Solid State Preamp Reviews

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Herb Reichert  |  Jan 26, 2024  |  26 comments
I can roll out of bed and install a $10,000 phono cartridge while finishing my coffee, but I postpone DAC installations until I am in the exact right mood to handle the potential stress—especially DACs with a touch screen and a complex menu. To my delight, Ferrum Audio's new Wandla digital converter was completely stress-free to install. It took only minutes to connect the USB-C cable, the Cardas Audio Clear Beyond interconnects, and 24V DC power adapter.

Connecting the power adapter caused a power-switch symbol to appear on the front panel touch screen. The moment I touched it, I smiled like the Cheshire Cat, because I saw a USB-C symbol, a loudspeaker symbol, three dots in a box, and a volume control bargraph. That told me the Wandla recognized my chosen input and was waiting for a signal. All that remained was for my Roon Nucleus+ server to recognize and enable the new DAC, which it did without prodding or reprimand. For me, that was a wow moment, a good start to what promised to be an interesting review.

Martin Colloms  |  Dec 14, 2023  |  1 comments
Naim has comprehensively reimagined its Classic Series, which has been around for some 20 years with improvements along the way. Included in the new range of products is the 200 series, comprised of two products: the NAP 250 power amplifier, which I reviewed in the November 2023 issue of Stereophile, and the NSC 222 streaming preamplifier ($8999), which is reviewed here. A third component in the New Classic series, the NPX 300 power supply (also $8999), which is intended to be paired with the NSC 222 and other Naim components, is also considered in this review.
Sasha Matson  |  Oct 20, 2023  |  17 comments
As I was talking with an audio-retailer friend recently, he reached for a Rolls-Royce metaphor to describe the McIntosh brand. Expensive? Sure, but not as expensive as some boutique high-end products. Fast? Sure, but there are faster things—also bigger things, smaller things, wackier things, and cheaper things.

But when you look at a Rolls or a Bentley, you immediately recognize it for what it is, and you want to sit down in it. And so it is with McIntosh, except you don't want to sit down in it; you want to sit down in front of it, between the speakers of the hi-fi system it occupies.

The C12000 is McIntosh's current flagship preamplifier. It's part of McIntosh's Hybrid Drive series of products that combine tubes and transistors in interesting ways.

Tom Fine  |  Sep 01, 2023  |  9 comments
The concept of streaming digital music files over distances great (as with internet-streaming services like Spotify, Qobuz, Tidal, etc.) and small (from a home-PC hard drive, NAS, or networked music server) became mainstream only recently. But it was already brewing during the late 20th century, with people illegally downloading low-bitrate MP3 files made from CD rips and coming close to killing the recorded-music industry.

That wasn't streaming exactly, or not in the current sense, because the files needed to be downloaded, stored locally, then either played out of a computer or loaded onto a portable player, but from that point forward it was a steady march to the streaming-dominated present.

Never mind Napster—the first subscription audio "streaming" service was one you probably wouldn't think of: Audible, the audio book service now owned by Amazon, which started up in 1995. I did beta testing and editing work for early-days Audible, and around that time, I started loading up home-ripped MP3 files on a pocket-sized Rio MP3 player (which by then had replaced Audible's proprietary player), using it in place of a portable CD player. This led to experiments with a PC music library/player running Linux, controlled by a Handspring PalmOS device connected to the stereo system via a Sound Blaster 16 card.

Sasha Matson  |  Mar 31, 2023  |  1 comments
Hygge might not be the first word that comes to mind when contemplating the Primare PRE35 Prisma preamplifier, but in Limhamn, Sweden, that is how Primare likes to describe their products. It means "cozy," and it's a very important concept in the Nordic countries, almost a way of life. Another term that appears in Primare's product descriptions is lagom, which loosely translates as "not too little, not too much—just right."
John Atkinson  |  Sep 28, 2022  |  9 comments
My late father-in-law used to say that life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end, the quicker it passes. I was reminded of that when I was asked to review Bel Canto's new e1X DAC/Control Preamplifier ($6800). It didn't seem that long ago that I favorably reviewed the Minnesota company's e.One DAC3, but Google told me that it was 15 years ago! "Other than the jitter performance via its USB input, the Bel Canto e.One DAC3 is the best-measuring digital component I have encountered," I wrote in November 2007 (footnote 1), adding that it "offers some impressive audio engineering in both the digital and analog domains."
John Atkinson  |  Jun 20, 2022  |  0 comments
Three high-performance products were subjected to second opinions and/or measurements in recent issues: Channel D's Lino C 3.3 phono preamplifier, Mola Mola's Tambaqui D/A processor, and Pass Labs' XP-32 line preamplifier.
Michael Fremer  |  Jun 17, 2022  |  108 comments
Are well-heeled audiophiles ready for a knob-free future? Gryphon Audio Designs thinks so. In contrast to Gryphon's volume knob–dominated Pandora preamplifier, the Danish company's new Commander offers nothing on its bold front panel to grab or turn.

Instead, there's a large, extra-thick, triangular glass protuberance that extends dramatically below the chassis's vertical dimension. That's where you'll find an "on/off" button, the main unit's only physical switch.

Herb Reichert  |  Jun 02, 2022  |  20 comments
I have this friend, a smart, good-looking young physicist from Argentina. Naturally, I call him "Gaucho." He lives in a glistening-white steel-and-glass apartment overlooking lower Manhattan. I visit him regularly, usually with a group of audio friends, mainly to compare recordings, drink wine, and talk hi-fi.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Apr 29, 2022  |  18 comments
Ah, domesticity. Just when I had the reference system sounding better than ever, the husband decided to relocate his electric keyboard and music stand, which had been positioned along the right wall of the detached music room, to the dining room in the main house. His reason was rational: While I did the reviewer thing in one space, he'd be free to practice keyboard and sing in another. But what was rational to him screwed with my reference sound and drove me to the brink of irrationality.
John Atkinson  |  Mar 23, 2022  |  10 comments
I start this review with a confession. I have consistently found that when I play CDs on a transport and feed the digital data via AES3 (AES/EBU) to a D/A processor, the music has more drive, particularly at low frequencies, than it does when I send the same 16/44.1 data to the same D/A processor via my network.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Jan 28, 2022  |  62 comments
There has not been a conventional preamplifier in my main audio system for quite a while, because no multichannel preamp is available that's of high enough quality. Instead, I use the high-precision digital volume controls in my players and DACs and choose sources with a relay-based multichannel analog switch. Plus, I tell myself that no preamp can be more accurate and transparent than no preamp.
John Atkinson  |  Jan 03, 2022  |  0 comments
The January and February 2022 issues of Stereophile feature followup reviews of three products: the darTZeel NHB-18NS Mk.2 preamplifier; the Sutherland Little Loco Mk.2 phono preamplifier; and the Mola Mola Tambaqui D/A processor.
John Atkinson  |  Nov 24, 2021  |  10 comments
In the summer of 2021, MoFi Distribution's Jonathan Derda emailed me about the South Korean HiFi Rose brand. "This brand strikes me as being the spiritual successor to the original SlimDevices Transporter and Squeezebox Touch," he wrote. "We're all really excited about it."

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jun 22, 2021  |  14 comments
Even as I was admiring some of the handsomest audio gear I'd ever set eyes on, my thoughts kept returning to equipment of a very different sort.

Flash back maybe 40 years to my one-bedroom apartment on Elgin Park in San Francisco during the period when I was whistling for my supper and performing Puccini's "O mio babbino caro" in the Emmy-nominated Peanuts cartoon, "She's a Good Skate, Charlie Brown." Cue the constant din of an elevated four-lane freeway, since demolished as a blight on humankind, which I tried to pretend was the sound of water in the accompaniment to one of Schubert's many "water and fish" songs.

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