2016 Recommended Components Preamplifiers

Preamplifiers

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

A

Audio Research SP20: $9000
ARC's first full-function, line-plus-phono preamp in ages—and their first-ever preamp to offer a headphone output—the new SP20 is a pure class-A, fully balanced, hybrid design. Its 19"-wide chassis blends styling cues from ARC's early days with a modern touchscreen, and the SP20's similarly modern remote handset provides control over volume, source selection, channel balance, cartridge loading, stereo/mono switching, absolute phase inversion, and more. The preamp uses a total of four 6H30 dual-triode tubes and provides 13.8dB of line gain, plus up to 58dB of phono gain. BJR cited the SP20's "detailed, delicate, extended high frequencies," "bass beyond reproach," and "superb resolution of detail"—and surprised some of us by declaring the new preamp's phono section superior to his (very) long-term reference, the Vendetta SCP-2D. Regarding line-stage performance, BJR maintained a slight preference for the better "high-level dynamic slam" of his Audio Valve Eklipse. JA's measurements gave the "well-engineered" SP20 a clean bill of health, noting in particular the phono section's "extremely accurate" RIAA equalization. (Vol.37 No.6 WWW)

Ayre Acoustics KX-R Twenty: $27,500
It would seem an impossible task: improving on a preamplifier—the Ayre KX-R—that sounded better to JA than no preamplifier at all. But that was the hurdle set for the new KX-R Twenty, named in honor of Ayre's 20th year of operation. More of a complete redesign than an upgrade of the original, the KX-R Twenty employs AyreLock, a new, proprietary approach to power-supply regulation that seems equal parts calculus and poetry. Also involved were similarly big changes to the active circuitry, including the adoption, in this model, of the "diamond" output circuit of the company's X-5 series—if only because, in the words of chief engineer and CEO Charles Hansen, it proved to work "so insanely well." Of his time with the new Ayre, JA wrote, "Some highly resolving audio components achieve their transparency to what has been captured on a recording by emphasizing detail. The Ayre simply cleaned the window." JA's listening notes were ripe with examples of fine performance at various sonic tasks, but in the end, his view was holistic: "The Ayre evoked the words Peter Schaffer has Antonio Salieri saying, in Amadeus, about the entry of the solo oboe in this music: 'This was a music I'd never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God.'" (Vol.37 No.12 WWW)

Ayre Acoustics K-5xeMP: $4350 ★
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 WWW)

Balanced Audio Technology Rex II: $25,000
The tubed, line-level Rex II is supplied in two boxes, albeit not in accordance with audio tradition: the Rex II's control module (eight tubes) contains a single gain stage for the left and right channels, plus the dual-mono power supply that runs it, while the power module (ten tubes) contains everything else, along with everything else's power supply. There are five inputs and three outputs—all balanced, of course—and ergonomic refinements abound, including a left/right balance control, a mono switch, and a switch to invert signal polarity. FK—who reminds the reader that two boxes filled with a total of 18 tubes will add warmth to any home—responded with enthusiasm to the changes wrought by the broken-in BAT: "singers beamed from the soundstage with a matter-of-fact, lifelike presence that I'd never heard from my system." He added, "the Rex II captured . . . their most softly whispered asides. It was spooky-palpable." Overall, FK concluded that the Rex II "eked from my LPs and CDs more new things than any other component I've sampled in years." JA, for his part, described the BAT's measured performance as "excellent." (Vol.39 No.1 WWW)

Bespoke Audio: $12,000 and up
Built around a stereo pair of hand-wound, multitapped transformers, the Bespoke Audio preamplifier—which provides attenuation and source selection but no actual preamplification—is a passive line stage that exudes an "unsurpassed" level of quality, according to AD. Buyers select from a variety of colors, materials, connector types, and ergonomic refinements, the last including a motorized volume knob and remote handset. While declaring that he is not normally a fan of passive preamps, owing in particular to a paucity of musical impact from systems so equipped, AD noted that the Bespoke was better in that regard than he'd expected, and that its use brought enhanced clarity to some recordings: "the best justification yet" for the passive approach is offered by this product, he believes. (Vol.38 No.10 WWW)

Boulder 2110: $55,000
Given that its predecessor, the model 2010, enjoyed a 17-year run in Boulder Amplifiers' product line, much was expected of the new 2110 line preamplifier: a multibox solid-state model in which user functions are optically controlled to eliminate noise, and whose six inputs are characterized by an impressive degree of adjustability and flexibility of configuration. All of its inputs and outputs are fully balanced, addressed only with XLR jacks, and the 2110 goes the 2010 one better by adding a fully differentially balanced volume control. Using the Boulder 2110 with his darTZeel NHB-18NS mono amps in balanced mode, MF observed that "[it] produced image intensity, physicality, and solidity that were unprecedented in my experience. First take: a giant Wow." MF elaborated: "It made recordings I know to be truly exceptional sound even more so through my system." With the Boulder pre on his test bench, JA observed, "The 2110's distortion is so low, in fact, that it taxed my ability to measure it." JA ultimately pronounced the 2110 "the best-measuring preamplifier I have encountered." (Vol.38 No.3 WWW)

Classé CP-800: $6000 ★
A new breed of audio component, the versatile CP-800 is a remote-controlled, solid-state preamplifier with a touchscreen display, DSP-implemented tone and equalizer controls, 10 digital inputs (AES/EBU, three S/PDIF on coax, four S/PDIF on TosLink, asynchronous USB, front-panel USB host connector), five analog inputs (two pairs balanced, three pairs unbalanced), and seven analog outputs (three pairs balanced, three pairs unbalanced, and a front-panel headphone jack). One of the first products to come from Classé's Chinese manufacturing plant, the attractive, solidly built CP-800 shares the curved aluminum front panel of earlier Classé Delta-series products. Though it lacked some flesh and warmth, the Classé produced a clean, clear, and detailed overall sound, with an especially delicate treble, said JA. On the test bench, the Classé's digital input showed about two bits' worth less resolution than the current state of the art, but its analog performance was beyond reproach. (Vol.35 No.9 WWW)

Convergent Audio Technology SL1 Renaissance Black Path Edition: $9990 line only, $11,990 with phono stage
The Convergent Audio Technology SL1, which has grown a long name to match its long life, continues to be revised and refined by designer Ken Stevens. In its Renaissance update, the heralded CAT SL1 line stage received a new circuit-board layout and improved power supply; it was also treated to an A/V bypass, user-selectable gain, and a switch-selectable, moving-coil transformer for its optional phono stage ($2000). Compared to its predecessor, 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." The most recent (2015) change was occasioned by CAT's development of their Black Path signal capacitor, and named for it; further audio-circuit optimizations and a reduction in noise intermodulation are also among the refinements claimed for the Black Path Edition. After spending time with the SL1 Renaissance, RD pointed to improved rendering of intertransient silence, crisper and tighter percussion sounds, and better transparency and resolution than from the SL1 Ultimate: "I knew I was hearing no minor improvement." (Vol.32 No.11, Vol.38 No.12 WWW)

Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems Momentum: $35,000
Among the most beautiful pieces of audio gear" that MF has seen or touched, the Dan D'Agostino Momentum echoes the sculpted aluminum-with-copper, quasi-steam-punk cosmetics of the Dan D'Agostino Momentum power amplifier—but with a chunky, round volume control/level meter in place of the amplifier's chunky, round, output-power meter. As MF observed, "The complementary, balanced, zero-feedback Momentum is DC-coupled, has no capacitors in the signal path, and features fully discrete circuitry with no op-amps. Volume adjustment is via an optical controller and resistor ladder." User controls for the line-level-only, low-gain Momentum—all available on the impressive remote handset, most on the front panel—include absolute signal polarity, channel balance, source selection, mute, and tone controls. The main unit and its curvy and cunningly designed outboard power supply—the former sits atop the latter—are electrically connected via a multipin umbilical. After listening, MF commented: "In the Momentum, Dan D'Agostino has produced a preamplifier that duplicates the Momentum amp's delicacy, transparency, three-dimensionality, and especially its liquidity and freedom from grain without softening transients—all floating above the blackest backdrops." Summing up his measurements, JA noted that "the Momentum preamplifier lives up to Dan D'Agostino's reputation for heroic audio engineering." (Vol.37 No.8 WWW)

darTZeel NHB-18NS: 31,700 CHF ★
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 6010 D 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 WWW)

Luxman Classic CL-38U: $4490 $$$
With styling that brings to mind the Marantz Model 7C—especially if you "squint a little," per AD—the Luxman CL-38u preamplifier mates classic form with classic function by including a mono switch, rumble filter, balance control, tone controls (with switchable hinge frequencies), and a phono section, the latter with built-in step-up transformers for MC gain. All voltage-gain and buffering chores in the CL-38u are handled by eight dual-triode tubes, with rectification and some switching accomplished by solid-state devices. In AD's tube-happy system, the Luxman "presented music with natural, realistic warmth and color, and fine bass-to-treble balance," although with the "tone controls enabled, the sound was cloudier, less open." AD also praised the Luxman's "sheer speed and clarity of musical timing," ultimately describing the CL-38u as "not just a good value: It's an exceptional value." Reporting from his test bench, JA gave the CL-38u a clean bill of health: it "doesn't appear to be compromised in any way, either by its versatility or by its exclusive use of tubes." (Vol.38 No.5 WWW)

Music First Audio Baby Reference Preamplifier: $8590 ★
Slightly larger than Music First's less expensive Classic v2, the Baby Reference passive preamp measures 9.75" W by 3.4" H by 10.1" D and is available with a black, blue, red, or clear anodized faceplate. Standard connections include two balanced XLR inputs, four unbalanced XLR inputs, and one pair each of balanced and unbalanced outputs. Like the Classic, the Baby Reference provides 24 discrete volume steps, including mute, but forgoes the Classic's +6dB gain switch and uses a larger, more complex transformer. The sound was smooth, sweet, and extended, with exceptional transient speed and surprisingly deep bass, said ST. "[The Baby Reference] is the best preamp I've had in my system," he concluded, "probably because it's not a preamp at all." Compared with the Promitheus Audio Reference TVC4, the Music First offered deeper bass, cleaner treble, greater openness, and less dynamic congestion, said ST. (Vol.35 No.10, Vol.36 No.5)

Nagra Jazz: $11,650–$14,500, depending on options ★
The Jazz is a tubed line preamp with one pair balanced and four pairs single-ended inputs, and one pair balanced and two pairs single-ended outputs. It uses a 12AX7 dual-triode input-stage tube and a 12AT7 gain-stage tube. Measuring 12" W by 3" H by 10" D and weighing 7 lbs, it has a faceplate machined from a solid billet of aluminum, giving it the rugged, purposeful look and feel common to Nagra components. Though it lacked some bottom-end impact, the Jazz had a clean, clear, revealing sound with an uncolored midrange, extended highs, and lightning-fast transients, said BJR. "I enjoyed every piece of music I listened to through the Jazz, even when it ruthlessly revealed differences in recording quality," he concluded. JA noted excellent measured performance. (Vol.36 No.4 WWW)

Parasound Halo JC 2 BP: $4495 $$$ ★
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 ($4795) 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 WWW)

Pass Labs XP-30: $16,500 ★
In its conventional two-channel model, the XP-30 comprises three separate chassis: one each for its control circuitry and power supply and each channel's audio circuitry. Using additional chassis, the XP-30 can be expanded to as many as six channels. Each audio chassis has both a Master and a Slave analog output, duplicated on balanced XLRs and single-ended RCAs; and six analog inputs, also duplicated on balanced XLRs and single-ended RCAs. The XP-30 uses an integrated-circuit volume control. It virtually transported JA to recording studios and performance spaces, consistently drawing his attention to aspects of music rather than of sound. "The XP-30 has rekindled for me the concept that the beating heart of an audio system is the preamplifier," he said. Measured performance was superb. (Vol.36 No.4, Vol.38 No.5 WWW)

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 WWW)

Promitheus Audio Reference TVC: $890 $$$
Made by Nicholas Chua in Kuala Lumpur, the TVC4 passive preamp is housed in a compact (12.2" W by 3.75" H by 9" D) chassis made of merbau, an endangered Malaysian hardwood. It has two transformers per channel, separate left and right volume controls, and offers four pairs of unbalanced inputs and two pairs of unbalanced outputs. Though it lacked the tight bass, extended treble, and transparency of the much more expensive Music First Baby Reference, the TVC4 produced a warm, rich, tube-like sound, said ST. "Promitheus Audio's Reference TVC4 is worth the money and more," he concluded. Add $80 for shipping to the US from Kuala Lumpur. (Vol.36 No.5)

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. AD's reference preamp since 2007. Current model uses the same basic line, phono, and power-supply circuits found in the original, but has a fancier faceplate. Art has found that the Masseto does not respond well to isolation devices, aftermarket AC cords, or alternate tubes, and he recommends very gentle insertion and removal of interconnects to avoid damaging the Masseto's fragile Switchcraft RCA jacks. Still, the Masseto remains "satisfyingly musical and downright right," he said. "The most beauty you can buy for this kind of money." (Vol.30 Nos.7 & 10; Vol.36 No.6 WWW)

Simaudio Moon Evolution 850P: $30,000
The solid and beautifully built 850P is a two-chassis, dual-mono line-stage preamplifier with three balanced and four unbalanced inputs, a monitor/signal-processor loop, and two sets each of balanced and unbalanced outputs. It uses Simaudio's M-Octave mechanical damping system to decouple the audio circuit board from the chassis with eight compliant feet, each made of an elastomeric material and pre-loading chosen for their ability to damp the frequencies relevant to that part of the board. The 850P's complex power supply incorporates 40 examples of Simaudio's unique Independent Inductive DC Filtering topology, and its M-Ray volume-control circuit allows the user to precisely and quickly fine-tune the level in increments of 0.1 or 1dB. The sound was exceptionally transparent, with expertly reproduced transients, sharp image focus, and an outstanding sense of space, said BD. "No doubt about it," JA agreed—"Simaudio's Moon Evolution 850P is one of the best-measuring preamplifiers I have encountered." (Vol.36 No.12 WWW)

Simaudio Moon Evolution 740P: $9000
The solid-state Moon Evolution 740P is a dual-mono line-level preamplifier that offers both single-ended and true balanced operation, the latter thanks to its differential audio circuitry. Its volume control is Simaudio's own M-eVOL2 stage, comprising 530 discrete steps of 0.1dB each, and its power supply is built around the similarly orthographically odd M-LoVo voltage-regulator stage. FK had strong praise for the Simaudio's temporal cohesion, its ability to "[keep] low-level signals pure," and its facility with "detail . . . that most preamps smudge," but added that "in no way . . . did the 740P ever sound too analytical; its clarity didn't come at the sacrifice of musical warmth." JA summed up the Simaudio's time on the test bench: "The Moon Evolution 740P's measured performance is beyond reproach." (Vol.38 No.5 WWW)

TAD Laboratories C600: $42,000
Part of TAD's Reference line, the C600 is a dual-mono, solid-state line preamplifier with a substantial external power supply. It measures 17.5" W by 5.9" H by 17.2" D, weighs almost 64 lbs, and has an attractive chassis of brushed anodized aluminum. It offers three unbalanced and three balanced inputs, two unbalanced and two balanced outputs, and two buffered Tape outputs. Each of the C600's inputs is associated with its own relay-controlled preamplifier, ladder resistor attenuator, and gain stage. The C600 combined airy highs, a somewhat lean midrange, and powerful bass for a sound that was exciting, resolute, and ruthlessly revealing, said MF. "TAD's C600 is a meticulously designed and exceptionally well-built high-tech wonder," he concluded. "Its construction and audio engineering are beyond reproach," JA added. (Vol.36 No.6 WWW)

VAC Signature SE: $19,500 (line stage only), $26,000 (with phono)
In its basic form, the Signature SE ($19,500) is a tubed line stage that offers a mix of balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) inputs and outputs, the latter addressed by custom-designed output transformers. Its optional phono stage ($6500)—dual-triode tubes, MC step-up transformers, separate power-supply transformer, and all—fits alongside the line-level circuitry in the preamp's main enclosure. (A second, separate chassis is devoted to the line stage's power supply.) In his last review for Stereophile, our beloved friend BJR described the VAC Signature SE as nothing less than "the most significant audio product I've ever hooked up to my reference system. It was flawless." Noting, in his measurements, some frequency-dependent "poor overload margin" and "high intermodulation distortion" in the VAC's phono stage, JA recommended partnering the preamp only with phono cartridges of lower-than-average output. (Vol.38 No.6 WWW)

VTL TL5.5 Series II Signature: $8000
VTL's most expensive all-tube preamplifier retains the basic circuit topology of the original TL-5.5 with a lower-gain, high-current 12AU7 tube circuit, a 12AT7 tube buffer, minimal negative feedback, and a low-impedance output stage. It uses a new, precision-regulated power supply and has a 117-step, chip-based differential volume control. There are two pairs of inputs that can be operated in either balanced or single-ended mode, as well as six additional single-ended inputs. Though it wasn't as resolving or detailed as the Nagra Jazz, the VTL produced delicate highs, a voluptuous midrange, and punchy bass, said BJR, adding "an extraordinary sense of lower bass extension and high level dynamic slam." "VTL's TL-5.5 Series II Signature is a nicely engineered preamplifier that offers no measured compromise resulting from its use of tubes," added JA. Optional phono stage adds $2500. (Vol.36 No.6 WWW)

Ypsilon PST-100 MK2: $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 WWW)

Zesto Audio Leto 1.5: $7500
As BJR put it, the word that best describes the technical design of the "drop-dead-gorgeous" Zesto Audio Leto line-level preamplifier is simplicity: its per-channel tube complement of one 12AX7 dual-triode and one 12AU7 dual-triode provides up to 12dB of gain—which the user can switch to 3dB, if the need arises to stay within the volume control's most accurate range. All switching is done with reed relays, and BJR described the stripped-down remote control as "the most minimalist I've ever encountered." In addition to single-ended operation, the Leto offers transformer-coupled, true-balanced inputs and outputs. The Zesto Leto was capable of great musical delicacy, BJR noted, and "it most impressed . . . with its ability to articulate transients." He was also "astounded by the Leto's wide and linear dynamic range," although, on the downside, "the Zesto seemed to run out of gas a bit in the loudest passages; in short, [its] dynamic range seemed to stretch only from ppp to ff." In his measurements, JA was impressed overall, noting in particular that "the Leto's distortion signature doesn't change with level, frequency, load impedance, or at different volume-control settings." 2015 "1.5" version adds a headphone amplifier. (Vol.37 No.4 WWW)

B

Parasound Halo P 7: $2295 $$$ ★
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 WWW)

Parasound Halo P 5: $1095 $$$
The 2.1-channel Parasound Halo P5—the ".1" hints at the P5's three subwoofer outputs, which incorporate user-adjustable high- and low-pass filters—is a solid-state line-and-phono preamplifier equipped with a balance control, defeatable tone controls, an analog iPod input, electronic source switching, a headphone jack, and a built-in 24-bit/192kHz D/A converter with a USB input. AD observed: "On paper . . . the Parasound P5 seemed like an awful lot of product for the money; that impression was borne out in my system." He described the preamp as slightly dry sounding but with "enduringly good musical flow and momentum, and superb freedom from distortions of pitch or timing." While the P5's built-in DAC was pleasantly clear, AD suggested that it was no match for the more colorful, substantial Halide DAC HD; in his measurements, JA concurred, saying the P5's digital section is best "regarded as more of a convenience" feature, while praising the analog preamp's "excellent performance at an affordable price." (Vol.37 No.4 WWW)

D

Emotiva Control Freak: $49
To the minimalist audiophile whose system combines a single source component with an amplifier that lacks a level control, the Emotiva Control Freak would seem a boon. The Control Freak even dispenses with the box: It is, as ST put it, "A set of interconnects with a volume control in the middle." Other than that, the only thing ST had to say was, "I love the feel of the Emotiva." There you go. Balanced version costs $59. (Vol.37 No.12)

Schiit Audio SYS: $49
ST, to whom the concept of a simple and gainless preamp has great appeal—"Why do you need so much gain if all you're going to do is dial it back[?]"—was attracted to this latest piece from Schiit. The SYS provides two pairs of input jacks, a switch for choosing between them, a volume control, and one pair of output jacks. Compared with an $8500 transformer-based passive preamp, the Schiit disappointed in its lack of ability to "expand dynamics and quiet background noise." But, said ST, "The Schiit SYS preamp introduced no crap of its own. No power-supply noise, no tube farts, no glare." His verdict: "You almost owe it to yourself" to try the Schiit SYS. (Vol.37 No.12)

K

NAD M12, Arcam C49.

Deletions
Audio Research Reference 5SE, Convergent Audio Technology SL1 Renaissance, Lamm Industries LL1 Signature, all replaced by new models.

COMMENTS
Staxguy's picture

Class A

Audeze LCD-X: Why would you consider the Audeze LCD-X over the Audeze LCD-3? The Audeze LCD-3, though veiled, "digital" (too few bits of detail), and non-liquid, at least presents music as beautiful.

Not only this, but it (3) is a personal luxury product, with a gorgeous headband, ear-pads, and wood ear-cups.

There also is the issue of it (3) having phenomenal bass, on the non-Fazor version.

The LCD-X? It sounds like absolutely nothing. By nothing, one means about $600.

Audender Flow

Giving that you are Stereophile, this would be great in the Class C department. It has DSD, etc. and decent specs, but no balanced out, so no headphone enthusiast would consider using it.

Chord Mojo: A great DAC/amp. Great that you have it in Class A.

Sennheiser 650/600: certainly very comfortable, but no match for the 580. ;) While neither sounds like shit (the 600 is more natural), they lack any detail and air, although their true comfort makes them fantastic computer speakers. Still, Class C.

HiFiMan 400i: Shouldn't it be the HE-6? Where is the HE 1000? This is Class A guys.

Sennheiser IE 800: Where is this? Perhaps more detailed and fast than the HD-800 and only $1000. ($800 US). Obviously, no imaging like the HD. What an amazing headphone, the HD 800.

Omissions: Shouldn't the class A be the Stax 009 and perhaps some excessive (read: expensive) headphone amplifiers? Om.

Class B

Apogee Groove. Ok. Great. A pro-audio device.

Audeze EL-8: What? Ok. This one sounds like shit. Ok, have only heard the closed. Great cheap price ($699) and design job by BMW, but terrible sound an not even a part of the LCD-2. What a looser.

Audioquest Nighthawlk: Huh? Wah.

B&W P3: Why the P3 and not the P5 or P7? Isn't the quality of the P3 pathetic? Sound, gentlemen, sound.

CEEntrence DACPort: Ok. Great device. How about more CEntrance. Great specs.!

Master & Dynamic MD40: Is this a poor men's clothing magazine?

PSB M4U: Shouldn't this be Class E?

Class C:

Audioengine D3: for $149 a great made device with great components. However, the sound is worse than the stock Intel audio chip you'll have in your PC. Does have less hum and noise than an-in PC chip, though.

Overall: Where are the audiophile components?

Sorry to be a party-pooper.

dalethorn's picture

Mostly agree. Headphones don't seem as accurately covered here as the big stuff. Maybe the headphones and other portable gear should be covered entirely by Innerfidelity, in Stereophile Recommended Components.

Glotz's picture

Naw, just haughty, arrogant and disrespectful.

They reviewed various products for the magazine, and this is the list they came up with. The classes are explained in full, in relation to the other products's performance that have made the list. Older products, sometimes equally capable as current products listed, are removed due to age. Lastly, most reviewers have their own benchmarks and their own opinions about component performance, hence their choice of placement in the classes.

You can disagree all you want man, just do it with a modicum of respect. If you want to start your own magazine, go for it dude.

K.Reid's picture

Glad to see this mighty monitor included in Class A restricted low frequency. Very well deserved and impeccably engineered at a fair price. Most importantly it sounds great. An excellent effort by the folks at Technics. It's obvious they care about and love music by making a product like this.

Anon2's picture

I read JA's assessment of the Arcam A19 regarding its ability to handle low impedance, high volume listening.

I wanted to add my own, perhaps less scientific assessment of the Arcam A18 predecessor model.

I have my Arcam A18 integrated connected to Canton Ergo 32DC speakers whose impedance range is listed as 4...8 Ohm, 87 dB by the manufacturer. The owner's manual for my speakers, of about year 2000 vintage, states that the speakers can be "unhesitatingly operated with any standard amplifier" (with some small qualifications later in the manual).

Stereophile's tests of other Canton speakers show that the speakers tend to operate more towards the 4, rather than the 8 Ohm range of input impedance.

I have used my Canton speakers with my demo model Arcam A18 for several years now. I am not a loud volume listener, but I like room filling sound. For a benchmark of my listening, I will say that audio show rooms, for example, are, for the most part, way too loud.

I did a test this morning. On the integrated's volume range of 1 to 99, I did some listening around 38 on the volume scale. I listened to a Chandos recording of Bryden Thomson's LSO recording of Vaughn Willams's 8th Symphony and assorted string works (Chandos 8828, a great audiophile recording still in circulation). This volume is adequate to fill the room amply with sound. Vaughn Williams works will require a bit more gas-pedal than other orchestral works.

Then, for some higher octane listening, but with the volume set at the same 38 position, I did another test. I listened to the great recording of Don Juan, with the Cleveland Orchestra, and the late great Lorin Maazel (CBS Masterworks MDK 44909). If I had finicky neighbors adjacent to my listening room for this session, they might have complained over the volume in some sections of this work.

After listening to these CD tracks, I put my hand over the unobstructed top ventilation grate on the Arcam A18. After feeling the heat, which was almost imperceptible, I then put my hand to my cheek. After 5 seconds the heat from my cheek was noticeably warmer.

I'd guess that John's assessment would apply particularly--without mentioning brands--to low efficiency low impedance speakers, of the 84-85 dB and/or 4 Ohms nominal varieties. But for my speakers the Arcam never seems over-taxed, and certainly never clips with the music and volume settings that I employ.

If you are a moderate-to-room filling volume listener, have stand-mount speakers of 87-88 dB, and 8 Ohm nominal impedance, and love peerless sound, I'd say buy the Arcam A19 without hesitation. I'm not a dealer or a professional, but that's my assessment. A reader wrote in the Stereophile review of the A19 that he found the A19 to be a big improvement from the A18. My dealer says that if you have an A18, you can probably live with it without going to the A19.

Other publications, that score products in their reviews, show the Arcam A18/A19 models garnering the highest scores of the Arcam integrated amp line-up.

Those are my two cents on the Arcam A19.

makarisma's picture

What about products from companies such as T+A, YBA, Linn, McIntosh, etc., all of which also have outstanding models in the listed catagories?

pablolie's picture

based on the reviews, it seems to defy logic you give the Benchmark AHB2 a class A rating, and the NAD M22 a class B. to quote your own review, the AHB2 "failed to be as lively or exciting as the NAD". oddly enough, the word "loss" is not mentioned anywhere in the M22's review, so it surprises me it shows up in the recommended equipment guide.

sharethemusic's picture

i am the proud owner of raven audio amplification. "THE RAVEN" a 3oob tube based integrated amplifier. There can be no better amplification in the world. You see right thru the music. Your are drawn into it. All the details of the recording are there.Is there colorization by the tubes? Not sure.i can only tell you the music sounds exactly as intended and as natural and neutral as can be.it is rated at 15 watts per channel..Some may not understand. Raven audios 10 watts,is another tube companies 40 watts and solid states 80 watts. It is in the power supply and voltage regulation that all the power of god on earth is unleashed. the power is more than enough to fill my 20x 20 room with blasting clear,warm glorious sound. i have owned mcintosh,krell ,NAD AND MARK LEVINSON. There really isnt anything but maybe my old mac that sounds even close to the raven. andy rothman sharethemusic@aol.com

Ladokguy1's picture

I know Art Dudley has used Auditorium cables as a reference for several years, any reason they are not listed in Recommended Components?

AndySingh's picture

Hello

I went to my local store - Overture Audio, and auditioned the GoldenEar Aon 2 and Dynaudio Emit M10.

Listening to the M10's, I am surprised they (or other Dynaudio products) have never been reviewed on your site.

Is there a Dynaudio review on the horizon?

Glideyork's picture

Hi,

I bought the Dynaudio m20 few weeks ago. I'm not really expert, but I think my amp (yamaha r-n500) is not enough powerful for these speakers. If you make some emit reviews, could you give us some advices about the good amps to associate with :/

Thanks for all the other really interesting articles.

AndySingh's picture

Speaking to Northwoods AV of Grand Rapids, MI, I was told that Yamaha Aventage 750/760 would be a good choice for 4 ohm speakers such as Dynaudio Emit M20.

The dealer claimed he was running Magnepans off of these. For a stereo setup, this receiver would do, however they probably only support 4 ohm impedance for front left and right.

The power output would not be a concern for a stereo setup.

gasolin's picture

I use the Marantz PM8005 and that is the smallest amp i would recommend for the Dynaudio emit m10's

z24069's picture

There are some fine choices on the Transports, Digital Processors, Preamp and Amp listings. I am puzzled however at the total lack of mention of any Esoteric Audio product. They are current products well known for their performance and musicality. What criteria being utilized could yield a recommended components lists where at least one of their products (or more) would not make it into the results?

Waves200's picture

Oh to live in a country with a reasonable rate of exchange! Our local Velodyne distributors have the DD+ 15-inch sub listed at the equivalent of almost $2000 more than the listed RRP is in the US. By the time that customs and excise is added to the cost, and the retailers have added their markup, you would be paying almost as much for the 15 inch model as you would for a new family car!

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