2012 Recommended Components Preamplifiers

Two-Channel Preamplifiers

Editor’s Note: Apart from the AudioValve, CAT, DNM, Fi, Shindo, Tempo, and Placette, all the Class A preamplifiers offer balanced inputs and outputs. And unless noted, the preamplifiers listed do not have phono stages.


Aesthetix Saturn Calypso Signature: $6999
Aesthetix Saturn Calypso: $4999 ✩
“A beautifully built, smartly designed, crisply functioning, versatile, and sonically brilliant preamplifier,” the Saturn Calypso is a single-box, tubed unit that borrows technology from the more expensive, two-box Jupiter Callisto to offer “an attractive combination of couch-potato convenience without compromising its tweaky audiophilic performance potential,” thought MF. It lacked the last bit of expansive air and resolution found in more expensive preamps but never sounded bright, hard, or artificial, and provided “one of the best-balanced sounds of any audio component I’ve come across at any price.” Nearly identical to the stock version, the Signature replaces that model’s polypropylene coupling capacitors with custom-made interstage Teflon-hybrid caps, and switches out the polypropylene caps between the main and output stages. In addition, the stock Calypso’s five rubber feet are replaced in the Signature with Harmonic Resolution Systems Nimbus Couplers specially made for Aesthetix. Compared to the original, the Signature version created a wider soundstage and offered more low-level resolution, longer decays, and richer bass, found WP. (Vol.28 No.7; Vol.33 No.7, Signature Read Review Online)

AudioValve Conductor: $13,995
The eccentric-looking, two-chassis Conductor operates in full class-A with no feedback. Its balanced circuit provides 14dB of gain to all six line inputs and uses four 6922 and four 6N6P tubes. BJR noted impressive dynamic range, excellent resolution of inner detail, and an effortless overall sound. JA, however, was disappointed by the Conductor’s measured performance, citing its “inability to handle high-level sources in a linear manner.” (Vol.32 No.7 Read Review Online)

Ayre Acoustics KX-R: $18,500 ✩
Milled from a 75-lb billet of aluminum to match Ayre’s MX-R monoblock amplifier, the KX-R is a zero-feedback, fully balanced design with four single-ended inputs and four balanced XLR inputs. It uses Ayre’s Variable Gain Transconductance topology to maintain a constant signal/noise ratio independent of volume setting. “Far more silent than the tomb,” the “astonishingly transparent” KX-R made music seem “especially alive,” and took Wes deep into the soundstage. “If it’s not the eighth wonder of the modern world,” he concluded, “I say demand a recount.” JA called it a “superbly well-engineered preamplifier.” Price is for silver finish; add $250 for black. (Vol.31 No.11 Read Review Online)

Ayre Acoustics K-5xeMP: $3500 ✩
Like all of Ayre’s 5-series products, the K-5xe uses the Ayre Conditioner, a built-in RFI filter that works in parallel with the AC line to reduce background noise, grain, and hash. The original K-5xe added nothing to the original signal and had no sonic signature of its own. ST: “It just got out of the way” subsequently adding that this “superb solid state line-stage preamp is everything you could ask for: neutral, detailed, dynamic, exceptionally low noise, fun to use.” JA felt high Class B was a fair rating for the original version; the Maximum Performance (MP) version incorporates rare, low-noise Toshiba J-FETs for the output buffer stage. The K-5xeMP had dynamics equal to that of the original K-5xe, but produced quieter backgrounds and had a friendlier, more accurate overall balance, with better delineation of images within a wide, deep soundstage. Though it lacked the top-end air of the Parasound Halo JC 2, the Ayre sounded warmer overall, with a fleshier lower midrange. Its measured performance was “about as good as it gets for a solid-state preamplifier,” said JA. Black finish adds $250. (Vol.29 No.5 original version; Vol.34 No.6 MP version Read Review Online)

Conrad-Johnson ET3 SE: $4000
With its simple sheet-metal chassis and gold-toned faceplate, the ET3 Special Edition looks identical to the standard version ($2500), but adds high-quality parts throughout, including Teflon capacitors, Vishay resistors, silver-plated RCA jacks, and Cardas wire. It uses a tubed input stage, a FET buffer output stage, and offers four line-level inputs, a tape loop, an external processor loop, and a Home Theater output. The C-J had a sense of ease that benefited good recordings while minimizing the sonic shortcomings of poor ones, said ST. “It is easily the finest Conrad-Johnson preamplifier I’ve heard in my listening room,” he concluded. (Vol.34 No.10)

Convergent Audio Technology SL1 Renaissance: $7995
The latest iteration of the heralded SL1 boasts a new circuit-board layout and improved power supply. It also includes an A/V bypass, user-selectable gain, and a switch-selectable, moving-coil transformer for the phono stage. Compared to the SL1 Ultimate, the Renaissance offered greater transparency, resolution, and dynamics, said RD. JA noted “superb measured performance and an equally superbly linear circuit topology.” Phono stage adds $2000. (Vol.32 No.11 Read Review Online)

darTZeel NHB-18NS: 29,500 Swiss francs ✩
The “stunningly transparent” darTZeel offered spectacular transient speed, resolution, and decay, while providing an overall coherence that “made recorded music, analog or digital, sound much closer to live,” said MF. Bass lacked some authority, and the sound sometimes had “a slight velvety finish.” With its warm, vivid combination of red chassis and dark gold front and rear panels, the NHB-18NS “looks like it sounds.” Its fully dual-mono design, lack of global negative feedback, and ultrawide bandwidths are meant to eliminate phase shifts at the frequency extremes. JA was “puzzled” by some aspects of the darTZeel’s measured performance, particularly the much poorer performance through the balanced inputs and outputs, but was overall impressed by the level of audio engineering. Compared to the harmonically rich Musical Fidelity AMS Primo, the darTZeel offered a more clinical sound: tighter bass, greater transparency, more precisely defined images, shorter sustain, and a diminished sense of musical flow. Compared to Einstein Audio’s The Tube Mk.II, the NHB-18NS sacrificed bass weight for greater top-end air, transient speed, and bass extension, said MF. The darTZeel matched the resolution and transparency of the mbl 6010d while managing to sound less mechanical, said MF about his reference preamp as of summer 2008. (He bought one!) US price will depend on the exchange rate from Swiss francs. (Vol.30 No.6, Vol.31 No.10, Vol.33 Nos.5 & 10 Read Review Online)

DNM 3D Six: $13,995 ✩
The 3D Six measures 10.65" W by 5" H by 7" D but weighs only 3.5 lbs. Like other DNM products, it uses nonmetallic casework and parts, low-mass conductors, true star grounding, “spaced pair” signal paths from input to output, three-dimensional circuit layouts, and slit-foil capacitors. Though it lacked the sonic texture and bass depth of the Shindo Masseto, the 3D Six combined extraordinary clarity with an utterly smooth and natural top end. AD: “The 3D Six is simply amazing. Few amplification products are more beautiful, more effective, more fun to use, and, consequently, more recommendable.” JA was impressed by the 3D Six’s extreme linearity. (Vol.31 No.11 Read Review Online)

Einstein Audio The Tube Mk.II: $18,400
The handsome The Tube Mk.II is a fully balanced, dual-differential, class-A line preamp with point-to-point wiring, a shunt-to-ground volume control, and a unique circuit design that allows for quick and simple switching between input tubes. It comes equipped with 18 E88CC/6922 dual-triode tubes and one ECC82/12AU7, but Mikey also experimented with a set of new-old stock gold-pinned Telefunkens. While the stock tubes provided tighter transients and rhythmic snap, the Telefunkens improved harmonic intensity and image palpability. Overall, The Tube Mk.II was among the quietest, most transparent preamplifiers in MF’s experience. JA: “The Tube Mk.II is an impressively well-engineered preamplifier that offers a wide bandwidth, high dynamic range, and low levels of noise and distortion.” The Remote adds $930. (Vol.33 No.10 Read Review Online)

Fi 2b: $8200, as reviewed
The long-awaited successor to Don Garber’s simply named Fi Preamplifier, the 2b retains much of its predecessor’s physical appearance and gain-stage design, but uses Electro-Harmonix 6922 dual-triode tubes in place of the original’s 6DJ8s, has three top-panel brass control knobs, and measures a little over 10" square. Premium parts include nude Vishay resistors, VH Audio Teflon and tin-foil V-Caps, and a pair of onboard, split-primary HM-3 step-up transformers from Hashimoto Electric. AD: “The sound of the Fi 2b preamp was like a Schubert piano trio: logical, perfect, well balanced, apparently immortal, and glowing with beauty of the truthful sort.” MM-only version without step-ups costs $7600; line-only version costs $7000. (Vol.33 No.7 Read Review Online)

Lamm Industries LL2.1 Deluxe: $5990 ✩ $$$
Line-level preamp with one 6X4, two 12AU7A, and two 6DJ8 tubes. AD was most impressed by the original version of the Lamm’s ability to remain free from overhang and distortion while remaining true to the color, texture, and body of recorded material. He explained that, because of the LL2’s speed—“the thing’s ability to respond to a signal, amplify it with great faithfulness, then get the hell out of the way”—it gave music “more body, more feel, and especially more movement.” It seemed as if performances were actually taking place in the listening room rather than simply being retold. AD: “Judged for its musicality, the quality of its parts and construction, and its sheer design ingenuity, the Lamm LL2 is worth every penny.” In response to requests for a lower-gain version of the LL2, Vladimir Lamm redesigned the preamplifier’s circuit to incorporate 15dB of switchable attenuation. Compared to AD’s reference Shindo Masseto, the LL2.1 sounded cleaner and more open, with a tendency to pull voices farther out from the mix and a better ability to unravel dense musical passages. (Vol.28 No.9, Vol.32 No.9 Read Review Online)

Luxman C-600f: $9000
See “The Fifth Element” in the April 2012 issue.

mbl 6010d Reference: $26,500 ✩
The 77-lb 6010d is an impressive-looking, superbly finished preamp with a black-lacquered façade, gold-plated volume and input knobs, and top-mounted input-level trim pots and tape-monitoring buttons. The MBL sounded “very quiet, transparent, and dynamic,” with a slightly lean bottom end and “slightly aggressive but airy, clean, and well extended” top end, said Mikey. Though the 6010d’s reproduction of space was good, it could not match the image dimensionality or soundstage width and depth of the darTZeel NHB-18NS. Its measured performance, however, was “beyond reproach,” determined JA. Used in an all-MBL system with Reference 9011 monoblocks driving Radialstrahler 101E Mk.II loudspeakers, the 6010D worked to create clean, extended top octaves, fast transients, and a taut, muscular low end, said MF. Price includes remote and balanced input. (Vol.31 No.10, Vol.35 No.3 Read Review Online)

Musical Fidelity AMS Primo: $10,999
Built in the UK, the attractive AMS Primo is a fully balanced, class-A design with 14 dual-triode ECC81/12AT7 tubes. Each of its five inputs has both high-quality single-ended RCA and balanced XLR inputs, selectable via a slider switch. Power-supply rectification is dual-mono and solid-state, while each channel has its own fully regulated high-voltage and heater circuits. The Primo lacked the transparency and precisely defined images of the darTZeel NHB-18NS, but had a harmonically rich overall sound with lightning-fast transients, generous sustain, expansive soundstaging, and impressive bottom-end control and extension. “A pleasure to live with, look at, and use,” concluded MF, though he felt the Primo lacked the transparency and more appropriately compact, solid, and densely populated soundstage of Einstein Audio’s The Tube Mk.II. Should be used with a power amplifier having an input impedance of at least 20k ohms, advised JA. (Vol.33 Nos.5 & 10 Read Review Online)

Parasound Halo JC 2: $4000 ✩ $$$
Styled to match the JC 1 power amplifier and finished in the same brushed, natural aluminum, the JC 2 exhibits a high standard of construction. Each channel of the fully balanced JC 2 is on a separate PCB, with the audio and control power supplies on separate circuits, isolated from each other by 3⁄8"-thick aluminum partitions. ST was impressed by the JC 2’s noiseless operation and excellent reproduction of space, which allowed music “to emerge intact—with body, bloom, and dynamics, with definition and detail—from an utterly silent background.” JA agreed, but decided the JC 2 sounded best with warmer-sounding amplifiers and speakers, when it excelled in the areas of images and dynamics. “Perhaps the finest solid-state line stage I have heard,” sums up ST. “This is what a great line stage does: lets all the other components perform at their best. The Halo JC 2 matched the Ayre KX-R in terms of openness and sparkle, but sounded leaner and could not reach the Ayre’s level of deep musicality, said WP. Compared to the Simaudio Moon Evolution P-7, the JC 2 sacrificed body for leading-edge definition, felt JA. One of Stereophile’s “Joint Amplification Components” for 2008. Configured for home-theater bypass, the BP version of Parasound’s excellent JC 2 preamplifier has a revised circuit board and front-panel control board that make possible the hybridization of a traditional analog two-channel system with a modern digital multichannel system. The Halo JC 2 BP looks almost identical to the Halo JC 2, with only the Bypass LED on the front panel and the letters “BP” added to the labeling front and rear. It offers both balanced RCA and unbalanced XLR inputs and outputs. KR heard no difference between a direct connection from pre-pro to power amp and a connection via the JC 2 BP’s bypass function. Owners of existing JC 2s can have their units upgraded to BP status for $500. (Vol.30 No.12, Vol.31 Nos.3 & 11, Vol.32 No.3, Vol.34 No.6 WWW; ‘BP version Vol.34 No.3 Read Review Online)

Placette Audio Active Line Stage: $6995 ✩
The Active Linestage is intended to combine the transparency of Placette’s purist Remote Volume Control with a usable level of functionality, providing five sets of unbalanced inputs, two sets of outputs, and a tape loop. Its absolute clarity, focus, solidity, and transparency were unrivaled in BD’s experience. “Highly recommended.” Sold direct, with a lifetime warranty and 30-day refund policy. (Vol.30 No.11 Read Review Online)

Shindo Vosne-Romanee: $19,500
The gorgeous Vosne-Romanee is packed with rare and vintage parts, including a pair of unidentified, hand-wound, 70-year-old output transformers; custom-wound Lundahl moving-coil step-up transformers; Telefunken EF800, Siemens C3m, General Electric 6072, and Philips 6189 and 6X4 vacuum tubes; and Sprague Black Cat and Vitamin Q capacitors. Compared to Shindo’s Masseto, the V-R was more detailed and had a darker tonal balance, with deeper textures and richer colors, said AD. “The Shindo Vosne-Romanee is simply the most musically insightful, emotionally captivating, intoxicatingly beautiful, and thoroughly pleasant-to-use preamplifier I’ve had in my home,” he concluded. Reconfiguring the V-R for true dual-mono operation resulted in “an entirely new level of playback quality.” (Vol.33 Nos.10 & 11 Read Review Online)

Shindo Masseto: $13,500 ✩
Like the less-expensive Aurieges, the Masseto is a full-function preamplifier, but adds a selectable choice between moving-magnet and moving-coil phono inputs. The dual-mono power supply is based on a pair of Philips 6X4WA rectifier tubes, the phono stage uses one Philips 6189W and one Philips 12AT7 per channel, and its line stage uses a single LCP86 triode/pentode per channel. With a “stunningly low noise floor,” the Masseto consistently conveyed music in a way that allowed Art to become fully immersed in the performance. “Time after time,” he said, “I found myself responding to my hi-fi the way I respond to real music.” The Masseto’s stock input MC transformer was “quiet in every way,” and worked especially well with Art’s Miyabi cartridge, providing “loads of texture, and enough drama to keep me happy indefinitely,” he said. (Vol.30 Nos.7 & 10 Read Review Online)

Simaudio Moon Evolution P-8: $16,000 ✩
This dual-mono, two-chassis preamp is as imposing and impressive as Sim’s W-8 power amp. While the Preamplifier chassis contains all the audio circuitry, the Controller chassis includes a power supply capable of driving the preamplifier and an additional device, such as a phono stage or DAC. Setup was simple, and from first power-up, the P-8 “performed faultlessly and impressively.” KR described it as being “by far, the quietest preamp” he’d ever heard, detecting only a slightly mellow tonal character in comparison to other components. JA admired the P-8’s excellent linearity and superb channel matching. “A superbly engineered component,” he said. The P-8 sounded “slightly forward” compared to the Mark Levinson No.380S; was “more robust” than the Parasound Halo JC 1; and, perhaps due to its extremely low noise floor, produced “a palpability, a solidity to the recorded soundstage,” that Sim’s lower-priced P-7 couldn’t match, said JA. (Vol.29 No.11, Vol.32 No.9 Read Review Online)

Simaudio Moon Evolution P-7: $7500 ✩
The dual-mono, fully balanced P-7 offers the same basic circuitry as the more expensive P-8, but houses it in a single chassis along with the control circuitry and power supply. Its rigid casework uses the same combination of black-anodized and natural aluminum surfaces seen in all Moon Evolution components. The P-7 produced a slightly forward, slightly robust overall sound with fully fleshed-out images set in a wide, deep, detailed soundstage. JA found measured performance that almost equaled that of the twin-chassis P-8. “Beautifully made, beautiful looking, and beautiful sounding,” he sighed. (Vol.32 No.3 Read Review Online)

Tempo Electric Arthur Loesch Preamplifier: $10,602, as reviewed
A full-featured phono stage with line stage, the limited-edition Arthur Loesch Preamplifier is handmade in the US and available in several configurations. AD’s review sample included Western Electric 417A miniature triodes, Vishay and Dale resistors, and Peter Dahl transformers and chokes in each of the preamp’s two outboard power supplies. The Tempo exhibited “a very wide and altogether modern frequency range,” and proved capable of revealing the slightest details in recordings. Though it sometimes tended toward egregious brightness and ruthlessly exposed poor recordings, the Arthur Loesch produced the voices and instruments of good stereo recordings with believable scale and physicality. Base price is $7100. Sold direct from the factory in Saratoga Springs, New York; auditions available by appointment. (Vol.33 No.4 Read Review Online)

Wadax PRE1: $32,500, as reviewed
The beautiful PRE1 is a digital preamplifier that combines A/D conversion for analog sources and D/A conversion for digital sources. Wadax’s massive clamshell chassis is milled from two 95-lb blocks of specially formulated aluminum alloy and provides control of both electromagnetic interference and mechanical resonances. The PRE1’s chromed rear panel provides one BNC and four S/PDIF digital inputs, which can accept up to 24-bit/192kHz signals; a TosLink input capable of up to 24/96; and a 24/48 USB port. A Custom Mapping utility uses a Wadax-proprietary test lacquer to assess the owner’s analog rig, then prescribes a program that combines proper RIAA EQ with corrections to the PRE1’s frequency and phase responses. MF was impressed by the Wadax’s overall coherence and tonal neutrality, and decided that its pure digital performance was nearly indistinguishable from the best analog performance he’s heard. Price includes optional phono input; base price is $27,800. (Vol.35 No.2)

Ypsilon PST-100 Mk.II: $37,000
Made in Greece, the PST-100 is a handsome tubed preamplifier housed in a thick, satin-finished aluminum chassis. It features transformer-based attenuation, 6CA4 tube rectification, choke supply filtering, a switchable passive mode, and a zero-feedback active stage based on a carefully selected Siemens C3m pentode tube. Though differences between the PST-100’s active and passive stages were small, MF preferred the passive stage for its purer, more transparent sound. Compared to the darTZeel NHB-18NS, the Ypsilon produced more vivid tonal colors and greater physicality. “For now,” MF concluded, “the Ypsilon PST-100 is the most transparent and, therefore, the most perfect audio component I have ever heard—or not heard.” Though XLR input and output jacks are provided, the circuitry is unbalanced only. Without a line stage, the completely passive PST-100 TA costs $26,000. (Vol.34 No.7 Read Review Online)


Amtrans Passive Controller APCG-015: $2960
Housed in a small (6.6" W by 3.5" H by 5.9" D) sheet-metal chassis, the Amtrans APCG-01S passive controller uses a Lundahl transformer to provide 6dB of voltage gain. It has an input selector, volume control, Stereo/Mono switch, and four sets of line-level RCA inputs. Though it lacked the tonal color of Conrad-Johnson’s ET3 SE line stage and couldn’t match the transparency of George Hi-Fi’s Lightspeed Attenuator, the Amtrans produced a big, dynamic sound with a wide soundstage and “deep, tight, beautifully articulated bass,” said ST. “There’s nothing ‘passive’ about the Amtrans sound,” he quipped. (Vol.34 No.11)

AudioValve Eclipse: $5699 ✩
The Eclipse’s clear acrylic top plate is machined to include two rounded ventilation slots for its four Electro-Harmonix 12AU7A tubes. Its neutral tonal balance, clear and forward sound, and wide dynamic range created a musical presentation that matched drama with good senses of size and scale. It lacked, however, the Shindo Masseto’s ability to closely follow melodic lines. “A lovely product, and a decent value for the money,” concluded AD. BJR agrees, describing the Eclipse as a “liquid, dynamic, and colorless tube preamplifier whose strengths are many and flaws nonexistent . . . While more money can buy a deeper soundstage, greater resolution of detail, and more ambience, the Eclipse offered a neutral, coherent sound with “kick-ass, slammin’, solid-state-like bass,” said BJR, who feels the preamp deserves a Class A rating. “I don’t understand why every tube-loving audiophile doesn’t own one.” Though cut from the same sonic cloth as the AudioValve Conductor, the Eclipse couldn’t match the more expensive model’s outstanding dynamic range, expansive soundstage, or overall effortless reproduction of music. Compared to the NAT Symmetrical, the Eclipse had a more forward sound, with less clearly defined images and truncated dynamic expression, said BJR. Though he was unimpressed by this preamp’s implementation of different input sensitivities, JA decided the Eclipse measured “well for a tube design.” For best results, the Eclipse should be used with a power amp having an input impedance of at least 30k ohms, he cautioned. (Vol.30 No.8, Vol.31 No.6, Vol.32 No.7, Vol.33 No.8 Read Review Online)

Conrad-Johnson Classic: $2000 $$$
The Classic uses a zero-feedback circuit with a single M8080 triode tube per channel followed by a FET output buffer. It includes five line-level inputs and two preamp outputs, but offers no balance or tone controls. The sound was open, sweet, and slightly forgiving, with crisply articulated transients and surprisingly strong bass. Though it lacks the convenience features of the McIntosh C220, the C-J offered greater body, bloom, tonal color, and dimensionality. “If you can live with the lack of features—as I can—and welcome simplicity, this is the line stage for you,” sums up ST. Superb dimensionality, dynamics, definition. ST raves: “the greatest preamp bargain CJ has ever made.” Sam’s reference (he bought it). Phono stage adds $750, but lacked flexibility in terms of loading and gain. (Vol.32 Nos.2 & 7)

George Hi-Fi Lightspeed Attenuator: $490 (Australian) $$$
Plain but superbly finished, the Lightspeed Attenuator from Australia is an optically operated passive preamp with one set each of RCA inputs and outputs. A wall-wart power supply or lithium-ion battery supply must be purchased separately. With the Lightspeed Attenuator in his system, ST heard greater transparency, openness, and transient articulation. “Puts your old active preamplifiers’ feet to the fire,” he snorts. “Can work if your interconnects are short, your power amp has enough gain, and your speakers are sufficiently sensitive. Worth having on hand!” Price includes international reigstered post. $35 Australian extra for dual L/R volume controls. (Vol.33 No.2)

McIntosh C220: $4000
“Beautifully built and filled with features,” the C220 is a hybrid preamp with a solid-state output buffer and tubed line and phono stages. It offers defeatable bass and treble controls; controls for Balance, Mute, and Mono; two balanced line-level inputs; seven unbalanced inputs; and a headphone amplification stage. While the C220 was very good at passing signals, it lacked body, bloom, dynamics, and dimensionality, said ST. (Vol.32 No.7)

Parasound Halo P 7: $2000
Full-featured analog stereo preamp with six stereo inputs, balanced and unbalanced outputs, front-panel headphone and MP3 jacks, and an MM/MC phono preamp—See “Multichannel Components.” Delightful sound but “falls asymptotically short of the delicacy of the Nagra and Simaudio preamps I have used,” says KR. (Vol.32 No.1 Read Review Online)

PrimaLuna DiaLogue Three: $2599
PrimaLuna’s new top-of-the-line preamplifier weighs 53 lbs, has point-to-point wiring and dual-mono construction, uses two rectifier and four dual-triode tubes, and is housed in an attractive steel chassis painted with five coats of hand-rubbed blue-gray lacquer. Its clean rear panel provides five line-level inputs, two system outputs, one tape-monitor output, and pass-through jacks. Though it lacked the Shindo Vosne-Romanee’s physicality and touch, the DiaLogue Three offered timbral clarity, richness, and an excellent sense of scale. “For the person with a taste for tubed electronics, the PrimaLuna DiaLogue Three is a shoo-in, a must-hear, and a potential hand-me-down,” AD concluded. Taking into consideration its low-feedback tubed circuitry, JA gave the DiaLogue Three a clean bill of health. (Vol.34 No.8 Read Review Online)

Editor’s Note: There are currently no Class C or D preamplifiers listed.


Classé CP-800, Audio Research Reference 5, NHT PVC, Simaudio 850P.


Balanced Audio Technology REX, DNM 3D Primus, Nagra PL-L, VTL TL-6.5 Signature, not auditioned in too long a time.

Martin Osborne's picture

I understand that this is part of 'what you do', but thanks for bringing this altogther in one place - a lot of work has gone into it and I for one appreciate it. 



JItterjaber's picture

Making your product recommendations available to the digital generation will certainly help more people see your publication.  Thanks for trying to keep current!


Ajani's picture

This is a really good move! I know a lot of online users have been hoping and waiting for the recommended components to be released on the website. 

smittyman's picture

I've always appreciated how much content Stereophile makes available on this site.  I also always figured that Recommended Components was something that was held off the website to give us some incentive to purchase the magazine in either paper or on line form so I was really pleased to see this added.

soulful.terrain's picture


 This is great!  Thanks to all the staff for putting this valuable info together for us neophytes like myself. ;-)

Timbo in Oz's picture

One of the problems of the 'buy it yourself' approach to audio a Magazine is stuck with is that the path of modifying upgrading used gear gets short shrift, let alone doing it yourself. Those parts of the high-end are off the radar here.

This partciularly applies to FM antennas. The best results from FM stereo can only result from pointing a directional antenna with gain at the desired station. One sure way to get such results is an external directional antenna up high. This ensures that the FM front end will be in (i) full limiting and (ii) that there is minimal multi-path on the signal.

Few indoor antennas are really good at either (i) or (ii), unless your lucky and close to a desired staion or two. Just one type is capable of doing both, but you can't buy one. This best indoor FM antenna is the wire rhombic with sides approaching 3 metres long (or exceeding). The gain is high because each element equals the desired wavelength and becasue it is also a highly directional antenna. The cost in money is very low, 14 to 20 meters of twin ribbon, some resistors and a balun to feed coax to your radio.

When made from 300 ohm twin ribbon (the same stuff used for T folded dipole antennas) it will have twice the already high gain. Don't worry you are most unlikely to overalaod your FM front-end.

You can hide it on a suitable room's ceiling or under a large rug. A suitable room is the largest one which has a long diagonal pointing in the right direction - ie at most of your desired stations. Note also that the acceptance angle of a rhombic can be adjusted in and out a couple of ways, see the article referenced below.

The article about them and how to make one was published in the now defunct magazine 'Audio' and is available at the Audio Asylum's FAQ section, near the bottom of the listings.

If you can drive a good tuner into full limiting with a strong low multipath signal and have even one station that broadcasts live acoustic simply miked concerts, you have a true high-end source.

Tim Bailey




JohnnyR's picture

Cable reccomendations without a single measurement, just "oh it sounds just dandy" approach. How lame.This is useless.

Glotz's picture

This subjective review resource has around for decades, in print form.  You are the 4,895,235th 'listener' that thinks he knows more than these guys...

Bwahahahahahhaahhaahahhah!  Yeah, really.

Tim Lim's picture

Dear Stereophile,

This report is indeed welcome but may I ask how are the different classes differentiated? What are the criteria for any model to be included in their respective class? I don't see this guide anywhere.



earlnightshade's picture

Total new guy here, but a quick question about the rating of the Peachtree Dac it.  To confirm I'm understanding correctly, is it considered so poor quality it gets a letter grade of "K"?  As in not even worthy of an "F"?



smittyman's picture

They haven't reviewed it yet.  It is not several grades below an F

nleksan's picture

Okay, so sound quality is as subjective as the music itself, I get that.

But seriously, you include the ATH-M50's and ATH-AD700's (good headphones, don't get me wrong), but not the SR225/SR325 from Grado?  What about the absolutely SUBLIME RS1i or its little-brother the RS2i?  The PS1000's?

I own all of the above, and for studio work I favor the RS1i's above anything else, especially Sennheiser, as monitors don't have to be PAINFULLY Flat to listen to, they just have to be accurate to the source while able to replicate other sources, which the RS1i's/RS2i's/PS1000's do with aplomb!  The dynamic design and solid-mahogany cups make the music sound much more "alive", and the editing/mixing sessions sound identical to the recording sessions; this is in contrast to many others that neuter the sound to the point that it just goes flat.

I realize I am here spouting off my opinion, but as I am pretty sure that's like 87% at least of the job description for being an "audiophile", so I'm okay with it ;)

I just hate to see TRULY deserving headphones get passed over because they don't have the same "prestige" as Bowers&Wilkins or the like, nor the brand recognition of Sennheiser (who are, by the way, on track to becoming the BOSE of the headphone world.... I'll give them 5 years).  I challenge anyone to spend ~20hrs with a pair of Grado SR325's (NOT the SR325i's, but the original Mahogany ones), the RS1i's/RS2i's, the PS1000's, or even the SR225's (again, NOT the SR225i's), a strong headphone amp (everyone has their favorites, but I find that these do best with a good amount of overhead), and the best source material you can get, ideally a very high-end system with DVD-Audio quality sound or better (don't even think about any kind of lossy compression, because you WILL hear every "off" sound).  Heck, I get fantastic results with simply plugging any of the aforementioned 'cans directly into the headphone port on my HT|Omega Claro Halo XT sound card in my very high end workstation/overclocking rig (who says you can't mix business and pleasure??)...
I will admit that every pair of Grado's that I've owned has needed some break-in time, with as little as 40 hours for some SR80i's to ~120hrs for the SR225/SR325 cans to really shine (RS1i's = 75-80hrs, RS2i's = 70-75hrs, PS1000's = 90hrs), but I do my "break-in" a bit differently than most: I set up everything through my computer, including DAC/amp/etc running off an M-Audio card, and I have a specific playlist I use for breaking them in that consists of 125-175x ~3:30 to ~11:15 long Audio Tracks (full, uncompressed recordings and masters; the 125 songs take up about 3.7GB of space! yes, about 30MB per track, at 192Khz/48bit "RAW") of varying types/genres set in "loop" for the first playthrough and then "looping random" after that, and the volume automatically adjusts based on elapsed time.  For those who wonder, I use: Sigur Ros, Pink Floyd, OK GO, Led Zeppelin, Bowie, Florence & the Machine, Grateful Dead, Incubus, Jay-Z, Jose Gonzalez, Pete Yorn, (recently added) Trent Reznor & Karen O's "Immigrant Song" cover from Girl w Dragon Tattoo, K'Naan, Manfred Mann, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Metallica ("One"), Norman Greenbaum, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Scala ("Blower's Daughter"), Shwayze, Sufjan Stevens, RUSH, Tegan&Sara, Tom Petty, The Roots, Them Crooked Vultures, and a bunch more; as you can see, it's a mix of male and female vocalists, every instrument under the sun, all types of music, and so forth (quite eclectic).  BUT IT WORKS!
I PROMISE YOU that if you properly break-in any pair of Grado's, they will become one of your favorite listening headphones, if not your number one.  Having tried everything from the bird-poop-looking iPod iEarbuds (kill me please) to most of the consumer-level stuff (Sony MDR's are Amazing for the price, Beats by Dre are absolute junk and I've left stuff in the porcelain chamber with more musicality than that overpriced BS), to headphones that cost more than many peoples' cars and proclaim to be "hand-assembled by a team of naked supermodels over the course of 123 days with all work done only under a half-crescent moon while Mars and Jupiter align, emparting magical sonic characteristics into the hand-carved African rare wood covers and plated with Rhinocerous poop, well known for its excellent bass enhancement"... Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but not THAT much.  YET I KEEP COMING BACK TO THE GRADO'S!!!

JadenKrosis's picture

This product recieved rave reviews in Stereophile. It scored well in comparisons and has even become JA`s go to device for USB audio playback.

Without going into too much detail of Micheal Lavorgnas` review I`m quite sure I`m safe to say he liked it very much also. 

Is it possible this product was overlooked amid all the shock and awe created by the Dragonfly?  (not that there`d be anything wrong with that, I want one too!!!)

John Atkinson's picture

Is it possible this product was overlooked amid all the shock and awe created by the Dragonfly?

The Halide was reviewed in August 2012, after this "Recommended Components" was prepared. It will be included in the next update, due in April.

The Halide was also included in the Collector's Edition of Recommended Components, available from newsstands and form the shop on this site: http://ssl.blueearth.net/primedia/home.php

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JadenKrosis's picture

Thank you John and I look forwards to reading that April issue.

bmilwee's picture

In your October 2011 issue, the VPI classic 3 gets an A rating, but here it seems to have been demoted to a B.   Tthe Rega RP3 is class B here, but in the anniversary edition it gets a C rating.  Which is correct?

John Atkinson's picture

Yes, sometimes as the result of further experience of the product or of competitive products, sometimes because the initial rating is provisional, for a product that is reviewed in the same issue as the updated list. But whenever a rating has changed, it is the most recent rating that reflects our current opinion of the product.

In the case of the VPI Classic 3, it has been reinstated in Class A in the listing that will appear in the April 2013 issue.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

shp's picture

I have been a binge reader of stereophile ever since high school when my first job was in a high end stereo shop (Threshold amps, KEF 104.2's).  

My brother is an architect and my colleague an electrical engineer.  They both deride the idea that giant audiophile cables make a difference noting that the wire that delivers electricity to the house and through the walls is only this big.

Not having the budget to try an assortment of (sometimes very expensive) cables I've kept mine pretty modest.  But I will concede they can sound different.  

But I am a little confused that Stereophile has ratings for digital data connects without any measurements. 

Digital cables either deliver bit-perfect data streams or they don't. And their accuracy should be reported even if Stereophile also wants to report the sonic affect of any digital distortion.

If I spent a lot of money on a music server, DAC, amplification and speakers, the last thing I want is the cable altering the bits.