Superphon Revelation preamplifier Anthony H. Cordesman & Sam Tellig

Anthony H. Cordesman in December 1985 (Vol.8 No.7)

1985 seems to be a particularly vintage year for high fidelity equipment, including some that's actually affordable. I recently had to help some impoverished "friends" put affordable systems together, and was horrified to find them quite good. Nothing, it seems, can be kept from the masses.

Here, to my consternation, is some truly high class equipment which is declasse only in price. If you are looking for rock bottom prices in the high end, I would strongly recommend the Superphon Revelation Basic Preamp ($329) and the DH-120 ($320 assembled, $260 kit). The Superphon is by far the better of the two, though; I would recommend you spring for a more expensive amplifier if possible.

I can't add much to the previous praise the Superphon has gotten in Stereophile except to say that if this preamp was British and cost $2500 everyone would be be praising it to the skies. It is short on features and looks, but possesses a soundstage that virtually all the competition lacks, a natural sweetness without glare in the upper octaves, and a musicality that is sadly lacking in virtually every receiver or cheap transistor preamplifier I've heard.

The Superphon is more detailed and harmonic than the NADs, Haflers, Adcom, Carver, and is more musically natural in the critical midrange area than the PS Audio SR-1. If you're willing to settle for the better high-output moving coils, Grados, etc., you can count on excellent value for money, and sound that may be the envy of friends with far more expensive transistor preamps.—Anthony H. Cordesman

Sam Tellig in December 1985 (Vol.8 No.7)

About the Quad 34 and Superphon Revelation Basic. These are two very different preamps for different needs. The Quad 34 does add a "portiere" (to borrow DAS's word) to the sound; it's a smoothing-over effect that tends to smother fine detail. But it's musical; nothing ever sounds bad through the Quad 34, especially with those unique tonal balance controls. It's also better-looking than the Superphon, and my experience has been that Quad equipment is built superbly, for the long run. Superphon has no track record. On Monday, I may like the greater clarity of the Superphon. But if, on Tuesday, I want to play Beecham's 1938 Magic Flute, I'm glad to have the Quad 34; it could be pretty hard to take on the Superphon. So what do you want? Excellent sound quality and superb detail in an inconvenient-to-use preamp from a brand-new company, or tremendous user features in a musical-sounding product from one of the oldest of audiophile companies? For me, there aren't easy answers in this area. For you—whoever you are—perhaps there are.

Part of my problem is that I get all this stuff to review—I don't go out and buy it, it comes to me. If I were not a reviewer, I might be perfectly happy to stick with, say, a Superphon Revelation Basic Dual Mono or a Quad 34 or an Audible Illusions Modulus and not worry about whether another preamp sounds a little better.—Sam Tellig

Sam Tellig wrote about the Revelation Basic Dual Mono Plus in September 1987 (Vol.10 No.6):

Yesterday I received, by surprise, the finest phono preamp I have ever encountered. Better, yes, than the Klyne SK-5. Wouldn't you know—just when I felt I was content with the Quad 34. Damn! It's the $399 Superphon Revelation Basic Dual Mono Plus. The manufacturer refuses to make any more because: 1) his profit margin is too thin, and 2) dealers can't stand selling something so cheap.

This preamp blows away every other solid-state preamp I have heard. Breathtaking soundstage. Uncannily precise imaging. Astonishing detail. Smooth frequency response!—Sam Tellig

Sam Tellig reviewed the Superphon Revelation II in October 1988 (Vol.11 No.10):

Superphon's Revelation II is the successor to the Superphon Revelation Basic preamplifier, which I have often recommended. At the time it appeared, only five years ago, the Rev Basic (for short) was the best preamp you could buy for under $400. Nothing else came close, in my opinion. The Rev Basic Dual Mono was better still. Here was an affordable preamp that had it all: soundstaging, detail, dynamics. No other preamp in its price class did.

No one got rich making or selling the product, however. Dealers were not anxious to push a $400 preamp when, with the same effort, they might move an $800 preamp. Non-audiophile customers weren't turned on by the preamp's spartan, we-built-this-from-parts-you-might-buy-from-Radio-Shack appearance. Still, the Rev Basic had a following. People who bought it—and I heard from a number of them—were ecstatic.

Imagine, then, what Superphon might do if they were not under such cost constraints!

But wait a minute.

In discussing the Rev Basic, I pointed out that one reason it sounded so good was that Superphon's Stan Warren could ill afford to put in any more parts. (Along with AG, I believe that the simpler, the better. This is why the Epos ES-14 speakers are so good: there's hardly any crossover. And why the B&K ST-140 is such a nifty power amp: there's mostly space inside the case.)

It oft happens that a manufacturer's less expensive product is as good as or better than his more expensive offerings. I suspect this may be the case with the Adcom power amps: the GFP-535 may be the best-sounding of the bunch. And it was certainly true that the GAS Son of Ampzilla was a smoother, sweeter-sounding amp than his dad: Ampzilla, Senior, who also tended to blow up. Not too many Seniors survived to old age; Sons abound.

Back to the Superphon Revelation II—Rev II for short. At $699 it does not scream "Bargain." My sample was furnished with the optional non-metallic "Space Case" enclosure with acrylic top and wood side panels ($849 complete). The Space Case is intended to eliminate electromagnetic interference with the signal currents flowing within the preamplifier.

I didn't have a metal-case version of the Rev II to compare with the Space Case, but I don't dismiss the space case as nonsense. I once heard a Klyne SK-5A with acrylic top (this so a dealer could show off its innards); it sounded much better to me than an SK-5A with metal top.

The Rev Basic—we're talking about the original preamp now—always made an immediate favorable impression on just about everyone with its deep, wide soundstage and excellent dynamics. Some people thought there was something a bit overdone about this preamp: wide-screen, Technicolor, Cinerama . . . in a word, exaggerated. But I liked it.

Curiously, the Rev II sounds like a different preamp.

The Rev II strikes me as less dramatic in its soundstaging. Smoother-sounding than the Rev I—less rough, although perhaps less detailed, too. (Has the smoothness been achieved at the expense of detail? I can't say for sure.) The Rev II soundstage is still deep and wide—especially wide. Tonal balance is very pleasing. Not a bad performance by any means.

I think my problem is expectations.

From Superphon I expected a preamp that would decisively beat the competition—sound as good or better than some preamps that cost two and three times the money.

The main improvement—and, so far as I am concerned, the only significant improvement over the Rev Basic—is in the line amp stage. With an excellent CD player, like the Marantz CD94, the Rev II sounds very good indeed. There were times when I preferred what I heard from the Marantz CD94 to what I heard through the phono stage—which tells me how good the line stage is, but also that perhaps the phono stage isn't quite as detailed as it might be.

Might you then be better off with a Superphon CD Maxx, reviewed so favorably in this column last month? Certainly, if you don't need a phono stage—if, for instance, you have a Moscode SuperIt or a John Curl Vendetta—you would be better off with a CD Maxx. And the CD Maxx works passively or actively. With the Rev II, you have only active.

There just seems to be something lacking with the Rev II. Maybe it's value. It's certainly features. With an increasing number of other preamps, including models from PS Audio, B&K, and Sumo, you get a passive option—surely a good idea when you can get away with it. The Rev II also lacks low-output moving-coil capability (you either run out of gain or get too much noise, or both, when you go below about 1.0mV output), has no mono switch, and lacks a headphone amp.

Adding to my disappointment are the problems I encountered with the preamp. I had some intermittent low-level hum through the phono stage. When I took off the cover of the space case and separated the leads coming in from the phono jack—with the preamp and power amp turned off!—the problem went away . . . and then returned. Later, I had a more serious hum (grounding?) problem with the line stage.

What's strange about all of this is that I auditioned an earlier version of the Rev II last year and liked what I heard overall—enough to get carried away and describe the preamp as "insanely great," which should perhaps be more properly applied to the Rev Basic, which was insanely great for the price.

The previous version of the Rev II—not the current one—was not a dramatic improvement over the Rev Basic, but it preserved all the qualities of the Basic, and I am not sure that the current version of the Rev II does. I suspect a loss of detail and a loss of dynamics compared with the previous Rev II. I can't say for sure because I do not have that earlier sample on hand.—Sam Tellig

Anton's picture

One of the greatest preamp lines of all time.

I still use two: Both are the Revelation 2 in space cases, one has a volume control for each channel, the other has a volume and balance set up.

They are still very competitive. Superlative.

I look around for Stan Warren from time to time, but find nothing.

If any of these pop up on the used market, buy buy buy!

tonykaz's picture

These things sell for around $200 on Ebay, there is one for sale just now.

I knew Stan, years ago, now I understand he's up in Oregon.

Tony in Michigan

ps. I was a seller of PS Audio stuff starting with the PS 4 Preamp.

allhifi's picture

Oh, to go back (to 1985). I really enjoyed the openness and honesty from the writer's here. Such polite, no-nonsense frankness that has long since vanished from society -and many hi-fi mag's.

I recall the Superphon name (in 1985) from a hi-fi store I'd soon find myself (surprisingly) employed. Though I don't recall listening to it. Or seeing it, come to think of it-lol.

Oh those days, to return would be grand indeed. Everything back then seemed far more accessible -and affordable. In fact, for hi-fi purchases that would remain the same for the next twenty years; by 2005, the price explosion began in earnest. The reasons unclear to this day.
Yet the insane pricing of hi-fi goods will, mercifully come to an end. And fast. Just as fast as it had escalated circa 2005 -perhaps faster. Here's hoping.