntables. I listen to digital audio, too—and when I do, I prefer nonoversampling DACs. I like high-efficiency, high-sensitivity floorstanding loudspeakers and prefer them horn-loaded.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Oct 23, 2020  |  33 comments
"As long as you're happy."

That's the line long uttered by the most dreaded members of my family, and their friends, whenever they tried to pry into my personal affairs. Often the last word, "happy," was uttered with a downward cadence and accompanied by a shrug.

Then came the kicker. "You are happy, aren't you?" said with eyes boring into my soul. "Well, as long as you're happy."

Art Dudley  |  Apr 21, 2020  |  48 comments
It may come as no surprise that the two Recommended Components issues we publish every year, in April and October, are Stereophile's most popular. Both go hand-in-hand with increases in single-copy sales and subscription requests, and it's worth noting that equipment and record suppliers line up to get their ads into those issues.
Robert Harley  |  Jan 09, 2020  |  First Published: Aug 01, 1994  |  36 comments
From the front, the LS5 looks identical to Audio Research's popular LS2: two knobs on either side of the Audio Research nameplate, and a row of toggle switches along the bottom. But that's where the similarities end; the LS5 is a completely different animal from the LS2, or even the balanced LS2B.
Herb Reichert  |  Jun 27, 2019  |  26 comments
I am an artist-painter and an audiophile. When I listen to recorded music, I sit in the sweet spot and stare at the empty space between the speakers. And while I listen, I survey and critique the soundfield, as if it were an unfinished landscape painting in my studio.

As I observe the soundstage and the apparitions of musicians within, I notice the dimensions of the recording venue (and/or microphone placement), as well as the physical energy of the entire vibrating illusion.

Herb Reichert  |  Feb 21, 2019  |  26 comments
You know I'm a lucky guy. I maintain two separate audio reviewing systems.

The core component of my beloved, daily-driver desktop system is a Mytek Brooklyn DAC-preamp-headphone amp. Through this system I play high-resolution files and Internet sources (Tidal, Qobuz, Netflix, and YouTube). One of the Brooklyn's two line-level inputs delivers NPR news and baseball from my Kenwood KT-990D FM/AM tuner. I mostly use this system with headphones, but currently, the Brooklyn's line-out feeds a pair of Bel Canto Design's compact e.One REF600M monoblocks driving the shelf-mounted Dynaudio Excite X14 speakers I use to play movies and videos.

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.

Steven W. Watkinson  |  Jun 28, 2018  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1984  |  23 comments
Once upon a time, all audio equipment used vacuum tubes. In recent years, however, tubes have become the exclusive province of super high-end audio. It is more expensive to accomplish any particular task with tubes than with transistors, and few manufacturers (with the exception of Conrad-Johnson) seemed willing until now to refine their techniques and pare back their budgets to make tube components more affordable.
Steven W. Watkinson  |  Jun 05, 2018  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1984  |  1 comments
In appearance Conrad-Johnson's PV4 is distinctly plain: a basic black and silver box with a few simple knobs and buttons. The controls are logically laid out, clearly labeled, and work properly. The two channels track well through the volume control, maintaining balance; pushbuttons and control knobs have a smooth, solid feel (except for the noises audible through the system when switching inputs). Don't forget the turn-on and turn-off thumps mentioned above; the PV4 is the only one of the preamps I review in this issue—the others are the Audible Illusions Modulus ($450) and the Counterpoint SA-7 ($595)—that lacks a mute switch.
Jim Austin  |  May 29, 2018  |  16 comments
In the March 2018 issue, Art Dudley admired the sound quality of Ayre Acoustics' KX-5 Twenty preamplifier, but didn't love some of its operational aspects. I've staged this Follow-Up as a putative face-off between the Ayre and my current reference preamplifier, the PS Audio BHK Signature, which I reviewed in the June 2017 issue.
Steven W. Watkinson  |  Apr 10, 2018  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1984  |  5 comments
In appearance the Counterpoint SA-7 tube preamplifier is quite attractive, possessing the thin, low-profile look currently in vogue. There is a mute switch which (if you remember to use it) protects your amplifier from the preamp's turn-on and turn-off thumps. Unfortunately, the volume control on my unit didn't track accurately, and it was necessary to adjust balance with each change in volume. One unusual feature: the balance control allows very fine gradations in balance adjustment (a large movement of the control results in a small change in balance).
Herb Reichert  |  Oct 26, 2017  |  5 comments
Every day in my bunker, I use one of a few high-quality headphone amplifiers to double as a line-level preamplifier-controller and operate as the quality-assurance reference for my ongoing audio experiments. I must choose this component carefully, because it determines the upper limit of my system's ability to reveal any subtle differences among components under review.

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