Tube Preamp Reviews

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Paul Bolin  |  Dec 07, 2003  |  First Published: Nov 01, 2003  |  0 comments
Rudyard Kipling said that "never the twain shall meet." He was speaking of East and West, but in the world of audio, his adage has most often been applied to what has been the traditional chasm between the sounds of tubes and solid-state. Tube advocates thump the tub for the timbral and spatial glow, the absence of harsh, odd-order harmonic distortions, the harmonic completeness and holistic spatiality that only fire bottles can provide. Solid-state advocates point out the superiority of their preferred gear in terms of bass depth, power and control, low noise, and ultimate detail resolution. That chasm between the characteristic sounds of tube and transistor has narrowed appreciably in the latest generations of gear, as each type of circuit has become capable of embodying some of the other's trademark characteristics. But between the camps, friendly competition continues.
J. Gordon Holt  |  May 30, 1995  |  First Published: May 30, 1979  |  0 comments
Several issues back, we reviewed rather enthusiastically a pre-production prototype of this preamp. The original was an unprepossessing-looking device on two chassis, interconnected by a 3' umbilical, with a squat little preamp box and an even squatter power supply with humongous cans sticking out the top. We averred that it sounded nice. The production model is so nicely styled and functionally smooth that we wondered if it might not be another Japanese product. 'T'ain't.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Feb 28, 2001  |  0 comments
I've been attending the annual Consumer Electronics Show for years, and usually come away with the impression that there are too many "me-too" products. I see a numbing similarity of approach of manufacturers within a chosen discipline: solid-state power amps in black and silver bristling with heatsinks, single-ended triode amps with their glow reflecting from bronze or wood panels, MCPU/DSP-centered devices with sleek, flat cases and intimidating remote controls, etc.
Chip Stern  |  Aug 10, 2000  |  0 comments
Ideally, through the medium of a synergistically balanced set of high-resolution components, we seek to re-create an acoustic event with a palpable sense of realism—as in timbre, dynamics, room cues, and dimensionality. Have I ever experienced a system commensurate with the experience of sitting 12th-row-center at Carnegie Hall for Boulez conducting Stravinsky? Close, but...
Dick Olsher  |  Oct 30, 2005  |  First Published: Nov 30, 1990  |  0 comments
A "CD processor," is how I distinctly heard Cary Audio's Dennis Had describe it. The venue was Stereophile's High End Hi-Fi Show in New York last April. Nothing really unusual in today's digital marketplace, I thought to myself, though a bit out of character for a company dedicated to vacuum-tube technology. But wait a minute. Dennis had described it as an analog CD processor. Analog!? Well, yes, the unit processes the analog signal from a CD player.
Art Dudley  |  Sep 23, 2006  |  0 comments
RCA's time-honored 6SN7 may be the coolest tube of all. The octal-based dual-triode has its own Wikipedia entry—something not even the 2A3 or 300B can boast—along with its own website. The 6SN7 is chunky, rugged, and handsome. Best of all, it's available, probably because people keep coming up with very good uses for it. In that sense, the 6SN7 is the Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup of the tube world.
Art Dudley  |  Feb 22, 2004  |  First Published: Feb 01, 2004  |  0 comments
I had it all wrong. I assumed that the "SLP" in SLP-98P stood for stereo line preamplifier. But Dennis Had, Cary Audio's founder and chief designer, told me that it actually stands for sweet little preamplifier. In a day and age when acme is a word without meaning and the fighting Irish are neither, this strikes me as a risky marketing gambit—but one that may be effective if the name proves true.
Wes Phillips  |  Mar 13, 2005  |  0 comments
The spirit moved upon the earth.
The rocks cra'ked asunder,
Darkness smote the light,
Seas boiled away with a thought,
And all life was extinguished.
Wes Phillips  |  May 15, 1998  |  0 comments
Almost two years ago, Conrad-Johnson's Lew Johnson came to Santa Fe while visiting his western dealers. We were chatting about acquaintances in the industry as I showed him the new house I'd barely moved into when he spread a blueprint across a stack of record boxes and showed me a design for a new product.
Wes Phillips  |  Jul 23, 2006  |  0 comments
If you review hi-fi long enough, you get to the point where you've heard it all before. Actually, there are several versions of that point: One is where you've heard all the claims before, and the other is where you could have sworn you've actually heard this component before.
Brian Damkroger  |  May 08, 2001  |  0 comments
As part of my employer's never-ending attempts to transform me from an engineer into a manager, I am constantly being sent to seminars and courses, some of which are eminently practical—like "Managers and the Law," which taught us how to avoid getting ourselves and our company sued. Others are more esoteric, like a recent seminar on "paradigm shifts." A paradigm shift, we were told, is a fundamental change in the way we look at things, arising from a change in a belief so inherent that it's unconscious.
Anthony H. Cordesman  |  Oct 30, 2009  |  First Published: Jun 30, 1984  |  0 comments
It says something for the state of technology that, after a quarter of a century, there still is no authoritative explanation for why so many high-end audiophiles prefer tubes. Tubes not only refuse to die, they seem to be Coming back. The number of US and British firms making high-end tube equipment is growing steadily, and an increasing number of comparatively low-priced units are becoming available. There is a large market in renovated or used tube equipment—I must confess to owning a converted McIntosh MR-71 tuner—and there are even some indications that tube manufacturers are improving their reliability, although getting good tubes remains a problem.
Jack English  |  Jul 29, 2007  |  First Published: May 29, 1992  |  0 comments
Conrad-Johnson launched the all-tube Premier 7 in 1988 as an all-out sonic assault on the state of the preamplifier art. A great deal has happened since then. For starters, C-J has gotten a great deal of feedback from customers, dealers, and reviewers. None other than J. Gordon Holt (Stereophile, November 1988, Vol.11 No.11) concluded that: "It appears that nothing which could possibly have improved its sound had been omitted....It is, in fact, about as close as any tubed preamp has come to being perfectly neutral in sound—in nearly all respects." In the now-defunct Sounds Like... (issue 3), Sam Burstein concluded that "It is, with certain reservations, absolutely delightful to one's musical senses." And, speaking of absolutes, even Harry Pearson gave the Premier 7 a rave in the first round of his preamplifier survey (TAS, issue 58). As icing on the cake, John Atkinson (Stereophile, Vol.12 No.8) concluded that the 7 had "the requisite degree of sonic magic to make it a Class A recommended preamplifier."
J. Gordon Holt  |  Jul 02, 2008  |  First Published: Nov 02, 1988  |  1 comments
Whenever an audio high-ender thinks about tubes, he usually thinks about Audio Research. This is only natural, because Audio Research Corporation was almost single-handedly responsible for saving tubes from oblivion in the early '70s when everyone else switched to solid-state. But ARC was soon joined in its heroic endeavor by an upstart company called Conrad-Johnson, which entered the fray in 1977 with its PV-1 preamp, priced at an affordable (even then) $500.

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